NOPD searching for man suspected of trying to steal Banksy painting

Published: Mar. 7, 2014 at 7:19 PM CST
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Christopher Sensabaugh (NOPD)
Christopher Sensabaugh (NOPD)
'Umbrella Girl' by Banksy
'Umbrella Girl' by Banksy

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Known as "Umbrella Girl," the painting at the corner of N. Rampart and Kerlerec in the Marigny is a work by world-famous - yet controversial  - street artist, Banksy.

Several days ago, neighbors noticed a group of men huddled around the painting.

"I came home. It was around 5:00 - 5:15 and there was a wooden fence around the Banksy art here, and I thought to myself, maybe they're just fixing up some of the repairs," said Jonathan Barrett, who lives next door to the building where the work is displayed.

Others, however, saw the men actually using power tools - apparently trying to cut the painting from the building.

"Come to find out, this guy and this group just tried to steal it," Barrett said.

On Thursday, the NOPD identified one of the men as Christopher Sensabaugh of Los Angeles. Sensabaugh is now wanted for attempted theft and criminal damage to property.

At the time of the incident, the men left without the art - scared off by neighbors' questioning of them. Sensabaugh allegedly told them he had been hired to remove the painting and send to it to a museum in London.

Chris Hunter, who was visiting New Orleans with his family for a few days, read about the attempted heist while back home in San Francisco.

"It's really an amazing story," Hunter said. "It's astonishing that someone would go up and try to demolish a building to try to get a piece of artwork and then lie about and say that someone had hired him to do that. It's just sort of astonishing and it's great that the neighbors came out and stopped him and it didn't destroy the piece of art."

While his identity remains a mystery, Banksy is known throughout the world for his works, some of which have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the NOPD.

After Hurricane Katrina, he painted several sketches across New Orleans, although most of them no longer exist. They've either been painted over or the buildings are no longer standing.

"We've had several that have been diminished or not lasted, so we're just grateful that this one is still here, under the circumstances," Barrett said.

Now, news that the NOPD is searching for the man suspected of trying to steal "Umbrella Girl" is reassuring for Barrett.

"Tourists are always coming by. It's a heart-and-soul sort of thing. Without it, it's not the same. And this is the most popular Banksy in the city of New Orleans," he said.

Critics say Banksy's works are essentially vandalism, while fans point out that the paintings typically appear on blighted or vacant buildings. Banksy is believed to live in the United Kingdom. His art and tactics are the focus of the 2010 documentary, 'Exit Through The Gift Shop'.

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