NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - "We just found the stolen paintings, the Rodrigues," Stereo Fire Empire band members said in a cell phone video taken Monday night.
The hours leading up to that video are some the band members and the family of world renowned artist George Rodrigue will never forget. It began Monday afternoon with a brazen theft.
"The whole incident took about 55 seconds from entry to exit," said Jacques Rodrigue, gallery manager and son of George Rodrigue as he watched the surveillance video. "When he first walked into the gallery, he walked to the left and our sales person in our room, in the print room in the left, said hello, and he said hello back. He entered the main room, and he took the piece off the wall and walked out."
The painting called "Wendy and Me" depicts George Rodrigue as the famous blue dog and his bride in a piece they'd use as their wedding invitation. That knowledge of the painting was something only one of the band members knew when they stumbled on the stolen art and a blue dog print in the most unlikely of places.
"Our guitar player was actually talking about how he saw on Facebook that a blue dog painting was stolen, and it was weird cause literally five minutes later we were walking past the Rib Room and our guitar player was like - 'what's that?'" said Elliot Newkirk, the band's base player.
"The paintings were facing against the building, the back of the frames outward," said Keith Anselmo, the band's drummer.
"I collect discarded art and things like that. Even if it's just a frame, I'll pick it up. I saw those canvases and had to check them out," said guitarist Evan Diez.
"I flipped it over, and not really knowing much of the details of the story I was like, 'oh it's just a blue dog print - it's cool and all, but I don't think it's worth you taking home.' But his face was ghost white - jaw dropped, like, you don't understand - this is a $250,000 piece of artwork," said singer John Kennedy.
The group of friends suddenly found themselves in what they called a "Scooby Doo"-like adventure and walked the stolen art a few blocks down the street to the Eight District station.
"So we're walking down the street with these, you know, quarter-million-dollar paintings in our hands, and they're facing out and I'm like, 'No! Turn that around! We don't want people seeing that,'" Newkirk laughed.
At the station, they recorded a cell phone video of themselves turning in the painting and print.
"We're currently at the police station right now. We have recovered stolen items and here we are. How crazy is that?" the friends laughed in the video.
It was a successful return trip for the pieces. Jacques Rodrigue said the painting only had minor scratches on the frame, which will be replaced.
Police searched the pieces for fingerprints in order to help track down the thief, and Rodrigue said the painting would be returned to the gallery by the end of the day. He also said they have hired a security guard for the short term, and will add other security measures for the long term.
The band did not ask for a reward. They do hope people will consider supporting them by attending their show at the Twist of Lime in Metairie on Jan. 10 at 9 p.m.
"They're like really great guys and really awesome friends of mine, and I'm really glad that we got to do this together," Kennedy said.
"We joked last night that we're going to write a song about it, so we'll see what happens," Newkirk laughed.