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Police are trying to solve the mystery of an Italian art thief found dead in a London canal

Sebastiano Magnanini stole a 260-year-old painting from a church in Venice. 22 years later, he was found tied to a shopping trolley in a canal in London.

N276-15MAGNANINI Sebastiano Magnanini Source: Metropolitan Police

POLICE IN LONDON are appealing for anyone who can help them piece together the final movements of a carpenter whose body remained unidentified for days, after being found tied to a shopping trolley in a canal.

To add to the intrigue surrounding the case, it has emerged that Sebastiano Magnanini, a 46-year-old Italian man, was convicted of stealing a 260-year-old painting from a church in Venice, 22 years ago.

According to statements from the Metropolitan police, a member of the public discovered the submerged body, tied to a shopping trolley last Thursday morning, in Regent’s Canal, in the Islington neighbourhood of Central London.

Two days later, they asked the public to help identify him, describing him as a white male in his 40s or 50s, with “distinctive tattoos, including a one of a lizard or gecko on his right shoulder, a koi carp on his torso and some small tattoos on the fingers of one hand.”

On Wednesday, he was informally identified as Magnanini, but no cause of death had been identified.

PA-24299358 The entrance of the Islington Tunnel on Regent's Canal in London, where Magnanini's body was found last Thursday. Source: PA

Reports from Italy subsequently revealed that the 46-year-old, a carpenter living in south London, had a murky past.

In 1998, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in stealing a 1732 painting from the altar of the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, in Venice.

In what could be regarded as a cruel irony, the church’s nickname is Santa Maria della Fava, for its proximity to the Rio della Fava canal.

Giambattista Tiepolo’s Education of the Virgin was valued at 2 billion lire at the time – roughly €1 million in today’s money, the New York Times reports.

educationfava Education of the Virgin (L) and the church of Santa Maria della Fava (R) in Venice. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Didier Descouens

Magnanini’s criminal history had given rise to speculation that the mafia may have played a role in his death, but police on Thursday seemed to rule this out, in a statement by DCI Rebecca Reeves:

This has been devastating for Sebastiano’s family. He was a much-loved son and saw his family regularly as he travelled between Italy and London for work.
His life in Italy, before coming to London, will inevitably form part of the investigation but at this early stage we are not looking at organised crime as a motive.

Which begs the question – what was the motive? And how did Magnanini die?

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Despite a post-mortem last week, investigators say his cause of death is still unknown, although it is being treated as suspicious.

N276-15CCTVstill The last-known CCTV image of Magninini, captured outside a pub near Victoria Station on 22 September. Source: Metropolitan Police

And now, police have released a CCTV image of the 46-year-old, outside the Shakespeare pub near Victoria station at around 4.10 pm on Tuesday, 22 September – two days before his body was found, 3.5 miles to the northeast, in Islington.

“It is essential that we trace all those who came into contact with Mr Magnanini before he died,” said DCI Reeves.

On Tuesday, 22 September, he finished work as a carpenter and then travelled into central London via Victoria, later making his way towards Kings Cross and the Caledonian Road.
Someone may have vital information which could assist and we urge them to come forward and speak to us.

For now, the days and moments leading up to Magnanini’s death, and the question of who was involved, remain a mystery.

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Dan MacGuill

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