$1M Rockwell, stolen from Cherry Hill in '70s, to be reunited with owners

A Norman Rockwell painting purchased for less than $100 in the 1950s, stolen in the 1970s, and now believed to be worth more than $1 million, is to be returned Friday to members of the owner’s family.

Stories about the long-lost work of art that appeared in this column and elsewhere in the Inquirer and other media between 2013 and 2016 led to a phone call to the FBI’s Philadelphia office last year. The caller was an attorney for an individual in whose home the painting had long been on display.

“We believe the individual did not know the item was stolen and had thought it was a copy,” a law enforcement source, who requested anonymity, said Wednesday.

“But after the publicity, they looked at it [closely] and decided to do the right thing,” said the source, adding that no criminal or other charges were filed in connection with the matter.

The individual returning the canvas does not wish to be publicly identified and has relinquished any rights to it, according to the source.

“The FBI did a great job,” said Susan Murta, who was 18 the last time she saw the painting, in the foyer of her parents’ home, in 1976. “They put a lot of work into it.”

Lazybones (Boy Asleep With Hoe), also known as Taking a Break, depicts a recumbent, roly-poly young fellow and a snoozing dog. The image appeared on the Sept. 6, 1919, cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

The framed canvas, measuring about 25 by 28 inches, was taken from Robert and Teresa Grant's house on Harrowgate Drive in Cherry Hill’s Fox Hollow section during a burglary that was discovered on July 2, 1976, when the family returned home from Ocean City.

The couple are deceased, but their six children are alive; Murta, 58, a mother of four, lives in West Chester. “The painting was in every house we ever lived in,” she added. “It was special.”

Murta said her father loved the Rockwell, was “devastated” by the painting's loss, and “always thought we’d get it back.”

Robert Grant acquired the canvas in 1954 after he accidentally punctured its bottom corner ("near the signature," according to Murta) with a cue while playing pool in a Haddonfield house whose owners often hosted the legendary player Willie Mosconi, of Haddon Heights.

The FBI’s recovery of Lazybones “is very exciting,” Murta said.

“We’re happy just to see it again. We’re thrilled.”