Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Renoir Update

January 12, 2014



Last year I posted a story about a painting by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) purchased at a flea market in Virginia by fifty-one year old Martha Fuqua for seven dollars. The painting turned out to have been stolen in the 1950s. You can read the original post (here). You Be the Judge presented the facts in the case (as they were known at the time) and asked you to decide who rightfully owned the painting, the woman claiming to have purchased the Renoir for $7 or the museum that was reimbursed for the insured painting decades ago.


Since last year, cold water has been flung in the faces of those believing that a masterpiece could be acquired for a few bucks at a flea market. Flinging the cold water is the brother of Ms. Fuqua, who claimed to have seen the painting in the house of their late mother, who he described as a beautiful art student with many suitors in the 50s and a penchant for copying Renoir. Ms. Fuqua was unable to verify her $7 purchase and a Federal Court recently returned the painting to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the last legal owner of the painting.


Ms. Fuqua has expressed regret that the painting was not returned to her; the napkin-sized canvas is estimated to be worth $100,000 and Ms. Fuqua could use the money; she’s $400,000 in debt and currently considering bankruptcy.


In my post I doubted the Baltimore Museum of Art would prevail because the museum was reimbursed for the value of the painting in the 50s when the Renoir turned up missing. Since the insurer is no longer in business the judge decided the Museum was the last legal owner and it didn’t matter how or where Ms. Fuqua acquired the painting—she wasn’t entitled to keep it since it was stolen.


It’s my opinion that an amorous suitor stole the painting as a gift for Ms. Fuqua’s mother, who admired it too much to  concern herself with where it came from. Ms. Fuqua must have learned about the theft from her mother and concocted the flea market story as a cover up, which she hoped would allow her to sell it.


The Baltimore Museum of Art is planning a special exhibit of the Renoir to mark its return. But hope is not lost for those of us with fantasies about finding a lost masterpiece. Recently, Father Jamie MacLeod discovered a painting in a junk shop. He admired the frame and paid around five hundred dollars for the picture. The BBC’s version of The Antiques Roadshow confirmed the painting to be an original portrait by Flemish master Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) worth over half a million dollars. Father MacLeod plans to sell his discovery to refurbish the bells in his church. 






Well that sucks for her but I guess it's good for art lovers. And I have to snicker at "van Dyck"
By: PT Dilloway on January 12, 2014
I think the museum is the best place for it. More will get enjoyment from it there than anywhere else. And good for Father McLeod!
By: Shelly on January 12, 2014
i think whatever the museum was paid by the insurance co. could be paid to her? donated to charity? nah, it'll never happen.
By: TexWisGirl on January 12, 2014
Wow... I'm surprised... that since the museum had been paid for the loss of property... that the painting would have been returned to the museum. The museeum is required to return the insurance monies to someone... as mentioned by TexWisGirl in the comments above... Very interesting!! ~shoes~
By: redshoes51 on January 12, 2014
If I stole a painting of yours, what do you think I could get for it?
By: fishducky on January 12, 2014
Well I think the Museum should compensate that woman for some reasonable amount of money since they got it back after they got reimbursed for the loss. Interesting story.
By: Kathe W. on January 12, 2014
it would be nice if the museum compensated the woman. life is unfair sometimes isn't it?
By: Fran on January 12, 2014
She sounds kinda shady to me. I think it's fine that the painting went back to the museum. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 12, 2014
It still seems wrong that an entity reimbursed for a loss should get to keep the item. When someone gets hurt in a car accident, and that person's health insurance pays for medical care, then the person at fault's insurance pays, the person has to reimburse the health insurance company. You don't get paid twice for the same care, and you shouldn't get the pay out and get to keep the item.
By: mimi on January 12, 2014
I vaguely remember the story when it happened, but I didn't know what happened in the end. I'm glad you told us - and I agree, it should go back to the museum. Ms. Fuqua isn't entitled to the painting or any compensation - she was aware that it was stolen.
By: Pixel Peeper on January 12, 2014
Your suspicion of the real story makes sense to me, I think the Museum should repay her $7 just because.
By: Cranky on January 12, 2014
Oh yeah, you won this week.
By: Cranky on January 12, 2014
She knew. I don't believe the $7 story. She must be some piece of work for her own brother to insert his two cents. Maybe she hopes people will feel sorry for her loss of the painting, and send her money.
By: Val on January 12, 2014
Wow! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. I just made that up, but for $1000 I'll sell you my copyright. Anyone....? :)
By: Scott Cody Park on January 12, 2014
Well, it was a long and twisted road but I think the right thing was done.
By: red on January 12, 2014
I guess the rightful owner won out. It's interesting to note that the liar and daughter of the stolen-goods-recipient didn't make money, but the penniless priest who just wants new bells got a LOT! Almost makes me a believer. ;)
By: Lexa Cain on January 12, 2014
The right verdict, I think, but a few things occur to me about your post. First, who can verify a flea market purchase anyhow? Second, maybe the lady's mother stole the painting herself, in which case her daughter shouldn't get to keep it. UNlikelier things have happened. Thirdly, what a shame that the money from the Van Dyck should go on the bells, didn't the good father think of helping the poor just a little bit? Perhaps he did, so I'd better not judge.
By: Jenny Woolf on January 13, 2014
A fascinating story.
By: John on January 13, 2014
I agree with TexWis. That seems the fair solution.
By: Akansas Patti on January 13, 2014
I too like TexWisGirl's suggestion. The property is returned to the rightful owner and the money's that would be repaid to the insurer be used in whole or in part to compensate the thrifty shopper.
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 13, 2014
That is a bit of a disappointment that she didn't actually find a treasure at a garage sale but shame on her for not telling the truth about it. I am still a bit conflicted that the museum didn't compensate her in some way. They, after all had been paid for the painting. Nothing huge...mind you...just a little something to ease the loss of the painting. Yay, for Father MacLeod!!
By: Cheryl P. on January 14, 2014

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