August 1986 – 30 years ago

August 1986 – Theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman

August 1986
Weeping Woman (National Gallery of Victoria)

The Weeping Woman is an oil painting by Pablo Picasso which is now part of the Tate collection in London. Picasso had revisited the subject several times.

An earlier version of the painting was purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1985 for $1.6 million. It was painted in October 1937. According to the Arts Minister at the time, Race Matthews, it was prohibitive for works such as this Picasso to be insured.

The Weeping Woman was stolen on 2 August 1986.

The thieves had accessed the gallery and using a specialised screwdriver, took the painting off the wall, removed the canvas and left undetected. The thieves did however leave a card behind indicating the painting had been removed to the ACT. The guards at the gallery assumed the painting had gone on loan to the National Gallery in Canberra.

It wasn’t until 4 August that theft was detected. The thieves had sent a ransom note to The Age newspaper. They obviously had a sense of humour as the note was signed “the Australian Cultural Terrorists”. ACT was not the Australian Capital Territory.

The Age published the letter:


We have stolen the Picasso from the National Gallery as a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State and against the clumsy, unimaginative stupidity of the administration and distribution of that funding.

Two conditions must be publicly agreed upon if the painting is to be returned.

  1. The Minister must announce a commitment to increasing the funding of the arts by 10% in real terms over the next three years, and must agree to appoint an independent committee to enquire into the mechanics of the funding of the arts with a view to releasing money from its administration and making it available to artists.
  2. The Minister must announce a new annual prize for painting open to artists under thirty years of age. Five prizes of $5000 are to be awarded. A fund is to be established to ensure that the real value of the prizes is maintained each year. The prize is to be called The Picasso Ransom.

Because the Minister of the Arts is also Minister of Plod, we are allowing him a sporting seven days in which to try to have us arrested while he deliberates. There will be no negotiation, At the end of seven days if our demands have not been met and our campaign continue.

Your very humble servants,

Australian Cultural Terrorists

The Australian Cultural Terrorists were not kind to Race Matthews referring him as “Rank” Matthews as well as the Minister of Plod. Matthews was also the Police Minister at the time.

A second letter from the thieves threatened the Picasso would be destroyed if their demands were not met. In this second letter Race Matthews was described as a “tiresome old bag of swamp gas” and a “pompous fathead”.

The Victorian government did not bow to the demands but offered a $50,000 reward for the capture of the thieves instead.

According to the director of the gallery, Patrick McCaughey, a fortnight later he received a call from Melbourne art dealer Anna Schwartz who pointed him in the direction of a young artist named Mark Howson. Schwartz believed Howson may know something about the theft.

When McCaughey visited Howson, McCaughey apparently made a point “that the people who had taken the work could deposit it in a luggage locker at Spencer Street railway station or at Tullamarine airport”. He added, “we were interested in the painting, not in prosecution”.

On 19 August 1986 an anonymous phone call led the police to a locker, locker number 227, at Spencer Street Station. The Weeping Woman had been recovered undamaged. Accompanying the painting was a note:

Of course we never looked to have our demands met … Our intention was always to bring to public attention the plight of a group which lacks any of the legitimate means of blackmailing governments.

The case of the stolen Picasso remains unsolved.



31 August 1986 – Sinking of the SS Admiral Nakhimov

August 1986
SS Admiral Nakhimov

The SS Admiral Nakhimov was originally a German hospital ship that was beached during World War II. In 1949 it was refloated by the Soviet Union and converted to a Russian passenger ship. As part of its history the SS Admiral Nakhimov was used to transport soldiers to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On the night of 31 August 1986, the SS Admiral Nakhimov was travelling to Scochi from Novorossiysk when the ship’s pilot noticed the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev was on a collision course with Admiral Nakhimov. The pilot radioed the captain of the carrier, Viktor Tkachenko, but he did nothing but respond, “Don’t worry. We will pass clear of each other. We will take care of everything.”

Vadim Markov, captain of Admiral Nakhimov, retired to his cabin believing Tkachenko was in control of the situation. He left his second mate Alexander Chudnovsky in charged.

Chudnovsky radioed Pyotr Vasev several times over the next hour about the carrier’s course and actions. At 11.10 pm Chudnovsky turned hard to port, radioed Pyotr Vasev again and demanded them to “reverse full astern”.

Nevertheless, two minutes later Pyotr Vasev collided with Admiral Nakhimov ripping an 84 square metre hole in its hull. Pyotr Vasev was not badly damaged but the SS Admiral Nakhimov sunk with 423 of the 1,234 people on board perishing.

An investigation into the incident found Captains Markov and Tkachenko guilty of criminal negligence. They served five years of 15 year terms in prison.



31 August 1986 – Cerritos mid-air collision

August 1986
Piper Archer (CC0 1.0)

At about 11:45 am on 31 August 1986, a light aircraft, a privately owned Piper Archer, entered the Los Angeles Terminal Airspace without clearance. Unfortunately an Aeromexico Douglas DC-9 was beginning its descent at the same time.

The Piper was being piloted by William Kramer; his passengers were his wife and daughter. The light aircraft collided into the DC-9’s horizontal stabilizer, a part of the tail that is vital to maintaining control. The Piper’s cockpit was sheared off decapitating the three on board before crashing into an empty playground in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos.

August 1986
DC-9 (CC BY 3.0)

Arturo Valdes Prom, the pilot of the Aeromexico flight attempted to control his plane but it too crashed in Cerritos killing all 64 on board. The DC-9 plumeted into a house, exploded on impact, and destroyed several others. 15 people on the ground also perished with a further six injured.

The subsequent investigation found William Kramer as well as the FAA responsible for the crash. They ruled the DC-9 in Aeromexico Flight 498 and its crew bore no fault.



August 1986 – Other Events

6 August – A low-pressure system moved from South Australia and redeveloped off the coast of New South Wales dumping 328 millimetres of rain in 24 hours on Sydney. The down pour between 5 and 6 August 1986 killed six people and caused more the $100 million in damages. A man, woman and two children aged 11 months and 3 years drowned in separate incidents due to the resulting floods. Another man was electrocuted when a power line fell on him, while a second man was also killed in an attempt to rescue the first.

August 1986
Janine Haines and Donald Chipp 1977 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

18 August – When leader of the Democrats Don Chipp retired on 18 August 1986, Janine Haines was chose to replace him as leader of the party. This made Haines the first woman to lead an Australian parliamentary party.

20 August – Postal worker Patrick Sherrill shot and killed 14 co-workers and injured six others at the Edmond Post Office in Oklahoma, USA. The mass killing was triggered by Sherrill being reprimanded by two of his superiors the day before. He served in the United States Marine Corps, was considered an expert marksman, and was a member of a National Guard pistol team. The 15 minute shooting spree ended with Sherrill shooting himself in the forehead. The incident inspired the phrase, “going postal”.

August 1986
Patrick Sherrill

21 August – Lake Nyos in Cameroon is a body of water saturated with carbon dioxide. On 21 August 1986 hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 erupted from the lake rising from the depths at 100 kilometres per hour. The heavier than air carbon dioxide flowed down into the surrounding valleys in a 50 metre thick cloud suffocating people and cattle as it went. More than 1,700 people and 3,500 cattle were killed. It is not known what caused the eruption, but many suspect it may have been a small underwater volcano.

August 1986
Jerry Whitworth

28 August – Jerry Whitworth was a communications specialist in the US Navy. For ten years before his retirement in 1983 he was involved in encrypted communications. Over these ten years he was spying for the Soviets as a recruit for the Walker family spy ring.

John Walker, his son and his brother were arrested in May 1985 due to information supplied to the FBI by his former wife. Whitworth was arrested two weeks later. Walker entered into a plea bargain agreeing to testify against Whitworth. On 28 August 1986, Jerry Whitworth was sentenced to 365 years in prison.



August 1986 – Music, Movies, Books and TV

There was a lot of variety at the top end of the music charts in August 1986. The song featuring in Karate Kid II, Glory of Love by Peter Cetera was up there along with I Want to Wake Up with You (Boris Gardiner), Don’t Leave Me This Way (Communards), Lady In Red (Chris de Burgh), Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna), Higher Love (Steve Windwood) and Dancing On The Ceiling (Lionel Richie).

Sci-fi and horror with the audiences’ pick at the movies with the second Alien movie, Aliens, and the remake of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum.

Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and Danielle Steel’s Wanderlust were the bestsellers in the month.

August 1986 August 1986



If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why are there still monkeys and apes?”