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A quick thinking Tenderlion merchant is being credited for nabbing an art thief.
Tuesday night, the merchant of a store on Ninth Avenue called 911 to report a man who had previously burglarized the store had returned.
Officers responded and arrested Terry Helbing on suspicion of burglary. Helbing, 53, who has been known to frequent the botanical garden as well as attend art openings and horticulture meetings in the main building
His arrest lead to a search warrant Wednesday morning at an apartment in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. There police say they recovered stolen artwork including rugs, paintings and vases.
The property seized is believed to have belonged to multiple victims. The value is not known, but is expected to be high.
Police say they expect to serve more warrants at various locations in connection with the case.
San Francisco Botanical Garden Society executive director Michael McKechnie said Helbing is believed to have stolen five paintings by local artists and two 100-year-old paintings, as well as 33 prints that had been for sale.
"He seemed to have a passion for art," McKechnie said. "He apparently collected it any way he could."
Botanical garden staff began to suspect Helbing in the burglary after he made statements about his art collection.
"We'd been suspicious of him for some time," McKechnie said. "It turns out we were right."
Botanical garden staff were told to alert police the next time Helbing stopped by, which turned out to be Tuesday night.
"He was in the county fair building in the botanical garden, attending a meeting of the orchid society," McKechnie said. "A couple of staff recognized him and called police."
McKechnie said he expects to have all of the botanical garden's artwork returned, and estimated its value at $15,000.
"We're very grateful the paintings are going to be returned," he said.
Bay City News