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Crime epidemic claims another victim: Thieves take woman’s artwork

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It became like a nightly round of piñata bashing, the smashing of windows on cars parked in the streets of an Albuquerque neighborhood to see what treasures lay inside.

Boxes, bags, bundles of stuff. All of it was fair game for the greed whackers.

“Every day, there is another report of someone finding broken glass outside their vehicle,” said Anna Pentler, a longtime resident of the North Campus neighborhood. “It’s like there’s an epidemic. Around 2 or 3 in the morning, it appears, thieves are going down the street, looking into the cars, breaking open windows and grabbing what they can.”

North Campus lies east and north of the University of New Mexico’s northern campus — the part where the health sciences, Law School and golf course are. It’s a quiet, friendly neighborhood of academics, medical professionals, young families and retirees, with lots of joggers and bikers.

It’s also a neighborhood — like many other neighborhoods across Albuquerque — that feels under siege by crime.

A recent analysis conducted for the Mayor’s Office by the Albuquerque Innovation Team, or ABQ i-team, found that across the city, auto thefts rose 157 percent and robberies 87 percent from 2013 to 2016.

North Campus isn’t among the hardest-hit neighborhoods, according to the study.

But this summer, it hasn’t felt that way.

“Typically, our neighborhood is pretty crime-free, but this past summer, there’s been an extraordinary escalation,” Pentler said. “I’ve lived in Albuquerque for 30 years, and I’ve never seen this kind of crime.”

Weeks ago, crime hit far too close when thieves broke into the car owned by Pentler’s mother, Annika Levy. They shattered the driver’s-side rear window and made off with a large box filled with 50 watercolors Levy had painted.

A watercolor by Annika Levy, stolen from her car on June 23.

“Twenty-five years’ worth of work,” Levy said.

She had the paintings in the back seat of her car that June 23 night because she had taken them to her book club to sell.

She was heartbroken, her daughter said.

“But at the same time, she blamed herself for not taking the box inside that night,” Pentler said. “This is backwards thinking.”

Levy, 80, came to the United States as an exchange student from her homeland of Sweden and never left.

“I was supposed to go back, but I fell in love and that was that,” she said.

She was married to Leo Levy for 56 years.

But she also fell in love with the landscapes of New Mexico — the pueblo missions, the bright pops of flowers, the fields of red and rust under bruised skies.

She started painting them when her children were small, then put the brush aside as her family grew and her job as a teacher demanded more of her time. She began painting again after her husband died in 2013.

“It was more a part of my creative life,” she said. “A part of my life.”

A police report was filed, but Levy and Pentler suspect that the thieves tossed away the paintings, which had no value to a bunch of thugs who value so little.

“I have resolved myself to believe that the paintings are gone,” Levy said.

One of the watercolors thieves stole from Annika Levy’s car.

But maybe somebody out there has come across the tossed art and will recognize them as Levy’s. Take a look at the photos I’ve included with this column. Levy’s signature, which is fairly legible, is on each one.

Pentler said she and her mother, who live less than two blocks apart, tell their story not just in the hopes of finding the paintings but to keep the pressure on the city to better deal with the crime that has infested their neighborhood and others.

A watercolor by Annika Levy.

“I know that Albuquerque has a shortage of police, has backlogs of cases waiting to be tried and most petty criminals, if caught, are released within a day or so,” she said. “Consequently, thieves, homeless people, drug addicts are roaming the streets looking for easy ways to get money without fear of consequences. This is wrong and makes me very sad for our city.”

The ABQ i-team analysis is a step in that direction. The team’s director says it will be used as a tool to help determine the best ways to allocate resources to combat crime in the city.

One of the stolen watercolors.

For Pentler, that can’t come soon enough. Two weeks after her mother’s paintings were stolen, Pentler’s own car was broken into. A box partly hidden in the back seat apparently caught the eye of the thieves.

This time, though, they left without their treasure. Inside the box were books.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.