Valuable Van Zyle painting recovered after being stolen from elderly man

Casey Grove

Anchorage police say officers recovered a valuable Alaskana painting this week that was stolen from an elderly man, sold to a local shop by his caregiver, and put up for sale in an Iditarod-themed auction.

Police charged 31-year old Louis Setmire III with two counts of theft for taking the original John Van Zyle painting -- which depicts a dog team passing behind a seated figure holding a sled-dog pup -- and sold it to a local auction company, police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. The painting was valued at $15,000, Shell said.

The victim told police "it was given to him by a very close friend who passed away," said Shell, referencing a report by Det. Cynthia Bradley.

The victim had an extensive art collection on display in his house, but he hid the Van Zyle painting under his bed, Shell said. He'd take it out when friends came by, and the police think that's when Setmire spotted it and heard how much money it was worth, Shell said.

Setmire would help take care of the victim in his home, but he was not a licensed caregiver, she said.

Police declined to name the 86-year-old man, who reported his prized possession missing on Feb. 7.

In addition to calling police, the victim also called Van Zyle, who noticed toward the end of February that his work was on sale at the auction, Shell said.

Police found the painting a couple days later. The auctioneer's records showed Setmire as the seller, Shell said.

"He had access to the home and the belongings of the victim, and he sold it to a local shop and got money for it," Shell said. "It was backward-traced."

Setmire faces two counts: first- and second-degree theft. A judge set his bail at $25,000.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.