Classical Musician Has Million Dollar Cello Stolen at Knife-Point in Paris Suburb

Classical musician Ophélie Gaillard was attacked in the Paris suburb of Pantin and was held at knife-point by a man who stole her antique cello worth 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million/£1.1 million).

The theft took place at around 7pm on Thursday just as Gaillard was leaving her house to get in her car. The suspect, a man who police have not given a description of, held up a knife and demanded the instrument which was crafted in Italy in 1737 and on loan to her by CIC bank, French broadcaster RTL reports.

The thief fled on foot, according to Gaillard who did not resist the criminal. Gaillard spoke to public radio channel France Musique about the robbery saying: “Everything happened so fast. I saw his knife and I did not resist, I gave him immediately my cello and my mobile phone.”

Cellist Ophelie Gaillard performing in 2003 after being named the best new instrumental soloist at the French classical music awards

Ophélie Gaillard (Photo: AFP)

Police investigating the case said they were presently trying to determine whether the theft was simply a random attack or a targetted theft of the valuable musical instrument.

The instrument was returned on Saturday when Ms. Gaillard received an anonymous call saying that her cello was inside a car in the front of her house.

“It was in the back seat,” the soloist told AFP, saying it was in “good condition”.

“The theft was very violent, I have not been able to sleep for two days. I am so relieved to have found it. I’m coming out of a two-day nightmare — it’s a miracle,” she said.

Investigators indicate that the cello may have been returned because of the fame and provenance of the instrument, saying:  “It’s not an instrument that can be sold… on the corner.”

Pantin, the suburb where the theft took place, is part of the troubled Seine-Saint-Denis area on the outskirts of Paris, which has become known for its heavily migrant-background population, increasing levels of crime, and frequent riots.

Last December, the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced the creation of an orientation centre for migrant youth in Pantin.

Safety, especially for women, in both the Paris suburbs and the northern part of the city itself has become a hot topic in France. Last year, the publicly-owned courier Chronopost announced it would not be delivering to certain areas within Seine-Saint-Denis because of potential danger to their employees and risk of theft.

Public transit drivers have also stopped letting passengers on and off at certain stations due to safety issues and rampant drug use in those areas.

Should the theft turn out to be a random act of violence, it would be one of the estimated 777 random violent incidents that occur per day across the country, according to a report last week.

 Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at) 

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