Man Admits Theft of $6 Million Solid Gold Toilet from Blenheim Palace

Calista Alma
April 04, 2024

James Sheen, 39, has admitted to the theft of a toilet crafted entirely from 18-carat gold, valued at over $6 million, from the historic English estate where wartime leader Winston Churchill was born. He pleaded guilty to charges of burglary, converting or transferring criminal property, and conspiracy to do the same at Oxford Crown Court, as reported by the UK’s PA Media news agency, citing the Crown Prosecution Service. The fully operational toilet was originally installed at Blenheim Palace in 2019 as part of an exhibition by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan titled “Victory is Not an Option.”

The Story Behind the Stolen Gold Toilet “America”

The distinctive artwork, named “America,” was stolen in September 2019, mere days after the exhibition’s launch. It had been intricately integrated into the building’s plumbing, resulting in substantial damage and flooding alongside its theft, as per police reports during that period.

Sheen made his court appearance through a video link from Five Wells Prison, where he is currently serving a 17-year sentence for a range of theft-related offenses. Notably, his convictions include the theft of tractors and valuable trophies from the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, amounting to a combined worth of £400,000 ($503,000).

“America” initially debuted at the Guggenheim in New York City in 2016 and gained renewed attention in 2017 when the White House, under President Donald Trump, sought to borrow Vincent Van Gogh’s 1888 painting “Landscape with Snow” but was instead offered the gold toilet by the institution’s curator.

Installed at Blenheim Palace adjacent to the room where Churchill was born, the toilet was positioned as a commentary on social, political, and economic disparities in the United States, according to a statement accompanying the exhibition.

Artist Maurizio Cattelan, reflecting on the work, remarked to the New Yorker, “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.” He further characterized the piece as “1% art for the 99%.”

In November, three other individuals were charged in connection with the toilet’s theft: Michael Jones, 38, from Oxford, accused of burglary, and Frederick Sines (also known as Frederick Doe) from Ascot, Berkshire, and Bora Guccuck, 40, of west London, both charged with conspiracy to transfer criminal property. They are set to face trial in February next year.

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