For 50 years, Douglas Latchford was the world’s premier expert on Cambodian art, supplying priceless statues to Western museums and rich collectors. But his fame masked a dirty secret. Douglas had colluded with the Khmer Rouge, a genocidal regime, to loot Cambodia’s entire cultural heritage.
As the country descended into bloodshed, Douglas stole almost everything. A network of art world cronies were on hand to help him sell these blood statues, including a senior curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
When a band of art sleuths get on their case, Douglas and his co-conspirators mount a rearguard action to save themselves. This is a story the art world doesn’t want told. Unlike the Elgin Marbles, and other brewing controversies over stolen art, our story isn’t ancient history. This tale is happening now.
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The first episode of Dynamite Doug begins with haunting music and a dial tone. A female voice answers. A rich male voice with a British accent asks why "they" are interfering. That's Latchford referring to US authorities who are asking questions. The female voice, Latchford's co-conspirator, Emma Bunker, says they were curious. "Curiosity killed the cat," is Latchford's grave reply.
Actress Ellen Wong hosts this intriguing six-episode podcast series. Wong's parents emigrated to Canada to escape the violence in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge, or the Communist Party of Kampuchea, took over Cambodia in 1975. They imprisoned and killed almost 2 million people, including those in their party.
Latchford exploited the mayhem brought on by the genocidal regime. He stole many ancient pieces of Cambodian art while the country was in turmoil. Many of these have spiritual significance. All are pieces of Cambodian culture.
Why aren't museums and collectors returning these priceless objects? How was Dynamite Doug able to steal so many of them? At one point, people in Cambodia thought of him as a hero. In the interviews featured on the podcast, people talk about how charming Latchford was. They describe how walking into one of his apartments felt like a museum. There were ancient artifacts and pieces of contemporary art. Latchford displayed these with spotlights. Classical music begins to play in the background, as it would be in Latchford's apartment. Then the tone changes. There are gunshots. There are accounts of Khmer Rouge survivors who lost their entire families.
Latchford once claimed that Buddhist priests told him he had been Khmer in another life. Could he have believed that what he was taking was his? The Dynamite Doug podcast attempts to find an answer.