Ex-Wife Is Accused of Marketing Photos She Stole
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
he former wife of O. Winston Link, a photographer famed for dreamy pictures of trains, spent five years in prison for stealing 1,400 of his prints. The photos were never found, and throughout her trial and even after her release a year and a half ago, she never uttered a public word about their whereabouts.
But a recent foray into the art market, the authorities said, has landed her back in jail.
The ex-wife, Conchita Link, 67, and the man she married after Mr. Link's death two years ago were arrested and charged yesterday with conspiring to sell 31 of the photographs through an antiques dealer in Millerton, Dutchess County, said the Westchester County district attorney, Jeanine F. Pirro.
The antiques dealer, who was not charged and who cooperated with investigators, put the photos up for sale on the eBay Internet site for an average minimum price of $5,000, Mrs. Pirro said, below the going rate of $6,000 to $12,000 for one of her former husband's images on the art market. The dealer did not know about the disappearance of the prints or about Ms. Link's conviction, she said.
"This is a fascinating example of how you never really get away with it even when you think you got away with it," Mrs. Pirro said. "I guess she thought the time was safe."
Investigators were led to the prints by Thomas H. Garver, Mr. Link's former agent. Mr. Garver said he regularly surfed eBay, waiting for the missing prints to pop up. On April 23, he said, he came across an extremely rare Link print and called the dealer, who confirmed that Ms. Link was the source. "It was this charming and most effective woman who came in the door and convinced him these prints should be listed," Mr. Garver said.
He said he alerted the district attorney's office, which arranged a sting operation in which an undercover officer posed as a buyer.
Mr. Link's lawyer, J. Edward Meyer, said he had long expected Ms. Link to try to fence the prints after her former husband's death on Jan. 27, 2001, at age 86. "She was going to do it," he said. "Greed wins out."
Ms. Link and her husband, Edward Hayes, 63, were held pending arraignment this evening, and did not have a lawyer as of yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Garver said investigators told him that Ms. Link said the prints had been given to her as gifts. In the past, Ms. Link never tried to explain the disappearance of the 1,400 prints except to say that Mr. Link had made up the story, said Darien J. Zoppo, the lawyer who represented her at the criminal trial.
Although the missing photos were prints, not negatives, they are considered valuable because they were made, signed and stamped by the photographer.
Mr. Link's midcentury photographs of steam engines and railroad towns evoke an era of small-town American innocence that contrasted starkly with the years of ugly legal battles with Ms. Link, who was convicted in 1996 of stealing the photographs, worth more than $1 million.
At the time of her sentencing, the photographer said, "In my 81 years, I have never met nor heard of anyone more evil than her."
The couple began their public fight in 1992 with a divorce and related civil action. They exchanged charges of physical and psychological abuse. Mr. Link said she had turned him into a virtual prisoner by forcing him to make prints in the basement. He eventually won a $5 million judgment against her for taking prints, photographs, antique coins and other valuables, Mr. Meyer said.
At the criminal trial that followed, gallery owners testified that she had tried to deceive them into thinking Mr. Link had Alzheimer's disease, so she could take control of his business affairs. At her sentencing, Ms. Link said she did not know where the 1,400 prints were. She maintained that position even when asked about them while in state prison, Mr. Meyer said.
"Winston's greatest focus at the end of his life was to recover what had been stolen from him by his wife," the lawyer said. "I just wish he was alive today to see this."
He said he hoped a bargain could be struck with her, for leniency in return for the other prints. Ms. Link faces four more years in state prison if convicted.
Ms. Link and Mr. Hayes, a consultant to gravel and asphalt companies, lived in Gettysburg, Pa., the district attorney said. Mr. Zoppo, her former lawyer, said she had relatives in Millerton.
Mr. Link chronicled the waning years of the steam train, from 1955 to 1960, taking painstakingly lighted black-and-white pictures of the Norfolk & Western Railway in the Shenandoah Valley and coal towns of the Allegheny Mountains. He returned to commercial photography after the railroad retired its last steam engine.
"His pictures are much more than railroads," said Robert Mann, owner of the Robert Mann Gallery in Manhattan, which exhibited Mr. Link's work. "They're about a whole generation, a whole period of American life in the 50's."
"If in fact it means all the stolen Winston Link photos have been discovered, it's going to be a great day in photography," he said.
The 31 prints that were recovered were emblematic of Mr. Link's work. They included the image titled "Hotshot Eastbound, Iaeger, West Virginia," Mr. Meyer said. The 1956 photograph shows cars at a drive-in in front of a movie screen showing an airplane, as a locomotive steams by in the background. "It's pretty much the quintessential Winston Link," Mr. Mann said.