(USA Today) -- Citing "overwhelming evidence," a Romanian investigator said Monday that three of seven stolen artworks that included pieces by Picasso, Monet and Matisse had been incinerated, Reuters reported.
The news came as a Romanian women facing charges for destroying art recanted her story reported last week that she had burned several paintings in an oven to protect her son, one of the six alleged thieves who snatched the paintings and drawings in October from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
"We gathered overwhelming evidence that three paintings were destroyed by fire," said Gheorghe Niculescu, head of the team examining ashes that police found in a stove at her house in Carcaliu, a village in southeastern Romania.
Crucial pieces of evidence examined with high-tech equipment were the nails used to fasten the canvases to their wooden frames, and a particular blue paint, Niculescu, of the National Research Investigation Center in Physics and Chemistry, told Reuters.
But he could not say which paintings were destroyed, nor say whether the burned remains could have come from other paintings.
The stolen works - paintings and drawings signed by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan, a 19th-century Dutch artist - were valued at $130 million.
Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, director of Romania's National History Museum, supported Niculescu's account, telling the Associated Press that museum scientists had found "a large amount of paint, canvas and nails" in the ashes of Olga Dogaru's stove.
Last week, court documents revealed that Dogarau had told authorities that after her son, Radu, was arrested in January, "I placed the suitcase containing the paintings in the stove. I put in some logs, slippers and rubber shoes and waited until they had completely burned."
She said she was "very scared" because "I knew that what had happened was very serious."
In court Monday, however, Dogarau told a three-judge panel the story was a fabrication.
"I did not burn them," she said in open court, The New York Times reported.
"I believed that what I said before was the best thing at the moment, that this was the right thing to do," Dogaru said during the hearing on whether she and her son should be released pending trial in August.
She initially told police she had buried the artwork in a cemetery,
She was arrested in March. If convicted of destroying artworks, the most serious charge, she faces a possible prison sentence of three to 10 years.
The Oct. 16 crime has been called the "theft of the century."
Security cameras captured the thieves entering and exiting the museum through a rear emergency exit, but apparently did not record the actual robbery, which took less than 90 seconds. Police arrived five minutes later to find blank spaces on the walls where the pieces had hung.
The stolen paintings came from the private Triton Foundation collection.
They were: Pablo Picasso's 1971 Harlequin Head; Claude Monet's 1901 Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London; Henri Matisse's 1919 Reading Girl in White and Yellow; Paul Gauguin's 1898 Girl in Front of Open Window; Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait," around 1890, and Lucian Freud's 2002 Woman With Eyes Closed.