It's a truth universally acknowledged that often real life can be a whole lot stranger (and often much, much darker) than fiction. This, of course, is a big part of the reason that the true crime genre is so enduringly popular. And the story of Irish criminal and terrorist Rose Dugdale is bizarre enough that it sounds like it should be fiction. But it isn't.
True crime docuseries The Heiress and the Heist arrives on Sundance Now this July and aims to introduce her story to American audiences. Born Bridget Rose Dugdale, she was an English heiress and debutante from a wealthy London family. (She even met Queen Elizabeth II at one point!) She ultimately rebelled against her aristocratic upbringing, becoming a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army and crafting some of the group's most audacious activities, including a multi-million dollar art heist and a bomb attack on a Royal Ulster Constabulary station that involved a hijacked helicopter
The three-part series chronicles Rose's transformation into a revolutionary, from early childhood to her time in Limerick Prison, but its primary focus is the Russborough House heist in 1974, which she largely organized. Under her instruction, the gang stole 19 works of art by old masters that would be valued at around 90 million dollars today, including paintings by Gainsborough, Rubens, Vermeer, and Goya. (The Vermeer that was stolen, Lady Writing a Letter to Her Made, was the only Vermeer held in private ownership outside of the one at Buckingham Palace.)
This kicked off a nationwide manhunt for the paintings, which lasted for about two weeks, before the house Dugdale had rented in Glendore, County Cork was discovered by police, where all 19 paintings were hidden in the trunk of a car. Dudgale was arrested and subsequently charged in relation to the art theft, as well as that aforementioned helicopter attack. She was ultimately convicted --- she declared herself "proud and incorruptibly guilty" during her trial --- and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The Heiress and the Heis explores the impact and immediate aftermath of the crime through key witness testimonies, including crime correspondents who reported the story at the time and the police officer who recovered the paintings.
The series is directed by David Harvey (The Kennedys’ Irish Mafia) and executive produced by Shannon Cooper, Jonathan Ford, Ronan Hand, and Mariana Rios Sanchez.
All three episodes of The Heiress and the Heist premiere on Thursday, July 27 on Sundance Now and AMC+.