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Conscience wins: Remorseful art thief returns Winona painting

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Apparently it's harder to appreciate a work of art when plagued by the knowledge that you stole it.

The Winona Daily News reports a guilt-ridden man contacted police to tell them a stolen portrait of Winona businessman and philanthropist Paul Watkins was in his possession.

The Daily News says the painting – which measures 4 feet by 5 feet and weighs 200 pounds – was sitting in a police department evidence room Wednesday, awaiting a return to its rightful spot in Watkins Manor. It was stolen from the mansion more than two months ago.

Paul Watkins became president of J.R. Watkins Co. in 1911. His uncle's homemade liniment (right) was the foundation of a company that became nationally known for its spices, health remedies, and baking products.

Watkins Manor is now an assisted living center for seniors but the Rochester Post Bulletin reports its great hall is open to the public and functions as a museum of sorts. Portraits of Paul Watkins and his wife Florence had hung opposite each other since the 1920s until a housekeeper discovered Paul's missing one September morning.

The thief's motive?

Well...

Police Chief Paul Bostrack told the Daily News investigators are still piecing that together, but it seems to be "a spur-of-the-moment thing."

Winona Radio reported the man who contacted police is "believed to be a college student."

Finally, police described the theft to FOX 9 as a "lapse in judgment due to alcohol."

Police say it will be up to Winona Health whether to press charges in the case.

Paul Watkins' granddaughter, Ruth Watkins Fell, tells the Post Bulletin she's just happy the painting was returned, saying "I'm shocked, first of all, but extremely pleased that they somehow got it back."

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