The friends pooled their money and paid $3,200 for a painting at a church auction. Five months later, they put it up for sale at Sotheby's (search) in New York. The winning bid: $489,600, more than 150 times what they paid.

The roughly 13-inch by 11 1/2-inch panel of the Madonna and child turned out to be the lost third of a 14th century triptych painted by an unknown Sienese artist. It was donated to the church auction by Jessie Hale, of Dublin, whose family had owned it for nearly 100 years.

Word of the painting's worth has spread around town, and some residents say the buyers — Rick O'Connor, Roy Gandhi-Schwatlo and Dawn Ward — have a responsibility to donate some of their new fortune to Hale and the church.

"The whole thing's just unfortunately slimy," auction volunteer Charles Pillsbury told The Union Leader of Manchester. "It's just too bad."

O'Connor was on the committee that organized the auction and was responsible for acquiring paintings for the auction. He said he never spoke with Hale about her painting, and no one in his group knew its real value before buying it.

"We were all friends and decided we would buy the painting," he said Thursday. "We just thought it would be a great investment."

O'Connor said he and his friends considered offering some of the money to Hale but may change their minds because of the hostility they've encountered.

"We're basically innocent people here," he said. "Do you come back after you buy something at a yard sale and tell the owner, 'Oh, geez, we've got to give you back half of everything we've made on this product?"'

As members of the auction committee, O'Connor and Gandhi-Schwatlo spent weeks putting together a successful event, said committee Chairman Tom Blodgett.

He called them "honest and honorable people," adding, "I hope that they will rethink their situation and make a personal gesture to the Dublin community."

Hale declined to comment to the newspaper.