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Empty Frames and Other Oddities From the Unsolved Gardner Museum Heist

Empty Frames and Other Oddities From the Unsolved Gardner Museum Heist


In the pre-dawn hours of March 18, 1990, following a festive St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, two males dressed as cops walked into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and walked off with an estimated $500 million in artwork treasures. Despite efforts by the native police, federal brokers, beginner sleuths and never a number of journalists, nobody has discovered any of the 13 works misplaced within the largest artwork theft in historical past, together with a uncommon Vermeer and three treasured Rembrandts.

The legacy of the heist is all the time obvious to museum guests who, a long time later, nonetheless confront vacant frames on the gallery partitions the place work as soon as hung. They are stored there as a reminder of loss, museum officers say, and within the hope that the works could finally return. Last month, Richard Abath, the night time watchman who mistakenly allowed within the thieves, died at 57. He was a significant determine in an investigation that continues to be energetic, however the place the paths have grown chilly.

Here are 5 oddities that make this one of the crucial compelling of American crimes.

Important work have been taken from their frames through the heist. But different gadgets that have been stolen weren’t practically of the identical caliber: a nondescript Chinese steel vase; a reasonably extraordinary bronze eagle from atop a flagpole; and 5 minor sketches by Degas. The thieves walked previous work and jade collectible figurines value hundreds of thousands, together with a drawing by Michelangelo, but they spent a few of their 81 minutes inside fussing to free the vase from a difficult locking mechanism.

Abath, one among two guards on obligation, was handcuffed and gagged with duct tape. He was by no means named a suspect. But over time investigators continued to evaluate his habits as a result of he had, in opposition to protocol, opened the museum door to the thieves. (The second guard, who remains to be residing, was by no means a spotlight of investigative curiosity.) The F.B.I. monitored Abath’s belongings for many years however by no means noticed any suspicious revenue. He persistently mentioned he informed investigators every thing he knew, and an F.B.I. polygraph he voluntarily took was deemed “inconclusive.”

The museum was as soon as Gardner’s dwelling and he or she wished to make sure that her expansive artwork assortment was displayed in the identical method she had organized it. She stipulated in her will that not a factor was to be eliminated or rearranged, or the gathering needs to be shipped to Paris for public sale, with the cash going to Harvard University. Though it’s lengthy been reported that the empty frames are left hanging to accord with that may, the museum says that’s truly a protracted uncorrected mistake. “We have chosen to show them,” it mentioned in a press release “as a result of 1.) we stay assured that the works will sometime return to their rightful place within the galleries; and a pair of.) they’re a poignant reminder of the loss to the general public of those distinctive works.”

A self-portrait of Rembrandt at 23 was taken down by the thieves however left leaning in opposition to a cupboard. “I actually imagine they most likely forgot it,” mentioned Anthony Amore, the museum’s present safety chief. The work was on an oak panel, making it heavier than the work on canvas that they stole. But it was about the identical dimensions as Govaert Flinck’s “Landscape With an Obelisk,” which was additionally on oak, and stolen.

Investigators have checked out all method of burglars and artwork thieves and dismissed all kinds of theories. Did Whitey Bulger steal the artwork to assist the Irish Republican Army elevate cash for arms? No. Did the Mafia desire a bargaining chip to assist free a member from jail? Maybe. In 2015 the F.B.I. named two long-dead, Boston-area criminals, George Reissfelder and Lenny DiMuzio, because the seemingly bandits. They have by no means publicly mentioned why.

Investigators nonetheless hope to get well the artwork. The museum upped its reward to $10 million in 2017. from $5 million in 1997 and $1 million in 1990. It has devoted a number of sections of its web site to educating the general public in regards to the crime. It embraces publicity within the hope that somebody, sometime, someplace will acknowledge one of many artworks and phone it.

“We have adopted each lead and proceed to take a look at new leads,” Amore mentioned, including, “All that issues is discovering out the place they’re right this moment and getting them again.”


Installation images by Tony Luong for The New York Times. Paintings by way of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Boston.

Produced by Tala Safie, Marysa Greenawalt and Josephine Sedgwick.

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