Quarter-century after $500 million art heist, Boston mystery endures

Fri Feb 27, 2015 3:03pm EST
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By Elizabeth Barber

BOSTON (Reuters) - A 122-year old Venetian-style palazzo tucked into Boston's marshy Fens section stands as one of the city's more popular tourist attractions and the site of one of its longest-unsolved crimes.

It has been almost 25 years since 13 artworks worth some $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history. The statute of limitations for prosecuting the thieves has long expired but officials at the private museum and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have not given up hope of recovering the missing works, which include including Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," Vermeer's "The Concert" and Manet's "Chez Tortoni."

The Gardner's remaining collection is sizable, boasting some 2,500 pieces that range from a Roman mosaic of Medusa to ancient Chinese bronzes, reflecting the eclectic tastes of the turn-of-the-century collector from whom it takes its name.

More unusual are the four empty frames that hang in the galleries. They are a quirk of Gardner's will that turned the building she called home in her final years over to the public as a museum after her 1924 death, on the condition that the collection not be changed.

Anthony Amore, the museum's chief of security, described the empty frames as "placeholders, signs of hope" that the missing art would one day be recovered.

"The investigation is very active and very methodical," said Amore, a former Department of Homeland Security official who has spent much of the past decade trying to track down the missing art. "We need those works."

The mystery dates to the rainy night of March 18, 1990, when two men dressed as police officers arrived at the museum's front door and security guards let them in. The pair allegedly overpowered the guards, who were found duct-taped to chairs in the museum's basement the next morning.

There have been glimmers of hope of solving the crime. In March 2013, FBI officials said they had identified the thieves and asked anyone who seen the missing work, which includes etchings and other historic objects, to come forward.   Continued...

Security guard Paul Daley stands guard at the door of the Dutch Room following a robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, in this file photo taken March 21,1990.  REUTERS/Jim Bourg/Files