Case of missing paintings unsolved after 25 years
Case of missing paintings unsolved after 25 years Empty frames from which thieves took paintings remain on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. A detail of one of the stolen paintings appears at left (AP photos)
Case of missing paintings unsolved after 25 years
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It's been called the biggest art heist in U.S. history, perhaps the biggest in the world. But 25 years later, the theft of 13 works from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains unsolved.

The theft has spawned books, rumors and speculation about who was responsible - and multiple dead ends.

Yet authorities and museum officials remain hopeful, noting that stolen art almost always gets returned, it just sometimes takes a generation or so.

"Although a quarter-century has passed since the art was stolen, we have always been determined to recover it and we remain optimistic that we will," said Anne Hawley, the Gardner's director, who was in charge at the time of the theft.

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men disguised as Boston police officers talked their way into the museum by saying they were responding to a call. They overpowered two security guards, bound them with duct tape and spent 81 minutes pilfering 13 works of art, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.

Authorities say the artwork is worth perhaps, as much as a half-billion dollars. Museum officials say it's priceless because it cannot be replaced.

Some of the works, including Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," were cut from their frames. Those frames hang empty in the museum to this day. "It is our way of remaining hopeful," museum marketing director Kathy Sharpless said.

Museum officials and police remain baffled by the selection of works stolen. It is thought that the three stolen Rembrandts were targeted, but why more valuable pieces were left behind while less valuable works were taken remains a mystery.

The FBI announced two years ago that they think they know the identities of the thieves, yet the exact whereabouts of the art remains unclear. No names have been disclosed or arrests made.

With the help of foreign law enforcement agencies, the FBI has chased down thousands of leads around the globe, to France, Spain, Britain and Japan. But the answer may be closer to home.

Richard DesLauriers, former agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said two years ago that investigators believe the thieves belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the mid-Atlantic. They believe the art was taken to Connecticut and Pennsylvania in the years after the theft and offered for sale in Philadelphia. After that, the trail went cold.

"That announcement did generate some good tips, but no recovery," said Geoff Kelly, a member of the FBI's art crime team who has worked on the case for more than 12 years. The local angle remains the most hopeful, he said.

In 2012, the FBI fruitlessly searched the property of a Connecticut mobster they believe knew something about the heist, even using ground-penetrating radar.

The museum is offering a $5 million reward for the return of the artwork "in good condition." Art experts have said that for that kind of money, someone will eventually "rat out" the thief.

The government's reward is not monetary. It is offering immunity.

The museum is marking the infamous anniversary by launching a virtual tour on its website entitled "Thirteen Works: Explore the Gardner's Stolen Art." The tour includes high-resolution images of the artwork, archival images, the history of the works and how they were acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Critical thinking challenge: Why did the thieves pretend to be policemen?

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/teen/case-missing-paintings-unsolved-after-25-years/

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COMMENTS (16)
  • SydneeF-Kut
    3/30/2015 - 03:39 p.m.

    the thieves probably pretended to be police officers because it was the only way in or not to be noticed. But how do you sell stolen art work unnoticed? And what did the two security guards that where bound up say? I still have a lot of questions about the article.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    3/31/2015 - 06:56 a.m.

    I have always wondered how people get inside of museums to steal art. It's not like it is an easy job to steal art. It's strange to think about because you never hear of it anymore, but it was not uncommon back in the olden days. Nowadays, we hear about Apple or gas station thefts instead of museum thefts because thieves go to what is popular and will get the most attention.

  • ElizabethN6
    4/06/2015 - 01:58 p.m.

    Hm...what can I just say about this? How can it be hard to find some painting for over 25 years? I understand it is hard to find clues, but how can they not discover really good clues yet? No finger print or data on the materials that the painting have been ripped off from? Is it different when the investigation is on a human's death/missing? This story gets me thinking of finding a needle in the hay stack since it has been 25 years and still looking for it. Why did the FBI participate now than before? Seems like I have too many questions....

  • carlosv-Che
    4/07/2015 - 01:50 p.m.

    people who has to steal are lame and poor and I don't have any respect for those type of people because that's just plane and stupid to steal a art painting that your not gone get money from.

  • Julian10
    4/08/2015 - 03:57 p.m.

    25 years later, the theft of 13 works from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains unsolved. The art was stolen on March 18, 1990. There were two men disguised as Boston police officers talked their way into the museum by saying they were responding to a call. Some of the works, including Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," were cut from their frames. The museum is offering a $5 million reward for the return of the artwork "in good condition."

  • charlotteg-Fit
    4/23/2015 - 06:50 a.m.

    I think that the thieves pretended to be police because it was the easiest way to claim they had a reason to go inside the museum. No one could question what the 'police' were doing in too much detail, at least not until they we actually in a position where they could steal something. Also one would think that because they spent so much so much time in the building that someone would have been tipped off There were probably more that two people working in the museum at night. My question is how were they able to spend more than an hour taking the art and still get away without anyone knowing?

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