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
Lexile: 930L

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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. They note 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. She is the Gardner's director and 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. They said 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. The thefts included 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. Later it was 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. He 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. The investigators even used 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. It is 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?

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Assigned 98 times

  • MiaM-Kut
    3/23/2015 - 03:26 p.m.

    How could the police not be able to track down the thieves,I thought by this time they would have the technology to figure it out. And how could the museum not have a security system.

  • briahnaa-And
    3/23/2015 - 03:33 p.m.

    This article is about how after 25 years of searching for the thieves and the paintings of the Isabella Stewart Gardener museum the is still dead ends and no clue of where and who they are.

  • tylieg-And
    3/23/2015 - 03:59 p.m.

    This was a really interesting article to read. I think that it is really weird that these people could get away with this robbery. I hope that they find the paintings soon.

  • sammyg-Loo
    3/23/2015 - 04:39 p.m.

    I cannot believe the thirteen pieces of art was stolen 25 years ago! I think the person who stole the art work should return it so, everyone can enjoy it instead of themselves. I think this article is very useful, because it told me about what happens in our world and in our history. I hope they find they find the crooks who stolen these pieces of beautiful art.

  • tobet-Loo
    3/23/2015 - 04:39 p.m.

    I can't believe that this heist hasn't been solved yet. My answer to the critical thinking challenge is that they pretended to be policeman so that they would be able to enter the museum without getting caught. I hope the paintings will be recovered.

  • kyeleeh-Loo
    3/23/2015 - 04:42 p.m.

    When I think about it, I realize how priceless artwork is. It's not just a drawing filled with color, despite what other people might say, it's something that takes time, and effort. For them to be stolen, especially when the artist is dead, it's really an impacting thing. Those thieves, in my eye, are very smart. They stole THIRTEEN paintings! Even though they, back then, probably didn't have lasers and alarms, it's kind of amazing how they stole it. They dressed as police men, told the people they were answering a call, knocked out two guards, and stole the paintings, in eighty minutes. It's still taking twenty-five years to find those paintings. The thieves might be dead, they might be alive, or they might be old and frail. Yet, either way, the case has lead to dead ends and for it to be returned, they have offered $5,000,000. I think that they'll find they paintings eventually, but I also think it will still be awhile before it's found.

  • paitong-Loo
    3/23/2015 - 04:48 p.m.

    This is a very interesting topic. In my opinion, the reward should be much more than five million dollars. If, the paintings are worth half a billion dollars and you found all thirteen I would want more than that. Although, five million dollars is quite a lot of money. Also, the paintings are getting older every year. Therefore, the reward should be more and more every year. Anyways, the topic is amazing and very intriguing!

  • laurenl-And
    3/23/2015 - 05:44 p.m.

    Nobody ever suspects a cop to be a bad guy and steal 13 paintings. So it's the perfect disguise. You don't just look at a cop and say, "Hmm...he looks like a thief so I don't trust him at all. I'm not going to allow him to come in and "respond to a call". You just don't. So they got in easy, and out easy. Though I would think the guards the the dude who let him in would of seen their faces.

  • LillyF-Kut
    3/23/2015 - 06:28 p.m.

    I'm surprised that no one has caught the thief that stole the painting. If 25 years has passed by new inventions in security should not have that happen again. I wonder if the person who stole is still alive and where the painting could still be hiding. I hope this isn't such a big deal in the future and more importantly it gets resolved.

  • Eriku2
    3/23/2015 - 07:06 p.m.

    This article is about art heist. It has been unsolved for over 25 years. People still study it and try to solve it but can't. I think that whoever did is a master and is the greatest con artist ever.

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