The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft
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Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads—and a $5 million reward—none of the paintings have been recovered. Worth as much as $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become one of the nation's most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.
After the death of famed art detective Harold Smith, reporter Ulrich Boser decided to take up the case. Exploring Smith's unfinished leads, Boser travels deep into the art underworld and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including a brilliant rock 'n' roll thief, a gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse, and the enigmatic late Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner herself. Boser becomes increasingly obsessed with the case and eventually uncovers startling new evidence about the identities of the thieves. A tale of art and greed, of obsession and loss, The Gardner Heist is as compelling as the stolen masterpieces themselves.
bustling Saturday afternoon, and while one man diverted the guard’s attention, the other would unscrew a vitrine, remove a vase or two, and then saunter out the door. The men stole ancient Chinese porcelains because only an expert can tell one from another, making it easier to sell the stolen ones. Before police pinched the thieves, they had looted almost $4 million worth of art from more than a dozen different galleries. “Right in broad daylight, they were going into museums and things were
carries a bigger price tag than the finest diamonds or the purest gold, and a major canvas by an Old Master might have the value of a Gulfstream jet or a Cor t ege au x En v i rons de Fl or ence - 67 small ocean liner. Consider Klimt’s Adele Bloch-bauer I. In 2006 Ronald Lauder purchased the twentieth-century portrait for $135 million. With that same amount of money, the cosmetics magnate could have acquired a midsized computer firm (technology giant Cisco bought the hardware designer
small space, studying the feeds from the video cameras and motion detectors. If the watchmen saw anything suspicious, they could communicate with the guards inside the galleries via two-way radios or ring a panic button that would call in the police. Even the control room itself was protected. To prevent 078 Th e G a r d n e r H e i s t a gunman from hijacking the museum, plates of bulletproof glass enclosed the space and the door could be opened only from the inside. “This place is top of
from Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. The silk banner is yarned together with gilt sequins and bosses, and the thief starts to unscrew the glass casing that protects the flag, undoing metal screw by metal screw. He gets a half-dozen out, but then he decides to simply rip the eagle finial from the top of the flagstaff and pocket that item instead. Back on the ground level, the thieves nab their last spoil, Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni, a powerful portrait of a gentlemen sitting in a French café. They
cover-up. “The simple fact is that current FBI director Bob Mueller was the U.S. attorney in Boston at the time of the theft and had knowledge of Whitey Bulger and his murders before and during and after they happened. Mueller broke numerous laws, and that’s half the reason the search for the paintings is so lukewarm.” Turbo pointed his fork at me for emphasis. “You’ll see. As you work on this case, you’ll get to a crossroads, and you’ll have to make certain decisions, and to go forward, you’ll