MysteriYES

A comedy mystery podcast in which two friends discuss a weekly mystery.

The Gardner Museum Heist

  • Biggest art heist in the world

    • America’s biggest property crime

  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

    • Boston

    • Built in 1901 and houses over 15,000 pieces of art

    • Collected by Isabella Stewart Gardner

  • March 18th 1990 (day after St. Patrick’s day)

    • 13 pieces of art were stolen from the museum

      • Combined value was over $500 million

      •  
  • On March 18th the museum had 2 inexperienced guards on duty.

    • First guard on duty was Richard E. Abath

      • In a rock band

      • Music school drop out

      • Would often go to work drunk or high after performing

        • “I’d be just getting off of the stage somewhere and just wanted to slow down before I went to the most boring job in the world”

      • Abath says he was sober on the night of the robbery

  • 12:54 AM

    • Fire alarm went off on 3rd floor of the museum.

      • False alarm

  • 1:24 AM

    • Two men in police uniforms buzzed the security desk

    • Said they were responding to a disturbance call and demanded that Abath let them in.

      • St. Patrick’s day

    • Abath decided to break from museum protocol and let the officers into the building through the employee entrance.

      • Grateful Dead concert

        • Didn’t want to get arrested

    • “You look familiar. I think we have a default warrant out on you. Come out here and show us some identification”

      • Abath left booth which had only button to alert police.

      • Indicates insider knowledge

    • The two men then proceeded to tell Abath he was under arrest and handcuffed him.

      • Abath thought it was weird that he wasn’t frisked and started to suspect this was a robbery

    • Second guard arrived to work and was immediately arrested as well.

      • Asked why he was being arrested

      • Men told them this was a robbery

      • Guard said he wasn’t paid enough to try to stop them

    • Guards were tied up with duct tape

    • Motion detectors showed robbers went to the 2nd floor and split up

    • Alarm went off at one point that was supposed to alert guards that someone was too close to the art

      • Robbers found the alarm and smashed it

      • Museum was in the process of updating their security at the time of the robbery

        • Had a system that required the guard to push a button to alert the police and guards were not in a separate control room just in a kiosk

      • Didn’t have theft insurance

        • Insurance for damage

        • Theft insurance was too expensive

          • $3 million a year vs $2.8 operating budget

  • 2:28 AM

    • Robbers returned to the security desk

      • Checked on guards

      • Smashed security footage

    • Took art to car in two trips

      • Witnesses reported seeing the thieves loading something into a red hatchback

  • 13 items were taken

    • A Vermeer

      • Only 34

      • The Concert Worth over $200 million

    • 5 Degas

    • A Flink

    • A Manet

    • An ancient Chinese gu

    • 3 Rembrandts

      • Only known seascape from Rembrandt

      • Tried to take 4th

    • A bronze eagle from the top of a Napoleonic flag

      • Possibly thought it was gold

    • Left behind extremely valuable pieces

      • Michelangelo

      • Titian

      • Passed two Raphaels and a Botticelli to get to the eagle

      • Cut paintings from frames and smashed frames

  • 6:45-8:15

    • Two day guards arrive at work

      • Unable to get in

    • Called police

    • Discovered the night security guards

  • Thieves wore gloves but didn’t cover their faces

    • Abath couldn’t remember what they looked like

    • Said police sketch was wrong

    • Colonel Klink

  • April 1994

    • Museum received anonymous letter

    • Claimed to know location of the art

    • Knowledge of stolen pieces

    • Buyer in another country was about to buy them

    • $2.6 million

    • 2nd letter

      • Said not to get authorities involved

      • Angry letter

    • Said they would give clues to where the art was.

      • Never heard from again

  • Who stole?

  • Inside job

    • Knew there was only 1 button

    • Knew there weren’t more alarms

    • Abath was suspected

      • Still is

    • Abath broke protocol to let robbers in

      • Museum specifically stated not even police were to be allowed in

        • Abath said he wasn’t aware

      • Abath had broken policy before

        • New Year’s Eve

        • 2016 tape

          • Abath let unidentified man into museum night before the heist

          • Abath buzzes man into the museum twice in a few minutes

          • Man stayed for 3 minutes in the lobby

          • Returned to car and left

          • Abath claims to not remember

            • Said job was incredibly boring because not much happened

    • Abath couldn’t remember the robber’s faces despite getting good looks at them

    • Motion detectors weren’t shut off

      • Didn’t record thieves on the first floor

      • Did record Abath in the room earlier in the night

    • Police didn’t believe Abath was smart enough to pull of heist

      • Collaborators

    • Never seemed to have profited from heist

  • Brian McDevitt

    • Similar robbery in 80s

      • Hijacked a FedEx truck and drugged the driver.

      • Stole uniform

      • Planned to duct tape employees to steal art in New York and cut painting out of their frames

      • Robbery didn’t work because McDevitt got stuck in traffic and didn’t get there until the museum closed

      • Went to jail for a few months for attempted robbery

    • Lived 10 minutes away from the Gardner museum at the time of the robbery

    • Questioned by FBI and Grand Jury

      • Not charged

  • IRA

    • Arthur Brand

      • Art theft expert from Holland

        • Undercover to buy stolen art

        • Recovered $25 million

    • 1991 Brand found a photo of the art in a storage facility in Holland

    • 2010 Brand heard art was in possession of someone affiliated with Irish Republican Army

      • Stolen by small time thieves

      • Sold pieces to gang members

      • Gang members sold to IRA

        • The Boston Herald reported that an international crime lord paid 5 thieves $100,000 each for the robbery but refused to pay the full amount after the robbers botched the job and didn’t get the Titian or Botticelli

        • One of crew members was reportedly tortured and killed in 1991 after bragging about the robbery

    • 2017 said he was “100 percent sure” artwork was in Ireland

      • Talked to former members

      • Museum doesn’t think lead will pan out

        • Idea was put forth a while ago and didn’t pan out

    • Museum doubled reward for return of art to $10 million

      • Returned to $5 million in January

    • “The FBI believes with high confidence that we have identified those responsible for the theft, even though we still don’t know where the art is currently located”

    • William P. Youngworth

      • Antique dealer and convicted felon who claimed to know where paintings were in 1997

        • Claimed to have dealt with people from Ireland

      • Formed relationship with Herald reporter

      • Wanted immunity for this crime and another crime he was on trial for

        • Also wanted a man named Myles Connor released from prison

          • Escapes from prison and murder of two 20 yeard old women in 1975

      • Took Tom Mashberg to a warehouse in the NorthEast to see Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee briefly with a flashlight.

        • Provided paint samples of paint chips

          • Experts confirmed paint was Dutch 17th century but not from stolen paintings

          • Couldn’t say definitively if real or fake

          • FBI quit dealing with Youngworth

  • Bobby Donati

    • Theory put forth by Stephen Kurkjian in book Master Thieves: The Boston Gangster Who Pulled Off the WOrld’s Greatest Art Heist

      • Kurkjian worked for the Boston Globe and had 3 Pulitzers

      • Said FBI wasn’t interested

    • Boston gangster

    • Art thief Myles J. Connor Jr claimed him and Donati had planned a heist of the museum in the 80s

    • Shortly before robbery Donati was seen at a club with a paper bag

      • Paper bag ripped open and police uniforms spilled out

    • Donati worked for a boss named Vincent Ferrara

      • Ferrara was in prison serving a 20 year sentence

      • Donati said he was going to get him out

    • After robbery Ferrara reportedly asked Donati

      • “Was that you?”

      • “I told you I was going to do it. Now I go to find a way to begin negotiating to get you out.

    • Donati was murdered in 1991

  • Robert “Bobby the Cook” Gentile

    • Also investigated by Kurkjian

    • May 2012

      • Police searched home in Manchester

        • Didn’t find art

        • Found sheet of paper with value of stolen pieces

    • January 2016

      • FBI charge Gentile with gun charges to reveal location of art

        • Subsequent hearing prosecutor revealed evidence tying Gentile to the crime

          • Claimed him and partner Robert Guarente tried to reduce an associates prison sentence with two stolen pieces

            • Guarente’s wife told authorities in 2015 that her husband once owned the art and gave it to Gentile before he died in 2004

          • Gentile also told at least 3 fellow inmates that he had stolen the art

    • 2015

      • Gentile took a lie detector test

        • Denied advanced knowledge of heist or every owning any paintings

        • Test claimed there was a 0.1% chance that he was telling the truth

    • May 2 2016

      • Gentile’s home was searched again

    • February 2018

      • Gentile sentenced to 54 months in prison for gun charges

  • Art was destroyed

    • Stolen pieces are typically recovered right away or about a generation later

      • Pieces have not resurfaced

    • 2005 Boston’s US Attorney said he wouldn’t prosecute anyone who comes forward with the paintings

    • Statute of limitations not expired

    • Obviously not experts

      • Broke frames

      • Potentially damaged the painting in the heist