The Gardner Heist
On March 18, 1990, at 01.24 hrs, two thieves dressed as Boston Police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, handcuffed the security guards and sealed their mouths with duct tape. These men stole several artworks worth (at the time of the theft) over $300 million dollars (U.S.). These art works are still at large with a $5 million dollar reward offered for any information that aids investigators in their recovery. Any info on this crime, or requests for third party intervention, submitted to this web portal on our call box page will be kept totally confidential.
All the world is a stage and all the players are fools... but the former administration of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are the biggest fools of them all because they forgot their lines!
Lights, Cameras, Action
There is serious talk in Tinsel Town about filming a movie about the life of
America's most notorious art thieves, Myles Connor. Connor is a name tossed
around in the Gardner Heist from day one and is a real
"character" to say the least. In fact, the entire Gardner investigation
provides an incredible cast of characters, both would be heroes and black
18 March 1990, at 01:24 hrs, after all of the St. Patrick's Day revelry died down, two thugs dressed as Boston PD banged on the side door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2 Palace Rd, Boston, Mass. They told the two young security guards, who had just started their shift a couple hours prior, that they were investigating a caller complaint of a disturbance and were permitted to enter, which was in direct violation of museum policy. The thugs bound and gagged the guards with duct tape and handcuffed them to pipes in the basement, where, in their relaxed state of minds, one actually managed to get a good nights sleep, reinforcing investigators beliefs that the two were high on marijuana..
The thieves spent almost an hour and a half at work in the museum and stole the only surveillance tape upon their exit. They obviously had prior knowledge that the establishment had only one surveillance tape, and also, that their movements would only set off internal alarms. Although the thieves knew the security was lax, they did not know the collection was uninsurable do to that fact. Professional art thieves like to steal insured works so they can bargain with the insurance company over a payoff.
These criminals were not professional art thieves. Not only did they pass over very valuable works, such as Titian's (Tiziano) Rape of Europa on the third floor, which is arguably one of most valuable paintings in the U.S.A., they brutally cut two Rembrandts out of their frames (Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and a Gentleman in Black). They tried to steal a 4th Rembrandt but were unsuccessful. The frames were left behind with ragged fragments of canvas (How a thief removes a canvas from its frame poses great problems when he attempts to fence it; the paintings have to eventually be re-stretched and framed. The frames can be as hard to come by as the paintings).
Upon their departure, the villains told the guards that they would be hearing from them (but were never heard from again). This prompted speculation that they believed the paintings were insured and wanted a deal. Such deals are illegal in the U.S., but still occur. Thieves offer the stolen paintings in return for a small fraction of their market value (if fenced, the black market value of a stolen painting usually receives 10% of its legitimate value). If a painting that is worth 50 million pounds is insured for 3 million pounds and is stolen, the ins. co. would rather pay $500, 000 pounds instead of the entire 3 million. Many law enforcement officials believe that this type of payoff encourages future thefts, but many art lovers feel that the recovery of precious art is all that counts. Insurers view these cash incentives as the only effective way to recover the valuable pieces.
The FBI released two worthless composites of the suspects. The two burn-out security guards were terrible witnesses for the forensic artist to work with and could not describe much of the crime.
At this point in time, these two men can never be prosecuted if the scheme was plotted by someone else and they do not possess the art works, because the statute of limitations has lapsed.
According to Mass State law: "...state prosecutors cannot prosecute for a robbery beyond six years...". -Massachusetts Statutes of Limitations of Criminal Prosecutions; Read Chapt 227, section 63.
The Gardner case prompted the federal passage of "Theft of Major Art Work" statute (read statute 18 usc 668), which makes it a more serious crime to steal any art work more than 10 yrs old or worth more than $5 grand. This felony crime is punishable up to 10 yrs. The statute of limitations is 20 years, which does not apply to the Gardner job, which went down 3 years prior to this statutes enactment.
Since 1990, the museum has wised up and obtained insurance. They have also expanded its security system and its security staff is larger than any other department in the museum.
Eleven paintings and sketches were stolen, along with a 3000 year old Chinese beaker, and a bronze eagle from the top of a Napoleonic flag staff.
At the time of the robbery, these works were worth an estimated $300 million (US). Now they may be worth as much as $600 million (US) do to appreciation. Images of these works may be viewed on the FBI Art Units web site, which may be located on our links page.
Vermeer's Concert is only one of 35 works by the master in existence; Rembrandt's Sea of Galilee is his only known sea scape.
Isabella's will states that nothing in the collection can be moved, nor can new works be added. The empty frames now hang in the spaces where the paintings were once displayed. The will also states that if a portion of the collection is not on view at any time, the remainder of the works must be auctioned off in Paris and the proceeds given to Harvard University.
Besides a lack of security in 1990, the museum also needed structural repairs to the building, renovation of the climate control system, and conservation of most of its furniture and fabrics. They had a very poor record keeping system and could not supply the Federal Bureau of Investigations with a list of any independent contractors who worked at the museum.
Myles Connor is the most notorious art thief in the U.S. Here is his lengthy criminal record (please keep in mind that for every documentated arrest, there are many crimes a career criminal gets away with):
Connor's father was a police officer in Milton. Mass., who collected antique weapons. Myles carried on this love by collecting Samurai swords. His mother painted and wrote poetry. One of his brothers was also a police officer and another was a Roman Catholic priest.
Connor was the lead singer in the early 60s in the band Myles and the Wild Ones. They opened for Sha-Na-Na and played with Roy Orbinson on several occasions.
He is 5'7", a master of disguises, claims to be an expert of Karate, a member of MENSA, and is an arm chair art connoisseur who Time magazine once wrote could run Sothebys or Christies. He is known to have spent many hours in jail cells devouring art books and once stated that all museums are vulnerable to a true pro. He admits to more than 30 art thefts in 20 years and is known to sit on paintings as long as 15 years.
He is a master at using art as a successful bargaining chip to secure immunity from prison, or extort secret ransoms from insurers. In 1975, he arranged the return of a Rembrandt for a lighter sentence. the Rembrandt was worth $1 million at the time. Connor's young friend, William Youngworth II, claims he stole the painting as a juvenile at the behest of Connor to help him with his legal problems. Youngworth studied Karate with Connor.
Connor is a seasoned convict who has had alot of experience in the joint. While incarcerated in the 70s he served as chief negotiator of a prison standoff. As previously noted, he once escaped from prison with a bar of soap he carved into a pistol.
Connor claimed he could get the Gardner loot back, but wanted to get released from federal prison, as well as receive the cash reward. He denied stealing the works, but claims other criminals used his plan.
Some investigators suspected him of masterminding the heist from behind bars, but Connor denies this. Connor stated that he would have certainly taken Titian's Rape of Europa and other more valuable works.
Connor is known to have committed burglaries dressed as a police officer in the past.
He claims to have cased the museum back in 1974 with a friend named Bobby Donati. Donati (a mob button) and Connor discussed the possibility of a heist and knew it was an easy target. Connor claims he abandoned the idea and started concentrating on the Boston MFA across the street instead.
Connor claims Donati and a guy named David Houghton carried out the Gardner plan without his knowledge while he was locked up. Donati was found dead in a trunk with multiple stab wounds a year after the heist. Houghton died in 1992.
Connor has recently sold his story rights to Mandalay Pictures for a book and movie. He expects to be employed as a consultant when filming begins.
In March of 2005, Connor, now 62, was charged with larceny, being an accessory after the fact, receiving stolen property, conspiracy to commit robbery, and being an habitual offender. Connor was acting as a wheel man as his girlfriend's brother, John King, 36 yrs old, stole four watches from H. Brandt Jewelers in Natick. The watches were valued at $900. The two fled the scene, but were stopped by a rookie cop on his first day on the job who was riding with a training partner. They were both placed in the Middlesex County Jail.
James "Whitey" Bulger
James "Whitey" Bulger was born in 1929 in South Boston. He grew up in the South Boston housing projects. He earned his nickname Whitey as a young kid. His younger brother, William Bulger, grew up to become the president of Mass. State Senate. Bulger was a juvenile delinquent who liked to fight. He started doing bank robberies, was arrested for this and incarcerated in 1956 for ten years.
During the early 1970s, Bulger gained a reputation as a tough bone breaker/hit man for Somerville's Winter Hill Gang. This was the preeminent Irish gang in Boston.
In 1975, Bulger became an informant for the F.B.I. An F.B.I. agent named John Connolly, A child hood acquaintance of Bulgers from the housing projects, convinced Whitey that this type of arrangement could benefit both of them Connolly became a big shot in his supervisors eyes by "flipping" Whitey and submitting great info. Bulger, and his partner in crime, Stephen Flemmi, used their roles as informants to eliminate their rivals and competition on the street. The info Bulger gave the F.B.I. helped to dismantle Bulger's biggest rivals, the Italian Mafia. The boss of the Winter Hill Gang, Howie Winter, also was arrested. This huge power vacuum was filled by Bulger, Flemmie, and their thugs. The two built a drug trafficking, racketeering empire in Boston. They also had dozens of men murdered.
Connolly allegedly protected his information flow by tipping off Bulger to undercover sting operations. Eventually in 1999, the Feds indicted Connolly for tipping off Bulger to investigations, falsifying reports to hide their crimes, and accepting bribes.
In 1995, federal RICO and extortion charges were handed down against Bulger. Bulger was tipped off and fled. Bulger was added to the FBIs ten most wanted list in 2000 and a $1 million reward is offered for info leading to his arrest.
F.B.I. Special Agent Dan Falzon
Agent Falzon was the son of a San Francisco police officer. He followed in his father's footsteps and joined the San Francisco PD. He took a pay cut when he joined the F.B.I. and was assigned to the Boston office in 1988, which was his first assignment. He was 26 years old and made $30 grand a year.
In his first big case, Falzon's good investigative skills led to the arrest of a villain on drug related charges and the theft of the Mead paintings; the villain was Myles Connor!
When he found himself leading the Gardner investigation in 1990, he didn't know a thing about art and had never once stepped foot inside the Gardner Museum. He oversaw 30 agents on the case. Falzon and his team took the job seriously and worked many sleepless nights. Although he was no longer involved, Falzon followed the investigation's progress attentively even after he was transferred out of the Boston office.
Thousands of leads have been pursued in this investigation in the U.S., Japan, Latin America, and Europe.
Rollin "Bump" Hadley
Rollin Van Nostrand Hadley, known as Bump, was the Gardner Museum's former director. He was a Harvard educated art historian who lived in the museum throughout his long tenure. He was forced to resign a little less than two years before the break in, in part, because he was considered a poor fund raiser. Coincidentally, Hadley had unsuccessfully pressed the board for money to update their security system. His forced resignation, as well as his $324,000 contract buyout, were very controversial matters at the time and led investigators to label him a "person of interest" do to a possible revenge motive.
The totality of the circumstances makes a revenge motive credible. He was going through a divorce in his last months as director. He was throwing wild parties in the museum after hours. When the Feds asked for the names of his guests he had entertained at these parties, he refused to cooperate.
Hadley moved to Florida two years after the heist, where he died of a heart attack.
William P. Youngworth
This antique dealer was a connoisseur art thief from the Boston suburbs. His criminal record includes more than 60 convictions. He is an expert in oriental rugs and carpets, antiques, fine art, and diamonds (he studied diamonds at the Gemological Institute of America). He is no longer involved in criminal activity and has devoted his life to his son.
William was born into an Irish family. His mother's side had a long history of involvement in crime. As a youth, he studied Karate under Myles Connor's tutelage. He claims that he stole Rembrandt's Elizabeth Van Rijn Wearing Gold Trim Coat from the Boston Museum of Fine Art in 1975. He was 16 years old at the time and states that Connor, who was incarcerated, put him up to the crime so he could use the painting to broker his release from prison (which he did). Youngworth also was known to have involvement with Joseph P. Murray Jr., the reputed head of Irish organized crime in Charleston, Mass.
After the Gardner Heist, William contacted Tom Mashberg of the Boston Herald and told him that he and Connor could recover the Gardner loot. They denied involvement in the crime and demanded immunity from prosecution, Connor's release from prison, and the reward, in return for their services.
On Aug 27, 1997, around 02.00 hrs., Mashberg was blindfolded and taken on a forty minute drive to a warehouse. He was shown what appeared to be Rembrandt's Sea of Galilee. Mashberg promised not to print for one week so the paintings could be moved. A week later the headlines read:" We've seen it!".
Mashberg received an envelope that contained paint chips. The paper declared that they were from the Rembrandt. Professor Walter McCrone, who had been instrumental in the forensic analysis of the Turin Shroud, examined the chips. He concluded that they looked exactly like pigments and paint layers of 17th century Holland. McCrone had missed one important clue in his pigment analysis- the absence of one layer of varnish used by Van Rijn in his work of that period. The chips were deemed fake by the FBI, who accused Youngworth of being a "sleazy con man". William now states that the chips were consistent with the other stolen Dutch master's painting, The Concert by Vermeer. He stated that the press and the FBI claimed that the paint chips were from a Rembrandt and whoever gave them to Mashberg only stated they were from a Dutch master.
The Feds asked for the return of one of the stolen works as proof that William was telling the truth. They refused to make any deals or offers of immunity prior to the return of this work. Both William and Connor refused this request without any deals on the table. William claims that a museum official met with him and advanced him $10,000 for any further cooperation. The museum denies this.
The Feds raided William's Randolph, Mass, home and discovered a stolen van, three unregistered antique firearms, and the butt of a marijuana cigarette (he was storing Connor's belongings while Connor was incarcerated; the firearms belonged to Connor, who as previously noted, had a fancy for antique weapons). William cut a deal for the charges to be dropped and returned a 17th century royal seal which had been stolen years earlier from the Massachusetts State House. Connor was a suspect in this crime.
The FBI decided not to drop the charges completely and William received three years in the SouthEastern Correctional Center for the stolen van. State prosecutors attempted, but failed, to attach a habitual offender tag to his sentence.
In a Prime Time interview in March of 2004, William accused the Feds of using strong arm tactics to force his cooperation. He also stated that the whole affair has ruined his life. He has been hounded by investigators and reporters, he has been labeled as an informant, criminals have threatened to kidnap his kids for info on the paintings whereabouts, his wife died of a drug overdose, and his son was temporarily placed in state care.
He claimed that the paintings could have been returned back in 1997, but the chances are slim to none at present. He claims that the heist was a failed attempt to gain the release of a jailed Irish Republican Army operative, and also stated that Senator Ted Kennedy received a request to help negotiate. The U.S. Government's "no deal with Terrorist" policy made this impossible.
William claims the paintings were recently sold to foreign interests.
Joseph P. Murray Jr.
Joseph P. Murray Jr. was the reputed head of Irish organized crime in Charleston,Mass.,and a convicted drugs and arms smuggler. He was a close associate of Whitey Bulger. Murray told an ex-FBI agent named Robert Fitzpatrick that he held several paintings of value in his possession. According to William Youngworth, those paintings were the stolen Gardner works. Youngworth claims Murray held the stolen works for a short time period.
Murray was involved in the Valhalla IRA gun running incident. This gun running shipment was busted , supposedly ratted out by Whitey Bulger. Bulger accused an uninvolved criminal of being the rat and had this man murdered to cover his tracks.
Murray was shot to death by his wife in 1992.
Brian McDevit appeared on the investigators radar for a short time. He is a Boston native who botched an attempt to break into a museum in NY state and did time. He admitted to police that he planned to steal a Rembrandt. He denied involvement in the crime, but refused to take a polygraph test.
Many theories arose after the heist. Some conspiracy thinkers believe that there is a Harvard connection, which involves both of the Bulger Brothers, Bump Hadley ( a Harvard Graduate), many Harvard big shots and art dealers in the US and Paris. There is supposedly a stipulation in Isabella Gardner's will that if any of the paintings fail to hang in their original places in the museum, the rest of the collection should be sold at auction in Paris and the proceeds given to Harvard U. Many people would make fortunes if this were to come true.
The most credible theory, and the one believed by most investigators, is the IRA/ Irish Mob/ Whitey Bulger connection. Many believe that Bulger took the works to Ireland, where he offered them to the IRA. The last Bulger sighting was in London in 2000. He supposedly was turned away by the IRA and fled to South America taking his valuable "art collection" with him.
There is a $1 million dollar reward offered for info leading to the capture of Bulger.
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