The Case of the Gardner Museum Art Heist in Boston, World's Biggest and Focus of Netflix's 'This Is a Robbery'
The crime occurred in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990 inside Boston’s famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Priceless artworks were taken and have never been found.
The four-part documentary series, executive produced by Jane Rosenthal, explores the crime that occurred in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990 inside Boston’s famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was then that a handful of priceless artworks were taken and have never been found.
The day before was St. Patrick’s Day, and the city of Boston nearly shut down as citizens reveled in celebration. And the following day was similar, as the city celebrated St. Patrick again with an annual parade always held on a Sunday. For the thieves, it was an ideal time to pull off the heist.
During the heist, which took 81 minutes, two men dressed as police officers allegedly told the security guard working at the main checkpoint desk they had a warrant for his arrest. He let them into the building and was asked to call the other security guard on duty. Both were handcuffed and duct-taped and brought to the basement, where they were held captive as the robbery took place.
Ultimately, the robbers took $500 million worth of art, including rare pieces from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.
“The suspects did not brandish weapons, nor were any weapons seen during the heist. No panic button was activated and no Boston Police notification was made during the robbery. The video surveillance film from the evening of the robbery was seized by the thieves prior to departure,” the FBI said in a statement in 2015.
When the museum opened later that day, the staff found frames on the ground, exhibits in disarray and the security guards locked away in the basement.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum broke ground in 1899 and is modeled after a 15th-century Venetian palace. It was meant to house philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner's private art collection. Gardner died in 1924. In her will, she said the collection had to remain exactly as she left it, which it did. However if a time came where it had to change, the art needed to be auctioned off with all of the money going to Harvard University, the docuseries noted.
Up until the robbery, none of the museum's 2,500 works had moved, according to Business Insider.
The crime made international headlines and the FBI aided in the investigation.
The museum initially offered a $1 million for information on the heist, but it received no takers.
“These paintings are very unique, easily identifiable if you know what you’re looking for. If you didn’t see these paintings you’d walk right by them and maybe not take note of them,” FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly said in a video statement in 2013 on the agency’s website.
Six days after the robbery, the museum reopened. The frames left behind by the thieves that once housed the paintings they stole were hung up with nothing in them, honoring Gardner’s request that nothing be changed.
“The pieces that were stolen from the Gardner really are the true definition of pricelessness, because they can never be sold, they can never be replaced. So when you lose a piece from this particular collection the museum can’t just go out and acquire another masterpiece to put in its place. It has to remain empty,” Kelly said. “The spots have to remain unfilled until Mrs. Gardner’s purchases and her items are put back into their proper place in the collection. And the final chapter in this investigation would be the successful location and recovery of the paintings, and the return of these paintings to the Gardner Art Museum.”
The thieves also took the security footage from the day of the heist as well as a print out from the alarm system that showed which rooms were accessed and at what time. However, they did not clear the computer hard drive that backed up the print out nor did they take the security tape from the day before, which the FBI released in 2015. Still, no leads were produced.
Still, 31 years after the heist, the crime has never been solved and the reward issued by authorities has only gone up, now totaling $5 million. The museum itself is offering $10 million for information.
“The Museum is offering a $10 million reward for information leading directly to the safe return of the stolen works. (A share of the reward would be given in exchange for information leading to the restitution of any portion of the works.) A separate reward of $100,000 is being offered for the return of the Napoleonic eagle finial,” the museum said in a statement on their website posted this year.
The docuseries explores who could have done it and how. Theories have emerged that it was the work of organized crime or that it could have been an inside job. No one has never been charged in the crime and the investigation is still open.
Anyone with information regarding the heist is asked to call the FBI at 617-742-5533 or the Isabella Gardner Museum at 617-278-5114.
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