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Decoration, Chinese vase and 11 paintings. How the US robbed a museum for $ 500 million

While the people stormily celebrated St. Patrick’s Day March night in 1990, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, two unknown people carried 13 works of art worth $ 500 million. The investigation led the FBI, the reward for information about the finding of the missing works reached $ 10 million, but no results so far – and some evidence was inexplicably lost. has studied the history of one of the largest robberies in the world.

Maecenas and art collector Isabella Stuart Gardner opened the gallery in 1903. Since its inception, this place has become home to many unique and obscenely expensive works – such that connoisseurs are reverently called “priceless.” In particular, there were original works by Degas, Manet, Vermeer, Rembrandt and other great artists of all time. It was on them that the robbers set their sights on the night of March 18, 1990.

 

This is the building of the museum. Image: wikipedia.org
This is the building of the museum. Image: wikipedia.org

Night at the Museum

Despite the colossal cost of the works stored in the building, it was guarded not to say seriously: at night there were only two guards. Apparently, the calculation was that no one would ever think of stealing such exhibits – they are too noticeable, and even in the underground market there would not be many people willing to contact such pictures. But this circumstance did not stop two robbers. Near the museum parked red Dodge Daytona. Inside sat two people in police uniform. Waiting for a deep night, they approached the building and rang the doorbell. To the guard of Rik Abat, the men said that they came on call: there was some kind of noise here. The watchman knew perfectly well that everything was quiet, and if anyone was making a noise, they were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. But the police uniform convinced him to let in strangers. “Cops” said that a person suspiciously like a security man is wanted, so we should go with them to the site for inquiry. Taking advantage of Abat’s confusion, they tied him up.

The police found a guard in this form. Image: npr.org
The police found a guard in this form. Image: npr.org

“They chained me to the electric shield for seven hours. At first I panicked, and then I started to sing “I should release” Bob Dylan. I do not know how much I sang a damn song, but it was a long time, “ – recalled then Rick Abat. Subsequently, the guard worried that his whole life would be scolded for robbery: after all, he did not notice the dirty trick and let the robbers into the museum. With the second watchman who came up to find out what the matter was, they did the same. More dangers for the raiders were not: at their disposal was a whole museum with exhibits worth billions of dollars. The robbers did not act at random, as they knew exactly which jobs they needed. The value of the exhibits did not prevent criminals from treating some of them quite rudely: two paintings were cut directly from the framework. For the whole operation they took about an hour and a half. The thieves stole 11 paintings, a floron (ornament in the gothic) of a bronze eagle and an ancient Chinese vase. The total cost of the kidnapped was approximately $ 500 million. This was the largest robbery of the museum in the United States.

Image: thedailybeast.com
Image: thedailybeast.com

 

FBI left with nothing

The FBI investigated the case. It was feared that the paintings would be exported outside the US and in that case finding them would prove even more difficult. Investigators first came to the conclusion that behind the robbery is a certain criminal grouping from New England – an area in the northeast of the US, which includes six states. The Bureau could not understand on what basis works were selected: if at a cost, why some of the more expensive works remained untouched? The specialists did not come to an unequivocal opinion. In addition, the robbers had enough time to steal more canvases, but they were left. At the same time there were questions to the competence of thieves: it is unlikely that customers of the robbery were delighted to see that some paintings were simply cut out. So the robbers were simply well-trained mercenaries. Is not a fact,“When robbing a bank or car collectors understand the motives easier. They [the robbers] want money. In the case of the theft of art objects to determine the motive is much more difficult, “ – noted the  investigator. After all, the customer of the robbery could be a fan of paintings, which thus decided to replenish his secret collection.

The painting "Concert" by Jan Vermeer was the most expensive among the stolen: its approximate price exceeded $ 200 million. Image: wikipedia.org
The painting “Concert” by Jan Vermeer was the most expensive among the stolen: its approximate price exceeded $ 200 million. Image: wikipedia.org

 

Gangsters and the Irish Republican Army

But guesses did not lead to clues. The investigation was practically not progressing, and the case began to grow rumors. Some time in the involvement in the robbery was suspected of the main gangster of Boston James Bulger, who at the same time was an informant to the FBI (it was about him that the film “The Black Mass” with Johnny Depp was filmed). Then went to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – allegedly she wanted money for the money from the sale of paintings to release their supporters. In the field of view of the Bureau, Miles Connor, Jr., also got involved, an unconventional personality without exaggeration. He was a rock singer, drug dealer and art thief in combination. In the mid 60’s Connor cleared several galleries and stole a lot of valuable exhibits. While at the time of the robbery of the Isabella Museum, Stuart Gardner, he was in prison, that in the case his friends in past crimes were involved. However, guesses for arrests and official charges were few. The museum’s management soon awarded an award of $ 1 million for information about the missing works. Subsequently, the amount increased to $ 5 million, but in part this only complicated the work of the FBI: many people began to address the investigators with their theories, but they could not provide the facts.

In the Isabella Museum, Stuart Gardner, empty frames hang on the spot of the stolen paintings - as a reminder of the missing works. Image: wbur.org
In the Isabella Museum, Stuart Gardner, empty frames hang on the spot of the stolen paintings – as a reminder of the missing works. Image: wbur.org

According to another version, the exhibits were simply destroyed : perhaps, the robbers could not sell them, and leaving such works themselves was too dangerous. In addition, the paintings are capricious in terms of storage: you need to maintain a certain temperature and humidity, otherwise the canvas will begin to deteriorate. It seemed that in 2013 the investigators had abreakthrough: at a press conference, representatives of the FBI announced that they managed to identify the identity of the robbers. According to the investigation, the exhibits were transported to the states of Connecticut and Philadelphia. Ostensibly in the early 2000’s they tried to sell them. But it seems that the suspects were not involved in this case: at least, the reward for information on the missing work is still relevant, and nothing has been reported about the arrests. It is possible that the crime involves very influential people – those who are able to steal evidence from the FBI. Recently it became known that investigators sent the remaining evidence to the laboratory for more detailed DNA analysis and at some point they simply disappeared .

Image: ap.org
Image: ap.org

Private detective Artur Brand continues to investigate the case. In his opinion, the paintings are in Ireland. The detective claims that the Dutch criminal authority even showed him pictures of the works after their disappearance. At the same time, the investigator is more interested not in finding the guilty ones or rewarding, but in finding the works of art themselves: “$ 10 million (at one time the award was just that much.” – ) is not for me. They can buy me a beer. It would be enough. Let them leave their $ 10 million, and together we will celebrate the return of the paintings. “Another investigator, Briton Charles Hill, also believes that the work is in Ireland: they were allegedly brought there in the first half of the 90’s, and theft is the same James Bulger. The European trace is indicated by other details: according to the memoirs of the guards, during the robbery one raider used the word “mate” (a friend) – it is noted that it is more typical for the speech of Irish, British or Australian, but not Americans. Consequently, the crime is committed by visitors.

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