Gardner Art Heist: Could the Mystery be over?

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston experienced one of the most famous American art heists in recent memory that has yet to be solved. In 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers made off with 13 masterworks: three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Flinck, five Degas sketches, a Manet, a Chinese beaker, and the eagle from on top of a Napoleonic flag, worth over $500 million today. The Gardner has been offering a $5 million reward for the paintings’ return since 1994, but to no avail. Finally however, after 22 years of twists and turns in the clueless and lead-less case, the FBI may finally have caught a break.

Federal authorities believe that Robert Gentile, a 75-year-old Hartford-based mobster, may have information pertaining to the heist and are detaining him in the hopes that he talks. Robert Gentile has been involved in the local criminal underworld since the 1950’s and was implicated by the leader of Philadelphia’s mafia family Capo Robert Luisi in part of a plea deal. Unable to pin Gentile down until recently, the authorities are hoping he starts talking.

Gentile however is not the first mobster to be implicated, as gangster James "Whitey" Bulger was suspected of knowing details in 2010 but the investigation concluded that he was not involved. The only other strong lead the investigators had was all the way back in 1994, when an offer was made from a unanimous source to return the paintings, but sides failed to come to terms and there has been silence since then.

Time is often the enemy of art crime investigators as the trail quickly gets cold, but time has changed the Gardner case in one way that could increase the chances of the paintings' being recovered. This is due to the fact that the statute of limitations has passed for prosecution of the theft itself. As well as from a statement made by the US attorney that he will not prosecute anyone who has the paintings and offers to return them.

Gardner Art Heist
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt 1633, one of the missing works

The paintings’ have never surfaced, not even as a strong rumor, in the international art underworld. Auction houses and dealers would never dare to touch them which means one of two possibilities for the works: (1) that they are in a private collection or (2) they are in storage somewhere waiting to be returned or sold.

With the emergence of a possible lead, could the mystery be finally over?  Not likely, as Robert Gentile is refusing to talk, but only time will tell. However, through the entertainingly cinematic tale of this heist there is a very important lesson to remember: properly protect your collections. From installing security cameras to setting up alarms to creating proper inventory lists for insurance, the security of your art should always be a priority as it is irreplaceable