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  • It's the early morning hours on the day after StPatrick's Day, but celebrations are still going  

  • strong in the city of Boston. Two police officers  are standing outside of the Isabella Stewart  

  • Gardner Museum, the former home of a wealthy  art collector for whom the art museum is named.

  • The police explain that they're here because ofdisturbance call, a result of the ongoing holiday  

  • hooliganism outside, and that they need to check  the museum out. The two security guards on duty,  

  • Rick Abath and Randy Hestand, who are both in  their early twenties and somewhat inexperienced,  

  • allow the officers to come inside. The museum security guards have no idea,  

  • but the greatest art heist in modern  history has just been set in motion

  • Once inside, one of the officers says that  Abath looks familiar and there may be a warrant  

  • out for his arrest. He asks the young guard  to come out from behind the security desk,  

  • which is where the only panic button  is located. Abath cooperates, and  

  • he's soon shoved against a wall and handcuffed. The other guard, Hestand, who was on foot patrol,  

  • now returns to the front desk, only to be  immediately forced against a wall by the  

  • other police officer, who promptly handcuffs him  as well. With both Hestand and Abath subdued,  

  • one of the police officers announces,  “Gentlemen, this is a robbery.” 

  • The guards are told that if they don't  give them any trouble, they'll be fine,  

  • after which the thieves then proceed to move them  to the basement. Once down there, the thieves wrap  

  • duct tape around the head and eyes of the guards  and take their wallets, telling them that they  

  • now know where the guards live and warning  them to say nothing to the actual police. If  

  • they hold their tongues, then in about a yearthey'll get a reward for their cooperation

  • There's nobody else in the building, and the  thieves know that no other guards would be coming  

  • until the shift change later in the morningbut they still lay low for a few minutes just in  

  • case the real police had somehow been alertedOnce they're confident that nobody was coming,  

  • they move into action - they now  have the run of the entire building.

  • First, the thieves move to the second floor and  pull Rembrandt's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee  

  • and A Lady and Gentleman in Black off the wallThey smash the priceless paintings on the floor,  

  • shattering the glass of their framesand cut the paintings out with a knife.  

  • They also pull a Rembrandt self-portrait off  the wall, but this piece of work is on wood  

  • and likely ends up being too cumbersome and  heavy to transport for the thieves. Instead,  

  • they take a self-portrait by Rembrandt asyoung man that is the size of a postage stamp  

  • that hangs right underneath the larger painting. Next, the thieves cut out Landscape with Obelisk  

  • by Rembrandt's pupil Govert Flinck as well  as Vermeer's The Concert from their frames.  

  • They also steal a Chinese gu - a ritual  bronze vessel dating back to the Shang  

  • and Zhou dynasties for good measure. One of the  thieves continues to secure the stolen artwork,  

  • moving the items to a side door in preparation of  loading their spoils into a hatchback the duo has  

  • parked on the side of the museum. Meanwhile, the  second moves to a nearby hallway and begins to  

  • work on the screws holding an original Napoleonic  flag in place in its display. However, the housing  

  • proves to be too hard to open, so instead of  stealing the entire flag, they settle for yanking  

  • off the Eagle finial sitting atop the flagpole. The thieves then turn their attention back to  

  • works of art and cut five sketches by French  artist Edgar Degas out of their frames. Finally,  

  • the thieves move to a room on the first floor  where they snag Chez Tortoni by French artist  

  • Edouard Manet. Before they leave the buildingthough, the two thieves move to the security  

  • office and begin to pull out all the video  cassettes onto which the museum's cameras are  

  • recording. In 1990 very few establishments  had off-site recording capabilities, and  

  • digital recording was still several years away. The thieves also take print-outs from the motion  

  • detectors, which have tracked every movement  made by the thieves while they were inside the  

  • building. However, the two are unaware that the  motion detection system also records directly  

  • onto a computer hard drive and leave behind one  of the few clues police will have to work with

  • Right before leaving, the two go back down to the  basement and check in on the guards, adjusting  

  • their restraints so that they're more comfortableIt's 2:45 when the two leave the building,  

  • driving away in a car worth approximately .01%  of the value of the items it is now carrying

  • In the morning, the next shift of guards  buzzes to be let in. When there is no answer,  

  • they assume the guards inside have fallen asleep  and contact their supervisor, who arrives on-scene  

  • with a key to the museum. Once inside, the  two guards and their supervisor are shocked  

  • to discover the security desk abandoned. Even more  shocking though, is the discovery of the missing  

  • artwork. The police are immediately contactedand in a sweep of the building they finally find  

  • Abath and Hestand tied up in the basement. As investigators begin to work the case,  

  • it's immediately apparent that this is one of the  greatest art heists in history. The initial value  

  • is estimated at around $200 million, though by the  year 2000, the value of the artwork had increased  

  • to half a billion dollars - and possibly even  more. Not bad for what ended up being less than  

  • an hour and a half of work for the thieves. Thirteen pieces of art were stolen in all,  

  • two of which are physical artifacts - the ancient  Chinese gu and the French Imperial Eagle finial,  

  • which once adorned one of Napoleon's flags. Of  the paintings, Rembrandt's The Storm on the Sea  

  • of Galilee is valued at about $100 millionbut the most valuable of all is The Concert,  

  • by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, which is  valued today at approximately $250 million

  • Upon examining what was stolen and how, the police  have their first tip: this duo, whoever they are,  

  • clearly knew little about art. The thieves  doubtlessly inflicted considerable damage on the  

  • artworks they stole by smashing their frames on  the ground and then cutting them out before likely  

  • rolling them up for easy transport. Howevereven more perplexing is the theft of the Degas  

  • sketches, which are altogether only worth about  $100,000, a lot of money, but very little when  

  • compared to the other pieces that were stolen. What makes it most clear the duo are not  

  • professional art thieves is that they either  completely ignored or were unaware of the value  

  • of other of the museum's pieces. The thieves  ignored original works by Raphael, Botticelli,  

  • and Michelangelo. The pair also seemed unaware  that Tiziano Vecelli's The Rape of Europa, located  

  • on the third floor of the museum, was considered  the most valuable painting in the entire city

  • Whoever these two were, they were likely  not hired by professional art collectors and  

  • certainly had little knowledge of art themselves. Within days a reward of $1 million was offered  

  • for any information leading to the recovery of the  stolen artwork. But despite an outpouring of tips,  

  • the police had little to go on. The FBI  quickly took control of the case, seeing  

  • as precious artwork like this would inevitably be  crossing state lines, making it a federal crime.  

  • Some fingerprints were found at the scenebut investigators could not differentiate  

  • between museum employees and the thieves. One of the first suspects in the case was  

  • security guard Rick Abath himself, who came under  intense scrutiny due to his unusual behavior on  

  • the night of the theft. While on patrol inside  the museum, Abath had opened and then shut a  

  • side door. He claimed that he did this to test  that the door was locking properly and that he  

  • often did this. However, suppose he had been doing  this regularly. In that case, the motion detectors  

  • should have made a record of it, and according  to one of Abath's co-workers, a supervisor  

  • would have put a stop to it immediately. Investigators believed that Abath's opening  

  • and closing of the door might have been his way  of signaling to the duo that the coast was clear.  

  • Also casting suspicion on Abath is that the motion  detector equipment did not record any movement  

  • inside the room that housed Chez Tortoni, one of  the stolen paintings. The only activity recorded  

  • in that room was Abath's own before the heistleading some to believe that Abath may have  

  • removed the painting earlier in the night while  his partner sat at the security desk, unaware

  • Despite these suspicions, the FBI ultimately  concluded that the two security guards were  

  • too incompetent to have pulled the heist off. Next on the list of suspects was Whitey Bulger,  

  • the infamous Boston crime boss. A police informant  at the time, Bulger was incensed when he learned  

  • about the heist, though not because he was a lover  of great works of art. The robbery had happened  

  • on his turf, which meant he felt he was due a cut  of the profits. Bulger even attempted to discover  

  • the identity of the thieves himself, so he could  collect what he felt was due to him. Who can say  

  • if he would have then informed on the thievesgetting a cut of the official reward as well

  • Investigators believed, though, that even if  Bulger was unaware of who perpetrated the heist,  

  • elements of his criminal network were notThe Irish Republican Army was suspected  

  • of being involved due to their history of  pulling off art heists and then holding the  

  • artwork ransom. Furthermore, before the theftfire alarms went off in several museum rooms,  

  • despite there being no sign of fire or smoke. This  was a calling card of the IRA in previous heists  

  • and strongly hinted that whoever the thieves werethey may have been working for either the IRA or  

  • the rival Ulster Volunteer Force - both of which  had agents in Boston that police were aware of

  • Nine years before the robbery, conman Brian  McDevitt had attempted to rob a Rembrandt from  

  • The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New YorkMcDevitt appeared to fit the description of one  

  • of the thieves, and as a known art thiefhe quickly became a suspect in the case.  

  • McDevitt denied any involvement and refused  to take a polygraph test - though when police  

  • compared his fingerprints to those found at  the scene, they were unable to make a match

  • Though no suspect was ever publically  identified as either of the two culprits,  

  • information would eventually come to light that  gangster Robert Guarente had at one point been in  

  • possession of at least some of the paintingsIn 2010, his widow told the FBI that Guarente  

  • had owned some of the paintings, but he had  given them to another gangster, Robert Gentile,  

  • after Guarente was diagnosed with cancer. Gentile  was indicted on drug charges in 2012 as the  

  • FBI attempted to pressure him on the Gardner  theft, and a polygraph test indicated that he  

  • was lying when he claimed not to know anything  about the robbery or the location of the art

  • Shortly after his arrest, the FBI raided Gentile's  home and discovered a copy of a newspaper from  

  • March 1990 reporting on the theft, along withshopping list of sorts indicating what each stolen  

  • artwork might sell for on the black market. Agents  also discovered a small ditch hidden under a false  

  • floor in his backyard shed, though it was emptyGentile's son told the FBI that a few years ago,  

  • the ditch had accidentally flooded, and his father  had been furious about the damage done to whatever  

  • he was storing there. Questioned about the ditchGentile said he couldn't remember what had been in  

  • there but that it was probably some small motors. Gentile went to jail for 30 months and was  

  • offered a reduced, or possibly discarded  sentence if he gave up the stolen artwork,  

  • but he never took the FBI up on the deal. Today the FBI is pretty confident of the  

  • identity of the two thieves, and even though both  are now probably deceased, the agency has refused  

  • to identify them likely to protect ongoing sources  inside the criminal underworld. It is thought that  

  • the paintings may have been moved to Connecticut  after they were stolen and that an attempt at  

  • selling them was made in 2002 in PhiladelphiaAfter this, the trail goes cold. To this day,  

  • none of the stolen artwork has been recoveredand the FBI is still seeking tips from the public  

  • on where they might be. Empty frames still hang  in the museum where the great works once were,  

  • and The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum  continues to offer a ten million dollar  

  • reward for anyone who can provide information  that leads to the recovery of the lost art

  • Now go watch The Most Insane Diamond  Heist, or click this other video instead!

It's the early morning hours on the day after StPatrick's Day, but celebrations are still going  

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The Biggest Art Heist in US History ($200 Million)

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/15
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