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The search for stolen masterpieces
March 22nd, 2013
11:21 AM ET

Tonight on AC360: 81 Minutes: Inside the Greatest Art Heist in History

Rick Abath used to work the night shift at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  He would arrive around 11:30 p.m. and spend the night patrolling the halls of one of the finest museums in the state.  

On the night shift, only two young watchmen were responsible for guarding the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art housed in the museum, including Rembrandt’s only seascape painting, and a painting by the Dutch artist Vermeer, only one of about 36 in existence.

The job was pretty uneventful. Even boring. 

But on St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 1990, Abath’s usual routine was dramatically shattered. Two men dressed as Boston Police officers rang the doorbell. Going against protocol, Abath let them into the museum. Within minutes he and his partner were subdued and the two thieves had free reign over the museum.

On this night, these two thieves would pull off the greatest art heist in history.  It is considered the biggest property theft ever. By the time the burglars left the museum, they had half a billion dollars worth of art in their possession.

More than two decades later, visitors to the museum can still lay their eyes on an actual crime scene. The empty frames of the stolen paintings hang on the walls, haunting reminders of a spectacular crime.

To this day, the artwork has never been found, the thieves never caught. And more puzzling, none of the 13 works of art have ever been sold as far as investigators can tell. 

Why would these criminals steal valuable works of art if they weren’t going to make any money off of them? It is a mystery that is still unanswered.

And who were these thieves? Suspicion immediately fell on the guard who let them into the museum. For the first time on television, Rick Abath tells us his version of what happened the night those two men dressed as police officers rang the buzzer, and why he decided to let them inside. 

It is a fascinating tale of intrigue and scandal. We’ll take you through the night of the crime, the suspects and theories that have been at the center of the investigation throughout the years - many names will be familiar to you.

Watch the Anderson Cooper Special Report at 10 p.m. tonight.

 See a preview of the documentary:

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Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Randi Kaye
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. bob

    who ever has this can never show anyone. it can only be for personal consumption. that satisfaction has now been revived

    March 24, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  2. emil bartolome

    no doubt that the robbers had already a buyer, before the heist was done and make the loot for good to keep...that's why no sale had been recorded

    March 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  3. Robert

    Think ? Who did they open the for , the police ..... THEY WERE REAL COP'S
    Check ( but not check mate )

    March 22, 2013 at 10:37 pm |

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