March 22nd, 2010
12:33 PM ET

The $300 million heist


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/22/painting.jpg caption="Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" width=292 height=320]

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

The paintings were priceless. The heist, however, was worth $300 million.

This past Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the largest art theft in U.S. history. And to this day, authorities still have no clue who took some of the greatest works of art from the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

“It’s still an on going investigation with leads that we continue to follow,” said FBI spokesman Mike McNamara. “I think at some point the paintings will be recovered.”

But even a $5 million reward and the promise of immunity has yet to tempt anyone to come forward with information on the historic robbery that reads more like a hollywood caper.

On March 18, 1990, two white men dressed as Boston police officers told museum security guards they were responding to a call of a disturbance at the museum.
Once the fake cops were allowed in, they subdued the guards and restrained them with handcuffs and duct tape. The “panic button” which would alert the police department of a crime, was not activated, and the museum’s surveillance tape was taken by the robbers.

Authorities said the suspects were in the museum from 1:24am until 2:45am.

Within that relatively small window of time, they made off with several masterpieces from the Dutch and Blue Room Galleries:

– VERMEER, THE CONCERT; Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 64.7 cm.
– REMBRANDT, A LADY AND GENTLEMAN IN BLACK; Oil on canvas, 131.6 x 109 cm. Inscribed at the foot, REMBRANDT. FT: 1633.
– REMBRANDT, THE STORM ON THE SEA OF GALILEE, Oil on canvas, 161.7 x 129.8. cm. Inscribed on the rudder, REMBRANDT. FT: 1633
– REMBRANDT, SELF PORTRAIT, Etching, 1 3/4" x 2", (Postage Stamp size)
– GOVAERT FLINCK, LANDSCAPE WITH AN OBELISK , Oil on an oak panel, 54.5 x 71 cm. Inscribed faintly at the foot on the right; R. 16.8
– CHINESE BRONZE BEAKER OR "KU", Chinese, SHANG DYNASTY, 1200-1100 BC; height of 10 ", diameter of 6 1/8", with a weight of 2 pounds, 7 ounces.

– DEGAS, LA SORTIE DU PELAGE, pencil and water color on paper, 10 x 16 cm.
– DEGAS, CORTEGE AUX ENVIRONS DE FLORENCE, pencil and wash on paper, 16 x 21 cm.
– DEGAS, THREE MOUNTED JOCKEYS; Black ink, white, flesh and rose washes, probably oil pigments, applied with a brush on medium brown paper, 30.5 x 24 cm.
– DEGAS, PROGRAM FOR AN ARTISTIC SOIREE; Charcoal on white paper, 24.1 x 30.9 cm.
– DEGAS, PROGRAM FOR AN ARTISTIC SOIREE; a less finished version of the above, charcoal on buff paper, 23.4 x 30 cm
– MANET, CHEZ TORTONI; Oil on canvas, 26 x 34 cm

The 2010 value of the theft is estimated at approximately $500 million.

The FBI continues to receive tips and phone calls, McNamara said. He also said DNA evidence taken from the duct tape used to bind the guards was resubmitted for testing.

Contact the FBI or your local police if you have any information on the the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum art theft.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    I am sure it is a typo, but the 2010 value of the paintings is $500 million, not $500 billion.

    March 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  2. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    Because Isabella Stewart Gardner's trust stipulated that nothing can be changed in the museum after her death, the empty frames still hang as a reminder of the theft.

    It is strange that although these thieves appeared to be less than "professional," ripping the paintings from their frames and leaving behind many works that were worth much more, there has been little progress in the case.

    The FBI are now using digital billboards in an attempt to get public attention and help in cracking the case.

    Chances are, these paintings sit in the homes of rich unscrupulous collectors who take satisfaction in merely possessing these paintings and from outwitting the authorities.

    March 22, 2010 at 3:45 pm |