History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e25 Episode Script

Gardner Museum Robbery

Tonight, the biggest
art heist in history.
Some of the pieces
that were stolen
were priceless masterpieces.
Some have been taken carefully
and unscrewed out of frames.
Others have been cut out.
The men are tied
up with duct tape,
and they look like hell.
Half a billion dollars
in masterpieces gone
without a trace
and a three-decade
search down many paths,
all leading nowhere.
The thieves knew things that
only an insider would know.
This is not a guy who you
would pick out of a lineup
and say, oh yeah, he's some
kind of a criminal mastermind.
Now, we'll uncover
the top theories
behind this perfectly
planned heist.
If mobsters did steal it,
who did they steal it for?
Was he assassinated because
he knew something about
the Gardner Museum?
The fact that no one's
come forward after 33 years,
that's what makes this case one
of the world's
greatest mysteries.
Who orchestrated the
Gardner Heist and why?
8:15 AM on
Sunday, March 18th, 1990,
guards arrive for their shift
at the Isabella
Stewart Gardner Museum
and are shocked to find
the security desk empty.
They radio the overnight
guards but get no reply,
so they call the Boston Police.
The police find the
guards in the basement,
bound and handcuffed
to the pipes.
The men are tied
up with duct tape,
not only duct tape on
their hands and feet,
but also duct tape around
their face and their eyes,
and they look like hell.
The first thing the police did
after freeing the guards and
getting their statements,
was search the
museum for evidence.
What they discover is,
place has been robbed.
The police are shocked
at what they see
in two galleries.
Police find the
galleries in disarray,
with broken glass, paint
chips on the floor,
scraps of canvas
hanging to frames
with the paintings
themselves missing.
Some have been taken carefully
and unscrewed out of frames.
Others have been cut out.
One piece has also been taken
from a third gallery
known as the Blue Room.
It's the only piece taken
from the first floor
of the Garden Museum.
The theft is massive,
13 pieces of artwork valued
today at about $500 million.
The theft is the largest
unsolved art theft in history,
as well as the largest theft
of property in America.
The Gardner
Museum is a landmark in Boston,
modeled after a 15th
century Venetian palace.
It holds the private collection
of heiress and art patron,
Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Wanting to share her
collection with the public,
Gardner opened the
museum in 1903.
She spent about a decade
making it to her perfection.
And it was a perfection.
It was, when it opened,
the largest privately owned
collection of art in America.
After the robbery,
investigators take inventory
of the stolen items.
Many are one of a kind.
The pieces that were stolen
were priceless masterpieces.
One was a Rembrandt
seascape, known as
"A Storm Over the
Sea of Galilee."
It's the only seascape
Rembrandt ever did.
Another piece was
called "The Concert."
It was by Vermeer.
It's the only Vermeer
that's missing in the world.
Those two pieces alone
were valued at the time
of over $200 million.
Some of the other pieces
that they took were
a few Degas sketches,
a Manet called "Chez Tortoni,"
which was a painting.
They took the fitting off
of the first regimental flag
of Napoleon and also
a Chinese beaker.
Who could have pulled off
such a brazen heist and
how did they do it?
They really knew their way
around the sort of logistical
structure of the institution.
They were really familiar
with the institution's
security system.
And they navigated the galleries
in a way that was around
the motion detectors.
Not only
did the thieves navigate
the museum with ease,
they appear to know
the security systems.
When police initially are
investigating the crime scene,
they find that all of the
security footage tapes
have been taken,
and they also find
that printouts
of the motion detector
data have been removed.
The thieves are, we can assume,
believing that they're leaving
without any sort of trace
of where they've been
or what they've done.
The thieves knew things that
only an insider would know.
One of the first people
that they looked at
as an insider was Richard Abath,
who was a guard that night.
He was a security guard,
so he knew the security system
at the museum very well.
He was a 23-year-old,
self-described hippie
who had admitted to coming to
work inebriated several times.
He had done things
over that year
that should have
gotten him fired,
and he just got
away with things.
And I think he just
got lackadaisical.
Abath tells police
that on the night of the heist,
he noticed a pair of unusual
visitors outside of the museum
after closing time.
Rick looks up at the
closed circuit TV monitor,
there shows two men ringing
the doorbell in police uniform
and one of them says, "Open up.
We are here to investigate
a disturbance."
It was St. Patrick's
Day morning.
In other words, people
were partying in Boston.
There were revelers
out on the street.
So for two police officers
to show up at that point
was not that unusual.
But Rick's handbook says,
if someone comes
to the side door
and demands entrance and
you cannot get rid of them,
you call the police,
but he doesn't.
Abath's response
really wasn't the best.
He said that he allowed
these two gentlemen
to come in dressed
as police officers
because he believed that
they were Boston cops.
Abath doesn't follow
the museum's clear security
protocols that night,
but what he does do
is radio his colleague
to come to the security desk
because the two police
seemingly want to arrest him.
The two police officers say
to Rick in a sort
of a offhand way,
but convincing to Rick, "Hey,
you look familiar to us.
Do we have a warrant
for your arrest?"
And as Rick explains it, he
thought, "I better go along
with what they're
asking me to do,"
which was to step around away
from the back of the table
and come out in front of us
so we can get a
good look at you.
These two police
officers lure Abath
and his co-night guard away
from their security desk,
which would be the only place
that they'd easily be
able to call for help
from the outside world.
As soon as he's
within proximity,
they immediately place
handcuffs on him.
And when the second
security guard comes in,
he too is cuffed.
So now these two are
totally confused.
They're wondering why are these
police officers arresting them,
and it's at that moment that one
of the police officers says,
"This is a robbery."
They lead him to the
basement of the museum,
which was very odd because,
how would they even know that
the museum had a basement?
And then they strategically
placed them about 50 feet apart.
They duct tape them
in an odd manner,
allowing one of the
security guards the ability
to kind of peek through the
spaces in between the duct tape.
The robbers say to both
guards before leaving them,
"Keep your mouth shut
and you'll get your
reward in a year's time."
The thieves leave
the basement around 1:35 AM.
After waiting an hour or so
to ensure the guards
are still tied up,
they exit the museum.
But first, they take
the security tape
and a printout of the
museum's motion detectors.
They make one crucial mistake.
The thieves knew to
take the security tape
and to take the printout,
but they didn't realize
that the hard drive had
stored the movements also
so it could be reproduced,
and that's how we know
where they went that night.
can now track all the movement
through the museum that night,
beginning in the gallery
known as the Dutch Room.
The thieves travel
both to the Dutch Room
and the Short Gallery.
The Dutch Room is
where they're taking
five important old master works,
including the concert
and Rembrandt's "Storm
on the Sea of Galilee."
And the Short Gallery
is where they're taking
most of the Degas
works on paper,
as well as the Eagle Finial.
In all,
the thieves were in the
museum for 81 minutes,
leaving at 2:45 AM.
When the police look at
the motion detector data,
they find something
highly suspicious.
The only information shown
on the motion detector data
in the Blue Room comes
from hours before,
when Abath admits
that that was most likely
him doing his rounds.
To me, it's the mystery
within the mystery.
It's the theft within the theft.
Why didn't their footsteps
show up in that room?
Rick was in that room before
the bad guys showed up.
Could he have taken
it off the wall?
Investigators learn more
about Abath's actions that
night that raise alarm bells.
We know that Rick Abath opened
and closed the Palace Road door.
Why would he do that?
That was not part of his rounds.
That was not part of
the usual protocol.
It looks awfully fishy.
Was he signaling the robbers
it's a good time to come?
Despite their suspicions,
investigators never
amass enough evidence
to charge Abath with the crime.
This is a man who has lived
under a cloud of suspicion
for his entire life,
but this is not a guy who you
would pick out of a lineup
and say, "Oh yeah, he's some
kind of a criminal mastermind."
he moves out of the state,
finishes his college degree,
and works as a teacher's aide.
Then in 2015, he's
back in the spotlight
after the FBI released a
security video from the museum,
taken a night before the theft.
- The FBI video shows Mr.
- Abath buzzing in a person
to talk to him at
the security desk,
which was against the rules.
So it took many years,
almost 25 years for the
FBI to release that video.
The museum and the FBI say,
"We want to know who
this person was."
Rick was asked, "Do you
know who this was?"
Rick says, "I don't
remember it."
Abath is giving inconsistent
statements to the officers
and they're not
buying any of it,
but eventually he's given
two polygraphs and he passes.
So if the theft
was done by an insider,
who is responsible?
Whether or not Abath
was the inside man,
we know that this was not
one person acting alone.
This was a group
of people planning
and executing this heist.
After failing
to find enough evidence
to charge a night security
guard at the Gardner Museum,
investigators looking
into the case are stumped.
The FBI releases sketches
of the thieves posing
as Boston Police
in hopes of identifying
the suspects.
Who were these two men?
And how did they
carry out the theft
in the very particular
way in which they did?
The sketches
reveal the thieves' disguises
and present a new angle
in the investigation.
In any type of a crime,
the first thing investigators
are gonna do is look
at the forensic evidence that's
left behind at the scene,
interview individuals
who are witnesses,
and then look at
other situations
that occurred in that area
that are like that, other art
thefts that were unsolved.
Those are gonna be
your primary suspects
after the insiders.
Investigators are
really gonna look
for key characteristics
that may be similar to
other crimes committed,
whether they involve art
or a similar M.O. by
particular criminals.
Investigators looked at
other crimes in the area.
In one particular case,
a failed theft at
a similar museum.
Like the Gardner Museum,
the Hyde Museum Collection in
the collector's former home
and the art is very
similar, high value.
The Hyde Collection
has old masters combined
with French impressionist works.
It's often been called
the Mini Gardner
and is another Palazzo style
museum in Upstate New York.
On December 22nd, 1980,
10 years before
the Gardner Heist,
two crooks are on their
way to rob the Hyde Museum
when they run into trouble.
Two men hijack a FedEx truck.
They subdue the driver
in the back using
duct tape and ether.
They tell her that if she
behaves and cooperates,
that she will be rewarded.
Some of the tools
they brought along
with them were
handcuffs, duct tape,
and knives to cut the
paintings out of their frames,
just like in the Gardner Heist.
The operation is called off
when the thieves get
caught in traffic
and realize they can't
get to the Hyde Collection
before closing time.
Authorities eventually
catch up to the hijackers.
The FedEx driver is
able to ID the two men
who subdued her in
the back of the truck.
They are the con
artist, Brian McDevitt,
and his co-conspirator,
Michael Morey.
The two men are
convicted of kidnapping
and attempted grand larceny
and both spend several
months in prison.
Both men are out of prison
at the time of
the Gardner Heist,
but the methodology in
both cases is similar.
While investigators are
looking into the Gardner Heist,
they're again drawn
to McDevitt and Morey
due to the similarities
between their attempted
robbery of the Hyde Collection
and the robbery of
the Gardner Heist.
The use of duct tape to
bind the FedEx driver
and the duct tape used
to bind the night guards,
the tools to remove
paintings from their frames,
as well as this promise
of if you behave,
you will be rewarded.
So Michael Morey,
he had an alibi.
The other guy, Brian
McDevitt, not so much.
He didn't have an alibi,
and he was in the
Boston area that night.
The FBI spends more than a year
investigating Brian McDevitt.
Brian McDevitt was
a real character.
He had a history of
fraudulent activity.
At one point, he even said
he was a member of the
Vanderbilt family.
Later, he moved to Los Angeles,
he joined the Writer's
Guild of America and said,
"I'm a successful screenwriter."
In an FBI interview,
Morey told agents that McDevitt
used the exact same language
in the Hyde attempt that was
used during the Gardner Heist.
We know where you live,
but if you behave,
you will be rewarded.
The FBI are able
to draw a connection
between McDevitt and
the Gardner Heist,
given that McDevitt himself
has a strong Boston accent,
which is consistent
with the description
that Abath provided
of the two thieves,
and McDevitt himself also seems
to resemble one of the
early police sketches.
In 1992, Brian McDevitt agrees
to talk to the FBI.
McDevitt sits down with
the FBI several times,
each time insisting
that he's had nothing
to do with the Gardner Heist
despite the fact that he's
not able to produce an alibi.
The FBI also interviews a woman
who Brian McDevitt was dating
at the time of the heist.
McDevitt had this girlfriend
who was over the moon with him.
I mean, she thought he was
like an artistic genius.
He seemed very well-connected.
He had told his girlfriend
he was going down
to New York the
weekend of the heist
to attend this big soiree
put on by the Writer's Guild.
Upon his return,
he told her that the
FBI may question her
and that if they did,
she was to tell them
that they had spent
St. Patrick's Day
weekend together,
which she ultimately
refuses to do.
And McDevitt became very irate
at the fact that she
refused to lie for him.
She learns that there was
no Writer's Guild event
over the weekend of
St. Patrick's Day.
She learns that he may not
even be a screenwriter.
McDevitt tells her that
he was actually involved
and had been paid to
commit the Gardner Heist
and that he has to
flee the country.
She goes back and
writes in her diary
that she can't believe
what he just told her,
and she doesn't know
how to process it.
And she can't even handle it.
And it's so huge she
can't even write it down.
All that's in her diary is that
Brian did a terrible thing.
He admitted it and I don't
know how to process it.
Feeling uncomfortable
and overwhelmed by the
amount of information
that's been given
to her by McDevitt,
she tells the FBI.
When the FBI tries to
find Brian McDevitt again,
he's gone.
He fled to Medellin, Colombia.
The FBI were able
to trace him there,
but he died before they were
able to interview him again.
McDevitt's death
brought investigators
to another standstill with
many questions remaining.
Was McDevitt himself actually
involved in the theft
or was he just pretending
to have been involved
to impress anyone
who would listen?
But McDevitt isn't the only
compelling suspect in
this complicated case.
In 1997, seven
years after the Gardner Heist,
a reporter from the Boston
Herald gets a strange call
from a man who claims to
have information on the case.
His name is William
Youngworth, Jr.
He's an antique dealer
with a criminal past,
very unscrupulous.
Youngworth contacts a
reporter at the Boston Herald.
He makes it clear that he
didn't steal the paintings,
but he says, "I know
where the paintings
from the Gardner Heist are
and I can help you
facilitate their return."
Youngworth told him that he
had not stolen the paintings,
but he could supply
them to be recovered.
He tells reporters that
he would be willing
to return these pieces
to law enforcement if
the conditions are right,
those conditions being receipt
of the $5 million reward,
complete immunity for anything
surrounding the Gardner Heist,
and leniency for himself on
a separate unrelated case.
And the FBI is
saying to Youngworth,
"You've got to
cooperate with us."
Youngworth says,
"I will cooperate
if you give into my
list of demands."
In a surprising twist,
one of Youngworth's
demands is the release
of his good friend Myles
Connor from prison.
At the time,
Connor is serving 10 years
for transporting stolen art.
And Myles is a very cunning guy.
He's very well-known to
the police around Boston,
both for art and
antiques thefts.
Youngworth and
Connor have history.
They've been involved
in criminality together,
and it's quite possible
that all of this information
that Youngworth is offering
is nothing more than a scam
to come up with money.
Myles Connor is a name
that came up very early
in the investigation.
He was and probably still is one
of the most notorious
art thieves in America.
In the 1970s,
he was caught by an undercover
FBI agent in an attempt
to sell stolen Andrew
Wyeth artworks.
Now, at the same time,
around 1975 while
he's out on bail,
Connor and some associates walk
into the Museum of
Fine Arts in Boston
and they steal a Rembrandt.
Myles calls his lawyer
a year later and says,
"Tell the FBI,
if they want to get their
Rembrandt back from the MFA,
I'll give it back to them,
but they gotta do a deal
with me, I want a deal."
He gets the painting
to be brought back.
He goes into court.
He allows him to serve
the terms together
as one eight-year sentence.
So Myles thinks he's
got some leeway.
Investigators wonder,
could Connor be connected to
the infamous Gardner Heist?
If so, Youngworth isn't talking.
Youngworth doesn't
give much information
because he has a
list of demands.
Before he fully cooperates,
he tells the FBI, "If you
fulfill these demands,
I will get you
back the paintings
that you're looking for."
Both the FBI and
the Boston Herald reporter
are skeptical and demand proof
that William Youngworth really
does have the paintings.
Subsequently, the two men
set up a clandestine meeting.
The Boston Herald reporter
is picked up by Youngworth
in the middle of the night
and driven to a
warehouse in Brooklyn.
In this warehouse, Youngworth
unfurls a painting
that the two men then
examine by flashlight.
The Herald Reporter believes
he has seen Rembrandt's
"Storm on the Sea of Galilee."
He then returns to Boston
where he publishes an article
called "We've Seen It!"
where they demand
further evidence,
but argue that they have
seen and know the location
of at least one of the
Gardner Heist paintings.
The Herald's
reporter stays on the story
and demands even more proof.
Youngworth produces paint chips
from what he claims
to be the Rembrandt.
And paint chips
are very distinct
from different time periods.
Tracing something like
lead can actually tell you
what era a paint was made.
The Herald then
turns over the paint flakes
to the FBI for more
detailed analysis.
In doing this
scientific testing,
we're able to determine
that the paint chips themselves
are about 350 years old
and the materials being
used in those paint chips
are consistent with
the place and time
in which both Rembrandt
and Vermeer are painting.
But in an interesting
turn of events,
they do not match the
Rembrandt painting.
Despite being
dated to the same era,
the paint chips Youngworth
turned over were found
to contain oils and
pigments not found
in the museum's
stolen Rembrandt.
The Gardner Museum felt
the investigators didn't do
a thorough investigation,
that they didn't
compare those chips
to every item that
had been stolen.
There was never
a comparison done
to see if, possibly,
they could have come
from the Vermeer
who was a contemporary
of Rembrandt.
At the end of the day,
we don't know where Youngworth
procured these paint chips.
All we know is that
they don't match
Rembrandt's "Storm on
the Sea of Galilee."
The officials from the Gardner
Museum were left wondering
whether or not investigators
could have done more
in terms of the comparison
of the chips that were found
and have to ask,
was this possible
that Youngworth did in
fact have the Rembrandt?
Neither Youngworth
nor Connor are charged
in the Gardner case,
but Connor claims he
has info to share.
He said he thought about
robbing the Gardner Museum.
He also said he never did it it,
but he did say he
thinks he knows who did.
The Gardner Museum Heist
is a high stakes crime,
but not a violent one.
The thieves get in and out
without shedding a
single drop of blood.
But as the FBI goes hunting
for suspects in
Boston's underworld,
they start to realize
that a fortune
that big may be
worth killing over.
Boston in the '90s is one
where organized crime
continues to be rampant.
And with organized
crime also come
law enforcement informants
working with law enforcement
to help them solve crimes and
gain leniency on the crimes
that they themselves
are committing.
Notorious art thief
Myles Connor is no stranger
to making deals with the FBI.
And he points them to a
dizzying new array of suspects.
Now, in around 1991,
he hears that connections
that he has within the
mob are going around,
bragging about having
committed the Gardner Heist
without him.
While in prison, Myles
Connor states today
that he was visited
by an old friend
who introduced him
to Robert Donati.
Now, Robert Donati
was a soldier,
a worker with the
patriarchal mafia family
out of New England.
Back in 1974, Connor says
that he cased out
the Gardner Museum
with Robert Donati.
Didn't actually follow
through with the break in.
Later in jail,
he finds out that Donati
actually went ahead
and robbed the museum
anyway without him.
And Donati hasn't
been especially discreet.
Bobby Donati is
going around town,
bragging about having
committed the Gardner Heist
and having buried the paintings.
The speculation is
that Donati is planning
to ransom the paintings
back to law enforcement
to help free a fellow mobster.
He wasn't doing it for money.
He was doing it for a friend.
Donati, I guess, believed that
if he stole these paintings,
maybe he could make a deal
to try to get this
friend's sentence reduced.
With Donati, there's
another red flag.
He was caught with
police paraphernalia.
That's another connection
to the Gardner case.
In 1991, about a year
after the Gardner Heist,
Robert Donati disappears.
Robert Donati was found
in the trunk of his car.
His throat was
slashed so deeply,
he was almost decapitated.
There was a gang war going on.
Was he assassinated
because of the gang war
or was he assassinated
because he knew something
about the Gardner Museum
and he had the art
in his possession?
It's silly to think
that beyond a robbery,
that this could now also
be tied to a murder.
After the hit on Donati,
the FBI scours any
properties attached to him,
but never finds any
of the Gardner works.
He could have put
those paintings anywhere.
I mean, these guys had safe
houses all over the place
and perhaps the knowledge
of where he put
them died with him.
Donati may very well have
stashed some of those paintings.
And if what he said was true,
then the location of those
paintings died with him.
Now, there've been rumors of
a painting showing up here
and a painting showing up there,
but every time law
enforcement tries
to follow up on those leads,
they come up with nothing.
But Donati's
death doesn't stop the FBI
from investigating more
Boston crime family members.
The trail leads next to a friend
of Donati named Bobby Gentile.
Bobby Gentile was friends
with a lot of different
Boston area mobsters.
He knew Bobby Donati.
He knew a lot of
these characters.
And it's believed
that at some point,
he took possession of at
least two of these paintings.
So a federal judge
authorizes a search warrant
for Bobby Gentile's home.
And inside Gentile's house
is a list of all the items
that have been stolen
from the Gardner Museum
with little price
points on them.
And next to the price points
is the Boston Herald article
from the day after the theft.
So after Gentile's
house is raided,
he of course, remains a suspect.
The investigation on
Gentile remained open
for three years.
He ultimately sold a gun
to an undercover FBI agent.
He received a five-year sentence
for a felony possession
of a firearm.
The FBI tried to flip him,
tried to get him to come in
and talk about the paintings
that he supposedly had,
but he never would
speak about it.
Robert Gentile never
admitted anything
to do with the Gardner Heist.
He did his time, got
out of jail in 2019
and died in 2021
at the age of 85.
In 2013, while
Gentile is still alive,
tips from the FBI informants
point investigators
to other members
of organized crime,
a pair of low level gangsters
named George Reissfelder
and Leonard Dimuzio.
Both Reissfelder and
Dimuzio appear similar
to the early sketches of
the two police officers,
and they also have long
rap sheets of theft
and other sorts of violent
crime in the Boston area.
The FBI did background
And they were successful in
getting some of the relatives
of Reissfelder to talk to them.
During the background
of George Reissfelder,
they sit down with
his brother Richard.
They show him a picture book,
and he immediately pointed
to the "Chez Tortoni"
and he said, "Hey,
I've seen that.
It was in my
brother's apartment."
So in addition to
Reissfelder being mobbed up,
as they say, he was also
linked to the robbery
or the possession of
one of the paintings.
But soon, the investigation
hits a familiar snag.
Reissfelder meets
an untimely death.
He dies of a cocaine overdose.
Investigators go to his home,
they look for the painting.
They find nothing.
Shortly after George
Reissfelder died,
his longtime criminal partner,
Leonard Dimuzio, he disappeared.
And then a few months later,
he was found dead as well.
Four possible
suspects all turning up dead,
just as investigators close in.
To some, it seems like
more than a coincidence.
There were many mafia
members who were associated,
involved around
the Gardner Heist,
and it would be in
their best interest
to not speak on
that criminality.
Bad things could happen
if they shared information
that they know.
The silence wasn't
necessarily surprising.
That's a part of mob culture.
But if we speculate about
where the paintings could be,
they could be anywhere.
They could be buried
in the ground,
they could be in a storage unit.
They could be in
somebody's house
or on a boat somewhere.
We never know.
Much of the
Gardner Heist investigation has
focused on the thieves
who stole the artwork
from the building.
But where did the
paintings go next?
And who would have the power
and the money to buy them?
There's a few things that
really bother investigators
and myself about this case.
The paintings that were taken
and all of the artwork that
were taken are so famous
that they could never be sold.
You can't just walk into
an auction house hopefully
and put up one of these
works for auction.
It's hotter than
hot, it's white hot.
It's so famous,
it's so valuable,
and it's so reported on.
I mean, this was a story
that made headlines
across the globe.
Generally, artwork is recovered
when there's a death and
someone contacts authorities
to say that they
found something,
or it's recovered in the midst
of another investigation.
In 2017,
the Gardner Museum
doubles its reward,
but no new leads emerge.
Despite the fact that
it's a $10 million reward,
no one has come forth
with any information
that has led to the recovery
of any of the works.
It's pretty puzzling
to think about
why the works that were
stolen were actually taken
and more expensive
works were left behind.
The thieves, we
know, spent about
81 minutes moving systematically
through both the Dutch
room and the Short Room,
removing what some have
described as a laundry list
or shopping list of artworks.
Although some of the paintings
that were taken
were masterpieces,
unique pieces that
can't be reproduced
or should be recovered,
there were some pieces that
were not that valuable.
The Degas sketches
were not that valuable.
The Finial off of the flag,
the Napoleonic regimental
flag, was valuable,
but not to the point
of these paintings.
So there wasn't a
lot of rhyme or reason
for some of the thefts.
The most expensive
painting there was Titian.
But the Titian, "The Rape
of Europa" is massive.
So you couldn't really walk
that out of the museum.
They avoided Titian's
"Rape of Europa,"
but they took Vermeer's
"The Concert,"
and some of these
smaller works on paper,
suggesting that there was a
plan as to what would be taken.
begin to shape a new theory.
The art market itself
is full of collectors
whose sole purpose
is to acquire works
that they then keep in their
own private collections,
which are essentially
the private storage
for wealthy collectors.
And we don't have
any way to track
what's traded and sold there.
That person would
have to be very wealthy,
tied to the black market,
very well-versed in how
the art market functions,
very well-versed in how the
museum market functions.
Taken together,
the works really
present as a hodgepodge.
But if you consider that the
thieves may have been working
from a private
collector's shopping list
who had holes in his or
her collection to fill,
and you consider the market
value of the works together too,
it makes that shopping list
theory much more plausible.
Not only would this require
spending hundreds of
thousands, if not millions,
on ordering, smuggling,
transportation, and storage,
you also have the idea of,
why aren't they just spending
that much money on
the legitimate market?
At the time, Anne Hawley,
director of the Garden Museum,
believed that someone had
come up with a personal list
of things that they
wanted to steal
that really they never had
any intention of selling.
This was a list of things
that this person really
just wanted to possess
and enjoy for themselves.
So if someone is collecting
and prizing these works for
their own personal viewing,
that requires a lot
of storage space
and a lot of secrecy.
There are some
suspects that fit the profile.
So in 2013,
Pablo Picasso's stepdaughters
reported a couple
of pieces missing
from their collection.
Turns out, they were
sold by a Swiss dealer
to a Russian oligarch.
Ultimately, a dealer was charged
with handling the stolen goods
and selling them on to
the Russian collector
who eventually returned the
works to the Picasso family.
This is one of the most
frustrating theories of them all
because it forces
us to just wait
to see if someone slips
up on the black market
or on the open market.
Anybody looking to
purchase these items has got
to understand that they
can't really show them off.
You start talking at
your Christmas party
about your Vermeer,
the word will get out.
So if anybody wanted to
purchase them after the fact,
it had to be somebody
who just wanted
to look at them for
himself or herself.
And that's why they
probably have had
difficulty getting
rid of the items.
The Gardner
Museum Heist has always had
an air of sophistication
about it,
but there may be even
more layers to this crime
than investigators
first thought.
The Gardner Museum investigation
is still an open case,
and even though the statute
of limitations has run
on the theft,
the statute of limitations
has not run on the possession
of the artwork itself.
Authorities are still trying
to find the stolen
items for sure.
They're still
interviewing people.
They're still following leads.
They're still using traditional
law enforcement techniques.
So it's an ongoing
If the paintings are
safe, who has them?
Where are they and why?
The answer may
be hiding across the Atlantic.
There were a lot of
Boston Irish individuals
who were sympathetic to the
IRA, Irish Republican Army,
which at the time
was in deep conflict
with the British Army
in Northern Ireland
and was looking
for independence.
The Irish Republican
Army, the IRA,
was in fact a violent
group fighting
for what they viewed as Irish
Freedom and uniting Ireland.
And for many years, they
used any tactics necessary,
whether it was bombings
or kidnappings or murders.
And a lot of the criminals
in Boston were
funneling money, arms,
anything they could to
try to help the cause.
So some individuals thought
that it was possible
that the IRA may
have been involved
in the theft of the paintings.
The 13 artworks
themselves would be used
to barter in order to gain money
and weapons for the IRA efforts.
The chief proponent
of this theory is Arthur Brand,
a Dutch private
investigator known
as the Indiana Jones
of the art world.
Renowned art detective
Arthur Brand is known
for recovering artworks
for governments,
as well as recovering things
like a $25 million Picasso
from a yacht.
He believes that the paintings
themselves are located
in Ireland, having
been taken there
after being smuggled
out of the United States
in an effort to raise money
for the cause of the IRA.
The IRA has been
linked to art theft before.
They broke into
Sir Alfred Bates home
where they stole 19 works,
including a Vermeer.
That Vermeer today is valued
by some at around $100 million.
These works they
attempted to use to barter
for the freedom of some
of their IRA compatriots.
We're gonna try
to ransom them back
to the insurance company
or whoever would pay them.
Authorities foiled the plot
and the paintings were
retrieved within weeks.
But there has never
been an overt IRA demand
over the Gardner paintings
and that makes investigators
doubt Brand's theory.
There's no indication the
IRA ever had these paintings.
They've never come forward
to try to get a ransom.
Remember, there's a
$10 million reward.
If they were trying
to fund something,
they would've gotten the reward.
Where is the IRA going to
be exchanging these works
to get money in arms?
It's most likely not
going to be in Ireland,
which means then
they're going to have
to smuggle the 13 most
well-known works in the world
at the time off an island
onto someplace like
mainland Europe
without getting
caught a second time.
Some think the key link was one
of the biggest mob figures
in the northeast at the time.
James Whitey
Bulger is the leader
of the Irish gang in
Boston in the '80s
and the early '90s.
And he became one of
the most powerful,
if not the most powerful
criminal in Boston.
They made their money through
extortion, drug dealing,
gambling, murder,
whatever it took.
In addition to being a criminal,
Bulger's a long
time FBI informant.
So you think if he
did know something,
he'd say something.
In Boston, if anybody stole
as much as a candy bar,
Bulger's gonna know about it.
So he's a prime candidate
to have information
about the Gardner Heist.
But there was never
any evidence connecting Bulger
to the crime itself.
In 1995, 5 years after
the Gardner Heist,
he's charged with the
whole slew of crimes
related to racketeering, murder,
extortion, drug dealing,
all sorts of very
serious offenses.
And Bulger goes on the run.
And ultimately, he gets caught
in the summer of 2011,
16 years after he fled Boston,
in Santa Monica, California.
Whitey Bulger was
convicted of several crimes
which included 11 murders.
He was given ultimately
two life sentences
and charged with racketeering.
Not only was he a
very savvy criminal,
but he was getting tipped
off by corrupt members
of the FBI.
So when he went into prison,
that of course,
made him a target.
During his time in prison,
Bulger began to
fear for his life.
If Bulger
was willing to exchange
information about
the Gardner Heist
to ensure his safety, he
never had the chance.
In 2018, without
a deal in place,
Bulger is murdered in prison.
Some believe that they know
what Bulger may have
revealed to the FBI.
Given that it's known
he shipped arms and
drugs to the IRA.
Now that Bulger has been
beaten to death in prison,
there's no way to confirm
anything from him.
But up until the day he died,
he never gave any indication
that he knew where Gardner
Museum's artwork was.
Investigators like Arthur Brand
are still scouring Europe for
any sign of the paintings,
but so far, nothing's turned up.
This artwork belongs in Boston.
Hopefully someday,
they'll be back
hanging in the Gardner
Museum for all of us to see.
There's always gonna be
a reminder of this heist,
even after 33 years,
because of the will
Isabella Stewart Gardner
left when she died.
It states that nothing
can be changed,
nothing can be moved
in the museum.
So if you go today,
you're gonna see empty frames
where the paintings were.
We won't become
a world class city
until we get our artwork back.
You can see those empty
frames, they're heartbreaking.
You walk into the
Dutch Room now,
it's like walking the
first person at a wake,
sadness, loss.
And that's a loss for Boston.
More than three
decades have passed
since 13 works of
art were stolen
from the Gardner
Museum in Boston.
So far, not a single
one has surfaced,
denying the art world some
of its greatest treasures.
But with that $10 million
reward still out there,
hope remains that
these masterpieces
will come home soon.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History's Greatest Mysteries."
Previous Episode