August 20, 2011

Anthony Amore, co-Author of "Stealing Rembrandts", on interviewing art thieves and whether or not James "Whitey" Bulger knows the whereabouts of the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in 1990

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Anthony Amore, head of security of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is one the Board of Trustees of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and taught a course in Museum Security for the ARCA program in International Art Crime Studies in 2009. He co-authored "Stealing Rembrandts" with Tom Mashberg, an award-winning investigative reporter and the former Sunday Editor for the Boston Herald.

Thirteen works of art, including three Rembrandts, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990. Both Amore and Mashberg spent years studying all aspects of the world's largest unsolved art theft.

Anthony writes in his foreword to the book:
 "One of the more intriguing characteristics of the Gardner heist is that two of the stolen paintings, "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" (1633) and "A Lady and Gentleman in Black" (1633), both by Rembrandt, were cut from their frames."
Amore puts forth the question as to why the two thieves, who spent a leisurely 81 minutes in the museum, risked damaging the paintings by slicing the two Rembrandt canvases from their stretchers:
"Were they so unschooled as to imagine they could manhandle the canvases without wreaking destruction on the paintings? That alone is a key insight into the culprits. Thieves schooled in art would have done no such thing. Moreover, the robbers anticipated that they were going to cut some paintings from their frames. Why else would they have brought along an instrument that was sharp and sturdy enough to slice through stiff, varnished paint and linen canvas? Two other major art thefts in Massachusetts (both involving Rembrandts, as the following chapters will show) were pulled off more than 15 years before the Gardner crime without anyone resorting to cutting canvases. Why do so now? Had these thieves learned their lessons in theft outside Massachusetts? Was this their first art crime?"
Anthony Amore's obsession with studying the ISGM theft and finding the paintings led him and co-author Mashberg to write about comparable thefts in this 245-page manuscript just perfect for summer reading in the hammock, on the beach, or in an airport. The language is accessible and the narrative strong, even when describing when and why Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) painted the artworks that are the subject of these thefts. The authors answer the question as to why anyone would care that these paintings have been stolen, remain missing, or how they were recovered.

ARCA Blog: The book tells of a heist at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts in 1972, orchestrated by Florian "Al" Monday, a man now in his seventies who was involved in art theft more than four decades ago.  Anthony, how did you contact Florian "Al" Monday and what was your experience interviewing him? Does he speculate about the whereabouts of the ISGM paintings?
Anthony Amore: I reached out to Al years ago to have a conversation about art theft. He still lives in Massachusetts and we know many of the same people so it was an interesting conversation. Al has been on the hunt for the stolen Gardner art for many years and can speak more knowledgably about the crime figures who do not have the art than he can about who does. Despite his criminal history and proclivity towards taking paintings that don’t belong to him, we’re friends and I quite enjoy talking to him.
ARCA Blog: Myles J. Connor Jr., an art thief, has authored a book about his adventures, including the theft of a Rembrandt painting on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. What characteristics do you think Connor and Monday share as art thieves?
Anthony Amore: Myles and Al share a unique characteristic that sets them apart from virtually all other art thieves, and that is that both of them appreciate fine art and are knowledgeable on the subject. While this sounds admirable, in many respects it makes their crimes all the more worse, since they have a better understanding of the cost to society than a common criminal. And make no mistake: though they art aficionados, they stole art strictly for profit, not to enjoy it.
ARCA Blog: Carl Earnest Horsley agreed to speak with you about a 1973 theft in Cincinnati. He was under surveillance when he collected the ransom and left two stolen art works. Anthony, why do you think he finally agreed to speak about his role in the theft? What do you think he had in common with Monday and Connor?
Anthony Amore: I believe that Carl saw an opportunity to get his story out but also to let the world know that he has turned his life around and is now a legitimate businessman. I see Carl as an exception to the rule that people never change. He seems to have made an earnest attempt to go straight.
ARCA Blog: After looking at all these thefts, do you feel any closer to creating a profile of the thieves who robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990?
Amore: Absolutely. I’ve felt that I have a clear picture of the sort of criminal who pulled off the Gardner heist.
ARCA Blog: Recently you were interviewed by John Wilson for BBC's "Front Row." On his blog, he speculates about the arrest of James "Whitey" Bulger and whether or not Boston's former crime boss has knowledge of the whereabouts of the paintings. Do you share Charley Hill's opinion (according to John Wilson) that the paintings have been in Ireland with some faction of the IRA?
Anthony Amore: I have the utmost respect for Charley Hill. His career is amazing, and, aside from being a wonderful guy, he is among the greatest art recovery agents in history. However (and Charley knows I feel this way), I do not share his belief regarding the IRA. I share the opinion of the Assistant US Attorney Brian Kelly that Bulger was not involved in the theft and has no information about it to share. We’re fortunate at the Gardner to have AUSA Kelly as the lead prosecutor for our case, as he is also the lead prosecutor in the Bulger case. He has put away all of Bulger’s cohorts, all of whom admitted to dozens of murders and other heinous crimes and have described all of Bulger’s exploits for juries and book readers alike. One would have to suspend an enormous amount of disbelief to think they wouldn’t admit to even the slightest knowledge about the Gardner theft. Add that to the fact that there’s not even the slightest bit of evidence pointing to an Irish connection, and I put that possibility very low on the list of likelihoods. Of course, all that being said, the paintings are still missing, so we cannot rule anything out. And if a person from Ireland shows up at our door with the art this afternoon, I’ll be very glad to admit that I was wrong!


Nice post.
A recent read,titled Museum of the missing by Simon Houpt, with a foreword by Julian Radcliffe seems to echo much of what you have posted here.
The ISGM was featured on the TV series The Art of the Heist.

I have also linked your page to my blog.
Thanks for the updates.

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