The FBI's press conference on the 23rd anniversary of the Gardner theft "was a hit, generating flashing Internet bulletins and global media coverage," wrote Tom Mashberg March 25 in "The Gardner Art Heist: The Thieves Who Couldn't Steal Straight" for Cognoscenti, Boston's NPR Radio Station.
Mashberg has covered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case for 16 years. Of the FBI's press conference on March 18, 2013, Mashberg writes:
Since crowd-sourcing was the goal, the FBI should be pleased. But we didn't really learn anything new beyond the assertion that some of the stolen paintings made their way to Philadelphia a decade ago. I was invited to speak with investigators alone for a few minutes after the news conference. They are dedicated men to be sure, and they were candid: they told me that for now the train has "gone cold."
It was attention grabbing to hear them say they know the identities of the thieves. (Keeping the names secret is wise from an investigative standpoint -- imagine the media swarm.) But any careful follower of the case can boil the list of likely robbers down to three men -- all Boston-area felons. My belief is that two of the thieves are dead, and the third is in prison. The dead men will tell no tales, but there is still a chance to squeeze the guy behind bars.
In this article, Mashberg proposes that the bank robber Robert F. Guarante (who died in 2004) took the art from the two original thieves who didn't know what to do with it.
A lot of these characters, chief among them a gangster named Carmello Merlino, also deceased, can be heard yapping on wiretaps about their plans to return the art for the $5 million reward money -- if only they could find it. It's the gang that couldn't steal straight.
Mashberg also proposes that it was Robert A. Donati (dead) who cased the Gardner Museum in the 1980s with art thief Myles J. Connor (in prison on the night of the Gardner Heist) who stole the fluted Chinese bronze beaker that night as a gift for Connor.
Mashberg, who co-write "Stealing Rembrandts" (2011) with Anthony M. Amore, states that "the crime was always a local job."