Showing posts with label Gardner Heist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gardner Heist. Show all posts

May 3, 2016

The FBI is not giving up in the Isabella Gardner Museum Heist


FBI agents search the Manchester home of reputed gangster Robert Gentile.
Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com
Despite a $5 million USD reward for information leading to the return of $500 million in artwork by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, Vermeer, and more, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist has been unsolved for 25 years.   

In 2012 the FBI searched the Manchester, Connecticut home of notorious gangster Robert “Bobby the Cook” Gentile who the FBI has accused of being linked to the 13 stolen paintings.

Yesterday, May 2, 2016, the federal law enforcement agency went back in force for a second look.  Using metal detectors, rakes and shovels, the team of twelve agents set up a tent and tarp and scoured the terrain surrounding the residence on Frances Drive.  Gentile's son and wife Patricia were both present at the house throughout the search.  

In May 2013, Gentile, an alleged “made man” connected with the Philadelphia Mafia, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for illegally selling prescription drugs to an FBI informant and for possessing guns, silencers and ammunition. With a criminal history stretching back to the 1950s, he was freed from prison in 2014 on supervised release only to be arrested again in April 2015. 

He is currently being held without bail on federal weapons charges and is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut in July. 

Despite yesterday’s search, America's biggest-ever art heist remains unsolved. 

The 13 missing artworks are:  

a bronze eagle finial for a for a Napoleonic flagstaff
a Chinese Beaker or Ku
Degas, Cortege aux Environs de Florence
Degas, Three Mounted Jockeys
Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1)
Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1)
Degas, La Sortie de Pesage
Flinck, Landscape with Obelisk
Manet, Chez Tortoni
Rembrandt, A Lady and Gentleman in Black
Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait
Vermeer, The Concert


May 22, 2014

Fox 25 News (MyFoxBoston.com): "FBI talks exclusively to Bob Ward about Stolen Art" [The 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Unsolved Heist]; Compare it to what Ulrich Boser reported in his book in 2009

"FBI has confirmed sighting of Gardner artwork after heist" reports Bob Ward in a television segment on May 21 for Fox 25 News (MyBoston.com).
In his first TV interview, FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly, the Bureau's leading investigator on the Gardner Case, tells FOX 25's Bob Ward the trail for the missing Gardner artwork has not grown cold. Kelly said the Bureau has confirmed sightings, from sources the Bureau deems credible, of the Gardner artwork in the years after it was stolen. He also identified three persons of interest in the Gardner case, all with ties to organized crime: Carmello Merlino, Robert Guarente, and Robert Gentile. Kelly said in the late 1990's, two FBI informants told the Bureau that Merlino was preparing to return Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, in an effort to collect the reward. However, Merlino and his crew were soon arrested in an aborted armored car heist and the painting was never returned. Kelly believes Guarente somehow passed control of the stolen Gardner artwork to Gentile, a Manchester, Conn. man. Kelly believes Gentile has ties to organized crime in Philadelphia, PA and that Gentile helped bring some or all of the stolen Gardner artwork to Philadelphia where it was last seen in 2000, offered for sale. In 2012 Gentile's home and property in Manchester, Conn. were extensively searched but no sign of the stolen Gardner artwork was located. However, Kelly said authorities recovered police paraphernalia, including "clothing, articles of clothing with police and FBI insignias on it, handcuffs, a scanner, two way radios, and Tasers" and these are not common items. Gentile, through his lawyer, denied having any connection to the Gardner art heist or with moving the artwork after the fact. Both Merlino and Guarente are now dead. If you have any information about the Gardner Museum artwork, call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI. There is a $5 million reward in this case. 
Read more (and see the video which includes an appearance by Anthony Amore, security director of the Gardner museum): http://www.myfoxboston.com/story/25583520/fbi-has-confirmed-sightings-of-gardner-artwork-after-heist#ixzz32SaaZt9e

In Ulrich Boser's book, The Gardner Heist: The True Store of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins, 2009) the index included 11 references to Carmello Merlino who died in prison in 2005. Merlino is described as the "gangland captain" of David Turner who was picked up by the FBI on Feb. 7, 1999 and questioned about the Gardner heist (page 100):
"The FBI told me that they had information from several sources that I was an actual participant in the robbery," Turner recalled. "What was said was 'Give us the paintings right now, and you can go home."
Boser described Merlino as a 'South Boston mobster' (p. 101) whose:
'body shop grew into an underworld flea market for looted goods. "If there was something you wanted stolen, that was the place. You could go there and just put in an order, and they would have crews running all sorts of places, South Shore Malls, downtown, everywhere," retired state police officer Eddie Whelan told me.
[Interesting sidebar -- the art stolen from Jeffrey Gundlach was recovered by police in an automobile stereo shop in Pasadena, CA in 2012.]

Boser wrote on pages 105-107 that:
Merlino was picked up on a drug charge in 1992, and through an intermediary, he offered to return the paintings for a reduced prison sentence. He told prosecutors that the masterpieces were "very big and international," that the deal has to be kept quiet or he would be killed. But Merlino never offered any hard evidence of the lost art ... [but] it was clear that Merlino did not have direct access to the art, that he was attempting to secure the masterpieces from someone else.
Boser wrote on page 201:
Perhaps mob associate Robert Guarente was the mastermind? He was a friend of Turner's, a frequent visitor to Merlino's body shop, and had connections to Myles Connor. But Guarente died in 2004 without any sign of the paintings. The FBI confidential informant reports also imply that Turner himself had the loot. That seems impossible. Turner would have almost certainly given up the canvases to get out of his thirty-eight year prison sentence. 

March 31, 2013

March 25, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Journalist Tom Mashberg Weighs In

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."




March 23, 2013

Gardner Heist: Night watchmen Rick Abath Gives Exclusive Television Interview to Randi Kaye in "81 Minutes Inside: The Greatest Art Heist in History" which aired on Anderson Cooper 360 on March 22

Rick Abath, one of the nightwatch men on duty March 18 when two men stole 13 paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, gave his first television interview to Randi Kaye for her story "81 Minutes Inside: The Greatest Art Heist In History" which aired on Anderson Cooper 360 CNN on March 22.

Rick Abath, who had working at the museum for about a year, began his night shift at 11.30 p.m. He explained that guards took turns walking through the museum and manning the security desk next to the employee entrance. On the night of the theft, Abath's "usual partner had called in sick" "so they paired him with a daytime gallery guard".

Ms. Kaye narrates:

Abath takes the first round which takes longer than usual. The fire alarm goes off for no apparent reason -- so does another alarm on the fourth floor. Then the other gallery guard does the round. It is 1.24 a.m. and Rick is alone at the guard desk. Two men dressed as Boston police officers buzz the side entrance and tell Abath that they are there because there's been a disturbance on the property.
Anthony Amore, Director of Security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner, explains to Ms. Kaye that it was against museum policy for the nightwatchman to let anyone into the museum.

While Abath concedes that this may have been the written policy, Abath says that the "culture" was to let museum employees in at night "at least once a month", including the director of the museum. "So it wasn't unusual for Rick to hear that buzzer go off," Ms. Kaye narrates.

Rick Abath explains that he had no reason to believe the men were not police officers until it was too late to reach the panic button.

The panic button on the guard's desk was not easy to reach. "It was the same kind of panic button at a bank or something," Rick Abath said. "It was up on the underside of the desk. But it was a fairly long desk and the computer that you had to be at to do your job was all the way to your left and it was all the way to the right so it just wasn't within arms reach."

March 22, 2013

Anderson Cooper 360 Features Documentary on Gardner Art Heist

Tonight Anderson Cooper 360 features a documentary, "81 minutes: Inside the Greatest Art Heist in History" at 10 p.m. ET (US). The show claims an exclusive television interview with Richard Abath, the night watchman who admits he was the guard on duty who "buzzed in" the two thieves disguised as police officers.

The segment also includes Anthony Amore, Security Director of the ISGM, walking journalist Randi Kaye through the known events of the 1990 theft in the early morning hours of March 18.

March 21, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Author Ulrich Boser Writing in The New York Times on "Learning from the Gardner Art Theft"

Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), in The New York Times March 21 in "Learning from the Gardner Theft", comments on the long investigation into the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:
Twenty-three years may seem like an inordinate amount of time to solve a burglary, but the Gardner case has actually come a long way from the days when it sometimes seemed to sit on the F.B.I.’s investigative back burner — and the robbery has done a lot to change the way that museums protect their art.
Mr. Boser offers his observations in writing about the case:
Over the years, it hasn’t seemed as if federal investigators have always made the case a top priority. When I first started reporting on the theft, for instance, the museum’s director, Anne Hawley, suggested that she had not always been satisfied with the bureau’s commitment to the case. Ms. Hawley, the director since 1989, said that the first agent assigned to the case seemed very green. “Why didn’t the F.B.I. have the capacity to assign a senior-level person?” she asked me in 2007. “Why was it not considered something that needed immediate and high-level attention?”
Mr. Boser also comments on the unnamed thieves the FBI has identified in its investigation:
As for the men who robbed the museum, there’s been some good evidence over the years regarding their identities. In my book on the theft, I pointed the finger at the Boston mobster David Turner. As part of my reporting, I examined F.B.I. files that indicated that Mr. Turner was an early suspect, and he bears a strong resemblance to the composite drawing made of one of the thieves. In a letter to me, Mr. Turner denied any role in the theft, but he also told me that if I were to put his picture on my book’s cover, I would sell more copies. 

More important, there are signs that the paintings may hang on the walls of the museum again. At the news conference on Monday, the F.B.I. announced that in the years after the theft, someone took the stolen Gardner art to Connecticut and Philadelphia and offered it up for sale. This suggests that the canvases might still be in good condition.

March 20, 2013

Boston Globe: Tip to Authorities in 2010 Led to Turning Point in Gardner Heist Investigation

Boston Globe: Photo by Steven Senne/AP at FBI conference
The Boston Globe reports that a 2010 tip to authorities led to the identity of the two men who robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, according to today's article "Tips pour in on Gardner Museum art theft" by Milton J. Valencia, Shelley Murphy, and Stephen Kurkjian.
The FBI and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum ­received a flood of tips from around the country Tuesday, as new details emerged about the turning point in the investigation of the notorious Gardner Museum heist 23 years ago. 

The latest, exhaustive phase in the inquiry is based on a tip that a caller made to authorities in 2010, according to Anthony Amore, the Gardner Museum’s head of security and chief investigator. 
He said Tuesday that the tip was so fruitful — leading to the announcement that investigators know the identities of the thieves and could trace the art from Boston to Connecticut and Philadelphia — that the FBI has since rededicated significant resources to investigating the heist. 
“That tip, plus thousands of man-hours, led to where we are today,” Amore said.
The Boston Globe article also comes back to Robert Gentile as a suspect:
The latest focus has been on Robert Gentile, a 75-year-old ailing Mafia figure with ties to organized crime in Philadelphia and Boston. His Connecticut home was searched last year in relation to the heist. He was charged with drug dealing and possession of an illegal firearm in what his lawyer called a tactic by the FBI to pressure him to disclose information about the heist. 
Gentile, who pleaded guilty and is slated to be sentenced in May, faces a lengthy prison term. His lawyer, Ryan McGuigan, has maintained that Gentile knows nothing about the heist or the whereabouts of the artwork. 
But investigators seem to have trained their focus on Gentile in the recent phase of the investigation. 
A person with knowledge of the FBI investigation, who asked to remain anonymous ­because of the sensitivity of the inquiry, confirmed Tuesday that investigators found a list of the art stolen from the Gardner, and the estimated value of the works, during the search of Gentile’s home. The discovery of the list was first ­reported by The Hartford ­Courant. 
Gentile also had close ties to organized crime figures in Philadelphia and in Boston, including the late Robert Guarente, who has been tied to almost every­one mentioned as a person of interest in the heist. 
Guarente, for instance, was close with the late Carmello Merlino, who ran an auto body shop in Dorchester and who, according to FBI reports, once tried to negotiate the return of the artworks. No deal ever came to fruition, and Merlino was later convicted in a scheme to rob an armored car depot in Easton. He said that he was set up by informants and that the FBI was pressuring him for ­information regarding the Gardner heist. Merlino died in prison in 2005 at age 71. 
Two other men were also convicted in the armored car depot scheme and received lengthy prison sentences, though they have denied knowledge of the heist or the ­location of the artwork. ­Stephen Rossetti, 54, who is Guarente’s nephew, is slated to be released in 2044, and David Turner, 45, is set to be released in 2025. 
Guarente died in 2004 at age 65. His wife has told authorities in recent years that she saw him give Gentile at least one painting some time around 2003, around the time authorities say some of the art was offered for sale in Philadelphia. The wife, however, did not describe the painting as one of the works taken from the Gardner.

ISGM Security Director Anthony Amore Calls Hunt for Stolen Gardner Paintings "an exercise in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller"

FBI: An empty frame in the Dutch Room of the ISGM
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The FBI and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the return of the paintings.

The day after the FBI announced that they have identified the thieves responsible for the 1990 art heist, ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore, Director of Security for the Gardner Museum, told the ARCA Blog:
"As I have said many times in the past, this investigation is an excuse in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller. The information we provided at the press conference shows that we continue this work, and that the haystack is smaller than ever."
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the U. S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts continue to work on this investigation with the FBI.

You may find more information here on the FBI's website.

And here's a link to an article in Harvard Magazine featuring Anthony Amore.

March 19, 2013

Boston Globe Correspondent Stephen Kurkjian Interviews ISGM guard who let in the thieves in 1990; Abath says he's never been ruled out as a suspect by investigators

Boston Globe Correspondent Stephen Kurkjian reported March 10 in "Decades after the Gardner Heist, police focus on guard" who opened the door to the robbers more than 23 years ago in the largest art theft:
Night watchman Richard Abath may have made the most costly mistake in art history on March 18, 1990, when he unlocked the doors of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for two robbers who stole 13 works of art valued at more than $500 million. For years, investigators discounted the hapless Abath’s role in the unsolved crime. But, after 23 years of pursuing dead ends, investigators are focusing on intriguing evidence that suggests Abath might have been in on the crime all along.
According to Kurkjian, investigators blamed Abath's actions on 'his excessive drinking and pot smoking':
But, after 23 years of pursuing dead ends, including a disappointing search of an alleged mobster's home last year, investigators are focusing on intriguing evidence that suggests the former night watchman might have been in on the crime all along -- or at least knows more about it than he has admitted.
Why, they ask, were Abath's footsteps the only ones picked up on motion detectors in a first floor gallery where one of the stolen paintings, by French impressionist Edouard Manet, was taken? And why did he open the side entrance to the museum minutes before the robbers rang the buzzer to get in? Was he signaling to them that he was prepared for the robbery to begin? 
No one publicly calls Abath a suspect, but federal prosecutors grilled him on these issues last fall. And one former prosecutor in the case has written a recently published novel about the Gardner heist in which the night watchman let the thieves into the museum to pay off a large cocaine debt."
Abath insists that he had nothing to do with the heist, Kurkjian writes.
'Abath, then a rock musician moonlighting as a security guard, said he opened the doors that night because he was intimidated by men dressed as police officers who claimed to be investigating a disturbance. His own uniform untucked and wearing a hat, Abath knew he looked more like a suspect than a guard.'
The 46-year-old Abath agreed to speak to The Globe to gain publicity for a book he is writing about the ISGM theft, according to Kurkjian. Abath told Kurkjian that the former security guard 'realized he was under suspicion four years ago when FBI agents asked to meet him at a Brattleboro, Vermont, coffee shop.'
"After years of not hearing a word the people charged with the task of solving the Great Museum Robbery, they popped up; they wanted to talk," Abath wrote in the manuscript he shared. To his surprise, one agent told him, "You know we've never been able to eliminate you as a suspect."
Kurkjian writes that Abath said that on the night of the robbery he had been sober and had just given his two-week notice. James J. McGovern, who worked on the federal investigation for the US attorney's office in 2006, wrote a novel, Artful Deception (2012), portrays a night security guard who was an accomplice in the Gardner heist [Kurkjian].

Jennifer Levitz for The Wall Street Journal: FBI Will Begin Media Campaign in Philadelphia to flush out art stolen from Gardner Museum in 1990

In the article "Clearer Picture of Art Heist", Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Levitz outlined the media blitz FBI will understake to flush out art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:

Although it doesn't know the current whereabouts of the art, the FBI believes it might still be in the Philadelphia area. So the agency will launch a publicity campaign, soliciting tips using social media and, within a few weeks, putting up digital roadside billboards in and around Philadelphia, where it believes someone may have glimpsed—or even bought—the art without knowing of the tainted origin. The museum is offering a $5 million reward for a tip leading to the recovery. The theft represents the largest property crime in U.S. history, according to the FBI.

March 30, 2010

Twenty Years and Counting: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft

The following is a review of IFAR's 15 March 2010 conference on the 20th anniversary of the Gardner theft written by Johanna Devlin of ARCA's postgraduate program in International Art Crime Studies Class of 2010.

Twenty Years and Counting: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft

Monday March 15, 2010: Twenty years after the single largest art heist in history, people like me, interested in art crime stories, gathered together in New York for the conference organized by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) which “celebrated” the 20th anniversary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft.

Four speakers brought their expertise on the case.

The conference began with excerpts of the film “Stolen” presented by the producer, Rebecca Dreyfus. These excerpts provided a great introduction for the speakers as they set the context very well, presenting the main protagonists of the case, from Isabella Stewart Gardner's vision to the investigators and possible suspects.
More information about the film/documentary can be found on www.stolenthefilm.com.

Anthony Amore, Director of Security at the Museum followed Dreyfus’s discussion. He supported his presentation with exclusive photos of the theft. These photos let the audience examine the damage perpetrated by the thieves.

Amore gave a description of the thieves with the sketches of the two men. However, he mentioned that at the time, the security guards of the museum were in their mid 20's and while they identified the thieves as in their late 20's early 30's it turns out that today, twenty years later, they might have been mistaken and believe that they might have been in their 40's-50's. Amore's photos highlighted how the thieves cut the canvases and removed the pictures from their frames. Additionally, he explained the lack of logic in the theft pattern. 

Why in 81 minutes – from 1:24 to 2:45 AM – would two thieves dressed as policemen steal 13 works, including paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt, take “lower value” pastels by Degas and leave a Rembrandt on the floor facing the wall?

Brian Kelly, Chief of the public corruption and special prosecutions unit, US Attorney's office in Boston, discussed mostly about the immunity and the $5 million reward for the person retaining the works of art. He clarified that there was no excuse for them not to be returned because the thieves would not be incriminated if they turned themselves in.

Geoffrey Kelly, Special Agent of the FBI office in Boston was also here to add his expertise on the case and examine where we stand 20 years later. 

For the past eight years, Special Agent Kelly in the Boston office has been the lead investigator on the case and said that leads come in on a weekly basis. The possibility of the theft being commissioned by a collector seems to be unlikely. It is important to point out that the DNA samples dating back from the theft that were recently sent for reexamination not because of the 20 year anniversary of the crime, but as part of the normal procedure of an investigation. This had to be reiterated during the conference as some questions were raised concerning new possible evidence.

Kelly is confident that one day the case will be solved. Not so long ago a woman contacted the FBI saying she had found the Vermeer Concert in New Mexico; however, it turned out to be a replica. Nevertheless, it shows that every lead and tip is investigated with the hope that it will lead to the missing masterpieces.

For more information about the details of the case, including the description of the thieves and the detail of the works of art you can refer to http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/arttheft/northamerica/us/isabella/isabella.htm.

March 22, 2010

February 20, 2009

The Gardner Heist: An Interview with Author Ulrich Boser


Nearly twenty years after the largest art theft in history, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum whodunit mystery remains unsolved. Even as the hollow frames secured to the museum’s walls endure – wistfully remembering the million-dollar works of art they once decorated – the ISGM continues to thrive and be embraced by an artistic community that treats the Venetian palazzo not as damaged goods, but as a survivor. The museum is a testament to Mrs. “Jack” Gardner’s personal devotion to the arts. It transcends the collection of cultural curiosities it evolved into during her lifetime, and has become a retreat for people who share common affection for its contents.

Adopted by the city of Boston after marrying one of its richest sons, Gardner made “frequent ‘copy’ for two hemispheres” as she traveled the world and lived the life of an eccentric heiress. In his book, Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (sold for $6 in 1925), Morris Carter, the museum’s first director, describes how her villa and its collection filled the void left by her inability to have children (a tragic childbirth in which her only child died in infancy resulted in Gardner’s being unable to have children thereafter). Gardner’s collection, which came to life with each new acquisition, seems to have assuaged these sorrows.

For many, a trip to the museum has become similar to what Gardner’s European travels were for her, “the opportunity for the acquisition of knowledge and cultural expansion.” The thieves, who for over an hour perused the collection, carried out not only priceless works of art, but also a portion of Mrs. Jack Gardner’s vibrant legacy.

Recently, in anticipation of the upcoming release of The Gardner Heist on February 24th, I was fortunate enough to speak with author Ulrich Boser, and hear what he had to say about the largest art theft in history.

MD: How did you come to inherit the files of famed art detective Harold Smith?

UB: Shortly after Smith died, I contacted his family and asked if I could look through his Gardner files. At first, they told me that his files were missing, that it appeared that someone had thrown them out. The family kept hunting, and it turned out that a number of Smith’s most important files had in fact been saved, including police reports and copies of old interviews. Smith had also written up some fictional accounts of his biggest cases, which his daughter Tara gave me. Smith’s family was very gracious, very open. I could not have written the book without their support.

MD: Did the ISGM assist you in your investigation and research?

UB: When I first sent my request for an interview to the museum’s public relations director, she emailed me back and said: “We have to decline access.” If I needed quotes, I could get a written statement from the director of the museum or interview the head of security. But I continued to write emails and letters, and we built up trust and a shared understanding. And since then the museum has been exceptionally supportive. They allowed me to interview director Anne Hawley. They allowed me to use images of the paintings. I’m particularly indebted to director of security Anthony Amore. He’s an ace investigator; he has been very helpful to me.

MD: What was your most memorable moment not contained in the pages of The Gardner Heist that you experienced?

UB: I wished I could have spent more time discussing Smith’s investigation of the Golden Door robbery. It took Smith years to crack the case; it is believed to be the largest gold heist in American history. I also talked a lot with art detective Charley Hill. That was also cut from the manuscript. Hill is a fascinating person and a great art detective. He was written up in Dolnick’s excellent book The Rescue Artist.

MD: How do you account for the eclectic selection of works stolen from the ISGM?

UB: While I think the Gardner thieves were expert criminals, they were not professional art thieves, and I think they didn’t really know the value of what they were taking. The thieves stole a few big-name items—the Rembrandts, the Vermeer—and then they seem to have nabbed whatever else caught their eye. How else can you explain the theft of the finial? The ku? Those items are valuable. But compared to a Vermeer or a Titian, they are little more than knickknacks.

MD: Why did the ISGM thieves not try to steal works of art that might have been easier to sell on the market (e.g. the Zorn’s in the Blue Room on the first floor)?

UB: If the thieves wanted to steal items and slip them back into the legitimate art market, they did make some good choices. The finial, the ku, you could certainly sell those artifacts on e-Bay. You might not get much money, but you could certainly pawn them off. The Vermeer, of course, would be nearly impossible to sell on the open market.

MD: How did your experiences as a journalist help or hinder you in your extensive research for The Gardner Heist?

UB: On one side, it helped. People want publicity, and so they would talk to me in an effort to get their story out to the public. On the other hand, being a journalist did occasionally hinder my efforts. I had to abide by journalistic norms, and I always identified myself as a reporter, I always made sure that off the record comments stayed off the record.

MD: How do you account for why the thieves spent such little time on the first floor of the museum and did not even make it up to the third floor where there are works by Titian, Velazquez, and Botticelli?

UB: Honestly I can’t tell you why the thieves spent such little time on the first and third floor. What is interesting, though, is the fact that the thieves were in the museum for over an hour. By the standards of a robbery, that’s a lifetime. Indeed, many robberies are over in minutes. And I think it shows that the thieves had a working knowledge of the museum’s security system before they entered the building. They must have had some sort of inside connection.

MD: As the global recession worsens will criminals involved in or close to the heist become more inclined to find the paintings and return them for the $5 million reward? Or is this more proof that those involved in the heist and its aftermath do not know the location of the works of art?

UB: I think that if someone had the art—and they were inclined to return it—they would have done it already. So yes what seems more likely is that those involved in the heist no longer know the location of the works of art. But no one knows for sure. After all, the art has not been returned. That’s the great mystery of the case.

MD: Do you believe that such a “successful” heist could occur in a museum of the same caliber as the ISGM today?

UB: The Gardner has done a lot to improve their security. They have many more cameras, many more guards, much better training. But the bottom line is that almost any museum can be robbed. If a thief is committed, they can usually find a way. But keep in mind that museums much larger than the Gardner get hit up too. In November 2006, for instance, someone managed to swipe some fossils from one of the Smithsonian’s galleries.

In the upcoming weeks, Boser will be on-tour stopping at a number of bibliophilic venues for readings, signings, and discussions. One may find his schedule here. Also, his passion for the unsolved Gardner heist has inspired him to organize “The Open Case – a magazine and web community devoted to solving unsolved crimes,” coming March 2009.

Originally posted at Art Theft Central: The Gardner Heist: An Interview with Author Ulrich Boser