Reviving the Story Behind the Greatest Art Heist Ever

Reviving the Story Behind the Greatest Art Heist Ever Advertisement By: John Donovan  | Apr 26, 2021 Does something truly qualify as a mystery if nobody knows about it in the first place? Or, put another way: How do you have a “whodunnit” if you don’t even know what the “it” is? Does something truly qualify […]

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Reviving the Story Behind the Greatest Art Heist Ever

By: John Donovan
 | 

Does something truly qualify a mystery if nobody knows about it in the first place? Or, put another way: How do you have a “whodunnit” if you even know what the “it” is?

Does something truly qualify a mystery if nobody knows about it in the first place? Or, put another way: How do you have a “whodunnit” if you even know what the “it” is?

Two Boston-born filmmakers wrestled with those riddles, along with many, many, many others, in their pursuit of the little-known story of the world’s gest art heist, the 1990 St. Patrick’s Day dead-of-the-night rip-off of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Two Rembrandt paintings, a Vermeer, a Manet and five Deg drawings were among the 13 works stolen that March night. At the time, experts put the value of loss at about $200 million. Today, the artwork is worth somewhere around $500 million.

None of the art h been recovered. None of the thieves h been positively idified, let alone brought to trial. A $10 million reward lays unclaimed.

More than 30 years have psed. Still, nothing. It is a mystery ying for the telling.

In a four-part true ime series on Netflix, “This is a Robbery,” ers Nick and Colin Barnicle breathe life into a story that they’ve been after for years. Their first challenge: Letting people know that there is a story there.

“I honestly think that 99 perc of people just didn’t know the story. At all,” says Colin Barnicle, who served the director of the film. “I do feel like it’s an unwieldy story. It’s 31 years and there’s a ton of threads …

“I think the major pull in doing this w to bring everything all together, get a real good look at the ce file, so to speak. And that w tough.”

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In the first hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed Boston police officers were buzzed into a side door of the museum, a building that The New York Times desibed “an evocative, almost magical place where generations of Bostonians have gone to admire art, seek a mom of solace or take a date to kindle romance.” The thieves immediately subdued the two security guards on duty, hustling them into the bem and duct-taping their hands and feet. For the next 81 minutes, the robbers roamed the museum freely.

The bad guys cut Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” — Rembrandt’s only painted secape — and “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” from their frames. They lifted the Vermeer — “The Concert” — and other pieces out of their frames, and took even more works off walls and pedestals.

The thieves didn’t get pt the motion sensors, which were activated and later provided a virtual map of their footsteps. But at the time, the alarms weren’t connected to any outside source. So at 2:45 a.m., after two trips to their getaway vehicle, the iminals softly slipped away. The guards were discovered, unharmed and still bound, when cleaning ews arrived later that morning.

Almost immediately recognized the largest art heist ever, the robbery instantly w news throughout the world. But by later that year, leads disintegrated and investigations by the police and the FBI foundered, the Gardner Museum theft faded from the front pages of newspapers and out of the public consciousness.

Yet the mystery, and its two gest questions, remain: Who did it? And, more importantly, where is the artwork?

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The Barnicle ers began thinking about the project in 2013, and started in on producing it a year later. In its finished form, “This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist” is a roughly four-hour series. (The ers say a “Barnicle Cut” might lt for days.) It showces many of the story’s more outrageous characters.

There’s the stoner security guard who allowed the thieves into the museum and w suspected, early on, of being part of an inside job. There’s the notorious art thief, Myles Connor, who also w briefly considered a suspect and who helped the ers shed light on a grimy world of crime bosses and their muscle.

There are mobsters (names like Whitey Bulger, Bobby Donati, Bobby Guare and Carmello Merlino are all tossed out); dogged reporters and amateur sleuths; the respected curr of the museum, Ann Hawley; FBI ags, police, lawyers. All of them figure, in one way or another, in an intricate tale that rests largely on the premise that the artwork w stolen by members of a Boston organized ime syndicate.

The belief: Jailed wiseguys can use priceless art to barter for their freedom, a kind of “Get Out of Jail Free” mterpiece for mobsters.

Some of the suspects in the ime are now dead. Some have been cleared of suspicion. Some we may not even know about yet.

But at this point, despite all the ing by law enforcem, local newspapers, several authors (including Stephen Kurkjian in “Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist“), and the Barnicles themselves, the case couldn’t be colder. You have to wonder now if we’ll ever know who pulled off this heist or if we’ll ever see the artwork again.

Barnicle wonders, too. But after all these years, he’s keeping the faith.

“The power of Netflix’s platform is inedible, just the reach. To have the story go out globally, I think that’s a small thing in terms of potially solving the mystery,” says , who served one of the executive producers of the film. “This is the first really documary on it to reach a large audience.

“I think that [Boston reporter] Shelley Murphy says it best [in the film]: It may just be [solved with] an innocuous, ‘Hey, grandpa’s dead, look what we found,’ next-generation type of thing.”

Does that mean he envisions a happy ending to the greatest art heist ever?

“I wouldn’t be so shocked to see one or two of the pieces [still] in the New England area. Are all 13 together? Probably not. Are all 13 coming back? Probably not,” says. “But we’d like to see one come back.”

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Isabella Stewart Gardner w born into a rich New York family, settled in Boston and traveled the world. The museum that bears her name, in the Fens area of Boston (about a mile south of what is now Fenway Park), w filled with her personal collections and curated by her for much of her life. It opened to the public in 1903. Gardner’s will provides an endowm for the museum, and states that nothing there ever should be changed, and no artwork added or sold.

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Reviving the Story Behind the Greatest Art Heist Ever


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