Boston’s Greatest Unsolved Mystery: The Gardner Museum Art Heist

Over 30 years ago, at 1:24 am on March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers walked into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 81 minutes later they walked out with $200 million worth of artwork (now valued at $500 million). They forced the night guards into the basement, and duct-taped their hands, eyes, and ankles. The guards were not discovered until the new shift came to relieve them around 8 am. When the police examined the gallery, they noticed that the missing paintings had been cut from the frames, instead of carefully removed. None of the pieces have ever been recovered.

13 pieces were stolen from the museum. The value of the pieces makes this the biggest art theft in the history of the world. Click on any of the images below to see a larger version and learn more. The museum is offering $10 million in reward money for information leading to the recovery of the stolen items. If you have verifiable information about the location of any of these items, please contact the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum security chief Anthony M. Amore at reward@gardnermuseum.org

The case has puzzled crime solvers for years. How did the thieves know where the timed security alarm printouts were? How did they know when the alarm went off in the museum that it wouldn't alert the police? The average art heist takes 10 minutes. So, why did they take so long? Why were they confident enough to take two trips to their car? 

In 2015, the FBI has stated they believe they know who committed the robbery: George Reissfelder and Leonardo DiMuzio. But both Reissfelder and DiMuzio died within a year of the heist. The FBI believe the art was transported to Connecticut and Philadelphia through organized crime connections to try to sell the items on the black market. But after those attempted transactions, there hasn't been a trace.

Evidence suggests that the Italian mob in Boston was behind the theft. Reissfelder and DiMuzio were known associates of the now deceased mobster Carmello Merlino. At the time, organized crime members seemed excited about the idea that they could trade a stolen painting in exchange for no jail time, if they were ever caught doing more unsavory business. But several of them did get caught, and no one seemed to know anything about the artwork. Several others died not too long after the heist, and seem to have taken their secrets to the grave. Even with the $10 million reward for the safe return of the items, no one has come forward with credible information.

Isabella Stewart Gardner famously stipulated in her will that nothing in the museum galleries should be permanently changed. No new items should be bought, nor should any items be sold. So, for now, those frames hang empty in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a reminder of the still missing artwork.

The whole thing is a puzzling mystery and no one seems to have any fresh leads. Some people think the items are hiding in someone's attic. Others think the pieces have left the country and are hiding in a rich oligarch's house. Many believe the pieces are separated and are not all together. What do you think?

To learn more about the robbery, check out these items: 

Last Seen- a 10 episode podcast by WBUR

The Gardner Heist

Master Thieves

Stolen

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