After 20 Years, a Break in a Famous Art Heist

Thirteen works were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

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Jan Vermeer's "The Concert," oil on canvas, painted circa 1658-1660, was one of the 13 paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990 in one of the largest art heists ever.

On March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed up as police officers and robbed Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. They tied up the security guards, smashed frames, tore canvases, and made off with thirteen irreplaceable masterpieces, including Vermeer’s The Concert, a Manet, five drawings by Edgar Degas, and three Rembrandts, including his only known seascape,  Storm on the Sea of Galilee. As perpetrators of the single largest property theft in recorded history, the thieves walked out the doors and into the history books. No clues were ever found, and to this day the museum offers a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the works. Now, 22 years later, there may finally be a break in the case.

Last Thursday, police searched the home of Robert Gentile, a 75-year-old alleged mobster and a man they believe has information about the Isabella Stewart Gardner robbery, according to Talking Points Memo. Gentile, a reputed associate of Boston capo Robert Luisi, was initially arrested for possession and sale of prescription painkillers, but a search of his home by FBI agents turned up a veritable arsenal of weapons including, pistols, a shotgun, silencers, ammunition and brass knuckles, according to The Hartford Courant. Police also found a treasure trove of cash, fake IDs and police uniforms. Gentile has been held in prison since February on drug and weapons charges. The police search extended beyond Gentile’s house, as the warrant authorized agents to search the earth beneath it for weapons. “Ostensibly, they are looking for firearms,” said one of Gentile’s lawyers, A. Ryan McGuigan, outside the house. “But they are really looking for paintings.”

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During the 1990s, Gentile was reported by at least one FBI informant to have been associated with gangsters who had access to the paintings, according to FBI reports cited by the Courant. Among them is Robert Guarente, a robber and drug dealer who was suspected of having knowledge of the paintings. However Guarente passed away in 2004, leaving Gentile as one of the few remaining connections. While police have remained quiet on Gentile’s connection to the Gardner robbery, a federal prosecutor made a reference to it in March. “The government has reason to believe that Mr. Gentile had some involvement with stolen property out of the District of Massachusetts,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham said at the time. According to the Courant, Durham also implied in court that the government talked to Gentile about the missing paintings, but no further information was given.

The FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Gardner museum are all remaining mum on the search. As of now the museum heist remains unsolved.

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