3 Theories About the Greatest Unsolved Art Heist Ever

Heist: How "Two Police Officers" stole $500 million dollar worth of paintings, and were never caught

The Story:

On March 18, 1990, two police officers entered a Boston museum and seemed to leave with paintings valued at $500 million. 

The two burglars appear to have entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in the early morning hours of March 18 by claiming to be looking into a report of a disturbance (dressed as cops). They then held the security personnel hostage while removing thirteen historical works of art, including works by Degas, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet, from their actual frames. The $5 million bounty has never been used to find these paintings.

Theory #1: The Irish Republican Army Did It

The "Irish link" is a supplemental idea that contends local criminals in Boston committed the thefts in order to support the IRA. Maybe local crooks gave the IRA the artwork to help fund their activities across the Atlantic? In an interview with WBGH in 2013, author and Boston Globe journalist Kevin Cullen explained it as follows: 

"I never ruled out the idea the IRA was involved," he said. "Because, if you go back to that period particularly, the IRA was actively stealing art in Europe. They were stealing art from some of the big mansion houses in Ireland and then fencing it somewhere in Europe. So I never completely ruled that out, but it sounds like the authorities have ruled that out."

Since all of these paintings, with the exception of a Chinese vase that was also taken, were created by middle European artists, this is one of the scenarios that include European criminals and traders.


Theory #2: Boston Mobsters Did It (The FBI approved theory)

The FBI believes that the prevailing opinion, which is that the heist was carried out by local mobsters, is true. The chances are good that even if other explanations prove to be correct, this version of events played a part. This is the most plausible explanation. According to The Boston Globe:

"[The FBI] points to a local band of petty thieves — many now dead — with ties to dysfunctional Mafia families in New England and Philadelphia. It also suggests they had help from an employee or someone connected to the museum."

The FBI confirmed this in 2013, stating that it had a "high degree of confidence" that the paintings had eventually traveled south, maybe to Connecticut or Philadelphia, where they were sold. In a press conference, the FBI stated, "With that same confidence, we have identified the thieves who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England."

However, even if these individuals were involved, which at this stage appears to be rather plausible, there are numerous locations the paintings may have ended up as well as numerous routes they could have taken to get there.

Theory #3: A Famed Art Thief Orchestrated It

There were specific figures who were identified as initial suspects. Myles Conner, a well-known art thief, was an early suspect- despite being in Jail. Ulrich Boser, author of The Garden Heist Called Connor in 2010 on PBS: 

"He was a Mayflower descendant, he was a member of Mensa, he headed a band called Myles Conner and the Wild Ones that played with Roy Orbison and the Beach Boys, and he was a prolific art thief. He had stolen Japanese statutes; had stolen Colonial-era grandfather clocks; stolen old master paintings; he robbed the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; he robbed the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City." 

If Connor had really been engaged, he would have had to plan the crime while in jail. Since Connor had a tenuous relationship with certain mob people the FBI claims were involved in the theft, Mashberg himself stated on WBUR a few years back that it's very possible Connor played a part in the heist. 


What Do You Think?

Can the paintings ever be found again? The most horrifying worry appears to be that the artworks were hidden by the culprits, who are now deceased. The chances of discovering the paintings may be decreasing as the years go by. We can only hope that this is not the case and that the 25-year effort of journalists and investigators will not be in vain. 


So who did it?
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