March 18 – Anniversary of the Biggest Art Theft Ever

Posted on March 18, 2016

It was just the wee hours of March 18, 1990, and two policemen arrived at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston, Massachusetts. One of the police officers pushed the buzzer and told one of the two security guards on the premises that they'd heard a disturbance in the museum's courtyard. 

The cops asked to be let in so that they could investigate.

The security guard let the policemen in. But then one of the officers told the security guard that he looked familiar. There was, he claimed, a warrant out for his arrest. The security guard was upset – it was, he was sure, some sort of mistake – but he stepped out from behind his desk, intending to cooperate with the police, and was soon handcuffed.

The second security guard arrived back on the scene, having finished his rounds, and asked what was going on. He, too, soon found himself in handcuffs.

Why are we being arrested?” one of the guards asked.

You're not being arrested – you're being robbed!” one of the policemen answered.

And, yeah, it turned bout that these guys were not police officers at all. The uniforms were fake, and the badges were fake, although the handcuffs were very real!

The security guards were hustled into the museum's basement, where they were handcuffed to pipes and wrapped with duct tape around their hands, feet, and heads.

The two not-cops stole thirteen pieces of art! The worth of the art was, all together, about $500 million. This is considered the largest private property theft in history!

Pieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Flinck were stolen. Still, some works were left behind that were far more valuable than the ones that were stolen. Did the art thieves just not know much about art? Or did they have some curious reason for why they chose to steal the particular pieces they took?

Not every art piece stolen in the
heist was a painting -- there were
two three-D items and several
Degas sketches, as well.

Twenty-six years later, the case has never been solved. Nobody knows who did the heist, and none of the artworks have been recovered, and to this day the empty frames hang in the museum, as homage to the missing paintings and as placeholders in case they are ever found.

Apparently the museum feels hopeful that one day the artworks will be recovered, because they have publicized to whoever has them that the paintings should be kept in a stable environment of 50% humidity and 70 degrees F. They should be kept away from light, store in acid-free paper, and never rolled.

But all that advice may be for nothing, because the art thieves may be dead (the FBI's two prime suspects have since died); the art works may have been destroyed (which would explain why they have never surfaced), but even if they are still around, they may not be cared for, because it is possible that nobody alive knows where they are!

You might think that this case is colder than cold, but the investigation is still ongoing. Just a few months ago a racing track was searched by FBI agents, based on some old rumors that just came to light. The paintings were not found, but the FBI is patient....and they may yet prevail.

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