The Gardner Museum Art Heist case in Boston, the world’s largest and the subject of Netflix’s ‘This Is a Robbery’
The Netflix docuseries “This is a Robbery” explores the world’s biggest art heist ever. It happened over 30 years ago in Boston.
The four-part documentary series, produced by Jane Rosenthal, explores the crime that took place in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990 at Boston’s famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was then that a handful of priceless works of art were taken and never found.
The day before was St. Patrick’s Day, and the city of Boston nearly shut down as citizens reveled in the holiday. And the next day was similar, as the city once again celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with an annual parade always held on a Sunday. For the thieves, it was the perfect time to pull off the heist.
During the break-in, which lasted 81 minutes, two men dressed as police officers allegedly told the security guard working at the main checkpoint that they had a warrant for his arrest. He let them into the building and was told to call the other security guard on duty. Both were handcuffed and taped and taken to the basement, where they were held captive during the robbery.
In the end, the thieves took $500 million worth of artwork, including rare pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.
“The suspects did not wield any weapons and no weapons were seen during the robbery. No panic buttons were pressed and no notification of Boston police was made during the robbery. The CCTV footage from the evening of the flight was seized by the thieves prior to departure,” the FBI said in a statement in 2015.
When the museum opened later that day, staff found picture frames on the floor, messy exhibits and the security guards locked in the basement.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened in 1899 and is modeled after a 15th-century Venetian palace. It was intended to house the private art collection of philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner. Gardner died in 1924. In her will, she stated that the collection should remain exactly as she left it, which she did. However, if a time came when that needed to change, the art was to be auctioned off with all the money going to Harvard University, the docuseries noted.
Until the robbery, none of the 2,500 works in the museum had moved, according to Business Intern.
The crime made international headlines and the FBI assisted in the investigation.
The museum initially offered $1 million for information about the heist, but it received no takers.
“These paintings are very unique, easily identifiable if you know what you are looking for. If you didn’t see these paintings, you would just walk past them and might not notice them,” FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly said in a 2013 video statement on the agency’s website. .
Six days after the robbery, the museum reopened. The frames left by the thieves that once housed the paintings they stole were hung with nothing in them, honoring Gardner’s request that nothing be changed.
“Pieces that have been stolen from the Gardner are truly the true definition of priceless, because they can never be sold, they can never be replaced. So when you lose a piece from that particular collection, the museum cannot not just go out and acquire another masterpiece to put in her place. It must remain empty,” Kelly said. “The places must remain empty until Mrs. Gardner’s purchases and her items are returned to their place in the collection.And the final chapter of that investigation would be the successful location and recovery of the paintings, and the return of those paintings to the Gardner Art Museum.
The thieves also took the security footage from the day of the robbery as well as a printout of the alarm system showing which rooms were accessed and at what time. However, they did not erase the hard drive of the computer that saved the print or take the security tape from the night before, which the FBI released in 2015. Yet no lead has been produced.
Yet 31 years after the robbery, the crime has never been solved and the reward granted by the authorities has only increased, now totaling $5 million. The museum itself is offering $10 million for the information.
“The Museum is offering a $10 million reward for information leading directly to the safe return of stolen works. (A share of the reward would be given in exchange for information leading to the return of any part of the works.) A separate reward of $100,000 is being offered for the return of the Napoleonic eagle finial,” the museum said in a press release on their website posted this year.
The docuseries explores who might have done it and how. Theories emerged that it was the work of organized crime or that it could have been an inside job. No one was ever charged with the crime and the investigation is still open.
Anyone with information regarding the heist is asked to call the FBI at 617-742-5533 or the Isabella Gardner Museum at 617-278-5114.