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FBI Amps Up Efforts for 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Art Theft

Some of the 13 art objects stolen from the Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum on March 18, 1990. (photo via flickr.com/boston_public_library and gardnermuseum.org)
Some of the 13 art objects stolen from the Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum on March 18, 1990, including Rembrandt’s only known seascape, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633), at the top right.(photos via flickr.com/boston_public_library and gardnermuseum.org)

Today, the FBI announced that they have identified possible suspects in the shocking 1990 Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum heist of $500m worth of art, which included three works by Rembrant, Vermeer’s “The Concert” (1658–1660), Govaert Flinck’s “Landscape with an Obelisk” (1638), five works by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet’s “Chez Tortoni” (1878–1880), and a historic Chinese beaker (1200–1100 BCE).

The theft, which happened 23 years ago today, is the largest property crime in history, according to FBI investigators. Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Boston Field Office Richard DesLauriers said during the afternoon press conference in Boston that they have “made significant investigative progress” in their investigation. DesLauriers explained that they have been able to connect the robbery with a crime organization with a base in the Mid-Atlantic region. According to DesLauriers, it is with a “high degree of confidence” that the “art was transported to Connecticut and Philadelphia area.” DesLauriers also explained that at least one of the works was offered for sale in the Philadelphia area but did not elaborate on that particular incident.

While the FBI has identified suspects involved in the theft, DesLaurier explained that it “would be imprudent to specify the identity of the individuals — naming them would hinder ongoing investigations to locate the art.”

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who spoke during the press conference, said: “I think we’re all optimistic that one day the paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway, as Mrs. Gardner intended.”

During the question period, a reporter bluntly asked, “So the people who stole the stuff got away with it?”

Ortiz explained, “For the actual thievery that occurred on that evening, the statute of limitations would have run … ” adding that the statue of limitations would have been six years after the crime. She added that the criminals can still be tried for criminal liability, possession of stolen property, or concealment, and the press conference reiterated that the investigation is offering any potential informant immunity if they could help in the return of the works.

The investigators announced that they have reason reason to believe that the artwork has changed hands several times and that those who might be in possession of the paintings right now might not have been involved in the original theft.

Starting at 3pm EST today, the FBI has launched a new website detailing information about the Gardner theft www.FBI.gov/gardner.

The press conference reiterated that there is a $5,000,000 reward for any information leading to the return of the painting. The reward is being offered by the Gardner Museum and it is the largest private reward ever offered.

The FBI stressed that anyone with information about the artwork may contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the museum directly or through a third party. “In the past, people who realize they are in possession of stolen art have returned the art in a variety of ways, including through third parties, attorneys, and anonymously leaving items in churches or at police stations,” said Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly. Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

 

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