Twenty-five years ago, two men entered Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and made off with half a billion dollars worth of artwork. In the early morning hours of March 18th, 1990, a guard for the museum, Richard Abath, opened the door after 1 a.m. for two men dressed as police officers. The phony cops said they were responding to a call, and then handcuffed and duct taped the two guards, leaving them in the basement. They were discovered when the morning guards arrived hours later.
For 81 minutes, the thieves made their way through the museum, leaving with the famous artwork. The still missing pieces include two paintings by Rembrandt, paintings by Vermeer, Manet, a self-portrait by Rembrandt, five Degas sketches, an ancient Chinese vase and a bronze eagle finial from a French flag.
There have been plenty of suspects and theories in the years since. The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes they know who stole the artwork, though none of the artwork has been recovered and no convictions have come from their investigations. The FBI indicates a local group of petty criminals ripped off the museum.
George Reissfelder was identified as a suspect by an informer, but died in 1991. Reissfelder matched a police sketch of one of the thieves, and owned a red Dodge Daytona similar to the one seen parked outside the museum before the theft. Reissfelder's own brother believes he saw Manet's Chez Tortoni hanging in his brother's bedroom. An associate of Reissfelder said to FBI informant that he intended to recover the artwork to collect the $5 million reward, but none of the artwork was found.
Another associate, Robert Guarente, who died in 2004, told his wife he'd given some of the stolen paintings to Robert Gentile, who had ties to Boston mafia figures. FBI agents later found a list of the stolen paintings inside a 1990 Boston Herald reporting on the heist. They also found weapons, police hats and handcuffs. They also found an empty storage space burried under the floor of a shed in his backyard. Gentile's attorney said his client had nothing to do with the stolen paintings.
The guard who opened the door to the thieves has even been a suspect. Motion sensors indicated the thieves never entered the gallery where the Manet painting was stolen, but Abath had before the thieves arrived. He'd also apparently opened a side door to the museum before letting the thieves in through a different entrance. Abath has said he was a victim, and not involved in the robbery.
Other theories abound. A former Boston Globe reporter, Stephen Kurkjian, released a book on the theft titled, "Master Thieves." Kurkjian's theory is that Robert Donati, a man with ties to the New England mob, stole the artwork and buried it to try and get a deal to release his boss, Vincent Ferrara, from jail. But after Donati was found murdered in 1991, no one knows where he buried the treasure.
Regardless of the theories, the paintings and artwork remain missing. Due to the conditions Isabella Steward Gardner place on the museum, none of the artwork can be changed, so the museum displays empty frames in place of the stolen works. The only place to see the missing paintings may be online.