BREAKING NEWS: Crooks Named in Gardner Museum Heist

by Martin Willis, Gemr Community Curator

martin@gemr.com

I just got off the phone with the founder of the Art Crime Team, retired FBI Agent,  Robert Wittman, he confirmed that the two thieves who disguised themselves as Boston police officers of the biggest art heist in history have just been named by the FBI. George Reissfelder and Lenny DiMuzio are named as the perpetrators, and both of them died within a year of the heist. Reissfelder died of a drug overdose and DiMuzio was murdered, both deaths are suspicious in my opinion.

How The Heist Went Down

imagesFrom the Gardner website: In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and roamed the Museum’s galleries, stealing thirteen works of art.

They gained entry into the Museum by posing as Boston police officers and stating that they were responding to a call. The guard on duty broke protocol and allowed them entry through the Museum’s security door.

1838Once inside, the thieves asked that the guard come around from behind the desk, claiming that they recognized him and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The guard walked away from the desk and away from the only alarm button. The guard was told to summon the other guard on duty to the security desk, which he did. The thieves then handcuffed both guards and took them into the basement where they were secured to pipes and their hands, feet, and heads duct taped. The two guards were placed 40 yards away from each other in the basement.

The next morning, the security guard arriving to relieve the two night guards discovered that the Museum had been robbed and notified the police and director Anne Hawley.

rembrandt_ladygentleman_custom-8e0b6ad766b7ac62823da0da4563cf2e0389eab6-s1100-c15The stolen works include: Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633) and a Self Portrait (1634), an etching on paper; Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660); and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk (1638); and a Chinese vase or Ku, all taken from the Dutch Room on the second floor. Also stolen from the second floor were five works on paper by the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas and a finial from the top of a pole support for a Napoleonic silk flag, both from the Short Gallery. Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880) was taken from the Blue Room on the first floor. See the image sheet for additional information.

Back to the FBI

When I asked former FBI Special Agent Robert Wittman what does the release of the names mean? He told me that the FBI still does not know the whereabouts of the masterpieces.  In an interview I did with him in 2012, he had told me at one time in Europe he and the FBI Art Crime Team felt they were chasing the pieces and only a few weeks out and closing in. The whole thing fell apart somehow and they desperately tried to pick up the trail again.

I asked him if he thought they were in someone’s basement all these years, and the possessor sitting and enjoying them in some sort of twisted way. His response was that the FBI’s idea was more along the lines that the pieces were used in underground mob power struggles. In other words, some type of collateral.

stephencolbertcolbertreport

Click image to watch former FBI Agent Robert K. Wittman on the Colbert Report

 

Let’s Hope the Empty Frames are Filled Again

The good news is Wittman claims cases like this heist have a very high percentage of being solved. It is haunting to see the frames hanging empty, and we can only hope that they will come back someday. To try and picture where they are right now could drive one crazy. Are the canvases rolled up in tubes safe in a vault? Are they safe from elements and deterioration? It is beyond a crime to have these hidden away and not to be shared and enjoyed by all, the way Isabella Gardner intended them to be.

The pieces collectively are worth around $500 million or more, but only if you had the title of ownership. Stolen pieces, especially of high profile are worth a small percentage of the above and valuable to very few people. For instance agent Wittman once was involved in a sting in Europe to purchase a stolen Leonardo da Vinci self portrait. The price and what he had in his briefcase to buy it was a mere $200,000 cash. It was a harrowing arrest, but there were no casualties and the piece was returned to the museum where it had been stolen from. Machine gun wielding crooks had run out the door with it months before.

The Gardner Museum is offering a reward of $5 million for information leading to the recovery of these works in good condition.

Have a tip? Contact Anthony Amore, the Gardner Museum’s Director of Security, at 617 278 5114 or theft@gardnermuseum.org.

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