Twenty-two years ago, two men dressed as Boston Police Officers walked into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, bound and gagged the young security guards, and walked out of the museum’s side entrance 90 minutes later, carrying a few hundred million dollars worth of art. It was the largest art heist ever in modern times, and included a total of 13 priceless works.
The empty frames still hang in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum today.
One-time Boston art theft ring member, Billy Youngworth, explained during a 2004 Nightline interview that, “They always portray it[art thefts] as some guy hanging from black pajamas on a cable, in the middle of the night, beating the laser systems, when in reality, all it really is, is like ‘in broad daylight, take it off the wall and run like hell’”.
His comments parallel those read by Boston actor Matt Damon in the film, “Ocean’s 11″ when responding to the proposal of a new grand theft. His character Linus, said, “[Sounds like another] smash and grab job, huh?” Rusty, the character played by Brad Pitt, responded, “Slightly more complicated than that.”
It turns out the Gardner Heist wasn’t much more complicated than the “take if off the wall and run” formula, as laid out by Youngworth.
Following the heist, the museum offered a $5 million reward for the return of the works, but law enforcement along with museum officials refused to offer a more substantial bounty–citing the risk of setting off a string of art-museum thefts, due to the rising reward offers.
The thieves, apparently lacking the ability to count higher than 300,000, initially sold the stolen art to Boston crime boss Joe Murrey, for a rumored total of $300k. The art was hung in his home, before disappearing without a trace.
The Rembrandt masterpiece, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, was among the 13 pieces stolen, and is arguably one of his finest works. It is thought to be valued at over $100 million today.
A few other pieces include:
“The Concert”, by Vermeer, 1 of only 32 of his known paintings, estimated value of $200+ million.
“A Lady and Gentlemen in Black”, by Rembrandt
“Self-Portrait”, by Rembrandt
“Chez Tortoni”, by Edward Manet
-Here is a Nighline interview regarding the heist from Autumn of 2004