$1M Reward Offered For Trail To Stolen Art Boston Globe March 21, 1990

A $1 million reward, partially underwritten by two world-famous auction houses, was offered yesterday for information leading to the safe return of art treasures stolen Sunday from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a museum official said.

At the same time, museum director Ann Hawley told reporters that an inventory yesterday showed that a gilded bronze eagle finial on the pole of a silk Napoleonic flag was also taken by two thieves who made off with booty whose worth was estimated at more than $200 million.

The discovery that the finial was missing increased the number of items taken to 13, including one of only 32 works in existence by the Dutch artist Jan Vermeer, two paintings by Rembrandt, a Manet, works on paper by Degas, and a Chinese vase from 1200-1100 BC. Museum officials could not estimate the value of the finial, or decorative tip.

The robbers gained entrance to the museum around 1:15 a.m. by posing as policemen, police said. They reportedly overpowered two guards at the Fenway facility and disarmed a "state-of-the-art" electronic security system in pulling off what authorities describe as the world's biggest art theft.

The art work is not insured for theft.

At the news conference in front of John Singer Sargent's renowned wall-sized "El Jaleo," Hawley said the reward would be guaranteed by Sotheby's and Christie's of New York and by unidentified private benefactors willing to contribute.

Hawley said no one on the museum staff has been questioned by authorities as a suspect.

Spokesmen for the FBI and Boston police continued to refuse to identify the two guards who were on duty Sunday or the maintenence man who found them, handcuffed and gagged, at 7 a.m. or to disclose details of the investigation.

But sources close to the probe said detectives are trying to identify three people who apparently staged a disturbance outside the museum two weeks before the robbery, apparently in an attempt to gain early-morning admittance.

Investigators suspect the three may have been part of the gang that pulled off the weekend theft.

According to sources, the FBI and Boston police detectives are looking for discrepancies in the accounts provided by the two guards.

Sources said the guards involved are paid $6.85 an hour, and because of their positions will come under heavy scrutiny by law enforcement officials.

Museum officials, however, have defended the guards' actions that night and say they will not be disciplined.

Meanwhile, Boston police officials were trying to determine whether any of their officers sought entry to the Museum of Fine Arts Jan. 15, then left when a security guard there would not let them in.

William McAuliffe, chief of security for the Museum of Fine Arts, said he learned yesterday that one of his guards saw a Boston police cruiser in the late afternoon on Martin Luther King Day, when two men who appeared to be police officers asked to be let into the closed museum.

Jill Reilly, a Boston police spokeswoman, said a check had found no written reports on the incident, but that a more thorough review of the department's dispatching apparatus would take several days.

The FBI also said evidence taken from the Gardner -- such as the frames from which paintings were ripped -- has been sent to the bureau's lab in Washington for analysis and that a Boston police sketch artist is working on composites of the robbers.

Agents were interviewing museum personnel as well as anyone connected to the museum, from caterers to repairmen. Any person arrested in previous art thefts would also be interviewed, they said.

Hawley said the $1 million would be paid, "no questions asked," for information leading to the safe return of the art, even if the information comes from the thieves themselves. She said information could be given to the FBI or to officials at the Gardner.

FBI Agent Paul Cavanagh said, "We are exploring every possibility and not limiting ourselves in any way." He added that he expected the reward will bring information about the crime.

Hawley announced that the museum would reopen to the public at noon today.

"This money will be paid to the person who leads us to getting the works back in safe condition," she said. 'The responsibility of the museum is to recover these treasures and put them back where they belong."

Christie's chairman Daniel Davison said his company agreed to help underwrite the reward because the theft represents "a cultural disaster."

"We feel horribly about it," said Davison. "This is one of the great museums of this country which has been stripped . . . it's a loss not only for the Boston area but for the country."

Hawley said the $1 million could come from a group of benefactors being solicited by the art auction houses, although the two companies would contribute a sizeable amount.

The eagle finial was stolen from the second-floor Tapestry room, site of frequent concerts in the Venetian-style palace built at the turn of the century by Isabella Stewart Gardner, Hawley said. Her statement is the first indication that the thieves had entered a third room in the museum.

The two men also lifted art works from the second-floor Dutch room, which occupies a corner overlooking Palace Road above the museum side entrance, officials said, and then crossed the four-story central courtyard to the first-floor Blue room near the visitors entrance.

Barry Wanger, a museum spokesman, said Monday that trustees felt the cost of insuring the art would be prohibitive because the museum has only a $2.8 million budget.

But one fine arts insurance expert who did not want to be identified estimated the cost to the Gardner would have been as low as $150,000 per year for $200 million in coverage, with a deductible as high as $50,000.

He said, however, the Gardner security system might not have satisfied insurers because there was no central alarm to police to alert them of intruders in the building. Individual works were attached to the alarm system, however.

Two current guards and a former guard interviewed yesterday -- all of whom had worked the noon to 5 p.m. shift -- said their training ran over a five-day period. It included the showing of videotapes and film strips on recognizing and dealing with situations that could lead to the theft or damaging of art work, they said.

The three, who requested anonymity, said guards working at night sometimes are taken from the ranks of daytime guards and are always given additional training. They were not certain what that training entailed, however.

They said the museum's director of training, William Herman, intensively works with new guards to ensure they have a good knowledge of the Fenway facility and of the rules and procedures in place there.

Guards are told to be aware of the location of fire extinguishers and light switches in the rooms, and to watch carefully for situations such as children wandering too close to stair railing and art patrons getting too close to paintings.

"They tell you exactly what to do if someone is damaging a painting," said one guard. "You put your hands up in the air and blow your whistle."

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Gardner Museum Heist