Brian McDevitt 60 Minutes Interview Transcript
"To Catch A Thief" 11/29/92

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MORLEY SAFER: "To Catch a Thief"—not the movie the real thing. Two years ago, some of the world's most valuable art was lifted from a Boston museum, works including Rembrandt's only seascape, one of only 32 Vermeer paintings in the world, a Monet and some Degas—13 pieces in all, worth at least $200 million, perhaps the biggest art theft ever. In most cases, sooner or later the works turn up, ransomed back to the owner or their insurance company. In this case, nothing—except for one slightly slippery suspect. It happened one night in Boston at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1:00 AM, March 18th, 1990. Two men dressed as Boston cops came to this side door of the museum. They knocked and told the guards they were responding to a report of a disturbance. In moments, the guards were overwhelmed, bound and gagged. And the thieves went to work.

The museum, built at the turn of the century by the eccentric Isabella Stewart Gardner, was a copy of an Italian villa. She lived here and scoured Europe for this eclectic collection. For two hours, the thieves roamed these halls. Among the paintings stolen were Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and Vermeer's "The Concert." Perter Sutton, curator of the European paintings at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, notes they're paintings of extraordinary significance.

Mr. PETER SUTTON (Curator, Museum of Fine Arts): The early Rembrandt, a very large and ambitious picture, a picture of wonderful theatrics and the only marine painting in his entire oeuvre, a picture of tremendous importance. And the Vermeer—what could be more rare or precious than a Vermeer? Perfectly poised and balanced, kind of an inevitable geometry.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) The inevitable geometry that night became an empty rectangle. It was not until 7:00 the next morning that the two guards were found, still bound and gagged, in the basement. The art world was in shock. In all, 13 objects were taken by two men who were later described by the guards to police artists as being in their late 20's or early 30's and speaking with Boston accents.

Mr. BRIAN McDEVITT: (Former Thief): They were definitely professional thieves. They knew what they were doing.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Brian McDevitt says he's an expert on this kind of heist because he was once part of an international ring that stole to order.

BRIAN McDEVITT: This was clearly an operation that somebody paid for. They wanted, I think, those two specific paintings. And the only way that you can get those paintings for your collection is that you pay somebody to go in and steal them. I mean, that's what—that's what I used to do.

MORLEY SAFER: What's your best professional guess about the location of the Gardner paintings now, as we speak?

Mr. McDEVITT: I believe they are in Japan.

MORLEY SAFER: All of them?

Mr.McDEVITT: All of them.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) There is the possibility that some billionaire is gloating over the paintings. It's also possible they're being held for ransom.

Mr. SUTTON: That makes the best sense, of course, because you can't fence objects like this.

MORLEY SAFER: They're too well known…

Mr. SUTTON: Exactly.

MORLEY SAFER: ...too obvious. No Museum's going to buy them.


MORLEY SAFER: No reputable, perhaps even disreputable, collector…

Mr. SUTTON: Very unlikely.

MORLEY SAFER: … would want to own something that says Gardner Museum all on it.

Mr. SUTTON: Right.


Mr. SUTTON: Exactly. Too famous.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Our next stop, a place that should put any art thief into panic—the FBI, and its head of interstate theft Howard Apple.

Agent HOWARD APPLE (FBI): There's a million—dollar reward on this case, and to my knowledge no one has ever come forth with an offer to return the pieces of stolen art.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Agent Apple says up to 40 agents at time have been working on the case, but you get the feeling the bureau is baffled. The paintings have been put into the stolen art computer network and distributed throughout the world through Interpol, but in two and a half years nothing.

But there was one thing, a robbery attempt 10 years earlier that seemed almost a blueprint for the Gardner Heist. It was the Hyde Museum in upstate New York.

The Hyde family built their museum in Glen Falls shortly after the Gardner was built. It was a mini—Gardner. They purchased similar paintings—a few Rembrandts, a Veneer and other valuable European works. In 1980. There was an elaborate attempt to rob the museum. It was planned from the Queensbury hotel in Glens Falls, where the brain behind it had taken up permanent residence.

Unidentified Man #1: He paid his bills—as far as I can remember, they were paid in cash.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) A young man whom the assistant manager remembers well.

Man #1: I knew him as Paul Vanderbilt.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Apparently, one of THE Vanderbilts. He spent months casing the museum and gave the impression he might be a major benefactor. Man #1: He drove a Bentley which he treated rather well.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) In the hotel, Vanderbilt and an accomplice worked for months on a detailed plan to rob the Hyde. They dressed up as Federal Express men, hijacked a Federal Express van, bound and aged the driver, but got stuck in traffic, which ruined their timing and thwarted their plan.

Mr. DAVID WAIT (District Attorney): They were the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) District Attorney David Wait says young Vanderbilt and his accomplice were identified by the kidnapped driver. They were caught and quickly confessed.

Mr. WAIT: The police that took the statement, I'm sure, just sat there and kept typing as fast as they could until he just stopped talking. So it wasn't a probing interrogation—type of thing. He just kept right on talking. Maybe he wanted to sound clever.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Paul Vanderbilt, it turned out, was not a Vanderbilt at all, but a 20—year—old con man from the Boston area named McDevitt, suspect in the Gardner Heist.

December, 1980, you confessed to the attempted robbery of the Hyde Museum in Glen Falls, New York, correct?

Mr. McDEVITT: Correct

MORLEY SAFER: So you went into the museum and you cased it very carefully.

Mr. McDEVITT: That's right.

MORLEY SAFER: (voiceover) And what he wanted was much the same as was taken from the Gardner: Vermeer and Rembrandt. The Gardner heist seemed to be a successful copycat of the botched Hyde caper—disguises, the way the guards were bound and gagged, the same threatening language, even the way the paintings were removed.

MORLEY SAFER: Had you gotten away with it at the Hyde, what would you have done with the paintings?

Mr. McDEVITT: The paintings would have been transferred to Japan that's where they were going, to Tokyo.

MORLEY SAFER: The attempted robbery of the Hyde Museum seemed almost a training exercise for what happened ultimately at the Gardner. Is there any suggestion that McDevitt is somehow involved in the Gardner?

Agent APPLE: Well, the two cases have similarities but the fact remains that the FBI deals in evidence, and speculation will never bring a person to trial.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) The FBI has grilled McDevitt exhaustively and interviewed just about everyone he ever knew. McDevitt is vague about how he makes a living, but he now lives in the Hollywood hills, where he says the FBI is watching his every move.

Mr. McDEVITT: Down here in the canyon, if you're lucky, you can see the FBI agents who keep watch on my house all the time. They're right down there.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) With his lawyer, Tom Beatrice present, he spoke to us. Just why, we're not sure. But he is hoping to sell a screenplay he claims to be writing about his life story, which he calls "Masterpiece."

Brian, your name has been linked to the Gardner Heist…

Mr. McDEVITT: Mm—hmm.

MORLEY SAFER: .. which was the biggest art theft certainly in the history of this country, maybe in history.

Mr. McDEVITT: Yes.


Mr. McDEVITT: That's correct.

MORLEY SAFER: Did you do it.

Mr. McDEVITT: No I did not.

MORLEY SAFER: You understand the suspicion, correct? I mean, why…

Mr. McDEVITT: Yes, I do. I think that the FBI would have been remiss had they not interviewed me.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) The suspicions go beyond the similarities with the Hyde attempt. Brian McDevitt was living in Boston at the time of the Gardner robbery, in this apartment building on Beacon Hill. His neighbors, say he left town soon after the heist without letting anyone know.

Unidentified Man #2: Well, he said that he wasn't moving, that he was just changing his furniture.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) And he doesn't have an alibi for the morning of March 18th.

Mr. McDEVITT: It was unfortunate, but that's—you know, there were also 400,000 other people that were home alone in the city of Boston that night.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Brian McDevitt has a history of deception and theft. He's been convicted with five felonies. Before the Hyde attempt, he stole at least $60,000 in cash and $100,000 in bearer bonds from a safe deposit box in Boston. Roy Prout, a bloodhound of an investigator for the Boston DA, 30 years on the job, go on McDevitt's trail.

Tell what you discovered about the man when you went after him.

Detective ROY PROUT (Private Investigator): Well, it was apparent throughout my investigation that most people seemed to feel that they were deceived by him and— that he was not quite what he appeared to be. Some people that I spoke with described him as a phony.

MORLEY SAFER: McDevitt now claims that in fleeing Detective Prout, he ended up in Brazil and fell in with an art theft ring.

Mr. McDEVITT: And then it was like living a James Bond film or "It Takes a Thief." I mean dropping in through skylights…

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) McDevitt's imagination may be getting the better of him.

Mr. McDEVITT: The money, the cars, the women.

MORLEY SAFER: He may see himself as a high society second—story man. In fact, he's a garden variety con man.

How easy was it for a guy like you who speak pretty well, looks pretty well, dresses pretty well to be a con man? Easy?

Mr. McDEVITT: Very easy. No question about that. But that was when I was 19 and 20 and 21. That was, you know, over a decade ago.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) McDevitt is now 32, living in Hollywood, where he says he went to reinvent himself, a new clean McDevitt who would launch himself in a literary career or at least become a screen writer.

Have you ever published anything anywhere?

Mr. McDEVITT: Nope, haven't.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover)But he did join the Hollywood chapter of the Writers Guild of America. They were impressed and put him in charge of grants. He linked up with a fledgling writer name Ben Pollack and they formed a company, but old habits die hard.

Mr. Ben Pollack (Screenwriter): He came up and he told me that he was a—this writer for the New Yorker and that he had won the Hemingway Award and the O. Henry Award and he has written "Hope and Glory," the film, and the he had ghostwrote "Soapdish" and the had done several television shows.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover)Ben Pollack became curious and did some research and found resume to be pure fiction.

Mr. POLLACK: McDevitt told me to—basically, 'Don't tell anybody what you found out about me. You do not want to make me unhappy. You're not—I'm not the kind of person who you want to get mad.' So—which was frightening. It was an implied threat.

MORLEY SAFER: On you thought that was a serious one.

Mr. POLLOCK: Yeah absolutely. I mean, this—he's a guy who I thought was Robert Kennedy, al of a sudden now he's Jeffrey Dahmer. I mean it was a frightening, frightening situation for me.

MORLEY SAFER: If we hooked you up to a lie detector right now, Brian, how do you think you would fare?

Mr. McDEVITT: I'd pass without a shad—beyond a shadow of a doubt.

MORLEY SAFER: Did the FBI ever suggest that in the course of their investigation.

Mr. TOM BEATRICE (McDevitt's Attorney) They suggested it. We discussed it, and we decided not to take it just based on the fact that it's a considered unreliable. We just couldn't take that chance.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover)The FBI continues to press McDevitt, but clearly has nothing solid to pin on him. As for McDevitt himself, you never know when if ever to believe anything he says. You do get the distinct feeling that he wants you to believe he did steal the paintings. Con men are a strange breed.

As for the Gardner, under the terms of Mrs. Gardner's will, the paintings must never be rearranged. So the museum trying its best, has left a space and a card where once Vermeer and Rembrandt were hanging, empty spaces filled with possibilities.

Mr. McDEVITT: I—you know, as I—said, I don't know what happened to the paintings. I think that—outside of the fact that they're in a a—they're with a collector now and that's it.

MORLEY SAFER: (Voiceover) Are they? Or did a small—time con man really pull of the heist of century. And could he be sitting on a stash worth $200 million with no place to sell it.