Gardner Museum Heist —Blog

The Boston Globe and the New Fabulism

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Part Four

In 2013, the FBI announced that they knew who the Gardner heist robbers were, that those responsible for the theft had tried to sell the art in Philadelphia about ten years earlier. They were also steadfast, however, in their refusal to share the names of the culprits with the public. The FBI was quite openly covering up who committed the crime, keeping it a secret. Theirs was a coverup in plain sight, and so it remains, a real mystery of the Gardner Museum heist.

The FBI even held a press conference, "appealing to the public for help," in cracking the Gardner heist case. They described it as one of "the FBI’s Top Ten," even, but only in the "Art Crimes," category.

Once again damning with faint priority the Gardner heist investigation, after already having gone through the motions, and barely, of looking like they were trying to catch the Gardner heist criminals, with little more show for it than a few dubious replies to questions from to handpicked reporters disinclined to pushback against the farfetched utterances, of the Bureau.

Given the historic nature of the Gardner heist, one of the biggest property thefts in world history, what were the other nine thefts on the FBI's list competing with it for the top spot? Who would challenge the FBI, if in order to get the most bang for the buck out of their "publicity campaign," they declared the Gardner heist number one on the FBI's art crime list? Answer: Nobody. As we shall see, the FBI has made much less credible statements in the days, months, and years after the press conference, with barely a follow up question.

It took a foreign media outlet, the BBC to state the obvious in a documentary later that year: "Whether the perpetrators are now dead, the FBI won't say. In fact their position seems to me to be very odd. They know who did it but won't say who."

As if this very odd, public coverup, wrapped up in a public appeal, was not very odd enough, the FBI, after saying in 2013, that they knew who the thieves were, but were keeping the information a secret, began in late February of 2015, to hint about certain individuals, casting aspersions on George Reissfelder and Leonard DiMuzio, specifically, both dead since 1991, as the two Gardner heist robbers.

"On his PowerPoint," Tom Mashberg reported, in late February of 2015, in the New York Times. "Mr. [FBI's Geoff] Kelly showed me that Mr. Reissfelder and Mr. DiMuzio closely resembled police sketches of the two men who had entered the museum," (They don't.)

A few weeks later, when Anthony Amore, chief investigator of the case, for the Gardner Museum, was questioned about the naming of those "suspects" in the New York Times, he denied it. "If you read it very closely nobody really named anybody," he said. "The New York Times article provides conjecture based on a theory that was presented to the reporter. So again in that interview we didn't name uh the two people. Those are the two that the reporter surmised from the information."

Ohhh. That's makes sense, if you're not listening very closely.

Interestingly Shelley Murphy, who also saw the PowerPoint had made the exact same "conjecture" in the Boston Globe that Mashberg had made in the New York Times, a few weeks after Mashberg's story ran. Murphy reported: "The FBI's presentation notes that George Reissfelder, who was implicated in the heist by an informant and died of a cocaine overdose in 1991, matched a composite sketch of one of the thieves."

And two years later, Murphy, in a story co-written by Stephen Kurkjian reported "the [FBI's] theory, outlined by the FBI in a PowerPoint presentation a couple of years ago, is that Merlino's associates, George Reissfelder and Leonard DiMuzio, who both died in 1991, were involved in the theft.

So we have the FBI refusing to identify the thieves, which is strange, then the FBI hinting about who the thieves are, which is even more strange, then, through their dissembling surrogate Amore, lying that they had been hinting that the two thieves were Donati and Reissfelder.

Then even stranger, at this same time, at the 25th anniversary of the Gardner heist, when Amore is giving these disingenuous, hair spitting replies about what the intended message was from the PowerPoint, another FBI Agent Peter Kowenhoven, said in a televised interview with WCVB, a Boston television station, that "the two individuals that took them and committed this crime are currently dead,"

This flatly contradicts what they said back in 2013, at their press conference, which was that around 2003 some of the stolen Gardner art was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft."

Stranger still was how the Boston Globe's disinforming team of Gardner heist fabulists, Stephen Kurkjian and Shelley Murphy, normalized these bizarrely contradictory FBI utterances. When Kowenhoven said the thieves are dead, in March of 2015, the Boston Globe did not even report it. And when Kowenhoven made the same claim to UPI in August the day after the Gardner heist eve video was released, a story, which ran in the Washington Post and numerous other publications across the United States and Europe, the Globe again took a pass on the story, even though, they were right then publishing a flurry of news stories about the case, because of the U.S. Attorney's release of the Gardner heist video.

When Kowenhoven first said this, he also described the thieves as "lower-ranking members of the mob that carried this [Gardner heist] out, or mob associates (a very broad category), and they were trying to keep that information from the leadership."

This contradicts the theory presented as the best one, in the Boston Globe's Netflix documentary, "This Is A Robbery," which was based on the work of Stephen Kurkjian in his book Master Thieves. The Boston Globe's Shelley Murphy reported in 2021, that "in his 2015 book, Kurkjian wrote that former New England Mafia capo Vincent Ferrara claimed, that in 1990 Donati confessed to him that he robbed the museum, buried the artwork, and planned to use it to try to broker Ferrara’s release from prison. Actually, it was anonymous intermediary, who claimed Ferrara claimed that, and since Ferrara was "a 'Capo' — a captain in the local Mafia — and an up-and-comer, according to WBUR, this theory of Kurkjian, contradicts the FBI's public statement on who did it. The FBI says the thieves were trying to keep the theft a secret from the leadership. In Kurkjian's account, Robert Donati visited a member of the mob leadership in prison, and told him he was going to rob the Gardner Museum, and after he did it, he went into the prison again and told him that he had done so.

At the end of 2015, the Boston Globe finally reported that the FBI had said the thieves are dead months and months earlier, but then they back dated the timing of it, when the FBI said that to two years earlier. It appeared in a story by Stephen Kurkjian, who wrote:

"The Gardner thieves have never been publicly identified, although in 2013 the head of the FBI's Boston office said at a press conference that the agency knew who had pulled off the robbery and that both men were dead," the Boston Globe published. Kurkjian's chronology was completely and utterly false. Could he have made an honest mistake?

In his book, which devotes a full five pages to this 2013 FBI press conference, he recalled, "the night before I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned, trying to figure out what was going to be said, and wondering if a recovery was about to be announced. What startling development were the FBI and the museum going to share that I had missed in my reporting on the case for the Boston Globe for more than a decade?"

The next day, Kurkjian was one of the news reporters, who attended the historic press conference, and in an article he co-wrote, for the Boston Globe website, that day, Kurkjian quoted the FBI SAIC Richard DesLauriers as having said: "The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft.

Furthermore, the thieves are dead statement by Kowenhoven came within weeks of the release of Kurkjian's book. Kurkjian then made dozens of personal appearances, did numerous interviews about the case, and about the Gardner heist eve video, which was released in early August. He made presentations at local libraries, and answered hundreds of questions about the case, while promoting his book, between the time that Kowenhoven stated the thieves were dead, in March of 2015 (and again in August of 2015) and at the end of December of that year, when Kurkjian falsely reported what was said at the press conference, contradicting the FBI and his own past coverage of the event.

Three weeks later, without making a correction to the December 27th story, Shelley Murphy and Stephen Kurkjian reported (akconwledged?) that "in 2013, the FBI announced it was confident it had identified the thieves, but declined to name them. Later, the FBI said it believed the two thieves were dead." They did not say they believed the thieves were dead, they said in March "the two individuals that took them and committed this crime are currently dead." And in August said: "We have, through the great investigative work, identified who did this heist, and both those individuals are deceased.”

After that, Kurkjian and Murphy went back to reporting that the FBI said they were dead at the press conference, using some imprecise wording to conceal the fact that the FBI had bizarely changed their story: "Four years ago, the FBI announced it was confident it had identified the thieves — local criminals who have since died

The FBI did not characterize them as either local criminals or as people who have since died the 2013 press conference.

The FBI said "we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.”

The organization they are members is based in a base in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.” That's not local when you're mentioning Connecticut by name, and Boston and Massachusetts not at all, for a crime that occurred in Boston, MA.

The fact that Kurkjian has changed his story three times and settled on this strangely worded by still false wording, over time, is one more reason to question how interested Kurkjian is to inform the public that the FBI had changed their story about the thieves. If the public deserves more transparency about the investigation than this, it is unlikely they will be getting from the Boston Globe, or its new media side projects. In 2021 in of the Boston Globe's "new media" projects, the Netflix streaming documentary "This Is A Robbery," Shelly Murphy says: Murphy: "It was really stunning. The FBI announces on the anniversary that they are very confident that they know who committed the robbery, and the thieves are dead."

Yet even though the news that the thieves were dead was "stunning," according to Murphy, her employer, the Boston Globe did not even report it, and then when they did report it, they reported it wrong. The Boston Globe is still unwilling to honestly report on this point, that the FBI changed their story about the thieves, whom, even nine years later, they still refuse to identify.

Kurkjian writes about his anticipation the press conference, he attends the press conference he covers the press conference, and swims in the Gardner heist case for nine months, from the time Kowenhoven said the thieves are dead TWICE, and Kurkjian falsely reports that the FBI had been saying this all along since 2013.

Conclusion: Stephen Kurkjian and Shelley Murphy and the Globe are knowingly tailoring their reporting to a desired narrative that does not conform to the history and reality of the FBI's engagement with public on details of the case and their investigation.

Part Five

by Kerry Joyce

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