The Gardner heist Un-InvestigationThe FBI's Gardner heist investigation is a story in negative space. It is a story of a complete absence of evidence gathered, of an unwillingness to make common sense use of the evidence collected by others, and of the degradation and outright loss of important evidence, because the FBI failed to properly safeguard it. It is a story of evidence left on the floor in plain view, a story of suspects, witnesses, and fellow law enforcement practitioners ignored, needlessly alienated, formally shut out, and it is a story of constricted channels of communication between the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, as well as with witnesses, museum staff, the media and the public.
A review of the public record shows the FBI's investigation to be so consistent and complete in its non-accomplishment, that it calls into question the FBI's mission from the start, most especially with respect to those aspects of the investigation pertaining to the identification and apprehension of the two robbers, and their accomplices.
From day one of this ongoing investigation, that Sunday, March 18, 1990, the FBI responded in ways that were perplexing, and never explained. The local city of Boston Police responded quickly to the scene at the Gardner Museum around 8:30 that morning. By mid-afternoon, however, there was also "a swarm of agents from the FBI's Boston office, who had already taken over the investigation" at the Gardner Museum." (Master Thieves page 60)
The Boston Police report listed eight FBI agents, by name, who were FBI first responders on the day of the Gardner Museum robbery. The city was properly grateful to have the additional manpower and expertise. But there has never been any explanation for having deployed no less than eight agents at the crimescene that Sunday afternoon, and for then having declared itself, not just the lead investigating authority, but the sole, investigatory participant, of any kind.
In Hoover's FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover's Trusted Lieutenant the author, Cartha DeLoach, explains that "most crimes committed in the United States are violations of state law rather than federal law. Ordinarily, robbery, rape, murder, and other such acts aren't covered under federal statutes but fall under state penal codes and are tried in state courts. There are exceptions, of course. For example, if any of these crimes is committed on federal property, or if other federal crimes are involved, then the FBI can immediately move into the case."
At the time of the Gardner heist, there was nothing in the federal statutes, which stipulated that for crimes involving art, even hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of art, that such a crime would automatically became a federal case, something that could have explained the rapid response of eight agents to the Gardner Museum that Sunday. Federal law has since changed. Theft of art and other cultural antiquities from museums was made a federal crime, largely in response to the Gardner heist, just four years after the historic robbery.
In his book about the Gardner robbery, Master Thieves, author Stephen Kurkjian wrote that "believing that the thieves would be taking the stolen artwork across state lines, the FBI asserted its jurisdiction over the case." Kurkjian's explanation is unsourced. It is a conjecture. The FBI has never made a public statement to that effect. As with so many decisions in this investigation, this FBI power grab was never explained, never questioned.
In fact, the extent of it was not even known by the public. "Boston police are helping out, too" in the Gardner heist investigation, the Boston Globe reported on May 13, 1990, but in fact that was not the case.
The FBI had not only assumed jurisdiction but exclusive control, of the Gardner robbery investigation. The FBI took on the role as the sole participating law enforcement agency, which was never even reported or written about until a quarter century later in Master Thieves, by Stephen Kurkjian.
"From the morning when the theft was first discovered, the FBI has been an integral part of this investigation, the lead investigative agency." FBI SA Geoff Kelly said on March 18, 2013, understating the FBI's exclusive role.
Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis, and retired state police head Thomas Foley, in addition to Flynn, "spoke of their frustrations with the FBI having assumed total control of the investigation rather than drawing on the assistance of the Boston and Massachusetts state police," Stephen Kurkjian wrote in Master Thieves.
Dukakis, who just sixteen months earlier had been the Democratic nominee for President, losing to then President George Bush, said that "he stood ready to lend the assistance of the Massachusetts State Police to the investigation," but neither the Massachusetts State police nor the Boston police department was involved in the investigation "after the preliminary review of the crime scene."
The FBI's go-it-alone organizational chart, that completely closed off the investigation to every other criminal justice institution and resource, outside of the federal bureaucracy, including state and local law enforcement agencies, who would otherwise have had jurisdiction, is the most incomprehensible aspect of this investigation, like no other.
There is no success, large or small, or of any other kind, that can be pointed to in the FBI's efforts that in hindsight makes manifest the wisdom of this peculiar arrangement, no precedent, nor warded off danger to justify its conception, inception, or continuation.
In a June 2019 interview Kurkjian said "while it may not point to a conspiracy. I remain intrigued as to how the FBI could have muffed the investigation at several key points. Why not focus on [museum guard] Abath more widely and intensively at the probe’s outset? How did the FBI misplace key forensic evidence [duct tape and handcuffs used by the thieves] taken from the scene of the crime."Over three decades, this quarantined investigation has produced zero results beyond a variety of strange, unsatisfactorily unexplained intrigues. After 15 years the FBI had still failed to gain the confidence of the Gardner Museum's director, Anne Hawley, who told "The Smithsonian" magazine in 2005 that "their [The FBI's] investigation was possibly corrupted and compromised from the start."
It was a few months after The Smithsonian article, that the Museum hired "a specialist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security," Anthony Amore, as the museum's head of security. The new security director seemed to gain the FBI's trust in a way that eluded the Museum previously. "The FBI has given me access to their files... and I found lot of things that have helped us over time," Amore said in 2017, which, if true, raises questions of its own, such as why after 15 years was someone with relatively limited training and experience in investigations, able to find "a lot of things" that were not found previously?
Although he is sometimes careful to say that he speaks only for himself and the Museum, Amore has established himself as an FBI surrogate or stand-in, with both the public and the press, During Episode 6 of the WBUR/Boston Globe podcast "Last Seen" in 2018, Kelly Horan said: "the Boston FBI won't talk to us. So we turned to Anthony Amore, who's as close to the Boston FBI as we can get."
The previous year, Amore told the Lynn Item in March of 2017 "I work closely with the FBI on a daily basis," a claim he has made numerous times, and which further solidifies his key and collaborative role in the investigation with the public.
But even Amore, that same month, in an interview on Berklee Internet Radio's Zak Kuhn Show said: "I see so many different things that could have been done earlier [with the Gardner heist investigation] that I think could have ended this…. There are certain avenues of the investigation that might have been taken more aggressively early on, that might have yielded results," while adding that, "this is hindsight speaking."
Amore also said in the Berklee interview that the FBI "had tons of stuff piled onto to them, tons of leads coming in and other cases to do as well." If agents were busy with other cases, however, as Anthony Amore has suggested, then why not bring in state and local agencies, personnel, and resources, able and willing to assist?
For weeks after the most historic robbery in Boston prior to the Gardner heist, the Brink's Armored car depot theft in 1950, "more than 3,000 local, state and federal agents worked around the clock. More than 400 docks, houses, warehouses and other sites were searched for clues, the Globe reported March 20, 1990, and quoted "FBI Agent Paul Cavanagh saying of the Gardner heist investigation that we are exploring every possibility and not limiting ourselves in any way.'"
Seventeen years later, however, one of the FBI agents, who worked the case, Thomas McShane. an art crime investigation specialist, who was brought into case the first week, described the investigation differently: "Suffice it to say, the informant tips coming into the Boston field office regarding the Gardner theft were no doubt being finely screened," McShane wrote in his 2007 book, Loot about his participation, as an FBI investigating agent of the Gardner heist. "It was one similar frustration after another, a quagmire I was happy to leave to the uncooperative and compromised Boston field office," he wrote.
Within three months, the number of agents assigned to the case had been drastically reduced to just one, a 26-year-old agent from San Francisco, Daniel J. Falzon. Had the case had been left in hands of the city, the mayor and police, mindful of local concerns and sensitivities, would have devoted more than a single inexperienced investigator and newcomer to the historic Gardner robbery.
In the case of a city investigation, a competing candidate running for mayor or governor could have used the issue of the poorly resourced Gardner heist investigation as a law and order and leadership failure during the next election campaign. But the electoral votes of Massachusetts were not in play, in any foreseeable presidential election, although Reagan had carried the state twice.
The move to deprive their own investigation of these operational resources and personnel confounded local civic leaders at the time of the Heist.
Then Boston Mayor Ray Flynn said years later: "'Boston police were pretty much taken off the scene of the investigation by the feds, and we never could quite understand why that was the policy. Our robbery squad knew every wise guy in the city and had some reliable informants. They grew up and lived in Boston. Why wouldn't they hear things during an investigation,' Flynn said," according to Stephen Kurkjian in Master Thieves, who then proceeded in his book to explain the FBI's solo act this way: "Traditionally the FBI has resisted seeking assistance from local law enforcement in investigating federal crimes," but he offers no examples or evidence to support the existence of this claimed FBI "tradition."
Asked why the FBI didn't reach out to other law enforcement agencies to help reclaim the paintings, Kurkjian said, in a 2015 WBUR interview, Kurkjian replied: I think it's a bureaucratic and a cultural sovereignty that the FBI long has held. And, for the most part, it works.
A poor tradition indeed if it actually were one. Sovereignty does not equal exclusivity. It is simply not true that there is any "FBI tradition," that the Bureau, does not work with or seek assistance from other law enforcement agencies in responding to federal crimes. The record shows quite the opposite. There are countless cases, including some of the most well-known, high profile cases, where the FBI has worked in concert with other law enforcement agencies, while typically, though not always, leading any joint investigation.
In one of the nation's most well-known robberies, the 1978 Lufthansa Airlines Heist at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, "the investigation involved myriad other law enforcement agencies," although the FBI was the lead agency from the start.
As for other Massachusetts art museum thefts, local police worked collaboratively with both the FBI in both the Worcester Art Museum armed robbery in 1972 and the snatch and grab theft of a Rembrandt at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in 1975, which also inolved some shooting as the robbers made their escape.
A photograph of the Worcester police together with the FBI agents and the recovered paintings appeared in the local newspaper when the Worcester Museum of Art robbery was quickly and successfully solved: "All four paintings were recovered by the FBI and Worcester police, who marked Florio 'Al' Monday as a suspect after one of his handpicked men informed on him," the Boston Globe reported in 2011.
Though not a robbery, a more recent example was the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. In response to that historic terrorist attack, Richard DesLauriers, the Boston FBI Special Agent in Charge, led the investigation overall, though Boston Police Superintendent Billy Evans spearheaded the manhunt to arrest Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who along with his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, carried out the attack.
When DesLauriers and Davis addressed a crowd at Salem State University six months after the Marathon bombing they were described by CBS as "two of the men who led the investigation."
In cases involving criminal enterprises, such as drug dealing, illegal gambling, or human trafficking, law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, may deem it necessary to exclude other agencies, or even individuals within their own agency, as a precaution, to minimize the possibility of a tip-off from reaching the targets of an investigation.
The FBI may even be the agency that is kept out. Only a couple of months before the Gardner heist, a raid that "was part of an ongoing probe of a criminal operation allegedly overseen by [Whitey] Bulger that is said to involve illegal liquor sales, narcotics trafficking, bookmaking, money laundering and tax evasion," was "a county-federal investigation from which the FBI was deliberately excluded, sources said." One that "required "bureaucratic maneuvers that at times seemed more intricate than the creation of the game plan for the main racketeering probe against Bulger," the Boston Globe reported November 11, 1990.
Those types of investigations are of criminal conspiracies, effectively crimes in progress. It is not the standard procedure in cases like the Gardner museum robbery where the investigation involves the response to an already executed and completed crime to exclude other agencies.
"Having good teamwork in law enforcement is what led to the success that we had particularly during the first week of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation," Boston Special Agent in Charge Richard DeLauriers said , referring to the teamwork FBI had with other law enforcement agencies, including local law enforcement agencies that worked on the investigation. A year after the bombing DesLauriersappeared at a free to the public symposium called: "How teamwork and partnering among all levels of law enforcement as well as citizens across America helped capture the Boston Marathon bombers."
But in the case of the Gardner Museum robbery, not only were other law enforcement agencies shut out, but other information gatherers and disseminators, including the public, the media, the Gardner Museum staff, seemingly everyone, except some of the most vulnerable and least trusted members of society — prison inmates looking for a way out — were left out by investigators.
Gardner Museum trustee, "Francis W. Hatch, Jr, , a former Republican nominee for Governor of Massachusetts, recalled one meeting held ostensibly to gain a briefing from the agent and supervisor on the case. 'They wouldn't tell us anything about what they thought of the robbery or who they considered suspects,' Hatch recalls. 'It was very embarrassing to all of us.'"
This was and remains an investigation strategy yielding nothing. "With all of the people we know in and out of prison, we've never got a quality piece of information that indicates this is it, this is who did it. "We've had everybody and their brother say they know who did it and none of this has led to anyone or any of the art going back on the walls," former Gardner heist lead investigator Dan Falzon said in Loot by former FBI Gardner heist investigator Robert McShane. page 318
In 1994 the New York Times reported: "Investigators say they are far from clueless. In fact, there seemed at times an excess of clues and suspects. "I can't imagine a whodunit as nightmarish as this, considering the endless pool of potential suspects," said Daniel J. Falzon, the FBI's agent leading the investigation. "It's mind-boggling." but then a few paragraphs later in the same it is reported: "theft seems to have generated little underworld street talk, as if some fearsome crime clan had clamped a lid on or killed the actual thieves."
Without physical evidence or underworld street talk, where we these overwhelming number of clues and suspects coming from? These quotes from the FBI, which had "clamped a lid on" so many aspects of the investigation, seem contradictory.
Someone had "clamped a lid" on at least one facet of the Gardner Museum robbery, the investigation, and right away it became hot and stifling, "a caldron," one might say. The FBI's clamped-a-lid-on investigation led to threats against the museum and staff, which inspired Gardner Museum Director Anne Hawley to remark that "first we were robbed and then we were mugged."
Only a couple of days after the Heist, "an editor used crude language to describe the museum's director, Anne Hawley and then said: 'I'm going to get her I will rip her to shreds.''' The editor said he had been upset because on the day after the robbery, a Globe photographer had not been allowed to take pictures in the [Dutch] room where the stolen Vermeer and Rembrandts were taken. Hawley said she was simply following the dictates of the FBI agents conducting their investigation, who did not want any photos taken.
While the FBI's succeeded in throwing a cloak over the Dutch Room crime scene to the media for a time, its effort to gather additional clues and evidence could not have been going less well. "I have never heard of another case on the magnitude of the Gardner where you didn't have a single concrete piece of evidence. Really, even still to his day, I don't even know if the thieves wore gloves or not." Dan Falzon former FBI lead investigator" tells author Ulrich Boser in his 2009 book The Gardner Heist.
Considering that the FBI overlooked six tiny screws left on the floor of the Short Gallery, left there by the thieves, in trying remove a Napoleonic banner from its frame, in addition to not finding any other physical evidence, suggests that the efforts of the FBI, combing through at least seven crime scenes, was more successful at withholding information than at uncovering any, as they put the investigation under lock and key from the rest of the world with resolute efficiency.
"The FBI gives a very standard line that they investigate all viable leads," The Gardner heist author Ulrich Boser said in an interview. "But occasionally you'll see evidence where they're not."
Indeed, and in some cases, determinedly so. In a WBUR story by the station's arts editor, about an exhibit at the Gardner Museum, by French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, commemorating the Gardner heist, 23 later, Hawley said that after theft "the museum was experiencing these bomb threats coming from people in penitentiaries that were trying to negotiate with the FBI on information they said they had - and the FBI wasn't responding to them so they were hitting us."
Hawley reiterated this story in a WGBH News segment on the Gardner heist six weeks later saying "We were evacuating the museum, the staff members were under threat, no one really knew what kind of a cauldron we were in."
None of these threats against Hawley, her staff, and the museum, were ever reported in the media at the time they occurred in the weeks, or however long, following the robbery.
The brief Hawley interview by Emily Rooney, discussing these threats was immediately followed by an interview on the same program segment with the FBI's lead investigator in the Gardner heist case, Special Agent Geoff Kelly:
Emily Rooney: Anne Hawley told us, and we'd never heard that before that right after the Heist there were all kinds of bomb threats and the museum was threatened. I didn't know anything about that. Explain that. What happened.
Kelly: "Certainly, when you have a case of this magnitude, people are going to come out of the woodwork. That's what happened shortly after the case. It happened over the years. where people came forward either claiming to have information about theft or coming forward to try to extort some money out of the museum, so this has been such an unusual investigation I've been working it for eleven years, but obviously it's been almost twenty four years since it happened and it has run the gamut of everything from an art investigation to a drug investigation to an extortion investigation, it's really encompassed every kind of federal statute that you can think of."
An unusual investigation encompassing so many different federal crimes, but without any arrests for any of those many federal crimes. In 2015 the Boston Globe reported that "amid heightened anxieties over security following theft, Hawley evacuated the museum several times following bomb threats. The authorities instructed her to take a different route home every night from work, warning that her daughter was not to be picked up by anyone who wasn't known to her school." There are not other cases where people have "come out of the woodwork," in quite this way over a property crime.
None of what Agent Kelly said addressed Hawley's twice publicly-stated claim that the museum, Hawley herself and members of her staff were under threat, but not to "extort some money" or somehow narrow the scope of the FBI's effort, to protect a guilty party, but to widen the investigation or redirect it to include them in some way. Speaking to these parties would seem like a logical step, if not to glean information about the Gardner heist, then to find out who was making the threats against the museum.
The museum's director was also subject to threats and intimidation by federal law enforcement itself, when it tried to take some role in the dead-in-the-water effort to recover the art, back into their own hands.
Museum Director Anne Hawley wrote a few months after her leaving her position at the museum 2015, that "early in the investigation, I was threatened with the charge of obstruction of justice when pursuing privately a lead that promised to crack open the investigation."
So too were the Gardner Museum trustees. When the Gardner Museum put on retainer, IGI, a private investigative firm based in Washington, founded by fromer Senate Watergate Committee attorney Terry Lenzner, "US attorney Wayne Budd fired off a memo warning the museum that it faced prosecution if it withheld information relevant to the investigation,"
Gardner heist trustee Francis Hatch responded for the museum, saying in his letter that he was 'shocked and saddened' by Budd's attempt to 'intimidate the museum and that it cast 'a pall over future cooperative efforts.'"
This is a recurring pattern in the Gardner heist investigation: Interested individuals, agencies, and institutions, are excluded from participating in the investigation, lines of communication between the official the investigation and interested parties and groups are discouraged, cut off, restricted, sometimes quite forcefully, while the FBI's own stagnant investigation yields nothing.
Even the FBI's lead investigator Daniel Falzon was not immune from the limitations put on by higher-ups: "One source close to the investigation said he "was reprimanded for consulting with Mireille Ballestrazzi, chief of the French Government's art theft squad, who is considered a leading authority on art thefts," the New York Times reported." Mr. McMullin acknowledged that an overseas legal attaché had complained that Mr. Falzon had not "gone through channels," but said that the matter was "a non-issue," another example of the time and effort the FBI put into preventing action from someone else, rather than in actually doing anything, that would lead to anyone being apprehended for the robbery.
In fact a lot more has been written about in the Boston Globe, in the New York Times and the two most well-known nonfiction books about the case, Master Thieves and The Gardner Heist about what the FBI did not do, what the FBI neglected to do, what the FBI failed at doing and what the FBI did to prevent others from doing, than what the FBI has done to apprehend the thieves.
In both The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser and in Master Thieves by Stephen Kurkjian there is scant discussion of specific concrete things that were done by FBI investigators to solve the case in the first or even second years, aside from actions that are either unverifiable, factually incorrect, or tragicomic.
In The Gardner Heist, Boser asserts that "the FBI interviewed dozens of witnesses." What "witnesses?" There is nothing in his own book, other reports, or the shared knowledge of the case that would support the claim that were dozens of witnesses to be interviewed or that the FBI interviewed them.
Boser also wrote that "the FBI interviewed Brian McDevitt for the first time in late 1990. But he then sources two news stories to back up his claim that place McDevitt's FBI interview at least a year later than that: "A Tangled 2-Year Inquiry," New York Times, June 2, 1992, and "Gardner Art Theft Suspect Is Study in Intrigue," June 3, 1992, which both put the McDevitt interview at least a year later.
One FBI initiative written about in Boser's book was how "the FBI strong-armed the Gardner into allowing the highly successful TV program America's Most Wanted to devote an episode to the caper." There was nothing stopping the TV show from a doing a segment on the Gardner robbery without the Museum's cooperation. The sticking point was that they wanted to do a reenactment inside the museum just six weeks after the historic robbery.
It is a good bet that the reenactment did not include FBI investigators stepping over screws left by the thieves on the floor of the Short Gallery, telling Hawley not to let the press take photos in the Dutch Room, or informing the Boston Police Department that: "We'll take it from here."
Perhaps to distance herself from this publicity effort, Museum director Anne Hawley released a statement: "The FBI asked that the Gardner Museum cooperate with 'America's Most Wanted' in filming a segment for their program in the hopes that it would result in the recovery of the stolen artworks."
Boser saw in the reluctance of the Museum to allow a staged reenactment of the robbery a lack of dedication to solving the case: "The Gardner's orthodoxy has long been its charm, of course. But when it came to the heist, it occasionally made the museum willing to cut off its nose to spite its handsome face," he wrote.
Yet the Museum with a little prodding did change course, and Boser never challenges the FBI's investigation or investigators, which initially did not want any photos taken in the Dutch Room and then six weeks later want actors and a camera crew full access overnight. The formula for America's Most Wanted tended to be a focus on apprehending the criminals rather than reenacting the crime.
The characterizations of the suspects by authorities for the first several years was completely at odds with the local toughs characterizations of today. On the front page of the Boston Globe the day after the America's Most Wanted segment aired a news report began: "The FBI's investigation into the $200 million art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has targeted about a dozen suspects scattered across the world." And: Sources said the FBI's investigation is steadily progressing but cautioned that agents still lack the evidence to link suspects directly to the crime.
That there were this separate set of suspects, who were not the "local toughs" gang members, who became the prime targets of suspicion decades after the actual robbery, is not touched on, in Boser's book, Kurkjian's book, or any other mainstream media accounts after McDevitt's appearance before a grand jury in 1993.
Boser reveals the nature of this inert or at least passive nature of the FBI's effort to apprehend the criminals in his book, by the way he has to broaden out the definition of "early" to keep his narrative rolling.
"TURNER'S NAME CAME UP EARLY [all caps] in the Gardner investigation: "Source information of unknown reliability has recently surfaced suggesting that aforementioned subjects pappas and turner were involved in the Gardner Museum Robbery," read an internal FBI memo from April 1992. "According to source, who is twice removed, turner is claiming access to the stolen paintings."
"A month later, the FBI requested that the fingerprints of Turner and Pappas be compared against those found on the empty frames. The results were negative, although that didn't mean much to investigators since they never got a clean set of prints anyway."
Over two years is not early in a robbery investigation. It is only relatively early because so little is in the public record of specific things the FBI did in their investigation before that time. And then, it took the FBI a whole month to request that the fingerprints of Turner and Pappas be compared against those found on the empty frames in the biggest art theft in history.
Likewise, in his book Master Thieves, Kurkjian similarly struggle with coming up with anything specific and tangible about the actual investigation of the crime.
"Agents even went so far as to send his [David Turner's] fingerprints to the FBI's lab in Quantico, Virginia, in the early aftermath of the heist," Kurkjian wrote. Not just the aftermath. but the early aftermath. We know from Boser's book, which came out years earlier, and is specific as well as sourced from a Freedom of Information Act request, that it was over two years before Turner's fingerprints were submitted for comparison.
When Turner appealed his conviction in the Loomis Armored car depot robbery attempt, to rebut Turner's entrapment theory, "the government presented evidence that Turner had been convicted in 1989 and 1990 of two firearm offenses and one larceny/breaking and entering offense, which the government used to argue that he was predisposed to commit the instant offense."
If Turner's behavior in 1989 and 1990 made him the kind of person who would rob an armored car depot in 1997, it would tend to follow that he was also the type of person who would have robbed the Gardner Museum in 1990.
And yet Turner was never questioned. Turner claims that when he was arrested in the Loomis armored car depot attempt, that "The FBI told me that they had information from several sources that I was an actual participant in the robbery," 'Give us the paintings right now, and you can go home.'" But Turner has never said he was questioned about the robbery, or that his claim to have been in Florida at the time of theft was ever challenged. Nor was he interrogated, or challenged in any other respect, regarding his possible involvement in the robbery, in his account or in that of anyone else.
Turner was simply told they knew he did it, possibly for additional leverage since even spending the next 22 years in prison never did get him to give up what if anything he knew about the where the stolen art was.
Speaking in the same generalities that Ulrich Boser deployed in The Gardner Heist, Kurkjian claims in his book's Introduction "that agents assigned to the case have worked diligently to chase down even the most ridiculous lead."
But then, his second to last chapter of Master Thieves, is devoted to a particular lead, one provided to investigators by Kurkjian himself, the handling of which, in his telling of it, fell far short of diligent:
"I gave [Gardner Museum staff investigator Anthony] Amore the caller's cell phone number, but he never called him. Nor did he-or Kelly-return my subsequent phone calls when I tried to determine what they'd thought of the information I had relayed to them, and what, if anything, they planned to do with it."
Kurkjian's dates are sometimes off also, in ways that would significantly alter the reader's understanding of the nature of the early investigation.
In one case he wrote: "Disgraced FBI agent John Connolly, who had handled Bulger as an informant, said that even though he was retired from the Bureau when theft took place, he was asked by his old colleagues to see what he could find out from Bulger."
This is remarkable since Connolly retired under a cloud, in December 1990, eight months after the Heist. And it was at that time that the FBI dropped Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi as informants.
In a subsequent story in 2018 Kurkjian said that "in early 1991, less than a year after the stunning heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, recently retired Boston FBI agent John Connolly got a phone call from one of his former bosses, asking for his help on the case. Bulger told him that he did not know who committed theft or where the stolen art was."
If after less than a year "the Boston FBI, which was and still is in total control of the Gardner investigation, had run out of immediate leads, as WBUR reported, why were they subcontracting the effort to retired agents?
But a bigger question is why did it take over nine months for anyone to speak with Whitey Bulger? Why didn't John Connolly speak to Bulger about the case the first week, when Bulger was still an informant at the time of the robbery? Why did the FBI use a retired FBI agent to do the questioning? And why did they task John Connolly of all people to speak with Bulger?
Agent Connolly's relationship with Bulger was a fresh source of controversy and scandal within the Boston FBI field, when Connolly was said by Kurkjian to have been tasked to question him about the Gardner heist. Connolly's relationship with Bulger was most likely was a factor in his retirement from the Bureau at age 50.
Only two months earlier and one month before he retired from the Bureau, a photo of Connolly appeared in the November 12, 1990 Boston Globe with the caption: "JOHN CONNOLLY / At center of debate on Bulger"
The article stated that: "When federal investigators, [in a probe that deliberately excluded the FBI], "raided the South Boston Liquor Mart and neighboring variety store that served as Bulger's headquarters, they found a $205 receipt for liquor sold to FBI Agent Dick Baker and a piece of paper with the notation, 'Dick Baker, friend of John Connolly.'"
"The incriminating paperwork revealed that the liquor that the FBI gave away as door prizes at its 1989 Christmas party had been purchased at Bulger's store."
Presenting Connolly with a bottle of liquor at his retirement party. Dianne Kottmyer Assistant United States Attorney Chief of the New England Organized Crime Strike Force said: "John, they wanted me to say that that bottle came courtesy of South Boston Liquors , but I said I wouldn't do it. Accepting the bottle Connolly replied: "There's no finer liquor store in the Commonwealth."
Four years later Connolly was found guilty of tipping off Bulger to a secret indictment he had caught wind of from his contacts inside the FBI, Bulger went underground in the nick of time, which led to a worldwide manhunt and Bulger, living on the lam with his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig, and escaping justice for 16 years.
As with Boser's book, in Kurkjian's Master Thieves, there is a lot of boiler plate suggesting that a robust, large-scale investigation, occurred but specific facts are lacking:
"It wasn't just the good guys who were looking for the thieves," Kurkjian wrote in Master Thieves, without in his book ever establishing that the good guys were indeed looking for the thieves. In fact, Master Thieves has more details about the Winter Hill gang looking for the thieves in the first five years before the statute of limitations expired, than it does about the FBI looking for the thieves in that same period.
While working the Gardner heist, FBI art crime investigation specialist Thomas McShane wrote in his book Loot: "I was starting to get a really bad feeling about what was going on in Boston-on both sides of the law. With such a wealth of informants, including a top mob boss, how come nobody knew anything about such a major theft?" McShane expressed disappointment that "another Boston agent [Connolly] was in tight with Bulger who was actually an FBI informant dating back to when he was a street punk. That extremely rare inside connection, nonetheless, failed to produce any worthwhile information."
The FBI has never disputed Connolly's written claim to a journalist that he had spoken to Bulger about the Gardner heist at the request of his former FBI colleagues, and also denies that the FBI ever spoke to Bulger about the case.
Mike Nikitas: Whitey Bulger got arrested a year and a half ago, have you ever talked to him about this, asked him whether he knows anything about it [the Gardner heist]?
SAIC DeLauriers: No.
Nikitas You haven't?
SAIC DeLauriers: No.
And you think it wouldn't be worth doing that?
SAIC DeLauriers: No. There's no connection to the Bulger investigation.
Nikitas:Does he, maybe he knew of the theft?
SAIC DeLauriers: There's no connection to the Bulger investigation. Time: 4:03
Another Boston informant, Stephen Flemmis also seems not to have been questioned until years later: "US attorney Michael Sullivan went so far as to ask Bulger's partner and closest associate Stephen Flemmi, who testified against him at his 2013 trial, if Bulger had any connection to theft." Flemmi was an FBI informant at the time of the Gardner robbery. Flemmi told him that his boss, James "Whitey" Bulger, had made inquiries about who had been responsible for the Gardner robbery but had not found out anything. Since
Flemmi, like Bulger was an FBI informant at the time of the Gardner theft, it should not have taken a U.S. Attorney and a 23 year wait to eliminate Stephen Flemmi as someone who might well have information about the Gardner heist.
Another Bulger associate, Kevin Weeks, was also directed to find out who was responsible for stealing the art. Bulger's surrogates did not have billboards or hotlines or offers of million-dollar rewards in the newspapers running, they had to go out and question people who were not coming forward on their own.
In the public record, the FBI's investigation is strictly retail, never reaching out beyond the Museum, their staff and their own facility, aside from incoming calls that were "finely screened," as one FBI agent assigned to the case Thomas McShane, described them.
Anne Hawley had no compunctions about reaching out and initiating a dialogue about the case. She contacted the Pope and "approached William Bulger, president of the state Senate, asking that he chat up his brother Whitey to see what he knew. The notorious gangster was fruitlessly chasing leads himself. The heist had happened in his territory and he figured he was owed tribute." NY Daily News
Not everyone who knows something, knows that they know something, or has the confidence to call the FBI on the phone, which is why community outreach is often so vital. But the only one who ever initiated a street level inquiry into the Gardner heist was not the FBI but a gang leader, an FBI informant at the time of the Gardner heist, who was never questioned about the case, Whitey Bulger.
Within days of the heist, more than forty agents were assigned to the case, following up dozens of leads. One of the first that caused a scramble inside the museum was a bomb threat, apparently called in by a gang looking to get the FBI's attention. Kurkjian then quotes Hawley's appearance on WGBH where she made it seem like it was lot more than a single bomb threat:
But Kurkjian never explains what, if anything, the FBI's response was. Did the FBI ever give whoever was making the threats the attention that they sought? Kurkjian takes an example of what appears to be FBI inaction and turns it into an example of an active and diligent investigation, without anything to support that conclusion. This would not have been an ongoing problem if the FBI had taken action to address it.
Another example provided by Kurkjian immediately follows his account, where the reader is left to presume a robust FBI response to the bomb threats: "Investigators needed to follow up on every lead," he wrote, "regardless how farfetched it appeared. One of the first leads the agents appeared to take seriously involved museum employees. The agents asked for the names of all older Italian women who worked stitching the tapestry and pieces of cloth at the museum, after a tip that a Boston gang member was related to one of them. The list was prepared but no connection was ever determined."
These incomplete stories are the most specific example of the FBI taking a lead seriously at all in the early years of the investigation in the first year and a half of the case, and even these are limited to museum staff.
Another example of a local art thief who was not questioned by the FBI was Joe Gibbons, a struggling filmaker who lived in Jamaica Plain a few miles from the museum, at the time of the robbery. Gibbons resembles the police sketch of one of the thieves and was arrested in October 1977 in the highly publicized theft of Richard Diebenkorn's painting 'Scissors and Lemon, II.' Gibbons was remanded to McLean Hospital, a pychiatric institution in Belmont, MA as a consequence of his arrest in the robbery.
Gardner Museum Staff InterviewsThe FBI's interviews of staff seemed more designed to intimidate staff and close off conversation than to encourage it.
To a surprising extent staff interviews were treated more like interrogations than interviews.
A security guard employed at the Gardner Museum at the time of the robbery. Marjorie Galas, recalled the questioning she underwent at the Museum from the FBI in an interview with the "Empty Frames" podcast in 2018, "I do remember they [Gardner heist FBI Investigators] asked about drugs. There was a big focus about people smoking pot at the watch desk or in the museum. Or the gallery guards taking drugs or something like that, so they asked questions about that." The FBI's Gardner heist lead investigator in 2013 also referenced a drug investigation as a result of the Gardner Museum robbery investigation.
Rather than coming in and reassuring staff that they were only interested in the art robbery that took place Geoff Kelly, who was not part of the original investigation explained that: "The Gardner heist investigation has run the gamut of everything from an art investigation, to a drug investigation to an extortion investigation."
The feds were willing to dismiss murder charges against Stephen Flemmi to convict Whitey Bulger, as just one example, yet the FBI questioned guards about pot smoking on the job at the Gardner Museum instead of focusing exclusively on the largest property crime in United States history. Given Richard Abath's admitted drug use inside the museum in at least once instance, a before coming to work in other cases, the staff involved in drug use might be the very ones most likely to know something, were Abath involved. There were no arrests for any of these other alleged crimes at the Gardner Museum. So what exactly was the benefit of expanding out the investigation into other areas except to stifle communication of people who may know something.
"I don't remember specifically the questions that they asked, Galas said, a minute later in her Empty Frames interview,
because it was an intimidating scenario where for me I was placed in a seat, I wasn't placed in a seat, but I was escorted to a seat and told to sit down and there were two guys, and they stood over me and at the time I was 22 or 23 and it's the FBI, it was a scary scenario to be in, regardless of whether you had done anything to feel uncomfortable about it was just uncomfortable to have these two government officials staring down at you."
Galas also said that at the time of the robbery she was roommates with five other guards and staff including of one of the guards, Randy Hestand, who was working when the Museum was robbed, filling in for another guard who called in sick.
Galas recalls that all of the employee interview took place at the museum where employees might be constrained to share any suspicions about fellow staff members or a supervisor. It was hardly the ideal environment to foster a free and open discussion.
Although, Galas shared an apartment with Hestand again some years later, they never discussed the Gardner heist, she said. If the FBI was trying to encourage or foster the kind of discussion between and among security staff, a comparing of notes, that could lead to a break in the mystery, it did not work in the case of these two guards.
Another former Gardner Museum guard, artist Geoff Rockwell, who had quit working at the Museum in 1987, moved to New York in 1988 and was in Italy at the time of the robbery in 1990, also described his FBI interview to be somewhat of an intimidating experience. "They asked me questions for a little over an hour or so... exactly the way you would see it on TV. One of the guys was really friendly and nice and chatty and the other guy just stared at me with his elbows on his knees and he didn't say anything...He didn't change his expression once." He mad dogged you? Rockwell was asked. "Yeah," Rockwell replied.
Twenty years after the Gardner robbery, Rockwell wrote an article for the Boston Globe, "Confessions of a former Gardner Museum night guard " about his experience working the night shift in the eighties before the Gardner heist. His story did not discuss the experience of being a former Gardner heist night guard, who was questioned in his tiny New York apartment years after he worked there, by the FBI.
It was a very different kind of interview for Gardner Museum guard and on again off again Gardner Heist suspect Rick Abath. The security guard who let the thieves in the night of the robbery, has written that he went 17 years without being questioned about the Heist, from 1990, the year of the historic crime, until 2007. When FBI agents met him that year he was greeted warmly and agents invited him to go for a coffee at Amy's Bakery in his hometown of Brattleboro, VT according to Abath's first person account:
"'Let's go in and sit down. You want some coffee?' Agent Kelly suggested." "We got our coffee and after some brief chit-chat they informed me that the statute of limitations on the crime had long since run out. So, anything I had to say, anything I might have held back, anything I might want to tell them, I couldn't get arrested for. In fact, I could feel free to admit anything short of murder without fear of prosecution." Clearly, the FBI understands the usefulness of a nonthreatening social demeanor when trying to get someone to open up. But while Abath, who was a direct participant and whose actions were suspicious was given the kid glove treatment. those who were essentially bystanders, who perhaps had less need to keep silent about what they knew, were treated less amiably. .
An outside security systems contractor for the Gardner Museum named Steven Keller, was openly critical of the interview he experienced in 1990 with the FBI about the case:
"I was called in to talk to the FBI briefly (in spite of the fact that they were not at all interested in talking to me)…. "I feel that if the FBI interviewed everyone as poorly as they interviewed me, it's no wonder this remains unsolved…I felt that they were not interested in what I might be able to tell them because they knew it all already.
Kurkjian in Master Thieves, wrote: "The natural air of suspicion that surrounds any case involving the FBI was even more pronounced in the Gardner case. Agents were not sharing information with anyone inside the museum, including Lyle Grindle, then director of museum security. And when they asked Grindle or anyone else at the museum for information, they provided no explanation as to why it was relevant to the investigation." This is the opposite of natural, unless the person is under suspicion. In explaining the reason for a particular question, the person being may come up with the answer to something the interviewer may never think to ask.
"It took more than a month for the FBI to send for an analyst who knew how to examine the computer that contained the case's key forensic evidence —the path the thieves had taken during their eighty-eight minutes inside the museum's galleries. Even then no one bothered to interview the technicians who had been installing the museum's security system for the prior two years."
But a security guard, Geoff Rockwell, who quit working at the Gardner Museum three years before the robbery, and was in Italy at the time of Heist was question.
Several weeks after theft, museum security consultant Steven Keller was called in to review the aftermath and concluded that the Aerotech motion detector equipment the museum used had worked fine the night of the heist. Keller said he tested the equipment himself, trying to avert detection by tiptoeing around the presumed placement of the sensors and crawling on the floor. He failed with every attempt, leaving him with only one explanation: that the Manet had been taken by someone other than the thieves
Interview with Eyewitnesses
There are four known eyewitnesses to the Gardner heist, the two guards who were working when the thieves arrived and two people, bystanders, who saw the thieves waiting in a "dark hatchback" outside of the museum. The public recollections of all four show demonstrates an apathy or unwillingness on the part of investigators to make best use of the information they might have obtained from these individuals.
One of the eyewitnesses was interviewed by Ulrich Boser for his book The Gardner Heist. "As part of my research I uncovered a new witness (Time: 13:25) , one of the young men who had been out partying that night, was at party across the street from the museum that night." using a pseudonym he wrote that Stratberg heard about theft on Sunday, and he and his friends went to the police the following morning. "The cops wrote everything down, but they didn't seem to take us too seriously. I mean they made it clear that they were talking to minors who had been drinking, and it seemed like they kind of discounted what we said," Stratberg told me. "I felt annoyed. I mean I had been drinking that night, but I wasn't sloppy. I was confident in what I remembered." Stratberg now worked for Harvard University as a financial services manager, and while he often thought about the crime, he never heard from law enforcement again. No one asked him any follow up questions or showed him any mug shots. A female companion with Stratberg told WBUR that "It's unreal to imagine I was there and saw them up close and that that information was not considered valuable or helpful to the FBI."
The other guard Randy Hestand said on Last Seen podcast Episode 8, which was released on November 5, 2018, that "I feel like 90 to 95 percent sure he [Brian McDevitt] was the guy." McDevitt was accepted to and attended Bates College for a short time, dropped out. By the time of the Gardner heist was a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and living in Boston's priciest neighborhood, the Back Bay, on Hancock Street, just 3 miles from the Gardner Museum. Along the way McDevitt had done some months in jail in Warren County, NY for an attempted robbery of the Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, NY in a crime with striking similarities to the Gardner heist.
But investigators did not get around to questioning McDevitt and taking his fingerprints until almost two years after the Gardner heist, although the Boston Globe on its front page reported on May 14, 1990, less than two months after the Heist, that: "Investigators are looking at some suspects because methods they have employed in previous robberies closely resemble those used in the March 18 theft at the Gardner, sources said. That description fit Brian McDevitt to a tee. The similarities were so striking and McDevitt's proximity to the Gardner Museum, so close, one might suspect that the front-page story was an effort to put McDevitt and other suspects on notice that they were indeed suspects and being closely watched.
It is not known how long Museum guard Randy Hestand had believed that McDevitt was very likely one of the Gardner heist thieves, or if Hestand was ever shown a photo of McDevitt, who lived just three miles away,
Another witness was Rick Abath, the guard who let the thieves into the museum. Despite some actions that night that were obviously suspect and questionable, Abath was allowed to travel out of state in a borrowed van the very same day, to attend a Grateful Dead concert over a hundred miles away in Hartford, CT.
Moreover, after 1990 did not hear from investigators for over 17 years: "I was standing on Main Street outside of Amy's Bakery on a sunny November day in 2007 because that's where I told the FBI I'd meet them. After 17 years of not hearing a word from the people charged with the task of solving the Gardner Museum Robbery," Abath wrote, " they popped up."
Gardner Museum security guard Rick Abath was not only a witness, but also a suspect. Master Thieves author Stephen Kurkjian acknowledges that some of Abath's actions were "truly peculiar and give me rise to the belief that. he knew something." And Kurkjian does not even acknowledging some of the most significant factors that should give rise to suspicion about Abath, like that the crime scene photo taken of him in the Gardner Museum basement shows an open pocketknife behind him and a book of matches beside him, and that he uploaded a picture of himself taken less than a year before the Heist standing between two men who resemble the police sketches of the two thieves. Two men, who could not be eliminated as possibilities by those sketches.
Key points that also add to suspicion of Abath included: He let a suspicious acting visitor into the museum the night before the heist and did not inform investigators about it when he was interviewed afterward. Even letting officers in violated the Museum's written protocols. Although the thieves were dressed in police style uniforms, they did not have firearms, and their uniforms were not authentic Boston Police uniforms. There was also no police vehicle outside, the Museum entrance, visible from a street-view surveillance camera at the security desk.
In addition Abath opened an outside Museum door just a few minutes before the thieves arrived and only an hour before they rang the buzzer, Abath, due to a very loud alarm malfunction, shut down the system down, without calling a supervisor about what to do about it. Although it was not connected to the outside world, this alarm system shut down by Abath could pinpoint and sound a loud alert at thirty places around the museum where a fire had started or a window had been broken.
Robert K. Wittman, a former FBI agent who helped found the bureau's art recovery team in 2005, and worked undercover to try get the stolen Gardner art back, said of the Gardner heist eve surveillance video, when it was released in 3015, that it " can still prove useful in identifying the man who entered the museum. It also could potentially be of use in pressing Abath into talking about what happened.
Instead Abath was allowed to travel out of state 100 miles to go to a Grateful Dead contact and was not questioned by any investigators for over 17 years. Abath said at that time, that he was considering writing a book because, "I wonder if some detail that I don't know is important might turn out to be very important," which was a very good reason for not waiting 17 years to discuss the case with the eye witness who interacted with the thieves and had the longest look at them, up to three minutes, according to security director Anthony Amore. Abath also had another look he says when the thieves came down to check on him because the tape across his eyes had shifted.
"Any person arrested in previous art thefts would also be interviewed, FBI Agent Paul Cavanagh vowed, "We are exploring every possibility and not limiting ourselves in any way."
"While the FBI is said to have interviewed 300 people in the first two years of the investigation, and waded through an avalanche of incoming leads from those looking for a million-dollar payday or a way out of the slammer, some of the most obvious suspects and sources were not sought out." This would include some people, who are currently hinted about by the government, and suggested to be at the top of the list in the mass media.
Back Bay resident Brian McDevitt was still considered a suspect by both Dan Falzon, who headed up the Gardner heist case for many years and Robert McShane, who was an FBI art crime investigation specialist, who was on the scene within a few days of the robbery, decades after the heist. McDevitt is the only suspect ever mentioned by name by any FBI personnel, who worked or are working the case.
But it took over a one and a half years for the FBI to interview McDevitt and that was only after he had already begun marketing himself as a Gardner heist suspect, possibly to jump start his stalled Hollywood screen writing career. "You do get the distinct feeling that he [Brian McDevitt] wants you to believe he did steal the [Gardner Museum] paintings," Morley Safer said on Sixty Minutes, after interviewing McDevitt for the on the November 29, 1992 program.
Frederick J. Fisher, who was director of the Hyde Collection at the time when McDevitt attempted to rob that museum told the New York Times he had not been interviewed by investigators, "even though he had sent two messages about his suspicions to the bureau. Nor had Kevin Judd, the police chief of South Glens Falls, who took the confessions of Mr. McDevitt and Mr. Morey after the attempt to rob the Hyde."
Roy Prout, a detective in the Suffolk County District Attorney's office in Boston, also said he had not been contacted by the F.B.I. about a possible link with the Gardner case. Detective Prout took Mr. McDevitt's confession after Mr. McDevitt was arrested for stealing more than $100,000 in cash and bonds from a safe deposit box in the New England Merchants National Bank in Boston in 1979.
"There are amazing similarities. I've looked at the composite sketches of the men who robbed the Gardner, and one of the men there could very well be the same person who tried to rob the Hyde," Fisher told the Times. So given that Hestand is the most trustworthy eye witness and their was a lot of additional evidence pointing to McDevitt, it would seem fair to conclude that investigators failed to make the best use of Hestand's recollections of what happened that night.
Myles Connor was without question the top Gardner heist suspect outside of the investigation, though Connor had been incarcerated in the Sangamon County Jail in Springfield, IL for over a year and was awaiting sentencing when the Gardner robbery occurred.
It would seem to make sense to question Connor from a public relations standpoint if for no other reason. But the Boston Globe reported nearly two months after the robbery that: "We've made no attempt to talk with Myles Connor," said FBI supervisory special agent Edward M. Quinn, who heads the agency's Reactive Squad in Boston. Adds Connor's defense attorney, Greg Collins: He has not been requested to meet with the FBI and I am pretty sure has not been in contact with them." Thirty years later, Connor claims he has information about who committed the robbery, which he learned within just a few weeks of the crime.
After two criminal confederates of Myles Connor, David Houghton and Bobby Donati, died, Myles Connnor, by then serving time in Lompoc, CA for the crimes he had been charged with in Illinois in 1989, started claiming that the two men had done it to get him out of jail. Though both men were known associates of Myles Connor and one, Donati, had a rap sheet going back to 1958, neither man was ever questioned about the Gardner heist. Houghton, weighing in at 300 plus pounds could not have been either of the two thieves who entered the museum that night, though Connor claimed Houghton was the mastermind.
In 1997, another Myles Connor associate, William Youngworth who had been entrusted by David Houghton with Myles Connor's valuables while he was still in prison, made an offer to return the art to the Gardner Museum in exchange for the then $5 million-dollar reward and an immunity deal. Youngsworth demanded immunity from prosecution for anything related to the stolen Gardner art. He also wanted some charges pending against him dropped and the release of Myles Connor from prison, who still had three years remaining on his sentence at that time.
Before Youngworth, there had been other potentially credible offers to return the art for a reward, notably a ransom note in 1994, offering return of the art in good condition for $2.6 million, and which the FBI response had quickly short circuited. The letter writer had demanded the FBI stand-down as he set up a communications channel with the museum. But "there was no complete stand-down," an agent admitted. "Far from it," Kurkjian reported in Master Thieves.
The ransom note the museum received, one that had been taken very seriously, was not reported about until eleven years later, when a very public overture was made to the ransom note writer by Gardner Museum Director Anne Hawley on CNN and a news story about some of the details of the proposed deal were reported in the Boston Globe.
But in the case of Youngworth, the negotiations played themselves out quite publicly over several months during the summer of 1997, before they stepped away from the negotiations, with some unpersuasive excuses about Youngworth's credibility, and ultimately on philosophical grounds. "What's more important, the artwork or a criminal prosecution and that's obviously a very difficult question," Michael Sullivan United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said in the documentary 'Stolen.'
Two years later, in 1999, the Boston Globe reported, that the Gardner Museum was again making overtures to Youngworth, by that time in prison, and using as their emissary Larry A. Potts -- the former head of the FBI's criminal division.
The same page-one story stated that "the US attorney's office in Boston and state authorities wouldn't meet Youngworth's demands. They also suspected that Connor may have known who was responsible for the Gardner heist." Five years later Youngworth said: "The FBI takes this public posture that listen we just want the stuff back and we don't really care how it comes back. That's not true. I mean I have sat there behind closed doors and they only have one agenda the only thing they want is names," he said in the documentary "Stolen." Surely Younworth would not have had a problem coming up with the names, his compatriot Myles Connor had been floating for over five years, Robert Donati, and David Houghton, both long dead, suggesting that the feds were well aware that the thieves were not Donati and Houghton.
"Federal prosecutors did not want the thieves to get away with a deal," ABC reported in 2006. "You can't turn your back on a very serious criminal offense, said Donald Stern, the former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, even though his office had done just that only 15 years before the Gardner heist to get a Rembrandt stolen from the MFA earlier in the week of a scheduled two day visit by President Gerald Ford for Bicentennial observances.
The museum was thwarted when they "tried to cut its own deal with Youngworth, behind the backs of the FBI. When the FBI and federal prosecutors learned of the museum's meeting with Youngworth, they called the two museum officials in front of a federal grand jury convened to investigate Youngworth." It is commonplace the world over for museums to pay a ransom for the return of stolen items. It may not be illegal, or a violation of federal law, but it would be difficult to impossible for the museum to strike a deal, with strong opposition from federal law enforcement.
An investigation whose mere monitoring of suspects was made front-page news two months after the Heist, seven years later turns robust, direct determined, but not to apprehend thieves or recover the art, but to prevent the Museum from paying a ransom to get their own stolen art back.
An early investigation, that was reluctant to confront, question, or name suspects, and that had let Rick Abath, whose actions were suspicious from the outset, travel out of state on the day of the crime subordinates recovery of the art to making sure the original thieves do not profit from the crime. Skepticism about the claim by the FBI's lead agent at the time, Tom Cassano, that "We haven't got a clue as to who is responsible" was expressed by the British Daily the Guardian, "Some would say that such statements should not be taken entirely at face value , given the FBI's role in the later events of 1997, referring to negotiations with Youngworth, and in the same article reported that "many officials at the Gardner museum, and also some officers at the FBI, did favour some form of compromise, but those higher up in the legal establishment had no desire to send such a message to the criminal fraternity at large. The attorney general's office in Washington warned against pandering to "cultural terrorism".
What wea are left with is untouchable suspects, who should not be interviewed, but who must under no circumstances be allowed to benefit from their crime, as Myles Connor had done in 1975 in getting a sentence reduction, in exchange for returning a Rembrandt he himself had stolen. and so many others, who have ransomed art back to museums in the past and continue to do so currently.
Carmello Merlino David Turner, Charles Pappas and TRCAutomotive The leader of the pack, Carmelo Merlino was a career criminal who had been convicted for a December 28, 1968 Brinks armored car robbery in Boston's North End. BG 12/29/69 for which he received Boston Globe a sentence of 25-40 years in 1971 for his role as a lookout in the half million-dollar robbery. While serving his sentence at Medfield State prison he was suspected of being involved in a PCP and cocaine distribution ring and transferred to Walpole State prison and was later charged while still in prison for his involvement in the ring. Chemicals used in the manufacture of the PCP were ordered on prison stationery although the manufacture wad done outside of the prison in at least five clandestine laboratories.
By the time of the Gardner heist in 1990, Merlino was out of prison and had been running a thriving cocaine distribution ring out of TRC Automotive in Dorchester. Merlino, his drug dealing operation along with David Turner specifically, were known to have been under state police surveillance at that time.
Just two months after the Gardner heist, on May 18, 1990, Turner, Charles Pappas, and Leonard DiMuzio, all known associates of Merlino were arrested for burglarizing a residence in Tewksbury, MA with possession of a firearm. DiMuzio admitted the three were responsible for the burglary and Turner was sentenced to sixty days.
But despite the fact that Merlino was a convicted armed robber, that he was something of a drug kingpin, and associating with people involved with burglaries, and other property theft, he and his cohorts were never engaged directly or interviewed in the Gardner heist investigation at the outset of the investigation to determine who did and did not have an alibi, who was and was not acting suspicious, who might know something, and who might be willing to talk.
Carmello Merlino's name had come up as a possible suspect in 1992 when he offered stolen art as a part of a plea bargain agreement on drug charges. In that same year unnamed informants claimed that Turner was involved in the Heist and was bragging he had access to the stolen art. In the fall of 1997, about the time negotiations with Youngworth were breaking down, an FBI informant named Anthony Romano told the feds "that a fellow convict, Carmello Merlino, had talked about the paintings as if he knew where they were. He mentioned another suspect, too: a guy in Merlino's crew by the name of David Turner."
As with Robert Gentile over a decade later, Merlino was promised immunity from prosecution if he turned over the art and like Gentile, Merlino assured the feds he would be glad to turn over the art if he possibly could to collect the reward. But also, as with Merlino, a reward was not a part of the offer. The reward is at the discretion of the Museum, not the government.
Around this same time, Romano took a job as a mechanic working for Merlino. And another FBI informant Richard "Fat Richie" Chicofsky started engaging Merlino about the stolen Gardner. In the course of his reports back to the FBI, he also said that Turner was involved with the original robbery. "On a number of occasions, The Fat Man reported back to Cronin (wrongly) that Merlino was just days away from returning the art to the museum," according to a Boston Herald story by Tom Mashberg in 2009.
"Even as he was bringing his flimsy information to Cronin, Mashberg wrote, Chicofsky was also busy allegedly conning a Fall River Police Department dispatcher, Nuno Barboza, out of $400,000 via a number of "investment" scams, including what Chicofsky said would be a share in a $10 million reward from the Gardner Museum (the reward is in fact $5 million). A 2002 story in The Standard-Times in New Bedford reported that "He [Chicofsky] told Mr. Barboza he was working with both the FBI and underworld figures, [for the return of the Gardner Art Museum works] and needed weapons as protection." On February 7, 1999 Instead, Merlino and Turner, along with Stephen A. Rossetti and, Carmello Merlino's nephew, William F. Merlino, were arrested for the attempted robbery of the Loomis armored car depot in Easton in what turned out to be an FBI sting. Prosecutors said the four men planned to rob the armored car facility in Easton. Turner and Rossetti were arrested in possession of five loaded semiautomatic handguns, a Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle, also loaded a live hand grenade.
"What was said was 'Give us the paintings right now, and you can go home.'" Turner told Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist. In that book, Boser also says Turner told him. "The FBI told me that they had information from several sources that I was an actual participant in the robbery." But Turner never claimed he had been questioned about the case until nine years after the robbery, four years after the statute of limitations had expired. Turner's only witness at his trial was FBI Special Agent Neil Cronin, Cronin "acknowledged that he visited both Turner and Merlino immediately after their arrest [in 1999] in hopes that they would provide information about the Gardner robbery in exchange for possible assistance in this  case But he claimed that his interest had been primarily in Merlino, not Turner, and that his interest in both diminished after April 1998 because he concluded that they could not facilitate the return of the Gardener paintings." Turner's lawyers wanted to have Chicofsky testify to establish that the FBI's interest in Turner extended past April of 1998, but what was never in dispute was the FBI's interest in Turner, the possibility that he might know something about the location of the missing stolen art, not his possible involvement in the robbery.
But all four, including Turner, denied involvement in the Gardner heist or of having any knowledge about where the stolen art might be. Carmello Merlino died in prison six years later. Rossetti and Turner both served over 20 years in prison, while William Merlino remains in prison
To rebut Turner's entrapment theory, the government presented evidence that Turner had been convicted in 1989 and 1990 of two firearm offenses and one larceny/breaking and entering offense, which the government used to argue that he was predisposed to commit the instant [Loomis Armored Car Depot Attempted robbery] offense.
So, Turner's actions in 1989 and 1990 demonstrated his predisposition to commit a robbery ten years later, but was not sufficient to justify questioning him about the Gardner heist until 9 years later, and then with a focus on the art recovery not the actual robbery. William Youngworth, then incarcerated says that about 72 hours after the Heist that there's just not a lot of people who do this type of thing. It's a short list and you're on the top of it, and yet somehow David Turner, who was not in prison, was not on that short list.
Rosetti was in state prison at the time of the Gardner heist, but in ruling on Rossetti's appeal the judge wrote that "he [Rosetti] speculates that the FBI wanted to entrap him in order to gain leverage over his uncle, said by Rossetti to be a person of interest in the investigation of theft of artworks from the Gardner Museum" The judge termed this argument "speculation," and "convoluted." In any case Rosetti never claimed he was personally considered a Gardner heist suspect, in any respect.
Nearly ten years after his book came out, Boser was still pushing the David Turner, Merlino, TRW theory, though he was hedging on the particulars on some podcasts.
In 2018 on the podcast "Empty Frames," Boser said that: "I'm less certain that we have the two individuals who walked in that night as much as we have that clustering. We have Lenny DiMuzio, George Reissfelder, David Turner, you've got the crewish.
The FBI has hinted that the Ulrich Boser's "crewish" (Merlino's TRC gang) may have been the culprits, although the Gardner Museum security director Anthony Amore has hinted the FBI's hints are something less than qualitative . "When I get calls and people mention the right people, we're able to focus in on good leads."
In December 13, 2018 Gardner heist Museum Director Anthony Amore, an unofficial surrogate spokesperson for the FBI on matters regarding the investigation, warned those who would try to follow the case through books like Boser's and the media: "Don't believe the books, he advised. "don't believe what you read in them. suspend disbelief and know that people are working really hard behind the scenes"
In any case, in the weeks and months after the Heist, when the crewish was an actual crew, (Merlino's TRC Automotive gang) they were not worked by the FBI's Gardner heist investigative team, though three decades later they are the people most commonly thought to be the group of people responsible without any evidence to justify it. None of the people from Merlino/TRW gang or any of the other Boston local gangs were linked in the media to the Gardner heist until after the arrests of Carmello Merlino, David Turner, Stephen Rossetti and William Merlino in the Loomis armored car depot sting on February 7, 1999. When Carmello Merlino offered to return a painting stolen from the William Wadsworth Longfellow Museum in Cambridge, MA "in a for bid for leniency," a reporter asked about Merlino's possible involvement in the Gardner heist.
"Merlino in his offer to law enforcement officials also spoke of other stolen pieces but made no mention of booty from a much bigger theft, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, sources said." "'The two are galaxies apart,' said a law enforcement source, referring to the Longfellow and Gardner heists. "The Longfellow was a smash-and-grab kind of thing . . .and the Gardner was a $200 million job.'"
Public EngagementIn contrast to every other historic crime there is no public record of investigators doing any kind of community outreach. No public record of agents doing anything outside of the museum If the public record is any guide, community engagement was nonexistent despite the presence of almost a dozen colleges, dormitories, and a high within a mile radius.
There is no record of the FBI reaching out to neighboring Simmons University, Emmanuel College, Boston Latin, Mass College of Art or any of the other half dozen colleges within a one-mile radius of the Gardner Museum at that time. There no public record of agent walking around the Back Bay Fens, part of the Emerald Necklace, right across the street from the Gardner, during the day or of going there at night. The Fens had been a popular meeting up point, for illicit and frowned upon activity at all hours and seasons, even after dark, for decades.
"In the immediate aftermath of the April 15, 2013, bombings, Boston police commissioner Ed Davis. said, "you can't let the latest technology pull you away from the easiest thing. Sometimes old-fashioned shoe leather works best." The Gardner heist was before there was much in the way of the latest technology. What pulled investigators away from old-fashioned shoe leather in this case, unless the investigation was circumscribed by higher ups.
The Museum Director Anne Hawley demonstrated she was willing to expend some shoe leather. She contacted the Pope and "approached William Bulger, president of the state Senate, asking that he chat up his brother Whitey to see what he knew. The notorious gangster was fruitlessly chasing leads himself. The heist had happened in his territory and he figured he was owed tribute." NY Daily News. Outside of the Gardner Museum itself, the only person known by name to have expended any "shoe leather." of going out and initiating a conversation with someone to find out who did the Gardner heist is Stephen Flemmi at the behest of Whitey Bulger, unless you count putting up billboards in Philadelphia 22 years later, or asking a retired FBI.
In his 2009 book, The Gardner Heist, Ulrich Boser wrote: "They spoke to dozens of witnesses. They put up roadblocks outside of the museum to see if they could find any bystanders. They interviewed all of the Gardner's staff. They reviewed old employment records. They searched for anyone who might have had a connection to the thieves, electricians, carpenters, paint restorers, ticket takers." Published 19 years after the robbery, readers can decide for themselves if these unsourced, uncorroborated claims have any merit.
There is no public record supported by contemporaneous sources, of the Gardner investigation being anything other than a shoe-leather free investigation beyond the confines of the Gardner Museum itself. Interviews with staff were conducted at the Museum. Though many of the staff, up to six in one dwelling, shared living quarters to make rent in the region's most expensive city. One of the guards who worked that night was in this living arrangement, and the other guard had a roommate who was also a guard at the Museum. Speaking to staff, casually, away from the crime scene and their place of employment could yield more information than speaking to them in the formal atmosphere of the museum.
Public engagement was further restricted by the unwillingness to share information about the case, in a sweeping and unexpected and unexplained way, concerning what was known about the perpetrators and possible suspects.
It was not until March 22, 1990, four days later, that the police released police sketches, while holding back other physical descriptions about the thieves.
This description, which made it into the New York Times on April 22, 1990 read:
"The F.B.I. said today that the guards had been able to get a good enough look at the two thieves to enable a police artist to sketch their likenesses. One of the men was described as about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 150 pounds and in his early 30's. The other was said to be 6 feet tall, about 200 pounds, with dark hair."
But it was almost two months, May 13, 1990 before the Boston Globe, the newspaper of record in the city where the robbery actually occurred ran any kind of physical description of about ½ twee in length and that withheld other known physical details in the Boston Police report written the day of the robbery: "One thief was in his late 30s, about 5 feet 9 inches, slim, with gold wire glasses and possibly a mustache; the other was in his early 30s, 6 feet tall, and heavier with chubby cheeks."
More detailed descriptions emerged almost five years later, three months before the statute of limitations expired, in both the New York Times and Boston Globe, with the city that was 200 miles away, and with its own newsworthy crimes to report about, offering up to their readers a more detailed description of the suspects.
"Investigators were not devoid of clues. The two guards, while badly shaken, were able to provide some description of the robbers. One was said to be in his late 20's to early 30's, 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 10, with short-cropped black hair, a narrow face, squarish gold-rimmed eyeglasses, a shiny dark mustache, apparently fake, and a "possible Boston accent." The other was said to be in his early to mid-30's, about 6 feet tall or 6 foot 1, 180 to 200 pounds, with puffy black hair and also an apparently fake black mustache. The uniforms and shields may also have been bogus."
The following day, December 16, 1994, the Boston Globe reported
"The strangers both carried radios and wore uniforms with Boston police patches. One was in his late 20's, between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, with short black hair and gold-framed glasses. The other was in his early 30's, 6 feet tall and broad-shouldered, with what appeared to be a false moustache."
Twenty three years later, the lead FBI Gardner heist investigator Geoff Kelly said: "Unfortunately -- and that's one of the frustrating aspects of this case is the descriptions that were given were very vague, very generic ."
But in the same CNN transcript from March 24, 2013, one of the guards, Rick Abath, gave the following description. "So, the guy who was dealing with me was kind of taller and skinny and was wearing his gold-framed, like, round glasses, if I remember correctly. And he had a mustache. And I remember before he arrested me, that it looked really greasy. I remember thinking that was really -- he was using some funky kind of wax on that thing or something on that. It was probably a fake mustache."
One obvious suspect, living right in Gardner Museum's midst was Brian McDevitt, who at the time of the robbery lived at 69 Hancock St. in Boston's Back Bay, just a few miles from the Gardner Museum.
In December of 1994, almost five years after the Gardner heist, the Boston Globe reported "According to several sources, the FBI remains interested in Brian McDevitt, who served time for a 1981 attempted robbery at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, N.Y., that had several similarities to the Gardner heist, including the use of handcuffs and duct tape."
But a couple of months after the Heist, before McDevitt town and moved the California, the Boston Globe reported that "investigators are looking at some suspects because methods they have employed in previous robberies closely resemble those used in the March 18 theft at the Gardner, sources said." Given his apartment's close proximity to the Museum, this description could not possibly fit anyone better than Brian McDevitt.
Yet over two years after FBI officials trying to solve the case, would speak only guardedly about its continuing inquiry. They would neither confirm nor deny the identity of Brian M. McDevitt, as a suspect. By time it was known that McDevitt was at the least a former would be art thief living in their midst, with no alibi and very similar heist attempt on his resume, the aspiring screenwriter had moved on from Massachusetts to California, and left Boston behind for two years by then.
It was McDevitt who confirmed to the New York Times, that he had submitted to F.B.I. questioning in his lawyer's office in Boston about the robbery "some months ago," It appears McDevitt was himself the source of the information that he was a suspect in the case, not the FBI which would at that time neither confirm nor deny he was a suspect.
While the FBI was said to be looking at similar cases in 1990, in 1992, two years later, the Times wrote that "at the FBI there are signs of confusion and conflict over the Gardner investigation." Although a number of museum officials and art professionals are known to have told the bureau about the similarities between the Gardner theft and the Hyde attempt, [which McDevitt was convicted for] W. Thomas Cassano, the supervisor of the violent crime squad of the F.B.I.'s Boston division, who is in charge of the Gardner investigation, Mr. Cassano said he was unaware of the Hyde case when a reporter questioned him about it," earlier that same month, June of 1992.
There was no reason for McDevitt to feel victimized about naming publicly as he himself acknowledge on Sixty Minutes on November 1992, "I think that the FBI would have been remiss if they had not interviewed me," he said to millions.
Victim Or The Crime?
Like McDevitt, security guard Rick Abath, who let the thieves in, also thought it was understandable that he quickly "fell quickly under suspicion," as CBS Good Morning reported on December 6, 2015, over a quarter century after the robbery:
"I knew I would. I mean, I opened up the door, you know. I mean, once I sat down with the FBI, I think the first thing I said was, what do you want to know? Because I knew. I mean, well, I'm the guy who opened up the door. They're obviously going to be looking at me."
"Especially after investigators discovered something perplexing in one of the galleries called the Blue Room," CBS Good Morning said. What they discovered was that the last time motion sensors picked up anyone in the Blue Room, the program went to explain, where Manet's Chez Tortoni was stolen, was when Rick Abath went in their during his rounds less than an hour before the thieves arrived.
This fact was known the day after the robbery. At no time were the thieves recorded by the motion sensors entering the Blue Room or any other gallery on the first floor during the time they were in the museum. Nor was anyone else record on March 18, 1990 in the Blue Room, until police and first responders arrived the next morning. The one exception being the security guard, Rick Abath.
In that same CBS Report Erin Moriarty asks the FBI's Geoff Kelly about the motion sensor data: "Doesn't that mean he had to be involved in this?" And Kelly: replied. It's one of the aspects of this case that we continue to investigate."
Yet despite all of the suspicion, the understandable suspicion about Abath, that Abath was under suspicion. and any of the specific reasons why he might be under suspicion were not shared with the public for 15 years. No picture of Abath or even his name was ever published or broadcast in the media for almost two decades. In Ulrich Boser's 2009 book, "The Gardner heist," Abath is referred to by the pseudonym, "Ray Abell." An April 12, 2009 story in the Boston Herald refers to Richard Abath as Richard A, nearly 20 years after the case, while revealing information that would have had far greater utility two years previously."
The story, which included a smiling Abath, in a crime scene photo, with his eyes and some of his head covered in duct tape, said: "While the photos clearly show that the guard hours of discomfort in the stuffy basement of the museum, the Herald has also reviewed documents indicating that the lightly trained 23-year-old watchman left a trail of procedural violations and "puzzling," "truly peculiar" behavior before, and during the robbery.
The Herald goes on to report that: "Although he is a pivotal witness in the world's greatest art theft, and has declined to assist in the investigation numerous times during the past 19 years, the Herald is identifying him only as Richard A. - his first name and the first initial of his last name.
"By publishing details of Richard A.'s behavior, as well as the accompanying photos (taken by Boston police about an hour after the crime was uncovered), the Herald has two key aims:
To inform a wide audience for the first time about the guard's actions around the time of the robbery. Richard A. was the veteran of the two young men on duty that night and opened the door for the fake police officers.
To see whether readers might recognize the modus operandi of the two thieves from the way the guard was bound, taped and handcuffed to a pipe.
In contrast to the respect for privacy accorded the guard whose "puzzling" behavior After a Brinks hold up in 1968 these are the kind of details and questions the Boston Globe was sharing with readers two days later, including the name and street address of one of the Brink's employees in the armored vehicle. .
On the front-page the following day, the Globe reported: "Two guards were out of the truck, and a messenger, Richard Haines 43,of 797 Living St. Tewksbury, remained in the front passenger seat. The messengers name and town of residence also appeared on both page one and two in two separate stories in the December 30, 1968 Boston Globe.
The day after this Brink's job a Boston Globe reporter and photographer reenacted the holdup, and reported on December 30, 1968 that in "tracing the route of the truck and measuring the distances and times involved, that their efforts "raised the question: Why did the guards park 300 feet from a coffee shop and walk there through heavy rain when they could have parked across the street from the shop?...The street was virtually deserted at this time."
Two days later, on January 1, of 1969 the Globe reported that Brink's had suspended the three guards assigned to the truck, Haines who had stayed in the truck, and two his compatriots who had left to get "coffee" down the street. They reported the names of all three guards plus their street addresses minus their apartment or house number. Then on January 29th the Globe reported that Haines had been fired. "Police investigators said the hijackers could not have entered the truck even with a key, if sliding steel bolts on the doors had been closed," and once again the Globe published the names and addresses of all three guards involved.
Like McDevitt, who was said to be working on a screenplay about a museum heist in both the Boston Globe and the New York Times, Abath's name became publicly linked to the Gardner heist at his pleasure and convenience 23 years after the Gardner heist: "Abath, agreed to speak to the Globe to gain publicity for a book he is writing about the robbery." -Boston Globe March 10, 2013. From the same article: "I totally get it. I understand how suspicious it all is," said Abath in a recent  interview." Like McDevitt, Abath does not express any kind of feelings of victimization over the suspicions about him. Abath totally gets it but the FBI did not, or did not share the information about Abath or McDevitt in the first two months or two years or twenty years with the public that would have fostered the kind of quality input from the public that would have led to an apprehension of the criminals if that was indeed part of the mission of the investigator(s).
The Gardner heist Eve video
Another important piece of evidence was the Gardner heist eve video that was not released until August 6, 2015, over twenty-five years after the robbery.
The sometimes garbled video with some frames out of sequence shows a visitor heading down Palace Rd. in reverse, in the wrong direct of the one-way street with his headlights off. The visitor parked three feet from the curb over a car length ahead of the door. Leaving the car, he travels at a diagonal across the street and does an about face as he gets onto the sidewalk, making it plain that he is not a restaurant delivery driver,
His first entrance into the building is not shown, which occurred about one minute after he stopped on Palace Rd. But he quickly came back outside in just a few seconds and returns to his car. During this 20 second trip the Museum's outer door is left wide open. 2:43 seconds he is off camera and may have going into the galleries. He is in the museum for 3.5 minutes. The visitor can be seen either interacting or at least in the presence of Abath for about 15 seconds, then he is off camera for minutes and 43 seconds, and then he is can be seen across from Abath for another ten seconds before he can be seen heading for the exit, his back to the door.
Robert King Wittman, a former FBI agent who helped found the bureau's art recovery team in 2005 and now runs his own recovery firm, said the video can still prove useful in identifying the man who entered the museum. It also could potentially be of use in pressing Abath into talking about what happened. Statistics show that nearly 90 percent of the country's museum heists are pulled off with the help of an insider.
"The first thing you would do as an investigator is ask the guard, 'who is that person, and why is he in the museum,' " he said.
Brian Kelly, a former prosecutor who oversaw the investigation in the US attorney's office in Boston, said investigators apparently believe the video is significant enough now to release it to the public.
Kelly, a lawyer now with Nixon Peabody, said the video raises questions about the account of Abath, who has been under suspicion before in the case. Officials would not say if they have questioned Abath since reviewing the video, and he could not be reached for comment Thursday, though he has denied any knowledge of the heist in the past.
"I think he has some explaining to do, and I'm sure that's one of their concerns," Kelly said. "Obviously, they think it's relevant to the crime because they wouldn't be asking for the public's help in this."
The visitor in the heist eve video, closely matches the description of one of the thieves: close cropped, dark hair, slender build, and late twenties to early thirties.
Physical Evidence Failures
In the Gardner heist investigation, the collection, management, utilization and safeguarding of evidence was a monumental bust. The only thing comparable might be how staff, witnesses, and suspects were managed in the same Gardner heist investigation.
"I have never heard of another case on the magnitude of the Gardner where you didn't have a single concrete piece of evidence. Really, even still to his day, I don't even know if the thieves wore gloves or not." former FBI lead investigator lead investigator, Daniel Falzon is quoted as saying in the Gardner heist by Ulrich Boser.
Given that the Heist included at least eight crime scenes on three floors (the security station, two in the museum basement, three galleries, plus the area where the candy machine was broken into, and the building exterior in the vicinity of the employee entrance used by the thieves on Palace Rd) either some evidence was missed by crime scene investigators or this was a perfect, immaculate crime. With the lack of care and diligence shown in the handling and collecting of other evidence indirectly from the museum and the Boston police, most likely it was the former and some evidence that could have been recovered was not.
One glaring example of demonstrably overlooked evidence throws the entire search for more elusive evidence, such as fibers, fingerprints and DNA evidence, into question. An FBI sweep of the Short Gallery missed six tiny screws left on the floor by one of the thieves in his attempt to remove a Napoleonic banner from its frame
"They don't notice this until the museum is about to open two days later," Stephen Kurkjian said. "They've cleaned up the entire crime scene and all of the evidence is gathered. But they're vacuuming all of the rooms before they've opened them. Before they open the museum for attendance again and the vacuum cleaner click, click click click. picks up and they open it up and they see these six tiny screws that had been dropped on the ground. And they go up and they see the thing [a banner] had been kept in place [in a frame] by two [remaining] screws that the bad guys couldn't get out. But they do notice, wait a second, where's our finial." And that's how it was discovered the finial was stolen too.
To date, the story of this overlooked evidence has never been reported in the Boston Globe for whom Kurkjian covered the Gardner heist case for two decades, nor does it appear in his book, Master Thieves about the Gardner heist robbery and investigation.
Over twenty-seven years after the robbery the Boston Globe reported that other evidence, the duct tape and handcuffs the thieves used on to subdue the guards, had disappeared. "The FBI, which collected the crime scene evidence, lost the duct tape and handcuffs , according to three people familiar with the investigation."
Typically, more than a few local, national, and even international media outlets disseminate the latest Gardner heist news from the Museum, investigators, and other news outlets, but in this case, only Boston Magazine picked up on this Boston Globe story and reported on the loss of this key evidence.
How many pairs of handcuffs were lost? Anthony Amore has said that one guard "Randy" was handcuffed and cuffed to the sink with a second set of cuffs. He also said that Abath was cuffed to a pipe in the basement of the museum. He was already cuffed upstairs in the security. So was Abath uncuffed, and then cuffed to the pipe? Or cuffed to the pipe in a similar manner as Randy with an addtional set of cuffs. That would be a total of four sets of handcuffs. In the crime scene photos especially in the documentary, "This Is Is a Robbery," it does not appear that there are any handcuffs on Abath.
Quite possibly, the cuffs were never fully put on Abath upstairs, and that set was the second set of handcuffs used on Randy. So in addition to evidence being lost, it is unknown to the public at least, how many pairs of handcuffs were lost, as many as four, but perhaps based on the crime scene photos, only two.Unacknowledged Evidence
In addition, there is other evidence that has never been or has been barely acknowledge in the news, and which may or may not have been preserved or even collected. In his book, The Gardner Heist, Ulrich Boser wrote that "The thieves placed his cowboy hat and wallet beside him, ready for him to retrieve the next day." Were these indeed retrieved by Abath or instead taken by crime scene investigators since they were handled for an extended period by one of the thieves? What about the pocketknife, matches, beside Abath in the crime scene photos, were these collected and preserved as crime scene evidence?
The pocketknife and matches beside Abath in the crime scene photo, would likely add to the suspicions about Abath's involvement but their existence, while hiding in plain sight in the crime scene photos have never been discussed or acknowledged by investigating authorities or any journalists.
History Magazine: "An unwound coat hanger found near the candy machine suggested that they (the thieves possibly) also pilfered chocolate bars."
In light of the fact that the duct tape and handcuffs are missing, and that the pocketknife for example behind Abath in one of the Boston Police crime scene photos has never been acknowledged publicly, what would a complete inventory of Gardner Museum still preserved as evidence look like today? What would it include and not include the coat hanger? Candy wrappers? Since Abath has never been eliminated as a suspect, anywhere, any gallery Abath went into is theoretically a crime scene.
Poorly Maintained Evidence
There are numerous glitches and hiccups in the Gardner surveillance video released to the public from the evening before. These "technical difficulties" are often at key points such as a. when the visitor's car first appears, b. when the visitor's suddenly leaves for a return to his car and c. when the visitor first enters the security station for his three-minute visit. Also, the detail of the features of persons and objects in the video are of an inconsistent quality. Some of these may problems with the six-minute video might well be related to a degradation of the VHS tape.
"All magnetic tape older than 15 years is in serious jeopardy! The greatest problem with videotape is that over time it will breakdown. Breakdown occurs when the binder that holds the magnetic particles to the polyester base on the tape decays."
According to the Boston Police report, for the Gardner robbery, "All physical evidence, including film [was] secured by [the] F.B.I." If there was ever any effort to preserve the quality of the video it has never been made public.
Poorly Utilized Evidence
The Museum has been frequently criticized for its lax security system, while the Museum's security Anthony Amore has stated that "the standards, personnel, and technology at the Gardner were at least as good -- and usually better -- than those in place at other institutions." The museum had spent $400,00 in a computerized security system in the previous four years and the equipment had worked as intended. However, the thieves were equipped with a great deal of inside information and most very likely enjoyed active inside assistance in carrying out the robbery.
Inside help may have thwarted the target hardening crime prevention capabilities of the Gardner Museum's security equipment but it did not interfere entirely with the evidence gathering components of this system.
There was no point in investing in the security the equipment if government investigators are not going to confiscate the recorded data collected, from the museum and then refrain from using it to inform and empower their investigation.
One key piece of evidence, for example, which was ignored, poorly utilized and poorly maintained is the surveillance video from the previous night.
The video shows Rick Abath, the Gardner Museum security guard who allowed access to the thieves disguised as policemen, the following evening, letting someone into the museum just 24 hours before the robbery. Although the FBI would not confirm or deny whether anyone had looked at the video in the days, weeks and months following the robbery it was clear that little had been done with it, in terms of questioning Abath the other guard on duty that night, Joe , or other Museum staff about just who the person in the video might be.
Gardner Museum security director and chief investigator Anthony Amore said he was completely surprised that the video from the previous evening showed a visitor entering the building and stressed the urgency of finding who the person in the video was, five days after its release. "If you take any investigation and you see this major theft happening and you go twenty fours before and you see an unidentified individual was let in almost exactly 24 hours before without authorization, without anybody knowing about it, without supervisors or even investigators being told clearly , you have to figure out who this person is" Amore said on a local public television program Greater Boston.
Investigators claim that Abath never told them about the visitor the previous night and in 2015, Abath said he has no memory of the incident.
Robert K. Wittman, a former FBI agent who worked on the Gardner heist investigation long after the robbery, and helped found the bureau's art recovery team in 2005, said about the video when it was released in August of 2015:
"The first thing you would do as an investigator is ask the guard, 'who is that person, and why is he in the museum,'?" Yet clearly this was never done.
Upon release of the video the Hartford Courant reported "The footage appears to be at odds with prior statements by Abath who, in numerous interviews with authorities and reporters, apparently has never acknowledged admitting someone to the museum the night before the robbery. Museum security records show that the museum side door was opened late at night on the night before the robbery, but the opening was attributed to Abath's assertion that he was carrying out routine security rounds." But the video shows the visitor coming first standing on the sidewalk outside of the museum at 12:48:59, while exiting the closed door at 12:49:17. That means the door was open twice in less than 18 seconds. Then the door is left open (somehow) for 23 seconds as the visitor makes a quick return trip to his car, where he proceeds to turn on the cars parking lights. Did the museum's security system only if the door had been and not for how long? A little less than four minutes (3:52) later, the door is opened a third time as the visitor leaves the museum and drives off. As opening a door to make sure it is locked as Abath claimed he did, was not part of the museum's security protocol and is in fact a terrible idea, surely opening the outside door three times in
If opening the door once was deemed a questionable even suspicious practice, then opening it three times in this fashion renders, which was recorded by separate security system, should have aroused additional suspicion for the two guards working that night.
Furthermore, the guard is not going on his rounds, unless his "rounds" involve going outside to where the visitor just pulled up. As the diagram accompanying the video clearly shows, the door he is shown exiting is an exit to Palace Rd. and does not lead to a gallery or any other place inside the museum. The was confirmed by a former Gardner Museum security guard, who worked at the museum at the time of the robbery Marjorie Galas. From where the second guard is shown leaving the security station there is nowhere to go except to exit the museum on to Palace Road, right where the visitor is about to emerge from his car. The other guard's exit from the building after the visitor pulls up means an additional fourth opening of the door, though he may have held the door open for the visitor since the time between the guard's reaching the door from the inside and visitor reaching in from the outside is about twenty seconds.
The FBI classified the video as something of little value in getting at the truth, or as what would be termed a "crowd sourcing" vehicle 25 years later. Vincent Lisi who was head of the FBI's Boston field office when the video was released "said FBI agents who investigated the case had been aware of the video for years but had judged releasing it to the public of limited value primarily because at no time is the man's face shown on camera."
The other guard in the video, Joe , who can be seen observing the visitor's car coming down the road toward the Museum's employee entrance on Palace Rd. in reverse has since died. His actions on the video should raise suspicions about his possible involvement. He is clearly aware that the visitor is outside as he is watching the video display from what seemed like a prompting from Abath. then proceeds outside. When the door suddenly opens after the visitor is only inside a couple of seconds it does appear that someone is outside as he opens the door, which would most likely be Mulvey since he went outside only seconds before the Visitor came in the first time.
Some former guards have suggested that the visitor in the video is Gardner Museum security supervisor, Lawrence O'Brien. A retired Army Lt. Colonel and Viet Nam veteran O'Brien died April, 14, 2014, in between the time the federal investigators began examining or reexamining the video and its release to the public on August 6, 2015.
Was O'Brien questioned during that time? O'Brien's driver's license shows him to be 5"6." Numerous indicators suggest that the visitor is much taller than that but the FBI while stating the Visitor is not O'Brien have never released an estimated height of the visitor, which would have eliminated of guess work and speculation by the public, whose assistance the FBI claimed to want, identifying the visitor.
Similarly, the motion detector readout given to investigators was incompletely put into service in furthering the investigation. The readout showed that Abath opened and then quickly shut the Palace Road door after he had completed his rounds and returned to the Museum security station. It also showed the only footsteps detected in the Blue Room gallery where Manet's Chez Tortoni was stolen as at 12:27 and again at 12:53 a.m., during Abath's shift and before the thieves had entered the Gardner Museum. "Federal prosecutors grilled him [Abath] on issues related to the motion sensor readout in the Fall of 2012, the Boston Globe reported, but that was 22 years after the crime.
But this was not public knowledge until Ulrich Boser's book, The Gardner Heist came out, and that work used a pseudonym for Rick Abath. "The most disquieting fact was that Abell was the last person to visit the Blue Room and see the Manet hanging on the wall, and a review of the motion detector data showed that the thieves never stepped into that particular gallery. Had he perhaps stolen that painting?"
Conclusion It appears some kind of national security based quarantine was thrown over the entire investigation, and with that a decision was made not to identify or apprehend the thieves.
However, there may have been partisan and political considerations as well. The Gardner Museum is located in Boston, Massachusetts, just a few miles from the home of then President George Bush's rival in the presidential election 16 months earlier, Governor Michael Dukakis, and the state was considered a powerful rival to Republican leadership, as the home state of the Kennedy's, and Harvard, a bastion of liberalism, by reputation at least.
With Adnan Khashoggi's trial starting just two days after the robbery, after he had been extradited from Switzerland, and worn an electronic monitoring bracelet for a year, the robbery may have had some entanglements into the Iran-Contra Affair, a lingering scandal from the Reagan Administration that hung over the first two years of the Bush Administration, and earned then Attorney General William Barr, the moniker, the coverup General from a Republican New York Times columnist and former Nixon speech writer George Bush. The charges against Khashoggi, of which he was acquitted in a jury trial included theft of fine art.
"The Saudi businessman [Khashoggi], who was a major figure in the Iran arms sale affair in the United States, said he had voluntarily turned over his nine [allegedly stolen] paintings to the French authorities after they searched his apartments in Paris and Cannes for the works last May, the New York Times reported January 10, 1988.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Farah Stockman observed on "Beat The Press," a public affairs program on Boston's WGBH: "If you're not going to go with a story until you hear from the police then you're giving them veto power over it." In the case of the Gardner heist, the investigation has enjoyed veto and more than that, in the service of a narrowly focused agenda, that is not consistent with community values, thinking and needs. The public does not lack for exercises in cognitive dissonance.
Gardner heist investigation glasnost is long overdue.
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