Elizabeth Neuffer, Boston Globe May 14, 1990

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, sources said yesterday.

As details begin to emerge about the two-month probe, law enforcement sources said that the suspects' movements are under close scrutiny by federal agents, including one suspect who was under surveillance during a recent arrival at Logan Airport.

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. Others have been identified through informants.

Sources said the FBI's investigation is steadily progressing but cautioned that agents still lack the evidence to link suspects directly to the crime.

"Investigators are encouraged by some parts of the investigation,' said one law enforcement source, "but discouraged they can't put the entire package together yet."

Authorities say two thieves made off with 13 works of art from the Gardner Museum in an early morning robbery that stunned Boston and the art world. Among the priceless works of art stolen were Vermeer's "The Concert" and what is believed to be Rembrandt's only seascape, "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee."

The two thieves, disguised as police officers, tricked a guard with a false disturbance report to gain entry to the Fenway museum shortly after 1:15 a.m. They then lured one of the security guards away from alarms at the museum's watch desk by asking for his identification and telling him they had a warrant for his arrest, authorities say.

The thieves then bound and gagged the security guards and partially disabled the alarm system. They also destroyed a video cassette that would have recorded their faces and some of their movements near the watch desk.

But some of the thieves' movements through three galleries in the Gardner were captured by motion detectors feeding data to a central computer that was not disabled by the robbers, authorities say. The museum has no external alarm linked to the police; the theft was discovered by security guards reporting for work the next morning.

FBI officials said last week that squads of agents in several American cities and foreign capitals have been combing through hundreds of leads. Encouraging the flood of tips is a $1 million reward offered by two art auction houses for the works' recovery.

In the wake of the robbery, FBI agents scoured the Gardner Museum for clues, taking photographs and dusting for fingerprints. Frames left behind by the thieves were also sent to the FBI lab for fingerprint analysis.

The FBI has refused to provide further details about the investigation. Special Agent Paul Cavanagh yesterday would not comment on specifics, saying only that "the investigation is proceeding, and we're following every possible lead." A spokesman for the US attorney's office, Susan Hicks Spurlock, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sources said yesterday that the pool of suspects did not necessarily constitute one group that may have conspired together in the theft. They also added that new suspects could emerge.

But they said investigators are keeping a close eye on the suspects' movements, particularly if they travel in and out of Boston.

Sources were divided as to whether any of the suspects were currently in Massachusetts, noting that they frequently traveled from city to city.

Art theft investigators have said that it is likely the heist may have under contract because the thieves bypassed more valuable works for those they stole. Those investigators have suggested that the paintings were taken for a black-market collector or for possible ransom.

In recent years, the number of art thefts has increased as the value of paintings has soared. The number of thefts reported to Interpol, the international police agency, nearly doubled between 1985 and 1988.

Law enforcement agencies estimated that art theft has become a $1 billion a year business, second only to drug running.

Copyright Boston Globe Newspaper May 14, 1990


Gardner Museum Heist