Both local dailies on Tuesday featured the blockbuster revelation that the FBI knows who stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum 23 years ago.
Names not divulged; trail of Gardner masterworks ended with a sale try a decade ago; investigators cite progress, seek help in cracking 1990 case
Federal investigators, in an unprecedented display of confidence that the most infamous art theft in history will soon be solved, said Monday that they know who is behind the Gardner Museum heist 23 years ago and that some of the priceless artwork was offered for sale on Philadelphia’s black market as recently as a decade ago.
In the most extensive account to date of the investigation, Richard DesLauriers, the FBI special agent in charge of the Boston office, would not identify those involved in the heist, saying it would hinder the ongoing investigation. But he said that knowing the identity of the culprits has “been opening other doors” as federal agents continue their search for the missing artwork.
The stunning revelations that the 13 masterworks stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum were shuttled through Connecticut and Philadelphia and peddled for sale in Pennslvania — and most amazingly, the FBI knows who did it — whipped even the most fervent experts of the infamous 1990 heist into frenzy yesterday, stoking optimism that authorities may soon solve the world’s greatest art theft.
Federal authorities, speaking on the 23rd anniversary of Boston’s last great unsolved mystery, said yesterday that members of an East Coast “crime organization” orchestrated the daring theft and then tried selling a share of their $500 million haul in Philadelphia a decade ago.
But neither paper seemed to ask the obvious question:
Does this new knowledge have anything to do with the recent re-interviewing of the hippie Gardner guard as reported by the Globe last week?
Night watchman Richard Abath may have made the most costly mistake in art history shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990. Police found him handcuffed and duct-taped in the basement of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum seven hours after he unwisely opened the thick oak door to two thieves who then stole 13 works of art valued at more than $500 million.
For years, investigators discounted the hapless Abath’s role in the unsolved crime, figuring his excessive drinking and pot smoking contributed to his disastrous decision to let in the robbers, who were dressed as police officers. Even if the duo had been real cops, watchmen weren’t supposed to admit anyone who showed up uninvited at 1:24 a.m.
But, after 23 years of pursuing dead ends, including a disappointing search of an alleged mobster’s home last year, investigators are focusing on intriguing evidence that suggests the former night watchman might have been in on the crime all along — or at least knows more about it than he has admitted.
Is it just us, or are the Boston news media not connecting the dots?