Arts & Culture

Do the Police Have One Last Chance to Question a Suspect in the World's Most Confounding Art Robbery?

Paintings worth $500 million disappeared from the Boston institution in 1990. Now the last surviving suspect has resurfaced.

On March 18, 1990, 13 masterpieces were stolen from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a theft that became not only the country's largest property crime but the world's most lucrative art heist. Among the pieces that went missing were three Rembrandts, sketches by Degas, and a Vermeer that together were valued at over $500 million.

The FBI apparently solved the case—in 2013 they said they had figured out who the thieves were, though they never released the names since the statue of limitations had passed—but authorities never recovered the art works themselves. They believe they have one remaining informant who may be able to help them find the paintings: Robert Gentile, 81, who is currently being charged in Massachusetts for unrelated crimes.

Anne Hawley, museum director until 2015, addresses the press at a conference the day after the heist.

One of the FBI's leading theories held the mafia responsible, naming in particular a mobster named Bobby Donati. Donati was murdered shortly after the heist; Gentile was his associate.

Gentile is scheduled to be sentenced February 27 in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut for a weapons case. He was recently found competent during a psychiatric exam said his lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, according to the Boston Herald. A judge ordered the review because Gentile said at his sentencing hearing that he could not remember pleading guilty.

Over the years there have been no shortage of rumors about the whereabouts of the Gardner trove. One theory put them in Philadelphia in the early 2000s; another in Ireland, in the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

The museum has been understandably desperate to see the paintings returned. Director Anne Hawley went so far as to ask the Vatican to issue a papal appeal in 1994. And the museum's board remains committed to shaking loose any clues. Just last month, the museum extended a $10 million reward for information that might lead to the recovery of the art.


Until that time, the frames will hang empty on the museum walls.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Leah Silverman
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