On March 18, 1990, two men disguised as police officers stole multiple pieces of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in what would go down in history as the single largest property theft in the world.
The Fenway neighborhood museum today reminds visitors of the ongoing mystery, as various gold frames hang empty throughout the galleries.
With the 33rd anniversary of the still unsolved case coming up, we’re donning our detective caps and diving into the case.
By the numbers
- 13 — The total number of stolen artworks.
- 81 — The number of minutes the thieves spent inside the museum.
- $200 million — The cost of the artwork the thieves stole, valued at $500 million today.
- $10 million — The current reward for sharing information that leads to the recovery of these pieces. Got any tips to share?
Meet a few of the stolen pieces
- “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” — This is one of many stolen Rembrandt artworks produced in the 1600s, and was housed in the museum’s Dutch Room.
- “The Concert” — Johannes Vermeer’s oil on canvas piece, also taken from the Dutch Room, depicted two women and a man making music together.
- Eagle Finial — French sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire’s bronze finial, originally attached to a flag, was removed from the Short Gallery. The thieves had attempted to remove the flag as well, but it was screwed to the wall.
We recommend taking a virtual tour through the galleries, exploring each of the 13 artworks in more detail.
The puzzling particulars
While so much of this mystery has left investigators and the public baffled, here’s an overview of some of the most perplexing pieces of the puzzle.
- The thieves appeared to take their sweet time, spending over an hour looting the museum. For context, the average art heist is ~10 minutes.
- They didn’t trip the motion sensors on the first floor, though the alarms were reportedly working. The alarms on the second floor went off multiple times.
- While the robbers did walk away with some of the most treasured pieces, they didn’t steal “The Rape of Europa” by Titian, the museum’s most expensive work.
Still wondering about this whodunnit?
If this has piqued your interest, there are plenty of resources that break down all of the (many) fascinating details and various suspects.
- “This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist” — The limited Netflix series was released in 2021. There are four episodes covering the notorious crime, focusing on the investigation and key suspects.
- “Last Seen: Season One” — The locally produced true crime podcast’s first season took a closer look at the heist, featuring exclusive interviews and more than a year’s worth of investigative reporting.
- “The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft” — Extra extra, read all about it. This 2010 release explored unfinished leads from the case, proposing that David Turner and George Reissfelder were the robbers.