On the morning of March 18, 1990, Boston was filled with St. Patrick’s Day festivities. That was  until employees appeared for work and there was no security at the door. This is the story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft. The theft is considered to be the largest robbery of property in the world. So what happened on that fateful morning 34 years ago?

In the early morning hours of March 18 1990, two men dressed as police officers were given access to the building. Once inside the employee entrance, the thieves were able to tie up the museum security guards and took 13 priceless items. The robbery lasted for 81 minutes. Museum Security Director Anthony Amore is still on the hunt for information about the robbery to this day. The museum is offering a 10 million dollar reward for the safe return of the paintings. The museum frames are still hung on the walls as a ghostly reminder of the events. 


Who was Isabella Stewart Gardner?

Isabella Stewart was born on April 14th 1840 in New York City. When she attends finishing school in Paris she is introduced to her classmate’s brother, John Lowell Gardner Jr. Isabella and John were married in 1860 and they moved to his hometown of Boston. After the death of their son, John took Isabella on a grand tour of northern Europe in 1863. After the death of her husband, Isabella bought land in the now Northeastern University area of Boston and hired Willard T. Sears to make plans for her museum. The museum was finished in 1901 and she personally arranged the artwork in the galleries.  For the next 20 years, Isabella continued to travel and to gather items to be placed in the museum. In 1924, Isabella died and she left her museum to be enjoyed by the public. Her will also stated that if anything in the museum was moved or rearranged, the entire collection would go to Paris for auction. 

What was taken?

The thieves took 13 items which include 3 Rembrandts but left other valuables untouched. Police reports show that one the men gave up on breaking the lock off a jade figurine display. The paintings that they did take were hastily cut from the frames. While 3 Rembrandts were taken, the most prized items were left.

From left to right. The Concert by Vermeer 1663-1666, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee 1633, and Chez Tortoni 1875


The main suspects were the two night watchmen. Richard Abath was handcuffed and tied up in the basement. Although he was never admitted by police to be a suspect, both police and investigators continue to look at his movements with suspicion. Abath broke Museum protocol when he allowed the phony officers into the building leaving people to think it was an inside job. Abath opened and closed the side door which was against protocol. While taking art from the Blue Room, the motion detectors were not able to pick up the thieves and they only caught Abath on patrol. In 2015, the FBI released a video which showed Abath opening the door for an unidentified man into the museum. 


The Mafia  

In early 2013, the FBI said that they believed that the thieves were part of the Boston mob. The men which some believe to be a part of a gang from Dorechester who were loyal to mob boss Frank Salemme and Carmello Merlino. Over the course of several years, the FBI arrested and questioned members of the gang. Robert Guarente and Robert Gentile were common associates of the gang and when speaking to the FBI, Elene said that Gentile at one point had the paintings. Gentile was arrested and sent to prison on drug charges and while searching his Manchester home, found a ditch underneath a false board. When Gentile was released from prison, he told a reporter that he was framed by the FBI. However, he could not give a clear answer on what the ditch was used for. 

This case is still unsolved. Many people including Anthony Amore believe that one day the artwork will be returned.


Empty Frames and Other Oddities From the Unsolved Gardner Museum Heist by  Tom Mashberg, The New York Times. March 18, 2024.

34 years after Gardner heist, the museum’s director of security is still on the case by Jeremy Siegel, GBH,

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum still receiving tips 34 years after heist. Mike Sullivan reporting for CBS News Boston. March 18, 2024. https://www.cbsnews.com/boston/video/isabella-stewart-gardner-museum-still-receiving-tips-34-years-after-heist/

Last Seen. Podcast by WBUR(NPR) Season 1. 2021

This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist. Netflix documentary. 2021