But behind the scenes, federal investigators searching for a break in the world’s largest art theft were stymied by another mystery. The duct tape and handcuffs that the thieves had used to restrain the museum’s two security guards — evidence that might, even 27 years after the crime, retain traces of DNA — had disappeared.
The FBI, which collected the crime scene evidence after the heist, lost the duct tape and handcuffs, according to three people familiar with the investigation. Despite an exhaustive internal search, the FBI has been unable to find the missing evidence, thwarting its plan to analyze it for potential traces of the thieves’ genetic material, according to those people, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
It’s unclear when the items vanished — although two people said they have been missing for more than a decade — and whether they were thrown away or simply misfiled, the people said.
The FBI declined to comment on the missing evidence, citing the ongoing investigation, but defended its handling of the case. Harold H. Shaw, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said the bureau has devoted significant resources to the investigation, chased leads around the world, and remains committed to recovering the artwork.
“The investigation has had many twists and turns, promising leads and dead ends,” Shaw said. “It has included thousands of interviews and incalculable hours of effort.”
The FBI completed DNA analysis of some museum evidence in 2010, according to Kristen Setera, an FBI spokeswoman. She declined to say what items were tested or what, if anything, the tests showed.
The heist remains one of Boston’s greatest mysteries. Promising leads have led nowhere, leaving investigators at a crossroads. Most notably, a seven-year effort to pressure a Connecticut mobster for information has come up empty.
Robert Gentile, 80, faces sentencing in August on gun charges but could walk free if he cooperated with federal authorities, his lawyer said. Despite the enticement, and a hefty reward, Gentile denies knowing anything about the stolen artwork.
Finding the treasures may require a new approach, according to several former law enforcement officials who worked on the case. They suggested that investigators should restart the investigation from scratch and review the evidence in a contemporary light.
Carmen Ortiz, who recently stepped down as US attorney for Massachusetts, said authorities should shift their strategy, perhaps to include appeals on social media, and expand the investigative team.
“Get around the table with some fresh eyes, in addition to those who know this case very well, to give it a new look,” Ortiz said. Ortiz’s successor, Acting US Attorney William Weinreb, said the investigation remains a top priority.
A former assistant US attorney, Robert Fisher, who oversaw the Gardner investigation from 2010 to 2016, said investigators should “go back to square one” and study the crime as if it just happened, analyzing each piece of evidence with the latest DNA, fingerprint, and video technology.
“What if it happened last night, what would we do this morning to try to crack this case?” said Fisher, an attorney at Nixon Peabody.
Told that the Globe had learned the duct tape and handcuffs left behind by the thieves were now missing, Fisher said he hoped they would be found.
“Frankly, it could be enormously helpful,” Fisher said of the missing items. “I think present-day forensic analysis of evidence like that could lead to a break in the case.”
However, he said the tape may yield no viable DNA, depending on its condition.
Anthony Amore, the museum’s security director, said investigators are pursuing a number of new leads following last month’s announcement that the reward for information leading to the recovery of the artwork had doubled to $10 million until year’s end. Dozens of tips were received, he said.
“I operate in the realm of hope,” said Amore, who has worked with the FBI and US attorney’s office on the investigation for nearly 12 years. “We are never going to stop looking for these paintings.”
The brazen heist — the largest property crime in US history — occurred in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990. Two thieves disguised as police officers claimed to be investigating a disturbance when they showed up at the museum’s side door on Palace Road in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. They were buzzed inside by a 23-year-old security guard, who, by his own admission, has never been eliminated as a suspect.
The thieves wrapped duct tape around the hands, eyes, and mouths of the two guards on duty, then left them handcuffed in the museum’s basement as they spent 81 minutes slashing and pulling masterpieces from their frames.
In the days after the robbery, FBI and Boston police crime scene analysts scoured the museum for clues. They lifted partial fingerprints from the empty frames but found no matches in the FBI database.
At the time, DNA evidence was in its infancy. But scientific advances have since opened new doors for investigators, cracking unsolved cases across the country.
DNA experts said it’s possible the thieves’ DNA couldbe pulled from the duct tape, although the chances are slim. Success hinges on a number of variables, such as how the evidence was preserved and how many people handled it while freeing the guards and storing it.
“Certainly people have retrieved DNA from samples that old, but how much you can get is the big question,” said Robin Cotton, director of the Biomedical Forensic Sciences Program at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Analysts would also need DNA samples from the police officers who removed the tape to distinguish their DNA from the thieves, Cotton said.
Tom Evans, scientific director of the DNA Enzymes Division at New England Biolabs, an Ipswich firm that conducts DNA testing, said technology has come so far that it may take only a single cell to identify someone through DNA analysis. But DNA breaks down over time, especially in hot or humid conditions.
“Twenty-seven years later, it might work and it might fail,” Evans said.
The statute of limitations on the theft expired years ago, but authorities could still bring criminal charges for hiding or transporting the stolen artwork. The US attorney’s office has offered immunity in exchange for the return of the paintings.
Four years ago, the FBI announced it was confident it had identified the thieves — local criminals who have since died — and had determined that the stolen artwork traveled through organized crime circles from Boston to Connecticut to Philadelphia, where the trail went cold around 2003.
In 2010, the FBI began focusing on Gentile after the widow of another person of interest in the theft, Robert Guarente, told agents that her late husband had given two of the stolen paintings to Gentile before he died in 2004.
Federal authorities allege that Gentile offered to sell some of the stolen paintings to an undercover FBI agent in 2015 for $500,000 apiece. They remain convinced that he is holding back what he knows.
However, Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said his client insists he has nothing to offer investigators and recently told him, “They could make the reward $100 million and it wouldn’t change anything because there ain’t no paintings.”
Another person who has come under renewed scrutiny in recent years is Richard Abath, the guard who opened the door for the thieves. A Berklee College of Music dropout who played in a rock ’n’ roll band while working at the museum, he has steadfastly maintained that he played no role in the heist.
Authorities have said that motion sensors that recorded the thieves’ steps as they moved through the museum indicate they never entered the first-floor gallery where Manet’s “Chez Tortoni” was stolen. Only Abath’s steps, as he made his rounds before the thieves arrived, were picked up there, they have said.
Steve Keller, a security consultant hired by the museum, said he tested the motion sensors after the theft and determined they were reliable. He said he entered and left the room several times where the Manet had been stolen, even crawling on his hands and knees in an effort to avoid detection. Each time the sensors detected his presence.
Abath declined to comment.
Former US attorney Brian T. Kelly, who previously oversaw efforts to recover the Gardner artwork, said he remains hopeful the masterpieces will be recovered.
“All it takes is a new lead that leads in a new direction and a lucky break or two,” Kelly said.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at email@example.com
Art Hostage Comments:
So many false leads, controlled oposition etc.
The FBI insist any Gardner art recovery is done on their terms and includes arrests/indictments etc.
The Gardner Museum has also been bullied into towing the line therefore any reward includes conditions that allows refusal of reward payment, for example the insistance on all the art work being recovered in "Good condition" before any reward would be paid out.
The museum’s trustees also felt they were being kept in the dark about the status of the investigation. Trustee Francis W. Hatch, Jr. recalled one meeting held ostensibly to gain a briefing from the agent and supervisor on the case. “They wouldn’t tell us anything about what they thought of the robbery
or who they considered suspects,” Hatch recalls. “It was
very embarrassing to all of us.”
"Hatch convinced the trustees that the museum needed to hire a fi rm to investigate, and stay in touch with the FBI on its probe. IGI, a private investigative firm based in Washington begun by Terry Lenzner, who had cut his teeth as a lawyer for the Senate Watergate Committee, was put on retainer, and the executive assigned to the case was Larry Potts, a former top
deputy in the FBI. Fearful that their authority was being undercut, the FBI’s
supervisors in Boston complained to US attorney Wayne Budd, who fired off a memo warning the museum that it faced prosecution if it withheld information relevant to the investigation. Hatch responded, saying in his letter that he
was “shocked and saddened” by Budd’s attempt to “intimidate” the museum and that it cast “a pall over future cooperative efforts.” From Master Thieves by Stephen Kurkjian
Climbing the Charts in March of 1990
"U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer
Nitke was a guest on the Khashoggi yacht for a cruise in 1982.
Adnan Khahsoggi's jury trial for among other things museum fine art theft began two days after the Gardner Heist
The Gardner Museum doubled the reward right before Khahsoggi died after a long illness on June 6, 2017. #LOCALTOUGHS
Interesting that the announcement for doubling the reward to ten million came out 5/23/17 as Adnan Khahsoggi was dying of Parkinsons Disease. He died 6/6/17.
Khahsoggi went on trial in New York City 2 days after the Gardner Heist for among other fine art theft.
He had a very elaborate network set up for stolen fine art transit.
"In addition, more than thirty paintings, valued at $200 million, that Imelda Marcos had allegedly purloined from the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, including works by Rubens, El Greco, Picasso, and Degas, were being stored by Khashoggi for the Marcoses, but it turned out that the pictures had been sold to Khashoggi as part of a cover-up. The art treasures were first hidden on his yacht and then moved to his penthouse in Cannes. The penthouse was raided by the French police in a search for the pictures in April 1987, but it is believed that Khashoggi had been tipped off. He turned over nine of the paintings to the police, claiming to have sold the others to a Panamanian company, but investigators believe that he sold the pictures back to himself. The rest of the loot is thought to be in Athens. If he is found guilty, such charges could get him up to ten years in an American slammer."
Some of the Gardner art may have reached the Middle East, making it much harder to recover.
Some of the Gardner art may be in terrible condition preventing any recovery because any reward would be negated by this, see Gardner museums conditions of recovery in "Good condition"
The Gardner case has been a political tug of war, with all sides refusing to give an inch.
Food for thought:
If they believe the thieves are deceased why did they only just recently stipulate that the thieves are not eligible for the reward?
Beat that local toughs theory into the ground Boston Globe. Last month the FBI said the know who the guy in the video is, but they're not saying if he was there for a legitimate reason or not. So obviously he wsa there for an illegitimate reason. And he most certainly is not a local tough so the whole local tough or any kind of mafia type theory is thoroughly discredited.
Abath has no known associations with local toughs and this guy talking to ABath is not a local tough or any kind of mafia type. Kurkjian reported in November of 2015 that four security guards said it was retired Lt. Colonel and Gardner Security supervisor Larry O'Brian, which is ridiculous, but it points to the fact that by his haircut, clothing, and comportment, this was a guy who could be mistaken for a security supervisor. Could Donati, or DiMuzio, or Reissfelder, be mistaken for a security supervisor by security guards on a surveillance video? I don't think so.
There has never been a scintilla of evidence supporting that theory. The whole theory was just a full employment for program FBI agents and their friends in journalism. And the dead suspects were just convenient props who would not be able to stand up for themselves, be publicly vetted or file a lawsuit.
From the New York Times in March of 2015 by Tom Mashberg:
"But on his PowerPoint, Mr. Kelly showed me that Mr. Reissfelder and Mr. DiMuzio closely resembled police sketches of the two men who had entered the museum.
Notice that Mashberg doesn't say they look like the police sketches. Nor does Kelly get quoted saying that. How absurd? It's like trying to translate the Soviet house organ Pravda into Russian.
In the Globe's article about the Powerpoint 3/17/15, a couple of weeks later, Shelley Murphy, evidently couldn't bring herself to mention Leonard DiMuzio by name. Can you blame her? DiMuzio, the victim of an unsolved homicide, was an honorably discharged Marine Corp corporal, and a Viet Nam vet. He does NOT resemble the police sketch. The New York Times described him as a "skillful burglar" which probably means they had not caught him yet.
Reissfelder, a bad check writer, who liked to talk like a tough guy spent 16 years in prison for a robbery/murder he did not commit and was exonerated. After he got out in 1982, he slept with the lights on.
But get ready for the real "CATCH" from this article by Murphy about Reissfelder
"The catch: Reissfelder was 50 at the time of the heist, and the guards estimated one thief was in his late 20s to early 30s and the other was in his 30s. However, Kelly said he doesn’t believe the age estimates were reliable."
So Kelly says he thinks that two guys in their twenties one a 27 year old with a Master's Degree from the New England Conservatory can't differentiate between someone in their 30's and a 51 year old drug addict who had spent half of his adult life in Walpole State Prison.
Link to original story from 3/17/15
And Robert Gentile is the only "defiant" mobster. He says he didn't do it. Stephen Kurkjian says he wasn't involved. Kurkjian's name is on this article. How is Gentile's defiance any kind of "plague?"
The I.T. Revolution did not end yesterday morning and it is not ending tomorrow morning. Get real. The paintings may or may not come back but the truth about who did it is coming out. It was not local toughs.
“The place is so wonderful now that we tend to forget what a horrendous thing it was to have happened,” [back then Governor Michael] Dukakis recalled recently. “The wearing of police uniforms always bothered me, and then the SEEMING difficulty of being able to identify them.”
Hawley too, he said, has shared with him and his wife, Kitty, a very close friend, her frustration that the FBI has been unable to recover any of the stolen pieces. “She’s frustrated, HIGHLY SKEPTICAL about a lot of the stuff,”
he said. “She’s gotten tired with everything. Enough already.” from Master Thieves by Stepehn Kurkjian
Dear Washington: Enough already!!!
"We also were threatened by criminals who WANTED attention from the FBI Nobody knew really what kind of a cauldron we were in." Anne Hawley 12/4/13
What kind of criminals WANT attention from the FBI?
I don't know what kind of cauldron we're in, but from the smell of it, I think I know what it is we're sharing it with.
Here is some Real News:
Last week CNN was brought to heel over a story written by art historian and art theft EXPERT Noah Charney. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/magazine/17art.t.html
CNN was somehow compelled or persuaded to re-write an article about the Gardner Heist reward being doubled to ten million written by Charney. They didn't acknowledge any errors, but they did put in this disclaimer:
"Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained unsupported details regarding the night of the heist and subsequent investigations, which have now been removed. Ever see anything like that before?"
You can see Charney on American Greed Season Two Episode Nine "Unsolved: $300 Million Art Heist / Preying On Faith" on Hulu matter of factly contradicting the FBI's Geoff Kelly who appears on the same episode to discuss the Gardner Heist
Then on Friday Emily Rooney smeared Charney at the end of the show, describing this established art theft expert incompletely as an art novelist, and one who is indifferent to facts, and whose original story had "ten egregious errors." But Rooney has not said what any of the errors were and CNN is not doing a correction. So all we have for egregious errors in the public domain is Rooney's description of Noah Charney's professional background, character and ability to render facts on paper for a news story.
Ask any random person to go on google and give them 3 minutes to come up with a 50 word description of Noah Charney and see if they do any better than Emily Rooney did.
If Gardner Heist coverage seems strange it is because there is a bigger story behind it, and an even bigger story ahead of it and that is this:
We are entering "a time of informational chaos, when rival versions of reality are fighting for narrative supremacy."
And the Gardner Heist story is one place where this rivalry is playing itself out. It is a prelude to what appears to be just how things are going to be for a while and getting rid of Trump is not going to solve it.
Charney's story (the current version) suggests that raising the reward is an act of desperation. One thing we know is that the suggestion of a Boston Globe editorial from the time of 25th anniversary is unlikely to be considered no matter how hopeless things get in this 27 year old saga:
"After decades of frustration, the FBI ought to try opening its files on the Gardner Museum heist in hopes that fresh vision will help crack Boston’s most notorious unsolved mystery."