Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery
“Any other guards on duty?” asked the policeman.
“One,” the watch desk guard said. “He’s upstairs doing rounds.”
“Call him down and let us in,” the policeman said. “We’ll have to check out the garden compound.”
Because of a recent series of violent incidents in the area, including the highly publicized murder of Carol Stuart, the guard pressed a buzzer to admit the two men. Both were white. Both wore what appeared to be police uniforms with belts and caps. One carried a portable radio. Both had mustaches and wore glasses. One man was in his early thirties, more than six feet tall with dark hair and eyes and a heavy build. The other was in his late thirties. He was about 5’6″, with a slim build, pronounced jaw, dark hair and eyes and was wearing gold-rimmed glasses.
As they waited for the second guard to come down from the upper floors, the two men leaned against the counter of the watch desk and chatted casually. “It’s probably only a couple of kids fooling around out in the garden,” one said, “a couple of leftovers from a St. Paddy’s Day party.”
Suddenly the two visitors became aggressive. “You look familiar to me,” one said to the guard behind the watch desk. “Have you got an ID?”
“Sure,” said the guard, reaching in his pocket as he came out from behind the desk.
“I think I’ve got an arrest warrant on you,” the man snapped. “Turn around! Both of you!”
In a flash both guards were spun around and flung roughly up against the wall. Before they knew what was happening, their hands had been manacled behind them.
“Don’t talk about us or you’ll be sorry,” they were warned.
Strips of plastic tape were wrapped around their eyes, ears, and mouths. They were hustled down a nearby flight of steps to the basement, taken to opposite ends of a long corridor, manacled to heating pipes, and left to lie on the concrete floor.
The museum now belonged to the thieves. Displaying a knowledge of museum security, they yanked around the video cameras that were taping them. Breaking open the locked security room, they destroyed videocassettes and switched off a central computer that continuously recorded any movements in the galleries, but they failed to destroy completely a part of the system that later revealed some of their activities within the museum.
Meanwhile, two or more of the gang raced to a second-floor gallery named the Dutch Room, which features the masterpieces of 17th-century Dutch painters. Removing Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black from the wall, they placed them on the floor and used chisels, screwdrivers, and sharp knives to cut the canvases from their large gilt frames.
The Concert, a much-esteemed painting by Jan Vermeer and The Obelisk by Goevert Flinck were also removed from their frames. Near the door, the thieves grabbed a Rembrandt etching, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, from a carved oak cabinet and snatched up an ancient bronze Chinese vase of the Shang Dynasty from about 1200 B.C. from a table. A fourth Rembrandt Self-Portrait was taken from the wall, but curiously was abandoned on the floor.
They then headed down a corridor to the front of the building, passed through a gallery filled with early Italian and Renaissance art, including works by Raphael, and went into the Short Gallery where they stripped five watercolors and drawings by the French painter Edgar Degas from hanging wooden panels designed by Isabella Stewart Gardner, but passed up a Michelangelo drawing and six lithographs by James McNeill Whistler. Climbing a marble-topped French Empire table, they unscrewed a bronze eagle that adorned a gold embroidered battle flag of one of Napoleon’s regiments.