Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery
During its public hours, each of its 25 galleries and cloisters is constantly scrutinized by one or more uniformed guards hovering discreetly in the background. At night the guard staff is reduced, but an elaborate electronic security system maintains an invisible silent vigil. While some guards go back many years, there are also college students who prize the opportunity to work part-time amid such treasures. (A tradition begun by Mrs. Gardner, who preferred Harvard students to Pinkerton men as her museum guards.)
Just before 5:00 P.M. on the evening of March 17, 1990, the booming notes of a Japanese temple gong signaled the closing of the museum. Huge steel doors were bolted, and soon the museum was deserted save for two young guards, a musician and an art student. One of the guards, carrying a flashlight and a portable radio, patrolled the galleries. The other sat behind a watch desk next to the Palace Road service entrance monitoring the security-systems alarms and TV cameras. High on the wall on the outside of the building, a small TV camera continuously scanned Palace Road and the side entrance. On this night Anne Hawley, the museum’s recently appointed director was dining on nearby Beacon Street. Hawley was the first director in the Gardner’s history who did not dwell in the fourth-floor apartment once occupied by Isabella Stewart Gardner. Although it was after midnight when the dinner party ended, Hawley considered stopping at the museum, but decided instead to return to her suburban home.
At 1:24 A.M. on Sunday morning someone rang the bell at the Palace Road entrance. On the TV monitor the guard at the watch desk saw two men in police uniforms. He pressed the button on an outdoor speaker system and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Boston Police,” one man said. “We have a report of a disturbance in your outdoor compound. Have you seen or heard anything?”
“No,” replied the guard. ” It’s been quiet here all night.”
“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.”