$10M reward offered in biggest U.S. art heist
The Hague, Netherlands — A Dutch art sleuth who says he’s following two possible leads in the largest art heist in U.S. history is hoping a $10 million reward will help track down the collection stolen from a Boston museum in 1990.
Arthur Brand thinks a decision last month to double the reward for information could prompt the return of 13 works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, though the museum’s director of security says the leads Brand is following have already been pursued and are considered dead ends.
The $10 million reward announced in May by the museum’s trustees is on offer only until the end of the year, when it will likely revert to $5 million.
“All the lights are on green,” said Brand, whose past searches for purloined paintings and sculptures have led to Ukrainian militiamen and Nazi memorabilia collectors. “If the people do not bring them back this year, it’s now or never.”
The stunning theft at the Gardner Museum was remarkably simple. Two men masqueraded as Boston police and got into the museum by telling a security guard they were responding to a disturbance.
Once inside, the thieves handcuffed two guards on duty and put them in the museum’s basement before snatching masterpieces that included paintings by Dutch masters Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer and French impressionist Edouard Manet.
Investigators have followed an array of leads and suspects — mobsters, Irish gunrunners, local thieves and even a Hollywood screenwriter.
The FBI told The Associated Press in 2015 that two suspects — Boston criminals with ties to organized crime — were dead, but the deaths did not end the search for the Gardner’s stolen art. The FBI said investigators believe the collection moved through organized crime circles to Connecticut and Philadelphia, but its exact whereabouts remains a mystery.
The missing pieces include Rembrandt’s only known seascape, “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” and his “A Lady and Gentleman in Black;” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni;” and Vermeer’s “The Concert,” one of fewer than 40 known paintings by the 17th century Dutch painter.
Neither of the leads Brand is following is new, but the tenacious sleuth hopes the bigger reward will help. He has a record of success — he helped German police seize a huge stash of art in 2015 that included two bronze horse sculptures crafted for Adolf Hitler. He also helped recover art stolen from a Dutch museum that had ended up with a militia in Ukraine. He runs a Dutch agency that helps track the provenance of works of art and advises buyers on their authenticity.
One of the leads focuses on a Dutch criminal who was reportedly in possession of photos of the stolen art and tried to sell the works in the Netherlands and the Belgian city of Antwerp in the early 1990s.
Brand has not seen the photos, but says sources tell him they were taken after the theft. He declined to identify the criminal involved, or his sources.
The other lead is one that U.S. law enforcement authorities have followed and discounted: That a former member or members of the Irish Republican Army, which was responsible for a 27-year campaign of violence in Ireland and the United Kingdom, may have information about the works.
Federal prosecutors in Boston have not offered blanket immunity for whoever has the paintings now, but they are willing to consider immunity for anyone who can help them recover the stolen works.