Empty Frames and Other Oddities From the Unsolved Gardner Museum Heist

In the pre-dawn hours of March 18, 1990, following a festive St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, two men dressed as police officers walked into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and walked off with an estimated $500 million in art treasures. Despite efforts by the local police, federal agents, amateur sleuths and not a few journalists, no one has found any of the 13 works lost in the largest art theft in history, including a rare Vermeer and three precious Rembrandts.

Missing: “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” (1633), Rembrandt van Rijn.

The legacy of the heist is always apparent to museum visitors who, decades later, still confront vacant frames on the gallery walls where paintings once hung. They are kept there as a reminder of loss, museum officials say, and in the hope that the works may eventually return. Last month, Richard Abath, the night watchman who mistakenly allowed in the thieves, died at 57. He was a vital figure in an investigation that remains active, but where the trails have grown cold.

Here are five oddities that make this one of the most compelling of American crimes.

The thieves took a really strange array of stuff.

Important paintings were taken from their frames during the heist. But other items that were stolen were not nearly of the same caliber: a nondescript Chinese metal vase; a fairly ordinary bronze eagle from atop a flagpole; and five minor sketches by Degas. The thieves walked past paintings and jade figurines worth millions, including a drawing by Michelangelo, yet they spent some of their 81 minutes inside fussing to free the vase from a tricky locking mechanism.

Missing: “The Concert” (1663-1666), Johannes Vermeer.
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