A reporter investigates a notorious art heist.
In 1990, two thieves made their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and fled with 13 artworks, worth $500 million. Despite the FBI’s ongoing investigation, the thieves were never caught, and the art remains missing. Pulitzer Prize–winning Boston Globe investigative reporter Kurkjian worked on the story when it first broke, and in his fast-paced, though sometimes repetitious, debut book, he recounts the heist, the official investigation and his own probing into the case. Security was lax at the museum, making it possible for two men, dressed in police uniforms, to gain entry, secure the guards with duct tape and invade the galleries. Shattering protective glass, they cut paintings from their frames and left without detection. The FBI took control immediately, refusing to involve the Massachusetts State Police or the Boston police, which the author sees as a crucial mistake. Mob involvement was suspected from the start, and local authorities, as one Boston policeman put it, “knew every wise guy in the city and had some reliable informants.” As the case grew colder, the handful of FBI men assigned to it was reduced; three months after the heist, only one agent supervised. The author reveals the “Hollywood-style deal-making” used by the FBI to try to get mobsters to talk, but their efforts repeatedly failed. In 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the head of the FBI’s Boston office tried to get the public’s help in identifying artwork they may have seen or tips on the perpetrators, but nothing emerged.
Based on interviews with scores of mob bosses, gang members, their wives, girlfriends, family members and lawyers, as well as with policemen and other reporters, Kurkjian believes he knows who did it. He has shared his findings with the FBI, and they come as the climax to this engrossing real-life crime story.