Dutch Art Detective Hopes to Unmask Mysteries in US Biggest Art Heist

Published: 28 June 2017

Empty Frames at Isabella Stewart Gardner MuseumEmpty Frames at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Photo: FBI, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Sophie Balay

A Dutch art detective says he is following two serious leads relating to the heist of US$ 500 million worth of masterpieces from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, media reported Tuesday.

Apart from his leads, Arthur Brand believes a US$ 10 million reward could also help track down the stolen collection that includes paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet. 

Back then, two men posing as police officers entered Gardner Museum, handcuffed two guards and put them in the museum's basement. They then took off with 13 precious canvases under their arm.

The thieves’ identity as well as the masterpieces’ whereabouts has remained a mystery for the past 27 years.

Investigators believe the Boston criminals who were identified by the FBI in 2013 as suspects are now dead. Even if not, the statute of limitations on the theft expired more than 20 years ago so the focus of the investigation is only on finding the paintings.

“It’s not about who did it anymore,” said Brand, “It’s about getting these pieces back. It’s world heritage”, according to Artnet.

To lure potential informants or perpetrators, the US attorney’s office has offered immunity and the museum's trustees a US$ 10 million reward in exchange for the return of the paintings or information that could lead to it. At the end of the year, the reward will revert to US$ 5 million.

One of the detective’s leads relates to a Dutch criminal who allegedly tried to sell the works. He allegedly has photos of the paintings that were taken in the Netherlands and in Belgium right after the theft.

Brand also believes a former member or members of the Irish Republican Army may hold information about the works.

"Former IRA sources have told me or people that I know that there has been talk about these paintings for years within the IRA," he said, according to media.

However, Brand’s opinion has been met with skepticism on the other side of the Atlantic. US authorities think the paintings have not left the country but have moved through organized crime circles and ended up in Connecticut and Philadelphia.

Anthony Amore, the Isabella Stewart Gardner's director of security, said: "we've explored the leads Arthur is discussing extensively in the past, and we're confident that we closed them without further need for investigation".