FBI releases ‘Boston heist’ video 25 years after biggest art theft in US

© U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts
The FBI is releasing surveillance footage from Boston’s Gardner Museum, hoping it will help to catch the culprits of the 1990 art heist. Thieves disguised as policemen stole 13 paintings worth $500 million in the greatest single property theft in US history.

Among the stolen artwork were Vermeer’s “The Concert,” three Rembrandt paintings, Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,” five drawings by Degas, an ancient Chinese vase dating back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), and a golden eagle from a Napoleonic flag.

Released on Thursday, the video is a composite of black-and-white surveillance footage made by two museum cameras 24 hours before the heist. It shows a car driving up to the same door later used by the thieves. A man is seen stepping out of the car and being let into the museum by a security guard, identified as Richard Abath. The car matches the general description of the vehicle reportedly parked outside the museum on the night of the theft, the FBI says.

Federal officials hope someone may spot a clue in the grainy footage that would jump-start the investigation. More than 25 years later, the identity of the thieves and the whereabouts of the art remain a mystery.

"We have engaged in an exhaustive re-examination of the original evidence in this case," said US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, "to ensure that all avenues have been explored in the continuing quest to recover these artworks.”

Shortly after 1 a.m. on March 18, 1990, two men walked into the museum dressed as police officers, claiming they were responding to a report of a disturbance. They handcuffed the two security guards on duty and made off with priceless works of art ranging from Chinese artifacts to priceless paintings by Renaissance masters.

The heist was featured in several mystery novels, and mentioned in a number of films and TV shows.

Two years ago, FBI investigators said they thought they knew who was behind the theft, pointing to “a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and in New England.” However, they named no names, and made no arrests.

The Gardner Museum has a standing offer of a $5 million reward for information that leads to the recovery of the stolen art. Originally known as Fenway Court, the museum was established in 1903 by Isabella Stewart Gardner, and renamed in her honor in the 1920s.