The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft is the stuff of legends around Boston, but I only learned the full story when I visited the museum a couple months ago. On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the museum and stole 13 priceless works of art. They managed it by tricking the security guards into moving away from any alarms, and then duct taped them to pipes in the basement! Fortunately, no one was injured, but the thieves disappeared without a trace. However, as stipulated in Gardner’s will, the museum is to remain forever unchanged, so the empty frames still hang on the walls.

The stolen works include Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert and Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk. It is considered the greatest art theft in American history. The FBI currently values the thieves’ plunder at $500 million. However, this price may have been exaggerated in an attempt to get the thieves to expose themselves when attempting to sell the art. They are also offering a $5 million reward for any information regarding the missing pieces.

The case’s most recent update came in 2013. The FBI claimed to have identified the thieves, after determining that the art had been transported to Connecticut and Philadelphia. They have not revealed the names of the thieves, but have stated that they are “members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England.” Theories abound, and some once even believed that the infamous James “Whitey” Bulger was involved in some capacity!

Today, over 25 years since the theft, the paintings are still missing. No arrests have been made, and there don’t appear to be any new leads as to their whereabouts. Lead investigator Geoff Kelly rejects the theory that the thieves destroyed the paintings soon after the crime, as “most criminals are savvy enough to know such valuable paintings are their ace in the hole.” The museum’s chief of security, Anthony M. Amore, adds, “Mrs. Gardner would have expected us to battle every day to get back her art.” The search will continue, and hopefully the pieces will be recovered undamaged.

Did You Know?
If your name is Isabella, you get free admission to the museum forever! Isabellas simply need to register through the museum’s website, and they’ll receive a printable card through email to use for any visits. However, be sure to also bring a valid ID to prove that your moniker does, in fact, match Gardner’s—no variations are allowed.