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ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In 1990, two thieves stole 13 irreplaceable artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. We take a closer look what happened that night.
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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00last seen is supported by AT T. AT T. presents lockout service home automation's that lock your doors close the garage and arm your security system to help keep you safe visit AT T. dot com slash podcast to learn more about how ADD can design and install your custom
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00:00:35original Sam Adams Boston lager Boston beer company Boston mass they responsibly from the W. B. you are in the Boston globe this is last seen a podcast that investigates the largest unsolved art heist in history a strange place many people come up here you might have the doctor
00:01:07a lot more in the attic it's non seasonally warm October day in Boston the attic at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is stuffy and dimly lit enter the MRI the museums head of security has something he wants me to see we're gonna go around this corner here at
00:01:31six to a more I have to walk doubled over beneath the slanted eve's we are high above galleries once ransacked by thieves in a daring overnight robbery almost thirty years ago the attic space is dominated by a massive H. back system it's Humm proof that it's working to
00:01:50keep treasures of the floors below at just the right temperature and humidity level almost there we step out of the little amber light into much cooler air and quiet I think this is what a moray is taking me to see a storeroom of the some two is textiles
00:02:12used on furniture and walls throughout the garden museum but that's not why we're here in the back of the room in a space barely wide enough to accommodate us both amore puts his cell phones flashlight on and pulls a plastic cover off something big %HESITATION well this is
00:02:34looking at the rosewood stretcher that held storms C. of gallery which you're looking at here is Rembrandt I said this is what was left behind after the thieves slashed storm on the sea of Galilee from the frame it is when the thieves slashed Christ in the storm in
00:03:00the sea of Galilee from its frame with something razor sharp like a box cutter they left behind the edge of the painted canvas attached to the structure underneath it was Rembrandt's only seascape in it Jesus serene rises to calm the raging sea aboard a fishing boat that is
00:03:21being battered in a mighty kale alongside Christ's apostles is the face we recognize it's Rembrandt gazing out at in a letter dated August thirtieth eighteen ninety eight to her Florence based art dealer Isabella Stewart Gardner wrote your description of the C. picture makes me fairly ache for it
00:03:48I think I know what she means I've only seen copies of the painting but even those capture human frailty and the fury of the ocean I can't imagine what it would feel like to stand before the original but here I am with the stretcher that once held it
00:04:08it comes up to my shoulders at five feet three inches high and it's four feet two inches across I was enormous yeah you can see why they would have been able to take it with them no it wouldn't have been something you could carry out but there's the
00:04:23that is tanks that Rembrandt put their what a thing to see it kind of takes a breath away in addition to that remnant of Rembrandt that the thieves left behind they also left a clue about how they stole the prices painting if you look closely he could see
00:04:43the cut into the into the structure you see that out they were pressing hard yeah with something extremely sharp because it's a very clean cut right well it's a crime scene really making them the chalk sign of the body exact order scene it's a victim it is it's
00:05:03it's a victim I don't know why but it makes me feel very queasy to look at his does he I I get the same feeling every time I look at you get so much to it **** its Rembrandts so you're in the presence of greatness right put you're
00:05:16in the presence of of of history to Mrs Sarah the structure that held when mistrial things that was ever stolen why am I this close to something Rembrandt had I'm from Providence there is no remembrance if it's just the are inspiring thing mechanic in the back because this
00:05:38is torture you must feel like why why did I get stuck with this you know why because it's look at it right you understand I can never walk away from this from WBUR Boston and The Boston Globe this is last seen I'm Kelly horn and I'm Jack readily
00:06:14go for the last year and a half we've been investigating the holy grail of our crime the still unsolved robbery of thirteen art works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum it remains the world's greatest art heist with the hall value today that half a billion dollars we've gone
00:06:33behind the scenes of the investigation with the garden museums lead investigator and we've tracked down sources who have never before spoken publicly about what they know we worked closely with the Boston globe's Steve correction who's covered the gardener heist for more than two decades and we've gotten our
00:06:51hands on letters and a private diary secret recordings and police reports that have never before been given a public airing we've mind all of it in search of new insights into this whole case because after twenty eight and a half years without one arrest or a single recovery
00:07:09of any of the stolen art we wanted to know why hasn't this case been solved and all these years later with suspects dead or dying and memories fading cannot be solved each of the thirteen pieces stolen on March eighteenth nineteen ninety was last seen on the walls and
00:07:43in the galleries of the garden museum picture a four story fifteenth century Venetian palace that's been dropped into a leafy Boston neighborhood in Venice the view through gothic arched windows would be outward at the grand canal at the gardener the stunning views in word of a courtyard last
00:08:03with flowers palm trees and ferns this palace museum was created at the turn of the twentieth century by the red Sox loving convention flouting five foot two wish force of nature Isabella Stewart Gardner this is Jackie she was known shunned interviews but she loved making headlines she had
00:08:24her detractors but her admirers shouted the loudest an item in a Boston newspaper in eighteen seventy five referred to Mrs Jack as quote one of the seven wonders of Boston there is nobody like her in any city in this country everything she does is novel and original she's
00:08:42as brilliant as her own diamonds and is as attractive all busting is divided into two parts of which one follow science and the other Mrs Jack Gardner when that was written about her she was only thirty five years old it would be another decade before she would make
00:09:05her mark as a serious art collector when she inherited a fortune after her father died in the meantime she was an avid collector of fascinating people many were young beautiful creative man and she was a philanthropic force in a city that was becoming the Boston that we know
00:09:23today but art was to be her driving passion toward the end of her life Gardner wrote to a friend years ago I decided that the greatest need in our country was art and so that is what she laughed and among the artists that you gave us with the
00:09:40big man on campus Rembrandt for me here man a to god and the thieves went straight for them Rembrandt's only seascape one of only thirty five or so for me years and known to exist not one of the stolen works has come back not even after the museum
00:09:58doubled the reward from five to ten million dollars not the bronze eagle finial that sat on top of a silk Napoleonic flag and not the oldest piece taken a twelfth century Chinese bronze coup or beaker all thirteen art works gone along with the thieves nothing about what went
00:10:19down in the early morning hours after Saint Patrick's day on March eighteenth nineteen ninety fits the Hollywood fuel the mind's eye notion of a museum heist there were no cat suited burglars repelling from the ceiling and snaking under laser beams there was no elegant art loving Zillionaire who
00:10:35commissioned the theft so that he alone could enjoy the art from inside his fortified layer in some exotic far flung locales there was nothing elegant %HESITATION aren't having about the garden heist at all in the early hours of March eighteenth nineteen ninety the city of Boston was still
00:11:07celebrating Saint Patrick's day hang overs would be widespread come daybreak so would news at the city's most unusual museum had been the victim of a daring overnight robbery good evening I'm Casey Kaufman and here's what's happening a priceless collection of artwork was stolen early this morning from Boston
00:11:27Isabella Stewart Gardner museum it was one AM Saturday the two men posing as uniformed policemen fooled security guards here by claiming to be investigating a disturbance initial estimates put the value of the stolen work said at least two hundred million dollars million dollars eighty seven year old Gardner
00:11:43museum is considered one of the finest small art museums in the country officials say the museum's elaborate surveillance system made no different museum officials today said it was the largest art heist in history despite the confidence of museum officials at the precious art works will be recovered experts
00:11:59say they could disappear for years perhaps forever Brad Willis TV for I witness news the thieves who pulled off the greatest art heist in history had a pretty simple plan they dressed up in cop uniforms and rang the bell it was one twenty four in the morning and
00:12:17the thieves approach the palace road entrance of the Gardner museum there been a keg party nearby a few revelers were still on the streets and the fake cops told the museum guard on duty that they were responding to a disturbance it seemed plausible maybe some drunk kid had
00:12:33gotten up to some mischief after all earlier in the evening the guards rounds had been interrupted by a fire alarm blaring from the museum's carriage house outside it really spooked him maybe that's why the cops a calm and so he buys them into the museum that guard was
00:12:48recap as they came in and they turned so I could see that I could see that they had hats coats badges that look like up so I assume the rest no end of music Steve Kerr ten and Rick I haven't talked about that night at an Indian restaurant
00:13:02in two thousand thirteen the first question was as anybody else right right set my partner okay getting down we are devoting our entire second episode to recap S. you'll be hearing a lot from him then so here we are going to let you hear from the other guard
00:13:19who was on duty that night the one that Abbas called back to the security desk this is the first time that former guard has ever spoken publicly about his experience wondering if they might just a come up behind my head with a gun with a silencer and just
00:13:37you know do it real quickly it was a terrifying night and all these years later he'd still rather we not use his full name his first name now is Randy in nineteen ninety Randy had a passion for symphonic music the moody blues and the trombone he still place
00:13:54makes a living at it mostly in house bands on cruise ships but back then Randy had recently earned a master's in performance from the New England conservatory of music he's trying to land gigs and make ends meet but I always had to have some kind of a day
00:14:08job kind of thing to supplement the income make sure the bills get paid and so forth Randy knew a couple of people who worked at the gardener and that's how we landed his security job there it wasn't something that required you to have any kind of special skills
00:14:22in others I remember being trained to if any people were getting real close to a painting and we were told to get them to stand back a little bit and don't get so close a few months into his job Randy began filling in on the overnight shift the
00:14:37pay was better eleven dollars an hour versus seven or eight Bucks for the daytime shift at night time when there are no visitors when you're not doing around you can bring stuff to read I could bring my horn in practice I was always happy to say yes to
00:14:53filling and Randy doesn't recall any special training or specific instructions for the night shift beyond the requirement that the register his presence in each of the galleries on all the floors during his rounds he did this by swiping a magnetic strip he wasn't originally on the schedule to
00:15:10work the overnight after Saint Patrick's day Randy was filling in for another guard who had reportedly called in sick abit had told him about the carriage house alarm but he hadn't thought much of it until he saw the two police officers talking to Abbott at the watch desk
00:15:25it never occurred to me that they might be anything but Boston police I immediately made that connection %HESITATION this might have something to do with that alarm that went off one of the uniformed man said he recognized Abbott and asked to see his ID he said yeah I
00:15:41do know you there's a warrant out for your arrest and he told Rick to stand against the wall %HESITATION put his arms up does the Pat down he puts the cuffs on and I'm just standing there with my job open going while you know he what's going on
00:16:00what did Rick due to see really into some kind of trouble in it's still never occurred to me that they were anything but policemen by stepping out and away from the desk Rick Abbas also stepped away from the sole means of signaling travel to the outside world the
00:16:16museums panic button no sooner was Abbas against a wall and hand cuffed than Randy was too I kept asking him over and over why are we being arrested why are we being arrested and he wouldn't answer so the cops are on my hands are behind my back and
00:16:34then duct tape starts going on around my eyes so about the time that he begins putting the duct tape on he says this is a robbery and so then everything was finally crystal clear what was going on you know it was just really strange none of it made
00:16:53any sense and then suddenly it made a lot of sense I mean it's scary enough to think you're being arrested and not know why what was going through your mind when suddenly duct tape is going around your head it's very scary and I'm worried for my life %HESITATION
00:17:08but they were immediately saying I can remember both of them saying you know follow instructions and you will not get hurt so that gave me some relief and I just felt like okay don't try anything stupid on training stupid go along with whatever they there's nothing here in
00:17:26this museum that is worth my life the thieves round duct tape around Randy and Abbas heads from chain to scalp across their eyes and across our mouths with only a slit so they could brief then stare by stare the robbers led the guards who couldn't see a thing
00:17:42down to the basement one of the thieves used another pair of handcuffs to attach Randy to a drain pipe under a limestone sink near of boiler Randy recalls that that's the full was the comer of the two and weirdly courteous the guy who kept me he was making
00:17:59sure that they weren't too tight on my wrist and he adjusted it several times and he said I you're gonna be here for for a long time so I don't want to be these to be too tight so he was real common real nice about it and he
00:18:14also several times said sorry to have to do this Randy just wanted the guy to get away from him to go do what he had come to do to get out of there were you panicking %HESITATION it was scary and I remember feeling like I needed to prepare
00:18:28myself for death if that if it ended up coming to that what did that mean preparing yourself for death well I was running music through my head a lot just feeling like I don't know what happens to us when we die it's all a mystery but %HESITATION I
00:18:46just felt like my needed to be mentally aired is there a particular piece of music that you ran through your mind definitely I remember one of the pieces the Mozart requiem and it didn't occur to me later that has to do with them this has to do with
00:19:07dead people Randy spent the next eight hours shackled on the basement floor terrified the entire time that the thieves would return to kill him last seen is supported by AT T. AT T. presents lockup service AT T. offers automation's to lock your doors close the garage door and
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00:20:16backed by twenty four seven protection besides the thief's no one knows more about what happened the night of the robbery that Anthony amore does he took the job as a security director at the garden museum fifteen years after the heist he is the beating heart of the investigation
00:20:38organized meticulous Doggett you might even say haunted this case is like the perfect storm for someone like me for telling role in your life you know to %HESITATION have thirteen albatross around your neck forever because I know that if I go to my grave and successful that I'll
00:20:58go to my grave an unhappy person amore has access to the FBI's files and says he talks to the Boston FBI's lead agent on the case every day he has elaborate spreadsheets for cross referencing details about potential suspects any response to every single tap even the patently coupons
00:21:18because you never know the first thing a more I did when he took over the investigation of the heist was plot the thieves movements throughout the museum every time a thief trip the motion sensor a dot matrix printer at the watch desk recorded it and that's when the
00:21:38computer starts reading indicating to a guard at the desk was not there as telling him someone is in the denture investigate immediately applauded every single alarm there were hundreds over a floor plan of the museum the result is a minute by minute power point that shows the thieves
00:21:53moving through the museum N. enough I didn't show this to you and I told you I would spend hours looking at this back and forth you would think that's crazy but when you see it as close as you'll ever get to witnessing the crime cassettes precise exactly how
00:22:09they moved about the museum so it is it's it's hearing aid is hearing and it tells us that after cuffing in blind folding the two security guards in the basement the thieves made their way straight to the Dutch room in the southwest corner of the museum just off
00:22:24the stone steps their case on the second floor the Dutch room is named for its Dutch and Flemish treasures but the room is better known now as one of the scenes of the robbery thank you for my three minutes into the heist the vast majority of our types
00:22:40of overlook that take about three minutes right so it wouldn't surprise me if the staff was over in three minutes but the gardener heist wasn't over in three minutes lives were in the museum for an astonishing eighty one minutes from the moment they were bused in at one
00:22:58twenty four until they left at two forty one and their movements across galleries tell us they were stealing less than half the time around thirty four minutes it's thirty four minutes my **** you could've wiped out galleries thirty four minutes would be one of the longest art heist
00:23:16in history I mean one of the five long to start strip searches that suggest to you amateur now to me confident thieves confident thieves remember they were quick to get Rick Abbas away from the panic button Anthony amore says the thieves had the run of the place and
00:23:38they knew it is we're not scared pranksters right or running around with nervous energy you only have to look at the Rembrandt self portrait etching to know not only were they hurting they were calm because she could just to taking it it's the frame is smaller than eight
00:23:56by ten piece of paper but they stood there in unscrewed the thing methodical is a lot of screws in the back of the frame the thieves lay the Rembrandt etching on a table facedown and removed each screw one by one and while they did that they left behind
00:24:12works of far greater value FIFA standing beneath the ruins paying taking an etching like I would like to have that hedging but this is Rubens masterwork if you looked up he'd see Van **** portrait just cavalierly unscrew this little watching I get all the time in the world
00:24:32and you think though that he %HESITATION he just he wanted a Rembrandt they definitely in my mind came from a from France I think this bears it out and went straight into that room and went right for Rembrandt's they took all foreign prints off the wall son a
00:24:46steak that they went to the touch from and by Rembrandt while he's in per capita per per piece of work in his body of work is the most often stolen artist besides the three Rembrandt's in the Dutch room that the thieves stole they also took Vermeer's the concert
00:25:04a landscape by Hobart flank and that Shang dynasty to decide to seem like a a random grabbed to you what's the significance of the crew it does seem like a random crap it's always been a mystery to me why did they take that and for years I just
00:25:21assumed that it was an afterthought was just there grab it or maybe they knocked it over and pick it up it just took it our gift for your grandmother or something because it looks like a vase but then I came across something really unusual I told me this
00:25:36was not a random piece once he should feel happy faces what Anthony Amari showed me in his office that day totally changed how I thought about that after that piece pulled out a sheet of metal that's about a foot square and just as he said it was really
00:25:55heavy the coup sat on a silk draped table in the Dutch room and it was anchored to that heavy metal through the table cloth so if you played out the crew sitting there thief tries to take it it doesn't come and so you figure they thought that just
00:26:11by cutting the fabric they'd free the %HESITATION but then cut cut cut cut still doesn't come in from the using force hope they pull it off here that's a lot of effort yeah okay so the crew was not a random is not a random grab how someone wanted
00:26:30it that Q. we know from Anthony Morris power point that the thieves along with thirteen irreplaceable artworks were last seen at two forty one AM leaving the museum through the same door they came in the one to palace road the guards in the basement didn't know that son
00:26:50sitting there and it's all quiet and then suddenly I just hear a voice go listen up like that and it made me jump I didn't hear the footsteps coming up to me Randy says the thief had checked on him at least once during the robbery he told Randy
00:27:07quote don't tell nothing if you're good expect a reward in the year any also told Randy something else he said we know where you live we have your driver's license we know where you live so startled by the thief's sudden presence and feeling the weight of that threat
00:27:24Randy says when he heard voices coming from the direction of the guard desk many hours later he didn't dare make a sound I was afraid to call out because I thought it was still thieves and then they if they hear me calling out they might decide this guy's
00:27:41being unruly Lester's Callum or I don't know I didn't want to take that chance last seen is supported by Samuel Adams cures founder Jim cook each fall people can't wait for us to brew our very first batch of Samuel Adams Oktoberfest and neither can we Sam Adams Oktoberfest
00:28:20is everything you love about fall in one set with its unique blend of Carmel roasted malt its sweet smooth and delicious savor this season with the fall favorite Sam Adams Oktoberfest Boston beer company Boston mass saver responsibly around the time the security guards Randy and Rick Abbas were
00:28:44found by police and how I got a call at home she was barely six months into her job as director of the garden museum so I just dropped everything and went into the museum in my blue jeans and %HESITATION %HESITATION and when I got there %HESITATION I was
00:29:03in shock it was every museum directors worst nightmare Holly had needed persuading to take the job in the first place but once in the role she set about trying to reanimate a museum she felt was stopped in time now she was facing the unimaginable it was overwhelming to
00:29:21see what had been done I mean to trash a museum like that it was just like the barbarians had been through I mean to pull frames off the wall and shattered the glass and it was clearly not people that love dark that did that I mean cutting paintings
00:29:41out of frames I mean it sounds unspeakable it's and I I guess I experience this I often think of it's like having a death in the family it's just it's too big to really talk about how he describes the magnitude of the loss this way well I always
00:30:02say for people who find it hard to imagine the enormity of this who maybe are musically oriented %HESITATION theatrically oriented to imagine what if Beethoven's fifth symphony could never be hurt again or what if Louis Armstrong's work could never be hurt again or what if hamlet could never
00:30:25be played again I mean these are works of the civilization that are so important to remove them is to remove a piece of our civilization the last piece of our civilization that cut Holly the depressed the stolen painting that most hunter is the concert by Vermeer Holly who
00:30:46had trained to be a singer says for mere captures an ephemeral moment just write the concert is one of his really great paintings and it depicts three people %HESITATION man and two women making music together and it's beautiful composition of a woman sitting at a harpsichord playing and
00:31:09a lute player with this back to you who has a very mystical appearance and then a woman standing at the harpsichords here this triangulation of the musicians and she's about to break into song and it's just such a meditative quiet beautifully painted picture Biver mayor and having that
00:31:34in Boston was one of Boston's treasures today the concert alone is valued at upwards of two hundred million dollars making it the most valuable piece stolen from the gardener when Isabella Stewart Gardner bought the painting at auction in Paris in eighteen ninety two she outbid the Louvre museum
00:31:55to do so it was her first major triumphs as a private collector but the painting that Gardner considered the cornerstone of her entire collection a large Rembrandt's self portrait that was initially thought to be missing to end the frame was leaning against a chest and %HESITATION it had
00:32:19been said it was gone %HESITATION that they had taken it but when I pulled the frame back it was still in it and I just I mean that was the only relief the only moment of any grace in that room so in all the thieves took six pieces
00:32:41from the doctrine five of them Dutch paintings and that Chinese coup and we know that they took six more pieces from the short gallery that's the narrow slit of a room diagonally opposite the Dutch room on the second floor this room has the feel of a passage way
00:32:57a room you walk through to get to other galleries but the thieves stopped there and took the bronze eagle finial and five day GA sketches which makes twelve pieces in all but thirteen pieces were stolen that thirteenth peace is J. toward Tony by Monday it was in a
00:33:14first floor gallery the blue room there's no alarm in the blue room on the first floor all of the motion sensors from that night were either the the doors when they came in or out or the second floor sooner the tell you as someone who looks at these
00:33:33art heist constantly I can tell you there it looks like two different Crichton's something's not right there's no getting around that if something is not right we look at what was taken from the second floor of the manner in which was taken was taken from the blue room
00:33:51on the first floor it's almost as if for two different heights because the demo is different they're not similar except that they happen the same night is it possible the thieves didn't steal say towards Tony from the blue room and if so who did next time was the
00:34:13gardener heist an inside job I knew what had happened that it was someone from the inside if there's one guy who's footsteps of the only ones picked up in that room that painting was removed from that room earlier than when the burglary occur to see a video recreation
00:34:47of the night of the robbery and view the thirteen stolen pieces go to our website W. B. U. R. dot org slash last seen and come through the archives see the evidence and read twenty eight years of Gardner high supporting at globe dot com slash last seen last
00:35:06seen as a production F. W. B. U. R. Boston and The Boston Globe our consulting producer is Steven Curtis production and sound design by John karate eve the cough is our production assistant additional production by Catherine brewer WVU ours digital team is Amy corral Tiffany Campbell and digo
00:35:26Fujiwara we had help from The Boston Globe Shelley Murphy Brendan McCarthy John to lucky and Jeremih Manion and digital help from heather Cyrus chase in two weeks and Ryan had a editing by Jessica Albert and then Brock Johnson our executive producer is iris Adler I'm senior producer and
00:35:46reporter Kelly horn I'm reporter Jack brutally killed special thanks to Sophie Calle who first used the title last seen at the Gardner museum in nineteen ninety one and %HESITATION granted us permission to use it if you have a tip or thought called our tip line at six one
00:36:03seven nine two nine seven nine nine nine that's six one seven nine two nine seven nine nine nine follow us on Twitter and Instagram at last seen podcast all one word if you haven't already subscribe to our podcast in apple podcast and leave us a review it helps
00:36:22people find the show %HESITATION in their captivity they may dream of rescue but cannot cry for help paint is an art and crackled linen friable the boat chills frozen on the storm's wild wave the concert has halted between two notes an interim sufficiently extended becomes an absence when
00:36:54rising kindly meant guy who will be stored disappeared except this was thrown John Updike

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