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After 32 years, why has the world’s greatest art heist never been solved?

Thirteen works from a Boston museum are still missing—and the thieves, if alive, are still free

BOSTON — Steve Kurkjian, now retired after forty years as an award-winning reporter with the Boston Globe, was born and raised in the city. 

He attended Boston Latin School just a couple of blocks away from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where his father, an artist, took great pleasure in wandering through the galleries, studying the works of the masters. Two of his cousins often gave piano recitals in the museum.

For him, it wasn’t just a world-class arts institution — it was part of the neighborhood. “I felt so at home at the Gardner,” Kurkjian wrote, “that I immediately bonded with an informant — a mobster — over our mutual love of the museum,” Kurkjian said. 

Kurkjian, in short, was intimately familiar with the Gardner long before it became notorious for the most significant art heist in history. At 1:20 a.m. on March 18, 1990, two men dressed in Boston police uniforms entered the museum and stole thirteen works of art, including pieces by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Vermeer. 

Less than 90 minutes later, the thieves slipped out of the building and disappeared into the night. Since then, there has never been a definitive sighting of even one of the stolen paintings.

Kurkjian told the crime story and the long but unsuccessful effort to solve it in his book, “Master Thieves.” 

When he sat down with 207 last week on a park bench across the street from the Gardner, the author talked about a few basic questions: Why have investigators never cracked the case? Will the art ever be recovered? What’s the possible Maine connection to the heist?

And one more: Will the case ever be solved? 

“My hope is yes,” Kurkjian said with an audible sigh. “But I think there has to be some changes, some outreach to the public. I don’t think it’s going to be solved with an investigative ‘Eureka!’” 

The investigation is described as “active and ongoing.”

One of the many intriguing aspects of the story is that the vast reward the Gardner has long offered for information leading to the return of the art — it started at $1 million and is now up to $10 million — has produced no actionable leads. 

One would think that kind of money would prompt someone to talk. The author shook his head. 

“If money could get this thing solved,” he said flatly, “It would have been solved.”

Rob discussed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist on Tegna's True Crime Podcast.  You can listen here.

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