CULTURE & ARTS

$500 Million Worth Of Art Went Missing 25 Years Ago, And We Still Don't Know Where It Is

Was a stoner security guard behind the biggest museum art heist in American history?

On the morning of March 18, 1990, a 23-year-old security guard named Richard Abath was keeping watch over Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Around 1 a.m. that day, he made what looked like an innocent yet serious error, allowing two thieves posing as policemen to enter the premises and subsequently steal 13 artworks worth $500 million, including works by Vermeer, Degas and Rembrandt.

It was the largest museum heist in American history. 

When the real Boston police eventually showed up, they found Abath and a fellow guard bound and blindfolded in the museum’s basement. After cooperating with the police investigations and agreeing to two lie detector tests, the young man was deemed blameless in his mistake. Now, at 49, he works as a teacher’s aide in Brattleboro, Vermont. 

However, a recently released surveillance tape from March 17, 1990, the day before the heist, is raising some doubt regarding Abath’s innocence. The grainy, six-minute tape captures Abath letting an unknown man into the museum, through the very entrance the thieves allegedly used the next day. 

In a statement released with the video, officials with the United States Attorney’s office in Massachusetts did not identify Mr. Abath, nor did they outwardly suggest the video tape in some way implicates his involvement. However, in all of his interviews with police Abath never mentioned this March 17 visitor, and allowing him in was, according to the statement, “against museum policy.”

It’s very troubling, “Anthony M. Amore, current director of security at the museum told The New York Times. “This video raises more questions than it answers.”

The video was released 25 years after the heist in the hopes it could somehow help identify the unwarranted museum visitor. Authorities have apparently had the tape since the beginning of the investigation, though they may not have viewed it before 2013, when the case was assigned to a new prosecutor. 

It remains unclear whether Abath will be investigated again. The motivation behind the video’s release is all the more unclear considering the FBI’s belief that the two men long suspected of executing the heist are now dead.

Nonetheless, quite a lot of art remains on the loose. And for anyone who knows anything, the prize is tempting. The museum is offering a cool $5 million reward for any information that leads to the return of the works in good condition.

Two years ago, the FBI and art recovery experts were optimistic about the works’ healthy return. “A quarter of a century is not that unusual for stolen paintings to be returned,” Christopher Marinello, general counsel for The Art Loss Register, told the Associated Press. “Eventually they will resurface. Somebody will rat somebody else out. It’s really only a matter of time.”

“I was just this hippie guy who was not hurting anything, was not on anybody’s radar,” Abath, a Berklee College of Music dropout who often showed up stoned to shifts at the museum, said in an interview with NPR earlier this year. “And the next day, I was on everybody’s radar for the largest art heist in history. “

If he’s guilty, one thing is for sure; it will not be long before Jesse Eisenberg will be playing Abath in the Hollywood retelling in a theater near you. 

 

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