The Gardner Heist

One museum, two thieves, 13 works of art. Reward money? $5 million. Getting the art back: priceless.

The Gardner Heist

Chez Tortoni, by Eduard Manet. Stolen from the Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990.

Famed nineteenth-century arts patron Isabella Gardner was a woman who knew what she wanted—in life and in death. Before she passed away in 1924, she stipulated in her will that nothing in the museum she created should ever be significantly altered. True to her intent, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remained largely unchanged for 66 years, until a fateful night in March 1990 when a pair of thieves swiped more than a dozen pieces from her collection, leaving empty picture frames where world-famous masterpieces were once displayed.

Nineteen years later, the case remains unsolved and the stolen art remains missing, much to the chagrin of the museum’s directors, who are offering a reward of $5 million for information leading to the return of the works. In the meantime, author Ulrich Boser has published a new book titled “The Gardner Heist” (Smithsonian Books), in which he reveals evidence that a Boston mobster named David Turner was one of the men responsible for the theft. Earlier this week, Failure took the opportunity to interview Boser about the crime and his new revelations.

How did you become interested in the Gardner heist?
I wrote a story for U.S. News and World Report about an art detective named Harold Smith—one of the world’s most famous art detectives. He had recovered lost Renoirs, exposed forged Da Vincis, and tracked down stolen Matisses. At the time of my article, he had been working very hard on the Gardner case—hunting down leads for years—all the while suffering from a terrible case of skin cancer. When I met him, he had an eye patch and a prosthetic nose; he was literally falling apart. After he passed away, I decided to pick up where he left off and work the case.

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