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Making Tracks

On the trail of art thieves and elusive elephants

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It's the biggest art heist of modern times and it remains tantalizingly unsolved, with enough red herrings to start a cannery," says Robert Poole, author of " Isabella Stewart Gardner, to thieves disguised as cops, a Boston gangster, a failed priest considered the world's best art detective and an erudite crook who earned his MENSA papers behind bars."

As for who stole the paintings from Boston's Gardner Museum, Poole buys into most of the scenario advanced by British detective Charles Hill; you'll have to read the article to find out what it is.

Photographer Carlton Ward Jr. photographed the rare nomadic pachyderms for our story " Sahel, where temperatures soared above 120 degrees in the shade, was hard enough," he says.

"Photographing an elusive herd that moved mostly at night often seemed impossible. One time I followed their tracks for a week just to get a fleeting glance of them crossing the desert at dusk. Because getting close to the elephants was so difficult, I employed a camera trap. An infrared beam forms an electronic tripwire which triggers a camera and pair of strobe flashes. For the [subscriber] cover photograph, I set the trap in open desert near where I had previously seen the animals emerge from the forest for their nightly journey to water. I was a few hundred yards away watching with binoculars when the elephants tripped it. I saw the flashes, but I did not see the photo until I returned to the U.S. a month later. For the same perspective with a camera in hand, the elephants would probably have avoided me, and if they didn't, when the flash went off my life would have been in serious danger."

 

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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