A Tantalizing Clue Emerges in the Unsolved Gardner Museum Art Heist

Boston police officers tell local media that the 1991 murder of Jimmy Marks might be linked to modern history’s biggest art heist

Empty gilded frames loom over chairs at the museum
Empty frames at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are a tangible reminder of the 1990 theft.  Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Authorities say new information on a 1991 cold case murder has provided fresh clues that may lead to the culprits behind the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist, reports Bob Ward for Boston 25 News.

The 1990 theft was the biggest art heist in modern history. On the night of March 18, two thieves dressed as policemen walked into the poorly secured Boston museum after midnight. After duct-taping two hapless security guards, the men escaped with 13 paintings valued today at some $500 million dollars, including priceless works by Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer.

Over the years, investigators have established several likely suspects that may have been involved in the crime. Yet despite a Netflix television series, a hit investigative podcast from the Globe and WBUR and a $10 million reward promised by the FBI, the location of the stolen paintings themselves remains a mystery. “The FBI said it believed the artwork was moved through organized crime circles to Philadelphia, where the trail went cold around 2003,” reported Shelley Murphy of the Boston Globe last fall.

Now authorities might be one step closer to solving it. Anthony Amore, chief of security for the Gardner museum, tells Boston 25 News that a recent tipster prompted officials to take another look at the murder of career criminal Jimmy Marks, a known career criminal, because the killing may have possible links to the heist.

A young girl sits at a piano and practices in a stately room with black and white checked floor and canvases on the walls
Johannes Vermeer, The Concert, circa 1664, is one of the missing works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

On a February evening 11 months after the heist, Marks was gunned down while unlocking the front door to his apartment in the Boston suburb of Lynn, Massachusetts. The killer had unscrewed the lightbulb over the door to ensure that the victim wouldn’t see what was coming, “making Marks the victim of a classic mob-style hit,” reports Boston 25 News.

The assailant shot Marks twice in the back of the head and fled the scene. The crime remains unsolved.

According to the tip Amore received, just days before he died, Marks was reportedly heard bragging about possessing two of the stolen paintings and that he had hidden some of the stolen artworks, reports Edmund H. Mahony for the Boston Herald.

What’s more, “[Marks] had connections to subjects suspected of being involved in the Gardner museum heist,” Lynn deputy police chief Mark O’Toole tells Shelley Murphy, reporting this month for the Boston Globe. “We don’t know what, if any, role he had,” O’Toole cautions. “But very likely it was related” to his death, the official says.

Amore tells 25 News that Marks was friendly with a fellow mafia man, the late Robert “Bobby” Gaurente, who has long been a prime suspect in the heist case, and his family. Gaurente and his friend Bobby Donati might have helped to transport some of the stolen paintings from Boston to Connecticut and eventually Philadelphia. 

A poster with a red banner on top reads SEEKING INFORMATION BY THE FBI, with a reproduction of a painting of a ship in stormy waters
An FBI poster from 2013 depicts The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt's only seascape and one of the works stolen by thieves in 1990 and never recovered. (Note that the offered reward has since been raised to $10 million.)  Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Marks spent time in prison for a bank robbery in the 1960s, per the Boston Globe. As a drug dealer with many connections among the Boston criminal elite, Marks also spent a significant amount of time at the home of the Guarentes in Maine, Amore tells 25 News.

Marks’ niece, Darlene Finnigan, who was 26 at the time of the murder, tells the Globe that shortly before his death, Marks told her that he “had something big coming up and he wasn’t sure if he was going to do it.” At the time, Finnigan had assumed Marks was referring to selling cocaine.

Another connection between Marks and the theft emerged in 2015, when Elene Gaurente—Bobby’s widow—pointed to a picture of Marks during an interview with investigators and declared that her husband had killed him. (Bobby Guarente died in 2004 and Elene died in 2018.)

“She was very emotional when she talked about the fact that he had been killed by her late husband,” Amore, who participated in the interviews, tells Boston 25 News. 

Amore brought these findings to the media with the hopes that renewed press attention might yield more clues, he says. Those who might have information about the circumstances of Marks’ death or the fate of the Gardner paintings in general can contact the museum’s tip line at [email protected].