It took just 81 minutes for a pair of thieves targeting Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to abscond with 13 works of art collectively valued at more than $500 million. But nearly 30 years after the daring March 18, 1990, heist, the frames that once held such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” and Vermeer’s “The Concert” stand empty, and the case remains unsolved.
Theories surrounding the missing works abound—as the Boston Globe’s Shelley Murphy and Stephen Kurkjian wrote in 2017, commonly cited suspects include the local mob, the 23-year-old security guard who buzzed the thieves, masquerading as police officers, into the building, and even Mafia boss James “Whitey” Bulger—but no arrests have ever been made.
Now, Edmund H. Mahony reports for the Hartford Courant, an octogenarian mobster who authorities say could be the last living link to the heist is set to be released from prison after serving 54 months on an unrelated firearms charge.
Robert Gentile, 82, first found himself under investigators' scrutiny in 2010, when the widow of another Boston gangster, Robert Guarente, told agents she witnessed her husband handing him two of the stolen paintings outside of a Portland, Maine, hotel a decade or so earlier.
A bevy of evidence tying Gentile with the theft has surfaced since this initial accusation. As Mahony notes, investigators highlight telling testimony from mob associates, a polygraph test that signaled a 99.9 percent probability Gentile was lying about his connection to the theft, and a list of stolen works’ black market price points that was found during a 2012 search of the mobster’s home.
Speaking with the Hartford Courant in 2016, longtime associate Sebastian Mozzicato posited that Gentile had enjoyed access to the works beginning in the late 1990s, when his Boston gang purportedly wrested control of the trove from the original thieves. (As Colin Moynihan observes for The New York Times, the F.B.I. made a 2013 announcement stating its agents had identified the thieves but would not reveal their names, as the two individuals in question were no longer alive.) Working with the F.B.I., Mozzicato and his cousin managed to record Gentile discussing the possible sale of several stolen paintings. The sting failed, however, after the mobster grew suspicious of his colleagues-turned-informants.
Gentile has long maintained his innocence, describing the string of weapons charges leveled against him in recent years as an F.B.I. ploy designed to coerce him into revealing non-existent knowledge of the stolen works’ location. In a 2015 statement to the court, Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, argued that his client was guilty of nothing more than being a “braggadocio” with a need for attention. Expanding on this idea in a 2016 court filing, McGuigan said Gentile was running a “scam for all it was worth in hopes of getting some quick cash" and "proceeded to lead his merry band of informers and double agents on a merry hunt."
Gentile’s current prison stay stems from a February 2018 trial, Mahony writes in a separate Hartford Courant piece. At the time, a judge sentenced Gentile to 54 months for selling a pistol to a known killer who had reportedly set out to “clip that fellow in Maine.” According to a 2016 Hartford Courant report, the individual in question was acting as a confidential informant for agents working on the Gardner investigation.
Accounting for the 35 months the mobster served while awaiting trial, as well as time subtracted for good behavior, Gentile’s impending release marks the completion of this sentence. It remains unclear whether the wheelchair-bound, consistently ailing octogenarian will be permitted to return to his Manchester, Connecticut, home, which investigators have thoroughly searched on four previous occasions. (A 2012 search yielded police hats, badges, $20,000 in cash, a sizable weapons horde and the list of stolen works’ potential selling prices, but as Mahony reports, the F.B.I. found no trace of the missing art.)
In May 2017, the Gardner Museum doubled the reward for information leading to the 13 items’ return, raising the stakes from $5 million to $10 million. At the time, NPR’s Camila Domonoske explains, the Boston institution said it would require interested parties to cash in on the prize by January 1, 2018.
As Anthony Amore, head of security at the museum, told NPR ahead of the New Year’s Day deadline, “I am focused like a laser beam on one thing and that is recovering our stolen art and putting it back on the walls here at the museum, where it belongs.”
More than a year later, the reward remains fixed at $10 million, and the frames still stand empty. It remains to be seen whether Gentile’s return to society will help investigators restore the missing works to their rightful place or mark yet another frustrating chapter in the decades-long saga of one of art history’s greatest mysteries.