Fifteen Years after Heist, Boston Museum Still Searching for Paintings

$300 million in rare art was stolen by men disguised as Boston police officers


BOSTON (AP) - Fifteen years after thieves dressed as Boston police officers stole $300 million in rare art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a museum official is pleading with an anonymous letter-writer for his help in solving the daring crime.

On the night of March 18, 1990, two disguised men entered the Boston museum and stole 13 pieces of artwork, including a Rembrandt painting, in what is believed to be the largest art heist in history.

Gardner offered a $5 million dollar reward for the art's return, but the identity of the thieves and the artwork's whereabouts remain a mystery.

In April 1994, four years after the break-in, the museum received an anonymous letter from someone who said he could arrange for the art to be returned. In exchange, the letter-writer asked for $2.6 million and immunity from prosecution for the thieves.

Although officials haven't heard from the man in a decade, museum director Anne Hawley is urging him to contact the museum again.

"Years ago, I received a lead from a sincere individual giving me information that was comforting and genuine. The person clearly was concerned about the stolen art and knew its condition," Hawley said in a statement.

According to a report in The Boston Globe, the letter-writer had devised an unusual way for Gardner officials to signal they were open to a ransom deal.

The museum arranged to have the Globe insert the numeral "1" in the U.S.-foreign dollar exchange listing for the Italian lira.

A week later, however, the man sent a second letter in which he expresssed alarm at law enforcement's aggressive response to his first letter. That's the last the museum heard from him.

Hawley said the museum "acted in good faith and complied with the first request."

"I'm very much hoping that this person will contact me again by writing or calling, or through our security director," she added.