March 18, 1990 | Missing Masterpieces


“The successful return of the paintings to the Gardner Museum would be the final chapter in one of the most significant art theft cases in the FBI’s history. And it is a result we would all welcome—seeing these paintings returned to their rightful home”

—FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, thirteen masterpieces were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, worth approximately $500 million. Two thieves dressed as Boston police officers gained access to the Museum by telling a guard they were responding to a disturbance call. The fake officers then demanded the guard recall his partner to the desk, where the guards were restrained in handcuffs. When a guard asked why they were being arrested one of thieves said, “You’re not being arrested. This is a robbery.”

The guards’ faces were covered with duct tape and they were placed in the museum’s basement. The thieves then began pulling masterpieces off the wall, cutting two painting out of their frames, and grabbing a small Chinese beaker and a bronze eagle finial. In total they spent eighty-one minutes in the museum and made two trips to their vehicle before leaving. The theft wasn’t discovered until the morning when another guard arrived for his shift.

The FBI took the lead in the investigation tracking information around the world, but the masterpieces remained hidden. In 2013, federal officials announced they knew the identities of the thieves, but both were deceased and the masterpieces were last seen in Philadelphia. In 2015, the FBI released a security video from the day before the heist and asked the public for help identifying a mystery man recorded. The theft remains the biggest unsolved art heist in U.S. history and all thirteen masterpieces remain missing.