The Gardner Heist
The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft
By Ulrich Boser
(Smithsonian, Hardcover, 9780061451836, 272pp.)
Publication Date: March 2009
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One museum, two thieves, and the Boston underworld—the story behind the lost Gardner masterpieces and the art detective who swore to get them back
Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5-million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth a total of $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and one of the nation's most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.
Art detective Harold Smith worked on the theft for years, and after his death, reporter Ulrich Boser inherited his case files. Traveling deep into the art underworld, Boser explores Smith's unfinished leads and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including the brilliant rock 'n' roll art thief; the golden-boy gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse; the deadly mobster James "Whitey" Bulger; and the Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner, who stipulated in her will that nothing should ever be changed in her museum, a provision followed so closely that the empty frames of the stolen works still hang on the walls. Boser eventually cracks one of the biggest mysteries of the case and uncovers the identities of the men who robbed the museum nearly two decades ago. A tale of art and greed, of obsession and loss, The Gardner Heist is as compelling as the stolen masterpieces themselves.
Ulrich Boser has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Smithsonian magazine, Slate, and many other publications. He has served as a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report and is the founding editor of The Open Case, a crime magazine and web community. He lives in Washington, D.C.
“Boser has produced a captivating portrait of the world’s biggest unsolved art theft.”
-Wall Street Journal
“A vivid portrait of the high-stakes world of art crime.”
“Ulrich Boser presents his solution to the [Gardner] mystery.”
“Boser cracks the cold case of the art world’s greatest unsolved mystery.”
“In The Gardner Heist, author Ulrich Boser offers a tantalizing whodunit as he embarks on an exhaustive search for the stolen masterpieces.”
“The book is a thrill.”
“Now we read this. It looks like the largest theft since the Devil Rays took what should have been the Red Sox’s 2008 American League championship. I don’t know if those paintings ended up on eBay, but I do know they’re not onmy walls.”
-Senator John Kerry
“Boser’s rousing account of his years spent collecting clues large and smallis entertaining enough to make readers almost forget that, after 18 years,the paintings have still not been found.”
“Boser poetically contrasts the burning, almost unnatural desire art loversfeel for paintings with the cold reality that art theft is one of the easiestand most lucrative types of crime.”
“Artfully done... Grade: A Minus.”
“Boser’s book on it has the feel of a speedy ride down a mountain road spiked with hairpin turns.
-Christian Science Monitor