Each year there are tens of thousands of burglaries and bank robberies around the globe, including at least 4,000 a year in the United States alone. While the majority of these thefts end with a relatively small haul, sometimes the perpetrators strike it rich. In this article, I look at some of the biggest robberies of all time; not all of the thieves were caught either.
1 – The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery in 1990 ($500 Million)
This is the largest art heist of all time. It occurred in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990. A total of 13 pieces of art, valued at $500 million, were stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston. Frustratingly for detectives, no one has ever been convicted of the crime, and none of the pieces have been recovered.
In what was a devilishly simple theft, two men disguised as police officers approached the museum’s security guard, Rick Abath, and said they had received a call about a disturbance. Abath was not a professional security guard (he was a musician), and he broke the rules by allowing the men inside. They quickly disarmed Abath and the other guard in the building and handcuffed them. The two thieves took approximately 81 minutes to steal the artwork which included masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Degas. Vermeer’s ‘The Concert’ was the most valuable stolen piece, valued at $200 million.
The FBI has taken control of the investigation and Anthony Amore, the current director of security at the museum, expressed his exasperation at the crime. Amore angrily states that the theft wasn’t elaborate in the slightest, because if Abath had followed protocol and phoned the police, the fake cops wouldn’t have entered the building. In his opinion, it was a poorly thought-out plan that got lucky.
The police have yet to find conclusive evidence of the perpetrators, although gangster Bobby Donati is a prime suspect. According to Myles J. Connor, Jr., one of the greatest art thieves of all-time, he cased the museum with Donati in the 1980s and believes his former acquaintance was the mastermind behind the crime. Before the robbery, witnesses at a night club claim they saw Donati with a sack of police uniforms.
Another gangster, Robert Gentile, is believed to know the whereabouts of the paintings as police found a handwritten list of the stolen collection. In 2015, he was recorded telling an undercover FBI agent that he knew the location of two of the pieces, and could sell them for half a million dollars apiece. However, those believed to be involved are either dead or are in prison, and appear reluctant to talk, so we may never find out who perpetrated the heist, or the fate of the paintings.