FBI may have IDs in 1990 art heist

The painting “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” by Rembrandt, one of more than a dozen works of art stolen by burglars in the early hours of March 18, 1990, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The FBI said Monday it believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole the art. Enlarge photo

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum/Associated Press

The painting “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” by Rembrandt, one of more than a dozen works of art stolen by burglars in the early hours of March 18, 1990, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The FBI said Monday it believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole the art.

BOSTON – The FBI believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole art valued at up to $500 million from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum more than two decades ago.

Richard DesLauriers, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Boston, said the thieves belong to a criminal organization based in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. He said authorities believe the art was taken to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region in the years after the theft, and offered for sale in Philadelphia about a decade ago.

The FBI has a new website aimed at getting help cracking the case at www.FBI.gov/gardner. In a video, DesLauriers says the statute of limitations has passed for the crime of art theft and authorities are focused on recovering the art.

He calls the heist one of the largest art thefts in U.S. history.

The theft happened when two people posing as police officers fooled security guards into believing they were there for a legitimate reason before locking the guards in the museum’s basement and making off with the stolen objects, FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly said in another of the website’s videos.

He said the FBI has tracked leads into Europe and Asia during a more than two-decade investigation into the March 18, 1990 crime.

Kelly said authorities realize that, after so many years, the art could be in the hands of people who had nothing to do with the crime and may not even know the objects were stolen.

Among the art stolen was Vermeer’s “The Concert,” one of only 36 paintings by the artist that are in existence, and two Rembrandt oil paintings, including the artist’s only known seascape.

The thieves also made off with a number of Degas sketches.

There’s a $5 million reward in the case.

Manet’s painting “Chez Tortoni” was one of more than a dozen works of art stolen in the early hours of March 18, 1990 from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Enlarge photo

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum/Associated Press

Manet’s painting “Chez Tortoni” was one of more than a dozen works of art stolen in the early hours of March 18, 1990 from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

A security guard stands outside the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 21, 1990, where robbers stole more than a dozen works of art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet and others, in an early morning robbery March 18, 1990. The FBI said Monday it believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole the art. Enlarge photo

Associated Press/File photo

A security guard stands outside the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 21, 1990, where robbers stole more than a dozen works of art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet and others, in an early morning robbery March 18, 1990. The FBI said Monday it believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole the art.

Empty frames from which thieves took Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” left background, and “The Concert,” right foreground, by Vermeer, remain on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston 23 years after they were stolen. Enlarge photo

Josh Reynolds/Associated Press

Empty frames from which thieves took Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” left background, and “The Concert,” right foreground, by Vermeer, remain on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston 23 years after they were stolen.

The etching “Self-Portrait,” by Rembrandt, one of more than a dozen works of art stolen by burglars in the early hours of March 18, 1990. Enlarge photo

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum/Associated Press

The etching “Self-Portrait,” by Rembrandt, one of more than a dozen works of art stolen by burglars in the early hours of March 18, 1990.