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World’s biggest art heist, 25 years later

David Gura Mar 18, 2015
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On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers stole 13 pieces of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston.

They took rare Rembrandts, a Vermeer, and works by Manet and Degas. All together, the stolen art was worth about $500 million. According to the FBI, it was the largest property crime in U.S. history.  A few days after the incident, the Gardner Museum’s president and director said, “It is as if there’d been a death in the family.”

A quarter-century later, the case remains unsolved. Kelly Crow covers art for The Wall Street Journal. She says the heist changed the art world. 

“I think both museums and private collectors got a wake-up call,” Crow tells Marketplace’s David Gura. “Museums have gone back and taken a much tougher look at their protocols.”

For example, the security guard on duty that night had only one alarm he could trigger at his post. And when the guard was lured away, there was no way for him to signal for help.

Crow says, even after all these years, the stolen art leaves gaping holes in the museum. Isabella Stewart Gardner hadn’t wanted any of the pieces moved. So all that hangs in the place of the stolen masterpieces are empty frames.

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