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Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist

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The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history. In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history. In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and out of date. And now, it seemed, the whole Boston criminal underworld knew it. Nearly a decade passed before the Museum museum was finally hit. But when it finally happened, the theft quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: thirteen works of art valued at up to 500 million, by some of the most famous artists in the world, were taken. The Boston FBI took control of the investigation, but twenty-five years later the case is still unsolved and the artwork is still missing. Stephen Kurkjian, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, has been working this case for over nearly twenty years. In Master Thieves, he sheds new light on some of the Gardner's most abiding mysteries. Why would someone steal these paintings, only to leave them hidden for twenty-five years? And why, if one of the top crime bosses in the city knew about this score in 1981, did the theft happen in 1990? What happened in those intervening years? And what might all this have to do with Boston's notorious gang wars of the 1980s? Kurkjian's reporting is already responsible for some of the biggest breaks in this story, including a meticulous reconstruction of what happened at the Museum museum that fateful night. Now Master Thieves will reveal the identities of those he believes plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI has refused to discuss. Taking you on a journey deep into the gangs of Boston, Kurkjian emerges with the most complete and compelling version of this story ever told.


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The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history. In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and The definitive story of the greatest art theft in history. In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and out of date. And now, it seemed, the whole Boston criminal underworld knew it. Nearly a decade passed before the Museum museum was finally hit. But when it finally happened, the theft quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: thirteen works of art valued at up to 500 million, by some of the most famous artists in the world, were taken. The Boston FBI took control of the investigation, but twenty-five years later the case is still unsolved and the artwork is still missing. Stephen Kurkjian, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, has been working this case for over nearly twenty years. In Master Thieves, he sheds new light on some of the Gardner's most abiding mysteries. Why would someone steal these paintings, only to leave them hidden for twenty-five years? And why, if one of the top crime bosses in the city knew about this score in 1981, did the theft happen in 1990? What happened in those intervening years? And what might all this have to do with Boston's notorious gang wars of the 1980s? Kurkjian's reporting is already responsible for some of the biggest breaks in this story, including a meticulous reconstruction of what happened at the Museum museum that fateful night. Now Master Thieves will reveal the identities of those he believes plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI has refused to discuss. Taking you on a journey deep into the gangs of Boston, Kurkjian emerges with the most complete and compelling version of this story ever told.

30 review for Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    1.5 stars. I am super interested in this story, having lived in Boston and read/seen several other books & movies on the topic. But the writing is so bad that I cannot forgive it. Not only is it incredibly sloppy, but the author contradicts himself and also repeats himself so frequently that I began to suspect that most of this writing began life as separate short pieces that have been strung together with no one bothering to edit the piece as a whole for presentation in long form. I work in pub 1.5 stars. I am super interested in this story, having lived in Boston and read/seen several other books & movies on the topic. But the writing is so bad that I cannot forgive it. Not only is it incredibly sloppy, but the author contradicts himself and also repeats himself so frequently that I began to suspect that most of this writing began life as separate short pieces that have been strung together with no one bothering to edit the piece as a whole for presentation in long form. I work in publishing and have a very good understand of how this happened (basically, the author has a good platform and the topic is sensational enough for some easy marketing + outsourcing and cuts to staffing:books ratio means there is very little editing or supervision of writing). When I realized how consistently terrible the writing and (lack of) editing was, I began to mark them. A few of my favorites, with page numbers from my hardback first printing: -p. 22: There is an ellipses that isn't supposed to be there. It appears to be the kind of (...) that you put in your writing to remind yourself to fill in later. Except by all appearances neither the author, copyeditor, editor, nor anyone ever read the manuscript again to even notice: "the pair made it seem that they were members of an emergency utility crew and set up orange cones around a nearby.... With Devin providing lookout, Royce swung the bucket" and so on. -p. 51: paragraphs are in the wrong order. Yes, I am serious. The thieves are inexplicably, out of nowhere, "frustrated by their failure", but read on and you learn about the attempt in the next paragraph. -p. 176: The author claims "The FBI has committed tremendous manpower and forensic resources to the case" but spends the rest of the book making the opposite claim as to their efforts. -p. 217: The author describes the thieves' disguises as "private security uniforms that could have been bought at any army supply store" and yet in two other locations writes about how the only witnesses to see the uniforms describe them as legit-looking police uniforms, all the way down to the pins and insignia. (Example on p. 44: "they looked to be dressed in police uniforms, right down to the union pins fastened to their shirt collars".)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    I stole—er, borrowed—this from my dad, who borrowed it from the library, because if you know me you know I can’t resist a heist story. Doesn’t matter if it’s movie, book, video game, whatever. Doesn’t matter if it’s a bank heist, an art heist, or even a golf heist. I just love the intricacy of the planning required for such major robberies. I like being walked through the timeline, the details, and seeing what might go wrong. Heists are like the opposite of a mystery novel, because you know the I stole—er, borrowed—this from my dad, who borrowed it from the library, because if you know me you know I can’t resist a heist story. Doesn’t matter if it’s movie, book, video game, whatever. Doesn’t matter if it’s a bank heist, an art heist, or even a golf heist. I just love the intricacy of the planning required for such major robberies. I like being walked through the timeline, the details, and seeing what might go wrong. Heists are like the opposite of a mystery novel, because you know the whole story going into it (and seem to be cheering for the bad guys, unless their heist is presented as somehow noble). In Master Thieves, we don’t actually know who planned and carried off the heist that robbed the Isabella Gardner Museum of several precious works of art. Stephen Kurkjian has some theories formed from years of investigation as a reporter and interviews with experts on art, art theft, and Bostonian crime. But neither he nor the FBI has managed to recover the lost works. I was not familiar with the Gardner heist, but Kurkjian gets us up to speed and then spends most of his time focusing on the fruitless FBI investigation and the various players in the Boston underworld who might have had a stake in robbing the museum. The way Kurkjian presents it, the FBI focused solely on chasing leads—some of which were dubious—whereas his theory has formed from pursuing the motive of the crime. Apparently art theft was a way of copping a deal with the authorities: cut short a prison sentence, and we’ll return this priceless work of art unharmed. Kind of like a less bloody ransom. So Kurkjian believes the Gardner job started as an attempt to get that type of deal for an imprisoned Boston mob honcho—but things went awry, and somewhere along the way the paintings vanished. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that anyone who knew their whereabouts is now dead. For a journalist Kurkjian’s writing leaves something to be desired. Alternatively, perhaps it was just the book’s editing that suffered. Whatever the cause, Master Thieves has some discrepancies that detract from the smoothness of the experience. There are a few areas where it seems that the flow of paragraphs should have been rearranged—things alluded to as if we already knew about them, but then they are introduced in subsequent paragraphs. There is also some duplication across the chapters. Similarly, in later chapters Kurkjian will introduce someone who featured in an earlier chapter as if we had never seen them before. It’s almost as if each chapter was constructed in a self-contained fashion before being welded together into a book. When I wasn’t busy pondering the structure and style of the book, though, the actual information that Kurkjian delivers is interesting. He lays out the relationships among different elements of the Boston underworld. He explains where he found his information, talks about the various interviews he had (or didn’t have), and also gives us a sense of how people’s attitudes changed over time. One thread that runs through the entire book is a sense of regret that the public doesn’t recognize this heist as being more serious than they do. Kurkjian agrees with the museum representatives and others who believe that this art represents an invaluable part of our heritage; he is enthusiastic about the potential for crowdsourcing to track down the missing paintings. I am somewhat sympathetic to this point of view. While it’s true that there are many more serious issues we could spend our energy on, I don’t think that means art heists need to be a low priority. They’re part of our history. And the idea that access to such history might be irrevocably denied because pieces were stolen and then hidden away forever seems odious to me. Kurkjian also places the theft in context. He explains how the museum had extremely poor security leading up to the theft—and how one thief’s observations to this effect might have inspired the theft, albeit years later. Following the theft, the Gardner and numerous other museums had a “wake up call” and finally found the money to renovate. That’s always what it comes down to, of course—money. Kurkjian chronicles the frustration the security directory at the Gardner experienced trying to draw money from the trustees; in parallel, he also points out that his criticism of the FBI investigation is not criticism of the agents but rather the bureaucracy and lack of funding hamstringing the entire case. As someone who has worked at an art gallery that has only minimal security, I could really empathize with this part. Publicly-funded, non-profit institutions have a hard enough time getting money to keep the doors open; renovations and security equipment cost a lot, especially if you have to keep upgrading over the years. Yet what is that cost compared to the loss of important artwork? These are the sorts of equations that don’t often enough make their way into the chequebook. Master Thieves shed light on a heist I hadn’t heard about. It has a fairly broad overview of the context of the theft and its investigation from someone very familiar with the story. Aside from the fact that we don’t know who did it—which the author, admittedly, can’t help—my only real complaint is about the book’s structure and writing. It’s competent, but it doesn’t quite create that romance that always seems to surround heists for me.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matt Towler

    It's most enjoyable when a nonfiction book often reads like a fictional one. This could be made into a fine movie, but it'd probably have a better ending with the artwork actually being recovered...and to date it still hasn't been. I visit the Gardner Museum pretty regularly and they've left the empty frames of the stolen artwork on the walls, waiting for their return. The theft took place a few months before I graduated from the art school that is right next door, so I was well aware of it the It's most enjoyable when a nonfiction book often reads like a fictional one. This could be made into a fine movie, but it'd probably have a better ending with the artwork actually being recovered...and to date it still hasn't been. I visit the Gardner Museum pretty regularly and they've left the empty frames of the stolen artwork on the walls, waiting for their return. The theft took place a few months before I graduated from the art school that is right next door, so I was well aware of it the time, but this book clued me in on the level of criminal gang activity going on in Boston back then that I was completely ignorant of.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    In March of 1990 two men dressed as police officers knocked on the door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. An inexperienced security guard allowed them through the door. The two guards on duty were tied up in the basement and the thieves had free reign in the museum. Forty-five minutes later they existed the museum with thirteen works of art valued at $500 million dollars. This is the largest unsolved art theft in history. Mr. Kurkjian’s book is the latest of many books (both fict In March of 1990 two men dressed as police officers knocked on the door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. An inexperienced security guard allowed them through the door. The two guards on duty were tied up in the basement and the thieves had free reign in the museum. Forty-five minutes later they existed the museum with thirteen works of art valued at $500 million dollars. This is the largest unsolved art theft in history. Mr. Kurkjian’s book is the latest of many books (both fiction and non-fiction) written on the subject over the last 25 years. In “Master Thieves” the reader is updated on the investigation and introduced to the gangs and organized groups in Boston long rumoured to have been involved in the theft. Mr. Kurkjian uses many of the contacts made during his years as a reporter at the Boston Globe to obtain interviews, gather ideas and offer speculation about who might actually have “pulled the heist”. Mr. Kurkjian does not pull any punches when it comes to his criticism of the FBI investigation. He feels that they dropped the ball in more ways than one; turning down help from local law enforcement agencies who may have had better contacts and informants as well as not following up on substantial and very credible leads which they determined “not useful”. Is he correct in his criticism? He makes a strong case. As Mr. Kurkjian points out in his afterward, he did not spend a lot of pages discussing the theft itself because most readers will be familiar with the details. Although he always does draw the reader’s attention back to the Gardner robbery, this is definitely a time line of underworld activity in Boston and surrounding areas from the mid 20th century to the present. Interestingly, Mr. Kurkjian, at the end of the book, offers the reader not only a viable motive behind the crime but also does a little finger pointing in the direction of whom he thinks are the most likely suspects. I have read about and been fascinated by not only the theft but by Isabella Gardner’s life and how the museum came into being so this book was right up my alley of interest. “Master Thieves” is probably not the best book to pick up without at least a little background about the museum and the robbery. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the theft and no one has been arrested nor has anyone had a verifiable sighting of the valuable pieces of art in all that time. It was on my bucket list to see the Gardner Museum and a few years ago I was able to do just that. I found the museum itself rather overwhelming and it truly is a breath stopping moment to walk into the Dutch Room and see the empty frames hanging on the wall. After all the reading, and especially after finishing this book, my personal opinion is that if the paintings have not been destroyed over the past 25 years, they will surface accidentally when all of the key players in the mystery have died and a relative comes across them hidden away in an attic somewhere. If your interest is piqued a little about the Isabella Stewart Gardner robbery this an excellent website to check out http://www.gardnermuseum.org/resource....

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Early March 18, 1990, while revelers continued to celebrate St. Patrick's Day into the wee hours in Boston, two thieves dressed as police officers gained entry into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, easily neutralized the two guards and the practically non-existent security system, and made off with 13 masterpieces valued at nearly half a billion dollars in less that an hour. Yes, billion. Almost 26 years later, speculation remains as to who was responsible for the heist, and to date, not one Early March 18, 1990, while revelers continued to celebrate St. Patrick's Day into the wee hours in Boston, two thieves dressed as police officers gained entry into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, easily neutralized the two guards and the practically non-existent security system, and made off with 13 masterpieces valued at nearly half a billion dollars in less that an hour. Yes, billion. Almost 26 years later, speculation remains as to who was responsible for the heist, and to date, not one of those pieces has been seen or recovered. It remains the largest art heist in history. I have been fascinated with this heist since news first broke the morning following the theft. I initially thought it was only a matter of time before the authorities closed in on the culprits and returned the artwork to its rightful place, but that's yet to happen. It amazes me that with all the FBI agents investigating, and with all the mobsters suspected of being involved, NOTHING concrete has come to light after all this time. I knew that no breakthroughs had been made in recent years, so I wasn't expecting the author to solve this case once and for all, but I thought, having only recently been published, it would be a bit more comprehensive, including all information that had been gathered from the years leading up to the theft to any recent developments that I may have missed, since it's no longer front page news. I love that the author included a brief description of the cast of characters at the beginning of the book, because there are many; yet, it just wasn't enough...I still got confused. Perhaps if they had been presented in a flow chart format, so the reader could easily determine which foot soldier was loyal to which mob boss, that certainly would have helped. What definitely didn't help was the writing style itself. It is a bit repetitive, and the overall style is not very engaging. There is really little background provided and little in terms of distinguishing one mobster from another: when they were in jail, when they were killed, and what any of that had to do with the heist itself. Without a doubt, an in-depth discussion of mob involvement is integral to this theft, but it was impossible to keep all the names and affiliations straight. Perhaps if they had been presented in chapters grouped by mob faction, with the flow chart of names and their bio included at the opening of each chapter, followed by the history of that particular gang, and then delving into their suspected involvement. The way this was presented was not very organized, and while repetitive, the repetition did not help clear up any confusion, so the mobsters and their slayings and criminal enterprises is overwhelming and their relevance to the heist is not always clear. Overall, I was really looking forward to reading this book, but it just wasn't very well organized and ultimately didn't deliver.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    I'm not sure why I'm fascinated by the Gardner heist - maybe it's the simple fact of an unsolved mystery and missing great art. However, I thought Kurkjian was a bit repetitive in his writing, telling the same thing over and over. I think you could read the first chapter, where he describes the theft and then the last one, where he draws his conclusions and you'd pretty much know what was in the entire book. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the book could have been better edited/arrange I'm not sure why I'm fascinated by the Gardner heist - maybe it's the simple fact of an unsolved mystery and missing great art. However, I thought Kurkjian was a bit repetitive in his writing, telling the same thing over and over. I think you could read the first chapter, where he describes the theft and then the last one, where he draws his conclusions and you'd pretty much know what was in the entire book. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the book could have been better edited/arranged. Still wondering where is the art and who took it?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    This book was pretty disappointing. For someone who thought about the robbery for 20 years, there's a whole lot of "no new information" here. I've read better about the Gardner.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    Stephen Kurkjian relives the 1990 robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and reviews the theories on possible criminals. As a Boston Globe journalist covering the theft from the very first day, his coverage and details of the actual break in and the management at the ISGM's response was great. (I was puzzled by the overall reviews at that point!) It's also written in a fairly straightforward manner; digestible, if you will. Then, I got to the second chapter. I realize that in cities with Stephen Kurkjian relives the 1990 robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and reviews the theories on possible criminals. As a Boston Globe journalist covering the theft from the very first day, his coverage and details of the actual break in and the management at the ISGM's response was great. (I was puzzled by the overall reviews at that point!) It's also written in a fairly straightforward manner; digestible, if you will. Then, I got to the second chapter. I realize that in cities with two major papers, bashing the competition is considered acceptable behavior. That said, if Mr. K had been offered a ride with the same possible criminals to see the art work, he too would have jumped into the van blind folded. Insulting the possible naivete of others just isn’t nice. Then, we went into endless theories. Endless. Aside from the fact that the actual individuals involved in the robbery were thugs and had ties in Boston, the theories were scattered. I found his insistence that the robbery was related to the mob interesting, but no more grounded than other possibilities. I associate organized crime break ins as having a purpose: financial gain or damaging the other ‘team’, if you will. The ISGM theft theories provided no true financial gain. There were no ties to black market overseas collectors or antiquity dealers. I don’t think most of the thugs Mr. Kurkjian pitched as possible robbers truly appreciated art. Of course, it is a mystery and as time continues, seems less like to be solved. That made the end of the book even more disheartening!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fran Burdsall

    The author worked very hard to make a whole book about an unsolved mystery by rehashing every dead end, every rumor, every possibility of motive and perpetrator. And then he repeated himself. When you're done, you realize they aren't any closer to solving the crime than they were in 1980 when they botched the original investigation. As time goes by, the most likely candidates are going to the grave with their secrets intact. I think it's highly likely there will never be a happy ending for the G The author worked very hard to make a whole book about an unsolved mystery by rehashing every dead end, every rumor, every possibility of motive and perpetrator. And then he repeated himself. When you're done, you realize they aren't any closer to solving the crime than they were in 1980 when they botched the original investigation. As time goes by, the most likely candidates are going to the grave with their secrets intact. I think it's highly likely there will never be a happy ending for the Gardener Museum.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Dry. Much more about Boston Gang culture than art theft. Too many jumps between suspects and timelines and I could never keep the gangster stories straight. The podcast is much more compelling.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    In 1990 2 gangsters dressed up like policemen pulled off what might be the most famous art heist in history--they stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Amongst the stolen items were Rembrandts, Vermeers, Degas' and a Manet. They were valued at a total of 500 million dollars. And then they seemed to disappear. The FBI, the reporters, the museum, and even some of the crime families have been working to solve this mystery for the past 28 years. This book gave me exactly wha In 1990 2 gangsters dressed up like policemen pulled off what might be the most famous art heist in history--they stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Amongst the stolen items were Rembrandts, Vermeers, Degas' and a Manet. They were valued at a total of 500 million dollars. And then they seemed to disappear. The FBI, the reporters, the museum, and even some of the crime families have been working to solve this mystery for the past 28 years. This book gave me exactly what I wanted--all of the details about the case, all of the guesses, and information on all of the parties involved. Kurkjian is well suited as the author of this book--he wrote stories about the heist for the Boston Globe for many years, so he has an emotional connection as well as knowledge and research ties to the case. Kurkjian's law degree also allows him access to court documents that a regular author wouldn't be able to get to. He even interviewed crime bosses to make sure he was capturing the dynamics of this crime Lord's demise and the uprising of the new crime families. I wish I had kept track of all of the players on a spreadsheet. There were so many people and so many names to keep on top of--especially tricky with an audio book. My best guess is that the art work was accidentally destroyed when it was stored under a shed and the ground water rose, filling the hiding spot. I don't think that "Bobby the Cook" Gentile will ever admit to this; it's too shameful. But I just don't think we're ever getting the artwork back. I definitely don't think it's hanging on some rich person's wall somewhere. And if anyone did know the location of the stolen artwork--then between the 5 million reward and the promise for immunity from jail they would have come forward by now. I also think that one of the night watchmen (Abath) that let the fake policemen in that night was in on it. There are so many holes to his story that just don't add up. I followed up the reading of this book with a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum--which is lovely. They still hang the empty frames of the stolen artwork, as a reminder of what is missing. Additional things I found out through this book: 1) The Boston branch of the FBI are doofuses 2) The FBI cut deals with the crime families all of the time. Some number of the crimes the big families commit are to have leverage to get their own family members out of prison. The FBI also sets up these criminals through an undercover sting for something like drug dealing or a stolen vehicle to put them in a position where they can avoid jail time if they give the FBI information about other crimes. 3) There is a "code of honor or ethics" amongst thieves. If you come up with the idea for a heist and someone else carries it out before you get to, then they owe you 15% of the spoils. 4) In Italy there are 80 members of their "FBI" that are over art recovery. In the U.S. the FBI has the following number of agents specifically assigned to art cases--ZERO. I enjoy local stories and this is a good one. Some small amount of swearing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    This is the best reporting I have read about the Gardner theft to date. Kurkjian has been reporting on this case for 25 years and this is the culmination of all of his work and research. To me, his theories are plausible and he lays out his reasoning very clearly. As Anthony Amore, current security director at the Gardner, is quick to point out, his conclusion is only another theory. It must be said, however, that what the FBI is positing is also only a theory and the latest information that the This is the best reporting I have read about the Gardner theft to date. Kurkjian has been reporting on this case for 25 years and this is the culmination of all of his work and research. To me, his theories are plausible and he lays out his reasoning very clearly. As Anthony Amore, current security director at the Gardner, is quick to point out, his conclusion is only another theory. It must be said, however, that what the FBI is positing is also only a theory and the latest information that they have released regarding who they think perpetrated the theft is strikingly similar to that put forth by Kurkjian. So...draw your own conclusions! Kurkjian also gives an interesting history of underworld scuttlebutt from before the theft that details previous near attempts and intentions, which is chilling in itself. He is very respectful of current director Anne Hawley (as he should be, from my point of view), and includes insight from former Board members that illuminate why security was so lax prior to 1990. One thing he doesn't do, (again from my point of view) is shine the spotlight nearly hard enough on certain other individuals formerly connected with the Gardner whom I think could bear more scrutiny. This account, along with the chapter about the Gardner theft in former FBI Art Squad director Robert Wittman's book, Priceless, are the two sources that are most compelling to me about this event. Both Wittman, who worked directly on the case, and Kurkjian are scathing about the inept and seemingly deliberately obstructive role that members of the FBI played in keeping this case from being solved in the past. Hopefully it's not too late for current FBI agents and Amore to rescue this art and set things right.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth☮

    Two cops walk into a museum ... and walk out with millions of dollars worth of artwork. That's what happened one night at the Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass. This happened in 1990 and the crime is still unsolved. This is an interesting look into the crime underworld and the hierarchy that exists there. The author has some interesting theories as to how or why this crime was pulled off, but the fact remains that the priceless paintings are still missing. It is bewildeing that the founder of the mu Two cops walk into a museum ... and walk out with millions of dollars worth of artwork. That's what happened one night at the Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass. This happened in 1990 and the crime is still unsolved. This is an interesting look into the crime underworld and the hierarchy that exists there. The author has some interesting theories as to how or why this crime was pulled off, but the fact remains that the priceless paintings are still missing. It is bewildeing that the founder of the museum has put into the contractual agreement that certain upgrades to the facilities not be carried out or the building becomes the property of Harvard. This is part of the reason the security wasn't up to snuff. A quick and engaging read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Day

    This book started out really promising and the Isabella Gardner art museum heist in 1990 will never not be a fascinating topic. But–disappointingly–Kurkjian lost me in the weeds midway through with the complicated relations of various Boston mob figures and how they may or may not play into Kurkjian’s overall heist hypothesis. There’s no definitive answers as to who took the paintings or where they ended up, though Kurkjian’s ultimate guess seems about as good as we’ll ever get.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I was really excited to read this book I am a huge fan of stolen art themed books & love the story of the Gardner Heist & have read several books about it. I was disappointed cause the main focus was the mob connections between different mob guys. Wanted more of the art I do appreciate the authors theory just wasn't an exciting read. I was really excited to read this book I am a huge fan of stolen art themed books & love the story of the Gardner Heist & have read several books about it. I was disappointed cause the main focus was the mob connections between different mob guys. Wanted more of the art I do appreciate the authors theory just wasn't an exciting read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    B

    This book does an excellent job of describing the events following (and leading up to) this incredible heist. It's a fascinating read that offers the reader a nice retrospective into the Boston crimes and thugs of the 80's and 90's, in addition to the ongoing investigation.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anthea

    Quick read, but in desperate need of a good editor and a reorg of a lot of content. Could cut down by about 1/3.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tony Lucci

    In the book Master Thieves, Stephen Kurkjian describes one of the most famous robberies in American history. Kurkjian was an investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, who spent decades trying to figure out more about the theft. The theft started when two men dressed as police officers demanded entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a Boston art museum that held some of the most famous art pieces in the world. The two thieves then cuffed up the guards in handcuffs. A noticeable thing In the book Master Thieves, Stephen Kurkjian describes one of the most famous robberies in American history. Kurkjian was an investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, who spent decades trying to figure out more about the theft. The theft started when two men dressed as police officers demanded entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a Boston art museum that held some of the most famous art pieces in the world. The two thieves then cuffed up the guards in handcuffs. A noticeable thing the thieves did was stealing the not as expensive artwork but ignoring some of the most valuable pieces of art in the museum. They stole 13 pieces of art worth 500 million. In just 81 minutes they carelessly shattered glass frames for paintings and artifacts. The police didn’t arrive until 8:15 am to investigate and release the tied up guards. After the theft, it was noticeable that they did not steal the most expensive piece in the museum, Titans Rape of Europa. The FBI failed to find a definite answer to who exactly were the men who committed the act, but they had several leads that they thought were promising. This robbery was not only important because of the arts worth, but because the criminals were never caught and it is one of the biggest unsolved art mysteries of the art world. The appalling work of the FBI and police proved to be a big theme in the book, due to the impact of the lack of responsibility that lead to many priceless pieces of art stolen and lost forever. The police did not do their job correctly, as they didn’t even show up until 8:15 am the next morning. The police should be a reliable quick aid of safety, that should have responded to the scene earlier and maybe could have had a chance to catch the two men. The FBI was unable to find any strong leads from the case and they were never able to catch the two thieves. The FBI failed its mission to find the suspects and as a result, the museum lost 500 million from artwork and today, the artifacts are still missing. When reading this book I was amazed at how easily these two men were able to pull off such a heist and how they never were caught. Because this book was based off a true story, it added another aspect of the book, when reading the events that took place it was shocking that all of this happened in real life. I also liked how the author was an investigative reporter of the scene, I got to witness a different perspective of the book and all about his views on the heist. I am only giving four stars because although the heist and investigation shortly after were interesting, I felt like the book only got more stale and there were a lot of boring components of the book. I would recommend the book to people who enjoy reading non-fiction books because it was intriguing finding all the smaller details of the heist that I didn’t know about before reading the book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Micaela

    Going into this, it’s not like I didn’t know that this is an as-of-yet unsolved mystery. I’ve been to the Gardner and seen the empty frames. Yet at the end of this book I found myself doubly frustrated that there was no /ending/. I wanted the thieves identified and caught, the art returned, the scales set right. Kurkjian doesn’t make promises that he will catch the thief at any point in the book (the bold new theory or whatever is overhyped blurb syndrome for you, though). In many ways this book Going into this, it’s not like I didn’t know that this is an as-of-yet unsolved mystery. I’ve been to the Gardner and seen the empty frames. Yet at the end of this book I found myself doubly frustrated that there was no /ending/. I wanted the thieves identified and caught, the art returned, the scales set right. Kurkjian doesn’t make promises that he will catch the thief at any point in the book (the bold new theory or whatever is overhyped blurb syndrome for you, though). In many ways this book is more journalistic than its similarly Boston Globe journalist-penned crime story Black Mass - it’s less narrative, jumping back and forth between people and doing less handholding in explaining who they are, which, in a criminal environment like Boston and Rhode Island, gets very confusing since everyone’s names feel vaguely similar. It’s a story essentially still in progress, so it feels less juicy and indeed Kurkjian feels less interested in finding the juice to begin with. It begs a lot of questions, of course. One that I thought of and haven’t been able to shake: how much is art, the concept, worth - not in dollars, but in society? Is Boston a Worse City than whichever in Italy that recovered it’s paintings in a day or whatever? (It’s been a long time since I read the book, bear with me.) I’m an artist - of course my answer is Yes. Especially when the crime so theft ties into other criminal activity in Boston. But is it also easy to understand how rationalizing the expense of the investigation might be hard? Sure. If this book was fiction, we might be able to ponder these questions in the abstract. We could talk about how some of the criminals seem to be simultaneously cunning and bumbling, how the paintings seem to be a symbol of something lost but always nearly in reach. Respectability maybe? Wealth, power? We could read the essential abandonment of this piece of history - art history and Boston’s history alike - as a metaphor for the encroaching anti-intellectual era to come under Bush and beyond. It’s not fiction though, so while it’s tempting to narrativize these things, it’s just a frustrating story, and it’s not as slick a reading experience as other non-fiction about unsolved mysteries so it makes it a little harder to stomach. Flipping, after I finished the last sentence, to the copyright page to find out that this book was published years ago and still nothing has changed was like a wordless stinger. After all, those frames are still empty.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Caterina Pierre

    After listening to the podcast “Last Seen” on the theft of 13 artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990, I decided to read one of the books mentioned in the podcast, Stephen Kurkjian’s Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist (2015). I realized quickly that much of the podcast is based directly on people and theories related to the theft covered in this book. In fact this book could be the companion to the podcast. It’s an inter After listening to the podcast “Last Seen” on the theft of 13 artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990, I decided to read one of the books mentioned in the podcast, Stephen Kurkjian’s Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist (2015). I realized quickly that much of the podcast is based directly on people and theories related to the theft covered in this book. In fact this book could be the companion to the podcast. It’s an interesting read certainly, but sadly it doesn’t really produce any revelations on who exactly did the heist job, and it makes no attempt to answer any other, more important questions, such as who wanted the job done and where did the paints go after the job was done. Like much of the work done on this case, it keeps its focus strictly on Boston, or at the most the east coast, which has gotten everyone absolutely nowhere since 1990. It’s this short-sightedness that has kept the case unsolvable for 29 years. To his credit though, Kurkjian covers the main Boston characters who may have been part of the heist job, and pretty much one by one rules them out, and the book includes a very useful index and a list of characters so the reader can keep everyone straight. This is important because almost everyone involved in the case is named Bobby. If you listened to Last Seen, this will add nothing new/Last Seen adds nothing new to the book either. If you did not listen to Last Seen, this is a good primer to get you started.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris Garth

    Kirjian is a well respected reporter associated with the Boston Globe's Spotlight team that has accomplish many whistle-blower achievements over the past decades. His well narrated tale of the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Art Heist, which remains unsolved after almost three decades however does not reach the same mark as his previous reporting has. With litle blame to give to the author, the case remains unsolveable perhaps as a result of the skills of the burglars in 1990 and the complex nature of Kirjian is a well respected reporter associated with the Boston Globe's Spotlight team that has accomplish many whistle-blower achievements over the past decades. His well narrated tale of the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Art Heist, which remains unsolved after almost three decades however does not reach the same mark as his previous reporting has. With litle blame to give to the author, the case remains unsolveable perhaps as a result of the skills of the burglars in 1990 and the complex nature of Boston's Crime scene in that decade along with the historic confusion of the world of Art. One fact that Kurkjian, as has been true for many decades now...when the FBI gets involved....well lets just say they are way better on tv than in real life. And that might be the reason why the Art has never been returned and the bad guys have not ever been identified. The FBI in this case rejected help from just about everyone since 1990 despite its never ending interest in solving the case. No partners -- the glory of the FBI raid and capture of a bad guy, followed by the press conference and in this case, one marked with the works of Vermeer and Rembadnt in the background all belongs to the G-men. That might be the best explanation for why Boston continues to live with empty frames on the walls of one of the most unique Museums in the world. There are lessons to be learned from this book. Who's ready to learn them?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    The better of the two leading books on the infamous 1990 robbery at Boston's Gardner Museum, "Master Thieves" was written by a newspaperman, Stephen Kurkjian, who writes in a muscular journalistic style. Kurkjian published many articles about the crime, and unfortunately his book feels a bit like a cut and paste job from those articles, with the result that some parts of the story are needlessly retold - as if the reader was not family with all of the backstory. There is a jumble of gangland cha The better of the two leading books on the infamous 1990 robbery at Boston's Gardner Museum, "Master Thieves" was written by a newspaperman, Stephen Kurkjian, who writes in a muscular journalistic style. Kurkjian published many articles about the crime, and unfortunately his book feels a bit like a cut and paste job from those articles, with the result that some parts of the story are needlessly retold - as if the reader was not family with all of the backstory. There is a jumble of gangland characters, and they tend to blur together a bit, but in the end Kurkjian provides another theory of the robbery that accounts for the timing, provides a motive, and suggests a reason why the art has not been found - and may never be. Many of the underworld figures connected to his case are dead, not a few of them murdered. I've seen the missing art; my first trips to the Gardner were long before the robbery. I do hope it comes back some day; it's been almost 28 years. Anyway, "Master Thieves" is okay, but the caper is still waiting for its best historian.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    “In many ways, the trail I followed in the Gardner case was uniquely Boston, a historic but small city where bank robber and bank president can live side by side in the same neighborhood, or, as with the infamous Bulger family, where the notorious gang leader and Senate president were brothers.” In the winter of 1990 when thieves posed as police officers and stole thirteen works of art with a value of $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum [ISGM]. I was merely blocks away immersed “In many ways, the trail I followed in the Gardner case was uniquely Boston, a historic but small city where bank robber and bank president can live side by side in the same neighborhood, or, as with the infamous Bulger family, where the notorious gang leader and Senate president were brothers.” In the winter of 1990 when thieves posed as police officers and stole thirteen works of art with a value of $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum [ISGM]. I was merely blocks away immersed in my junior year at Simmons College. Not only sad for the Boston arts community but for the world this theft remains unsolved. Author Stephen Kurkjian writes: “Twenty-five years later the artwork remains missing, and the empty frames and unfilled spaces on antique desks at the museum still stand as grim reminders of the poor security and futile investigative work that followed the theft.” Now the ISGM bears a new wing and new entrance. Not sure if Ms. Gardner would approve of this extension. However to its beautiful construction, gorgeous views of Boston and the ability to showcase new artists undoubtedly Ms. Gardner, an ardent patron of the arts, would approve. The ISGM is truly a hidden gem in the Fens. While it’s right around the corner from the Museum of Fine Arts it’s not visited as often or known as well sometimes I think the development and marketing for the museum could use great improvement but they’ve failed to hire me in a development communications role though I’ve applied. Kurkjian writes: “One option [Gardner director] Hawley hasn’t tried is using the Internet and social media to maximize awareness of the specific pieces that are missing and encouraging the public’s involvement in the search.” This is true. I’ve never seen the Gardner museum tweeting information. This year on its Instagram account there was a hashtag #GardnerTheft25 and pictures of the rooms with empty frames but no pictures of the missing artwork. “Thirteen pieces of artwork were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum on March 18, 1990, and many weren’t well known to the public at large. For twenty-three years there had been no “proof of life” of a single piece, and while people might recall what the two most valuable pieces—Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert—looked like, the lesser works were largely unknown.” Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and former The Boston Globe investigative reporter Kurkjian writes about the most likely theory for the theft: it was carried out by Boston gangsters and the art remains somewhere on the East Coast. He and others believe that Bobby Guarente, David Turner and Robert Gentile carried out the heist. It’s now been 25 years since the theft and while several years ago the FBI announced it was close to making an arrest and recovery, nothing’s occurred. Ms. Gardner’s art remains at large. I wrote a children’s book about Isabella Stewart Gardner and having completed extensive research for the project I know what she went through to curate her collection and create the one-of-a-kind private museum in the Fens. In Master Thieves, Kurkjian chronicles his role in covering the theft as a journalist as well as in doing research for the book. He interviewed countless mob associates as well as museum security and FBI. Thoroughly researched, Kurkjian sufficiently corroborates the theory that it was a gang job. Back as far as 1981 gangsters such as Louis Royce knew about the weak security system in the Gardner museum. In fact as a child, Royce slept overnight in the museum. “During his ensuing years as a criminal, Royce had hatched a plan to rob the Gardner of some of its most precious artifacts.” However Royce didn’t need the paintings for a trade like some gangsters use art to secure the release of associates. “Instead, he had riches in mind. Royce and his fellow gangsters put the word out, seeking a commission from a wealthy art collector connected to the underworld.” The opposing gangs and gangsters confused me. Who is connected to whom and who works for whom unfortunately bogs down reading. While there’s a cast of characters at the start it gets complicated to keep referring to it. Also Kurkjian repeats theories as if each chapter serves as a stand-alone piece but they don’t quite read that way. It’s not a longform news article. Or I’d just read that as I have. I’ve read nearly everything about ISGM and the theft. Not sure why anyone, even a gangster, would want paintings ripped out of the frames hanging on the walls. Even private art dealers I don’t quite understand unless they lend their art for others to view. Isabella Stewart Gardner created this museum to share her art with the masses. Some interesting information culled from Master Thieves: --The FBI has never sought assistance from the Boston Police or the Massachusetts State Police. Many officers would know Boston’s crime world rather well. --Being close to the museum entrance, the Yellow and Blue Room galleries were easiest rooms to steal paintings from. --After the theft an art critic for the Boston Globe wrote about Gardner’s inability to raise enough funds during the 1980s—“The trustees, traditionally a self-perpetuating Brahmin board of seven Harvard-educated men, acted as if fund-raising were tantamount to begging.” --In 1989 it was reported that only two police officers in the United States investigated art thefts full-time. One in Los Angeles, the other in New York. On the other hand, Italy’s art theft unity has eighty agents. --A Cezanne stolen in 1978 from Stockbridge, Mass. was recovered twenty-one years later. published at: http://entertainmentrealm.com/2015/03... I received this book for review from Public Affairs.

  24. 5 out of 5

    LuAnn

    A frustrating exploration of the possibilities of which Boston Gangsters pulled off the Gardner heist. Frustrating because initially the Gardner made poor decisions or no decisions that made it ultra vulnerable, the perpetrators and motives remain unknown, the paintings are still missing after nearly 30 years, and the FBI failed to make use of some key elements: local and state police who would have more knowledge of the gangs, some leads and crowd sourcing to seek information. Another reminder A frustrating exploration of the possibilities of which Boston Gangsters pulled off the Gardner heist. Frustrating because initially the Gardner made poor decisions or no decisions that made it ultra vulnerable, the perpetrators and motives remain unknown, the paintings are still missing after nearly 30 years, and the FBI failed to make use of some key elements: local and state police who would have more knowledge of the gangs, some leads and crowd sourcing to seek information. Another reminder of the silly egoism that is viewed by law enforcement agencies we fund as more important than the public good! The story was compelling, yet with so many gangs, members and connections involved, very complicated. The writing was repetitive and out of order in places and is very plain vanilla, probably because the author was a long-time journalist.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    After recently visiting the Gardner Museum, I have become obsessed with the 1990 art heist. This book is a very well researched account along with much speculation about who the thieves might have been. There are so many suspects that it sometimes gets a little overwhelming keeping them all straight and although Kurkjian offers many possibilities, there are no answers in this book. The over $500 million worth of art has not been seen since that night in March in 1990. Besides offering up many su After recently visiting the Gardner Museum, I have become obsessed with the 1990 art heist. This book is a very well researched account along with much speculation about who the thieves might have been. There are so many suspects that it sometimes gets a little overwhelming keeping them all straight and although Kurkjian offers many possibilities, there are no answers in this book. The over $500 million worth of art has not been seen since that night in March in 1990. Besides offering up many suspects from MANY figures in the Boston crime families, Kurkjian also points fingers at the FBI and even the Gardner Trustees in the handling of the case. If you're a true crime fan or an art lover, pick this up.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Giana

    While I learned a lot about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, this book was hard to follow. Each section was written as if it was a separate newspaper article which makes sense because of the author's background as a newspaper writer and reporter. There are so many characters to deal with it is nearly impossible to keep them straight, as the author proves by including a "Cast of Characters" list at the beginning of the novel. I would recommend this book for people who want to learn ever While I learned a lot about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, this book was hard to follow. Each section was written as if it was a separate newspaper article which makes sense because of the author's background as a newspaper writer and reporter. There are so many characters to deal with it is nearly impossible to keep them straight, as the author proves by including a "Cast of Characters" list at the beginning of the novel. I would recommend this book for people who want to learn every single detail of the case but not to those who are looking for an entertaining and engaging account of the art heist.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Connor

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An interesting event. I appreciate the author's experience and his continued work on this story. The author tends to repeat things, like descriptions of the main characters. At first I thought it was an attempt to fill more page space, but I think it may come from his background as a journalist and I started to appreciate the reminders as it took me a while to finish the book. I think the one major thing that would make this better is if there was an ending; if the paintings were found. Unfortun An interesting event. I appreciate the author's experience and his continued work on this story. The author tends to repeat things, like descriptions of the main characters. At first I thought it was an attempt to fill more page space, but I think it may come from his background as a journalist and I started to appreciate the reminders as it took me a while to finish the book. I think the one major thing that would make this better is if there was an ending; if the paintings were found. Unfortunately they have yet to be located.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Deane Barker

    I've become a little obsessed with the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum heist lately, after listening to the "Last Seen "podcast. This book is by the definitive reporter to cover the crime -- he's been reporting on it, on and off, for 25 years. Sadly, the book is scattered. It's not a beginning-to-end summary, but more a collection of vignettes about what might have happened. That might not be the author's fault, since the narrative has fractured so much over the years, but I still feel like the b I've become a little obsessed with the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum heist lately, after listening to the "Last Seen "podcast. This book is by the definitive reporter to cover the crime -- he's been reporting on it, on and off, for 25 years. Sadly, the book is scattered. It's not a beginning-to-end summary, but more a collection of vignettes about what might have happened. That might not be the author's fault, since the narrative has fractured so much over the years, but I still feel like the book could have been organized better.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susie

    Having just finished the Last Seen podcast, I came into this book looking for more details. It delivered some of that. He worked on the podcast, so most of his stories are already incorporated there. It was interesting to me how convinced the author seems to be that he has the right story. And how convincing he is in his telling. This crime and everything surrounding it the years since is fascinating to me, so I was going to enjoy any book about it, really.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Virginia Jacobs

    This book was well-researched, but a bit repetitive (I think due to trying to show how different people ended up in the same place--this led to some backtracking and overlap). Also, I didn't really understand how stealing art could be used to lessen someone else's jail sentence--I think this should have been explained earlier in the book (I've read The Goldfinch--I'm more familiar with the concept of stolen art being used as collateral).

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