Refreshingly, March 18 passed this year without the usual breathless maybe-it’s-about-to-turn-up coverage that has often been manufactured each year on the anniversary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist of 1990. That theft, which remains on the short list of civic and public crimes against Boston, remains unsolved. After what seemed like a real development last year: the disclosure of the surveillance tape of the night before the theft and a possible dry run by the criminals, news has been scarce. Notwithstanding a few tipsters seemingly intent on paraphrasing Danny Ocean’s “I know a guy” speech in Ocean’s Eleven, the tape release has not managed to warm a cold trail.
Word came yesterday that law enforcement was headed down a familiar road in Connecticut. As we discussed in the past, the FBI has come to believe that Robert Gentile, a Hartford-area man, has information about the whereabouts of the paintings. The FBI asserts that Gentile, a former associate of the now-deceased Robert Guarente, either has the paintings or knows where they are. This in turn is based on Guarente’s widow’s statements that Guarente told her that he had given some of the Gardner paintings to Gentile.
Yesterday afternoon, the FBI spent considerable time searching Gentile’s Manchester, CT home and/or digging in the vicinity of a fuel storage tank. This morning it was reported that “more guns” had been found, but no art.
Not explained was what they hoped to find that they had missed before. The FBI searched Gentile’s home in 2012 amid great fanfare. It did not find the paintings, but did find what it claims were items of clothing like those used in the robbery. There was little discussion as to why anyone would keep such disguises for more than 20 years, but that was it.
Gentile has been facing federal gun charges for several years, charges that he argues were entrapment to pressure him into giving information about the Gardner. The FBI claims that Gentile reached out to a courthouse informant and suggested he might trade information in exchange for better treatment.
The problem with the FBI’s theory is a logical one. When law enforcement first targeted Gentile, he was younger and his daughter was terminally ill. If there were ever an incentive to reveal what he knew so that he might one day get out of prison and/or see his daughter, it was then. His daughter passed away in 2013, however, and he is a very old man now. If he knew something then that he didn’t tell (which he denies vehemently), it is hard to imagine him saying anything now.
The search continues. For the full history read Stephen Kurkjian’s book Master Thieves: the Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist.