Well that didn’t take long.
Just a few days after the FBI released vintage security video footage from the night before the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, a lawyer has told the FBI that a former client called him to claim that he can identify a man seen in the footage. It bears noting that there are two shots showing a man in the new footage (one inside, one outside), and no indication of whether they are the same person. Regardless, George G. Burke of Quincy said that his former client was in the antiques business, and that the anonymous client knows a man in the video from that industry.
The Gardner security guard that night, Richard Abath, was also on duty the following night when the theft occurred. The Boston Globe has reported that Abath told investigators that he did not recall the March 17 (night before) incident seen in the video. Abath opened the door the following evening to the thieves dressed as police, but was then handcuffed and duct-taped while the robbery commenced. Not surprisingly, Abath has been reluctant to make public comments about the robbery long ago, citing his frustration with the inability to shake suspicion that he was involved (which he categorically denies). In an interview two years ago, Abath said, “I told them as I’ve said a hundred times before and since, I had absolutely nothing to do with the robbers or the robbery.” And later, “I know I wasn’t suppose to let strangers into the museum after hours, but no one told me what to do if the police showed up saying they were there to investigate a disturbance,” Abath said. “What was I supposed to do?”
Back to yesterday’s news, Burke was clear that his former client has absolutely no interest in being publicly identified because “he is afraid of being killed,” but is willing to have Burke give his name to the FBI. Burke disclose further that the anonymous client had purposefully avoided doing business with the man in the video because of an association with Myles Connor and William Youngworth.
The video will presumably result in all manner of “I know a guy” phone calls, and all of the names cited in the tip are publicly known, but the claim is certainly specific. If the tipster is a reputable dealer (which would reduce or eliminate concerns about score-settling), this could be a promising lead for the first time in a long time.
One final note. Even though the FBI has said for at least a couple years that it knows who the robbers are, it will not say their names, but that it believes that they are dead. So let’s say that the March 17 video does show a dry run, and the man or men seen are the robbers. If those men are dead, this would not necessarily lead any closer to the painting. It is therefore important that these developments stay public. Clearly this video should have seen the light of day a long, long time ago. One hopes that if the tip does truly move the ball forward in the investigation, that will also be public so that additional connections can be made and the paintings can be found.