Netflix's 'This Is a Robbery' Investigates Possible Suspects In America's Biggest Art Heist

Lauren Kranc
·4 min read
Photo credit: Elaine Chung
Photo credit: Elaine Chung

In the early hours of March 18, 1990—St. Patrick's Day in Boston—two men dressed as police officers, entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied up the two night guards, and left 81 minutes later with 13 works of art valued at approximately $500 million dollars. It was the largest art heist in American history—the works cut from their frames included Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert—and three decades later, not a single work has been recovered. Netflix’s new docuseries This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist explores all probable leads in the unsolved case with a $10 million dollar reward, but doesn’t reach a definitive conclusion.

A little after 1 a.m. on March 18, night guard Rick Abath buzzed two uniformed men into the building who said they had been called about a disturbance into the museum. When they entered, they asked him to tell his partner doing rounds to return to the security desk as well, and once he did, they bound, blindfolded, and cuffed both guards in the museum’s basement. The two men dressed as Boston Police officers then spent over an hour making their way through the museum, slicing precious artworks—as well as some strange choices—out of their frames, and leaving a bit before 3 a.m. Authorities were alerted only once museum staff arrived in the morning to find the night guards tied up in the basement, the historic building in a state of disarray, and several works of art stolen, with the security video tape missing. In the 31 years since, no one has been arrested for the crime.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

But it’s not for lack of trying. The documentary first looks into Rick Abath, the night guard who initially let the thieves into the museum. When security footage showed he had also let someone into the museum the night before the robbery, he became a person of interest. He also, according to museum security sensors, was the last person to enter a room that a vase was stolen from during a round of the museum earlier in the evening. But after some investigation into the effectiveness of the sensors, Abath, who has always denied any involvement or knowledge of the robbery, is largely dropped by the doc as a person of interest.

It goes on to look at Myles Connor, an accomplished art thief who participates in the documentary—but was in jail at the time of this robbery—and briefly considers members of the Irish Republican Army as potential suspects, too. But the bulk of the series is devoted to exploring the Italian mob in Boston at the time, and the likelihood of their involvement in the crime.

This Is a Robbery theorizes that Bobby Donati, a mobster who had worked with Connor on a previous heist, organized the Gardner heist along with his friend Bobby Guarente in order to use the art as a bargaining chip to get their friend Vincent Ferrara out of jail. The doc explains how stolen art can be used by career criminals in exchange for lighter prison sentences, and also how it is often used as collateral in large drug deals. The series then introduces a web of mobsters connected to Donati and Guarente: Carmello Merlino, Charlie Pappas, David Turner, George Reissfelder, and Leonard Dimuzio, who all may have had a hand in carrying out the crime. The series then traces the stolen paintings from Guarente to his friend Robert Gentile, a Connecticut gangster. All of the men that the doc theorizes were involved are now dead—some by murder, others by natural causes—save for David Turner and Robert Gentile.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Robert Gentile, now 87, denies any involvement or knowledge about the heist. An FBI search of his home in 2012 turned up a handwritten list of the stolen artwork and their values, but nothing else. In 2019, David Turner was released from jail for another attempted robbery after 13 years had been shaved off his sentence. There is no public record of why his sentence was lessened, and the doc suggests that he gave the FBI information related to the Gardner robbery in exchange for it.

In 2013, the FBI formally announced that they knew who had carried out the heist, but that the thieves were dead. They did not release the names of their suspects, and none of the stolen artwork has ever been recovered. Today, the statute of limitations has expired for the theft and though someone could still be charged with possession of stolen property, the FBI stated there is a “very strong possibility” that such a person could receive immunity. And so the series ends on the largest mystery that remains—if David Turner or Robert Gentile or anyone alive today knows the location of the art, why have they not yet claimed the $10 million dollar reward?

You Might Also Like