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Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Joe Gibbons & Tony Oursler in the Frame,Charles Pinning Explains on Empty Frames Podcast

The ‘Sociopath’ Scholar Who Made Films of His Crimes Tried to Confess to America’s Most Famous Art Heist

Out of Rikers and facing a bank robbery charge in Providence, he’s trying to complete his masterpiece of ‘autobiographical fiction’ that began with buying a dime bag.

“Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth.”—Isabella Gardner, founder of Boston’s Gardner Museum.

In February 2017, Joe Gibbons sat in a Greenwich Village restaurant and calmly confessed to a role in the largest art heist in American history.
Gibbons, a filmmaker and former MIT lecturer now in his mid-sixties—back in circulation after pleading guilty in 2014 to a Manhattan bank robbery and spending a year in jail—had already confessed and would soon be charged with another bank robbery, this one in Providence, Rhode Island.
He was sitting with a Pulitzer-winning journalist, Stephen Kurkjian, and a novelist, Charles Pinning, both of whom had traveled from New England and knocked on his door that afternoon. Their visit came weeks after an assistant U.S. attorney in Massachusetts had called Gibbons’ lawyer to inquire about his possible involvement in the Isabella Gardner Museum heist.
In March of 1990, a security guard at the Boston museum let in two thieves dressed as police officers who proceeded to steal $500 million worth of art, including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas. The guard, who now lives in Vermont, was never charged and has long denied any involvement in the heist.
Twenty-seven years later, Gibbons, chasing a morning’s worth of Jameson down with a Kir Royal, was toasted—“well lubricated,” he calls it—and ready to confess.

Soon after midnight on the morning following St. Patrick’s Day, 1990, Gibbons told his audience of two, he was at the Gardner Museum, to score a dime-dag from a security guard there he’d bought from before.The guard told him to walk with him into the closed museum’s Blue Room with the promise of a dime bag, he said. There, several masterpieces were spread across the floor. “I don’t know how to get them out of the frames,” he says the security guard told him. He stomped on Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the artist’s only known seascape.
“That’s not the way to do it!” Gibbons yelled.
The guard threw another piece of art on the floor, a Rembrandt sketch. “Do you want this one? Do you want this one?” he teased.
Gibbons rejected the offer, he said, in part because he “wasn’t a big fan of Rembrandt” but helped the guard pull off the caper. “I showed how you could remove the backings of the paintings and take the canvases out.”
His wife walked into the restaurant, and cut the interview short, not wanting her husband’s name attached to still another crime even as he faces possible jail time for the Providence robbery. So Gibbons wrapped it up, saying that he’d run out of the museum with a dime bag and without any of the paintings.
Still, he had confessed, before two writers to his role in the white whale of a crime that’s filled decades of newspaper column inches, TV-news airtime and the pages of non-fiction books with speculation about who done it.
Asked about his involvement with Gibbons, Kurkjian told me in July that “I’m no longer working with him and have asked that he not associate me with the reporting any longer.” Pinning refused comment.
But what to make of the confession of a criminal and artist who’s dedicated both careers to his “autobiographical fiction” propagating the myth of Joe Gibbons, artist, filmmaker and self-alleged criminal mastermind?
Gibbons began to cultivate that myth in Oakland, 1977. Then in his early twenties, he moved to the Bay Area after attending Antioch College in Ohio. He was welcomed into the art scene and began making films. He also kickstarted his career as a petty criminal.
The intersection of his two careers garnered press attention when Gibbons—well-lubricated at the time—grabbed a painting off the wall of the Oakland Museum during an opening party for artist Richard Diebenkorn.
Gibbons shoved the painting beneath his coat, and waltzed past hundreds of party guests and the museum’s security. The police tracked him down, but rather than go quietly, he seized the opportunity.
He was a member of a renegade group of six artists called the “Art Liberation Front,” Gibbons claimed. The Front had a manifesto, dreamt up by Gibbons: They were critical of the arbitrary value placed on a piece of art—but they were also publicity hungry.
“We’re inveterate opportunists,” Gibbons told the Berkeley Barb after the theft. “Our philosophy is full of contradictions. It had nothing to do with Diebenkorn—it was about museums in general. We saw the opportunity for some publicity and we grabbed it.
“Basically we’re creating meta-art, which is art about art,” he told the paper. “We are whimsically critical of the art establishment as well as the art-critic contingent, who view art solely in terms of its commodity function—its exchange value versus its use value.”
By their logic, the frame was the only piece of a painting that had any actual value. Before the police caught up with him, The Front agreed they would return the painting, but keep the frame hostage. One of their ransom demands, the group told the Barb, was for the Oakland Museum to hold an exhibition with nothing but frames.
That crime, which Gibbons unquestionably committed, might draw someone to believe he could’ve somehow been involved in the famous Gardner Museum heist. Beyond the obvious art-crime connection, there are the frames. On that early March morning in 1990, the Gardner Museum thieves cut the paintings out and left the frames—which still hang there, with nothing in them.

Ben Feuerherd

I first connected with Gibbons through a Facebook message this summer. I’d seen a news alert about a bank robbery in downtown Manhattan, and Gibbons, who I’d covered as a reporter, popped into my head. I messaged him, hoping to find out how he’d adjusted after jail. When we met Washington Square Park on a recent afternoon, he recounted the story of the two writers who knocked on his door in February, and produced a recording of his confession.
“It’s an old myth the artist has to have experiences, which he can then use for his material,” Gibbons told me between sips from a can of bubbly wine. His gray hair was unkempt and long on the sides. He has few teeth left in his mouth.
“When I was a teenager, I thought I was innocent and protected, my upbringing,” he said. “I needed to really get dirty. Get my hands dirty.”
In his films, Gibbons’ combined his dry wit and intellect with transgressive material.
“He was always flirting with a certain amount of criminality. It was always one of his subjects,” said noted film critic Jim Hoberman, who was one of the first journalists to write about Gibbons’ work. “He was already notorious for having stolen that painting” from the Oakland Museum.
Gibbons’ contemporaries in late 1970s and early 1980s in New York were creating overtly sexual films in a trumped-up John Waters’ style, Hoberman said.
Gibbons, on the other hand, was also exploring taboo subjects, but with wit and nuance. “He was transgressive in a way that was much more interesting to me,” Hoberman said. “His films were just much more interesting, conceptually and visually. I was very supportive of them. I thought he was doing something new.”
In his 1978 film, Spying, for example, Gibbons secretly recorded his neighbors in San Francisco as they sunbathed, gardened, kissed one another, and did other routine tasks.
The film flirted with the taboo of voyeurism, but also commented on American daily life.
When it was screened by the film society of Lincoln Center in 2012, they published critiques of the film by Hoberman and filmmakers who knew Gibbons’ work.
“It’s an aggressive film in its Rear Window quality,” wrote artist Peggy Ahwesh, “but also a film that exposes the pathos of a loner as he gazes on to the lives of others who are active, have relationships, lovers, pets and manage to accomplish the small tasks of daily life. Spying is the ultimate home movie.”
Away from the camera, Gibbons continued to find new material in his own criminality.
After the Oakland Museum theft, Gibbons began stealing books at shops along Telegraph Avenue near the University of Berkeley’s campus, in part to pay for lawyer fees, he said. He would also steal champagne, his drink of choice.
The book thefts were a clever scam, Gibbons said. He would take an academic book from a shop and immediately flip it at another store, sometimes for a several-hundred dollar payout.
He went on to plead guilty in 1979 to a felony for stealing the Diebenkorn painting, and was offered a deal to complete a drug-treatment program in lieu of a prison sentence.
“The court gave me the opportunity of spending a year in a therapeutic community, or a year in Santa Rita jail,” he said.
Gibbons, raised in Providence, moved back to the East Coast and entered the McLean Psychiatric Hospital. When he completed the program in 1980, he spent a short time in a New York City halfway house and reverted back to his petty crimes, he said.
“The triggers were still there. I immediately went back to stealing books,” he said. “I was, as I say, conducting research, having experiences I could later distill into art.”
After five months in New York, Gibbons moved to Boston, where his avant-garde film career flourished as he made films based on his actual experiences, conflated for effect. “I used the circumstances that I found myself in as a base for fiction,” he said.
As he racked up parking tickets in Boston and in Rhode Island in the 1980s, his film A Fugitive in Paris opens with him jumping out of a window, running from the Boston Police after him because of them.
The film also goes on to explore another crime Gibbons had yet to commit at that point in his life: bank robbery.
His work in this period would be shown in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Biennial. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship and received a range of praise and criticism from critics.
His most acclaimed work, Confessions of a Sociopath, was released in 2001. It includes a number of old recordings, shot at various points in Gibbons’ life, that show him appearing to break the law in different ways. In one scene he shoots heroin; in another he steals a book.
Gibbons earned the Guggenheim Fellowship soon after the film was released and started the most stable job he ever held: a lecturing position at MIT.
“I had ruled out teaching, but I’d gotten an MFA because the only way I could finish my film, The Genius was by getting a staffer’s loan,” he said.
He would spend nearly a decade in the lecturing role in MIT’s Art, Culture, and Technology program, but was forced to leave in 2010 because he didn’t earn tenure.
“I would’ve liked to continue there,” he said. “Nine years is the limit for a not-tenured.”
Gibbons returned to producing avant-garde films full time after he left MIT, but struggled to achieve the same success he had earlier in his career.
In November 2014, Gibbons walked into a Providence bank, stood in line, passed the teller a robbery note and walked away with almost $3,000, he said.
“I could just go in and stand in line. That’s what allowed me to follow through with it,” he recounted. “So I went through with it and it worked out as I imagined it.”
Gibbons’ fascination with crime was part of his motive, he said.
“Bank robbery was something that always had a mystique that represented to me the pinnacle of criminal achievement,” he said. “It sort’ve represented an achievement because it’s sort of the opposite of the way I was raised.”
After the Providence bank robbery, Gibbons traveled to New York, where he says he stayed in budget hotels in downtown Manhattan and drank heavily.
Weeks later, he was again out of money and options, he said.
“I ran out of people I could ask for money. I had to leave the place I was staying because either I couldn’t afford it or I wasn’t welcome there anymore,” he said. “What would be more stressful? Going to the men’s shelter at Bellevue or robbing a bank?”
He answered his own question by walking into a bank in Manhattan’s Chinatown on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve day 2014, standing in line before passing the teller a note demanding cash. Another customer happened to walk up to the counter at the same time and distracted the bank attendant. To refocus the attendant’s attention, Gibbons lifted his hands onto the counter and revealed a small video camera recording his heist, in which he walked off with $1,002.
After he was arrested days later, Gibbons told the NYPD he’d committed the Manhattan bank robbery, and also the one he’s now charged with in Providence. He pleaded guilty in the New York case in July 2015, and was sentenced to a year in jail with credit for the six months he had already served.
When Gibbons walked out of Rikers Island in September of 2015, he hoped he was due for a big promotion in his entwined film and petty crime careers.
His arrest had made a splash in the press after the New York tabloids first reported the crime. The story would go on to be covered in The New York Times, People magazine, and in an exhaustive Boston magazine profile. A documentary film crew even wanted to capture his post-incarceration life through their lens.
The myth of Joe Gibbons was growing again.
He earned a new nickname in jail—Joey Banks—that’s now the greeting on his cellphone voicemail. He’s identified himself as a “bank robber/insurgent artist” on LinkedIn.
Maybe he could write a book. Or make a movie out of this.
But catch up with Gibbons today and he doesn’t seem like an artist poised to make a comeback.
Since his release, he’s married Deb Meehan, also a filmmaker who currently teaches at Pratt University and who he’s known for decades. There’s visible friction between them, as she works to get him sober and keep him out of jail, and he drinks, confesses to crimes, and recounts his criminal past to reporters.
Gibbons was charged in the Providence robbery in July, pleaded not guilty, and posted a $50,000 bond, a Rhode Island court spokesperson said.
He shares a Greenwich Village apartment with Meehan, not far from a liquor depot where he buys boxed and canned wine. He carried a tote bag to fill on a recent afternoon trip to the store, and paid for the wine with what he said was his wife’s credit card, instead of pocketing it like he might’ve done years ago.
Even drunk and down on his luck, he transitions seamlessly in conversation from tales of his bank robberies to critiques of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
And he still flirts with crime as material.
“I’m just out and about, practicing my trade,” he said in a recent email, attaching a photo of himself inside a Chase bank, holding up a deposit slip. “Robbery—large bills only,” was scribbled on it.
He signed the email: “Joey Banks.”
But drunk or sober, Gibbons’ eyes light up when he talks about the Gardner Museum. Like the writers who sat with him in February, he saw opportunity in his possible involvement in the famous heist. Not for cutting a deal with the U.S. attorney for a reduced sentence in his Providence bank-robbing case. Not for finally solving the decades-old mystery. But for an autobiographical fiction film. For rekindling the myth of Joe Gibbons.
“It was just better than gold,” he said, recounting his February confession.
Gibbons took a trip to the Gardner Museum with his wife after the interview, and playfully posed in front of the frame of the missing Rembrandt. His lawyer later told him he has a “dangerous sense of play,” Gibbons said. “I asked him if he knew someone looking for a Vermeer at cut-rate prices.
“I would like to reconstruct it,” Gibbons said of the heist. “I would re-enact it with the police uniforms. I don’t know how far I could carry it.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Gibbons donned a police uniform for one of his films. In a scene from Confessions of a Sociopath, a camera pans up to reveal a mustachioed Gibbons in full police regalia.
In a sketch released by police after the Gardner heist, one of the suspects sports a similar mustache and look.
Think about his criminal past, his films, his art theft, and an audience might see Gibbons in that sketch. They might believe for a second he could’ve been there, perhaps even with a video camera in hand, the night $500 million of art vanished.
That’s exactly what he would want.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Stolen Art Watch, Arthur Brand, Robert Wittman, & Turbo Paul Hendry M.A. Persona Non Grata on Gardner Case, Despite Offering Best Chance to Recover Gardner art.

Netflix has a four-part series on the Gardner Art Heist slated for release later in 2020. Barnicle TV New York is the alleged TV Production company, now in post-production.

The main story-line in the series reportedly follows an attempt in Ireland by Martin “The Viper” Foley, a former associate of gangster and notorious art thief Martin Cahill, to cut a deal with an Irish Republican named Tom “Slab” Murphy, said to have at one time been a Chief of Staff in the Provisional IRA. 

Turbo Paul Hendry was working with Murphy on a similar deal decades ago, going so far as to meet with FBI special agent Mike Wilson at the American embassy in London, about getting the blessing of authorities in the U.S. to move forward on a recovery. 
But when FBI Agent Mike Wilson ran it up the flag pole with the FBI Boston field office, said to be responsible for the stolen Gardner art recovery effort, Hendry was told no deals.
 Art Hostage: Stolen Art Watch, Charlie Hill, Dick Ellis & Mark ...Art Hostage: Stolen Art Watch, Charlie Hill, Dick Ellis & Mark ...
Two London based fixtures in the art recovery world, at least in the media, Charles Hill and Dick Ellis figure prominently in the Netflix series. Both were high ranking detectives in Scotland Yard’s art squad who have worked in the world of stolen art recovery as private investigators for decades. The two are not partners, however, and have not always seen eye-to-eye on important matters related to a recovery. Hill, for instance has stated his belief that one person now controls the art and dismissed Ellis’ contention that control of the art was spread out among many parties as “speculation.” 
FBI agent Robert King Wittman is responsible for recovering more ...
Some familiar faces to U.S. audiences in the world of art recovery in general and the Gardner Heist in particular are not slated to appear in the series. Robert Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s art crime team, and author of Priceless about his work recovering stolen art working undercover is not interviewed for the series. 

Neither is Arthur Brand, who has been involved with the recovery effort of Gardner art in Ireland, the past few years, and whose criticisms of the Gardner museum’s efforts made headlines in Boston last year. 
The 'Indiana Jones of the Art World' Has Found a $28 Million ...
Reportedly Brand, as well as Turbo Paul Hendry, another critic of the Gardner heist investigation, were blackballed by Hill and Ellis along with the Gardner Museum security director Anthony Amore, all of whom refused to participate if Brand and Hendry were included in the Netflix four-part series. 
Anthony Amore, candidate for Massachusetts Secretary of ...
Amore, who has steadfastly insisted for over a decade that there is absolutely no evidence that the paintings are in Ireland, is under contract to write a book, which was due for release to coincide with the 30 yrs Gardner Heist anniversary, delayed now until the Fall, about Rose Dugdale, a volunteer member of the Provisional I.R.A. who stole nineteen old masterworks by Gainsborough, Rubens, Vermeer and Goya from Russborough House in County Wicklow Ireland in 1974. 
 Famed art thief arrested in R.I. cellphone heist - The Boston Globe
But aside from media spectacles like five hour lunches with a convicted(later got off on a tech) double Child Murderer, Myles Connor, who Amore insists is “the greatest art thief in history,” encourages Myles Connor, in his role as an actual participant in the art recovery effort and not just an unofficial surrogate for the FBI’s latest spin. 
We all think we know how this series ends, but we can all hope for a surprise and happy ending.

Spoiler Alert: Not a single stolen Gardner artwork has been recovered, not one, zero, zitch, so like many before them, the Netflix four-part series on the Gardner Art Heist is a story without an ending, without the vital "Pay-off" for the viewer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Stolen Art Watch, Casey Sherman Destroys Gardner Art Heist Myth

It’s now been thirty years since two thieves dressed as police officers stole 13 artworks worth $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990 and we are still no closer to solving this enduring mystery.

But there’s always a story within the story and that is certainly the case with the Gardner heist which has more layers than a Russian nesting doll.

The investigation gets curiouser and curiouser with a cast of characters that appears to have jumped off the screen from a Guy Ritchie film. 

First, there's "Turbo" Paul Hendry, a former art thief turned sleuth living in England who has been following the case since it broke three decades ago when Vermeer’s “The Concert” and Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” vanished into thin air. Hendry is a popular voice in the Gardner Heist community, having been featured in the 2005 documentary Stolen. He had a bone to pick with me when I gave celebrated Dutch art investigator
sole credit for a proposal to offer individual rewards for the missing pieces in my
column. He's right...  Turbo Paul came up with the original idea years ago. Nevertheless, he shared my article on social media He's been working this case like a dog with a bone for years and has been a vocal critic of Anthony Amore, the museum's longtime director of security.

This criticism reportedly prompted an angry phone call from *******, . Hendry alleges that ******* threatened to “destroy” him if he didn’t remove more than 30 tweets from his Twitter profile “Art Hostage” criticizing Amore’s lack of results.

Is the museum security director using a proxy to crush any dissent of his investigation? I asked that question to ****** himself by phone. He calls Hendry’s accusations “ridiculous”. I also reached out to the museum for comment. “The allegations that the Gardner Museum or Mr. Amore are encouraging or condoning any intimidation or pressure efforts by ***** toward the recipient are categorically false," said Griff McNerney, Museum Communications Manager. 
The museum’s cocksure declaration was curious as no one at the institution ever even asked to speak to the alleged victim in this case. 

If this is the way the investigation into the stolen artwork is being conducted also, it’s no wonder they haven’t recovered anything in thirty years.

Is this the image the Gardner Museum wishes to project to the world?

If thuggery and intimidation are tactics being used to quash criticism of the Gardner investigation, museum director Peggy Fogelman should step in and make changes immediately. 

First, it’s time to fire security director Anthony Amore who has been leading the museum’s investigation for the past 15 years. He’s never recovered a piece of stolen art in his life. 
Imagine if Bill Belichick had never won a playoff game in 15 years? He’d have been out of a job a long time ago.

Instead of chasing leads, Amore spends more time on social media on any given work day than Perez Hilton. 

He’s also used his position to launch a disastrous run for Massachusetts Secretary of State and has published four books about stolen art including two coloring books. It seems that the only person that has profited from the art heist, outside of the thieves, is Anthony Amore.

Arthur Brand, dubbed “The Indiana Jones of the Art World”, has taken to social media calling for Amore to “move over” and let more seasoned investigators take the lead on recovering the stolen art. Brand made headlines last year for finding and returning a $68 million Picasso that was stolen twenty years ago from a luxury yacht in the French Riviera. Amore’s dismissed Brand, telling me during an online conversation, 
“We have no comment on some guy’s (bleeping) twitter.” This institutional arrogance is one of the many reasons that not one stolen art work has been recovered on Amore’s watch.

It’s like Inspector Clouseau thumbing his nose at Hercule Poirot.
Is Anthony Amore the person we want leading the charge to return 13 artworks to its rightful place here in Boston as we mark the 30th anniversary of the notorious heist? I think not.

Casey Sherman is a New York Times bestselling author of 11 books including the upcoming Hunting Whitey: The Inside Story of the Capture and Killing of America's Most Wanted Mob Boss. Follow him on Twitter @caseysherman123

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist 30 years & Not A Single Stolen Gardner Artwork Recovered, Anthony Amore Has Nothing To Show For Fifteen Years Salary, Access To FBI Files & A Compliant, Obedient Media

How the Gardner Museum’s security head befriended ‘the greatest art thief that ever lived

Can Anthony Amore and Myles Connor’s unlikely bond help crack the greatest unsolved art heist in history?

The Gardner Museum's head of security, Anthony Amore (left) and art thief Myles Connor shared lunch recently at La Scala restaurant in Randolph.
The Gardner Museum's head of security, Anthony Amore (left) and art thief Myles Connor shared lunch recently at La Scala restaurant in Randolph.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Anthony Amore is not having it.
“Who in the world forgets they were involved in a Rembrandt theft?” he asks. “Who forgets that?”
This isn’t an interrogation, although Amore is directing his question to an art thief. This is lunch between good friends.
The head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Myles Connor, a man Amore calls “the greatest art thief that ever lived,” have only just been seated, and already the conversation has turned to art crime. How could it not? Connor, 77, began stealing from museums before Amore was born.
By 1975, when Amore was an 8-year-old Yankees fan growing up in Providence, Connor was already such an accomplished thief that he committed one heist — the broad daylight theft of an oval Rembrandt oil painting from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston — to use as a bargaining chip for a reduced sentence in connection with another, earlier theft from the Woolworth Estate in Monmouth, Maine (which included five Wyeth paintings: two by N.C., three by Andrew).
Connor’s rap sheet dates back to 1966. He had evaded capture for robbing the Forbes House Museum, in his hometown of Milton, until a shootout with police on a Marlborough Street rooftop left him nearly dead from four gunshot wounds. Connor shot and almost killed a State Police officer in the run-up to that melee, earning an attempted murder charge on top of the one for art theft. He served six years — his first prison term — at MCI-Walpole.

His memory isn’t great these days, but Connor remembers that particular episode with sparkling clarity: the news trucks broadcasting live from the street below, the Boston Fire Department captain whose intervention on the rooftop he says saved his life.
But this Rembrandt business that Amore is talking about? Connor honestly can’t recall. That’s because the Rembrandt in question is yet another, this one taken from a private home in Cohasset during the summer of 1975. It so happens that Connor, following the MFA heist earlier that spring, was living on the lam that summer. In Cohasset.

“You were involved in that,” Amore says.
“I was?” Connor asks, letting loose a laugh so mighty it shakes his entire body, as well as the table. Flatware jumps. Ice cubes clink in water goblets.
Connor has no memory of it, but he is tickled to think so.
With friends like these
In the annals of confounding bromances — think of the Old West lawman Wyatt Earp’s deep friendship with the gun-slinging outlaw Doc Holliday — the genuine affection between Anthony Amore and Myles Connor has to be right up there.
The men’s chosen vocations would seem to rule out an easy bonhomie. Amore leads the investigation into the world’s greatest unsolved art heist, a mystery entering its 30th year with the heist’s March 18 anniversary.
The broad strokes of that dead-of-night crime are by now well known: Two men wearing glue-on mustaches and police uniforms bluffed their way into the old Palace Road entrance of the Gardner Museum, handcuffed the two on-duty security guards to pipes in the basement, and vanished with 13 works of art into the predawn dark after St. Patrick’s Day.
Their haul included three works by Rembrandt and Vermeer’s “The Concert.” Today, the stolen works’ value is estimated to exceed, collectively, $1 billion. In the three decades since the heist, there has not been a single arrest, not one piece of the lost art recovered.

If the Gardner case is both a bane and what drives Amore, his friend Connor says the whole thing was his idea. “I had intended to be involved in the theft, but I got nailed by the feds.”
“I had intended to be involved in the theft," says art thief Myles Connor, "but I got nailed by the feds.”
“I had intended to be involved in the theft," says art thief Myles Connor, "but I got nailed by the feds.”John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
When the thieves hit the Gardner Museum, Connor was locked up in a federal prison in Chicago. Some time later, he was transferred to a facility in Lompoc, Calif. A visitor there told Connor that he and an accomplice had robbed the Gardner to get him out of prison. That man was the late David Houghton. He told Connor that his accomplice in the Gardner heist was Bobby Donati (like Houghton, Donati died the year after the heist in 1991). It was Donati, Connor says, who helped him rob the Woolworth Estate, in 1973.
Connor also says that he and Donati cased the Gardner Museum together, in 1975. The pair pointed out would-be souvenirs. For Donati, the bronze eagle finial perched atop a Napoleonic regimental banner. For Connor, a Shang Dynasty ritual bronze vessel, or Gu, from the 12th century, B.C. Both items were among the pieces stolen. Connor believes the Gu was taken for him, and he’s pretty certain that Donati ended up with that finial.
“The only real reason that I know that they did it,” Connor says, “was because David Houghton came all the way from Logan to Lompoc, California, and told me.”

Amore doesn’t confirm or deny that Donati and Houghton were involved in the Gardner heist. But he does buy Connor’s account. “I believe Myles that David Houghton visited him in Lompoc federal prison and told him that he and Bobby Donati had committed the heist to get him out of jail. I 100 percent believe Myles that that happened.”
Amore adds, “I do believe that Myles is the inspiration for the Gardner theft.”
Amore, 53, is tall, soft-spoken, and dresses in tidy civilian camouflage: navy blazer, pressed khakis, tie. His taciturn nature lends itself well to the delicate balance he must strike between granting interviews to press from all over the world and the imperative never to reveal more than he can or wants to about the ongoing investigation. Amore can be infuriatingly adept at scuttling a reporter’s efforts to probe.
Before taking over the theft investigation, in 2005, Amore had been in only one other art museum in his life. He says of his previous job, helping rebuild security at Logan Airport after 9/11, “When your objective was preventing terrorism, your goal was never to meet the people on the other side. In this [work at the Gardner], you have to meet the people, that is the only way to accomplish it.” And by people, Amore means, more often than not, the so-called bad guys.
Growing up in a modest Cape house sandwiched between two housing projects, Amore says, he knew scofflaws to spare. Some were members of his own family. “I grew up around those sorts of people. I’m comfortable speaking to them.”

“My inspiration for doing this work was talking to people who actually did the crimes,” Amore continues. “The first most influential book I read was ‘Mindhunter,’ by John Douglas. To stop serial killers, talk to serial killers. That’s how I became friends with art thieves like Al Monday and Myles Connor, and all these other knuckleheads.”
But the knucklehead that Amore is genuinely fond of is Connor. “I liked him from the minute I met him, in 2015,” Amore says. “When I sat down and started asking him about the Gardner that first day, he told me everything, and I told him some stuff he didn’t know that frankly comported with some of his beliefs. And you could see his response to it was visceral, that he wasn’t playing games with it. And I’ll go to my grave believing that when he said, ‘I wish you’d get those paintings back for [Gardner Museum director emeritus] Anne Hawley, she deserves to have them back,’ he meant it.”
In many ways, Connor could not be less like his law-abiding pal. He unfurls his dress shirt to the third button and is wholly at ease standing out in a crowd. The son of a Milton police sergeant and a mother who was a Mayflower descendant, he remembers a rough-and-tumble Irish paternal grandfather, and a more patrician maternal grandfather who passed on to Connor a passion for Japanese weaponry and suits of armor. Connor seems to have imbibed and combined both men’s influences. An appreciation for art coursed through him from his earliest days. Stealing it would come easy, especially when he felt that an institution had been indifferent to him, to someone he loved, or to its collection.
Wound tight as a toy snake in a can, Connor can be explosively uncontainable. Over a meal with friends, when laughter overtakes him, it’s part of his considerable charm. One can imagine that same unhinged energy producing a more terrifying effect.
At the old Al’s Spaghetti House in Nantasket Beach, where Connor’s band, Myles Connor and the Wild Ones, drew sellout crowds in between his prison stints in the 1960s, Connor was sometimes the target, and sometimes the instigator, of some legendary dustups. His oldest and most steadfast friend, Al Dotoli, towered over Connor then as now, and was caught up in many of them.
Myles Connor's oldest friend, concert producer Al Dotoli, smiled while reminiscing over lunch. He regrets that he wasn’t able to keep his friend — who “could play Chuck Berry like Chuck Berry” — on the stage.
Myles Connor's oldest friend, concert producer Al Dotoli, smiled while reminiscing over lunch. He regrets that he wasn’t able to keep his friend — who “could play Chuck Berry like Chuck Berry” — on the stage. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
“I remember barroom brawls we used to get into,” Connor says. “All I used to see was arms and legs. Al was like a big spider monkey nailing these guys!” He’s hoarse with glee at the memory.
“As opposed to him,” says Dotoli, who has joined Amore and Connor’s lunch, “all I saw was a pile, and he was on the bottom of it!”
Dotoli has spent a long career producing concerts for the likes of James Cotton, the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Dionne Warwick, and Frank Sinatra. He regrets that he wasn’t able to keep his friend — who “could play Chuck Berry like Chuck Berry” — on the stage. “I managed Myles through his whole career. And it was always very difficult,” Dotoli says, referring to Connor’s many arrests. “But the more he got in trouble, the bigger he was a star. The fans loved it.”
The outlaw code
“The things that matter to me,” Connor says, “are loyalty, ethics, believe it or not, because it can be argued that I had none, but I do. It's like the old outlaw code: You keep your word, don't backstab anyone, and try not to hurt anybody that's innocent.”
But not all of Connor’s exploits bore the cinematic shimmer of art theft. “Myles and his coterie of friends do a lot to glamorize him,” says Ulrich Boser, author of the book “The Gardner Heist.” “This is a criminal.”
To be fair, it’s not exactly hard to do. The once flame-haired rock star is also a member of Mensa, the high IQ society. Upon his release — he calls it “graduation” — from Walpole, in 1972, Connor says that his near-perfect SAT scores had won him a spot in Harvard’s incoming class. He chose opening for Roy Orbison and Sha Na Na over a more distant dream of medical school.
But then, again and again, Connor chose crime.
“He is unrepentant, in my opinion,” Boser says. “Look at what he has actually done: shooting a police officer, knowing enough about a gruesome [double] murder to lead police to [the women’s] grave. And then, when I met him, he just told a number of stories that alone were quite disturbing.”
What of Connor’s friendship with Amore? “I do not believe that this undermines Anthony’s work or his credibility,” Boser says. “Is Anthony the best case, the best hope for bringing these paintings home? Yes. But I would add an addendum. Someone somewhere knows where these are, and that someone almost certainly has a connection to someone who has done some unsavory things. It makes sense to me that Anthony is reaching out and having conversations with people like that.”
No one seems more aware of the optics of this friendship than Connor himself. “Well, from my viewpoint, I’m very fortunate to have a friend like Anthony, because of his position and situation, and my reputation,” he says. “I’m aware that he must catch hell from people in his profession that say, ‘What the hell are you hanging around with this guy for?’ ”
Amore fields many questions about his friendship with Connor. "You can't learn to be a good art theft recovery person or a security person without speaking to the experts in taking them," Amore says.
Amore fields many questions about his friendship with Connor. "You can't learn to be a good art theft recovery person or a security person without speaking to the experts in taking them," Amore says.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
It’s true. Amore does. And he’s considered this question, too. “Yeah, you know, I do stop and say my whole life is about returning stolen art. Much of Myles’s was taking it. But pragmatically, too, you can’t learn to be a good art theft recovery person or a security person without speaking to the experts in taking them.”
Outlaw code or no, Amore and Connor share more than a fascination with stolen art. They go to concerts together — Bruce Springsteen, Kevin Hart — and they often share a meal. They speak by phone several times a week and leave each other jokey voice mails. Just like friends do.
When Connor underwent triple bypass surgery last November, Amore was a frequent visitor at his bedside. He recalls that Connor had asked him to bring two things: a book about samurai swords — Connor is an aficionado and a collector — and soy sauce. Another visitor had brought Connor sushi, his favorite. Owing to his open-heart surgery, however, she skimped on the high-sodium condiment.
“He said, ‘Yeah, can you bring me some Kikkoman soy sauce?’ ” Amore says. “And I forget what holiday it was, but nothing was open. So I’m driving around, and I see a 7-Eleven. Believe it or not, they had soy sauce, and I bring it to him. I go, ‘Hey, look what I got. I brought you the soy sauce!’ He goes, ‘This is La Choy. It’s not Kikkoman.’ He doesn’t want it! And he’s like, ‘It doesn’t matter. I ate the sushi anyway.’ ”
When Amore tells this story, he has to raise his voice a little to be heard, because Connor has unleashed that laugh again.
Amore pauses for a moment, and says, “God, I wish Myles was the thief. I think to myself, I wish it had been him, because we’d have our stuff back. You know, it’s just, the one place he didn’t rob is the one place that hasn’t gotten its stuff back.”
But surely Connor, who knew the men he says robbed the Gardner, must have some insight into what they would have done with the art.
“I’m not sure,” Connor says. “I know Bobby had some connections in New York with organized crime.”
Connor recalls a New York trip with Donati “to meet a guy.” The man in question claimed to run a lucrative side hustle, Connor says, fencing stolen art to wealthy buyers overseas.
“And I said, ‘How do you get these paintings out of the country?’ And you know, I’ve always known you can’t roll up an oil painting because you damage it. But he claimed that he could, and he had a couple of big empty cardboard rolls. And he said, ‘I’d just put them in these things, and then send them to Europe.’
“You have people with billions of dollars,” Connor continues. “They have 20 Rolls Royces, a couple lions, a couple hippos. It stands to reason that they have their own art collections.”
Fanciful, Amore says. But unlikely. Asked where he thinks the art is, Amore says, “In typical art theft scenarios, we know that stolen art doesn’t travel far. But then, nothing about the Gardner heist is typical, which is why I will continue to investigate every single lead.”
Dotoli adds a note of hope. “If the fat lady is going to sing at all on the Gardner thing, these two will do it. There’s no other way it’s going to happen. This will be the team.”