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Vermeer's The Concert
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Stolen Art Watch, Charles Vincent Sabba Sheds New Light on Gardner Art Heist
Gardner Bullets IV: Simmons College Robbery
This is a small excerpt of a much longer Your Brush With The Law exclusive interview that will be posted here in March for the anniversary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery. This interview with William Youngworth III is going to reveal never before discussed details of the robbery and shed light onto the case.
CVS: Please shed light on the Simmons College robbery that occurred right across the street from the Gardner Museum eight years prior (1982) to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery.
WY: Well, that night was our first trip into the Gardner Museum, our second was in like 1986 or 87. My god, its all such ancient history now. First I would like to address this criminal attachment to my name. In 1977 I was given a 13 year prison sentence for something I was cold blooded innocent of. I was identified as a get away driver in an armed robbery that I did not do...........
CVS: You weren't doing anything illegal back then?
WY: I wouldn’t go that far, but in my world back then it was then as legal as I could make it. I was working with a close friend making fake I.D.’s. My friend was a genius at photography. We were making licenses for Joe McDonald’s crew who used them in a horse racing fixing racket around the country. It all came tumbling down right about then.
We got $500 a piece for our I.D. kit which were so good that they could take a call from a cop if someone got pulled over. We had made our equipment portable. We were using the same equipment Massachusetts DMV’s were using. We would rent hotel rooms never in the same place twice, call Joe’s guys and tell them where to come. We would make ten I.D. kits per session, collect our $5,000 and be gone. We did it a few times per week and making good money for back then....
CVS: So how did you end up in the Gardner Museum?
WY: We first were walked through and shown the Gardner and we cased the museum a second time in 1986. Some guy that wasn’t in our crew got our ID cameras busted in a drug raid. He had been dealing coke right under our noses, which put our operation in jeapordy. He met this girl in a bar and brings her back to our safe house. One thing led to another, she saw too much, went to the cops and we lose all our equipment. During this same week we had a major ID order to fill. My other friend is this super connected guy in Boston and he put the world out we need Polariod 707 ID cameras and will pay $10,000 each for them. In less then two days we had a lead on some. They were in Simmons College in Boston.
CVS: The Simmons College robbery isn’t that widely known is it?
WY: I did let it out when I was pleading with the Gardner to act fast because I was losing my toe hold on my ability to assist them without it becoming drastically more complicated. They didn’t listen. But your right it was basically brushed aside. Funny, I’ve never had to prove how guilty I was before! Each time we looked at the Gardner Museum, we were cautioned that some of the frames were very possibly wired into the alarms. There were a lot of unknowns we were waiting for answers on. Before those answers came I had gotten picked up on an old charge.
CVS: For our readers that don’t know Boston, or haven’t been to the Gardner Museum, Simmons College and the Gardner are directly across a small street from one another.
WY: Anyway, my friend’s contact was the night time guard of the Simmons. Since the plan would give us the control over the entire college we cleaned out their Audio Visual lab and got our hands on equipment we had been wanting to lay our hands on for years.
CVS: This gets a little hard to ignore. Please tell us how Simmons was robbed.
WY: Sure. The exact same way the Gardner Museum was in 1990. It was knock, knock, "open up it’s the police". "Were here over a distress call we received". It took four of us, including the guard about four hours to clean the place out. We had a connection that ran a large commercial division of a rental truck company and had to get the truck back by 6:30AM before the day shift showed up at 7:00AM. This was our first tour of the Gardner. Our guard and their’s were both musicans and social buddies. Truthfully I never knew about the place and it was the Simmons guard who turned us on to the score. We got in there that night after we got done at Simmons. We put a look out up the street and he gave us the all clear for us to take the truck from around back of Simmon’s loading dock, a few hundred feet down Palace Road and around the block re-connecting to Huntintgon Ave.
CVS: What was the guard’s story who was involved? And you know I need to ask about your first trip into the Gardner.
WY: Certainly we’ll get back to that but his statement was that uniformed Boston Police Officers had handcuffed him, took him down into a basement stairwell and re-handcuffed him to a railing.
CVS: I have done some checking into this. Simmons has no comment about this, the Boston Police have such a brief report that’s it ridiculous and two paintings in the Dean’s office were cut from their frames.
WY: I actually believe that the original report was much more detailed. Actually I am certain of it. Our guard brought us a copy. We were actually using it as an information on the items we ended up selling and didn’t need. And your information about two paintings being cut from their frames is 100% correct. When our guard saw my friends ’passion’ for art he told us all about what was right next door.
CVS: You cut paintings from the frames?
WY: Heavens no! When I saw what he did I was very upset. These really weren’t that big a deal paintings. They weren’t worth much. Just two nice late 19th Century portraits of old faculty members. They were portraits of men and this is a women’s college. I recoiled when I saw what he had done. He didn’t really care and simply rolled them up. You know what, in re-telling that story I recall I never knew what happened to those paintings.
CVS: So let me get this straight. Right across the street from the Gardner, where eight years later a $500 million robbery occurs 100 feet away where the guard says he was summoned to the door by persons claiming to be police, the police over power the guard, hand cuff him in a basement, take control of the place and cut paintings out of frames...and that wasn’t a clue to investigators?
Rembrandt; oil on canvas; 2010; detail of larger canvas by Charles Sabba
Van Rijn; oil on canvas; 2010; detail of larger canvas by Charles Sabba
Storm on Sea of Galilee; Rembrandt Van Rijn; Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Gardner Bullets V: A Sealed Case
Lets talk seriously now, and after over twenty years I think serious discussion is overdue since many of the principles have passed away, and if the few who are left go as well, they may take the secrets the possess with them, such as where the stolen art is (and we do believe the authorities know everything except WHERE the thirteen stolen items ended up). Seriously, the Gardner Museum security at the time of the robbery was a joke, so the museum administration and board members need to be held accountable and owe something to the American art loving people. They can rectify their negligence in the protection of our national treasures by taking drastic actions to recover the stolen art works. The head of security at the time of the robbery was incompetent and the guards were broken down valises who knew nothing about museum security. Why did these guards get off the hook so easy? Burnout musicians who opened the door to the museum even though the museum's policy clearly stated that they should never open the door for anyone. The Gardner guards allowed the robbers in and, after being duct taped up and secured to pipes in the basement, slept comfortably. Does a reasonable citizen relax enough to fall asleep into sweet dream land in this kind of situation while going through this kind of horrible ordeal? Then, after being discovered and liberated, these guards gave ridiculous descriptions to the police which culminated in those terrible composite sketches.
Two composite sketches of suspects: After Neville BPD; fingerprint ink on fingerprint card; Charles Sabba
Please recall (and refer to Gardner Bullets IV) that the Simmon's College guard was completely in on the 1982 robbery. Supposedly, the people who planned the Gardner heist never knew about the place until the Simmons guard turned them on to the score back in 1982, when he was covering for his pal at the Gardner Museum (the guard at the Gardner, a musician, was at a gig and the Simmon's guard was making his rounds).
It appears that the authorities are protecting these guards. The Gardner guard has never caught any public heat. These kids were no criminal masterminds, they could have never withstood the heat that they should have had to endure. I am positive they were pissing their pants in fear, being stuck between very dangerous underworld figures and the authorities/possible legal troubles. Please note the one little blurb in Tom Mashberg's & Anthony Amore's book about stolen Rembrandts that in Museum robberies it is usually an employee that is involved with thefts. There is usually an inside connection (and most museum security experts agree).
Where are they now? The Simmons guard died in the motor cycle accident. One of the Gardner guards supposedly died in France. One of the Gardner guards lived right around the corner from one of your William Youngworth's Allston antique stores at the time of the robbery. He allegedly was assaulted (reported recently in the Boston media) in front of the Allston antiques store. I personally would like to find and question all of the guards.
CVS: Why did Mashberg write about the guard living around the corner from the store on the twentieth anniversary of the heist?
WY: Who knows. Maybe its true. I didn’t know the guy. I vividly recall the argument I got into with Mashberg that started his attacking me the very next day. He probably printed the story to bait me into saying something about it. That was not so much a robbery as a gimme (staged robbery). I never saw two security guards on duty at anytime. That’s not to say there wasn’t but the security was a joke. In 1986 my friend had his own relationship going with a Gardner night security guard. The Gardner was just another score in the 80’s. In 86 we were just waiting for some security information. ...
CVS: During the negotiations with the Gardner Admin and the authorities, negotiations that eventually failed, did the authorities ask you to describe any of the circumstances of the theft? How about the condition of of the paintings? Did they ask to describe the backs, edges or under where the frame would hide?
WY: In the initial part of the negotiations they wanted me to describe things about the backs of the paintings I just did not know. They asked me about identification aspects that at the time I really never had a reason to note. They expected me to leave and go find those answers under intense surveillance. They obviously wanted me to access the package and lead them right to it. Now, many years later, as I understood it there was a Bernard Berenson tag on the piece and there were seals, or labels, that went between the stretcher bars and the canvas. The paintings were broken out of their frames and the seals were broken in the process.
These seals are designed to be like a seal indicating the actual artworks were original to the frames of that institution. Many museum collections do this. Its sort of a security/integrity feature ensuring the art work hadn’t been moneyed around with.