Netflix docuseries shines light on $500 million Gardner heist's CT connection

Photo of Nicholas Rondinone
FILE - In this Thursday, March 11, 2010 file photo, empty frames from which thieves took

FILE - In this Thursday, March 11, 2010 file photo, empty frames from which thieves took "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," left background, by Rembrandt and "The Concert," right foreground, by Vermeer, remain on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The paintings are among 13 works stolen by burglars from the museum in the early hours of March 18, 1990. The FBI said Monday, March 18, 2013, it believes it knows the identities of the thieves who stole the art. Richard DesLauriers, the FBI's special agent in charge in Boston, says the thieves belong to a criminal organization based in New England the mid-Atlantic states. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, File)

Josh Reynolds / Associated Press

The 30-year mystery surrounding the Isabella Gardner Museum heist, the biggest art theft in U.S. history, got some renewed intrigue with the recent release of a new docuseries “This Is a Robbery” on Netflix.

The four-part series, winding through the story of one of the most vexxing art heists of a generation, again turns an eye on aging reputed gangster Robert Gentile, who has spent the better part of the past decade denying any knowledge or involvement.

The $500 million heist has remained unsolved since two crooks, disguised as Boston police officers, got into the vaunted museum in March 1990, tied up the guards and made off with 13 works, cutting many from the frames they were hung in.

The art stolen includes works by Rembrant, Vermeer, Degas and Manet, along with an eagle finial statute.

The director of the series, Colin Barnicle, told SF Gate that he believes the art spread out among a small group of criminals, where it remains.

Barnicle says one informant saw the stolen eagle finial “above a grease pit at a repair shop in Connecticut.”

“I do think some of the stuff is around, but the people who have it might not know exactly the provenance of it,” Barnicle told SF Gate. “The Degas drawings you might think somebody was sitting in the stands at Suffolk Downs in East Boston and drew it.”

Gentile, despite pressure from federal authorities in separate criminal cases, has never publicly admitted to having any knowledge of the paintings or their whereabouts.

Facing gun charges in 2016, federal prosecutors said that Gentile told an undercover agent that he had access to two of the paintings and could see them for $500,000 each, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors later told a judge that Gentile talked about the paintings while he was held in a federal penitentiary in Rhode Island awaiting trial, according to the Associated Press.

Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan ,McGuigan had sought to have the charges dropped, saying that federal agents entrapped his client in an effort to get his cooperation with the unsolved Gardner heist investigation.

In a previous federal case against Gentile in 2013, prosecutors said they found told a handwritten note with the names of all the stolen paintings while searching the man’s Manchester home, the Associated Press reported at the time.

The docuseries highlights a sweeping search of Gentile’s Manchester property at the time and a belief among investigators that they would find the long missing work. A TV interview with McGuigan is shown in which he says: “They are looking for paintings. They are looking for them right here.”

No paintings have been recovered and the frames still sit empty in the Gardner museum.

For years, the whereabouts of the paintings was left to speculation until 2013, when the FBI’s Boston Field Office announced it had evidence that showed the paintings had moved through Connecticut.

“The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region, and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia, where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft,” said Richard DesLauriers, then the head of the FBI’s Boston office. “With that same confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.”

Despite what DesLauriers said, the FBI, which believes the thieves are dead, never publicly identified the suspects involved in the heist. Gentile, who has been out of prison since 2019, has never been charged with possessing the stolen art.

A $10 million reward for the return of the paintings has not been claimed.