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FBI Thinks It Knows Who Pulled Off The Isabella Stewart Gardner Heist

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The backstory: on March, 18, 1990, two men disguised as police officers got into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass., tied up the security guards, and made off with 13 works of art -- valued at around $500 million -- including paintings by Rembrandt, Degas, and Vermeer. The men were never caught, and the art was never recovered.

In a press release on Monday, the Boston Division of the FBI said that the bureau believes it knows who took the art, and where they took it immediately after the theft.

"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." Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said in a statement. "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."

But don't get too excited. In the same press release, the FBI concedes that the last it knows about the art's whereabouts is an attempted sale that took place around a decade ago. The information being released now is part of an appeal to the public for help recovering the art.

"With this announcement, we want to widen the 'aperture of awareness' of this crime to ... reach the American public and others around the world," DesLauriers said.

The museum continues to offer a $5 million reward for information that leads to the recovery of the art.

Earlier this month, The Boston Globe reported that investigators were revisiting the role of Richard Abath, one of the night watchmen at the museum on the night of the crime.

Abath's role in the theft was originally discounted, and no one is publicly calling him a suspect now. But investigators are looking at evidence that Abath knows more than he has admitted. And according to the Globe, one former prosecutor in the case wrote a recently-published novel about the heist, in which the night watchman let the thieves in to settle a large cocaine debt.

Abath, who is now a teacher's aide in Vermont, insisted to the paper that he had nothing to do with the crime, even while acknowledging some of his action's are hard to explain.

"I totally get it. I understand how suspicious it all is," Abath said. "But I don't understand why [investigators] think . . . I should know an alternative theory as to what happened or why it did happen."

About The Author

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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website?s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl@talkingpointsmemo.com