Parting from the norm, here. This song is by an indie band out of Seattle: Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes.
The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Isabella Stewart Gardner was a wealthy Bostonian who spent liberally on priceless works of art. Eventually she built a museum to house them and it opened in 1904.
In 1990 two men dressed as policemen demanded to be let into the Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum. Against instructions, the security guard let the policemen in. The men lured the young man away from the panic button that would have notified police and called the other guard down. They then hog-tied the two of them with duct taped and hand-cuffed them to pipes in the cellar.
The men raided the museum, making off with a Vermeer, Rembrandt, a couple of sketches by Degas, Manet and Titian as well as some others. Although there have been a number of suspects, no one has been convicted of the theft and the art, to this date, has never been recovered.
Ulrich Boser does a thorough job tracing the crime and providing several clues as to who stole the art. He starts with biographical information of Mrs. Gardner, how she acquired her art and built the museum. He also gives a brief history of the individual pieces that were stolen.
But what makes this book as suspenseful as any spy novel, is the chase Boser engages in to track down the culprits.
Boser inherits the case from Harold Smith, a man renowned for finding lost or stolen works of art. When Smith died of cancer in 2004, Boser collected his information and took on the mantle. His investigation took him on a seamy journey through the underworld of organized crime and terrorist organizations. After four years, Boser offers his conclusions as to who he thinks stole the paintings and his argument is persuasive.
Whoever it was, we learn how and why art gets stolen in the first place and it is never because some big underworld boss, a Dr. No sort, is looking to add to his collection of stolen artworks. Mostly it is organized crime and other criminals who steal the art to use as bargaining chips to reduce a prison sentence, or to negotiate deals with other crime bosses and terrorist organizations.
Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Columbo or Hercule Poirot, who work mostly solo as they put together a series of clues and solve the crime, real-life investigators rely heavily on informants. These informants tell what they know in order to rat out a competitive crime gang, or to reduce their prison sentence, or get immunity from any kind of sentencing. Sometimes they just want to be an important person.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of cranks who pose as informants for the same motives. These "false witnesses" wasted a lot of Busor's time by causing him to chase dead ends.
But it's a dangerous game. Many key informants in this book end up murdered. It is even possible that the original thieves have since been murdered.
It is disheartening to see how many deadly criminals have been granted immunity because of their willingness to cut-throat other criminals. There is one particularly hair raising case where a Crime Boss worked with an FBI agent to get all of his competition behind bars and then took over their turf and businesses while enjoying the immunity granted to him by the agent.
Another disheartening fact is lawyers who make careers out of getting criminals off the hook. One of the primary suspects for the Gardner Heist was a known criminal in organized crime, committing all sorts of murders, and robberies only to get off due to the expert handling of his attorney.
Who was his lawyer? John Kerry.
In fact there is more than one politician listed in the book with connections to organized crime. A scary thought.
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