Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

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 TheftThe 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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  1. Bravo! Nice review! I’m a huge fan of true crime narratives, so I have to find a copy of this one. Yes, defense lawyers are sometimes a nasty species. However, if I’m ever accused of a crime, I want the most nasty defense counsel money can buy.

    1. Thanks R.T.

      You don't say whether you would be falsely accused or not. I think if you wanted a lawyer that would truly get you exonerated, you'd have to go with an ethical one. The corrupt ones just get you off on a technicality, but can't clear your name.

      But if you're guilty and you've got the money, and I mean a loooooot of money, you'll get a good corrupt lawyer.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I have sent you an email. Hope everything's, OK.

  2. This sounds like such an interesting story. I know almost nothing about art theft. It sounds as if there is an entire world of really bad characters involved. The issue of giving criminals immunity is a problem. I know prosecutors often say that they need to do this in order to get any convictions at all, but there has got to be a better way.

    1. Hi Brian. I know what you mean. Actually, I did not mention this in my review, but the FBI agent that worked with the crime boss was, in fact, breaking the law and was eventually arrested and imprisoned. The crime boss then had to go into hiding, which he did until recently. But twenty years on the run can't be much of a life. Now he's in his 80s and in jail.

  3. not much difference between crime and politics? i'd go along with that, i think...

    1. A scary thought, isn't it Mudpuddle. There's some things I'd rather not contemplate.

    2. in my life i've been reminded of the truism: ignorance is bliss, quite a few times...

    3. OK. Now you've opened up a whole can of worms for me. Is blissful ignorance a permanent or temporary condition? I can ignore the truck bearing down on me and be blissfully unaware for a few seconds, but in the long run...?

      Gonna have to play a lot of Chopin preludes tonight to get to sleep!

    4. just in the sense that when i learn something i can't help remembering the pleasure it was not to know it... but as has been demonstrated numerous times, memories are not reliable: so what one thinks he/she was is not what we thought, and the present is never really here, constantly migrating into the future, which we can't predict, so ignorance must all there is... (i'm being facetious here, sorry...)

    5. That can be applied in many different ways. The thing that tortures me the most is child abuse. I can steal my piece of mind thinking about it. But all I can do is help where I can. Obsessing never helped victims of any kind.

      Then there was the ignorance I experienced when I first started playing classical piano. I did not know about the different eras or composers. It was all just beautiful sound. I think I have lost something because now I analyze what I hear. Of course that has its own reward so maybe it's a trade-off.

    6. everyone has their own way, and that's to be respected, always... life is not easy to cope with for anybody, and that's one of the amazing things about humans: that they're able to do it all... the talent for adaptation is an extraordinary development...
      re children: i totally agree: what's going on now re immigrants is beyond unacceptable; it is way past time to do something about it, imo...

    7. My husband and I are considering adopting.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.