Gardner Museum Heist: 27th Anniversary Story: The True Story; Not the FBI’s One: 7/8

Folks —  I have been advised (thanks to Kerry) I already posted what I put out at 8:00 am this morning on a prior occasion as number 5/8. I am extremely grateful for his help especially the way he was able to  the sleuth out my telephone number.

This could have happened because of an FBI/Russian/ Trump hack job. However, as you know sometimes I screw up these things. I think the preponderance of the evidence is that it looks like this might be one of those times.

Sorry about that.

I’ve gone back and I’ve located what happened. When I intended to publish 5/8 the series for 7/8 was inserted instead.  (I’m not suggestion it was an FBI cyber attack but it is capable of doing those things.) I cannot explain how it happened unless i did the copying after having spent some time with my friend Johnny Walker. )

That means I’ve never published 5/8. Therefore I am going to go back and will publish the end of 4/8 through 7/8 below. For those who are thoroughly confused like me, keep in mind that on the 18th the whole series will be set out.


Gardner-Museum heist


Then the names Billy Youngworth comes up. He supposedly received the art work from Donati or Houghton and was holding it for Myles and hid it in a warehouse but the trail ends there. The problem with all these stories is none of the art has surfaced. Youngworth convinced a newspaper reporter that he had the goods. At the time my office was prosecuting Youngworth for having stolen property. He was looking to get out from under our charge. We played it straight and he did time. Nothing ever came of his having the goods.


Then we have the FBI’s other theory that a group of fences and drug dealers out of an auto body shop in Dorchester TRC were involved. We knew they were dealing cocaine from there through our sources in Norfolk County but were unable to get enough evidence to do a wiretap on them which we may have done even though they were in Suffolk County. The big guy at TRC was Carmello Merlino. FBI informants told it that Merlino was looking to return the Sea of Galilee in exchange for the reward but before he could do so he was caught in an abortive armored car robbery by the FBI. The FBI had an informant in the crew of robbers and hoped once it caught them it would also get the paintings back.

Obviously once grabbed in the attempted robbery Merlino would forget the reward, you would think, and deal the painting for the street. As it turned out Carmello Merlino would go to trial along with four co-defendants. Had they access to the paintings they could have avoided this. In 1999 Carmello got 47 years, a co-defendant Stephen Rossetti, the brother of an FBI top echelon informant got 51 years, Billy Merlino got 13 years, and David Turner got 38 years.

Interesting enough Turner would cooperate. The Feds agreed to reduce Turner’s sentence back in 2011 to 2013 by seven years. Speculation was that he was providing information on the Gardner Museum job. That, though, is doubtful. Whatever he gave out did not produce any of the art so his cooperation must have related to other things. Turner was a bad guy who had been involved in some serious crimes in the past so his information alone was worth something.  As I noted earlier if you plan to commit crimes be sure to do it with others.

The FBI believed Merlino had the art work. I have no idea how they conclused that but it seemed elementary he would not take a 47 year prison term if he could give up the art work.  One of Merlino’s friends was another hoodlum named Robert Gentile. A close friend of Gentile’s was a guy named Robert Guarante. Guarante was the uncle of top echelon informant Rossetti and the Rossetti who got the 51 years. All are gangsters. The FBI believes that the two RG’s somehow ended up with the art work.

Some reports have it that Gentile and Guarante apparently negotiated to return the Gardner paintings some time before 2004, the year Guarante died, in exchange for releasing a friend of Guarante from prison.  (You’d think they would have done it to help out Merlino or nephew Rossetti.) Later stories would surface that Guarante had the art and he gave two of the paintings to Gentile up in Maine. This was based on a story Elene Guarante, Robert’s wife, told investigators. She said her husband put one or two of the Gardner paintings into their car and that they swapped the paintings with Gentile in Portland, Me in 2002. This would mean the art work was being spread around and would have increased the likelihood of it being found if that were the case.

The FBI happens to believe all these informant stories. As I said it is a one pony show so it has nothing else to rely on. It has been to Gentile’s house two or three times digging up his yard and tearing down his walls looking for the art but has come up empty-handed. The FBI has lodged one charge after another against Gentile attempting to break him down. It seems to think that an 80-year-old guy in ill health would keep quiet about art work that has no value at all to him and spend the rest of his life in prison. Gentile denies having any knowledge of the missing art. The FBI having no where else to turn keeps pounding on this door to nowhere with the cooperation of witting judges.

It reminds me of the case where this guy Raymond who worked for Boston Mayor White back in the days when Bill Weld the local U.S. attorney was chasing after White. One night Raymond was deep in his cups at Clarke’s and as was his wont in this condition lost control of his tongue. He told a young woman sitting next to him that he was Mayor White’s bag man who carried in the cash to him.The woman was an FBI agent who filed a report about her conversation with Raymond. Raymond had no recollection of it or the lady the next morning when he woke up.


A day or two later Raymond found a grand jury subpoena in his hand. He went before the grand jury, denied he ever said he was the mayor’s bag man or that he brought cash to him. He was indicted for perjury. In the eyes of the FBI a drunk’s tale was worthy of belief.

So the FBI’s last hope is Gentile who knows nothing about the art work. Once he kicks the bucket the only ones left alive will be Myles Connor who is still playing the Donati/Houghton story and Turner who will have to come up with something to get another sentence reduction.

But no art work has been recovered, no art work has been seen, and the FBI is at a dead-end because early on it made a wrong turn as it is apt to do when it relies on informant stories and fails to look at the evidence staring them in the face.

The Story in the Package: 

I told you what I thought. Professional job, well cased, and buyer lined up before hand. No usual gangsters involved.

Here is another theory that is close to mine and far away from that of the FBI’s,

This is the story that was sent to me at my post office box #9, 02574. But before I go on I must warn you that what I am going to tell is a very bare bones outline of what is contained in over 100 pages of an intriguing, clever, and interesting tale. I am afraid in presenting this truncated version I will not do justice to the full story which contains substantial facts that are used to support the conclusions. For that I apologize but space is tight. Those interested in reading the full story will have to hope the author arranges for it to be published or that some other arrangements can be made.

It begins with a visit last year. A highly successful lawyer from Boston visiting in Sanibel arranged a meeting at a pool side at one of those ubiquitous Gulf front condos in Florida with a person, who I originally took to be a swamp Yankee but who later identifies himself as having Irish Russian heritage, who is a  self-proclaimed artist skilled in tracking people, called Al.

The lawyer tells Al how his “Brahmin friends” are at their wit’s end and willing to spend any amount of money to get back the art work stolen from the Gardner museum. They want to hire Al. He declines the offer saying he knows who stole the paintings but does not know where they are then located. Al suggests he figured this out a while ago because like those Brahmin he too has a great attachment to the Gardner museum from his youth.

Al starts off noting how sometimes the most obvious solution to a crime stares one in the face but it is overlooked. He (like I) noted the FBI has gone down many blind alleys because it relies on its connections with the underworld. He said at the end it “was forced into casting the blame on the old boogeyman . . . the mafia.” It settled on this because one of the robbers was said to have “squinty eyes.” Al found it mysterious that the FBI did not rely on “their well known, time-honored profile i.e., someone ratting, . . . “ (As I’ve noted that is just the other side of the informant coin.) He mentions the contact with the FBI by letter in 1994 and how nothing came of it because the FBI did not cooperate in good faith. (Hard to say why that letter came to nothing. Someone could have been pulling FBI’s leg.)

Al noted, as I have, the FBI’s conclusion the theft was carried out by “petty thieves” and “not done by experienced criminals” and was “messy and ineffectual.” He too finds that error. He suggests it was a well planned robbery involving two vehicles (one van to take the paintings) and four people, two standing watch outside with walkie-talkies, the tampering with the alarm system by a computer expert, etc.


Al then tells us he started to figure out who did it by seeing similarities between it and an earlier art theft where the painting was cut from the frame even thought the earlier one was in 1966. He says first of all it is clear to him the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum thieves had “inside” information. He notes they knew of guard’s panic button, the entrance tapes, a location to place and hold guards, knew one painting was on a hidden door, and what “red herrings” to leave. (I differ from him on this. I believe professional art thieves could easily have learned these things.)

Al suggests the inside information came from Rollin Van Nostrand “Bump” Hadley who was administrator of the museum from 1963 to 1970 and director from 1970 to 1988. Hadley died of a heart attack at his home in Fort Lauderdale at age 64 within two years following the robbery. Al said Bump refused the FBI’s request to provide it with a “list of his friends, art lovers, visitors, etc.” who he entertained in and about the museum during dinners and after hour gatherings.

Al called Bump a party animal, did not suggest he had anything to do with the theft, who might have unwittingly provided access to the museum or had loose lips in his dealings with people who were lovers of the arts. Bump had many dinners and other affairs at the Gardner even in the evening that allowed others the opportunity to case it. He suggests a person skilled in extracting information from another could have gotten all he needed from unwary Bump. (A fault with this theory is Bump retired two years before the heist and no clever thieves would depend on information that was stale.)

Al also figured the persons involved had to have knowledge of computers which would leave out much of the lay-abouts the FBI rousted. This, he suggests, shows a Harvard/M.I.T. connection at a time when computers were coming out of their infancy and the hacker was king. Al then starts out to find out more about computers by looking up some old friends.

In the meantime he’s keeping in mind the 1994 letters that came from New York with a phony West Side address. They involved a demand of $2.6 million to return the paintings and immunity from prosecution. Al’s theory is non-career criminals committed the act for insurance proceeds. (Mine is skilled criminals from Europe for an art collector. The FBI some criminal muffs blundering along. If FBI is right kiss the paintings goodbye and it should stop looking.)

Now to the nub of Al’s story. He is in New York in 1998 and is reading the obits. He reads about  a “New York heiress” living in a long lease apartment in the hotel across the street from where he was staying died in tragic circumstances. She was a patron of and great collector of the arts. Al happened to know the doorman at the hotel who doesn’t tell him much but sends him off to Billy Bob the house engineer a guy from Fall River who tells him the much-loved heiress was probably thrown off the 15th floor because she was worth between 50 to 150 million by her husband (SOB)  a “slimy bastard.” SOB is a top-notch violinist who sometimes substitutes for the first violinist at the Met. Al then tells us the mean SOB’s ”marriage to” the heiress “was concluded in 1992 after a long friendship.” (At first I thought he meant they were divorced.) The SOB  brought from his previous two marriages a son and two nephews, she brought three children.

Al then turns to David Turner who I mentioned before who got the big bit in prison. I discounted him because of that. Al initially thinks Turner may have murdered the heiress but later he concludes he would have not done the big time if he had the paintings. (Why Al, who recognizes the foibles of the FBI, would think Turner under any circumstance escapes me.)

Al eventually eliminates the gangsters dealing cocaine from TRC in Dorchester. He follows the Bump Haley trail. Bump likes to party on the Cape. So did the heiress and the SOB. Figures they met and they became friendly. Ties the ends of the string together by corroborating his theory with an Irish artist also from the Cape.


6 replies on “Gardner Museum Heist: 27th Anniversary Story: The True Story; Not the FBI’s One: 7/8”

    1. RAther:

      That is a good question but to tell you the truth I did. I contacted A. Conan Doyle to see what information he could give me. He said if I went to 221B Baker Street in London I could see the missing art work.

  1. Matt
    This is a very interesting series of articles. If you decide to take a break from everything Trump I have a few questions. I watched a documentary recently that discussed “Mob Rats”. I was not aware that Sammy “The Bull” Gravano reportedly murdered 19 people. Thats the same number as Martorano. Interestingly Gravano did LESS time per murder than Martorano. It would be quite a treat for you to do a COMPARE and CONTRAST between Martorano and Gravano. Anyway hope all is well

    1. Jerome:

      Thanks for the tip. I’ll take a look at that since it sounds interesting. Of course Sammy “The Bull” is a lot better known than John “Murderman”

    1. Joseph:

      Thanks. I updated the post to explain what happened. Thanks for letting me know.

Comments are closed.