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Echoes of the Gardner heist

Posted by dinouye  March 13, 2010 09:33 PM

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In his current role as a senior fellow at the Center of American Progress think-tank in Washington, Ulrich Boser writes mostly about education. But he's drawn back periodically to the unsolved mystery of the 13 works of art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the 20th anniversary of the March 18 theft on the horizon, a paperback version of Boser's "The Gardner Heist" is being released this week.
Boser, who has appearances scheduled in Winchester, Boston, and Scituate this week, talked about his book in an interview with the Globe.

Since the release of my book [in 2009], a lot of people have called with leads and tips. Some things can be dismissed on the face of it, but some people have written interesting tidbits, so I'll call back and ask for more details and try to flesh out things.

With the release of this hardback, I released a website called theopencase.com. A number of other journalists are on there, and on occasion, I've posted there if I've found something particularly interesting. As an example, a person told me there was the potential for a work being a fake, so I've written about that. For some people, it's a real obsession, and every little detail about the case is something of interest.

A lot of the leads I've gotten since the book came out have been from David Turner's Braintree High School classmates, who are like, 'Holy cow, I remember that guy from our reunion.'

There's a lot of evidence that speaks to David Turner's involvement in the case, and his connection to the South Shore has always been interesting to me.

He's in prison for armed robbery until 2032. For a while, we were exchanging letters back and forth, and at one point I said, 'Look, there's a fair amount of evidence that you might be one of the people who robbed the museum.' He denied any role in the case, but he told me that I should put his picture on the cover of my book.

At the heart of this case is the museum, and to understand why people in Boston are so affected, you have to visit the museum and understand that Isabella Stewart Gardner wrote in her will that nothing should ever be changed there. So if you visited the museum when you were 5, because your mother dragged you there, or you went again when you were a college student and got in free, or you go today, nothing has changed. It makes people have a very passionate connection to the case and have a very deep feeling toward the museum itself.

People have a lot of misconceptions about art theft. They believe the thieves are Pierce Brosnan types, but the sad fact is the people who steal art are run-of-the-mill crooks, aging drug dealers, out-of-work bank robbers, and they steal because it's easy.

If I were to speculate -- and this is raw speculation -- I believe these paintings are most likely in the Boston area, most likely the thieves have lost control of them, and maybe hid them away in an attic somewhere. My guess is someone might find them when they're redoing their shed.

In art theft, hope springs eternal, often for a very good reason. It often takes years, decades, centuries for a work to resurface. Based on my research, and the work of others, I do believe these works will come back.

Ulrich Boser will speak at the Front Street Book Shop, 165 Front St., Scituate, on March 19 at 7 p.m. Phone 781-545-5011.

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