Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heistby Stephen Kurkjian
In a secret meeting in 1981, a master thief named Louis Royce gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime. As a kid, Royce had visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made a habit of sneaking in at night to find a good place to sleep. He knew the Museum's security was lax, and he gave this information to a boss of the Boston criminal
In a secret meeting in 1981, a master thief named Louis Royce gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime. As a kid, Royce had visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made a habit of sneaking in at night to find a good place to sleep. He knew the Museum's security was lax, and he gave this information to a boss of the Boston criminal underworld.
It took years before the Museum was hit. But when it finally happened, it quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: 13 works of art valued at up to $500 million—including Rembrandt's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee." The identity of the thieves were a mystery, the paintings were never found.
What happened in those intervening years? Which Boston crew landed the big score? And why, more than 20 years later, did the FBI issue a press conference stating that they knew who had pulled off the heist and what had happened to the artwork, but provided no identities and scant details?
These mysteries are the story of Kurkjian's revealing book. The best and longest-tenured reporter on this case, and one of the most decorated investigative reporters in America, Kurkjian will reveal the identities of this who plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI refused to reveal. He will take the reader deep into the Boston mob, and paint the most complete and compelling picture of this story ever told.
“More than just a summation of all that's publicly known about the casefrom the thieves' false mustaches to the F.B.I.'s sting operationKurkjian's book is an impressive attempt to solve the crime by reconsidering the evidence...What makes Kurkjian's book so gripping is [this]: an accomplished investigator's sense of open-minded humility.” New York Times Book Review
"Engrossing real-life crime story.” Kirkus Reviews
“A new look at a legendary art heist [Kurkjian] draws on fresh evidence in Master Thieves to reveal his own chief suspect, tell the full story of the theft and perhaps hasten the missing works' return.”The Washington Post
"A cast of characters that would make Martin Scorsese swoon in admiration. There are so many crime-world figures with their fingers in this story that the book is like a GoodFellas/The Departed double feature Kurkjian constructs a thrilling narrative A great mystery story well told.”The Boston Globe
"Kurkjian, formerly of The Boston Globeand one of Boston's premier investigative reportersknows more about the Gardner robbery than anyone else, including the FBI. He covered it for years. And now he has put it all together in [Master Thieves]."The Lowell Sun
“Whodunits are irresistible, partly because readers can't wait to find out whether the theories they develop along the way jibe with the ultimate conclusion. Through that lens, ‘Master Thieves' doesn't deliver; the 'who' remains tantalizingly unclear. But that's OK, and even heightens the sense of criminal mastery.”Minneapolis Star Tribune
"If you want to go looking for the lost Gardner horde (and collect the 5-million reward the gallery offers for its return), there's no better place to start than the pages of Master Thieves. The museum (and the FBI) could use the help."Winnipeg Free Press
"Compelling It is a journey that takes [Kurkjian] deep into the world of the Mafia and a cast of characters so colourful they could have come from a Martin Scorsese screenplay."The Telegraph
“Steve Kurkjian is the best reporter in America.”Dick Lehr, co-author of Black Mass
Author Kurkjian uses his talents as an investigative journalist (Boston Globe) to piece together the puzzle and offer his guess as to what happened in the greatest art heist in the history of the United States. In 1990, two men robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of 13 pieces of art, including a Rembrandt. To this day, the pieces have yet to be found and those responsible are unknown. Kurkjian has many threads to unravel in this mystery. Boston's mafia families are connected to the robbery, from low-level hoods to famed boss James "Whitey" Bulger. The paintings stolen were going to be a big pay day, or maybe they were taken as leverage to negotiate a release from prison. Kurkjian covers the many theories and at times gets repetitive and a little too detailed; however, the reader will know by the close of the book all of the dead ends that exist in the case. VERDICT This is a compelling read of an intriguing mystery. With mafia intrigue and a cast of characters, Kurkjian reveals who he believes was really involved and maybe where the paintings might still rest. Recommended for those who like reading about true crime, art history, and heists.—Ryan Claringbole, Coll. Lib. at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison
A reporter investigates a notorious art heist.In 1990, two thieves made their way into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and fled with 13 artworks, worth $500 million. Despite the FBI's ongoing investigation, the thieves were never caught, and the art remains missing. Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigative reporter Kurkjian worked on the story when it first broke, and in his fast-paced, though sometimes repetitious, debut book, he recounts the heist, the official investigation and his own probing into the case. Security was lax at the museum, making it possible for two men, dressed in police uniforms, to gain entry, secure the guards with duct tape and invade the galleries. Shattering protective glass, they cut paintings from their frames and left without detection. The FBI took control immediately, refusing to involve the Massachusetts State Police or the Boston police, which the author sees as a crucial mistake. Mob involvement was suspected from the start, and local authorities, as one Boston policeman put it, "knew every wise guy in the city and had some reliable informants." As the case grew colder, the handful of FBI men assigned to it was reduced; three months after the heist, only one agent supervised. The author reveals the "Hollywood-style deal-making" used by the FBI to try to get mobsters to talk, but their efforts repeatedly failed. In 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the head of the FBI's Boston office tried to get the public's help in identifying artwork they may have seen or tips on the perpetrators, but nothing emerged. Based on interviews with scores of mob bosses, gang members, their wives, girlfriends, family members and lawyers, as well as with policemen and other reporters, Kurkjian believes he knows who did it. He has shared his findings with the FBI, and they come as the climax to this engrossing real-life crime story.
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Meet the Author
Stephen Kurkjian is one of the most acclaimed investigative reporters in the country. A thirty-year veteran of the Boston Globe, he is the paper's former Washington Bureau Chief and a founding member of its investigative Spotlight Team. Kurkjian has won more than 25 national and regional awards including the Pulitzer Prize on three occasions. He is a graduate of Suffolk Law School and lives in Boston.
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