Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Real story of how 2 fake cops stole 13 artworks worth $500M in 1990

Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Real story of how 2 fake cops stole 13 artworks worth $500M in 1990
Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Wikipedia Commons)

Netflix is presenting to its viewers a documentary series based on one of the world’s biggest museum heists that took place in the '90s. Titled ‘This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist’ and helmed by Colin Barnicle, the show chronicles the entire robbery, while offering different theories and speculations to identify possible suspects. The thieves had decamped with their loot that included some of the most famous artworks in the world and the loss is estimated to be $500 million, however, no arrests have been made so far. 

When asked if the documentary would help in recovering the stolen art, Barnicle told, “I think if the docuseries doesn’t help, then they’re gone. Netflix literally has 500 million people subscribed to it. This is like the biggest wanted poster in the world.” If this caught your attention, read on to know the real story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist and the two suspects who are still on the loose.



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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Wikipedia Commons)

The true story

The infamous museum heist occurred in the early hours of a Sunday on March 18, 1990. It was Saint Patrick’s Day and several revelers were leaving a party nearby when two men disguised as cops parked a few feet away from the museum and headed towards the museum around 12.30 am. 

Rick Abath, 23, and Randy Hestand, 25, were the two guards on duty at the museum on the night of the robbery. The thieves allegedly got access to the museum on the pretext of an investigation about a “disturbance call” that they had received. 

Abath let them in and before he could sense something off about the two policemen, he was asked to step away from his desk, saying they had an arrest warrant. He was handcuffed as he stood facing the wall with his legs apart when his fellow guard Hestand walked into the scene. He was handcuffed too. The thieves are believed to have wrapped duct tape around their mouths and hands before carrying out their operation.


Rembrandt's 'The Storm on the Sea of Galilee' (

Art worth $500M and more stolen in 80 minutes

Among the stolen artwork was Vermeer’s ‘The Concert’, one of his only 34 famous paintings and Rembrandt’s only seascape piece ‘The Storm on the Sea of Galilee' were stoledn from the museum's Dutch Room. Govert Flinck’s ‘Landscape with Obelisk’, and ‘La Sortie de Pesage’ by Edgar Degas are some of the 13 artworks worth $500 million taken away from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  An ancient Chinese bronze Gu, or beaker, was taken from a table. In the Short Gallery, five Degas drawings and a bronze eagle finial were stolen. Édouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni was taken from the museum's Blue Room.

Even though it’s been decades since the infamous heist, the thieves haven’t been found. The museum is offering a $10 million reward for any information leading to art’s recovery. The FBI noted that the robbery could have been allegedly staged by a criminal organization. The investigators are particularly focused on Boston Mafia. However, there is no physical evidence to establish that. Meanwhile, reports suggest that the two thieves stopped on their way out after the robbery to check on the two guards who were tied in the basement and even asked if they were alright.


The four-part Netflix docuseries “This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist,” premieres on April 7.

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