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THE SUSPECT

Whoever stole the first sheet of the King Charles charter and its wax seal acted on August 8, 1984, sometime around 10 or 11 am so as to strike between the shifts of museum workers making rounds. Either that or it was snuck out the previous evening — an alternative theory goes — past an alarm system and locked doors. Reacting to the heist, then-Secretary of State Michael Connolly wagged his finger at the now- defunct Capitol Police force, which patrolled the State House and six other buildings at the time. In his turn, however, Governor Michael Dukakis blamed Connolly for fumbling the sheepskin.

"The whole thing demonstrated how insecure our materials were," says Albert Whitaker Jr., who was the state archivist when the charter went missing. "That case that [the charter] was in was an improvement over what they had before, but, as 1984 proved, that wasn't entirely the answer. . . . Quite frankly, it was an embarrassment to all of us."

Faced with that humiliation while running for a US Senate seat, Connolly also blamed reputed art thief Myles Connor. That despite the BPD and FBI turning up no corroborating evidence, and another popular hypothesis among Beacon Hill insiders that operatives working for John Kerry — or one of Connolly's other opponents in the 1984 Democratic Senate primary — stole the charter to make the secretary look bad. Though he did get romped in the election, Connolly's theory gained some traction six months later, when the charter was found rolled up in a box, haphazardly stashed in a dogshit-strewn Dorchester apartment linked to Connor.

A Mayflower descendent and son of a Milton police sergeant, Connor is the most prolific art thief in Boston history, and probably the most intriguing. A badass rock-and-roll frontman in the 1960s, his band, Myles and the Wild Ones, achieved local fame and even acclaim. But Connor sought more dangerous avenues to make bank, and by the early 1970s was amassing an arsenal of stolen pieces — everything from European paintings to swords and lethal weapons from the Far East. In 1974, he is said to have helped federal investigators recover Rembrandt's Portrait of Elizabeth van Rijn, which had been stolen from the Museum of Fine Arts at gunpoint. So with the charter gone, Connor became the prime suspect — even though he'd been incarcerated during the robbery.

By the time authorities located the charter on Burt Street in Dorchester, it was 1985, and Connor was a free man. The apartment in question belonged to a Kathryn Perry, who was believed to have stolen drugs from pharmacies throughout New England. But in addition to cash and pharmaceuticals, authorities discovered the priceless document. Though not caught red-handed, Connor remained the obvious scapegoat — especially after a photo of him, posing with his blues-singer buddy James Cotton and Perry in the latter's Burt Street pad, was found during a March 1985 raid on the Canton apartment of convicted art thief Kevin Gildea.

It seemed to make sense that Connor orchestrated the charter heist. Though he wound up getting acquitted, he was facing serious time for a double homicide when the page was stolen, and the theory was that he'd planned to use the parchment as a bargaining chip with prosecutors. But after all these years, Connor still hasn't taken credit — not even in his embellished 2009 tell-all, The Art of the Heist. His longtime attorney Marty Leppo says that he is unaware of Connor ever stealing from the State House, but acknowledges that such poorly patrolled venues yield prime pickings for the criminally inclined. "They know that no one will even notice that anything is missing for five or 10 years," he says.

According to Leppo, the Norfolk County District Attorney's office has a storage room full of Connor's spoils — including items from the Revolutionary War. He's fighting to get them back, claiming that none of the confiscated goods appear on any stolen-art registries. If any of the loot was taken from the State House, though, Leppo wouldn't find it listed in such databases, as the commonwealth has neither the time nor budget to report losses. With that said, even if Connor did make some grabs on Beacon Hill, the fruits were not likely around for long. Like he writes in his book: "In the underground world of organized crime, stolen art acts as a kind of universal monetary unit. . . . The majority of these pieces never even leave their shipping crates, but are shuffled from one storage facility to another, like so many sacks of pirates' gold."

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , State House, art theft, artifacts
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