Ulrich Boser takes on the Gardner heist
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  March 18, 2009
THE CONCERT Still waiting for the true story of this Vermeer's whereabouts. 
The Gardner Heist:The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft | By Ulrich Boser | Smithsonian Books/Collins | 272 pages 

The details are almost too familiar — and too painful — to relate. In the wee hours of March 18, 1990, two men posing as police officers gained entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied up the two security guards, and stole 13 pieces of art that included Vermeer's The Concert, Rembrandt's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black, and Manet's Chez Tortoni. The Gardner heist isn't just the world's largest unsolved art theft, it's also the most famous. Yet despite the innumerable tips and the thousands of hours that have been expended on the mystery — to say nothing of the $5 million reward the Gardner has offered — we're no closer to knowing the thieves' identity or the art's whereabouts than we were 19 years ago.

Now DC-based journalist Ulrich Boser purports to give us the "true story." Boser took up the case in January 2005, after reading a magazine article by celebrated art detective Harold Smith, and when Smith died a month later, Boser took over. The first half of his modest volume is padded with art history and the history of art theft and second-hand accounts of Smith's meetings with celebrated art thief Myles Connor (see Mike Miliard's interview) and antiques dealer William Youngworth III and British investigator Paul "Turbo" Hendry, and his pursuit of leads that included Whitey Bulger and the IRA — ground largely covered in Rebecca Dreyfus's 2006 documentary Stolen. This section of the book is also riddled with clichés and factual and spelling errors.

Boser does better when he's detailing his own investigation. Among the points that emerge from The Gardner Heist: 1) Art is remarkably easy to steal, even from a famous museum; 2) The Gardner perpetrators were expert thieves but not, to judge from the way they manhandled canvases, expert art thieves, and it's unlikely they were working for a billionaire "collector"; 3) Law enforcement has found it hard to push getting the art back if that means forgoing any possibility of prosecution.

And the "true story"? Boser interviews "Jerry Stratberg" (name changed to protect his anonymity), the student who saw the thieves sitting in their "police car" just before the robbery; Stratberg looks at photos of possible suspects and, a good 15 years after the fact, points to the "Asian eyes" of "golden boy gangster" David Turner. Boser suggests that the second thief was Turner associate George Reissfelder; he sets photos of the two men next to the police sketches (which have since been redone) of the perpetrators and states that "Reissfelder looks jaw-droppingly similar to the police composite." The resemblances are plausible but hardly conclusive. The thieves are described as being in their late 20s or early 30s. In 1990, Turner was 22, Reissfelder 50.

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  Topics: Books , Bobby Donati, George Reissfelder, Jerry Stratberg,  More more >
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