Netflix is always looking for stories to tell, and once again reality has proven more intriguing than fantasy. An upcoming series will focus on the 30-year-old robbery of $500 million worth of paintings from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Works by Degas, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet disappeared, and were never heard from again. Dozens of hypotheses were made, people looked everywhere: nothing at all. The biggest art theft in the history of art is still an incredible mystery.
“This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist” will be a four-part series, directed by Colin Barnicle, that will reach plausible but not certain conclusions. The investigation by the filmmaker and his brother Nick began in 2014, hoping to do better than the local police, FBI and dozens of private investigators assigned to the case. But even they have had to give up: there is no solution to this mystery.
The Gardner Museum, housed in a Venetian-style building built in 1899, had immediately seemed the ideal place to steal something without running excessive risks. On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers entered the building without any problem, tied up and blindfolded the custodian with adhesive tape and went on to collect the loot undisturbed: three Rembrandts, including “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, the only seascape by the Dutch master; “The Concert”, by Vermeer; some sketches by Degas; a few works by Flinck and Manet, a vase of little value and the eagle of a Napoleonic flag. Instead, they left hanging on the walls a Beato Angelico, a Michelangelo, a Botticelli and a work by Giotto.
Since the janitor was using soft drugs, the inside job argument quickly prevailed, but to no avail. The FBI pointed instead to local mobster Carmelo Merlino, who would have used two henchmen for the robbery: George Reissfelder and Leonard DiMuzio, who died in 1991, one from an overdose and the other in a shootout. According to the feds, the paintings ended up with Robert Guarente, a bank robber who died in 2004. Barnicle’s thesis is that the people who stole the works were not the same ones who later kept them, and that it was a theft for hire. Guarente would have been the instigator together with Bobby Donati, another mafioso, killed in 1991. In this round of picciotti probably little experienced in art, the paintings, the Netflix series will argue, could have ended up to someone who does not know the value and who keeps them hanging in the living room of the house as you do with the paintings received as an inheritance from the grandmother.
The FBI thinks the works were transported by organized crime to Connecticut and Philadelphia, where Rembrandt’s seascape was reportedly last spotted in 2003. Since then, nothing. Witnesses and suspects are mostly dead, no arrests have been made, and the five million dollar bounty hasn’t convinced anyone to talk. The Barnicle brothers’ hope now is that someone, lounging on the couch at home with a beer in hand, will see the Netflix series and ask his wife, “But that painting, doesn’t it look like the one we hung over there?”