BOSTON — A hot tip could still net you $10 million from a Boston museum desperate to recover a trove of missing masterpieces. But you better hurry.
December 31 at midnight is the deadline to collect a double reward offered for information leading to the recovery of 13 works worth an estimated $500 million – including paintings by Degas, Manet, Rembrandt and Vermeer – stolen in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
So far, no takers.
It’s a big disappointment for the museum and the FBI, which have still failed to solve the biggest art theft in US history. The two had hoped the improved reward would spur a wave of new leads. Instead, it was like watching paint dry.
“Right now, we’re laser-focused on that timeline,” museum spokeswoman Kathy Sharpless said. “There is clearly a sense of urgency on our part. We want our paintings back.”
A look at the case and what is likely to happen next:
On March 18, 1990, two men posing as Boston police officers entered the museum, telling the guard office security guard that they were responding to a report of a disturbance, authorities said.
The guard did not follow museum policy and allowed the men to enter. He and another guard were handcuffed and locked in the basement while the thieves got away with the art.
Missing pieces include Rembrandt’s only known seascape, “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” and Vermeer’s “The Concert,” one of less than 40 known paintings by the 17th-century Dutch painter.
Twenty-seven years later, empty frames remain on the walls of the gilded museum where the great works were once displayed.
The FBI told The Associated Press in 2015 that two suspects — both Boston felons with ties to organized crime — had died.
The agency said investigators believe the paints traveled through crowd circles to Connecticut and Philadelphia, where the trail went cold.
Federal prosecutors say Robert Gentile, a notorious 81-year-old Connecticut mobster, is the last surviving person of interest. Federal agents searched Gentile’s home in Manchester on several occasions.
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Prosecutors said the widow of another mobster claimed her husband gave Gentile two of the paintings. Authorities also said Gentile discussed the stolen paintings with other prisoners and once told an undercover FBI agent that he had access to two of the paintings and could negotiate the sale of each for 500,000. $. Gentile denies knowing anything about the theft.
Meanwhile, the five-year statute of limitations for crimes associated with actual theft expired more than 20 years ago, so thieves – even if caught – can no longer be prosecuted.
Although authorities have not yet offered blanket immunity to anyone with the paintings, they say they are open to considering immunity for anyone who can help them recover the stolen works.
For years, the museum offered a $5 million reward. Last May, the administrators increased it to $10 million, but only until the end of 2017.
Dutch detective Arthur Brand, who has helped European authorities recover other stolen works, says he has spoken to former police officers, former members of the Irish Republican Army and others, and remains convinced that he’s getting closer to solving the mystery.
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“I said from the start that if it’s not resolved by January 1, it will become … less likely that it will ever be resolved,” Brand told the AP. “We’re getting closer. There are so many people working on it that in the end the truth will come out – I’m absolutely certain of it. The only question is, do the paintings still exist?”
Sharpless, the museum’s spokeswoman, says the gallery will be happy to write that check for the proper tip.
“We’re really not interested in theories as much as good information and credible facts,” she said. “All it takes is good information to help solve this puzzle.”