The gangster vanishes: twist in hunt for world’s largest haul of stolen artwork | Artwork and design

The Concert by Jan Vermeer, stolen from the Boston museum in 1990.

A number of the most valuable work on this planet, a billion-dollar haul together with work by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas and Manet, have been stolen from a gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, in an audacious heist 30 years in the past. However now, simply as a British detective closes in on what he believes are the very best clues thus far to the masterpieces’ hiding place, his key contact, an Irish gangster, has disappeared.

Martin “the Viper” Foley, a well known convicted prison who has operated on the fringes of gangland political violence in Eire for half a century, has out of the blue dropped out of negotiations, in accordance with Charles Hill, a number one artwork sleuth. And Foley’s promise to reunite the general public with these nice works, together with Vermeer’s The Live performance, probably the most worthwhile lacking paintings on this planet, has vanished with him.

Over a string of secret conferences and phone calls in the summertime of 2019, Foley steered Hill in direction of a possible take care of the surviving members of a gang he claims took the artwork and hid it three a long time in the past. However this summer time, after early publicity in Eire concerning the negotiations, Foley, who can be wished for unpaid taxes, dropped out of sight.

It was reported in February that the 66-year-old was in hiding after a warning from the Gardai, the Irish police, of a critical menace to his life from fellow gang members. “If anybody can discover these work, Charley Hill can,” mentioned John Wilson, the BBC journalist behind a brand new documentary movie, The Billion Greenback Artwork Hunt, concerning the investigation. “He’s nonetheless satisfied they’re in Eire and {that a} deal to return them is feasible.”

The Concert by Jan Vermeer, stolen from the Boston museum in 1990.

The Live performance by Jan Vermeer, stolen from the Boston museum in 1990. {Photograph}: Barney Burstein/Getty Photographs

Within the early hours of 18 March 1990, because the noise of St Patrick’s Day celebrations dwindled outdoors, two males dressed as law enforcement officials entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and, after handcuffing the guards, took virtually an hour and a half to pick out the artworks they wished. The heist stays infamous within the artwork world, and is the only greatest theft of property in America.

The museum is providing a $10m reward for data resulting in the work’ restoration. Hill, a former head of the Met’s artwork and antiques squad who recovered Edvard Munch’s The Scream in 1994, adopted a reputable result in west Dublin final autumn. Wilson and a BBC digicam crew chronicled the investigation for the documentary, which is to be proven on BBC4 subsequent week.

Since leaving the police after 20 years, Hill has operated independently and so is ready to provide ransom cash on behalf of the homeowners of lacking artworks. This implies working on the harmful interface between artwork thieves and sellers, and within the case of the Boston heist, additionally on the perimeters of the world of former Republican activists in Eire. Hill led a workforce that recovered one other Vermeer and a Goya stolen in 1986 from Russborough Home in County Wicklow. This theft had been masterminded by an outdated affiliate of Foley’s, the Dublin gangster Martin Cahill.

Foley, who can be wished in Eire for unpaid taxes amounting to €738,449 (£669,500), failed to fulfill Hill and Wilson in particular person in Eire, however one other prison supply, who seems anonymously within the movie, confirmed his concept that the works have been shipped to Eire after the Boston theft.

“The Boston police, the FBI and the safety consultants on the museum have at all times believed the work stayed within the metropolis, however Charley disagrees, as a result of there are too many issues pointing to Eire now,” mentioned Wilson this weekend.

A 2011 police mugshot of James 'Whitey' Bulger.

A 2011 police mugshot of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger after his arrest. {Photograph}: AP

If anybody has lately walked right into a room the place The Live performance, or Rembrandt’s solely seascape, Christ within the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, have been hanging, to say nothing of the Manet, 5 sketches by Degas and a Govert Flinck panorama, they’re more likely to have develop into suspicious. The reality is, nonetheless, that they’re in all probability all hidden behind a wall or in a cellar, on one facet of the Atlantic or the opposite, ready to function collateral in gangland commerce or to be swapped for money.

The still-empty frames within the museum the place they have been as soon as proudly displayed are a reminder of what has been misplaced. Wilson and Hill journey to Boston for the documentary to talk to the curators and detectives who’ve adopted each twist within the story. The path led first to the Italian-American neighborhood within the metropolis after which it indicated the involvement of James “Whitey” Bulger, certainly one of America’s most wished crime bosses till his arrest in 2011 in Santa Monica. FBI brokers uncovered cash and unlawful firearms in his house, however no artwork.

For Hill, and for the museum’s safety adviser, Anthony Amore, the unlikely theft of some lower-value sketches of horses by the French artist Edgar Degas, factors on the very least to a bunch of criminals with a powerful curiosity within the race observe.

The Billion Greenback Artwork Theft, BBC 4, Monday 19 October, 9pm

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