Wellesley Alumna Produces Podcast About Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist

An empty frame at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Image credit: Federal Bureau of Investigation
November 2, 2018

On March 18, 1990, two men disguised as police officers gained entry into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by deceiving the security guard manning the watch desk that night. After handcuffing and blindfolding him, as well as the other guard on duty,  the thieves removed 13 works from the galleries, valued at upwards of half a billion dollars, including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet, and sketches by Degas.

Working with a team of journalists from WBUR and the Boston Globe, Kelly Horan ’92, a senior producer and reporter at WBUR, has produced a 10-episode podcast that revisits the crime through first-ever interviews, unprecedented access to investigation files and police reports, and letters and diaries from some of the individuals involved. Horan and her team traveled to Philadelphia, Florida, Ireland, and Italy during their investigation. Last Seen began airing on September 17.

Horan said she felt strongly that the story of the Gardner theft was perfectly suited for a podcast. “The human voice has no substitute,” she said. “Much has been written about the Gardner heist, but the power of my chosen medium, radio, brings voices that have never before been heard into the conversation.”

The podcast includes interviews with people who were involved in the theft’s investigation. “Hearing the anguish of the former museum director, or the terror of a former security guard who has never before given an interview, or the exasperation of a suspect who protests his innocence, really brought this story alive in a whole new way,” said Horan.

In the first episode, the listener learns about the tense scene the night of the crime through interviews with one of the guards who had never before spoken publicly about that night; the museum’s director of security, Anthony Amore, who was hired 15 years after the heist; and the museum director, who called the scene when she arrived her “worst nightmare.”

No one has been arrested in connection with the crime, despite what is now a $10 million reward, an aspect of the case that Horan finds especially intriguing. “There hasn’t been a single arrest for anything related to the Gardner heist— stealing the art, concealing it, or trafficking it,” she said. “There hasn’t been one confirmed sighting of any of the 13 stolen pieces. Not one in almost 30 years.”

Horan said she was struck by the emotional impact of the heist during a visit with Amore to the museum’s attic, where she saw the stretcher that once held Rembrandt’s masterpiece Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

“There was about an inch of the canvas running around the inside perimeter of the stretcher, and when I understood that I was looking at a remnant of Rembrandt that the thieves had left when they slashed the painting from its frame, I was almost overcome with emotion,” she said. “It felt like I was looking at a victim, and I suppose I was.”

Photo: An empty frame remains where Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee was once displayed in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.