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March 18, 1990 saw the biggest museum heist take place in American history as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed by thieves dressed up as cops. Since that time numerous stories have surfaced with almost everything resulting the same, nothing found, nothing recovered and a museum, still bound by deed of gift hangs empty frames on the wall where once hung masterpieces by Vemeer, Rembrandt, Manet and Degas. In the year 2001 this writer was handed an extraordinary letter from a confidential FBI informant outlining how the job was done, who the “Players” were, and how the paintings were spirited overseas, first to Italy then France where they were sold via the connivance of a New York dealer for upwards of $25 million.

Gardner 1

 One small problem, despite this writer being flown abroad in February 2005 in the company of the FBI to meet the French National Police on the Isle de France in Paris, nothing was found. Noted FBI Agent Robert Wittman gave his best efforts on his trips to France in 2006 and 2007, he came close, but again, aside from Corsican mobster innuendo, nothing was found.

In 2013 this writer started to write the outline of a tv series on the project, then tentatively titled “Raiders of the Lost Art,” and the first item on the agenda was revisiting the Gardner Heist. The joy of a complete reboot is that one can go in the past and start over how one looks at a story, which helps because the original story development became so convoluted by wise guys seeking to cover their tracks, that a writer in the center of this story might be forgiven for getting vertigo or the spins.

Two names from the start remained of interest, and while the paintings were long since gone, getting a lock on the guys who did the job might help get Boston closure, and put the story back on the right track, and hopefully confirm what the wiseguy stated in 2001. An obstacle, the FBI refused to help when a Freedom of Information Act request was put in for an image of one William Merlino. That was a problem, this would take some doing to get around. In 2008 a friendly writer named Ulrich Boser sent the first photo of the other potential suspect, David Allen Turner, and that matched the police sketch. It would take another five plus years for the William Merlino photo to show up. As the reader can now see scrolling below, this was worth the wait.

Garder 2Police Sketch of Suspect Number One

Gardner 3Alleged Mugshot of "William Merlino"

Gardner 4Police Sketch of Suspect Number Two

Gardner 5Photo allegedly of "David Turner"

Where are they now? William Merlino (Fed ID #02275-748) is 53 years of age and serving out the remainder of an armoured car conspiracy case in Lee Federal Prison, Pennington Gap, Virgina. According to Federal prison records, he is due to get out on August 6, 2025. His codefendant in the armoured car case, David Allen Turner (Fed ID # 02274-748) is now 47 year of age in Danbury Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, CT and he is scheduled for release on March 25, 2025. A third defendant in the armoured car conspiracy case was William Merlino’s uncle, Carmello Merlino. Carmello supposedly the “made guy” in the family, and the link that could have confirmed the organized crime connection to this story, died in Federal prison on December 7, 2005. All three were sent away for lengthy prison stints from an arrest made in 1998 for a job they never got a chance to pull off, but conspiracy remains a valid charge in Federal courts.

How Merlino allegedly sold the paintings through New York wiseguys and a New York dealer overseas remains a tale for another day. At least the people of Boston and the arts community now have the first visual shred of evidence as to who the thieves likely were that dark night twenty four years ago. For doubters, and there will be some, look at the sketches next to the suspects and please comment below.

Gardner 6 

Gardner 7

Copyright © Robert Alexander Boyle

Gardner 8Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), The Concert, 69 by 63 cm ?Worth $150 to $200 million 

Gardner 9Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 160 by 128cm, Estimated value: $100 million

Gardner 10Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), Lady and Gentleman in Black, 131.6 by 109cm. Estimated value $50 million 

Gardner 11Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), Self Portrait

Gardner 12Govaert Flinck (1615-1660), Landscape with Obelisk, 54 by 71cm, Estimated value $5 million

Gardner 13Edgar Degas (1834-1917), La Sortie de Pesage, 10 by 16 cm, wc/p

About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...