The 12 art treasures stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Sunday, estimated by museum officials to be worth at least $200 million, were not insured for theft, a museum spokesman said yesterday.
The cost of such insurance would be exorbitant, probably more than the museum’s $2.8 million operating budget, museum spokesman Barry Wanger said.
The news that the landmark museum on the Fenway would not be compensated for the loss of the works, including Jan Vermeer’s “The Concert” and Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” came as investigators worked to piece together details of the robbery, described by authorities as the biggest theft in modern history.
No ransom request was received yesterday, investigators said, but they are continuing to probe theories that the works were taken for ransom or for sale to a black-market collector.
Two men impersonating police officers were admitted to the museum at about 1 a.m. Sunday, overpowered two guards and managed to foil an alarm system, police said. Gardner officials and other museum security specialists called the alarm system “state of the art.”
Police, the FBI and museum officials refused to divulge the names of the two guards or the maintenance worker who found the guards handcuffed and gagged at 7 a.m.
The Gardner’s alarm system, unlike those in some other museums, does not automatically notify the police when activated by a disturbance, sources familiar with the investigation told the Globe. Thus, when the thieves overpowered the guards they were able to deactivate the web of electronic devices that protect the works, including individual alarms on each work of art, sources said.
Security specialists said yesterday that similar systems, in which alarms are reported to a guard station rather than directly to the police, are in many American museums.
In addition, sources told the Globe that:
- Investigators are trying to determine whether the thieves had tried to get in two weeks earlier by staging a disturbance outside the museum.
At least three people took part in the apparently staged disturbance two weeks ago outside the Gardner in the early-morning hours, sources said.
One person pounded on the door—the same door that the thieves used in the robbery Sunday—and begged to be let in to get away from attackers, sources added.
But, they said, when the guard on duty refused the allow the man in, the man got into a car with the two men who supposedly had attacked him and the trio drove off.
Investigators are interviewing all of the museum’s guards to determine whether any of the men who staged the disturbance match the descriptions of the two men who robbed the museum, and to find out if there were any other suspicious attempts by unidentified individuals to gain entrance to the museum after closing.
- Two men posing as police officers had tried to gain entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts, the area’s largest museum and most valuable collection, late in the afternoon on Jan. 15, when it was closed for Martin Luther King Day.
“They asked one of our guards to let them in, that they were responding to a call, and our guard said, ‘I’m going to have to get my supervisor,’ and when he did, the cops left,” said William McAuliffe, chief of security for the MFA.
McAuliffe said because of the Gardner theft, he would try to determine whether the two men who responded to the Museum of Fine Arts were, in fact, Boston police officers.
“It could have been a legitimate call,” said McAuliffe, “but in light of what happened, we want to know for sure.”
Boston police said yesterday they were working to determine whether any of their officers made the call at the MFA, which is showing priceless works by French painter Claude Monet.
- Guards at the Gardner do not carry weapons. Although museum sources have not disclosed whether the guards on duty at the time of the theft were armed, former guards said no one but security chief Lyle Grindle carries a weapon.
The Gardner did not believe arms were necessary because police were only a short distance away, they said. However, the thieves were armed with mace and carried handcuffs, sources said.
- The thieves exhibited working knowledge of the museum’s security system by removing videotape cassettes that would have shown their faces and movements.
Such knowledge would suggest inside knowledge of the museum’s security apparatus, a security specialist said.
Steve Keller, a national consultant on museum security from Delray, Fla., said in an interview yesterday that the Gardner’s system was up-to-date and extensive.Continued...