Possible new clue emerges in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist

A retired jeweler and fine art appraiser said he saw one of the stolen pieces about a month after the theft.

Sometime after March 18, 1990, Boston jeweler Paul Calantropo says he was shown a recently stolen eagle finial from Napoleon’s Imperial Guard by a friend. It was one of 13 artworks recently stolen in a robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. BOB SELF/BOB SELF FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

More than 30 years after the legendary art heist, a man has come forward with a possible new clue about the artwork stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, according to The Boston Globe.

Paul Calantropo, a retired jeweler and fine art appraiser, said in 1990 a friend of his named Bobby Donati brought him an eagle finial to appraise that seemed to be one of the items stolen about a month earlier from the museum.

He said he told Donati he couldn’t appraise the gilded bronze sculpture meant to sit atop a flagpole — the piece was worthless because the whole world knew it was stolen, Calantropo told the Globe.


“Jesus, Bobby why didn’t you steal the Mona Lisa?” Calantropo recalled asking him.

A little more than a year later, Donati was attacked outside his Revere home, according to the paper. His body turned up days later in the trunk of his Cadillac.

The Globe noted that the FBI believed at the time that Donati was targeted because of his connections to reported mobster Vincent Ferrara. Donati had a police record that stretched back to the 1950s, and included convictions for armed robbery and arson.

For years Calantropo was reluctant to speak about the conversation with Donati, fearing for his safety. However, he recently recounted what transpired that day for the FBI, according to the paper.

Calantropo is now part of a group of four men — including a retired law enforcement official, two former convicts, and retired Globe investigative reporter Stephen Kurkjian — investigating the heist.


They hope to solve the mystery of what happened to the stolen artwork and claim the $10 million reward offered by the Gardner Museum. Today the stolen items would be worth about $500 million.

According to the Globe, early on the morning of March 18, 1990, two men dressed like police officers talked their way into the museum, restrained two guards, and left with 13 pieces, including three Rembrandts, among them his only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”; Vermeer’s “The Concert”; works by Flinck, Manet, and Degas; an ancient Chinese vase, and the finial.


Since the theft, there have been numerous theories about who stole the artwork and where it ended up. There have also been several reported sightings of the stolen masterpieces, but few of those have been considered credible by authorities, according to the paper.

Donati has long been a suspect in the theft and the FBI did search his last residence in Revere, according to the Globe.

Members of the group told the paper they gave the FBI several addresses Donati had a connection to in the area. In August, the FBI searched one of them, but didn’t find anything.

“I was pretty crestfallen,” Calantropo told the Globe. “I believe the secret of the location died with Bobby.”

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on Calantropo’s account or what, if any, connection Donati may have to the legendary art heist.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com