The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist – The Suspects: Where are they now?

There are several pieces of information that are of interest when evaluating the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist suspects. The first is where the person was a the time of the heist. How old were they at the time of the heist? The thieves were believed to be in their 20s or 30s. Are they alive today? If so, could they have the paintings? If not, were they murdered? Could the murder be related to the heist? Have they been arrested since the heist? If so, did they try to exchange information on the heist with authorities? What role could the individual have played in the heist? What is the status of the suspects on these points?

Myles Connor (1943-): In prison at time of heist. Admits to casing the museum with Bobby Donati. He has tried and failed to negotiate the return of the paintings. Currently living in Massachusetts.
Associated with: Bobby Donati, David Houghton, William Youngworth III

William Youngworth III (1959-): In prison at time of heist. He has tried and failed to negotiate the return of the paintings. Currently living in Massachusetts.
Associated with: Myles Connor

James “Whitey” Bulger (1929-): He was too old to be one of the thieves, but he has a Boston mod boss at time of the heist. He may have inside information on the heist, or he may have been in possession of the paintings at one time. Currently in prison (probably for life).
Associated with: The Winter Hill Gang, Steve Flemmi, Frank Salemme

David Turner (1968- ): He was 22 and living Boston at time of heist. Based on his age, appearance, and criminal background he could have been one of the thieves. He is suspected of murdering several suspects in the heist including Charlie Pappas and Lenny DiMuzio. If Turner wasn’t one of the thieves he may have murdered them to get the paintings. Or he may have murdered his accomplice to protect himself from getting turned in by an informant. He is currently serving 38 years in prison and is due to be released in 2032.
Associated with: Carmello Merlino, Charlie Pappas, George Reissfelder

Charlie Pappas (1967-1995): He was 23 and living in Massachusetts at the time of the heist. Murdered in 1995, and discovered in the trunk of a car. Turner is believed to be behind his murder. He could have been one of the thieves.
Associated with: David Turner, Carmello Merlino

Bobby Donati (1941-1991): He was 50 and living in Massachusetts at time of heist. He was murdered in 1991. The Gardner Museum guards described the thieves as being in their 20s or 30s, and Donati was much older. He cased the museum with Connor, and had a history of art theft, so he is a plausible suspect except for his age. If he wasn’t one of the thieves he may have helped to plan the heist. There have been reports that he was a police informant, which may explain why he was murdered. His body found in the trunk of a car, a sign that his death was mob related.
Associated with: Myles Connor, David Houghton, Robert Guarente

David Houghton (died in 1991): In Massachusetts at time of heist. He weighted 300 pounds, which doesn’t match the description of the thieves. Connor says that Houghton told him that he and Donati were the thieves. He died in 1992 from heart disease.
Associated with: Myles Connor, Bobby Donati

Lenny DiMuzio (1947-1991): He was 43 and in Massachusetts at time of heist. Murdered in June 1991, like Donati, his body was found in the truck of a car.
Associated with: Carmello Merlino

George Reissfelder (1940-1991): In Massachusetts at time of heist, but was too old to match the description of the thieves. He died in 1991 from a drug overdose, his body was found by Carmello Merlino. After his death his brother claimed he saw the Manet at George’s apartment. George’s lover said that he was one of the thieves.
Associated with: Carmello Merlino, David Turner

Stephen Rossetti (1954-) He was 37 at the time of the heist and living in Massachusetts. His uncle Ralph had plotted to rob the Gardner Museum in 1982 but was arrested for another robbery for he got the chance. Steve’s cousin Mark Rossetti was a mob boss and a FBI informant, who may have been able to feed investigators false information to protect his cousin. He is currently serving a 51 year prison sentence for plotting to rob an armored car with David Turner and Carmello Merlino. Rossetti may have partnered with Turner and been one of the thieves, or he may have inside information on the heist through his mob connections.
Associated with: David Turner, Carmello Merlino, Ralph Rossetti’s nephew, Mark Rossetti’s cousin, Robert Guarente’s nephew

Ralph Rossetti (1919-1998): Although he was too old to be one of the thieves, he plotted to rob the Gardner Museum in 1982, and may have helped plan the 1990 heist. He is a connection between the Gardner Museum and Merlino’s crew, and his nephew could have been one of the thieves. He died in 1998.
Associated with: Carmello Merlino, Steve Rossetti’s uncle, Mark Rossetti’s father, presumably new Robert Guarente

Carmello Merlino (1934-2005): He was too old to be one of the thieves but he was a Boston mob boss at the time. He may have plotted the heist with Turner and Rossetti. He attempted and failed to negotiate the return of the paintings with authorities in 1992. He was arrested in 1999 with Turner and Stephen Rossetti for attempting to rob an armored car. He died in prison in 2005.
Associated with: David Turner, George Reissfelder, Steve Rossetti, Ralph Rossetti

Joe Murray (1946-1992): He was a drug runner in Boston at the time of the heist. An informant said that he bought the paintings from the thieves. He was shot and killed by his wife in 1992.
Associated with: Whitey Bulger, Patrick Nee

Patrick Nee (1943-): Informants linked him to the Gardner artwork, but he denies any involvement. Some thing that he could have sent the artwork to the IRA. He was arrested in 1991 for an attempted robbery of an armored car. He is currently out of prison and living in Boston.
Associated with: Whitey Bulger, Joe Murray

Stephen Flemmi (1934-): He was associated with many of the suspects but wasn’t a suspect himself. He is currently serving life in prison for 10 murders.
Associated with: Winter Hill Gang, Whitey Bulger, Joe Murray, Patrick Nee

Frank Salemme (1933-): He was a Boston mob boss at the time of the heist, who may have acquired the artwork. In 1995 he went to prison for racketeering and obstruction of justice. He went back in 2004 for perjury. He has been released from prison and it is assumed is in the Witness Protection Program today.
Associated with: Whitey Bulger, Steve Flemmi, Carmello Merlino, Robert Guarente

Brian McDevitt (1960-2004): He was living in Boston at the time of the heist, but moved to Los Angeles shortly after. Early on investigators suspected he was one of the thieves. He died in 2004 of natural causes.
Associated with: he wasn’t associated with the mob or any of the other suspects

Robert Guarente (1939-2004): Although he was too old to be one of the thieves, he is linked to many of the suspected thieves. He may have acquired the artwork after the heist. His wife said that he handed off a painting to Robert Gentile. He died in 2004.
Associated with: Bobby Donati, George Reissfelder, Carmello Merlino, Stephen Rossetti’s uncle, presumably knew Ralph Rossetti, Robert Gentile

Robert Gentile (1937-): He is suspected of having information on the current location of the stolen artwork. He was arrested in 2010 and is in prison awaiting trial. It is likely he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Associated with: Frank Salemme, Robert Guarente

The descriptions of the thieves:
Suspect One

  • -White Male
  • -Late 20’s to Mid 30’s
  • -5’7”-5’10”
  • -Medium build
  • -Dark short cropped hair
  • -Dark eyes
  • -Boston Accent

Suspect Two

  • -White Male
  • -Early to Mid 30’s
  • -6’0”-6’1”
  • -180-200 lbs.
  • -Broad shoulders, otherwise lanky
  • -Dark eyes
  • -Blank, medium length puffy hair
  • -Fair complexion and round face

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist – The Other Suspects

The list of suspects in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist is long. There are over dozen people who may have been involved in stealing, transporting, storing, or selling the artwork. The artwork may have changed hands several times. Many of the suspects have tried to work with authorities to negotiate the return of the paintings, while other suspects died shortly after the heist. Suspects Myles Conner, Bobby Donati, David Houghton,  William Youngworth, David Turner, Carmello Merlino, Lenny DiMuzio, Stephen Rossetti, George Reissfelder, and Whitey Bulger have all been discussed in earlier posts. Although quite a bit is known about these suspects it is difficult to confirm or deny that any of these men were involved in the heist. Even those who claimed to be involved have never provided proof that they can access the artwork.

There are also several secondary suspects: people who others have identified as being involved but without much publicly available information. Here is a rundown of the secondary suspects.

Joe Murray was a Boston drug runner with ties to the Irish Republican Army who was aligned with Whitey Bulger’s crew. In 1987 he was convicted of attempting to smuggle guns from New England to the IRA. According to Youngworth, Murray bought the stolen artwork from the thieves for $300,000 because they wanted to get it out of their hands. Murray died in 1992 after being shot five times, supposedly by this wife in self defense. Some believe that someone else may have been responsible for the murder. Murray was working as an informant at the time, and he may have been killed by an associate afraid of being ratted out. Did Murray buy the stolen Gardner museum artwork? Was he killed by someone trying to take the artwork?

Patrick Nee was an associate of Joe Murray who was also convicted of trying to smuggle guns to the IRA.  Informants have linked Nee to the Gardner heist, but he has denied any involvement. Nee was arrested in 1991 for attempting to rob an armored car, and if he had any information on the Gardner heist he likely would have used it to negotiate for leniency.

The Irish Republican Army has been suspected of being involved in the heist because of its ties to Whitey Bulger, Joe Murray, Patrick Nee and other Boston area criminals. Around the time of the heist, guns were smuggled from Boston to Ireland, but were the paintings also sent to the IRA? Criminal organizations can use stolen paintings as currency, and IRA was stealing paintings in Europe at the time. Did the IRA want the Gardner artwork so they could exchange it for guns? Was the IRA behind the heist? Although Youngworth and others have suggested that the IRA has the artwork, this doesn’t fit with the FBI’s recent press release saying that the artwork is likely in Connecticut or Pennsylvania.

Stephen Flemmi was a close associate of Whitey Bulger. Like Bulger, he was a FBI informant. Flemmi was never a major suspect in the heist, but he may have gained inside knowledge of the crime due to his involvement with the Winter Hill Gang. Flemmi claims to have no knowledge of the heist. In 2004 he plead guilty to 10 murders in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.

Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme was the boss of the Boston and Providence based Patriarca crime family in the 1990s. Salemme was also a close associate of Bulger and Flemmi. As FBI informants, Bulger and Flemmi provided the FBI with information that was used to charge Salemme with racketeering. After his arrest Salemme provided authorities with information on Bulger, Flemmi and Connolly. It can be assumed if Salemme had information implicating Bulger and Flemmi in the heist he would have shared it, and vice versa. Salemme had many ties to other suspects in the Gardner case, including Robert Guarente and Carmello Merlino, but he denies involvement with heist. He has been in prison twice since the heist and is currently out of prison and is believed to be in the Witness Protection Program.

Brian M. McDevitt was an early suspect in the case who was questioned by the FBI twice. His attempted robbery of the Hyde Collection in New York made him a plausible suspect. In 1981 McDevitt and an accomplice dressed in Federal Express uniforms, hijacked a Federal Express truck and drove to the Hyde Collection. The plan was ruined when they got stuck in traffic and were unable to make it to the museum before it closed. Police responding to a call for the theft of the truck spotted them and arrested them (they were convicted and spent less than a year in prison). An elaborate diagram of the museum, 14 pairs of handcuffs, duct tape, medical tape, and sharp tools were found in the truck. The would-be-thieves admitted that they planned to cut the artwork from the frames. The attempted Hyde Collection heist has several similarities to the Gardner heist. Thieves utilized uniforms as disguises and as a means to gain entry to the museum. Both involved cutting art from the frames. McDevitt was living in Boston at the time of the Gardner heist, and when he was brought in for questioning, he was clean shaven for the first time in eight years. Is it possible that on March 18, 1990 his signature red beard was shaved so he could wear a fake black mustache? His alibi for the night of the heist didn’t check out, and he refused to take a polygraph test, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge McDevitt with the Gardner heist. He moved to Los Angeles in 1990 where is posed as a screenwriter for two years until the Writers Guild of America realized his resume was fake. He died in 2004 from kidney failure. McDevitt repeatedly denied involvement in the heist, but was he telling the truth?

Jerry Kaplan is an art and antiques dealer and a convicted felon. He was identified as a suspect in the heist by the San Diego FBI office. In 1990 he was living in San Diego, but he traveled to Boston the day before the heist and stayed there for a week. Kaplan openly admits to, and was convicted of, stealing a $100,000 painting from a gallery in Boston, and to being friendly with members of the Italian and Irish mobs in Boston. In two videos he posted on YouTube, Kaplan denies having any information on the Gardner heist.

John Connolly was one of six FBI agents in the Boston office that were being paid off by Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi around the time of the Gardner heist. Connolly was never a suspect in the heist, but the corruption of Boston FBI agents may be the reason the case was never solved.

Anthony Carlo is an ex-con with a history of art theft who lives in Massachusetts. The FBI searched his home in 2012, but did not find the stolen artwork.

Robert Guarente became a suspect based on a tip a caller gave Gardner Museum head of security, Anthony Amore, in 2010. Guarente had connections to many of the other suspects in the heist. He was part of Carmello Merlino’s crew, he was Steve Rossetti’s uncle, and he was friends with Bobby Donati, George Reissfelder, and Robert Gentile. After Guarente’s death in 2004, his widow said that in 2003 Guarente gave Gentile a painting in a rolled up tube. Guarente’s home was searched in 2009, but none of the Gardner artwork was found. Investigators have continued to follow the lead and have searched homes of Guarante’s associates.

Robert Gentile was a member of the Boston branch of the Philadelphia based Genovese crime family. He also had ties to Francis Salemme and had a long friendship with Robert Guarente. Gentile was arrested on drug and gun charges in 2010 and the FBI searched his home in hopes of finding the lost artwork. None of the artwork was found, and Gentile denies having any information on the Gardner art. The FBI did find two curious pieces of evidence: police uniforms and a list of the stolen Gardner artworks with their estimate values. Is this list the reason, “the FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region, and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia, where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft.”? Was Gentile the Philadelphia connection? Did he help sell the paintings?

Almost any combination of these suspects could have been involved in the heist and sale of the Gardner artwork, and maybe no one knows the entire story of where the artwork is today and how it got there.