One of a number of famous stolen Rembrandts
A year or so ago, I received an uncharacteristically quick response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request I had filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It seemed that my application for all FBI records pertaining to Raymond L.S. Patriarca would be granted, and rather soon, because another organization had filed the same request and the information was readily available. Since I was happy to receive the files in the form of a compact disk, I would have my information within weeks.
When the disk came, I could hardly wait to read its contents. The size of the data was huge, consisting of thousand of pages of scanned FBI documents about the man who ran organized crime in New England from a small, understated business office on Federal Hill, just a block away from the corner of Federal and Albro Streets where my father grew up and where I once played with my brother on my grandmother’s front stoop.
As I started to read the documents, I was taken aback by how much was redacted. The Bureau is careful not to release the names of people who are still alive or to divulge information that remains pertinent to criminal investigations. It seemed like every other sentence contained a blocked-out name. How could this many people from the 1950s and ‘60s still be within this mortal coil? Could the water in Providence be that good?
I wasn’t quite sure what I hoped to find in the files. I certainly wanted to learn more about organized crime, and Patriarca’s reign was so long and so impressive that anyone interested in true crime, as am I, would undoubtedly be mesmerized by the Bureau’s files. As an investigator and writer, the Patriarca FOIA files represent a veritable anthology of mafia activity in New England from the 1950s through the early 1980s. But when I started to dig in, I became disheartened by the volume and put off a comprehensive review.
The Patriarca Papers feature has been a godsend, doing the heavy lifting for me by culling out the important topics by heading and thereby creating a helpful index. I found myself on this site more often than my own FBI-produced CD. And one day, a particular heading jumped out at me: PAGE 49: Looking for a half a million Rembrandt.
I’ve been looking for a Rembrandt--actually, three stolen Rembrandts taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston--for more than a decade. I also wrote a book about Rembrandt thefts and had never heard of a Raymond Patriarca nexus. I read the FBI document and found that an unidentified individual had asked him if he knew “the thief from Boston who has the Rembrandt worth a half a million dollars. He stated that he has a guy who is willing to pay fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars for it. Raymond told him no, but he will try to find out who he is.”
The conversation took place in July of 1962, so it had nothing to do with the three I seek--those were taken in 1990. Still, I was curious: what Rembrandt was it, and where is it now?
My first step was obvious. Myles Connor is the world’s greatest art thief and a notorious criminal in the Boston area during the relevant period (and for many years thereafter). He certainly sounded like the perfect suspect. So I checked his autobiography, The Art of the Heist. Within, he tells of all of his criminal exploits. But there’s not a whiff of a 1962 Rembrandt to be found. In fact, he doesn’t mention a Rembrandt heist until he swiped a magnificent work from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1975. I don’t believe he’d have left out a theft from more than fifty years ago.
My next suspect was Florian “Al” Monday. Al was the mastermind of a Rembrandt theft in Worcester in 1972. Though he wasn’t thought of as a Boston thief, he was from Rhode Island and had ties to the Patriarca organization at the relevant time. I went over the voluminous notes I had kept from my interviews of Monday over the years and, again, there’s no mention of a stolen Rembrandt ten years prior to his biggest crime.
Still curious, I pored over old newspapers and found some Rembrandt heists from the period. There were masterpieces taken in Berlin and Holland, among others. But not only were they not in the half-million dollar range, they had all been recovered. In the United States, a painting believed to be a Rembrandt titled Tobias and His Wife was stolen in San Francisco, but that was only worth about $9,000.
So, I’m left perplexed. It’s one thing to know a painting is stolen. It’s an entirely other thing to know an unknown painting is stolen.
I began to wonder if maybe the mysterious man who approached Patriarca knew only one great artist’s name and referred to a stolen painting as a “Rembrandt” because he had never heard of, say, Frans Hals or Gerard Dou. In other words, a valuable painting equals “Rembrandt.” Or, as a colleague posited, perhaps there wasn’t really a painting available. Maybe it was just the criminal echo-chamber at work.I should probably just dismiss it as meaningless chatter. As far as I can see, it didn’t come up again. But I’m not the sort who can just forget about a stolen masterpiece. So, as is the case with so many missing paintings, the search continues