The largest unsolved art heist.

It was after midnight. Cold and dark.
Two cops approached and asked to enter the building. They gained easy access with the excuse that they’d heard of a disturbance.
The next morning empty frames hung on the wall. Priceless paintings ripped out and stolen. Paintings that now are worth $500 million.
The largest unsolved art heist ever.

When I was researching ideas for a heist novel I Googled simple terms. “Unsolved art heists”, “Largest heists”. I casually clicked on one link and was immediately fascinated.

How could twenty years go by and a crime this big not be solved?

How could it happen so easily?

I wanted to know.

And the fact that the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was in Boston captivated me. I love Boston. It’s the city I grew up knowing. (Though I don’t recommend driving in the city without a GPS and even then you never know where you might end up. Put it this way – I spent hours trying to find a restaurant and never found it!)

Where are the stolen paintings today? No one knows. I read books on it; and, of course, give a writer some research and they’ll want to write a story.

And I did. It’s called HEIST. Through fiction, I solved the mystery, creating characters and plots to explain the unsolved mystery. And I threw in a little bit of time travel too. (It’s on the backburner for now, but someday it will see the light of day.)

The amazing thing is that Isabella specified in her will that nothing in the museum be changed. So the empty frames still hang on the wall today, waiting for the paintings to be returned.


Why blog about this today? Well, this coming weekend marks the 21st anniversary of the heist. If you want to know more, you can read this interview with Ulrich Boser who authored, The Gardner Heist. A fascinating book.

Has research ever sparked a story for you? What kinds of research are you drawn to?

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24 Responses to The largest unsolved art heist.

  1. Stina Lindenblatt March 12, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    I think that’s cool that the frames are left empty. That in itself makes the place more interesting because it has a story to tell.

    • Laura March 12, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      My impression was they’d prefer to not leave the frames up. But I agree, it add to the mystery. Kind of haunting.

  2. Sheri Larsen March 12, 2012 at 11:48 am #


    Mysteries spark my interest, anything without explanation or unexpected too. I like places that have a story/history. That always helps lure me to research.

    A GPS is a must in Boston. OMGosh!! (I heart Boston.)

    • Laura March 12, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      And researching for a story is just that much more fun! I actually don’t drive in Boston anymore – I take the T.

  3. Louise March 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Ooh, fascinating! If we do end up moving to the Boston area this year, I’ll have to visit that museum just to check out the empty frames (well, and because I’m a sucker for museums in general). I don’t know how many plot bunnies I’ve had sparked by researching something completely different. Most of my best stories have come about that way, though.

  4. Karen Lange March 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Wow, don’t recall hearing about this. I lived in Boston as a baby, so I don’t remember anything. Would love to go back.

    • Laura March 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      That’s what amazed me – that I’d never heard of this heist or the musuem. I visited it last summer. It was pretty cool.

  5. Jennifer Shirk March 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    I just watched the story on this on that TV show “Mysteries at the Museum”! <–that's a really cool show because they highlight different museums and different stories behind some of the artifacts in them. The artifact that they highlighted for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was one of the an empty frames. Interesting story!

  6. Jemi Fraser March 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Very cool! It really is amazing how something that major didn’t get solved. I hope those paintings return some day to those empty frames!

    • Laura March 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      I hope so too!

  7. Alex J. Cavanaugh March 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Never solved – that is wild. What do you do with priceless paintings that you can’t sell?

    • Laura March 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      You basically hide them or store them away for your own personal pleasure. Or barter with them on the black market for other things you want.

  8. Jenny Lundquist March 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    That sounds amazing Laura. Really hope your project moves to the front burner so we can read it!

  9. Laura March 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    It’s not too far on the back burner. 🙂

  10. Lisa Green March 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    That is so unbelievably cool. I love mysteries like that! And how fun to take the situation and let your own imagination solve it.

  11. Laura Marcella March 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I love it when casual research sparks a story idea. There are so many fascinating stories throughout history just waiting for the right author to come along and be inspired by it!

    I was snowboarding in Vermont last week and unplugged last week so I missed your cover unveiling. It’s awesome! So excited for your book’s birthday, Laura!

  12. Dianne Salerni March 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Well, I wrote We Hear the Dead after stumbling across the story of the Fox sisters while doing research for something else.

    The Caged Graves was pretty much the same thing. Since nobody knows the answer to that mystery (why are they caged?), I wrote my own fictional story. It’s more fun that way, huh?

    • Laura March 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

      Ooh, and I love reading fiction that I know is based on a historical story too. I should be receiving We Hear The Dead in the mail soon. 🙂

  13. Kris March 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    I really love this story of yours Laura–can’t wait for it to see the light of day…

  14. Sherrie Petersen March 12, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    What a cool bit of history! Now I’m curious about this other novel of yours 🙂

  15. becca puglisi March 13, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    This is so interesting! It fascinates me, where people get their inspiration. I read a book once on the California gold rush that showed such a different perspective on the event that I ended up writing a novel to showcase that perspective. Never before or since have I written anything based on a real life even, but that one totally captivated me.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  16. Traci Kenworth March 13, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Interesting. It fascinating to stare at those frames and wonder what might have been in them. A secret to some lost time perhaps?

  17. Wendy Ewurum March 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    What a wonderful story and so full of intrigue. I wish there could be a real life conclusion.

  18. Karen Strong March 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    I love research. The picture of the garden is lovely. Thanks for sharing about the heist. I’ll have to read more up on that. Sounds interesting.

    I love researching “unexplained” things and other phenomena. Love reading about “survival” stories too.

    I think I may have a survival story in my future. 🙂

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