At first, the surprise announcement that the FBI had identified the thieves in the legendary Gardner Museum heist sounded like a dramatic breakthrough — a sign that the 13 lost paintings, missing pieces of Boston’s cultural heritage for 23 years, would soon be returned to their empty frames in the Italianate mansion on the Fenway. Later, when the full impact of the announcement was felt, it seemed a little less hopeful: The FBI could only trace the whereabouts of the paintings up through about 10 years ago, when they were offered for sale. Then the trail went cold. The bureau is showing its hand in hopes that a source might emerge to fill in the gaps.
Whether this is an expression of confidence or desperation is anyone’s guess, but it’s reassuring to know that the FBI remains deeply committed to finding the paintings. The museum has offered a $5 million reward for fruitful information, an amount that should be high enough to draw out stray accomplices — especially if they suspect the FBI is getting closer on its own — or knowledgeable members of the public.