Was the Gardner Museum art heist an inside job?

The heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum lasted an astounding 81 minutes, as we explored in the first episode of Last Seen. It’s said that the thieves acted like they had the run of the place, as if they knew no one would be coming, as if they had an inside man. When something is stolen from a museum, the most likely culprit is an employee. According to data reviewed by the FBI, about 80 percent of museum robberies are inside jobs.

In the second episode of Last Seen, we’re taking a closer look at the man who was keeping watch at the Gardner Museum that night, and opened the doors to the thieves. Rick Abath was a 23-year-old Berklee dropout on the night of his $500 million mistake. He was playing in a jam band, working at the museum overnight to make a living. Then two thieves, dressed as policemen, showed up at the Gardner. They duct-taped him and tied him up in the basement as they ransacked the museum.

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Read the episode two transcript

Cast of characters

See all the people featured in the podcast.

Jon-Paul Kroger

Gardner Museum Security Team

Jon-Paul Kroger trained and supervised the Gardner Museum security guards including those who worked for the overnight shift. He contended that night watchmen were told they should not allow anyone into the museum after hours claims there would be no reason a security guard who he trained would open the door to the museum after hours, not even for police officers. He explained that in that case, the protocol in such cases would be to get the name and badge number, call and verify their identity with the station, and only let hem in if there were a legitimate reason.

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Rob Fisher

Assistant U.S. Attorney

Rob Fisher was the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Gardner heist investigation from 2010 to 2016. He reviewed the security tape from the night before the heist -- when Rick Abath was on duty. He wanted to see if Abath regularly opened and closed the door, as he claimed he did.

Cynthia Dieges

Gardner Museum Security Guard

Cynthia Dieges worked at the Gardner Museum as a security guard at the time of the heist, and roomed with the second night watchman who was on duty when the theft took place. According to Dieges, To hear her tell it, if there were a rule against late night visitors, it wasn’t uniformly followed.

Lyle Grindle

Gardner Museum Former Security Director

Lyle Grindle was director of security at the Gardner Museum from 1981 until his retirement in 2004. On his recommendations, the museum’s trustees agreed to several major improvements in the museum’s security system including installation of a climate control system, a motion detector equipment and a modernization of it fire alarm network.

Steve Keller

Museum Security Expert

Steve Keller is a museum security expert. In the late 1980s, prompted in part by an FBI warning in 1981 that a pair of well-known thieves had been casing the Gardner, the museum hired Keller to size up its security apparatus. Keller had one main recommendation: layers. Build more layers between would-be bad guys and your collection. Keller was brought back in by the Gardner after the heist to test the motion sensors in the Blue Room, from which “Chez Tortoni” had been stolen.

See the artworks stolen from the Gardner Museum, and read why they are important.

Take a virtual tour of the Gardner Museum

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