Anthony Amore describes Myles Connor as the world’s greatest art thief. He wrote the playbook for how to steal a Rembrandt, and -- more important -- what to do with it once you have it. The question is: Was Connor more than just the inspiration for the Gardner heist? Was he the mastermind?
The people featured in this episode:
Myles Connor first became something of a local legend in the Boston area with his rock ‘n’ roll band, The Wild Ones – but his infamy grew with his criminal exploits, especially thefts of art and Chinese vases. Connor was responsible for stealing a Rembrandt by riflepoint from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1975, and hoped that returning the masterpiece would lighten his prison sentence for robbing several Wyeth paintings from a Maine estate the year before with Bobby Donati. Connor was in jail serving the end of a 10-year drug sentence when the Gardner theft occurred, but he later wrote in his book, “Art of The Heist,” that he cased the museum in the 1970s with Donati, who he believed executed the historic theft.
Robert “Bobby” Donati, a petty criminal from Revere, Mass., had been eyed by authorities as a possible suspect in the Gardner heist since the mid-1990s. Legendary art thief Myles Connor was quoted saying that he knew Donati was responsible for the heist because the two had cased the museum years before. More recently, an intermediary for Boston mob leader Vincent Ferrara told me that Donati visited him in prison after he was arrested for racketeering in late 1989 and told him of his daring plan. Donati said he intended to gain Ferrara’s release by pulling off a major theft that would so shock the city that authorities would be willing to negotiate to recover the stolen items, echoing the common underworld belief that a stolen masterpiece is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Ferrara, according to the intermediary, urged Donati not to go forward with the theft, saying the authorities would never consider such a deal for someone charged with racketeering. Donati visited Ferrara in prison two more times soon after the March 18, 1990 heist and told him that he robbed the museum and would be soon be approaching the authorities. It’s not known if he did, but in September 1991, Donati was found brutally stabbed to death, stuffed in the trunk of a 1980 Cadillac a block away from his home.
Myles Connor’s Best Friend
Al Dotoli is a law-abiding music production manager who once helped his best friend, notorious art thief Myles Connor, out of a serious jam. In 1976, Dotoli -- donning a ski mask and using an alias -- hand-delivered a stolen Rembrandt to a state police major and assistant U.S. attorney. Connor had stolen the Rembrandt from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in order to negotiate a reduced sentence for another federal crime -- trafficking five Wyeth paintings he’d stolen in Maine. Dotoli and Connor met as teenagers in Milton, Mass., and bonded over a shared love of rock ‘n’ roll. As crime derailed Connor’s music ambitions, Dotoli moved on with his own, eventually setting up sound systems for Aretha Franklin, the Dalai Lama and Super Bowl halftime shows.
David Houghton was a small-time criminal and a friend of Myles Connor. Connor claims Houghton robbed the Gardner Museum with Bobby Donati and a third accomplice. Connor claims that after the heist, Houghton flew to California to visit him in prison, and told Connor they planned to use the valuable paintings to negotiate him a reduced sentence. If Houghton was involved, it’s almost impossible to imagine he was one of the two men dressed as cops who duped the guards because he was more than 300 pounds and doesn’t match the descriptions of the thieves. He died of a heart attack in 1991 -- the year after the heist.
Gardner Museum Director of Security
Anthony Amore was hired as director of security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 2005 and still holds the position today. Previously, he worked as a specialist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In taking on the role at the Gardner, he also took on the responsibility of assisting the FBI in solving one of history’s most bedeviling museum heists. By his own account, Amore still speaks at least daily with Geoffrey Kelly, the top FBI agent on the case, and works with him to pursue leads, conduct interviews, communicate with reporters, art investigators and even members of the public about the case. He has even accompanied federal agents on the numerous searches of homes and other properties. In 2013, when federal officials held a press conference to announce what they regarded as a break in the case, Amore spoke as the Gardner Museum’s representative. Amore says he will not rest until the paintings are found. Over the years, he has widened his focus beyond the Gardner case and become a consultant specializing in art theft and museum security. He has written two books: “Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Story of Notorious Art Heists” (with reporter Tom Mashberg) in 2011 and “The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World” in 2015. He is running on the 2018 Republican ticket for the office of secretary of state in Massachusetts. While maintaining confidentiality on the status of the criminal investigation, Amore has said publicly that he believes the heist was the work of a local criminal gang working with some measure of inside information. He believes the artwork has been stashed somewhere nearby. The one question Amore is burning to ask the thieves, if he could, is why they chose to steal the artworks that they did.
Criminal Defense Attorney
Leppo is a longtime criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts. He has represented many of those associated with the Gardner heist including Myles Connor, William Youngworth, Robert Guarente, Carmello Merlino, David Turner, and Stephen Rossetti. Now in his 80s, Leppo continues to practice law and to talk to his clients about assisting in the recovery of the artwork.