Paul Stirling Vanderbilt, as he’d written his name in the Gardner Museum’s visitor log, wasn’t who he said he was. His fingerprints would be among the first to be sent to FBI headquarters in the wake of the Gardner Museum robbery. Could Vanderbilt’s real identity hold the key to solving the heist?
The people featured in this episode:
Brian Michael McDevitt
Brian Michael McDevitt’s fingerprints would be among the first to be sent to FBI headquarters in the wake of the Gardner Museum robbery. Raised in the coastal town of Swampscott, Massachusetts, he dropped out of college and went on to live the life of a con man. He masqueraded as a Vanderbilt and attempted a robbery of the Hyde Collection in upstate New York -- a museum much like the Gardner. In 1992, he told a former girlfriend, Stephanie Rabinowitz, that a man asked him to cut the Gardner’s paintings out of their frames for him. He eventually was convicted on misdemeanor charges for harassing a man named Ben Pollack. McDevitt reportedly died in 2004.
Director of the Hyde Collection
Fred Fisher was director of the Hyde Collection in Glens Fall, New York, for about 12 years beginning in 1978. The museum, an Italian palace created by the heiress of a paper fortune in 1912 to house her art collection, mirrors the Gardner Museum in more ways than one. Old Masters dot the walls, a courtyard sits at its heart -- and by the 1980s, it was low on funds and security was weak. Much like the Gardner, the Hyde started attracting thieves.
When a man who went by the name Paul Stirling Vanderbilt started hanging around town in 1980, Fisher set his sights on gaining his support for his financially faltering museum. Eventually, Fisher confronted the man, who was actually Brian Michael McDevitt, for bringing him stolen typewriters. McDevitt later tried unsuccessfully to rob the museum.
Former Girlfriend Of McDevitt
Stéphanie Rabinowitz met Brian McDevitt in Boston on July 6, 1989 at a comedy club. She was only 22 at that time, living in Allston and working in animation for film and commercials. McDevitt told her that he was a screenwriter for “The Wonder Years” and Paramount and Columbia -- a ruse. Six months into their relationship, McDevitt told Rabinowitz he was heading to New York City for the Writers Guild Awards ceremony -- three days before the Gardner would be robbed. She didn’t hear from him again until late in the day on Sunday, March 18. Later in 1992, Rabinowitz was living in LA and the walls were closing in on McDevitt. He asked her to be his alibi but she denied him.
Subject Of McDevitt’s Harassment
Ben Pollack directs television commercials and music videos now. In mid-July of 1991, when he met Brian McDevitt at the Writers Guild, he was 19, just getting started in the business, and naïve. He was taken with McDevitt who wanted to read his writing.
But within six months of meeting Brian McDevitt, Pollack would tell police, he’d grown so leery, he hired a private detective to dig into McDevitt’s story. He learned that nothing McDevitt had told him was true. Pollack confronted McDevitt and then McDevitt started threatening him -- he would go on to torment him for months. He began calling Pollack over and over -- sometimes a hundred times or more in a day, just to hang up when he answered.
By April, 1992, McDevitt faced criminal charges for harassing Ben Pollack.
Former FBI Special Agent
Thomas McShane was an undercover art recovery expert for the FBI for a quarter of a century. He returned some $500 million worth of stolen and forged art including an El Greco, a Rubens, and a Rembrandt that had been on loan from the Louvre when it was stolen. McShane puts his money on Brian McDevitt pulling off the Gardner heist.
Nat Segaloff is a writer in North Hollywood who’s written a screenplay about Brian McDevitt. He knew him both in Boston and in Los Angeles -- and was perhaps McDevitt’s one true friend. In 2004 before his death, McDevitt reached out to Segaloff saying he was running out of time.
Ron Kermani was an investigative reporter at the Times Union newspaper in Albany, New York. He wrote the story for Christmas day’s paper about Brian McDevitt’s attempted robbery of the Hyde Collection.
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 had 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.
Gardner Museum Security Guard
Randy was the second security guard working on the night of the Gardner Museum heist in 1990. He had recently earned a masters in performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and had a passion for symphonic music. Working at the Gardner was a way for him to pay the bills. He wasn’t scheduled to work that night, but was called in because another guard called out sick. In this podcast, we agreed to only use Randy’s first name.