Possible new lead in largest art heist ever

On March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves pretending to be police pulled off what's considered the largest art heist in history, stealing 13 artworks, including paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Their take is estimated at perhaps $500 million. Two decades later, the artworks have still not been recovered.

(CBS News) There may be a new lead in a notorious art museum robbery in Boston that remains unsolved 22 years later.

Thursday, for the second time in three months, FBI agents were back searching the Connecticut property of Robert Gentile. Officials aren't saying what prompted their search, but they believe the 75-year-old has information on what's considered the biggest art heist in history: the 1990 theft of artwork estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

"They've arrested my client for a drug case, so that they could execute search warrants for his house," Gentile's attorney Ryan McGuigan said. "Because they believe that he has the artwork in his house."

Gardner mystery lingers 20 years later

Prosecutors say Gentile has ties to Boston and Philadelphia crime families. He's being held on federal drug and weapons charges. His lawyer insists his client knows nothing about the notorious robbery. McGuigan said two guns were found on his client's property Thursday.

It was around 1:30 in the morning on March 18, 1990, when two thieves dressed as cops tricked museum security guards into letting them into the building. The robbers handcuffed the guards, duct-taped their hands, feet and heads, and spent 81 minutes prowling the building.

Their take included 13 paintings and sketches by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet. Some of the paintings were sliced right out of their frames. The mystery captivated the art world.

In 1992, Morley Safer examined the case on "60 Minutes."

"I have no idea why anybody would steal world famous paintings," said art dealer Richard Feigen. "It's incomprehensible."

Feigen has worked as an art dealer for 55 years. He says infamous robbery would make it impossible to sell the artwork to anyone.

The museum continues to offer a $5 million, no questions asked reward for the stolen artwork.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.