According to a retired European cop, recently-slain Boston Irish crime lord James (Whitey) Bulger sent the IRA the stolen masterpieces from the notorious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist back in the 1990s as compensation for weapons seized by authorities in an overseas shipment arranged by the Southie mob boss years earlier that went awry. The brazen 1990 Gardner Museum Robbery was the biggest art-theft in history, seeing two perpetrators get away with a half-billion bucks in precious works painted by the likes of Rembrandt, Manet and Vermeer. No arrests have ever been made in the case and the 13 pieces of artwork remain missing.

The 89-year old Bulger, a genuine gangland icon, was murdered in a West Virginia prison last week. He was serving a life prison sentence for racketeering and either ordering or personally carrying out 11 gangland slayings. Bulger ran South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang while also being a protected FBI informant from the 1970s through the mid-1990s . At the peak of his power, few, if any, American crime czars, held as much sway as Bulger did. Hollywood actors Jack Nicholson and Johnny Depp have portrayed him in the movies The Departed and Black Mass, respectively.

Former Scotland Yard undercover detective Charles Hill told a British newspaper this week that Bulger felt like he owed IRA leaders after a cargo ship filled with guns and ammunition was intercepted in 1984 nearing the Ireland coastline by the Irish Navy. John McIntyre, a member of a Charlestown Irish mob crew and one of Bulger’s middlemen with the IRA, a group Bulger would often help from afar with shipments of cash, weapons and narcotics, had begun cooperating with authorities and soon wound up dead — Bulger garroted him until the rope broke and then put him out of his misery by shooting him point-blank in the head.

On March 18, 1990, in the early morning hours of St. Patrick’s Day, two men dressed as police officers forced their way into the private, very elite Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum located in Boston’s Fenway-Kenmore district and had unfettered access for two hours. Although experts are certain the burglars were amateurs to the sophisticated world of art rip offs, they took home a haul worth roughly $500,000,000.

The robbers, who many tie to Boston’s Italian mafia, are thought to be long dead. The 13 masterpieces remain unaccounted for 28 years later and the common belief is that they sit in storage somewhere, never actually profited from in any real manner.

In 2017, the FBI put out a $10,000,000 reward for the return of the artwork. Any arrests in the crime itself are off the table now, since the statute of limitations has already expired.

Hill worked high-end art-theft cases in Europe in the 1990s. His investigations recovered Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting, pilfered from the National Museum of Norway in 1994 and a stolen Vermeer in 1993. Hill told the media that he heard from informants in the European underworld that “everyone, even the dogs on the street of South Boston, knew Whitey was behind the Isabella Stewart Gardner Heist.” He is of the opinion that the paintings are currently being stashed in Ireland.

Police in American pursued the Bulger angle early on in the investigation after hearing reports of him asking for his cut from the robbery in the months that followed. Over the years, organized crime figures in Boston, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have popped up as suspects in the still-ongoing probe as well. One mobster connected to the Philadelphia crime family but living in Connecticut once offered to sell two of the paintings to an undercover FBI agent, however publically denies any knowledge of the paintings’ whereabouts.

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