Robert Gentile, the alleged mobster thought to have been the last person alive with knowledge of who committed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist, has died at the age of 85. The cause of death was a stroke. He died at Connecticut’s Hartford Hospital on Friday, his attorney Ryan McGuigan confirmed to the Hartford Courant, which first reported news of Gentile’s passing.
Gentile, who is known in some circles by his nickname “The Cook,” was thought to have helped conceal information around the world’s biggest art heist. In 1990, 13 works of art worth an estimated $500 million—among them paintings by Rembrandt, Édouard Manet, and Johannes Vermeer—were stolen from the Boston museum. As celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day were winding down in the city, the works were taken by two thieves disguised as police officers.
Federal prosecutors have claimed in court that Gentile was a fixture in the world of organized crime in Boston during the 1990s. Over the course of the last decade, investigators repeatedly tried to get Gentile to reveal information about the heist and the stolen art’s whereabouts. He consistently denied any knowledge of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft and its aftermath.
When police searched Gentile’s home in Manchester in 2010, they found a handwritten list of the works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum annotated with estimated values. Federal prosecutors said that, during an undercover operation, Gentile revealed that he had access to two of the paintings and that he could sell them for $500,000 each. In 2013, the FBI issued a statement claiming that it believed some of the art was taken from Connecticut to Philadelphia and later offered for sale. Gentile was implicated in the alleged scheme.
“For the past 11 years I represented Robert Gentile, allegedly the last known person to possess the stolen paintings,” said McGuigan said in a statement published by the Hartford Courant. “I had once been told by the Government that he was a dangerous man. A bad man. I never agreed. I only saw an elderly man that was being kicked while he was down.”
In 2019, the ailing former inmate was released from prison after serving a sentence related to a gun charge and returned to his Manchester home. The possibility that Gentile may have been involved in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist figured prominently in the 2021 Netflix documentary This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist.
Since the night of the notorious crime three decades ago, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has kept the empty frames from which the paintings were removed on view. None of the artworks taken during the heist have ever been recovered.