Richard Abath, Guard at Center of Boston Art Museum Heist, Dies at 57

Richard Abath, a night watchman whose decision to allow two thieves disguised as Boston police officers into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 enabled the greatest art heist in history — and one that remains unsolved — died on Feb. 23 at his home in Brattleboro, Vt. He was 57.

His lawyer, George F. Gormley, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

The Gardner Museum, in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, is one of the country’s leading private art museums, with its eponymous owner’s vast collection of paintings, sculptures and historical artifacts.

Mr. Abath was not a professional guard: At a time when museums were significantly more lax with their security, he was a recent music school dropout who took the job to help with bills while focusing on his band, a Grateful Dead-inspired outfit called Ukiah.

By his own admission, he occasionally came to the museum drunk or high, and he said that he once allowed some of his friends into the museum after hours for a party.

The heist took place around 1 a.m. on March 18, 1990, the day after the beer-soaked revelries of St. Patrick’s Day. Mr. Abath was at the museum’s front security desk; he insisted he was sober.

The other guard on duty had just gone to make the rounds of the museum’s galleries when the two men came to the door, identifying themselves as members of the Boston Police Department and saying they were there to investigate reports of a disturbance. Mr. Abath let the thieves into the museum’s vestibule.

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