A top art crime detective says 13 paintings stolen in the world’s biggest art heist on St Patrick’s Day 1990 could be stashed behind the wall of a house in Ireland.
Empty frames still hang on the walls of Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, in Boston, USA, 30 years after two crooks dressed as police pulled off the $1billion raid.
The Concert by Johannes Vermeer, valued at £155million, Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (£77.5m) and Manet’s Chez Tortoni (£50m) were among those taken.
Charley Hill, a former undercover detective with the Met Police art and antique squad, believes they are in Dublin.
He said his source is Martin “The Viper” Foley, a well-known Dublin villain who is wanted for tax evasion and has gone on the run.
Charley said: “He told me he thought he knew exactly where the paintings were. He reckons they’re in West Dublin, behind a wall. He’s 99% certain.”
Arts journalist John Wilson joins the search with Charley in a new BBC Four documentary, The Billion Dollar Art Hunt.
John said: “When you walk into the museum and see those frames, it takes your breath away.
“It’s very haunting, like a crime scene where the body has been left and they tape it off.
“This is some of the most beautiful art by the greatest artists of all time. And it has ended up in the hands of some really nasty people.”
Charley has a good track record – he led the operation to recover Edvard Munch’s The Scream in 1994 and another Vermeer painting stolen by Irish gangster Martin Cahill, in 1986.
He was negotiating with Foley over a potential deal with the surviving members of a gang the crook claims stole the art.
John explained: “Nobody thinks Foley had anything to do with the heist. But according to Charley, Foley said he knew who did get the art over here.
“He’s convinced of that. It’s a murky story – the underside is really nasty.”
Foley recently stopped talking to Charley yet John believes his claims are credible.
“Foley has gone on the run. It may be he said too much over a drink in a pub. But there’s so much of it which points to Ireland, right from the fact it starts on St Patrick’s night.”
The FBI is offering a £7.5m reward for the paintings’ return.
But John said: “They refuse to believe there could be an Irish connection. The world’s biggest art heist is still unsolved.”
And Charley said he will not give up the search. “I’m going to get these back, I just have to work out a way to do it.”