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Unsolved 1991 Murder ‘Very Likely’ Related To Largest Art Heist In U.S. History, Police Say

Authorities say James Marks was executed in front of his home after he allegedly bragged about having some of the stolen artwork in his possession. 

By Jax Miller
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Authorities say the unsolved mob-style murder of a man back in 1991 is likely related to the biggest art heist in U.S. history.

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, two men posing as Boston cops entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, telling security they were responding to a report of a disturbance, according to the FBI. Once inside, the uniformed suspects handcuffed on-duty security personnel and forced them into the basement before making off with 13 works of art valued at more than $500 million, including three Rembrandt paintings.

Despite a $10 million reward, the stolen property was never recovered. Many theories and persons of interest have been provided over the years, many of them pointing to the mob.

Now, police say it is “very likely” that the 1991 execution of a convicted bank robber is connected to the Gardner heist, according to the Boston Globe.

James “Jimmy” Marks, 50, was shot twice from behind with a shotgun as he tried to enter his Lynn, Massachusetts home in February 1991, the Globe reported on Sunday. Despite a mob associate being implicated in Marks’ murder, it remained unsolved, and authorities made no arrests.

Lynn Deputy Police Chief Mark O’Toole told the Globe that Marks “had connections to suspects suspected to be involved” with the heist.

“We don’t know what, if any, role [Marks] had,” said O’Toole. “But ... very likely it was related.”

Last week, Anthony Amore, director of security at the museum, said he recently received a tip that Marks bragged about being in possession of some of the stolen works and had helped thieves hide it, according to Boston 25 News. It made sense to authorities, as mention of an “Irish guy” named Jimmy came up in the investigation back in 2010 when Armore and FBI Agent Geoff Kelly investigated two mob associates in the heist as persons of interest.

Mafia associate Robert “Bobby” Guarente was investigated for the heist, according to the Globe. Authorities spoke with his widow, Elene Guarente, back in 2010, who claimed her husband gave two stolen pieces of art to Connecticut mobster Robert Gentile shortly before Guarente died in 2004.

Robert “The Cook” Gentile denied any involvement in the heist until his death last September, according to The Lowell Sun.

Police said Mrs. Guarente, who died in 2018, also said her husband murdered “Irish Jim,” a friend of Guarente she identified through a photo lineup. That person was James Marks.

“She was very emotional when she talked about the fact that he had been killed by her late husband,” Amore told 25 News.

According to Chief O’Toole, on the day of Marks’ murder, Marks spent time with Bobby Guarente at Guarente’s Maine home.

“Marks had been in Skowhegan, Maine that day, visiting with Robert Guarente,” said O’Toole. “He had left Maine with Guarente in separate vehicles, arranging to meet up at Marks’ residence later, but Guarente never arrived.”

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Investigators believe Marks was targeted earlier in October 1990, but an assassin’s plan was foiled when police found an unknown man changing his clothes in the street near Mark’s home, according to News 25. The man fled, leaving behind a bag that contained two guns, one with a silencer. O’Toole said it was “basically an assassin’s tool kit.”

Later searches of Marks’ home for the stolen artwork left investigators empty-handed.

“I would say it’s not a coincidence,” said O’Toole. “Mr. Marks either had some knowledge or was somehow a participant in that crime that resulted in him [being] marked for assassination.”

Marks’ niece, Darlene Finnigan, told the Globe that she didn’t believe Marks was ever in possession of the artwork, claiming “he was too much of a bragger.”

When Marks mentioned that he “had something big coming up” shortly before his death, Finnigan assumed he meant something drug-related, claiming her uncle was known to sell cocaine.

Investigators with the state police found Guarente and Gentile at a Saugus, Massachusetts diner shortly after Marks’ murder, according to News 25. Amore said the mens’ meeting set off red flags.

“The fact that these people converge here around the time of Marks’ homicide certainly makes a person hunting for the Gardner paintings sit up and pay attention,” Amore said.

In 2013, federal agents announced they knew the identities of two suspects but withheld their names, according to the FBI.

“The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region,” said Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. “With that same confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England.”

It was not known if Guarente, Gentile, or Marks were one of the suspects identified in 2013.

In 2015, the FBI released images and video of an unknown man who was not authorized to be in the museum one day before the theft. The man allegedly drove a car that was later reported to be at the museum moments before the heist.

Today, empty frames remain on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, according to their website, which included photos and information of the stolen art.

Anyone with any knowledge about the stolen art is urged contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or the museum at reward@gardnermuseum.org.

The statute of limitations for the 1990 theft has since expired.

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