Over the course of 20-yrs that I served in a dozen different federal prisons, I’ve known some rather colorful characters. One of the most luminous in my rainbow cell-e-thon was Myles J. Connor, Jr. Myles is an old-time rock ‘n roller. He had his own band at the prison we were in, “Dream McKean,” back in the mid-‘90s.Myles could give a wicked imitation of Roy Orbison (of which he was once back-up), Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and, of course, Elvis. He played guitar and was also a former player w/the Sha Na Na. But Myles was also an old-style “Southie” (South Boston) w/a penchant for the con and Brink’s-style heists.
Of course, true to his working-class Irish roots, he couldn’t be just an ordinary outlaw roadster, he had to be the Formula One in his Celtic class.
He was already a bit of an expert on the subject of Asian art (his father, a former cop, and grandfather were avid collectors), and he figured that would help make for an excellent career … stealing it, that is…
(One might bear in mind that very little art theft, some 5-to-10% [per FBI stats] is ever recovered. Most of it disappears into the ultra-wealthy, secretive art-market of private collectors. For the world-class art that is recovered, it’s usually accomplished by the insurance companies and their no-questions-asked-or-pursued policies.)
When I first met Myles–well known inside as one of the greatest art thieves of all time–and the subject got around to museum thefts, I related how I had been locked up briefly in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, w/the famed American Museum of Natural History thieves (Al Kuhn, Roger Clark, and Murph “The Surf” Murphy) back in ’64.
I told him how they explained that they had been inspired by the movie Topkapi. They soon negotiated a ridiculously short bit (18-months) in return for surrendering half of the loot—including the famed “Star of India” 563.35-carat (the size of a golfball) star sapphire. Myles and I became instant amigos.
(These characters were themselves movie-class thieves. Kuhn was a world-class tennis star and Murph was a champion Surfer/playboy. They had financed a yacht w/their proceeds and traveled the world pulling off famous art/jewel heists.)
“Exactly!” Myles said. “That heist inspired me, and how it played out. I was 21 then. I watched that movie, and later The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.” (“We’re the same size, you know,” he added, referring to McQueen.)
Myles is an intelligent thief. Articles over the years added more info for his research. Taking on the persona of a psychologist and an Asian art and antiquity’s collector, he cased a number of museums across New England, getting full access. A robbery of the Woolworth Estate up in Maine put him under the microscope of the FBI.
However, he did have a penchant for getting caught. His ego-driven, colorful lifestyle was a siren. His methodology for getting out of these problems was to pull off even greater thefts. He figured that a bigger heist was a way to negotiate out of earlier ones.
After the Woolworth heist, donning a disguise, Myles and an associate brazenly walked into the Forbes Museum in Milton, Massachusetts, ripped a Rembrandt off the wall, and pistol-whipped a guard on the way out. He later negotiated the $multi-million Rembrandt back for the reward and a short sentence on his Woolworth heist.
(The FBI’s vaunted investigative reputation, as is most of police work, is in reality more based upon their reliance on snitches and reward-based case-solving.)
In Myle’s case, he eventually ran afoul of certain police (one concerned a dispute with a state cop and a mutual girlfriend; the cop ended up in the hospital). Myles went to Federal prison with a multi-year bit.
That gave him plenty of time and access to expertise to dream and plan… For his pièce de résistance, he allegedly masterminded a 1990 $500+million heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
The centerpiece of that robbery was Rembrandt’s 1633 The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, along with three other Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a portrait by Edouard Manet, and sketches by Renoir. The thieves were disguised as police. The Storm has never been recovered.
I met Myles at FCI McKean, PA, in ’94. When some of his associates secretly showed a reporter for the Boston Herald the Rembrandt, the state authorities of Massachusetts and Rhode Island picked up the negotiating pace.
Myles was released to the custody of the state’s Attorney General and the FBI for awhile, but Myles was soon back in prison.
When I asked what happened, he shrugged, “The feds won’t deal…fuck ‘em.” Around this period, Myles had also suffered a stroke and apparently lost much of his memory. The feds had already forced him to serve much of his 10-yr bit, so his incentive in any event was practically zero.
(I will have to add here that among Myles’s attributes is “the con.” Whether his heist was real or another scam to trade in whatever actual knowledge vs. hunches he might have for recovering the art and the $5-million reward is food for conjecture.)
Last I heard, ol’ Myles was a free man (but in and out of scrapes); recorded an album, “I Was The One” (2003); co-wrote a book, The Art of The Heist (2009); and for a time was successfully touring the nostalgic rock ‘n roll circuit. He definitely didn’t lose his sense of humor along with his “memory.”
The Rembrandt? Still one of the most famous missing pieces in the world. As recently as 2014 the FBI says they know who pulled it off, but won’t say… Of course, Myles continues to drop hints like bird-seed. Guess we’ll just have to wait for the movie…
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), July 2010 (updated 2015)...