New England Unsolved: How a Lynn murder is providing a new lead in Gardner Art Heist investigation

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist remains shrouded in mystery 32 years after thieves dressed as Boston Police pulled off the biggest art theft in history.

But investigators tell me, they’re taking a closer look at an unsolved Lynn murder now, to see if it sheds new light on the legendary heist.

The story of the Gardner Heist has been told in books, newscasts, magazine articles, podcasts, and true crime documentaries, not to mention several New England’s Unsolved feature stories, yet the near priceless artwork remains missing.

The Gardner Museum is offering an unprecedented $10 million reward for information that breaks this case, but, as far as we know, there has been no credible attempt to collect that reward.

For about the last decade, the FBI has focused its investigation on a group of Boston area underworld figures who may have moved some, or all, of the stolen Gardner artwork out of the Boston area, through Connecticut, and on to Philadelphia where the local mob may have tried to sell it on the black market in 2002.

A key piece of this involves two underworld figures: Bobby Guarente and Robert Gentile. In 2010, Guarente’s widow told investigators that she believed her husband gave Gentile two of the stolen Gardner pieces after they met up for lunch in Portland, Maine. At the time, the Guarentes owned a place in Maine, north of Portland.

The information resulted in multiple searches of Gentiles home in Manchester, Connecticut. The artwork was not found, but other evidence was, including a list of the stolen Gardner items and a price list. Robert Gentile died in 2021 and he always denied Elene Guarente’s account.

A NEW NAME TO CONSIDER IN THE HEIST INVESTIGATION?

Now, New England’s Unsolved has learned, for the first time in a decade, there is a new name to consider in the Gardner Heist investigation and it brings us right back to Bobby Guarente and Robert Gentile.

The new name is Jimmy Marks.

Jimmy Marks was a career criminal, and an associate of Bobby Guarente.

On February 20, 1991, investigators say Jimmy Marks was the victim of a classic mob-style hit outside his apartment in Lynn. To this day, the Marks murder is officially unsolved; there has never been an arrest.

However, homicide investigators and the head of security at the Gardner Museum believe the Jimmy Marks Murder may be linked to the Gardner Art Heist and now the Marks murder is providing a new lead the FBI is actively pursuing.

The 1991 murder of Jimmy Marks was almost forgotten.

But recently, a tip came to Gardner Museum Security Chief Anthony Amore that in the months before he was killed, Jimmy Marks was bragging that he was not only in possession of some of the stolen Gardner artwork, he bragged that he had hidden it.

In 2010, Amore and FBI Agent Geoff Kelly interviewed Elene Guarente and first heard her story about Bobby Guarente giving Robert Gentile two of the stolen Gardner artworks. She also told them something else. She told them Bobby was friends with an “Irish guy” named Jimmy. She couldn’t remember his last name.

Amore told me subsequent interviews and more investigation revealed not only was “Irish Jim” Jimmy Marks, but Elene Guarente said her husband killed him.

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

Amore said that Elene Guarente told investigators Jimmy Marks was a frequent guest of the Guarentes at their home in Maine.

“He would be there (with them),” Amore said. “(Elena) had a horse, and he would be there tending to the horse, which he really enjoyed. He was close with her,” Amore said.

CONNECTING JIMMY MARKS AND BOBBY GUARENTE

Lynn Police homicide detectives handling the Marks case have been able to put Jimmy Marks together with Bobby Guarente on the day Marks was killed.

“(Marks) had been in Skowhegan, Maine that day, visiting with Robert Guarente,” Lynn Police Captain Mark O’Toole told me. “He had left Maine with Guarente in separate vehicles, arranging to meet up at Marks’ residence later. But Guarente never arrived.”

Investigators believe Jimmy Marks never saw it coming. He was shot in the back of his head as he approached the front steps of his triple decker at 58 Broad Street in Lynn. The apartment building sits in a courtyard, set back off the busy street. Police say the killer unscrewed the light bulb that hung over the doorway, ensuring that Marks couldn’t see the assassin in the shadows.

As investigators probed the Marks’ murder, they believe he was actually targeted for death much earlier, in October 1990. That’s when a Lynn Police patrol until noticed a man changing his clothes in the area of 58 Broad Street and stopped to investigate. The person ran off. However, a bag was dropped on the side of the road. Inside the bag, police found two guns, one equipped with a silencer.

“It was basically an assassin’s tool kit,” said O’Toole.

There is a theory that Bobby Guarente targeted Jimmy Marks for death in October 1990, and when the hit was compromised, he finished the job himself in February 1991 after spending time with him in Maine. But why? Who would want Jimmy Marks dead?

No one knows.

Jimmy Marks’ murder does not appear to be a random act of street violence.

MARKS MURDER “NOT A COINCIDENCE”

I asked Captain O’Toole, “Some of the same people you are looking at for the Marks murder, are also people who are being looked at for the Gardner Heist. What do you make of that?”

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

Shortly after Jimmy Marks was murdered, State Police investigators came across Bobby Guarente at a diner in Saugus with Robert Gentile and two mob associates from Connecticut.

“At the time that (Jimmy Marks) was killed, the chief suspect in that homicide is someone we believe had two of the Gardner paintings,” Anthony Amore said. “And the person he gave them to was with him, traveling from Connecticut to Saugus, Massachusetts to eat at a diner. It certainly sets off some flashing lights that this needs to be investigated more thoroughly.”

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

If Jimmy Marks was killed because of his involvement in the Gardner Heist, his would be the first of several grisly murders involving people connected to the case.

In recent years, authorities searched the third floor apartment where Jimmy Marks once lived, as well as other places associated with Jimmy Marks, in an effort to find the stolen Gardner art. The searches have so far not turned up the artwork.

However, for the first time in years, there is a new investigative lead in the Gardner art heist.

Why was Jimmy Marks killed?

Why was he bragging about possessing and hiding some of the stolen Gardner artwork?

Who wanted him dead?

These are questions Gardner Heist investigators are actively trying to answer.

Call the FBI or the Gardner Museum if you can shed any light on the murder of Jimmy Marks or the stolen Gardner artwork.

Gardner Museum: 617-278-5114 reward@gardnermuseum.org


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