|Myles J. Connor, Jr. & columnist Suzette Martinez Standring|
By Suzette Martinez Standring (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The flak and hubbub have subsided about the rare public talk on Sept. 26 in Milton (MA) by Myles J. Connor, Jr., one of the most notorious art thieves in heist history. This is what happened. For starters, Myles had assumed it was going to be a small Milton High School alumni gathering, not a general public event. Wrong! That’s a great big oopsie one hour before show time.
I met him and his longtime friend and music producer Al Dotoli, for the first time over dinner, and the misunderstanding surprised me, too. Myles sat quietly, picking at his seafood salad, mulling over the sudden change of scenery. At age 69, he had come prepared to chat with alumni pals about high school memories and now he discovered he would be in front of strangers talking about art heists and his criminal past at the Milton Art Center.
Myles J. Connor, Jr. had been convicted and served over twenty years at various times for museum and estate art heists throughout New England. Although convictions for murder and rape were disproved and overturned, many still believe his guilt. He’s a bank robber to boot, thus, the angry protests and criticisms leading up to his talk.
He had qualms, but what about mine? I couldn’t walk into a room full of media and attendees without him!
How many past accomplices - like me now at the restaurant - have ever sworn to Myles, “It wasn’t me! I swear it wasn’t a set up!” Something went wrong along the chain of contacts in reaching him. How a public talk about art crime got mixed up with the Milton High School Class of 1961 is beyond me.
Myles was genial and charming, keenly interested in my motivation, which was simple. “If every expert and book about art heists talks about you, then can’t we hear you talk about it directly?” I blabbed away with nothing to hide, and I held my breath. OK, he’d go and would not censor any questions, no matter what people asked, but if folks got hostile, he would leave early. Done!
Later at the Milton Art Center Myles spoke matter-of-factly about his life and his past crimes. For example, in his youth his first-ever heist at the Forbes House Museum was fueled by payback for a false theft accusation of antique firearms leveled at his dad, an honorable and decorated police officer.
Myles brought up murder. He talked about evidence not produced at his first trial that led to a 17-minute jury verdict of acquittal at his second trial. He speculated that the paintings stolen about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are in Saudi Arabia. He was in prison at the time of the heist, and had nothing to do with the theft - but did admit to casing the Gardner Museum around 1988.
How did he steal priceless art from various museums? He shared a number of ways that worked for him. If you didn’t go, then you missed the how-to, and I’m not offering a primer here.
Many in the audience who grew up with him, or knew his family enjoyed comical escapades from his childhood.
He answered several written questions from the audience with candor.
If you say your father was a kindly police officer and growing up in Milton was great, then what caused you to turn to a life of crime?
Myles said, “I know exactly why that happened.”
As a very young man, he served time in Walpole among tough, dangerous, and older inmates, and described prison as a “terrible place,” where one needs friendships to survive. Myles admitted his loyalty didn’t allow him to say no to such friends, even if the request involved crimes, and his criminal career grew from there.
I myself had a burning question: If you say you love art and you have a visceral reaction, like many others, to seeing great art, then how do you reconcile stealing that kind of beauty from the public and taking away their chances to experience it?
Myles said he rarely took exhibited museum art, but rather stole from storage areas where paintings often remain for years unseen. He often used heisted art as a bargaining chip for getting decreased prison time for others or for himself. (However, his autobiography written with Jenny Siler, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Art Thief indicates negotiation was not always the sole purpose.)
Did he ever work with Whitey Bulger?
Myles said he knew but never worked with Bulger having been tipped off early on that the guys was nuts.
What is he doing now and does he have regrets?
“Only a fool has no regrets,” Myles said and seemed wistful when he shared how he thought he would become a doctor, however, his choices led him in a different direction. At age 69, he has medical problems. His once famous singing career is over, and he lives largely alone in Blackstone with a score of pets – emus, dogs, cats, chickens, and a very old snake.
Obviously, Myles himself is responsible for the censure, fear, or arm’s length wariness of others throughout his life. Yet he still appeared at the Milton Art Center expecting the worst. Frankly, I did, too, so the evening held two surprises. Initially, he expected to have to hightail it out of there just ahead of clubs and torches after thirty minutes. He stayed for two hours. The audience was astonished and appreciated his candor, and Myles was moved by the unexpected kindness in the way people spoke to him.
He never left early that night, because no one would let him.
What would you have asked him?
Email Suzette Martinez Standring: email@example.com
She is syndicated with GateHouse Media, and this column appeared on her award winning national blog: http://www.patriotledger.com/community/blogs/spiritual-cafe
Check out more photos from Myles Connor’s talk on Suzette Martinez Standring's FB page.
The Milton Art Center (www.miltonartcenter.org) is a community hub for creative arts and classes, art exhibits, and enrichment programs for adults and children. They are located at 334 Edge Hill Road, Milton, MA 02186.