“This is a Robbery”: Notorious Art Thief Got His Start in Sullivan

“This is a Robbery”: Notorious Art Thief Got His Start in Sullivan

Over fifty years ago, Myles Connor Jr., rock ‘n’ roll singer turned legendary outlaw and suspect in one of the largest art heists of all time, made his first big move in Sullivan, Maine.

It was July of 1965, and Connor was visiting family in Sullivan where he had spent many summers growing up. While eating dinner at his granduncle’s house, Connor heard his relatives talking about an elderly lady who had died, leaving everything to children she had apparently despised. Connor had begun to develop an interest in art and antiques, and he went to the dead woman’s house to take a look. He was carrying a grandfather clock out to his car when sheriff’s Deputy Hank Hosking pulled into the driveway. After a confrontation in which Connor fired a couple shots at the deputy, who also worked as a janitor at Sumner Memorial High School, Connor drove off only to be apprehended a short distance away on Route 1 and taken to the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth.

Back in Massachusetts, Connor had left his apartment full of high-quality antiques, including a silver plate made by Paul Revere that had been stolen from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Connor has said that he felt that it was highly important that he get back to Massachusetts quickly as he was concerned that people he knew would help themselves to the antiques while he was held up in Maine. With Connor desperate to escape, his small scuffle in Sullivan turned into the site of his first major criminal incident—one that involved breaking out of jail with a gun carved out of soap and blackened with shoe polish, hiding for two days in the attic of the Ellsworth Public Library, and a manhunt throughout the town of Hancock.

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Myles Connor is brought into a Dedham courthouse on July 9, 1985. Netflix.

Myles J. Connor Jr. grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Myles Joseph Connor, a police officer, and Lucy Johnson Connor. Connor’s maternal grandfather was from Sullivan, and Connor has said that as a child he spent almost every summer visiting family in Sullivan. The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road.

A budding young musician, Connor gained attention in the early 1960s as the leader of a Boston-area rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones. His daring jailbreak in 1965 at the age of 22 was just the beginning of a long career of law-breaking. Over the years, Connor has been accused of theft, assault, drug trafficking, shooting a police officer, and murdering two Boston women, the last of which he was ultimately acquitted. In 2010, he published a memoir, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Thief, which tells an unapologetic story of his life of crime.

Lately, Connor was featured in This is a Robbery, a four-part documentary series that premiered on Netflix on April 7, 2021 and centers around the infamous 1990 burglary at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The series breaks down the heist in which art collectively worth $500 million went missing, including works by Rembrandt, Manet, and Vermeer. The art remains missing 31 years later, and no one was ever arrested for the crime.

Although Connor was in prison for drug trafficking at the time of the robbery, the FBI considered him a prime suspect. Connor has claimed in various interviews and published works that he was involved in the planning of the heist but that it was carried out by associates of his who have now since died. He is also said to have phoned the police himself after the Gardner robbery to claim that he had nothing to do with it.

 

The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road in East Sullivan. The cottage was built in 1925 by Clarissa (Johnson) Sutherland as a summer camp for children on the land of her parents, Herbert & Lelia (Clark) Johnson. Herbert Johnson’s nephew, Charles Johnson, was Myles Connor Jr.’s grandfather. The cottage still stands today. Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

Over his lifetime, Connor has spent over two decades in prison and says he has been part of over 30 art heists, including many that authorities know very little about. In one of his most famous heists, Connor stole and then returned the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s Rembrandt in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. In This is a Robbery, Connor’s defense attorney, Martin Leppo, says that stealing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was always on Connor’s “bucket list.”

“Depends on who you ask but, in general, I’m known as an art thief,” Connor shares in the series. “And, some people consider me the biggest art thief in this country because I’ve robbed a number of museums. But, then again, I was a rock and roll guy.”

 

You can watch This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist on Netflix.

Myles Connor in the news: Infamous art thief revisits criminal past in Ellsworth, Bangor Daily News, 2014.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” outlaw Myles Connor returning to Ellsworth, the Ellsworth American, 2017.

Alice Turner Curtis, Sullivan-born Author

Alice Turner Curtis, Sullivan-born Author

The Turner House in Sullivan Harbor.

Alice Turner was born on September 8, 1860, the youngest child of John and Susan Speare Staples Turner of Sullivan, ME. John, a sail maker, was employed across from their home in Sullivan Harbor on what is sometimes called Little Sail Island.

Alice had two sisters—Anna S. who was twelve years older than she, and Ella F., who was eleven years older. Ella, who taught school in Ashland, Massachusetts, very much wanted to see Alice receive a good education. In a letter to Lelia Clarke Johnson prior to the publication of Johnson’s history “Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760,” Alice wrote, “When I was 12… (I) attended a well-known girls’ school,” and went on to say that 18 she became a file clerk for the Youth’s Companion (a popular magazine for young people). She wrote for The Boston Traveller, became Literary Editor of that newspaper, and was on the Editorial Staff of The Youth’s Companion for seventeen years.

In 1885, Alice married Irving Curtis, who was originally from Maine. In the 1900 federal census, Irving, age 63; Alice, age 36; Alice’s mother Susan, age 76; and a female servant were living in Boston. Irving’s occupation is listed as “capitalist.” Alice did not list an occupation, but she was always writing.

Mrs. Curtis is best known for her popular “Little Maid Series,” stories of happenings in different places during colonial times with young girls as the heroines. The series encompasses twenty-four books, including Little Maid of Old Maine, Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony, and Little Maid of Old Virginia. Mrs. Curtis also wrote a series covering the Civil war, called “The Yankee Girl Series,” and other volumes. She published over sixty books total.

 In December of 1953, Mrs. Curtis sent $25.00 to the Frenchman’s Bay Library accompanied by a new edition of her “Little Maid” Series. She died in 1958 at the age of 97 and is buried beside her husband in Skowhegan. Her parents and a brother who died young are buried in York Hill Cemetery in Sullivan.

“Little Maid” Books at the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

Reverend William E. Foy

Reverend William E. Foy

Reverend William Ellis Foy(e) was one of the least known yet most significant figures in American religious history to live in Hancock County.

William E. Foy was born a free Black in Belgrade, Maine to Joseph and Elizabeth Foy around 1819. Although Maine was a “free” state and there were few Blacks and enslaved people, Maine still had connections to the slave-trade and existent racism.

Foy married about 1835 and may have had two children with his wife, Ann. The couple moved to Boston. An important figure in the Millerite Movement in the 1830s and 1840s, Foy experienced several visions concerning the second coming of Christ. He recounted his visions and preached the Millerite gospel throughout New England. One audience member, who went on to receive and recount similar visions to those Foy described, was Ellen Hammond—later, Ellen White—a founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

After the predicted second coming of Christ did not occur, Foy stayed in the ministry and became a Free Will Baptist Clergyman in New Bedford, MA. Sometime prior to 1850, his wife, Ann, died.

Foy married Caroline T. Griffin of Gardiner in 1851, and they had two children, Orrin in 1852 and Laura in 1856. Caroline died, leaving Foy with three young children. Foy moved to Burnham, a town in Waldo County. In the 1860 Federal Census, William E. Foy (age 37) was living in Burnham with three children and his mother, Betsy.

Not long after, according to the Island of Mount Desert Register, “Rev. William E. Fay (spelling!), a colored evangelist, organized a Christian Church of 25 members at Otter Creek, Mount Desert. A few years later, Rev. Andrew Gray came to Otter Creek and wrought a great deal of good.”

Rev. William E. Foy moved to Plantation #7, which is just east of the Town of Sullivan and north of Gouldsboro. (Plantation #7 was later annexed to Sullivan in 1895.) He purchased property from William Johnson on the north side of the Public Road and another small plot of land from Isaac Bunker on the south side of the Public Road.

While residing in Plantation #7, William E. Foy built a house for himself and his new wife, Percentia W. Rose, a cook and housekeeper from Portland. Lelia Johnson, a local historian and author of Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 (1953) describes “Elder William E. Foy” as an “esteemed and beloved” preacher who held meetings in the local hall and schoolhouses.

Foy is buried in Birch Tree Cemetery on Tunk Lake Road in East Sullivan, just down the road from his home. He is buried next to his daughter Laura (d. 1863) and Percentia (d. December 24, 1908). His son Orrin (d. 1920), a fisherman, lived on an island off Schoodic Point before moving to Milbridge and marrying Bessie Roberts. Orrin and Bessie had many children.

William Foy’s tombstone is inscribed with:

I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up
For me a crown of righteousness.

This summary draws upon genealogy work by Jeanne Edwards and Robert Potter at the Sullivan–Sorrento Historical Society.

For additional reading, see:
“The William Foy Story” by Mark Silk, published in Chebacco: The Magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, 2019.
The Unknown Prophet, Revised and Updated by Delbert W. Baker.

This portrait is believed to be of Orrin Foy, William Foy’s son.

William E. Foy’s gravestone and Birch Tree Cemetery in East Sullivan.