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By Pete Williams

The FBI is hoping a jerky black-and-white surveillance video will lead to a break in one of America's major unsolved mysteries — who was behind the world's biggest art heist?

A pair of men entered Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990, and carried off 13 treasures — including three Rembrandts and works by Vermeer, Manet, and Degas.

Disguised as policemen, the two men bluffed their way in, claiming they were responding to a report of a disturbance. They handcuffed the only two guards on duty and sliced masterpieces worth more than $500 million from their frames.

It was the largest U.S. property theft ever.

On Thursday, the FBI released a museum surveillance video recorded 24 hours before the theft. Never before seen publicly, it shows a car drive up to the same door later used by the thieves. An unidentified man gets out and is allowed inside the museum by a security guard.

Law enforcement officials hope that releasing this footage will assist with identifying the man or the vehicle in the video, according to an FBI news release.FBI / Reuters

The FBI says the car matches the general description of one reported to have been parked outside the museum the following night.

Though the video is low-resolution, and switches every few seconds between two cameras — one inside, one outside — investigators hope it will jog someone's memory.

"We have engaged in an exhaustive re-examination of the original evidence in this case," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, "to ensure that all avenues have been explored in the continuing quest to recover these artworks."

Just two years ago, FBI investigators said, without naming names, that they thought they knew who was behind the daring theft.

After digging up the yard of a reputed Connecticut mobster, officials said those responsible for the theft were members of "a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and in New England."

Some of the art, the FBI said, was taken to Philadelphia 12 years ago and offered for sale.

Investigators have said that Robert V. Gentile of Hartford told a government informant last year that he could get access to two of the paintings and could broker a sale. But he has never been charged in the theft, and his lawyer maintains Gentile was simply bragging.

The museum has a standing offer of $5 million for information that leads to the recovery of the stolen items.