Rocker and art thief Myles Connor’s wild past immortalized in film


By Sharon Oliver, Contributing Writer

Rocker turned criminal Myles Connor, shown here in a 2012 mug shot, is the subject of a new documentary.

Rocker turned criminal Myles Connor, shown here in a 2012 mug shot, is the subject of a new documentary.

REGION – The story of Boston rocker turned convicted criminal Myles Connor joins the ranks of notorious figures who have become the subject of documentary films. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw: The Ballad of Myles Connor” premiered at the Regent Theater in Arlington, on Saint Patrick’s Day. The film examines the backstory of the 81-year-old Connor, who once performed with legends like the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison. As the leader of a rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones, his concerts featured theatrics such as riding a motorcycle onto the stage and emerging from a closed casket, singing lyrics from Bobby Lewis’ 1961 hit single “Tossin’ and Turnin’.

Early passion for art

The Milton native also had a passion for East Asian art and in 1963, he stole artifacts from the Forbes House Museum. In 1965, Connor broke out of jail in Maine, using a phony pistol made from soap and blackened with boot polish. The next year, he started his four-year sentence in Walpole for shooting a police officer. Connor claims that while in prison, the warden tasked him with providing the entertainment. He formed a band with fellow inmates and his longtime manager, Al Dotoli, brought in performers like doo-wop group Sha Na Na.

Myles Connor, left, began his rock career as a teenager with his friend, and later longtime manager Al Dotoli.
Myles Connor, left, began his rock career as a teenager with his friend, and later longtime manager Al Dotoli.

The film recreates one prison concert where Dotoli smuggled in two strippers disguised as roadies. In another scene where senior citizens visit the prisoners for a cookout and concert, one little old lady is seen dancing with an inmate whose identity is completely oblivious to her. It was Albert DeSalvo, the suspected Boston Strangler.

Acquittal after life sentence

In 1980, Connor was indicted for the brutal 1975 murders of two 18-year-old women, Karen Spinney and Susan Webster, and sentenced to life in prison the following year. However, a judge ordered a new trial due to procedural errors, and what transpired next is described by Connor as a miracle. He was acquitted after Jimmy McGettrick, owner of the Beachcomber nightclub in Quincy, and members of Sha Na Na testified that Connor was on stage performing on the night of the murders.

The mastermind behind several museum heists, Connor is perhaps most notably known for his association with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist despite being in prison at the time. The 1990 crime is the biggest art heist in modern history. Connor has stated publicly that his friends Bobby Donati and David Houghton were responsible for the theft and that he did case the museum with Donati in the 1970s, making a list of valuable pieces to target. Connor suggested to The Patriot Ledger newspaper that the stolen Rembrandt and Vermeer artworks were probably shipped overseas. “Perhaps every billionaire has art in the basement. What better bragging rights than this?” he added.

A polarizing figure

The documentary, which had been in the works since 2009, features over 30 interviews with musicians, producers, friends of Connor, FBI agents, and other law enforcement officers, intertwined with rare video and audio recordings, archival images, and reenactments. Film producer Bruce Macomber told Boston radio station WBUR, “I initially wanted to portray him as a Robin Hood character, but the story got a little more complex. Myles has his proponents and his enemies.”

Macomber has acknowledged that Connor is a polarizing figure and on the film festival circuit there were reviews and complaints of glamorizing an unsavory figure. “We got blistered critically. They said something like ‘a ludicrous fanzine of a horrible man,’” he explained on WBUR. He also received complaints from relatives of murder victims Karen Spinney and Susan Webster.

The film ends with Dotoli offering his theory about who committed the Gardner heist. These days, the elderly Connor spends his time buying and selling Japanese swords, a longtime interest. As for the two men he says committed the Gardner Museum theft, Donati’s tortured body was discovered in 1991 inside the trunk of a car and Houghton died of a heart attack the following year.



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