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February 3, 2012

Most Famous Jewelry Heists

The world seems fascinated with jewelry, so it is no surprise that the value and beauty of jewelry has lured thieves throughout time. Regardless of whether the thieves were caught, an aura of mystery still surrounds many jewelry heists because loose ends frequently remain.

In these first two jewelry heists, the crews flawlessly stole the jewelry. However, the items they left behind led authorities to apprehend some or all of the thieves.


Notarbartolo, the Antwerp Diamond Center and a Partially Eaten Sandwich

In 2003, Leonardo Notarbartolo orchestrated a jewelry heist in the Antwerp Diamond Center. The extensive security included a complex combination lock, magnetic sensors, surveillance videos and many other security measures.

Notarbartolo spent three years posing as a diamond buyer in the building, so he could learn the intricate security system and obtain useful information, photographs and keys. His team, known as the Turin Boys, had expertise in alarms and other related specialized fields. The thieves executed the heist during the Diamond Tennis Games, which took place in mid-February. After entering the facility’s basement, they covered light detectors with tape and secured magnetic sensors with tape to avoid triggering an alarm. They also substituted prerecorded videotapes in lieu of videos depicting the heist. After the heist, they left some trash on a roadway, including incriminating receipts and a partially eaten sandwich. When authorities found the evidence, the sandwich linked Nortarbolo’s DNA to the crime. Some other members of the gang were also caught, but the location of the stolen diamonds is still a mystery.

The Inconvenience of Losing a Cell Phone

One of the most recent jewelry heists occurred on August 6, 2009 at Graff Diamond in London. Two thieves modified their appearances with the help of professional makeup artists and prosthetics. They wielded guns to scare employees and stole $65 million of jewelry. Although the thieves drove off with their loot, one thief left a cell phone in the original getaway vehicle. The lost cell phone helped authorities identify and arrest Craig Calderwood, Solomon Beyene and other thieves. Despite the brains and effort that went into the robbery, it is remarkable that a cell phone helped convict the theives. Unfortunately, the police never found the loot.

Cross-dressing Culprits

On December 4, 2008, thieves robbed the Harry Winston store in Paris and managed to steal $107 million worth of assorted jewelry. Some of the thieves executing the Harry Winston heist creatively altered their appearances by wearing wigs and woman's attire. The four thieves used a combination of distracting disguises, excellent organization and guns to ensure compliance to execute the heist. Police suspect that the thieves used inside assistance since they were able to refer to employees by name, knew the layout of the store and location of the safes. The entire robbery took less than a half hour, and police never apprehended the thieves or located the jewels.

A Virtually Magical Heist that Left Authorities Clueless

The heist at the Museon Museum of Science in the Netherlands still baffles authorities even today. During the first few days in December 2002, the museum hosted a diamond display that featured many borrowed pieces of unique jewelry. Despite constant video surveillance, motion detectors and security men, thieves managed to steal $12 million worth of jewelry from a half dozen display cases. The theives never activated security alarms, and police were unable to learn the exact time or day of the theft. A single broken window was the only evidence, and police never identified the thieves or found any other clues to resolve the case. The whereabouts of the jewelry is still unknown.

The Thieves Never Had a Chance: The Millennium Dome Heist in London

Despite many successful jewelry heists, authorities have managed to prevent attempted jewelry heists too. In 2002, thieves attempted to steal more than $500 million from the Millennium Dome in London. Included in the targeted treasure was the Millennium Star Diamond. However, police learned about the heist in advance, and officers posing as janitors made the arrests. As an extra precaution, the valuable jewels were replaced with replicas. The thieves entered the premises wearing gas masks and sprayed gas to camouflage their entry. Police waited until the thieves attempted to steal the jewels before apprehending them at the Millennium Dome. Some of the thieves were arrested near a getaway boat.

Perhaps, the appeal and value of jewels will always attract thieves. Nevertheless, it is intriguing that the gems often seem to vanish forever once stolen.

Alex Levin is a writer for DuMouchelle Diamond Exchange, diamond appraisal specialists for over 80 years.

1 comment:

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