Criminals have been smitten by the dazzle of jewels for time immemorial. While bank robbers have been using brute force attacks to grab bags of cash and make a run for it, the jewelry thief has more panache. Some of these jewelry heist stories are stranger than fiction.
1. The Crown Jewel Heist of 1671
It’s quite remarkable that not more people are familiar with the amazing story of an Irishman named Thomas Blood. Back in 1671, Thomas Blood decided that he was going to rob the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. When it comes to jewelry, there’s no greater prize in the world than the Crown Jewels — and no jewelry more closely guarded.
Thomas Blood came up with a truly madcap plan to make off with the royal diamonds. It involved fake costumes, fake titles, a hired prostitute, and a completely fake life. Posing as an aristocratic nobleman, Thomas Blood befriended Talbot Edwards, the ‘Keeper of the Jewels.’ He promised Talbot that his fictional nephew would marry Edward’s daughter, who was a spinster. After sweet-talking his way into Talbot’s inner circle, he convinced Talbot to give him and his fake aristocratic family a private tour of the Crown Jewels.
It actually worked — and after Talbot let Blood and his cohorts into the inner sanctum of the Tower of London, Blood knocked Talbot Edwards out cold and began his devilish plan to run off with the Crown Jewels. This involved smashing the Crown Jewels, flattening the Crown, and sawing a scepter in half. Apparently, Blood thought that they could shove all of this down their pants (really) and stroll out of the Tower of London.
It didn’t work. The thieves were immediately tackled and arrested. This being 1671, you would assume that King Charles II would sentence them all to a grim and grisly execution. However, King Charles II actually found Blood’s hijinks hilarious and ended up giving Thomas Blood his own genuine title and estate in Ireland.
2. A Surfer Turned Jewellery Thief
Perhaps the tale of Murph The Surf inspired the movie Point Break. Patrick Swayze starred as a surfer who also moonlit as a bank robber to help bankroll his beach bum lifestyle.
Jack Roland Murphy was a national surfing champion, a tennis pro, and a concert violinist. Like Patrick Swayze’s fictional character, Bodhi, Jack didn’t want a job or a profession. He was quite content traveling the world surfing, hanging out with his friends, and throwing raging parties. But unfortunately, partying for a living doesn’t come cheap.
So Jack ‘Murph The Surf’ Murphy concocted a hair-brained scheme to make a fortune…by robbing New York’s American Museum of Natural History. In 1964, the American Museum of Natural History housed the J.P. Morgan Jewel Collection, a stunning collection of priceless gems that included the rare, yellow Eagle diamond, the 116.75-carat, violet ‘Midnight Star Sapphire, and the 100 carat DeLong ruby.
The room where the gems were housed was on the top floor of the castle-like museum, and Jack noticed that the windows were left open at night. Because the museum was so vast, security assumed that no-one would be able to climb up that high. But spritely Jack, and his friend, managed to shimmy up the outside of the museum and hop through the unguarded window. The alarms in Gem Hall all had dead batteries, so Jack stole what he liked.
Unfortunately, Jack and his friends hadn’t been discreet about their plans to rob the museum. In fact, they’d been throwing raging parties all week and bragging about their exploits to anyone who would listen. After the museum discovered the jewels were stolen, it wasn’t long before someone snitched on Jack and his friends, and they served a few years in prison.
3. Antwerp Diamond Centre
One of the biggest jewelry heists in history was foiled by a sandwich!
Let’s rewind back to 2003 when over 123 safety deposit boxes were discovered thrown across the floor and emptied at the Antwerp Diamond Centre. The boxes had been packed with loose diamonds, gold, and jewelry.
For four years, Leonardo Notarbartolo had planned the heist. He had rented an office close by to the Antwerp Diamond Centre and had posed as an Italian diamond merchant. Befriending security guards, Leonardo had managed to get details about the alarm system, learned the security system, and even gained keys to the vault.
They would have gotten away with it too, but one of the dumb thieves left a half-eaten sandwich at the scene of the crime, and DNA evidence matched him to the crime, resulting in all the thieves getting a hefty jail sentence.
4. The Pink Panthers
One of France’s biggest jewelry heists occurred in 2008, where a group of robbers successfully burgled the Harry Winston store in Paris. None of the employees thought twice when a group of stylish women entered the showroom in Paris. When employees were escorting them to the vault, the women ripped off their wigs and disguises to reveal themselves as male robbers. The robbers burglarized the store at gunpoint, and in 20 minutes emptied the vault and disappeared. They were never apprehended. The group was known as the Pink Panthers, a gang of international jewel thieves.
5. The Pink Panthers Strike Again
The mysterious Pink Panther burglary ring is supposedly composed of 200 to 250 members who operate all over Europe. They are also suspected to be behind the Graff diamond heist that occurred in London.
After stealing $65 million dollars worth of diamonds, the Graff robbery that occurred in August 2009 is the biggest robbery in British history. Two men entered Graff Diamonds on New Bond Street and pulled handguns on the employees. They stole 43 rings, in addition to bracelets, necklaces, and watches. After fleeing, they switched vehicles three times.
The two men used wigs, prosthetics, and makeup to completely disguise themselves, and allegedly told the make up artist and prosthetic specialist that it was for a music video. Unfortunately for the robbers, during the getaway, they accidentally left behind a burner mobile phone, which contained the phone numbers of associates which the police used to help identify and charge the robbers. None of the stolen gems were recovered.
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