It was November 25, 2019, and in just a few short minutes, some of the world’s most valuable historic jewels were gone.
Now, six men accused of carrying out one of the largest jewelry thefts in history are preparing to go to trial in Germany starting Friday, January 28. But the mystery of what was What happened to the treasures they were supposed to have stolen is not over yet.
This is the story of a heist that shocked the world – and the meticulous work of the police that led to the arrest of six members of a family gang that police say are responsible for it.
Adorned with more than 4,300 diamonds, the treasures stolen from the Green Vault are worth at least 113 million euros ($128 million), according to the state prosecutor’s office. However, the director of Dresden’s State Art Collection, Marion Ackermann, said their material value did not even begin to reflect their “incalculable” historical and cultural importance.
These include a 1780s hat clasp decorated with 15 large and over 100 small diamonds, as well as a 96 cm (38 in) sword and a scabbard, or scabbard, and scabbard. Each other contains more than 800 diamonds.
The historic Green Vault is located inside Dresden Castle. Credit: Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
But it wasn’t just the enormous value of the loot that captured the world’s attention, but it was the brazenness with which the raid was supposedly carried out.
Roy Ramm, a security consultant and former commander of specialized operations at New Scotland Yard in London, told CNN that crimes like this are increasingly rare.
“Technical security has improved over the years with CCTV alarm systems and all kinds of high-tech protection, so [there is a high] risk of getting caught early and actually getting caught…you need some inside information and a very, very detailed plan,” he said.
According to investigators, four months before the robbery, a suspect went to the city of Magdeburg, 180 miles northwest of Dresden, to retrieve a dark blue used Audi S6: the car went. play of the future.
The vehicle has been deregistered, but police say the gang went further in an attempt to disguise its origin, changing its color to silver and leaving only the roof black.
A photo from police shows one of the stolen pieces. Credit: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen
“What this tells me is that these people planned meticulously; they ran through, in their own minds, how the robbery would go and what the police response would be, and they always thinking of ways to disrupt police operations or give them more time,” Ramm said.
“If a bystander sees the vehicle leaving the scene and he or she can provide a description of the vehicle, once the police start investigating that vehicle, those queries will become more complicated. , more difficult and more time consuming. solved.”
And police say the gang’s preparations don’t stop with the car.
Days before the theft, the bars across the window where the thieves entered the cellar were cut, according to authorities. The complete removal of the metal grille could raise suspicions by passers-by, so the suspects covered their tracks by temporarily taping the bars with glue, police said. know.
The windows are hidden so security cameras cannot be seen and the entire area is in “complete darkness”, the Saxon State Ministry of Culture and Tourism said ahead of the inquiry from the Saxon parliament. A motion sensor that should have been triggered by the theft didn’t work. The ministry said the alarm went off a day before the crime occurred and security officers were unable to reactivate it. CNN has reached out to the state prosecutor’s office for more details about the alarm incident, but the office would not comment because the investigation is ongoing.
According to police, at around 4:50 a.m. on Monday, November 25, 2019, this gang began to act.
First, police say, the thieves or their accomplices set fire to an electrical distribution box near the Green Vault. This caused the nearby street lights to go out, leaving the entire area in darkness.
Next, at 4:57, they reached the vault.
Police said security camera video showed the thieves knew where they were going. After entering the building through the mirrored Treasure Hall window, police believe they rushed through the vault’s Badge Room to the Jewel Room, which displays the treasure’s most valuable items. treasure.
Security camera footage showed the robbers taking just a few minutes to get inside, smashing display cabinets, grabbing jewelry and leaving. Ackermann told German public broadcaster ZDF that thieves couldn’t steal all the pieces in the display, because some were sewn into the box.
But before escaping, the robbers sprayed the room with powdered fire extinguishers to cover their tracks, police said.
“Footprints are often used to identify the footwear used by criminals,” Ramm said. “Usually, they’ll take off their gloves and a lot of other things but forget to take off their shoes. So anything that disrupts the forensic track – I hesitate to say it – is very helpful.”
Police said the robbers fled the scene in an Audi, and just 13 minutes after CCTV captured their first images when entering the basement, the gang’s car was abandoned and caught fire in the car. an underground garage about 3 km away. The police linked the car to the robbery almost immediately.
“It’s extremely difficult to use a car and not leave DNA behind,” Ramm said. “There have been a lot of cases around the world where a small amount of DNA was found and it was enough to tie the person into a car … so burning the car was all about the DNA.”
The police operation, codenamed Operation Epaulette after one of the artifacts was stolen that day, began at the time the museum’s security personnel made the first emergency call – in while the robbers were still inside the building.
Two security guards of the vault saw the robbery happening, monitored security but did not intervene. That decision was later questioned by police, but Ackerman said security staff followed safety procedures.
Ramm said detectives could start by taking a close look at the museum.
“The only way for this to happen is if the robbers have really good inside information,” he explains. “You have to know that without, for example, lasers going through the room, you have to know that there aren’t pressure-sensitive tabs around that place. It’s extremely risky to do what they did.
“It’s conceivable that they’ve done extensive research on the building,” Ramm said.
He said two other security officers were under investigation. A suspect handed over documents about the Green Vault and its security system to the perpetrator and was arrested 4 days after the theft. The other guard was released following an investigation, he said.
The spokesman added that a fourth guard is being investigated because “there is evidence of an action involving the alarm system, which may have facilitated the theft.”
By September 2020, police said they had received hundreds of tips and searched several Berlin properties believed to be involved in the robbery.
They also learned more about the temporary vehicle – including where it was replaced or refitted – and released a composite image of one of the suspects.
Then, on November 17, 2020, nearly a year after the prized treasure of the Green Vault was stolen, the police launched a major security operation in Berlin, engaging special forces and 1,638 officers from all over Germany.
They target five members of the infamous Remmo Clan, one of Germany’s most powerful criminal clans, operating primarily in Berlin.
Ralph Ghadban, a political scientist and clan expert in Germany, said the manner in which the theft is believed to have been carried out and the number of suspects and possible accomplices involved shows the strength the clan has. holding.
“The clan protects and helps its members, it can have thousands of members and can dominate and terrorize an entire area of the city,” he said, adding that the action was “powerful.” and quick” shown in the heist is one of the card clan’s appeal.
Police identified the two suspects still on the run as twin brothers Abdul Majed R. and Mohamed R.; A great manhunt was launched to find them.
Interpol issued a red notice to the twins, but it took another month for Mohammed to be arrested in a car in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood – on the yard of the Remmo clan.
A sixth and final suspect in the case was arrested in August 2021, police said.
CNN has reached out to representatives of those charged for comment.
The suspects may be detained, but for the police, the investigation is far from over.
“Something of that nature, where the items themselves are irreplaceable, most detectives I have worked with over the years would think it was a big deal,” Ramm said. half done, not to collect the items.
The display cabinet in the Jade Room was still empty. Credit: Sebastian Kahnert / image alliance / Getty Images
So what happened to the priceless pieces of jewelry that were stolen from the display case on that day in November 2019?
Ramm and other experts believe that the most likely scenario is the one that museum curators fear most: stolen items have been broken up, stones are sold, and precious metals are melted down. .
“All of that takes organization,” Ramm said. “It’s very rare that the people who actually steal those items are the ones who end up throwing them away. There’s going to be a network and that’s why the police will be so desperate to get hold of cell phones, phones, and computers. anything that suggests a connection between the six people they will soon bring to trial and any other criminal group.”
Hard drives, computers and mobile phones were indeed seized during the mammoth police investigation but the stolen treasures themselves disappeared without a trace.
The Green Vault remained closed to visitors for months, due to the investigation and then the coronavirus pandemic. When it reopened in May 2020, the stolen cabinet was repaired but purposely left empty.
The trial is expected to last until at least the end of October. If convicted, the suspects will face several years in prison.