May 18, 2024

The Heist of the Century

February 15 – 16, 2003, taking place in Antwerp, Belgium, was the heist also known as “The Heist of The Century”. Where over $100 Million Dollars of Diamonds, Gold, and other jewelry was stolen from The Antwerp Diamond Center taking place overnight. Even though some arrests were made, a huge some of diamonds have never been recovered. The entire operation took many days of preparation and planning, and this is what they did.

Preparation

Leonardo Notarbartolo

In the early 2000s, a man named Leonardo Notarbartolo rented an office for about $700 per month in the World Antwerp Diamond Center in Belgium. Notarbartolo had taken inspiration and planning from the New York Diamond Heist that happen a few years before this. He rented the office and posed as an Italian diamond merchant to gain a 24-hour access ID. In the end, the heist took 18 months to prepare, and the heist will become successful. After being caught Notarbartolo, gave the aliases of his accomplices of 4 people, Speedy, a long friend of Notarbartolo, would be the reason the heist failed. The Monster, known as a tall muscular man, was an expert picklocker, mechanic, and driver. The Genius, a specialist in alarm systems, and had experience in robberies. And The King of Keys, described as one of the best forgers in the world, is an older man but is still never officially known. This band of thieves was called “La Scuola di Torino” (The School of Turin). The group had a good plan for the building from using cameras inside of pens and the vault as Notarbartolo would become a well-known regular, so the security gave him leeway as he scoped out the vault. Notarbartolo discovered a camera in the ceiling of the vault that detects if anyone is in the vault even if the security puts in the combination lock of the vault, so Notarbartolo had it linked to a sensor hidden inside a fire extinguisher. The group apparently made a full-scale replica of the vault in the middle of nowhere where they would practice disabling the security system of the vault. The day before the heist. Notarbartolo would visit the vault as a routine check and spray the motion sensor with a woman’s hair spray to temporarily disable the sensor before the group could finish it, the security didn’t notice it as Notarbartolo was trusted.

The Heist

Inside the Vault Room

The team wore plastic gloves and avoided the security cameras in the area around the bank, the King of Keys picked the lock to an abandoned building that connected to the Diamond Center, as it had a garden with the Diamond Centre that wasn’t under surveillance. The garden had access to a balcony in the center, and the group used a ladder. An infrared sensor monitored the terrace, but the Genius used a large polyester shield to hide his thermal signature as he moved to the sensor and placed it in front of the sensor. He then disabled an alarm on the balcony’s windows. When they got to the antechamber, the group put black plastic bags over the cameras so they could turn the lights on. The vault door had a magnetic lock that had two plates when armed, they would trigger a magnetic field and when the door opened, the field would break, triggering an alarm. The Genius used an aluminum plate, on which he put double-sided tape to one side. He would stick it on the two bolts and unscrew them. While they were loose, they were still side by side and keeping the magnetic field. The King of Keys used video footage to make a duplicate of the foot-long vault key. During the robbery, he knew that guards often went into a utility room just before opening the door and he would investigate it. Inside the room, he found the vault key. He decided to steal and use the original key as safety precautions. The group turned off the antechamber lights before opening the vault door to avoid activating light sensors in the vault. After the King of Keys would pick the lock to the internal gate, the Monster, while in the dark, moved to the middle of the room, having practiced the number of steps in the replica vault, reached up to the ceiling and pushed back a panel, locating the security system’s inbound and outbound wires. The Monster stripped the wire’s plastic coating and attached a piece of new wire to the exposed copper wiring, shunting the circuit and ensuring that it wouldn’t work even when the sensors are tripped. The heat sensors were blinded with Styrofoam boxes and the light sensors with tape. The crew worked in the dark, having memorized the layout of the vault. They would flick on their lights for a bit to put their drill over the lock boxes. The King of Keys used a hand-cranked drill to break the locks on each of the security boxes and filled their duffel bags. About 123 out of 160 lock boxes were opened and the security footage was taken as well. Around 5:30 am they finished and left, returning to the office building. They then put the bags in Notarbartolo’s car, which then drove to the apartment while the men headed there on foot.

How They Were Caught

Notarbartolo after being released from prison now in his 70s

The group was caught after Notarbartolo and Speedy went to get rid of the evidence, planning to burn it in France. Speedy was overcome with panic as they were moving evidence and wanted to dispose of it in a nearby forest. Then, Speedy had a panic attack and disposed of the evidence poorly, instead, he dumped it in a bush. Notarbartolo was busy burning his own evidence and when he saw what Speedy had done, he decided it would take too long and so they left. A local hunter owned the land and called the police when he found the rubbish the next day. When he mentioned that some of the trash had noted the Antwerp Diamond Centre, the police investigated it immediately. The evidence from the trash was enough to get the police and they were able to identify Notarbartolo from security footage from a grocery store where he had purchased a sandwich, the receipt for the sandwich was in the scattered trash. He was released in 2009, taken again in 2013, and released in 2017. While the others served 5 years each.

Sources:

https://www.wired.com/2009/03/ff-diamonds-2/


https://abcnews.go.com/amp/Primetime/story?id=132401&page=1


https://allthatsinteresting.com/antwerp-diamond-heist