Mental Floss

5 Great Jewel Heists (and what you can learn from them)

Kara Kovalchik
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The biggest players on the professional jewel thief circuit are a sophisticated bunch. Their connections run deep and they're tapped into a network of attorneys and "fences" who can smuggle valuables undetected to other parts of the world within days. But just because you don't have those sorts of contacts, it doesn't mean you should be dissuaded. According to the the Jeweler's Security Alliance, approximately 80% of the $100 million in gold, silver and precious gems stolen annually are pilfered by amateurs. If you're looking to be a jewel thief, here are 5 tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Don't Hide your Stash in a Piece of Fruit

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Amazingly, the whole thing would have worked if it wasn't for a pesky chambermaid named Suzanne Schiltz. While doing her rounds at the Hotel Metropole, Suzanne started to get really hungry when she spotted a bowl of fruit the two gentlemen had stashed in their closet. There was so much fruit in the basket, and the apples and pears looked so tempting, that she finally caved. After all, Suzanne figured that the men wouldn't notice if just one piece of fruit went missing.
But when she took a bite, she nearly broke her tooth. Schiltz examined the apple and discovered that it had been hollowed out and a large gem of some sort had been tucked inside. She reported her finding to the hotel manager and was fired for stealing from a hotel guest. On the upside, she did get a reward from the French government for recovering their priceless treasure.

Tip #2: Talk to Stupid People

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Tip #3: Choose Trustworthy Partners

Ernest Oppenheimer, who'd made his fortune in mining gold and diamonds, lived with his son and daughter-in-law on a 20-acre estate in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. During the summer of 1955, the Oppenheimers hired a crew of workmen to re-roof their stately home. One of those workers was a British WWII veteran named Donald Miles who had worked as a saboteur during his years of military service. Donald could climb along a window ledge with stealth and jimmy a door lock with a piece of celluloid tape. While working at the Oppenheimer home, he noticed how lax security was: Bridget Oppenheimer kept over a half million dollars' worth of jewels in a wall safe, the key to which she kept in a satin box in her closet. On the evening of December 7, 1955, the Oppenheimers went to a dinner party. When they returned, Bridget noticed one of the pillow cases was missing from her bed. Giving no thought to it, she retired for the evening only to discover the next morning that all $600,000 worth of diamonds, emeralds and sapphires had been taken from her safe.

The police were stumped. There were no signs of forced entry, and the safe's key was still in its box. Of course, here's where tip #2 comes in: Miles might never have been caught if it hadn't been for the greed of his trusty pal William Pearson. Pearson had agreed to help Miles fence the jewels for a price, but he changed his mind when he caught wind of the $42,000 reward being offered by the Oppenheimer's.

Tip #4: Finish Your Food

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So, why is Notarbartolo behind bars? Well, partially it's because he didn't eat all his food. The big break in the case came when police found a discarded paper bag along Antwerp's main avenue that contained video tapes and a half-eaten sandwich. The tapes were security tapes from the vault. But there was also enough DNA from the sandwich to put Leo and his accomplices behind bars. That doesn't mean the police found the jewels, though. As of this writing, none of the stolen gems have been recovered.

Tip #5: Find a Great Costume

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