• Anjali Ann

The Antwerp Diamond Heist

Anjali Ann

The infamous Heist of the Century was curated by five specifically talented men that managed to steal 100 million dollars and left investigators baffled as to how they managed to execute this unimaginable feat.

The vault they had their eyes on was 2 stories underground, heavily guarded and monitored with infrared heat detectors, a seismic sensor, Doppler radar, and a magnetic field.

A Doppler radar can detect the velocity of objects at a distance and detect any motion within the vault using microwave signals. Seismic sensors can detect any vibration or drilling that could have been used to penetrate the vault. The infrared heat sensors could detect the body heat of any individuals in the vault. The magnetic field was used to ensure that the vault doors remained closed, any break in the magnetic field would result in the alarms going off and alerting the Antwerp Police and guards within seconds.

Then how did they do it? Let's start with our Perpetrators. The five men (four of which have not been caught) go by the aliases- Speedy, The Monster, The Genius, The King of Keys, and Leonardo Notarbartolo; the latter being the only one out of the group who was caught for orchestrating the heist and sentenced to 10 years in prison, and yet, refused to name any of his fellow accomplices.

Leonardo Notarbartolo, a professional thief who was skilled in social manipulation, was speculated to have been the ringleader of an Italian mob known as La Scuola di Torino’or the School of Turin, Italy.

In the year 2000, 18 months before the heist, he rented out an office in the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, where he posed to be an Italian diamond merchant to gain credibility and get access into the Antwerp Diamond District, where the vault that housed 100 million worth of gold, silver, jewels, and diamonds was situated underground.

Notarbartolo played a very charming gem importer from Turin. He dressed well and scheduled meetings with numerous dealers where he dealt small stones and was cheerfully invited into several dealers’ circles. He even got familiar with the security guards of the district, which was heavily protected. Roads were blocked off with metal pillars and were only permeable to professional merchants and dealers, an identity that Notarbartolo had successfully embodied.

On Valentine's Day, 2003, this side of town was nearly deserted, as Venus Williams was in town ready to play in the Proximus Diamond Games tennis tournament. Her posters covered the walls that Armoured trucks drove past that day, accompanied by guards armed with automatic weapons, protecting the monthly shipment of De Beers Diamonds, worth millions. As of 2003, De Beers was the World's Largest Diamond Supply, controlling 55% of the diamonds globally. The cargo was being escorted to the District Vault, soon to be robbed.

That evening, Notarbartulo visited the vault, the guards recognised him and granted him access. He entered the vault and compromised the heat and motion sensors by quickly and discreetly spraying it with hairspray. This was caught in the security footage but was overlooked by the guards at that moment as they trusted Notarbartolo and did not pay much attention to his visit.

Previously, Notarbartolo had visited the vault to store some of his gems that he dealt under his guise, and during those visits, he managed to take pictures of the vault. Although photography was strictly prohibited within the enclosure, he snuck in a camera that was in the form of a pen and poked out of his shirt pocket. Using those images he was successfully able to simulate a replica of the vault, in which the team had practised the heist for months before it happened.

To break-in, the team needed to pass undetected through all the sensors, a foot-long key that was nearly impossible to duplicate, a 4-digit combination to the vault whose dial was from 0-99, which led to almost a million possible combinations. All this on a 3-tonne metal door that took 12 hours to drill through, which cannot be done without alerting the seismic sensor, and the door cannot open without disturbing the magnetic field, which sets off an alarm. And behind the 3-tonne vault door lies a steel metal gate that required another key.

How the gang managed to successfully break-in without triggering an alarm has stumped police and investigators to this day. Nobody knew about the heist until the vault was opened on Monday morning by when the gang had already fled to Italy with the loot.

Other members of the gang, whose identities remain mysterious to this day, include:

The Genius, who specialized in alarm systems, and could allegedly disarm any type of alarm. He is speculated to be Simon, an electronics expert who is linked to several crimes.

The Monster, who got his name from the fact that he was a tall, muscular man, who was an expert lock picker, electrician, and driver. He was so skilled and strong that Notarbartolo claimed that everyone was slightly afraid of him, hence the nickname.

The King of Keys was an older man, a locksmith known to be one of the best key forgers in the world. Set apart from the group by his age, he is the only one out of the crew that was free from any suspicion from the police as his identity remains completely anonymous. The King of Keys was able to accomplish the nearly impossible task of replicating the foot-long key, using only an image from the video footage of the key being used in the vault.

This footage was captured from a neatly and ingeniously placed small camera near the ceiling lights that was very hard to spot. The footage was then received through a device that was hidden in a form of a fully functional fire extinguisher, which encased electronics in a watertight chamber that could revert the footage to the team. In this footage, they not only managed to find an image of the key, but they also learned the combination to the vault. These gadgets were devised by The Genius and certainly does justice to his alias.

And finally, Speedy, who was speculated to have been a very nervous childhood friend of Notarbartolo. Speedy was considered a liability by the rest of the team, but Notarbartolo’s loyalty to Speedy, having worked with him for almost 30 years, defended him.

It was the weekend after Valentine's Day, 2003 when The King of Keys picked a lock into an unmaintained office building that shared a private garden with the building that contained the vault. The Antwerp Diamond District is a very concentrated area where riches travel in and out daily, so the entire area is constantly under surveillance. This private garden was one of the few places without any camera surveillance, so the crew was able to climb into the targeted building’s balcony, using a ladder that the Genius had stashed there. The men wore gloves to conceal their fingerprints. Notarbartolo waited for them in a getaway car during the entire heist, reading police scanners and waiting for the men.

The Genius climbed through the balcony on the second floor where there was an infrared heat sensor that he approached from behind a homemade polyester shield. He covered the sensor with the material of low conductivity and then proceeded to disarm the alarm on the window. The balcony was now secure for the men to climb through. They crept down the stairwell into the room with the vault, where they covered the cameras using black plastic bags in complete darkness, as they had practiced in the replica, before turning on the lights.

The Genius proceeded to disarm the magnetic field by taping the custom made aluminum plate, carefully enough to ensure that the magnetic field remained intact. While he unscrewed the original plates from the door and pivoted it open, the King of Keys noticed from the footage that they usually entered the utility room before they opened the vault so he decided to investigate.

He planned on picking the lock to that door, but to his favour, the room was already unlocked and the foot-long key was hanging inside it. He decided to use the original key to not let the vault’s manufacturers know that the key could be duplicated. They did not know until Notarbartolo revealed it. Speedy had to run back up the stairs to get a phone signal to tell Notarbartolo that the men got in. Notarbartolo had received the call while he was waiting outside, eating a salami sandwich.

In the antechamber, The King of Keys picked the gate's lock, and the Monster propped the gate up using cans of paint he had found in the utility room. In the dark, he slipped through and into the vault. The heat sensors, although impaired by the hairspray, wouldn’t last so it was up to him to disable it. He had to carefully strip the plastic coating off the wires- a very delicate task, as the sensors depended on the circuit of electric pulses that constantly shot in and out of this room. Any break would immediately trigger the alarm.

When the police found the tampered panel in the ceiling with the wires sticking out, they thought that the thieves did an unfinished job of attempting to cut the wires, but Notarbartolo confirmed that Monster knew exactly what he was doing, and he did it successfully in the dark.

The Monster had perfectly practised his task of moving around the room with 11 steps, and a balanced heart rate to not increase his body temperature which would disturb the temperature of the room and in turn trigger the heat sensors, all of in the dark.

After successfully bypassing the vaults security systems, the men were still cautious enough to tape the light sensors with black tape and cover the heat sensors with styrofoam, blinding them completely. They set off to pick the safes in the vault. The men took turns in the dark cranking the boxes open, using only flashes of light to position the drill over the next box. Time was of the essence, they went through 109 boxes before they decided to escape. By 5:30 AM the men were out and Notarbartolo drove them away.

They managed to carry out the heist flawlessly, except for the end when it was up to Speedy to dispose of the evidence. He suffered a panic attack, and instead of burning the evidence as planned, he hysterically scattered and tried to dump it in some thicket. He was given an entire garbage bag of contents that led to the crime, amongst which the receipt to a salami sandwich was found. Near the crime scene, a half-eaten salami sandwich, which contained Notarbartolo’s DNA was found. This sample along with the video footage of Notarbartolo spraying the sensors was enough to sentence him to 10 years in prison in 2005. He served four years and got out on parole in 2009, only to have been caught for violating the conditions of his parole in 2011. He was arrested again in 2013, where he served the rest of his sentence till 2017.

To this day, Notarbartolo denies that there was ever a heist of 100 million as most of the riches were never recovered. He claims that the theft was only worth 20 million and it was a part of insurance fraud that he was hired to do, but the vault seems to be uninsured so his story does not check out.

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