$4.8 million in gold swiped from N.C. highway. But how?

Story highlights

  • A truck filled with gold bars pulled over alongside Interstate 95 in North Carolina
  • Two guards say they were both bound by men claiming to be police
  • Authorities are trying to determine if it may have been an inside job

(CNN)Gold bars. Each weighed between 25 and 27 pounds, together about 275 pounds. The bars' total weight in gold is worth about $4.8 million.

That much adds up. But what about the story of how they got swiped on Sunday from a truck alongside Interstate 95 in North Carolina?
Investigators are trying to figure that out, including how two armed security guards could have been so quickly pounced upon, bound and then robbed so soon after pulling over in Wilson County, as they've told authorities.
    "There's suspicion about everything going on in this case," Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard Jr. said Wednesday in a news conference about the case.
    He also released composite sketches of two of the three suspects, one of whom he described as a heavyset Hispanic male with a Cuban accent and the other as a dark-skinned Hispanic male with a white mustache and goatee who was dressed in black. He showed reporters a photo of the white van they allegedly got away in, as well as an image of the traffic cones they used -- which came from a Florida company that doesn't do business in North Carolina.
    What he couldn't say definitively was whether these men had some help. There are a lot of questions, in fact, that can't be answered.

    Truck was heading from Florida to Massachusetts

    Authorities say the initial statements from the two guards who work for TransValue Inc., a Florida-based company that transports valuables, were a bit confusing due to the guards' spotty English, though Woodward said police now have a clearer picture after bringing in Spanish-speakers to translate.
    These two men, both of whom have worked for TransValue for several years, set off early Sunday morning from Miami with a truck full of gold protected by a padlock and presumably their firearms. They were headed for Bridgewater, Massachusetts, "to a place ... where they handled such things," Woodard explained.
    They stopped to get gas in Dillon, South Carolina, then hit the interstate once again.
    The guards later told police they smelled gas, with one of them getting sick. So they pulled over.
    That leads to the first big question about the men's story: Did something happen to their vehicle to cause the gas smell? Not according to a Wilson County mechanic, who "did not determine any type of issues" with the truck, according to Woodard.

    Guards: Suspects yelled out 'policia'

    So the sicker guard gets out of the vehicle. He says he's quickly met by two suspects, who yell out, "Policia, policia." They ask him to go to the ground then tie him up with three zip ties, according to Woodard.
    After this, the other guard gets out of the vehicle. He encounters the same men -- one of them wearing a red traffic vest -- who repeat that they are police. He says that he, too, eventually gets to the ground and is bound with duck tape.
    But weren't these armed guards? Yes and no. Neither man had a gun on them when they exited their vehicle, violating their company's protocol, the sheriff said.
    And did anyone see them get bound and led into the nearby woods? No, at least no one who has contacted police. But people called authorities around 6:49 p.m. Sunday after they spotted the men, still bound, coming out of the woods, according to Woodard.
    By then, the $4.8 million in gold and the three men suspected of taking it were gone.

    'We're investigating every avenue'

    That's left authorities trying to track those valuables down and piece together exactly what happened.
    Investigators have already gone to South Carolina, and they're getting help from the FBI. They're all working to get information out of places between Florida and North Carolina, to try to corroborate the guards' stories and uncover any evidence that might identify the suspected thieves.
    Woodard says TransValue has been "very cooperative" in the investigation, as have the company's two guards. Neither was injured beyond some scratches on their legs from going into the woods.
    "Right now, (the guards) are still considered victims," Woodard said, declining to answer whether or not authorities believe this was an inside job. "... But we're investigating every avenue."