Dresden manhunt underway after castle vault treasure heist

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1:00 p.m. ET, November 25, 2019

How one of the vault's most famous pieces escaped the heist

The Dresden Green Diamond is seen in the Watzdorf cabinet of the Green Vault in 2004.
The Dresden Green Diamond is seen in the Watzdorf cabinet of the Green Vault in 2004. NORBERT MILLAUER/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

One of the most famous pieces of the collection — a 41-carat green diamond known as the Dresden Green — was not in the Green Vault at the time of the heist, police said

It is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

12:53 p.m. ET, November 25, 2019

The thieves escaped in an Audi, police say

Police in Dresden say the thieves behind the heist on the Dresden Green Vault in eastern Germany fled the scene in an Audi.

Security personnel alerted Dresden police early this morning about theft, police said. Officers then started search involving 16 police vehicles. At the same time federal police were alerted. No one has been arrested so far, and the search continues.

The suspects escaped using an Audi A6 vehicle. An identical vehicle was later set on fire in an underground car park. Forensic experts examined and secured the Audi.

Detectives are working on the assumption that the incident is connected to a fire at an electric grid distribution installation near Augustus Bridge. That fire caused the street lighting in the neighborhood of the site of the theft to fail.  

11:39 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

Here's some history about the Green Vault, which was broken into today

One of the rooms in the Green Vault at the Royal Palace in Dresden is seen in April.
One of the rooms in the Green Vault at the Royal Palace in Dresden is seen in April. Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/AFP/Getty Images

Several criminals stole artifacts of "immeasurable value" from the Green Vault in Dresden today.

We're not sure exactly what was taken — although the museum's chief said the stolen pieces include diamonds and gemstones. Here's what we know about the vault:

  • What's inside: The vault features an astounding collection of historical jewelry and precious ornaments — from shimmering bowls carved out of crystal and agate to jeweled gold figurines and goblets fashioned from gilded ostrich eggs.
  • The collection is signifiant: It houses one of the largest collections of treasure in Europe, with its spectacular baroque chambers filled with jewels and objets d'art.
  • Some history: The collection housed in the Green Vault was established in the early 18th century by Augustus the Strong, ruler of Saxony. He worked to establish Dresden as a major center for the arts, inviting talented sculptors, goldsmiths and painters to take up residence and commissioned a series of magnificent rooms to showcase his valuables as a way of advertising the city's cultural prominence in addition to its wealth.
4:06 p.m. ET, November 25, 2019

The Green Vault heist: What we don't know

We learned some details about the heist from Dresden police and museum bosses at a news conference a short while ago. But many questions still remain.

Here is what we don't know so far:

Exactly what was stolen: The museum's chief Marion Ackermann said three sets of artifacts had been stolen from one display case. She said the 100 or so pieces included diamonds and gemstones, but didn't go into details about them.

The value of the heist: Ackermann said it was impossible to estimate the value of the stolen items. She added that because the items are well known, they would be impossible to sell.

Whodunnit: We have no idea who the perpetrators were. We know two culprits were spotted inside the vault on CCTV footage, but the police haven't gone into any details about who they might be or whether more than two suspects are involved.

The police said they didn't have any information to suggest that the suspects had “insider knowledge" ahead of the break-in. 

Are two nearby fires linked: The police mentioned two suspicious fires happening around the time of the heist.

One damaged an electrical box in the vicinity of the museum, taking streetlights in the square out of action.

Then, after the break-in, a report of a car on fire came in. It is unclear whether the two are related to the theft.

10:18 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

The stolen artifacts were not insured

Marion Ackermann, director general of the Dresden State Art Collections, said the treasures stolen in Monday's raid were not insured.

She said that because the items have been in the possession of the state of Saxony for so long, they were not covered by insurance, explaining that this is standard practice in such cases.

10:17 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

Speculation of link between Dresden vault heist and nearby fire

Dresden Police say an electrical box at Dresden's Theater Square, near the Green Vault, was found burned out early on Monday morning.

The fire knocked out the street lights in the square, the police added, saying they were trying to establish whether there is any connection to the heist.

Additionally, police say they are investigating whether a car found on fire in the city following the break-in has any links with the robbery.

11:09 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

The heist is now called Operation Epaulette

Police is investigating at the scene.
Police is investigating at the scene. Photo: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP

Authorities looking into the brazen heist at the Green Vault in Dresden Castle have named the investigation "Epaulette," according to Volker Lange of the Dresden Police.

An epaulette is an ornamental shoulder piece on an item of clothing, usually found on a uniform or ceremonial dress.

According to Saxony's Minister of the Interior Roland Wöller, the police have formed a special commission to investigate the theft.

Several police departments are involved in the investigation.
Several police departments are involved in the investigation. Photo: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP

A number of teams have been deployed to the scene and the museum was closed on Monday.

Police say they have no information to suggest that the suspects had "insider knowledge" of the vault, but that they are continuing to investigate.

Police officers stand behind a caution tape at the site in Dresden.
Police officers stand behind a caution tape at the site in Dresden. Photo: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa via AP

Police say a vehicle seen parked nearby around the time of the robbery appeared to flee the scene shortly afterwards.

Lange said an alert was sent out to try to locate the vehicle, with police closing exits on the nearby motorway to try and stop the suspects escaping.

However the Dresden police official also pointed out that it would have been fairly easy for a vehicle to get from the site of the robbery to the highway within a matter of minutes.

9:50 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

Why did the security not stop the thieves?

Marion Ackermann, the director General of the Dresden State Art Collections, found herself under a barrage of questions from journalists at the news conference a short while ago.

A key question emerging: If the security guards saw the thieves on their CCTV camera and heard the alarm, why did they not intervene and stop them from escaping?

Ackermann explained that the standard security procedure at the museum is to call the police rather than intervene.

At that point, the security guards were unarmed, but could have been if they had interceded, she explained.

She added that the museum's course of action was not unusual and that other museums follow similar protocols.

9:28 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

What was taken?

The police said about 100 pieces altogether may have been stolen from the vault, including diamonds, pearls and rubies.

During a news conference, the police said one glass display case was smashed and three set of jewellery were stolen. The three sets were composed of numerous pieces.

According to Roland Woeller, a local politician, the stolen artifacts were of "immeasurable value."