Dresden manhunt underway after castle vault treasure heist

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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."

9:16 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

The thieves are still on the run

A manhunt is underway in Dresden following the heist.

Police received a call early Monday morning at 4:59 a.m. saying that a break-in was taking place.

The suspects were seen on CCTV, but disappeared before anyone could catch them.

"The suspects came in through a window, and walked towards a glass vitrine, smashed it and left, they disappeared," Dresden police Chief Criminal Director Volker Lange said.

The security personnel in the museum saw the two suspects on CCTV and called police, following the museum's security protocol.

8:40 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

The Green Vault is a real national treasure

The Green Vault, inside the historic Royal Palace in Dresden, is seen as a site of national significance by many Germans. It is one of the oldest museums in the world, containing one of largest collections of treasure in Europe.

It has attracted an array of high-profile visitors in the past.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted US President Barack Obama for talks in the vault in 2009.

Obama and Merkel held bilateral talks in the vault in 2009.
Obama and Merkel held bilateral talks in the vault in 2009. Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Germany in 2011, she too popped in to see the artifacts.

Queen Beatrix visited in 2011.
Queen Beatrix visited in 2011. Matthias Hiekel/AFP/Getty Images

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin made sure to swing by back in 2006.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Saxony President Georg Milbradt visited the vault in 2006.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Saxony President Georg Milbradt visited the vault in 2006. Pool/Getty Images

8:21 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

Police "won't comment on any speculation"

Saxony Police issued a brief statement on Twitter, saying that while it understands the "topic of the the Green Vault is emotional for many," it will not "comment on speculation and theories about who to blame."

A police car is seen in front of the Royal Palace that houses the historic Green Vault in Dresden.
A police car is seen in front of the Royal Palace that houses the historic Green Vault in Dresden. Photo: Sebastian Kahnert/DPA/Getty

8:22 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

How the heist unfolded

Dresden police have released a timeline of what they call an “attack” on the Green Vault museum. 

Police president Jörg Kubiessa said the heist took place in the very early hours of Monday morning.

Here's what they know:

4.59 a.m. (10:59 p.m. ET) Police receive a call that a break-in is taking place. 

5:04 a.m (11.04 p.m. ET) The first police car is dispatched.

5:05 a.m. (11:05 p.m. ET) Authorities receive their first tip regarding a vehicle possibly involved in the heist.

5:09 a.m. (11:09 p.m. ET) The Theater Square (Theaterplatz) area experiences a power outage. Police could not confirm if the power cut is related. 

5:22 a.m. (11:22 p.m. ET) The federal police is notified

Dresden Police’s Chief Criminal Director Volker Lange said: “Two suspects were seen on CCTV. The suspects came in through a window, and walked towards a glass vitrine, smashed it and left, they disappeared.”

8:19 a.m. ET, November 25, 2019

Thieves steal priceless treasures from Dresden's Green Vault museum 

The Jewel Room, one of the rooms in the historic Green Vault at the Royal Palace in Dresden.
The Jewel Room, one of the rooms in the historic Green Vault at the Royal Palace in Dresden.

One of Europe's largest collections of treasures was targeted in a brazen heist on Monday when thieves attacked a castle vault in the German city of Dresden.

Several criminals gained access to the Green Vault in Dresden Castle on Monday, according to Roland Woeller, a local politician. He said the perpetrators had stolen artifacts of "immeasurable value."

"This is an attack on the cultural identity of all Saxons and the state of Saxony," Woeller added. State Police also confirmed the break-in.

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.

Saxony's Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer tweeted that the heist meant all Saxons had been "robbed."

"The valuables found here have been hard-won by the people of our Free State for many centuries," Kretschmer wrote.

The collection 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.

The museum said it was closed Monday due to "organizational reasons" and a special police commission has been established following the heist.