The Hesse Crown Jewelry Heist
In November 1945, three US Army officers in Germany executed a daring jewel heist, stealing the concealed Hesse crown jewels from a castle occupied by US troops. Subsequent exposure led to their court-martial, guilt verdicts, and imprisonment, with less than half of the $2.5 million jewels recovered.
Princess Margaret wearing some of the Hesse crown jewels
In 1944, with the Allies closing in, Prince Wolfgang of Germany’s House of Hesse abandoned the family’s castle in Kronberg, north of Frankfurt, Germany. Before leaving, he secretly placed the Hesse crown jewels, which included over 500 carats of loose diamonds, a 116-carat sapphire, tiaras, packets of rings, pendants, bracelets, and more into a large zinc-lined wooden box. He dug a hole in the cellar of the castle and lowered the box down, then covered it with concrete. To further ensure the safety of the jewels, he built a fake wall, creating a secret room that held the treasure.
On November 5, 1945, a tip led Nash's staff to uncover the jewels buried in the castle's basement. Nash, romantically linked to Col. Jack W. Durant, orchestrated the treasure's dismantling with Maj. David J. Watson.
By February 1946, Princess Sophie of Greece discovered the crown jewels missing, triggering an investigation. The probe exposed the jewels' global journey – sold in Switzerland and Ireland, mailed or smuggled back to the US. Nash sent items to her sister, including a gold cutlery set used as everyday kitchenware. Col. Durant buried gems in fruit jars near Falls Church, VA, later discovered by police. Police dug up three jars filled with diamonds and cash.
The culmination saw Nash, Durant, and Watson facing a court-martial, conviction, and imprisonment, leaving over half of the liberated gems forever lost from their original settings.