The Recovery of the Hessen Crown Jewels

Began watching a film about The Hessen Conspiracy today on youtube today and wondered why I had never heard of this crime before..

Late on the last day of October 1944 princes Wolfgang and Richard of Germany’s illustrious House of Hesse gingerly lowered a large wooden box into a hole in the basement floor of Kronberg Castle outside Frankfurt. Roughly two feet square and lined with zinc, the box held the bulk of the Hesse fortune—packets of rings, tiaras, necklaces, loose diamonds, and other jewels—which the princes hoped would form the basis of the extended family’s postwar prosperity.

The treasure was worth some $2.5 million (roughly $31 million today). The box included items belonging to several members of the Hesse clan, including the reigning matriarch, 74-year-old Princess Margarete of Prussia, and Margarete’s four sons and their wives. The princes and their mother were the scions of a German principality dating back to the 17th century.

As the war in Europe wound down, a trio of drunken, brazen, and almost comically inept thieves—all of them, regrettably, U.S. Army officers—managed to pull off one of the most lucrative wartime thefts in history.

Frankfurt Bound to Stand Trial for Kronberg Jewel Theft. Washington, D.C.: Col. Jack W. Durant and his wife, WAC captain Kathleen Nash, board an air transport corps plane which will take them back to Frankfurt, Germany to stand trial for the theft

In Germany, during the years of WWII, three American Army Officers committed one of the world's most infamous jewelry heists in all of history. The jewelry stolen by the Americas was not an ordinary collection, but happened to be the Crown Jewels of Germany, which at the time belonged to Princess Margaret of Hesse, daughter of the then German Emperor, Frederick III and Queen Victoria, Princess Royal.

Schloss Friedrichshof at Kronberg

At the time, the jewelry was believed to have a value of over $2.5 million USD, but today this would be equivalent to well over $30 million US dollars. Indeed, with jewelry increasing in value over time, the value of the collection today would be much more.

Dozens of friends, colleagues, and family members sent pleas for clemency in Watson’s case beginning with this letter from Lt. Col. H.T. Peery, a vice president at Bank of America. Ultimately, Watson was sentenced to three years, but paroled early. Nash received five years and Durant fifteen. More of the story can be found in the Hesse Crown Jewels Case description.

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