From the Archives: Smooth Criminals

Today's second archival tidbit comes from our current issue, on stands now. Shame on you if you don't already have a copy.

The Original Ocean's 11: The 2003 Antwerp Diamond Heist

If you think George Clooney's "Ocean's 11" character was smooth, check out the velvet finish on criminal mastermind Antonino Finotto. In February 2003, Finotto and his gang of thieves, known as the School of Turin, pulled off one of the stealthiest heists in history. Daring to break into the famous Antwerp Diamond Center—a building that holds 80 percent of the world's diamonds—the group made out with $120 million in jewels.

How They Did It: Not ones to rush into something this big, the Turin boys began laying the groundwork for the project three years prior. Posing as a company owner, gang member Leonardo Notarbartolo rented an office in the Diamond Center in 2000 and proceeded to obtain copies of master keys and learn how the alarm system worked. Then, the group waited for the perfect distraction—the Diamond Games tennis tournament on February 16, 2003. As Venus Williams wowed throngs of spectators (many of them Diamond Center employees and security guards), Finotto's crew used their duplicate keys to sneak into 123 of the building's underground vaults. Simply riding the elevator down to the basement, they deactivated a motion sensor and taped over light detectors. Then, instead of just covering the lens of the CCTV (closed circuit television) security cameras, they avoided suspicion by replacing the tapes with previously recorded footage.

Of course, the biggest hurdle was getting past the vault's 12-inch thick doors. Knowing the doors were equipped with internal magnets that would set off alarms if they detached, the robbers drilled holes into them, carefully taped the magnets together, and moved them out of the way so that they wouldn't separate. After that, all they had to do was break the locks to the safety deposit boxes, rake in the diamonds, and then quietly flee the scene. To escape undetected, they memorized the surveillance patterns of the 24-hour police patrols outside the building. (Hey, they didn't have nicknames like King of Thieves and The Magician with the Keys for nothing.) Amazingly, even though the heist took place on a Saturday night, authorities didn't discover anything suspicious until Monday morning.

How They Got Caught: Here's a tip for would-be thieves: If you leave the crime scene with a bag full of diamonds and dispose of the bags on the road leading out of the city, make sure you don't leave your half-eaten sandwich in one of them. Inspectors used the DNA evidence on the food to nab Notarbartolo, who currently awaits prosecution. Investigators also found DNA evidence in one of the vaults that linked Finotto to the Belgian heist, but he was already back in Turin, Italy, safe from extradition. Meanwhile, none of the diamonds have been recovered. Some have microscopic inscriptions on them that would reveal their identity, but only if the thieves ever decide to sell them legally.

And with that, we're going dark for the next week. Hey, give us a break! We'll be back bright and early on January 1. Okay, January 2.

Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

Original image
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock
6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
Original image
Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.


59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.


116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.


74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.


111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.


430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.


327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.


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