Crooks are being hunted after swiping $100 million (£83 million) of rare gems in an audacious 27-minute robbery being hailed as one of the largest jewellery heists in history.
Police believe a gang of burglars tracked a van loaded with cargo owned by ‘mom and pop operators’ from a jewellery show in northern California to a Los Angeles area truck stop, before they raided the vehicle in the early hours.
Our map shows how thieves struck the armoured Brink’s vehicle around 2am on July 11 at a Flying J truck stop along Interstate 5 near Grapevine – taking only 27 minutes to get away with their colossal haul.
International Gem and Jewelry Show president Arnold Duke said the van was loaded with 70 to 100-pound storage containers housing gems and jewels.
It’s estimated the mob got away with up to 30 bags containing an unknown number of individual pieces, leaving a string of independent jewellers in dismay as it has left their ‘entire livelihoods’ wiped out.
Mr Duke added: ‘We are looking at more than $100 million in documented losses.
‘This was an absolutely huge crime. One of the largest jewellery heists ever. We are talking gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and loads of luxury watches.
‘There were 15 exhibitors each with $5 to $10 million (£4 million to £8.3 million) in merchandise.
‘These are small businesses with their entire wealth vested in that truck. It has destroyed them financially and it affected their health in some cases.’
Brandy Swanson, director of the jewel exhibition, said the goods were stolen from ‘mom-and-pop operators’ who have been left ‘devastated’.
The burglars managed to bypass the Brink’s van’s locking mechanism undetected and loaded the gems into storage containers before hauling them away, law enforcement sources allege.
Authorities told The Los Angeles Times that two armed guards left the vehicle at the truck stop in the early hours of July 11.
The group of thieves then broke into the truck, entered its tractor-trailer and started unloading containers holding jewellery, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and stashes of luxury designer watches including Rolexes.
Their heist is being compared to the Hatton Garden robbery in London and the Antwerp, Belgium, break-in that took months of planning.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau sergeant Michael Mileski refused to describe the locking mechanism but admitted it would ‘not be exceedingly difficult to crack’.
Investigators believe several thieves ‘had to be involved’, with 18 victims suffering losses and FBI agent and major crimes investigators now hunting for clues.
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