The Antwerp Diamond Heist was a perfect crime…almost

The Antwerp Diamond Center was supposed to be impenetrable. Set in the middle of Antwerp, Belgium’s diamond district, the center held hundreds of millions of dollars worth of diamonds, jewels, gold, and other treasures. It’s no surprise that its security system was constructed accordingly.

Potential thieves would be forced to contend with a ten-layer security system that was composed of everything from infrared heat detectors to magnetic fields and state of the art locks. Simply getting into the center undetected was believed to be impossible. Unfortunately for the security team, no one counted on a ring of Italian thieves known as the “School of Turin” or their leader, Leonardo Notarbatolo.

In February of 2003, the gang of thieves managed to not only get into the center undetected but to also pull off one of the most legendary heists in history. Though several of the thieves involved were captured, the $100 million worth of diamonds they stole was never recovered.

The shadowy mastermind

Leonardo Notarbatolo later revealed that he found his calling at the age of 6, after stealing $8 from the local milkman. By the year 2000, he had an impressive robbery resume and had even rented a small space inside the diamond center where he would later pull off the heist of the century.

Though he presented himself as an Italian gem importer, it was the ease of fencing stolen goods that had first attracted Notarbatolo to the location. While police believed that he might have been the mastermind behind the heist, Notarbatolo told a different story after he was captured.

According to Notarbartolo himself, he was fencing some stolen goods to a trusted buyer one day, when the dealer made him an exciting offer. In exchange for 100,000 euros, the man wanted Notarbartolo to use his insider status at the diamond center to take a series of photos of the building’s security system.

Intrigued, Notarbartolo accepted the job and set about photographing the center’s interior with a hidden pen cam. What happened next, no one has been willing to say. Whether Notarbartolo himself orchestrated the plan or was hired to pull it off by the mysterious mastermind, the heist initially appeared to go off without a hitch.

The danger in the small details

Notarbatolo and his gang somehow got around the diamond center’s security system with such skill that to this day, even the police can’t explain precisely how they did it. In fact, the odds are high that they would have gotten away with the crime if it hadn’t been for one gang member, a man known as “Speedy.”

Notarbatolo told a different story after he was captured

Though the other members of the gang had been skeptical of letting Speedy join, he had been a childhood friend of Notarbatolo, who ultimately vouched for him. While other members of the gang transported the loot, Notarbatolo and Speedy set off to dispose of every piece of evidence that could possibly link them to the crime.

During the trip, however, Speedy’s history of panic attacks started to get the better of him. Insisting that Notarbatolo pull over, he suddenly started tossing the trash into a remote forest! Though Notarbatolo had planned to burn it all in France, Speedy had taken things in a different direction entirely.


Little did the pair know that an avid recycler owned the woods that Speedy had selected for the impromptu trash dump. Upon later finding the debris, the owner had called the cops to report all the litter.

When the police arrived, they found receipts for tools the thieves had left behind, as well as enough evidence to point them in Notarbatolo’s direction. Notarbatolo and three other men were ultimately captured and sentenced to 5- 10 years in prison apiece.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

– The great train robbery of 1963 I History 101

Check out how a gang of thieves pull off the largest cash theft of their time

– 30 famous mugshots you’ve never seen before I History 101

Discover the mugshots of historical figures you never knew had been arrested!