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Old 03-23-2012, 02:40 PM   #1
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The 1946 Hesse Jewel Robbery, Kronberg, Germany

One of the great treasure stories of World War II.

Kronberg Castle, near Frankfurt, Germany.

Several years ago I read an account of the 1946 Hesse Jewel robbery,
committed by three American Army officers stationed in Germany.

The trio got away with several million dollars worth of jewels and
gold belonging to one of the royal families of Germany, the Hesse family.

The account was given in in Kenneth Alford's 1994 book The Spoils of World War II.

One of the minor items of loot was a "German gold ten-mark coin with Frederick III"
which was otherwise unidentified.

I am interested in old coins and I decided to research the topic further.

The Hesse robbery was the largest single act of looting done by American soldiers in Germany.

The American Army took over Kronberg Castle (Schloss Friedrichshof), a late 1800's palace
belonging to the Hesse family, located in Kronberg, a few miles from Frankfurt.

The US Army turned the place into an Officer's club and hotel, and put a Captain Nash
of the Women's Army Corps or WAC in charge.

In November of 1945, one of Captain Nash's soldiers went into the basement and saw
something suspicous. He got some German civilians to knock down a wall and discovered
hundreds of bottles of wine. He also noticed that the cement floor had been patched.
He called Nash who had the floor dug up. A crate containing the crown jewels of Hesse was found,
including tiaras, bracelets, and many other items.

Nash called her boyfriend, Colonel Jack Durant, to show him what they found.
Colonel Durant (a "full-bird colonel) lived in a hotel in Bad Homburg, near Kronberg.
The pair and a Major David Watson decided to help themselves and began separating the jewels
from the settings and mailing the items to their relatives the United States.

Colonel Durant and his brother buried some of the loot in Falls Church, Virginia.
Also, the colonel claimed to have sold some of the goods to fences in Chicago.

Princess Sophia was a member of the Hesse family, and in 1946 she was planning to get married
and wanted to wear her jewels. When she could not get them, she complained and her complaints
eventually reached US Army investigators.

Sophia was well connected, her brother Philip was also planning to get married to Elizabeth,
the older daughter of Britain's King George VI.

Durant and Nash went back to the US while Watson stayed in Germany.
Army investigators followed the three and eventually arrested them.
Durant claimed that he sold some jewels to fences in Chicago, and buried some
near Falls Church, Virginia (attention metal detector fans).

During the investigation, it was discovered that Watson had a girlfriend in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
He gave her some items and pawned some other items, including a "German gold ten-mark coin"

The coin was the property of Princess Mafalda, daughter of the king and queen of Italy,
who had married one of the Hesse family members, Prince Philipp.
"The ten-mark coin bore the head of Emperor Frederick III, grandfather of
Princess Mafalda's husband, and had been given to her by Queen Margaret of Italy".

The three officers were court-martialed in Germany, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms.
The court-martials (military trials) were held at a community center in Frankfurt,
and the jewels were kept in safes at the IG Farben building, General Eisenhower's headquarters.

Most of the jewelry has not been recovered, and the thieves did so much damage to the settings
that the recovered items were worth 1/10 of the previous value.

Some of the loot ended up with various other US officials, including some generals,
but they were not prosecuted.

There was a 2009 film made of this story called The Hessen Conspiracy, but it changed
many of the details from the actual case.

I became curious about the "German gold ten-mark coin" and found out that it was
a one-year type because Frederick III was king of Prussia for only about three months in 1888.

Maybe something in the coin collector's psyche, but I had to have one.;

I do now.

(The following is mainly of interest to coin collectors only)

Germany Prussia 10 Marks 1888-A (Berlin) - Frederick III;
(Frederick, Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia);
(German Empire / 10 Marks);
3.98 grams, 0.900 gold, 19mm;
Bought January 2011

I live in California and I never expected to visit the places associated with the Hesse robbery.

However, in March 2012, I was in Frankfurt and decided to visit the sites associated with this story.

Kronberg Castle (Schloss Friedrichshof)
The scene of the crime

Bad Homburg hotel, where Colonel Durant stayed in 1946, obviously remodeled since then.

IG Farben building, Frankfurt, now a university

Masonic Lodge, Frankfurt, formerly the US Army Community Center, which hosted the court-martials.

I had an interesting time wandering around the Frankfurt area, exploring museums and cathedrals.

When I visited the Kronberg Palace, which is now a luxury hotel, the hotel staff members that
I talked to told me that they had never heard of the Hesse robbery.

More details about the Hesse robbery can be found by doing Internet searches or by reading Alford's book.

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Old 05-07-2012, 12:59 PM   #2
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As said, what a piece of detective work, and travelling!

I have never heard of these occurrences, but they sound really intrigueing. I am currently reading on the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives section (MFAA) of the Allied armed forces, and have to research on Friedrich III., so this story hits a sweet spot right now . Thank you so much for sharing!

It always amazes me how much grand architecture is hidden in Germany, like Schloß Kronberg, of which I admit I had never heard of before your posting. Seems to be a very nice hotel now. In countries like, say, the United Kingdom, such places would be GREATly advertised (never mind if you can actually afford to go there or not). Have you staid there during your trip? And how forthcoming was staff when you asked them about the Hesse robbery?

Greetings to California, btw!
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Old 05-05-2015, 06:23 PM   #3
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From a May 4, 2015 article about some items that heirs of US World War II personnel returned to Germany through a "Monuments Men" Foundation.

The "castle near Frankurt" is the Hesse Kronberg palace.
The librarian didn't purchase the paintings, Captain Nash gave them to her.

A painting of Queen Victoria and her eldest daughter, Victoria, who married German Emperor Frederick III, and a painting of Charles I — had been in a castle near Frankfurt that was confiscated by the U.S. military in 1945 and turned into an officers' club. They were purchased by an American woman who was serving in Germany as a librarian in the U.S. Special Services after the war, said the foundation.

The heirs of the librarian contacted the foundation last year amid publicity surrounding the release of the George Clooney film "Monuments Men", an adaptation of the book by the same name that memorializes the team of museum directors, curators and educators deployed to prevent the destruction of historic treasures during WWII.

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Old 11-06-2017, 10:34 AM   #4
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An update, in response to questions:

Most of the jewels have still not been found, however, the story has sort of a happy ending.

Colonel Durant and Captain Nash, after they got out of prison, stayed together and moved to Las Vegas where they managed hotels and casinos.

Last edited by WilliamBoyd8 : 11-06-2017 at 10:44 AM.
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Old 07-23-2018, 02:55 PM   #5
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Can somebody provide information about a recent television program or news story about this case?

Thank you.

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