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;
FRIEDRICH DEUTSCHER KAISER KONIG V. PREUSSEN;
(Frederick, Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia);
DEUTSCHES REICH 1888 / 10 MARK;
(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.