In 2003 a team of thieves broke into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and made off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils.
The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can’t explain exactly how it was done.
Eventually the thieves were caught. How? Because of a retired guy with time on his hands…watch out for those retired guys with time on their hands.
August Van Camp was a 59-year-old retired Belgian grocer who bought a narrow 12 acre strip of forest alongside the E19 motorway. But because it adjoined the highway, Van Camp found a lot of garbage. Since he was retired he took it upon himself to keep it clean from litter.
When he found garbage, he phoned the police, who had gotten used to his calls. A typical conversation:
“The kids have made a mess on my land again.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Van Camp.”
“I demand that you send someone to investigate.”
“We will pass along your request.”
Van Camp rarely heard back.
While hunting one morning—Monday, February 17, to be exact—Van Camp was incensed to find yet another pile of junk in the underbrush. After a flash of pique that made him puff out his cheeks, throw up his arms, and wonder what the world was coming to, he knelt down and glared at the refuse. He wanted to be able to describe to the cops what he had to put up with. There was videotape strewn all over the place. A wine bottle rested near a half-eaten salami sandwich. There were also some white envelopes printed with the words diamond center, Antwerp. Van Camp’s irritation increased.
“Kids,” he grumbled.
At home, he punched in the number for the police and asked to lodge a complaint. The officer listened as Van Camp tallied the mess. When Van Camp mentioned Diamond Center envelopes, the officer broke in. “What was that?” he said.
“Antwerp Diamond Center envelopes,” Van Camp sputtered.
This time, the police came running.
You can read the entire story by Joshua Davis in Wired Magazine, and it’s fascinating. There is even an interactive google satellite map of the spot where they found the garbage!