Crime of the century: Thieves sail off with Sweden's crown jewels in daring heist

Audacious, indeed … so audacious that its success seems suspicious in and of itself. It can’t be this easy to steal a nation’s crown jewels, can it? At least in Sweden, the answer appears to be yes. A band of thieves somehow spirited two priceless crowns and an orb from their display in a historic cathedral in Strängnäs and sped off with them in a motorboat — all during a luncheon in another part of the building:


Police in Sweden are hunting for jewel thieves who stole two priceless royal crowns and an orb from a cathedral before making their escape in a motorboat.

The audacious heist took place at the historic, hilltop Strängnäs Cathedral at about midday on Tuesday. The cathedral was open to visitors at the time and a lunch fair was being held in a side chapel.

The crowns and orb were used by the 17th-century King Karl IX and Queen Kristina. They are made of gold and enamel and encrusted with beads, crystals and pearls.

They were stolen from a locked and alarmed display cabinet in the Gothic-style cathedral, which lies 60 miles west of the capital, Stockholm. There has been no confirmation from police, but the assumption is that the thieves could only have got to the items by smashing the glass, which would have triggered the alarm.

The thieves obviously planned the heist out well. Even though the display had an alarm system and had been covered in glass, none of the precautions appear to have seriously slowed down what appears to have been a brute-force attack. The speedboat escape was well-planned, even though it was on a lake rather than an open waterway. There are hundreds of islands in the 74-mile-long lake, plenty of places to cache the loot and wait for the heat to die down — or perhaps they went ashore on the mainland and have since escaped into the ether.

It’s not supposed to be that easy to get one’s hands on the crown jewels. The items belong to Sweden’s royal family and are insured, but one has to wonder just how willing insurers will be in the future to issue policies protecting such items, at least in Sweden. The police, however, insist that Sweden’s national honor is at stake:


Police have launched a huge search operation, but currently have no suspects.

“It’s 1-0 to them right now,” police spokesperson Thomas Agnevik told Swedish media. “It is not possible to put an economic value on this, it is invaluable items of national interest.”

That’s an understandable reaction, but it may be a bit late. If it hasn’t already, the success of this plan will inevitably raise questions about just how these thieves knew it would be this easy. Until they find the crown jewels and identify the perpetrators, there will be a lot of questions about how these priceless objects were left so vulnerable to what sounds like basic smash-and-grab tactics.

However audacious and well-planned the theft was, the aftermath raises questions about the payoff. This isn’t your standard jewel heist, even among higher-end targets such as the Paris hotel where Kim Kardashian was one of the victims. These are unique and well-known items, which makes them nearly impossible to fence. Police responded immediately by publishing pictures of the two crowns and the orb, which media outlets around the world amplified with their coverage of the event. The cathedral wasted no time putting their pictures on Facebook to raise their profile even further. No reputable collector would pay for these, and few disreputable collectors would risk their necks for anything this well-known and legally radioactive.


That leaves only a couple of possibilities. The thieves could melt down the objects and sell off the gold and jewels separately, but that’s a waste of value; they would have been better off robbing a jewelry store if that’s what they wanted. Alternately, they could hold the items for ransom and force Sweden, the royal family, and/or the insurers to pay through the nose to get them back. That entails more risk, but it’s likely the only way that these thieves can get anywhere near the relative value of these items out of the theft.

This caper is just in its first act. It’ll make one heck of a film after the story reaches its conclusion, assuming it ever does.

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David Strom 5:20 PM | April 15, 2024