Thursday, 7 February 2013

Diamond Rogus’s Gallary

The high tariff on diamonds and other luxury goods imported into the United States led to a great deal of corruption on the dockside quite apart from out and out smuggling. This political cartoon of 1879 does more than hint at the liaison between smugglers and officials.
Crime and diamonds have gone hand in hand ever since the first diamond was discovered, but no murder, mayhem or robbery has caused as much dismay in the diamond industry as the terrible crime of IDB. The initials stand for "Illicit Diamond Buying," a practice which became very widespread in the South African diamond fields from the earliest days and still continues. It was accepted as a simple fact of life that the African laborers would try to steal diamonds and smuggle them out of the mines just as the Indian and Brazilian workers had before them, and the real criminal was regarded as the person, usually a European, who bought the stones from them. So seriously did the diggers regard the offense that they were only too likely to take the law into their own hands when someone was caught in the act. A contemporary report in Kimberley's daily newspaper, the Diamond Fields Advertiser, describes one such incident:

A native runner was detected tampering with some boys at the sorting table. He was promptly knocked down; a crowd was soon attracted by the cry of a "diamond buyer's tout," and if ever a wrongdoer had his deserts, that tout had his. Every man in the crowd hit him with something. Finally he was taken to one of the platforms on the roof, where it was proposed to string him up. In the mean-time, a report was made to Mr. Commissioner Giddy of what was going on. He hurried up, and pleaded earnestly with the diggers to hand him over to the authorities to be punished, which they finally did.

One of the difficulties in these early days was that diamond trading was totally unregulated. Anyone could buy a diamond from anyone else, save from African laborers, and even this exception was not against the law unless theft could be proved. As a result the traffic in stolen diamonds reached epidemic proportions and involved every section of the population. A visiting English journalist after a tour of the Kimberley jail in 1881 wrote: "Every species of malefactor seemed to be gathered together. There were a great many in for diamond stealing and illicit diamond buying, men as well as women, some of whom were respectable people of the upper class in Kimberley." And yet it was probably true to say that these were only the small fry in the IDB game, and that the real organizers were too clever or too big to be touched.

A much more concerted effort to "crush the viper that was gnawing out the vitals of the people" was launched in 1881 with the formation of the Diamond Mining Protection Society. One of the leading lights in this society was J. B. Robinson, a diamond magnate and the mayor of Kimberley. After discussions with an emissary from the London police force, he proposed that Kimberley hire a team of detectives seconded from Scotland Yard and set up a Special Diamond Court to deal with IDB offenses. Both the detectives and the court soon acquired a reputation for rough justice, the former for planting evidence and for setting traps for suspects using agent’s provocateurs, and the latter for convicting on the most flimsy of evidence. 

But although large sections of the population of the diamond fields objected bitterly to the harshness of the new system, there was enough support for it to see it enshrined in the Diamond Trade Act of 1882. This was a piece of legislation of unparalleled harshness. It reversed the burden of proof, gave the police sweeping powers of search and arrest, and laid down severe penalties for IDB and related offenses ranging up to fifteen years' imprisonment with fines up to £1,000. Almost the only recommendation of the Diamond Mining Protection Society not taken up by the Cape Assembly was that buyers of illicit diamonds should be flogged as well as the stealers.

A contemporary engraving showing Colonel Blood and his accomplices making their escape after stealing part of the crown jewels from the Tower of London.One of the first victims of the new legislation was Isaac Joel, licensed diamond buyer and nephew of Barney Barnato. Arrested for illegally possessing three 10-carat diamonds, things looked so black for Isaac Joel that his uncle returned posthaste to Kimberley from London to try to get him off the hook. Despite reputed attempts to bribe the detective in charge of the case and desperate appeals to the influential J. B. Robinson, who was now chairman of the Diamond Mining Protection Society, all of Barnato's efforts were in vain and the case was sent to the Special Diamond Court for trial. It was never concluded. Isaac

Joel had obviously weighed his own chances and decided not to run the risk of facing his accusers. He returned to London and there-after played his part in the running of the Barnato empire from outside South Africa. There were reports that after the passing of the Diamond Trade Act, frustrated IDB agents were crowding onto the boats leaving South Africa, convinced that their days were numbered. However, so lucrative was their trades that it was not long before new ways were found to circumvent the laws. That IDB continues to be a real problem is evident from almost any copy of the Diamond Fields Advertiser. The following report headed "Policeman choked accused" is from a February 1976 copy of the paper:

Colonel J. F. Erasmus of the diamond squad in the Supreme Court in Kimberley described how he had throttled the accused to prevent him from swallowing diamonds he was carrying in his mouth. The accused spat out one of the stones and a further five were recovered within the next few days. He pleaded not guilty to seven charges of illegally selling a total of 62 diamonds to a former city diamond buyer.

Thefts from the actual mines were greatly reduced by the introduction of the compound system in 1884. This involved the mine laborers' being confined in security areas for the duration of their contracts and being subjected to searches when they left. Gems would often be found in shoe heels, in canes, or in cans with false bottoms. And there has been at least one instance where a miner has embedded diamonds in his flesh, just as the Regent diamond was smuggled out of the Parteal Mine in India in 1701. A visiting physician to the De Beers hospital noticed that one of the patients was showing signs of tetanus; finding an ugly-looking wound in the man's leg, he cut it open to find a rag containing a number of diamonds. Gardner Williams, who reported the incident, observed dryly, "the native soon recovered a wiser if a poorer man." The record for the amount of diamonds swallowed in an attempt to smuggle them out rests at twenty-one stones with a total weight of 348 carats, a fortune in diamonds then and now.

The compounds were self-contained communities with all the relevant amenities of a small frontier town and that they were a sensible and successful creation is evidenced by the fact that they are still in use today in all the principal mines and that a high percentage of miners return for further tours of duty. The body searches and the purgative doses of the past have today given way to simple fluoroscope examination of persons and luggage, and successful smuggling re-quires an ever-higher degree of ingenuity. Attempts, nevertheless, continue to be made and there is always a fund of stories among diamond men of the latest methods. The problem is more difficult to contain in South West Africa (Namibia) because of the nature of the diamond deposits. There the whole town of Oranjemund is itself one vast compound and all the inhabitants need security clearance before leaving its limits.

One of the most dramatic stories concerns the member of a prospecting team who over a period of years stored a cache of diamonds in the desert some way to the north of the town. Efforts to bribe a boatman to pick up the diamonds failed because none could be found who was willing to hazard his boat on the breakers of this storm-swept coast. Eventually the prospector persuaded a private pilot to carry out the operation. First of all, an emergency landing was staged at Oranjemund airfield to pick up enough fuel to enable the trip to the north to be completed. The pilot was given the fuel along with a warning to stay away from the forbidden area, and after a feint to the south, he circled and flew north. He quickly pinpointed the position of the secret store of diamonds and selected his landing place. Unfortunately, he chose the smoothest and nearest strip to the diamond store instead of the area recommended by the prospector. The wheels dug into the soft sand and the airplane tipped onto its nose and was wrecked. Legend has it that the skeleton of the airplane still lies there in the desert.

James Mason pulls off the biggest diamond heist in history by suction-pumping rough stones from the sorting office of a diamond distributor to his accomplices below. A scene from Twentieth Century Fox's 11 Harrow House.
Other stories tell of attempts to get diamonds out of Oranjemund itself. In one the chief security officer was the unwitting helper or so he concluded when he went to start his car the morning after arriving in Cape.

Town and found that the petrol tank was missing. As one of the few men in town above suspicion, his car was not liable to be searched on leaving Oranjemund, and it could only be assumed that someone realizing this had poured a handful of rough diamonds into his gasoline tank ready to be removed by an accomplice in Cape Town. A similar story involved the dining table of the retiring general manager. He too was above suspicion and thus allowed to take his furniture with him when he left, unlike ordinary employees. Nothing was apparently stolen after a break-in some weeks later at his new house in Durban, but his dining table was found to have a leg missing!

Diamonds have always proved excellent raw material for the confidence trickster and none more so than in the case of the Great Arizona Diamond Swindle, described by The New York Times as "the most adroit and skillfully managed affair in the annals of fraud." The story began with an ex-gold miner from Kentucky called Philip Arnold who in 1871 decided to cash in on the interest aroused by the new diamond finds in South Africa by "discovering" a diamond field in Arizona.

Already familiar with diamonds of the industrial variety from working with a San Francisco maker of drilling equipment, Arnold set the scene by appearing in that city in 1872, carrying two heavy bags full of poor-quality emeralds, rubies and a mass of industrial diamond pebbles which he claimed to have found in Arizona, deep in Apache country. He left the bags in the custody of another mining man, swore him to secrecy and then departed. By the next day, the story was all over town. A group of local businessmen and bankers sought out Arnold and requested him to allow them to appoint an independent expert to survey the site. Arnold, gambling that no one in the entire country knew enough about diamonds to disprove his claim, readily agreed. However, Arnold insisted that the surveyor be blindfolded and led him on a three-day ride to the diamond claim. 

It turned out to be in Colorado and not in Arizona; his earlier report, Arnold explained, was to put potential claim jumpers off the scent. The site proved to be as rich in diamonds as Arnold had predicted and the surveyor returned to San Francisco heartily endorsing Arnold's story. The local bankers were beside them-selves with delight; but knowing that more money than they could muster would be needed to exploit such a remote claim, they decided to approach some leading East Coast financiers. The financiers were intrigued but not convinced. They insisted that the opinion of no less than Charles Tiffany be obtained before they would commit themselves.

Once again Arnold was content to let his backers carry out their own tests, confident in his belief that the fact that the stones were really diamonds, though of poor quality, would sidetrack any doubts about the authenticity of the actual claim. As soon as he learned that Charles Tiffany had tested the stones and confirmed that they were diamonds, Arnold decided that it was well worth putting himself to some trouble and expense to ensure the success of his venture. Taking a ship to Europe, he engaged two agents to spend nearly $40,000 on buying up a large selection of small, low-quality diamonds, and returned with them to America. 

Approaching the claim site from the direction of Denver, which made it just an hour's ride from the nearest railroad instead of the three days it took from San Francisco, Arnold liberally scattered the diamonds over the mesa. A further surveying trip was made under similar circumstances to the first, and when the experts reported more than favorably, $500,000 was forced on an apparently reluctant Arnold for the rights to his claim. Considering that the surveyors had estimated the claim to be worth more than $5 million an acre, Arnold had sold out for a song. Complaining bitterly that he had been cheated by the Eastern establishment, he went back to Kentucky.

It had been a lengthy and complex operation for Arnold, but his problems were now over. For the new owners of the claim, however, they were just beginning. Doubts about the diamond find had already been expressed in a number of quarters including The New York Times. The paper had carried a story from a London diamond broker that an unknown American had bought a great number of rough diamonds "paying no attention whatever to the weight or quality," and that it was their opinion that the stones had been used by the alleged discoverer of the diamond mines in Arizona. Surprisingly, little attention was paid to these disturbing rumors, and one of the new backers, Baron Rothschild of Paris, pronounced that: "America is a rich land. It has given us many surprises. 

It reserves many more." The evidence that finally ex-posed the diamond find as a fraud was provided by a young government geologist, Clarence King, who had earlier surveyed the site without coming across any trace of diamonds. A return visit by him to the area did indeed reveal diamonds in profusion, but any thoughts that he might have had about being mistaken were soon dismissed when some stones were found to be partially cut, and others showed distinct signs of having been ground into the earth by heavy heels. One diamond was even found on top of a tree stump. It took a long time for the financial establishment to live down this little episode, but it was not enough to prevent diamonds figuring in confidence tricks again and again.

"While he was being questioned at the Vercelli police station, S. Sandro Oicci of Milan began to make a strange whistling noise. After several minutes of this, Inspector Kasar reached over and tweaked his nose. Out popped a diamond. S. Oicci said he kept his diamond in his nose because he feared pickpockets." A report from the True Stories feature of Private Eye, the English satirical magazine.
Not surprisingly, diamonds have been the object of a vast number of robberies over the years, but perhaps none was more unusual or dramatic than the Amsterdam Diamond Raid, which took place on May 13, 1940. It was not strictly a "crime" in the accepted sense of the word, although the commander of the Ger-man forces in the Netherlands must have regarded it as one. So rapid had been the German advance in the West in the early days of the war that the Netherlands, Belgium and France were overrun all within the space of six weeks. For the Dutch, the war was over in five days, leaving no time to evacuate the valuable stocks of industrial diamonds lying in vaults in Amsterdam. But so vital were these to the war effort that an immediate decision was made at the highest level in London to snatch them from under the noses of the Germans.

Reputedly on the direct orders of Winston Churchill, a British intelligence officer contacted two Dutch diamond merchants based in London, and within twenty-four hours organized a lightning raid on Amsterdam. A British destroyer, HMS Walpole, was ordered to land the three men at the port of Ymuiden early on the morning of May 13 and pick them up at eight o'clock in the evening of that day. The port had been heavily bombed and the party arrived in a ruined, smoking town packed with refugees fleeing from the German invaders. 

All public transport had broken down, but the raiding party commandeered a large American car which a woman was about to drive over the quayside. Once they had convinced her of the importance of their mission, she drove them back into the beleaguered city of Amsterdam. The instant they reached their destination, the diamond men contacted their fellow merchants and persuaded them to hand over the stocks of industrial diamonds in order to deny them to the Germans. The diamonds were stuffed into a naval kitbag and the hazardous journey back to Ymuiden began. 

When the three men arrived at the port early that evening, they found that it had been bombed yet again and that the boatman who was to take them out to the destroyer beyond the harbor mouth had been killed. At pistol point the British officer ordered the captain of a tug to make the rendezvous with HMS Walpole. The next day at eleven P.M. the Dutch government acknowledged defeat, but by then a kitbag full of vital industrial diamonds had arrived safely in London. So secret was the operation that no official record exists and the name of only one of the raiders is known. He was Jan Smit, grandson of the founder of the well-known Amsterdam firm of J. K. Smit & Sons.

Three centuries ago even the crown jewels of England caught a robber's eye. With its massive walls, its deep moat and its permanent guard consisting of the pick of the king's soldiers, no place in England would have been considered more invulnerable in 1671 than the Tower of London. And yet on May 9 of that year an attempt was made to steal the crown jewels which very nearly succeeded. The mastermind behind the conspiracy was Colonel Blood, an Irish soldier of fortune, so bored with the idleness of life in Restoration London that he planned this daring coup as much for excitement as for gain.

While the Tower, by tradition and superstition, may have appeared inviolate, Colonel Blood based his plan on two simple observations. One was that the crown jewels were only lightly guarded by the assistant keeper of the regalia, Talbot Edwards, a man of seventy-seven who had his apartments in the Martin Tower directly above the jewels. The other was that despite its military reputation, the Tower of London was really a small community which necessitated the constant coming and going of a host of civilians. 

In the guise of a priest, Colonel Blood managed to strike up a friendship with the Edwards family and soon became a frequent visitor, and thus a familiar face, to the guards at the Tower. On the day set for the robbery, he called upon Edwards early in the morning in the company of three confederates. As soon as they were inside the Martin Tower, they struck the old man over the head with a wooden mallet and set to work to seize the royal regalia from its resting place. Fortunately for them the jewels were kept in a recess in the thick wall of the lower chamber and were protected by nothing more than an iron grille. 

Once they had ripped away the grille, the choice before them was which items to take and which to leave. Colonel Blood knew that getting out of the Tower would not be as simple as getting in, especially if they were seen to be carrying large objects. He therefore decided to leave such weighty pieces as the crown of England and to go for only those which could be compressed or cut up and concealed about their persons. His choice fell on the scepter, the orb, plus the light but diamond-studded state crown, which also contained the famous balas ruby of the Black Prince. Seizing the same mallet he had used to stun the luckless Talbot Edwards, he battered in the arches and flattened the band of the state crown. At the same time, one of his fellow thieves set about filing in two the unwieldy scepter, while another wrapped the orb in his cloak.

A New York diamond broker transfers diamonds to a safe from the specially designated garment which he wears between his coat and his waistcoat.
It was at this point that Colonel Blood's luck began to run out. Talbot Edwards's son, a soldier newly returned from Flanders, appeared suddenly and the robbers froze in their places. To cries of "treason and murder," Colonel Blood and his associates fled from the Martin Tower, shot down the guard at the Byward Tower and reached the outer defenses of the fortress. There they were quickly overwhelmed by a mixed company of soldiers and civilians and the                                                                    crown jewels recovered.

In an age when sheep stealing was a capital offense, it would have seemed inevitable that Colonel Blood would have been a prime candidate for hanging, drawing and quartering at Tyburn Tree at the very least. But the king, Charles II, is reputed to have laughed uproariously when told of the attempted theft of his regalia and to have insisted on passing judgment on Colonel Blood himself. What passed between them as they talked alone in the king's chamber no one knows, but Colonel Blood emerged as a member of the king's bodyguard with a salary of £500 a year for life, an enormous sum in those days.

Armed robbery is a constant worry for any jewelry store and security systems are constantly being tightened. But no system can be regarded as watertight until it has been tested in the field. Some years ago Tiffany's had to change their 5/8-inch thick, and supposedly shatterproof display windows after two dawn raiders smashed them with sledgehammers and got away with $163,000 in jewelry. The new toughened glass managed to withstand another onslaught some months later, this time by bullets, but in any case the windows are now wired to a central alarm system.

An $800,000 robbery at Tiffany's newly opened Chicago branch in 1966 provided the incentive for still further refinements in security precautions. At 8 A.M. on a Saturday, the first seven employees to enter the building were surprised by four hooded gunmen and locked in a storeroom. When the manager arrived a few minutes later, he was ordered to deactivate the night alarms and open the vault before being forced to join his staff in the storeroom. Since then the alarms cannot be switched off unless a coded signal has first been received by the office of the security agency, and all the windows are covered by electronic beams.

But no doors or locks or electronic eyes can be guaranteed to foil the true artists of crime who always seem to have one more new idea up their sleeves. Relying on psychology more than simple trickery or sleight of hand, they know that for themselves more than for the guards, "eternal vigilance is the price of freedom." One simple but effective ruse which would probably work as well today as it did in 1893, is that employed by the notorious Sophie Lyons with her husband and partner in crime, Billie Burke. The incident, which took place at Tiffany's, is described in a con-temporary report:

Sophie swept regally into the store and demanded to be shown an assortment of rubies and diamonds. She was a superb actress and could dress and talk like a patrician. She examined this stone and that and finally announced there was nothing suitable and rose to leave. Then the clerk noticed to his chagrin that seven expensive stones were missing, worth about fifty grand. She and the clerk were the only persons within touching distance. Was it possible she had dropped them into her handbag? The lady drew herself up in haughty indignation. The clerk called a store detective . . . and she was escorted into a room and searched by a matron. 

Nary a stone was found on her, and she threw the place into an uproar, threatening damages for humiliation, false arrest, etc. . . . eventually, she exited, the management apologizing. As Sophie said, "the most sullen and baffled apology you can imagine. They were not stupid. They knew I had taken the stones but they were helpless.". . . The next day her husband strolled nonchalantly into Tiffany's, bought a diamond ring from the same clerk his wife had tricked, and paid cash. While the clerk was making out the receipt, Billie slipped the seven stolen gems from the gum under the counter where Sophie had stuck them and walked out a happier and wealthier man.

Another audacious trick managed to take in both Tiffany's and Harry Winston's within the space of a few minutes. A well-dressed and attractive woman walked into Tiffany's and asked to see a selection of marquise diamond rings. The assistant was impressed by the fact that the woman already wore an expensive diamond ring of this type. Taking off her own ring and placing it on the counter she tried on a number of those laid out before her.

After a time she announced that she needed time to think about it and walked out of the store straight into Winston's, a block away. There she repeated the procedure and left, apparently without making a choice. It was only when both salesmen checked their stock at the end of the day that it became clear what had happened. The woman had entered Tiffany's wearing a 2.75 carat diamond ring worth $7,500 and switched it for a 3.69 carat one worth $19,800. She had then walked into Winston's wearing the Tiffany ring and walked out again with a Winston ring of 5.3 carats valued at $38,500. Harry Winston wryly commented that she was clearly not a professional thief but "just a woman who wanted a more expensive ring to wear."

 In 1932 Tiffany's was the scene of another bizarre robbery. A wild-eyed, shock-haired character dressed in outlandish clothes was being observed warily by the security guards as he wandered aimlessly from counter to counter. Suddenly, the man made a dash for the door with the two guards in hot pursuit. He did not get far. He was caught a few yards along Fifth Avenue and in the struggle, handfuls of sparkling diamonds spilled over the sidewalk. Handcuffed and with a burly guard firmly holding each arm, the prisoner was marched back to Tiffany's. Feeling a little bruised and shaken, the unkempt thief decided that things had gone far enough. He revealed that he was Harpo Marx and that he had pulled off the stunt as a bet. The diamonds were glass.

It is unfortunately true that no matter what precautions are taken, diamonds will continue to be one of the prime targets for the professional criminal; and diamond dealers have little choice but to accept the risks that go with their trade. For the private owner of expensive jewelry, however, there are options. Copies can be made of the best pieces and worn while the originals rest safely in a bank vault. Given the excellence of many stimulants, this is an increasingly common practice, and an added incentive is provided by the prospect of a sharp reduction in the insurance premium which could otherwise be prohibitively high. 

Diamond lovers are not noted for their eagerness to maintain a low profile, but in 1975 the committee of New York's famous annual charity event, the Diamond Ball, were forced to consider changing the name of the ball and cutting down on lavish advance publicity after one woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Fondaras, was relieved by four gunmen of $300,000 worth of diamonds as she returned from the ball. There may have been a few rhinestones among the diamonds on display at the Diamond Ball in 1976 and 1977 but most of the guests continued to wear their best pieces. Diamonds have an air of danger and excitement about them which seems to be as attractive to the owners as it is to the potential thief!

Writer – George G. Blakey
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