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The Heist Was Worth Millions—in Books

'Vanity Fair' recounts an unusual theft from a London warehouse
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2021 3:06 PM CDT

(Newser) – The crime was so unusual—so acrobatic—that police in London checked to see if the circus had been in town. That turned out to be a dead end, writes Marc Wortman in a lengthy Vanity Fair piece about the 2017 heist. Thieves had climbed to the roof of a warehouse near Heathrow Airport, cut a hole in a skylight, then rappelled down with ropes or perhaps a folding ladder. Once inside, they spent more than five hours collecting their loot—rare books. They made away with about 240, including a tome by Copernicus worth $293,000 alone. All told, their stash was worth somewhere around $3.4 million. And then the men went out the way the came in. Wortman's story picks up there and follows the investigation by detectives from Scotland Yard, Germany, Romania, and Italy. A combination of tips and lucky breaks (including a traffic stop) helped crack the case.

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As it turns out, no circus performers were involved. The culprits were members of a Romanian crime syndicate who, given their skills, came to be known in the media as the Mission: Impossible gang. Detectives had pretty much figured out the "who" within a year, but it was nearly three years before they had enough evidence to round up the gang. One large trial had been underway before COVID interrupted things, and rather than spend more time in prison waiting for it to resume, all but one of the men pleaded guilty to the heist and similar ones, and received sentences ranging from three to five years. But police still didn't know where the stolen books were until they raided a house built by two of the gang members—a pair of brothers—near their parents' home in the Romanian countryside. Police found all but four of the books in a bunker under the concrete garage floor. (Read the full, fascinating story.)

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