In November 1945, three American Army officers stationed in Germany pulled off a dramatic jewel heist when they stole the Hesse crown jewels that were concealed in a German castle occupied by US troops. When evidence of the crime came to light, the soldiers were court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to prison. Less than half of the jewels, valued at $2.5 million in 1945 were recovered.
In 1944, with the Allies closing in, Prince Wolfgang of Germany’s House of Hesse abandoned the family’s castle in Kronberg, north of Frankfurt, Germany. Before leaving, he secretly placed the Hesse crown jewels, which included over 500 carats of loose diamonds, a 116-carat sapphire, tiaras, packets of rings, pendants, bracelets, and more into a large zinc-lined wooden box. He dug a hole in the cellar of the castle and lowered the box down, then covered it with concrete. To further ensure the safety of the jewels, he built a fake wall, creating a secret room that held the treasure.
In April 1945, US troops took over the castle to use as an officers’ club. They relegated the Hesse family to several guest cottages on the castle grounds. WAC Capt. Kathleen Nash was assigned to have “full charge of the castle and to operate it as a club and recreation center.”
On November 5, 1945, Roy C. Carlton, a member of Nash’s staff, heard from a German informant that something valuable was buried in the basement of the castle. Carlton reported this to Nash who ordered him to conduct a search. While exploring the basement, they noticed fresh concrete and started to attack the area with a sledgehammer. They ultimately unearthed the box filled with treasure. Nash ordered it taken to her room.
Nash was romantically involved with Col. Jack W. Durant (they later married). After seeing the treasure, she called him and soon Nash, Durant, and Maj. David J. Watson were snipping apart elaborate settings and pocketing gems.
In February 1946, Princess Sophie of Greece was preparing to marry Prince George Wilhelm of Hanover. Tradition stated that the royal bride would wear the crown jewels. When a servant went to retrieve the jewels, he discovered them missing. The Hesse family complained to military authorities who started an investigation.
The investigation revealed some of the jewels were already gone – having been sold in Switzerland and Ireland. Others were mailed or smuggled back to the US. Nash sent items to her sister in Wisconsin including a 36-piece solid gold cutlery set with handles of semi-precious stones. When army agents burst into the Wisconsin home, they observed the cutlery being used as everyday kitchenware. Col. Durant took some of his smuggled gems and buried them in fruit jars near Falls Church, VA. Police dug up three jars filled with diamonds and cash.
Nash, Durant, and Watson were court-martialed, convicted and sentenced to prison. More than half of the gems removed from their settings were never recovered.
To see the original documents from the Hesse Crown Jewel Court Martial case, including Kathleen Nash’s statement to the court, photos, additional court testimony, numerous pleas for clemency like this one for Maj. Watson, a Hesse family pedigree chart, and more, see our Hesse Crown Jewels Court-Martial Collection on Fold3!