Sadly, crime is part and parcel of human society, especially robberies that plague the world. However, certain crimes remain etched in history as so notorious or elaborately planned they keep law officials and commoners trying decades later how to decode them. History’s ‘Greatest Heists With Pierce Brosnan: The Antwerp Diamond Heist’ chronicles how Leonardo Notarbartolo led four other men into executing the biggest diamond heist of all times. Now, if you’re curious about how he pulled it off and his current whereabouts, we have your back! Let’s begin, shall we?
Who is Leonardo Notarbartolo?
Leonardo Notarbartolo was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1952, and by his admission, he became addicted to stealing from a young age. After years of petty thefts and picking locks, he began tracking jewelry salesmen around Italy to study their behavior and dealings. As a result, Leonardo started assembling a team of skilled thieves in his 30s, including lock pickers, alarm aces, safecrackers, and tunnel experts. Since all these men, including him, lived in and around Turin, the group became known as the “School of Turin.”
Leonardo and his team of thieves participated in several robberies over the next several years; he would pose as a jeweler and be invited to offices, vaults, and workshops for inspection. He would purchase a few gemstones as tokens, only to empty their stocks in a week or month and vanish. Leonardo would travel to Antwerp, Belgium, twice every month to sell the stolen jewelry for cash. In 2000, he started renting an office in the Antwerp Diamond Center, pretending to be an Italian gem importer. Moreover, he rented a safe-deposit box in the vault to store his loot.
In a later interview, Leonardo claimed he met a Jewish diamond merchant in Antwerp, who enlisted him to lead a massive robbery at the Antwerp Diamond Center. Initially, he refused as it was impossible to penetrate the 10-layer security system. But the diamond merchant allegedly replicated the vault and introduced him to three skilled Italian robbers, who would become his primary accomplices. Apart from Leonardo, his team comprised Speedy (Pietro Tavano), The Monster (Ferdinando Finotto), King of Keys, and The Genius (Elio D’Onorio).
Interestingly, all the names were aliases used by Leonardo’s four accomplices, yet the fifth one, AKA King of Keys, could never be identified. Using camera pens, the group captured elaborate footage of the Diamond Center, referencing the images and videos to practice on the vault replica. Besides, since Leonardo was a regular tenant who frequented the vault, the security guards were used to his presence and never suspected his activities.
In addition, the group hid a small camera above the vault door to record the combinations used for opening, concealing its broadcast sensor in a fire extinguisher. On February 14, 2003, Leonardo accessed the vault and used women’s hairspray to coat the heat/motion sensor. The next night, he snuck his team into the Diamond Center and waited in a getaway vehicle. The four expert robbers worked through the night, using unimaginable methods of covering and deceiving the sensors and cameras, picking locks, and duplicating keys. They emptied 236 security deposit boxes into duffel bags.
The four robbers pried open 123 out of 160 vaults and absconded from the building around 5:30 AM on February 16, 2003. Leonardo and his men’s loot from the Diamond Center comprised loose diamonds, gold, silver, and other types of jewelry, with an estimated value of more than $100 million. While it eventually was termed the biggest heist of the century, carelessness in disposing of the materials used in the robbery helped the police quickly catch the robbers.
Following a trail of evidence disposed of in a nearby bush, the detectives found envelopes from the Diamond Center and a receipt for a sandwich. When they checked the surveillance footage of that shop, they instantly zeroed down on Leonardo. He was eventually arrested when he revisited the Diamond Center a few days later, and his wife, Adriana Crudo, and friends were arrested from his apartment. They were caught trying to escape with a carpet containing stolen gems and several bags with prepaid SIM cards to contact Leonardo’s accomplices.
Furthermore, when the police raided Leonardo’s Turin apartment, they found 17 polished diamonds attached to certificates from the Diamond Center. Later, marked $100 bills belonging to vault holders at the Diamond Center were discovered at Ferdinando Finotto’s girlfriend’s home. He, Pietro Tavano, and Elio D’Onorio were subsequently arrested and handed five-year prison terms. Meanwhile, 51-year-old Leonardo faced more severe punishment for masterminding the heist. In 2005, he was sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Where is Leonardo Notarbartolo Today?
In 2009, Leonardo Notarbartolo was released on parole after serving four years of his sentence. However, he reportedly violated a few conditions of his parole, including compensating the victims of the Antwerp Diamond Heist. After a European Arrest Warrant was issued against him in 2011, Leonardo was arrested again in January 2013 at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. Once he served the remainder of his sentence, he was released from prison in 2017.
Since his return from prison, Leonardo has seemingly been residing in his home in Giaveno, a comune in Turin, Italy. He is in his 70s mostly prefers to lead a private life nowadays and supposedly owns and runs a small jewelry factory. Besides, it is unclear whether Leonardo is still in touch with his wife and kids. Surprisingly, the rest of the stolen diamonds from the heist have still not been recovered, and the investigators could never figure out how the robbers flawlessly executed such an intricate plan.
In a 2016 interview, Leonardo stated, “Do you know what my dream is? Not at all the Diamond Center! It’s having a full pack of cigarettes filled with diamonds. If I really had it, I’d retire to private life. I’ve always been a thief…And I never stopped, except for some breaks. A pack of cigarettes full of diamonds…just that.” Albeit, it seems Leonardo has left the life of crime behind and hopes to spend his retirement peacefully.