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Thieves may have just pulled off the 'heist of the century'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now, I don't want to make light of a serious situation, but could I get some "Mission Impossible" music here?

(SOUNDBITE OF ADAM CLAYTON AND LARRY MULLEN JR.'S "THEME FROM MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE")

SHAPIRO: It was after 2 a.m. on July 11. Millions of dollars of jewelry were in the back of an armored truck. It stopped at a gas station about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. And less than half an hour later, the jewels were gone. Thieves stole 22 containers, each weighing about 100 pounds. They contained diamonds, Rolex watches. It could be up to $100 million worth of jewels.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADAM CLAYTON AND LARRY MULLEN JR.'S "THEME FROM MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE")

SHAPIRO: Daniel Miller has been covering the story for the LA Times. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DANIEL MILLER: Hey. Thanks so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: Is this the heist of the century?

MILLER: So there is some debate regarding the size of this heist. But if it winds up being in the range of $100 million, this heist would rank among the largest of all time. But as I said, there's a bit of a dispute over how much was stolen.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Explain why there is such a wide range of dollar amounts here.

MILLER: Sure. So I think it's important to note that the vehicle that was transporting this jewelry was a Brinks tractor trailer. And the jewelers whose wares were being transported - they all signed manifests before this vehicle left, and those manifests contained dollar amounts for the value of their jewels. And Brinks says that the total of those dollar amounts is about $8.7 million. The jewelers say, however, in a lawsuit they filed that the true value of the jewels is more like $100 million. And this sounds like it was a common practice among some jewelers in the industry to mark a lower value for the price of their assets to save money on insurance costs.

SHAPIRO: Is there a working theory of how this went down?

MILLER: The investigators handling this - and that's the FBI and the LA County Sheriff's Department - they have not disclosed any information about a working theory. However, in talking to some experts, they say that there are signs that this was carried out by an experienced team of criminals. And one thing that they point to is that no shots were fired. Nobody was injured. And in fact, as far as we know, there weren't any eyewitnesses.

SHAPIRO: But cameras are everywhere nowadays. Was this caught on video?

MILLER: There are traffic cameras up and down Interstate 5. And, you know, there are dash cams and all sorts of vehicles. So I think people are assuming that there is video evidence that authorities have. They just haven't confirmed that there's direct video evidence of the heist.

SHAPIRO: Some of these things, like Rolex watches and diamonds, have serial numbers on them. So you can't just sell them on eBay. Who actually traffics this kind of stuff?

MILLER: That's right. We've been told by experts that the watches are probably the hardest thing to move along in this trove of riches. But things like gold can be melted down. An expert diamond cutter can remove the serial number of a diamond and even etch on a new serial number. So a lot of this booty is actually quite transportable.

SHAPIRO: What do you think the chances are of this being solved?

MILLER: Well, it's still early days for this investigation. It's been about six weeks since the heist. There's a famous case out of southern California of bandits who were cutting holes in the roofs of banks and stealing cash and other items that way. It took about a year for investigators to track down those bandits. And so we perhaps have a ways to go in this investigation.

SHAPIRO: Daniel Miller is a reporter for the LA Times. Thanks for following the story for us.

MILLER: Oh, thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY-Z SONG, "COMING OF AGE (FT. MEMPHIS BLEEK)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Enrique Rivera