LONDON, Aug. 14, 2009 — -- There is growing speculation that the $65 million heist of an exclusive London jewelry store was the work of a notorious band of European jewel thieves known to police as the Pink Panthers.
A key element in the speculation is that the men who looted Graff Diamonds on New Bond Street Aug. 6 made no effort to hide their faces, suggesting that they had been able to alter their looks with "Mission Impossible" style prosthetic make-up.
Disguises as well as lightning-quick robberies have been hallmarks of the Pink Panthers who last year dressed as blond women to get past security at the famed Harry Winston's in Paris and swipe $32 million worth of gems and jewelry.
Today, a reward of $1.6 million was offered for information leading to the arrest of the Graff bandits.
"I think this is the biggest reward ever been offered for a crime of this type," said Officer Pam Mace, head of Flying Squad investigating the robbery.
The Pink Panthers, named after the movie, are said to have carried out jewelry robberies across the globe with an estimated total loot of $350 million, not including this latest robbery. The gang's membership is believed to stand at around 200. Members speak multiple languages and many have had military training.
The heist at Graff's, famous for its celebrity clientele like Naomi Campbell and Paris Hilton, included 43 pieces, including watches, earrings, rings and a necklace. There were a total of 272 diamonds in the haul, and the robbery has been calculated to be the world's fourth largest jewelry heist.
The two men were in and out of the store in only minutes, leaving with a woman hostage. They fired one shot into the air to clear the street, let their hostage go and drove off in a BMW. A few blocks later they switched cars again, firing another shot into the ground to keep any gawkers at bay. They switched vehicles a third time to complete their getaway.