It was a classic Gotham crime.
On Tuesday afternoon, as a cavalcade of New York City’s elected officials and honorees strode down Fifth Avenue in the Veteran’s Day Parade, a man slipped into 23 West 47th Street, armed with a gun and a bag labeled “K.” Dressed in a trench coat and light colored slacks, he rang the 8th floor, home to Watch Standard Jeweler, and told the voice who answered that he had a delivery . Instead, he made a pick up of jewelry and watches worth nearly $2 million.
Before doing so, four Watch Standard employees on duty told police that the suspect, who appeared to be in his 40s, entered with his gun out and demanded that the safe be opened. Amidst the confusion, a fifth employee—the owner’s father—returned to the store, and was immediately pistol-whipped by the suspect. After emptying out the safe into his bag, the suspect then ran back downstairs and joined his accomplice on lookout, who was outside waiting for him.
Right before SWAT teams arrived at the scene, the two headed towards Sixth Avenue, disappearing into the crowds of Midtown Manhattan. They are currently nowhere to be found.
An NYPD spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the lead suspect is a black man, approximately six feet tall. His unique feature: a tweed-colored Kangol hat. The lookout guy seems a bit younger and is also described as a black man, wearing a red baseball cap. His unique feature: True Religion jeans. They were both caught on surveillance camera outside of Watch Standard.
The heist was the latest robbery in the city’s Diamond District,where, at one point, 95 percent of diamonds imported into the United States landed before heading out to fiancées and high rollers everywhere. For just as long, this neighborhood has shined in the eyes of criminals.
In March of 2010, a similar burglary happened just down the block from Watch Standard Jeweler: a robber lied to get in, emptied the vault, and made off like a bandit. Five months later, $60,000 in cash was taken from a nearby jewelry repair shop. The Midtown North precinct, which also covers Radio City Music Hall and the Theatre District, has already racked up 1,491 instances of grand larceny, 183 burglaries and 94 robberies this year (PDF)—and that’s just local crime.
In 2004, a man was shot on the Diamond District’s streets for a crime possibly linked to an international drug-money laundering scheme based in Colombia. The Diamond District is where Special Agent Dan McCaffrey, a New-Yorker-turned-FBI-diamond-expert, has tracked down shipments of stolen goods from all over the globe. “How ironic it is,” McCaffrey told the Post in 2011. “It ends up halfway around the world, then back in New York.”
It’s almost as if the signature diamond poles that line 47th Street sing clarion calls to criminals. Knowing that, it is no surprise the police have a heightened presence in the area, with cameras and officers on the ground to match it. Yet the criminals still come and still get away.
Eugene O’Donnell, a law enforcement expert at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York, argued that safety in numbers can sometimes be a loophole in law enforcement, especially in “the beating heart of the city” that Midtown is.
“People feel that these crowded areas play to their advantage—it provides this sense of a cover,” he said. “It also reminds people that cops on the grounds doesn’t automatically guarantee security.”
For example, O’Donnell pointed to the notorious Secret Service breach of late when a man penetrated White House security and got as far as the East Room. Or take the 1995 assassination of mobster Paul Castellano down the block from Watch Standard Jeweler in broad daylight. (It was ordered by rival John Gotti.)
Such was the case with Tuesday’s events. Even with the Veteran’s Day Parade serving as a distraction, the robbers were able to yet again pull off a heist—this time, a multimillion-dollar one—in the middle of one of the most touristy areas in New York City. After evacuating everyone from the building, the SWAT teams scurried through the building, searching every floor and store for the crooks; outside, nearby lots and alleyways were checked as well. The cops had come up short, unable to find the two men in a sea of several hundred thousand law-abiding people.