June 01, 2016

Legal Lore: The Hesse Crown Jewels Courts-Martial

Fred L. Borch

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In February 1946, less than one year after World War II had ended, Princess Sophie of Greece was preparing to marry Prince George Wilhelm of Hanover. The bride was to wear the Hesse family jewels during the ceremony, but when a servant was sent to retrieve the jewels from their hiding place in the Hesse family castle, they were gone—and presumed stolen. In fact, the jewels had been taken by three U.S. Army officers, and what follows is the story of their high-profile courts-martial for larceny and related offenses.

Countess Margaretha, the reigning matriarch of the Hesse family, knew that the jewels that had been hidden in the castle were personal family property. They could not be seized like the assets of defeated Nazi Germany. Consequently, she complained to the American military police in Frankfurt, Germany.

The intensive investigation that followed soon discovered that the previous year, when General George S. Patton’s Third Army had been in that area of Germany, a Women’s Army Corps officer, Captain Kathleen Burke “Katie” Nash, had been assigned to manage the castle as an officers’ club.

In November 1945, while exploring the massive building, Nash saw a fresh patch of concrete on the floor of the wine cellar. Nash also had heard a rumor that treasure had been buried in a secret place in the castle. Nash and two members of her staff chipped through the concrete and discovered a metal box filled with small, neatly wrapped packets containing gold, silver, and jewels. It was literally buried treasure—worth more than $2.5 million.

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