Simon Zouein, owner of Vinca Jewelry on the Country Club Plaza, didn’t believe on Labor Day 2010 the official head-scratching over the break-in of his shop, and he still doesn’t believe it.
Nobody saw thieves hammering into the alley wall? Nobody heard the racket that must have come from drilling or pounding out the back of a steel safe that sat on the other side of that alley wall?
Nobody called Plaza security?
When Zouein opened his corner store around 10 a.m. that holiday Monday — Sept. 6, 2010 — white dust covered the usually sparkling countertops under which the jewelry was displayed.
Soon he was standing outside the shop, behind a door that opened into a service corridor adjoining a number of businesses. He observed quite an amazing scene.
Overnight, maybe in the course of four or five hours, burglars had somehow entered that alley (which was supposed to be locked) and broke a 3-by-5-foot hole through a concrete wall right behind a Vinca safe that stored treasured items for customers.
Zouein recently called the heist “movie-style complicated.”
Busting through 6 inches of concrete without raising suspicion was a feat in itself. But these jewel thieves did one better, breaking up another 6 inches of double-layered steel in the back of the safe to grab an undisclosed value of bracelets, necklaces, rings and gems.
Plaza nightclub employees who use the service corridor for cigarette breaks and to take out trash reported little out of the ordinary in the early morning hours of the heist: Quite a bit of dust, yes. And, according to one account, two men seen resting on the alley floor.
Around the time that bars close, a man loitered outside Vinca at highly visible Jefferson and 48th streets. He spoke loudly to passers-by, as if drunk. Zouein and Vinca manager Tru Tran believe that this man was part of the caper — a diversion from what had to have been noisy activity in the closed alley.
“It was like ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ ” said Tran, referring to the movie about a group of con artists robbing casinos.
But Vinca is no casino. It’s a long-standing family business in which customers are known on a first-name basis.
The safe broken into was a century old — black and heavy, reminiscent of the Building & Loan lockbox in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It still is used to store valuables, but it now is protected by granite that replaced the hole in the alley wall.
In 2013, with Kansas City police having developed no leads, retired FBI agent Jeff Lanza told The Star that the audacious nature of the heist was unrivaled in the recent history of the Midwest, let alone Kansas City.
“Not to pat criminals on the back; it’s maybe not the perfect crime, but close to it,” said Lanza, a frequent lecturer on crime.
Contacted in recent days for further observations, he emailed the newspaper: “It is a rare and unfortunate case in which crime did pay.”
Vinca owner Zouein remains unsatisfied: Where were police or Plaza security when thieves were pounding in the alley? If anything appeared unusual to nearby nightclub workers in those wee hours, why wasn’t it reported?
To the culprits, it may not matter.
In September 2013, the three-year statute of limitations expired on the robbery, apparently leaving the jewel thieves home free from prosecution.
Crime site: Vinca Jewelry at the Plaza, 4801 Jefferson St.
Circumstances of the case: Early on Labor Day 2010, burglars broke into a locked service alley adjoining the jewelry shop and neighboring businesses. Within a few hours, they tore a large hole in a concrete wall to enter the rear of a store safe.
Suspect information: Two men of unknown description are believed to have entered the alley. Store employees think a third person may have been acting drunk on the corner of 48th and Jefferson as a diversion.
Anyone with information is asked to call: The Crimestoppers TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).