October 17

This Day in History

Crime

Oct 17, 1906:

A shoemaker leads German soldiers in a robbery

Wilhelm Voigt, a 57-year-old German shoemaker, impersonates an army officer and leads an entire squad of soldiers to help him steal 4,000 marks. Voigt, who had a long criminal record, humiliated the German army by exploiting their blind obedience to authority and getting them to assist in his audacious robbery.

Wearing a captain's uniform, Voigt approached a troop of soldiers in Tegel, Germany, just outside Berlin and ordered the unit to follow him 20 miles to the town of Kopenik. After lunch, he put the men in position and stormed into the mayor's office. Declaring that the mayor was under arrest, Voigt commanded the troops to take him into custody. He then demanded to see the cash box and confiscated the 4,000 marks inside. The mayor was put in a car, and Voigt ordered that he be delivered to the police in Berlin.

On the way to Berlin, Voigt managed to disappear with the money. Still, it took more than a few hours at the police station before everyone realized that it was all a hoax. Although the Kaiser thought the story was funny, the German army didn't find it so amusing, and a massive campaign to find Voigt was instituted. Days later, Voigt was caught in Berlin. He received a four-year sentence for his caper, but the Kaiser himself pulled some strings to get him out in less than two.

Voigt wound up a folk hero for the rest of his days. Wearing the captain's uniform, he posed for pictures for years.

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