The Bloody Baron’s Crazy, Mixed-Up Robbery

When the cops turned up on the evening of April 6, 2012, George von Bothmer needed to be absolutely sure: “Are you the real police?” he asked. They were. Two officers stood at the door of von Bothmer’s suburban home in the posh town of Lake Oswego, Oregon. They were dressed in uniform, each having arrived in a marked patrol car. More were on the way.

A portly man with receding red hair, von Bothmer was bleeding from a messy wound, blood streaking across his nose and mouth and dripping down his chin toward the lime-sized gold cross that he wore on a necklace. His waist, wrists, and ankles were wrapped in duct tape. Behind him in the living room, more tape littered the floor. Twin holes traced the path of a bullet through a nearby lampshade and into the wall.

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The officers stepped inside. Two teenagers were also there, both pulling tape from their wrists, feet, and necks. One of the cops told them to stop. It was evidence, he said.

While the police waited for detectives to arrive and tried to keep the crime scene undisturbed, von Bothmer started in on two stories. The first was the story of two gunmen who, disguised as federal marshals, had just tied him up and robbed him, along with his 17-year-old daughter Annette (Netta), and her boyfriend, William Laitta. The second was his own story: that of a German baron with an illustrious family history and a museum’s worth of fine art, antiques, and jewels. The stolen jewelry alone, he said, was worth as much as $1.5 million.

Despite his wounds and the natural agitation of a man who has just been robbed, von Bothmer’s manner was courtly. He peppered his recollection of events with a conviviality that people who knew him would have recognized as mainstays of any conversation with the man they called “the Baron”: “Thank you, sirs,” and “You are so kind,” and “God bless you and yours.” The words contrasted with his rattled disposition and the condition of his face. As he spoke, he worked his way back and forth across the floor, marching with such visible intensity that the officers worried he might faint. They signaled the paramedics to escort him to an ambulance outside.

“I’m a German citizen,” he called on his way out the door. “I have diplomatic immunity!” It was an odd remark for a crime victim, odd enough that an officer noted it.

Next, the police separated the shaking daughter from the teary-eyed boyfriend and began their interviews. The story the teens told went like this: Two men wearing hats, dressed in dark clothes, and wielding badges had come to the door asking questions about a semiautomatic weapon. One of them was a young guy, the other significantly older. The Baron told them he didn’t own any such gun and then, in typical fashion, invited them in for tea.

Once inside, the two men suddenly shoved him and demanded a key or a combination to a safe that, according to the Baron’s daughter, didn’t contain anything but passports. When the Baron didn’t produce a key or a combination, the older man cracked him in the face with a pistol that accidentally fired.

Whatever steadiness the assailants may have had was then gone. The younger man began waving a handgun about. He sounded anxious, trying unsuccessfully to calm the three stunned victims. “Don’t worry. We’re not going to kill you,” he said, right before the other, more menacing man threatened to kill all of them.

The older guy was haggard, worn-out-looking, and had the raspy voice of a longtime smoker. At one point he put a gun to the Baron’s head, then Netta’s, then marched the boyfriend, William, upstairs on a hunt for a key to the safe while he counted down the seconds left in William’s life. Failing to find a key, or a safe, the attacker steered William back to the living room and repeated his promise to kill everybody.


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