Producer
Director
Lukas Hoffmann
Editor
Genre
History
Broadcaster
WDR
Length
1 x 43'
Format
n/a
Year
2020
The Million Thieves from the Rhine

In 1980, two Rhinelanders pulled off one of the most spectacular million-euro coups in German history. A pair of crooks from Düsseldorf relieved the trading giant Metro of no less than DM 36 million.

From then on, they bathed in money and enjoyed their life of luxury; first at home on the Düsseldorf Kö, then on the Copacabana - until the Metro noticed the financial hole and put a bounty on the crooks' heads. Not only the police, but also the underworld searched for the two millionaire thieves. But above all, Metro manager Hannjörg Hereth took up the hunt. From then on, he had only one goal: to put the crooks behind bars and bring the millions back to the Rhine.

Actually, the two had led an inconspicuous life until then: Manfred Vowinkel was a waiter in Düsseldorf, his friend Günter Schotte-Natscheff a trained banker looking for a job. In 1980 he started working for the Düsseldorf Metro as a financial planner. This was to change both their lives fundamentally. Günter often felt unfairly treated by his arrogant boss in his new job. He wanted to get one over on him and came up with a plan. In order to expose the gaps in the supposedly highly secure financial system of the company, he transferred money to the private account of his friend Manfred Vowinkel by simply forging signatures.

But the initial prank turned into a personal jackpot for the two crooks. Every day, Vowinkel collected the millions at the Düsseldorf Stadtsparkasse and gladly spent them. Whether Paris, Rome, Madrid or the local luxury mile, the Düsseldorf Kö: the two treated themselves to whatever their hearts desired. When they had amassed 36 million DM, however, the pavement at home became too hot for them. At the beginning of January 1981, they made off. They left for Rio de Janeiro via Paris. With 16 suitcases full of money.

For weeks, Düsseldorf Metro did not notice the hole worth millions. Until it wanted to buy into Kaufhof in January 1981. A deal worth millions, for the financing of which all Metro's accounts were checked. Only now did the coup come to light.

Without further ado, Metro manager Hannjörg Hereth took on the matter himself. He was a mystery lover and had studied countless Agatha Christie cases during his numerous trips abroad in the service of Metro. Now there was a real case to solve. He travelled after the perpetrators and gradually got on the trail of the Metro loot. But he was not the only one. The underworld was also after the money. For the two occasional crooks, everything was at stake - not only their loot but also their lives.

The documentary reconstructs the case of this unique crime, which dominated the headlines for almost four months at the turn of the year 1980/81. The Düsseldorf journalist Wolfgang Berney researched the story day and night at the time. He still remembers how this rogue act caused smiles and admiration in the state capital and beyond - even into the circles of the criminal investigation department.

For Manfred Vowinkel, it is still the most exciting chapter of his life. In the film he tells in detail how he and his friend Schotte-Natscheff wrapped the big Metro around their finger, what adventures they experienced together and what a dramatic end the story finally took. A WDR film from 1987, in which the two crooks play themselves, takes us directly back to the time of the events.

For the first time, the then Metro manager Hannjörg Hereth also speaks about the case in front of the camera. Until now, Metro had always kept quiet about the details. The filmmakers visited "Inspector" Hereth in his Swiss domicile. He tells how he got on the trail of the crooks back then and what became of their loot.

 

The Million Thieves from the Rhine

In 1980, two Rhinelanders pulled off one of the most spectacular million-euro coups in German history. A pair of crooks from Düsseldorf relieved the trading giant Metro of no less than DM 36 million.

From then on, they bathed in money and enjoyed their life of luxury; first at home on the Düsseldorf Kö, then on the Copacabana - until the Metro noticed the financial hole and put a bounty on the crooks' heads. Not only the police, but also the underworld searched for the two millionaire thieves. But above all, Metro manager Hannjörg Hereth took up the hunt. From then on, he had only one goal: to put the crooks behind bars and bring the millions back to the Rhine.

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