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In June , at the height of Vienna s tourist season, an accomplished thief happened upon the greatest challenge of his young life While on honeymoon, he spotted the last remaining diamond and pearl Sisi Star, named for its original th century owner Empress Elisabeth, on display in Sch nbrunn Palace, the Viennese version of Versailles The ten pointed star had been one of twenty seven that the enigmatic Sisi, who was considered one of the most beautiful women of her day, wore in her extravagantly long, lush hair Despite the multi layered, high tech security methods guarding the precious piece of jewelry as it rested on its red velvet pillow, the thief decided then and there that he would use his extraordinary talents to steal itThe Star would remain hidden some , miles away until a team of determined Canadian police investigators launched a joint task force to bring down a criminal organization that had robbed banks, stores, and ordinary citizens on several continents When the chief suspect offered to reveal the surprising whereabouts of the long forgotten Sisi Star some nine years after it went missing, the officers realized that they were dealing with no ordinary thief No one involved in the case, however, fully understood the exceptionally rich history of the Sisi Star its ties to obsession, suicide, extravagant spending, and even assassination nor how important it was for Austria to get it backIn Stealing Sisi s Star, Journalist Jennifer Bowers Bahney weaves together the tale of two narcissists, the glamorous Empress of Austria and the modern day thief who baffled INTERPOL by stealing her precious jewelyears after her murder


10 thoughts on “Stealing Sisi's Star: How a Master Thief Nearly Got Away with Austria's Most Famous Jewel

  1. Sara Sara says:

    There is a scene just before the close of the first act of the phenomenal German musical Elisabeth where Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, husband of the titular Empress comes to her door begging to be allowed to see her As the music reaches a jaw dropping crescendo the most beautiful woman in a century is revealed, captured as a living painting inside a gigantic frame She is wrapped in layer upon layer of shimmering, white tulle, a delicate fan in her hand, and threaded through the cascading w There is a scene just before the close of the first act of the phenomenal German musical Elisabeth where Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, husband of the titular Empress comes to her door begging to be allowed to see her As the music reaches a jaw dropping crescendo the most beautiful woman in a century is revealed, captured as a living painting inside a gigantic frame She is wrapped in layer upon layer of shimmering, white tulle, a delicate fan in her hand, and threaded through the cascading waves of her long, lush hair are a myriad of sparkling stars It is a perfect, living, breathing recreation of perhaps the most famous painting ever done of the enigmatic empress.Of those brilliant shining ornaments, eight pointed stars encrusted with diamonds with a lustrous pearl in the center, only one is still known to exist and in 1998 that single star found a new place in history when it was stolen by one of the cleverest thieves you ve never heard of With the kind of expertise you d expect from a veteran reporter combined with a truly gifted writer s lovely turn of phrase Jennifer Bowers Bahney has written a spell binding account of the theft and the life of the thief himself and woven it effortlessly through the equally spellbinding story of the mysterious Empress with Stealing Sisi s Star How a Master Thief Nearly Got Away with Austria s Most Famous Jewel.There s a reason Sisi, as she was called by friends and family, has been such a beloved historical figure for so long Her heart stopping beauty was the stuff of legend and her whirlwind romance and marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph at the tender age of fifteen had all the makings of a real life fairy tale After all they had defied the wishes of their parents and Franz went so far as to declare if he could not have Sisi he would not marry at all Their engagement lasted only eight months and they were married in 1854 But, it was Sisi s erratic, selfish and downright strange behavior after she became empress that would end up leaving just as strong an impression as her beauty.Sadly, Sisi s age and upbringing what little there was of it made her entirely unsuited to a life at the restrictive Hapsburg court Every aspect of court life was overseen by her domineering mother in law the archduchess Sophie Sisi began exhibiting nervous even hysterical tendencies within days of her marriage She felt literally strangled by the endless days of routine and protocol It quickly became apparent that she was terrified of crowds making it almost impossible for her to fulfill a basic function of the royal family, public appearances Her first three children were all but taken from her to be raised almost exclusively by Sophie since Sisi was deemed totally incapable of caring for them herself.Bahney implies, and I wholeheartedly agree, that Sisi most likely suffered from some sort of anxiety depression disorder that was no doubt severely exacerbated by her situation Her childhood had been almost totally unrestricted and now she was trapped in a life that demanded complete and total obedience at all times to a way of life she found utterly repugnant under the ever watchful eye of a woman she came to detest Unable and apparently unwilling to care for her children or adhere to the duties of a monarch she opted instead to devote her life to the one thing she could control her appearance.Bahney s painstaking examination of Sisi s daily regime to maintain her beauty is as fascinating as it is horrifying She became renowned for her elaborate hairstyles and the act of preparing her hair each day took at least three hours The exhaustive exercise and the bizarre lotions and potions she used in a desperate attempt to maintain her youth coupled with a dangerously unhealthy diet when she ate at all clearly did nothing to aid her mental faculties Maintaining her appearance, the only thing she believed gave her any value, was as costly as it was time consuming and she spent insane amounts of money on clothing and jewelry like the stars she wears in her famed portrait It makes total sense given the story of the theft at the heart of the book for Bahney to devote so much of her narrative to this particular part of Sisi s life and you would think a chapter devoted to dressing someone s hair would be the most boring subject ever but frankly I couldn t put the book down.Bahaney s analysis also provides a fascinating window into the world of the Victorian aristocracy and by extension women in that time We have these images in our heads of placid, content, great ladies sipping tisane and smiling benignly over their broods of twelve children apiece but seeing the extent to which one of them went to maintain at least the image of that kind of life forced me to take off the rose colored glasses forever.Sisi was assassinated at the age of 60 by a self proclaimed anarchist named Luigi Lucheni and while her country mourned her many would say they did sofor love of their emperor who was all but destroyed by the death of his beloved wife.Bahaney doesn t pull any punches in describing Sisi s life She was a feckless and astoundingly selfish woman who could never resign herself to the traditional female roles of wife and mother much less those of an empress of a massive empire She abandoned her family for years at a time to travel the world, always on the move, never staying in one place too long Bahaney clearly has empathy for her subject even going to so far as to suggest she had very little control of what was clearly a crippling insecurity and terrible feeling of unworthiness but its obvious that much of what Sisi reaped she sowed herself In stark contrast to the legendary empress, Daniel Blanchard wasnobody special Blanchard was a petty thief and con man not unknown to Canadian authorities due to his daring escapes from capture and the intricately plotted scams he operated He was honeymooning in Europe with his wife and father in law in 1998 when he was shown the one remaining Sisi Star on exhibition at the Hofberg palace where she d once lived and reigned A self described genius at stealing just about anything, in a matter of days he had executed the kind of theft you see in films like Ocean s 11 Honestly if half of what Blanchard claims to have done to steal the star is accurate I have no idea why this story hasn t been made into a film And of course the theft of Sisi s star is barely scratching the surface of what this guy got up to.I don t want to go into too much detail about this part of the story because honestly its such a wild, surprising ride you really do feel like you re in the middle of a heist film Blanchard essentially amasses a criminal empire that operates right under the nose of law enforcement who for their part have absolutely no idea how this guy is managing to do what he s doing Given the title of the book I don t think I m spoiling things too, too much to tell you that when the authorities do finally catch up with him they re all so damn impressed with the guy they almost seem reluctant to convict him Also this is Canada which could explain why Blanchard s not rotting in a jail cell right now no offense Canada.Bahney clearly did exhaustive, pain staking research for this book There s a strange kinship between Sisi and her thief, both outsiders desperate for the world to notice them but somehow afraid to be seen at the same time Neither is painted as entirely good or bad, another credit to Ms Bahney s precise writing In less talented hands her decision toor less alternate chapters between her two subjects might seem like a weak device but it ends up being a fascinating journey through the ascendancy and fall of both their stars This is nonfiction at its most entertaining and I mean it as the highest possible compliment when I say it should be a movie There s something for everyone beautiful princesses, daring thefts, police chases, steeple chases, elaborate costumes, tragic love stories, even the odd bit of slapstick comedy This was a fascinating, delightful read though in the interest of full disclosure I should say that the author asked me, following my admittedly harsh but frickin funny goddamnit take down of the recent Alison Pataki books, if I d like to read this and I love free books so I happily accepted So for all of you that have been asking for actual good books about Sisi and her strange, lonely life here you go My metaphorical hat is off to the esteemed Ms Bahney for capturing two very different subjects so well and making a story that could have easily come off like a totally unbelievable crappy spy film something I actually became deeply emotionally invested in I feel like I have the right to call her Sisi now She s stepped out of that beautiful painting and she lives as a real, deeply flawed, beautiful woman Now if we can just find someone to option the film rights


  2. Kristen Kristen says:

    A young, naive bride and an overbearing and critical mother in law is a recipe for disaster Add in the fact that the young bride is marrying the future Austrian Emporer The author, Jennifer Bowers Bahney, skillfully tells the story of Elizabeth, AKA Sisi, Empress of Austria Did the Monster in law lead Sisi to strange almost insane behavior Probably not That would be too simplistic For whatever reason, Sisi disengaged from her family and her duties of the royal court And, like many women A young, naive bride and an overbearing and critical mother in law is a recipe for disaster Add in the fact that the young bride is marrying the future Austrian Emporer The author, Jennifer Bowers Bahney, skillfully tells the story of Elizabeth, AKA Sisi, Empress of Austria Did the Monster in law lead Sisi to strange almost insane behavior Probably not That would be too simplistic For whatever reason, Sisi disengaged from her family and her duties of the royal court And, like many women, she turned all of her attention to the one thing she could control her looks The one obsession that consumed the greatest amount of her time was her hair It was literally and figuratively her crown To showcase her favorite feature Sisi commissioned the royal jewelers to make her diamond star hair ornaments Or diamond and pearl stars The beautiful works of art helped to highlight her beauty The Austrian citizens took great pride in their beautiful queen The remaining jewel star provides the connection to the other, equally fascinating, narrative of this book Fast forward 100 years to the Sch nbrunn Palace in Austria The heavily secured and guarded Sisi star is stolen out of the museum How was Gerald Blanchard able to orchestrate the heist with such ease His story is captivating as well Loved the thorough explanation of his background, abilities, and shortcomings I loved this book for many reasons As I was reading it I kept thinking about the tremendous amount of research the author must have done it was certainly impressive I loved the new history and the old history Well done


  3. Miriam Miriam says:

    This dual biography features a modern day thief and the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary wife of Emperor Franz Joseph Most of the history focuses on Empress Elizabeth, known as Sisi, who was eccentric, anorexic, and had hair to the floor She was self centered and traveled continuously from the time she married until her assassination in 1898 Bahney lavishes much attention on the Empress The Thief Gerald Daniel Blanchard gets second billing He was an ingenious thief who could This dual biography features a modern day thief and the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary wife of Emperor Franz Joseph Most of the history focuses on Empress Elizabeth, known as Sisi, who was eccentric, anorexic, and had hair to the floor She was self centered and traveled continuously from the time she married until her assassination in 1898 Bahney lavishes much attention on the Empress The Thief Gerald Daniel Blanchard gets second billing He was an ingenious thief who could circumvent any electrical system, security system, or ATM Hiding in Canada, the RCMP finally caught up with Blanchard Guilty of many crimes, Blanchard served time for bank thefts only, never for the theft of the Empress s jewel, the famous pearl and diamond star Short in length, I found the story of the theft, hunt, and subsequent capture of Blanchard intriguing and wanted to know


  4. Cindy Cindy says:

    I was very disappointed in this book Last year I read Sisi, Empress on Her Own, which I enjoyed, but later learned was inaccurate This book was suggested as areliable alternative Unfortunately, I found it very dry The author gave equal time to the unappealing, creepy criminal as to the Empress Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, but it gave me no new insights into the life of the Empress It would have beenentertaining as a magazine article but didn t warrant a book Not rec I was very disappointed in this book Last year I read Sisi, Empress on Her Own, which I enjoyed, but later learned was inaccurate This book was suggested as areliable alternative Unfortunately, I found it very dry The author gave equal time to the unappealing, creepy criminal as to the Empress Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, but it gave me no new insights into the life of the Empress It would have beenentertaining as a magazine article but didn t warrant a book Not recommended


  5. Erika Erika says:

    Full disclosure I m friends with the author But that would not color my appreciation of this book The research and construction that went into this book is excellent Bahney makes the intersection of the history of the Hapsburgs and the theft of the famous jewel fun If I had one criticism it s that a cast of characters would have been helpful in keeping all the Hapsburgs straight There are a lot of family members with same or similar names that was a bit confusing Bahney has a second boo Full disclosure I m friends with the author But that would not color my appreciation of this book The research and construction that went into this book is excellent Bahney makes the intersection of the history of the Hapsburgs and the theft of the famous jewel fun If I had one criticism it s that a cast of characters would have been helpful in keeping all the Hapsburgs straight There are a lot of family members with same or similar names that was a bit confusing Bahney has a second book out that is the story of Sisi s daughter s role during WWII that sounds really good


  6. Jan Jan says:

    A fascinating look at Empress Sisi while telling how her famous hair jewel was stolen This book told muchdetail about her that the previous book I read about her, but it s clear that royalty are a different breed of people Interestingly, the thief was pretty unique too He clearly felt untouchable.Note to self This book mentioned one of my ancestors I am just learning that a branch of my maiden name De Hoyos relocated from Spain to Austria to work with Franz Joseph s court In Austri A fascinating look at Empress Sisi while telling how her famous hair jewel was stolen This book told muchdetail about her that the previous book I read about her, but it s clear that royalty are a different breed of people Interestingly, the thief was pretty unique too He clearly felt untouchable.Note to self This book mentioned one of my ancestors I am just learning that a branch of my maiden name De Hoyos relocated from Spain to Austria to work with Franz Joseph s court In Austria, they are known as von Hoyos Must continue looking into this.


  7. Bethany Nelson Bethany Nelson says:

    Overall this is a good book However, the author definitely focuses wayon a biography of Empress Sisi then the theft There are some elements of the theft there and back story, but the real star is the information on the Empress.


  8. Shirley Shirley says:

    Stealing Sisi s Star got my attention I guess I should have read further to realize the book was going to be about the thief, not really Sisi Lots of stuff I cared nothing about.


  9. Kimberly Kimberly says:

    I just love reading this author s books The history, the intrigue, the research It s always a fascinating ride.


  10. Ann Ackermann Ann Ackermann says:

    Two great true crimes, a century apart, rolled into one.Jennifer Bowers Bahney tells the true story of a modern jewelry heist It s worthy of an action film A thief breaks into a museum in Vienna and steals one of Austria s most famous jewels That story, and how the case was solved, serves as a backdrop to a biography of the jewel s original owner, Sisi, or Empress Elisabeth of Austria Once considered the most beautiful woman of Europe, Sisi worked behind the scenes to bring Hungary into the Two great true crimes, a century apart, rolled into one.Jennifer Bowers Bahney tells the true story of a modern jewelry heist It s worthy of an action film A thief breaks into a museum in Vienna and steals one of Austria s most famous jewels That story, and how the case was solved, serves as a backdrop to a biography of the jewel s original owner, Sisi, or Empress Elisabeth of Austria Once considered the most beautiful woman of Europe, Sisi worked behind the scenes to bring Hungary into the Austrian Hungarian Empire But her life culminated in 19th century Austria s most famous assassination Sisi herself was knifed to death in 1898.Bahney successful weaves the two crimes into Sisi s biography to bring history alive I don t think I ve ever read a biography as suspenseful as this one