On this day in history : 1st April 2000 – An Enigma machine, used by the Germans in WW2 to encode messages, is stolen from Bletchley Park Museum in broad daylight….

Bletchley Park – image credit: Magnus Manske CC BY-SA via Wikimedia

Bletchley Park, the stately home in Buckinghamshire that was known as Station X in the war, was where British agents managed to crack the Enigma code…. The Germans had thought the code unbreakable but 10,000 mathematicians, linguists and even chess champions had worked at Bletchley decoding up to 18,000 messages per day….

Women dutifully working in Bletchley Park – image: UK Government CC BY-SA 4.0

Station X remained a secret until 1967 but nowadays it is a popular tourist attraction…. The day the Enigma machine was stolen was a day that Bletchley was open to the public; it disappeared from a secure, alarmed glass case, which showed no signs of forced entry….

The machine’s whereabouts remained a complete mystery until September 2000…. Police began to receive letters from a person saying that they were acting on behalf of someone who had bought it…. A £25K ransom was demanded for its return, which the museum agreed to pay…. The machine is special in that it is one of only three in the World of a higher standard than the everyday Enigma machines used in the field – as it had been used by the SS…. The value of this particular machine being over £100,000…. However, the 6th of October deadline for the ransom payment was not met….

ENIGMA machine at Bletcley Park – image credit: _dChris via flickr

Two weeks later TV presenter Jeremy Paxman received a parcel at his BBC Television Centre office….inside was the missing machine…. Three of its four encryption rotor wheels were missing but these too were later returned safely….

In November 2000 Dennis Yates, a 58-year-old antiques dealer from Derbyshire, was arrested. He admitted sending the letters to the police and the machine to Paxman…. It appears he had got himself caught up in something and found himself out of his depth…. He had received death threats from those he was working for – and never revealed who the mystery buyer was…. Those that had originally stolen the Enigma machine were never caught; Dennis Yates was sentenced to ten months in prison for his part….

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