The new German Netflix documentary film, “Big Mack: Gangsters and Gold,” is an interesting piece on the life of Donald Stellwag, a normal citizen in Germany. But where Stellwag’s life and story crossed over from the usual to the extraordinary was a fateful day in 1992 when he was picked up by the police as the prime suspect in a bank robbery. After having served time in prison for this robbery, Stellwag was once again suspected of a different crime, but events that happened in between made things even more unbelievable.
Was Donald Stellwag Guilty Of The 1991 Bank Robbery?
On the 19th of December 1991, a man walked into a bank in Nuremberg and calmly but coldly pointed his gun at the nearest teller. Following the robber’s instructions, the bank teller transferred banknotes of various currencies into a bag and handed it over to the man, who quickly fled the scene. Having arrived at the place in a taxi, the man said nothing to the driver until she wanted to follow a certain route, but he was afraid of being caught by the police. Since the bank workers had informed the police immediately after the robber had left, the authorities were already on the move. Now pointing his gun at the taxi driver, the robber forced her to drive fast through opposing traffic and then finally got out of the taxi at one point.
Soon after this incident, the police started their investigation, and not much time was needed to find out more about their suspect. The bank had security cameras all over, which had caught the man dressed in black and wearing a pair of dark sunglasses. The bank teller, as well as some of the customers who were present at the place, all remembered the physical appearance of the man because of his distinct features. The robber was quite tall and overweight, even seemingly obese, and this became the identification point of the police search initially. Within some time, a police officer seemed to recognize their suspect as someone he already knew, a man named Donald Stellwag. Although the physical appearance of the man caught on the security camera did match that of Stellwag, the latter instantly denied having any connection to the crime in Nuremberg. The man kept claiming that he was far away from the city of Nuremberg on that day and even had an alibi that he was with his friends at the house of one of them in the state of Saxony. The man even made it clear that he had been suffering from tumors in his pituitary gland in the brain, which made it very difficult for him to physically move around.
But as Stellwag was arrested by the police and further investigations were held, things started to turn against him. The bank teller and the witnesses who had seen the bank robber on that day all agreed and also testified in court that he was indeed the man who had looted the bank. The defendant’s argument was that he was only being misidentified due to his height and overweight stature, which made it seem like he was the perpetrator. Also noteworthy was the fact that Stellwag was not placed in a lineup with others with similar physicality, but he was made to stand alone in a room when the witnesses identified him from the outside. The taxi driver who had driven the robber to and from the bank had also identified Stellwag as the same man, and she was even very confident of this since she had seen him from a very close distance. Despite these testimonies, there was also some missing evidence too, like the fact that Stellwag’s fingerprints did not match those found at the crime scene. It was clear from the camera footage that the robber had not been wearing gloves during the act, and he had therefore left a lot of fingerprints on the bank counter and also on the door of the taxi. However, the fingerprints did not match those of Donald Stellwag.
It was primarily because of these inconclusive findings in the case with regard to evidence that the investigators decided to go for an anthropological report. This meant that an expert would be called in to minutely study photographs of the perpetrator and those taken of Donald Stellwag and determine whether the two men were the same. The basis of such a test is anthropological clues, such as the width of one’s skull structure or the shape of their facial features, and so on. It was the result of this test that was used to draw a conclusive decision by the court. After spending almost two years in prison during the investigation, Stellwag’s court trial was started, and the judges decided that he was indeed guilty of the bank robbery. The reasoning provided was that of the expert who had conducted the anthropological test, as he had testified in court that the ears of the suspect and those of Stellwag totally matched, meaning that the two men were one and the same. Although Donald still maintained that he was innocent, the court sentenced him to nine years in prison for the bank robbery.
During the nine long years that he spent behind bars, including the two years he had spent earlier during the investigation, Stellwag claims to have been kept in complete isolation. He claimed that this was because the authorities wanted him to confess to the crime. Since Stellwag had not yet confessed to the crime of robbery, there was no question of integrating him back into society, and therefore he was kept in solitary confinement. It was only after the man was released from prison in 2001, having served his complete sentence, that a shocking truth was revealed. A number of other banks had also been robbed in just the same manner as that in Nuremberg, meaning that the perpetrator came to the place in a taxi, held up the teller to give him all the money, and then left in a taxi again. All of this had happened while Stellwag was in prison, and soon enough, the real perpetrator was caught when he had bragged to an associate about his acts. After all these years, the real bank robber was caught and punished by the court, while Stellwag was acquitted of the charges. However, the man had already served his prison sentence, meaning that Donald Stellwag had actually been wronged by the state and the authorities, who had punished him for a crime he had not committed.
Stellwag became a known face around this time, as he was regularly called on talk shows and interviews as a man wronged directly by the state. The authorities decided to compensate him for the nine years he had to spend in prison, but the money paid to the man was ultimately too meager. In a very unusual case in the history of law in Germany, Stellwag then sued the expert who had testified that he was the bank robber according to his examination. The court also ruled in favor of Stellwag, deciding that the expert was to pay a sum of 150,000 euros as personal compensation for Stellwag. The man was smart enough to make use of this publicity to earn money, too, as he partnered up with a beer company and wore clothes with their branding to the TV interviews. Along with the money Stellwag was getting for the interviews themselves, he also earned through these marketing and advertising methods. All was finally going well for the man until another fateful day in 2010 when he was arrested over suspicions of being involved in another robbery, this time of gold.
How Was Donald Stellwag Linked To The Gold Robbery?
On the 15th of December, 2009, a truck that was transporting gold was approached by a police car on Autobahn 81. Having no doubts that the car was indeed that of the police, the two men inside the truck followed instructions to exit the highway and stop on a small road under a bridge. When the police officers approached the men and claimed that they were being arrested for tax evasion, the truck driver and his associate did notice that the license plate of the police car was that of a normal civilian vehicle. As the driver and his associate were driven in the supposed police car and dropped off somewhere away from the place, two other men in police uniforms looted all the gold that was being transported in the truck. Once the authorities were made aware of the incident, an investigation was started, and it again did not take long to find out the prime suspects. This time it was a German-Kurdish rapper by the name of Xatar from the city of Bohn in Cologne, and his associates. Xatar was already making a name for himself with regard to controversies and run-ins with the law, and at this particular time, he was in need of money as well. He and three of his associates had staged the whole scene with police uniforms and a car made to look like a patrol car before successfully looting the gold truck. After the incident, the men fled Germany and went through different countries before eventually being arrested in Iraq and brought back to Germany. As they spoke of their crime, though, one final piece was still missing—how had Xatar and his gang known about the delivery route and timing of the gold truck?
It was as a result of this missing piece that the name of Donald Stellwag once again cropped up. After his release from prison and successful interviews and shows, Donald started investing in gold mines and even bought one for himself in Ghana with the help of a friend and business partner named Frank Vogel. Around the same time, he started a gold and diamond shop and business named Gold Oases in his hometown of Lauf. Xatar, and also the authorities, claimed that it was at this shop that Stellwag and Xatar first met since the rapper was always looking for gold and diamond jewelry. Also, through this business, Stellwag learned of a scrap gold dealer in Nuremberg, and through his effective communication skills, he had befriended a worker who worked as a transporter for this dealer. It was in this way that he got to know of the transportation route and timing, which Stellwag then shared with his long-time customer Xatar. Although there was some proof that enabled such a theory to be formulated, no concrete evidence of it could be found. However, Donald Stellwag’s life and prior details did make him seem like an easy suspect, for even before the falsely accused case of the bank robbery, Stellwag did have criminal charges against him. These charges were mostly for extortion, drug trafficking, fraud, and embezzlement. Then, after parts of the Berlin Wall were torn down in 1989, Stellwag moved to the cities in East Germany and started working as a salesman for “Druker” magazines, which essentially meant forceful magazine salesmen who would persuade people to pay hefty amounts of money for year-long subscriptions to various magazines. Stellwag became very successful in this business too, and after a point, he was considered the leader of such work.
Along with such a past, Stellwag was also quite masterful at convincing people and selling lies as truth, and he continues to be so even to this day. For example, in the Netflix documentary as well as in all the TV interviews earlier, Stellwag claimed to have been kept in solitary confinement in prison. But the friends he had made inside the prison themselves attest to the fact that this solitary confinement was because Stellwag had to be kept in the medical unit because of his poor health. It had nothing to do with the authorities forcing him to plead guilty to the charges. In fact, over the years, Stellwag even gained popularity in prison and was influential enough to get hold of anything he wanted inside the jail itself.
Where Is Donald Stellwag Now?
Even though all leads and theories pointed to Donald Stellwag being the mastermind behind the gold robbery of 2009, it was only Xatar and his associates who had been punished for it. Stellwag still denies having any role in it, but the court did find him responsible for having given Xatar the information about the gold truck. However, by this time, Stellwag was even more ill physically, and he had lost the ability to move around since his legs could not support his body weight anymore. The public sentiment of sympathy and support towards Stellwag for having been wrongfully sentenced to prison earlier has stayed on. The medical examiner who was supposed to evaluate whether Stellwag was physically fit enough to be jailed or not also turned in his favor. Apologizing on behalf of the authorities for the earlier arrest and imprisonment, the medical examiner declared him unfit to stand trial or be imprisoned.
At present, Donald Stellwag lives in his house in the countryside of Germany and is looked after by his business partner and friend, Frank Vogel. It is very much possible that Stellwag had indeed been involved in the gold robbery, and the reason for it can be all the more interesting. While it can definitely be said that the man had a knack for illegal acts, the possibility that he committed the crime only as a sort of revenge against the authorities is also not very unbelievable. After being wrongfully imprisoned for nine years, Stellwag did have very little to lose, and he now knew that his physical health would prevent him from being imprisoned. Some also believe that Xatar and his associates named Stellwag only because they knew he was too sick to be imprisoned. But if Donald Stellwag was indeed the mastermind behind the gold robbery, then it was almost like a twisted balance between crime and punishment. Only in his case he was punished first and then committed a crime.
“Big Mack: Gangsters and Gold” is a 2023 Crime Documentary Film streaming on Netflix.