Exclusive: NYPD files on robbery of $180,000 from Led Zeppelin revealed after 50 years

Between 1.20am and 7.30pm on July 29, 1973 a thief managed to pull off an audacious heist, opening safe deposit box 51 inside New York’s Drake Hotel and stealing around $180,000 in cash from Led Zeppelin while the world-famous rock band was in the city to perform three shows at Madison Square Garden.

The culprit behind what was then the biggest ever theft of cash from a New York hotel was never caught and the band never recovered the money, eventually mentioning the heist in its iconic concert film “The Song Remains The Same” which was mostly recorded that week along with the live album of the same name.

LedZepNews can now exclusively reveal details from the 27-page case file from the New York Police Department (NYPD) investigation into the theft, more than 50 years after the crime took place.

The internal NYPD file, revealed here for the first time after the document was previously thought to have been lost or destroyed, reveals fresh details about the robbery after more than 50 years. 

LedZepNews can reveal that Led Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole switched safe deposit boxes hours before the money vanished, moving the band’s cash out of the box it had been stored in for days.

We can also report that the NYPD focused its investigation on two employees of the Drake Hotel in New York and worked with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to try to solve the crime.

The NYPD and FBI investigated a hotel bellman after becoming suspicious over his purchase of a new car with $4,000 in cash weeks after the theft and his record of 17 arrests, the file shows.

FBI agents failed to find Florida property records requested by the NYPD in 1974 that would have explained the bellman’s access to the cash. Without the crucial documents and with no fresh leads, the NYPD closed the case in May 1974.

LedZepNews has now tracked down the files from Palm Beach in Florida, nearly 50 years after NYPD detectives requested them from the FBI, allowing us to continue the investigation into the theft.

Another hotel employee who was the last person to handle the safe deposit box where the money was stolen from was investigated by the NYPD who discovered that he had been fired by a different New York hotel for running a prostitution ring from its rooms.

The NYPD case file, obtained by LedZepNews through a FOIL request, also contains notes taken by an NYPD detective who interviewed the members of Led Zeppelin in a hotel room following the theft of the band’s money.

LedZepNews has also interviewed a newspaper photographer who watched the police dusting the safe deposit box for prints on the evening the theft was discovered before he was threatened by Led Zeppelin’s manager, leading to his arrest the following day.

The publication of the details from the NYPD’s case file is likely to reignite debate over the culprit behind the theft after years of speculation that the cash may have been stolen by a hotel employee, Jamaican gangsters, or by people connected to the management of Led Zeppelin potentially as an inside job to avoid paying tax on the band’s earnings.

This new LedZepNews investigation follows our previous in-depth reporting on the filming of Led Zeppelin in 1970, the intricate tax structure behind the band’s 1977 US tour and Jimmy Page’s secret 18-year battle to reclaim his most iconic stage outfits. If you’d like to support longform journalism about Led Zeppelin, please consider becoming a premium subscriber to the LedZepNews Substack.

Tuesday, July 24 1973: Led Zeppelin arrive in New York and check into the Drake Hotel

Led Zeppelin arrived in New York on the morning of July 24, flying into Newark Airport on the band’s Boeing 720 plane named “The Starship”. The band members checked into the Drake Hotel on 440 Park Avenue, a favourite haunt of visiting British bands such as The Who and Slade, occupying a series of rooms on the hotel’s seventeenth floor.

“It was upscale. It wasn’t like the Plaza or the St. Regis or hotels like that. But it was up there,” Charles Ruppmann, a photographer who worked at the New York Daily News at the time, tells LedZepNews about the Drake Hotel.

The band’s manager, former wrestler Peter Grant, and tour manager Cole handled the logistics and finances. After speaking to hotel employee Adele Wesley at 5.02pm, they agreed to store the band’s passports inside safe deposit box 53 along with $50,000 in cash, Cole would later recall to NYPD Detective Joseph J O’Connor in an interview in the hours after the theft was discovered.

The safe deposit boxes inside the Drake Hotel (WNBC TV)

“Mr Cole withdrew varying amounts of money from the $50,000 in the box to pay bills and purchase necessary equipment for the group,” Detective O’Connor wrote in the case file after interviewing Cole.

While the band stayed at the hotel, Cole regularly returned to the cashier’s desk, unlocking the safe deposit box to insert brown envelopes containing tens of thousands of dollars in cash, the band’s cut of ticket revenues from its performances.

The NYPD record of an interview with Led Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole about the Drake Hotel robbery

The members of Led Zeppelin assembled in the hotel lobby on the afternoon of July 24, waiting for seven limousines to drive them to Newark Airport for a short flight on The Starship to Pittsburgh for a performance that evening.

As the band waited in the hotel lobby with photographer Bob Gruen and part of the film crew they’d hired to film their shows, an elderly female resident accosted Robert Plant for his long hair.

“This rich old dear who lived at The Drake was berating Robert and grabbing his hair – ‘Why d’you have to have your hair long like that? Why can’t you look like a real man?’ Robert was very sweet to her, all peace and love,’” former Led Zeppelin press manager BP Fallon wrote on his website.

After arriving at Newark Airport, the band members posed for Gruen who took photos on the runway with their plane in the background, resulting in one of the most iconic images of the band.

Friday, July 27, 1973: Led Zeppelin performs the first of three shows at Madison Square Garden

Following the Pittsburgh show, the band seemingly stayed in the city for two nights before flying back to New York on The Starship on July 27. Newsreel footage of the band filmed that day shows them preparing to depart on their customised plane, with Plant skimming a copy of the 1973 book “Those Oldies But Goodies: A Guide to 50’s Record Collecting” by Steve Propes.

Once the band landed back in New York, their management and hangers-on assembled at the Drake Hotel in preparation for the first of three performances at Madison Square Garden.

Barbara Bogorad, a female friend of Cole, arrived at the hotel on this day. “She … stated that she has been staying in Richard Cole’s room 1720 since then and has never been near the strong box, only leaving the room to go to … dinner,” interview notes written by NYPD Detective Thomas Holland in the file read.

Following the evening’s show at Madison Square Garden, Cole deposited an envelope containing $76,000 into the hotel’s safe deposit box, according to information he gave to the NYPD.

Cole kept the key to Led Zeppelin’s safe deposit box hidden “on the lip of my bed frame, between the box spring and the frame,” he wrote in his 1992 book “Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored”.

Thomas Maher, a 24-year-old Drake Hotel security guard, started his shift at 8pm that night. He told Detective O’Connor that he saw Cole and Grant enter the hotel around 11.30pm, but “Mr Maher did not observe any transactions involving the safe deposit boxes,” the detective’s notes explain.

“He has on occasion seen bellhops in the vicinity of the safe deposit boxes, as a matter of fact very often, in particular Frank Benzie [and] David Best,” the interview notes continue. “Mr Maher feels that an engineer by the name Mike Demetro acts very funny. He sees him all over the hotel.”

The NYPD notes from its interview with Drake Hotel employee Thomas Maher. The NYPD redacted the file to remove Maher’s address and date of birth

Saturday, July 28, 1973: Led Zeppelin performs the second Madison Square Garden show and the safe deposit box is switched

Led Zeppelin performed their second show at Madison Square Garden on the evening of July 28, 1973. Bootleg recordings of the show indicate the band played for nearly three hours on stage.

Following the show, Cole again visited the hotel’s cashier. This time, he carried an envelope containing $77,800 in cash that he wished to store. He explained to the cashier that his box, number 53, was difficult to open and seemingly broken.

A significant part of the original NYPD notes from its interview with Cole and other parts of the file have been destroyed because notes were printed on the reverse of the pages and the NYPD only made microfiche copies of the front of each page before destroying the physical copies.

But by flipping the scanned image, LedZepNews was able to read the text describing the change of box. “At this time … changed to box #51,” the notes read.

Cole moved all of the band’s cash along with the passports from box 53 to box 51. Around $180,000 remained in the box after several wads of bills had been removed by Cole from the $203,800 in total that had been placed into it.

Around 1.20am on Sunday, July 29, 1973: Led Zeppelin’s money is seen for the last time

In the early hours of July 29, as Led Zeppelin partied in their rooms on the hotel’s seventeenth floor following their second show at Madison Square Garden, Page decided to purchase a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar.

Accounts of the exact timing of the purchase vary, with Cole telling the NYPD in 1973 that it was at 1.20am and subsequent accounts pointing to 2am or 3am, but what is certain is that at some point in the early hours of that morning, Cole visited the cashier’s desk to retrieve some money from the band’s safe deposit box.

“Three fans had ridden up in the hotel elevator to Jimmy’s room, four guitars in hand, knocked on his door, and offered the instruments for sale,” Cole wrote in his 1992 book “Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored”.

“Jimmy had played each one and, after a few minutes of contemplation, chose a Les Paul model, agreeing to pay for it in cash. He called me and asked for $800 to buy the guitar,” Cole’s book continues.

Page recalled the same guitar purchase in his 2020 book “Jimmy Page: The Anthology.” The guitar purchased became known as his “Number #2” and was regularly used on stage by Page starting in 1975 to perform songs such as “Kashmir”.

“A guitar seller came to my room with a Les Paul Standard for sale,” Page wrote. “I played it and I really liked it, so Richard Cole, our tour manager, went down to the lobby to get the money out of the safety deposit box to pay this guy.”

“The night porter was there as he held the duplicate key to undo and then counter lock the safety deposit box. He would have seen cash being deposited into the box from those East Coast tour dates,” Page continued.

Cole took the hotel elevator down from the seventeenth floor to the lobby, speaking to 25-year-old hotel employee Tadeusz Jaconski, known as “Tad”, who had started his shift at midnight and is presumably the night porter who Page referred to in his book.

“Mr Cole opened the box and took out a bundle of money approx 12 inches in width, all $100 bills,” Jaconski later told the NYPD along with two FBI agents, according to the case file. “Mr Cole then took about two or three thousand dollars from that bundle. He took the rest of the money and put the rubber bands back on and put it back in the box.”

“Mr Jaconski then put the box back into the vault and locked it and gave the key back to Mr Cole. Mr Jaconski further stated that that was the only box he handled that night,” according to interview notes in the case file written by NYPD Detective Vito J Verni.

This interaction at 1.20am was the last confirmed sighting of Led Zeppelin’s cash. Jaconski noted to NYPD detectives that he saw the band’s previous safe deposit box, number 53, “on a chair with a note not to use it because it was broken”.

Between 1.20am and 7.45pm on Sunday, July 29, 1973: The money is stolen

The hours between 1.20am and 8am on July 29, 1973 are the most likely period for a thief to have spirited away the bundles of cash from Led Zeppelin’s safe deposit box. The hotel was quieter than normal as it was the early hours of Sunday morning.

NYPD notes reveal that the hotel wasn’t empty at this time, however. Employees and guests roamed the lobby and halls while the members of Led Zeppelin partied on the seventeenth floor.

At 4am, Harry Liefer arrived at the hotel to meet his friend Jaconski, the employee who had unlocked box 51 for Cole hours earlier. “At this time there were other hotel employees having a party in the room just to the right of the safe deposit boxes,” Liefer told NYPD Detective O’Connor in an interview that took place weeks after the theft.

Hotel employees present at this time, according to Liefer, include “Frank Benzie, bellman, Bernard Salvary, security man [in] civilian clothes, Hassan Hammond, guard with time clock, Mr Sheener, [in a] black suit who stayed behind his desk to the far left of the deposit boxes.”

The NYPD notes also say that Liefer named another bellman as being present in the hotel at this time, a crucial figure in the investigation. LedZepNews has chosen not to publish this hotel employee’s name because he became a focus for the NYPD and FBI and it is uncertain whether he is still alive. We shall refer to this bellman as “Mr B” throughout this article.

Liefer also spotted an unknown man in his twenties with “brown hair” in a “long hippie dress” who “said he was the bartender” at the hotel’s bar, Shepheard’s.

According to NYPD interview notes, Liefer and Jaconski left the hotel at 5am to buy a coffee at a nearby diner, returning 20 minutes later. Liefer accompanied his friend during the rest of his shift before leaving with him at 7am. Jaconski’s shift ended at 7am, with the hotel cashier’s desk then manned by Fawzy Banawan until 3pm that day.

Months after the theft, NYPD detectives managed to interview Benzie, the bellhop Liefer said was in the hotel around this time (a separate person to Mr B, the bellman whose identity LedZepNews has anyonymised) and the employee who Maher said was often seen near the safe deposit boxes.

“He was very uncooperative and at first stated that he was not going to answer any questions,” NYPD Detective Verni wrote in the case file. Benzie eventually told the detective that he was working at the hotel that night until 8am “and he was very busy”.

“He stated that he did not see anybody in the area who did not belong there,” the detective’s notes continue. “He further stated he was nowhere near the area of the safe deposit boxes.”

The detective made a note in the file that Benzie used safe deposit box 63 for his own possessions. That box was stored directly below box 53, the safe deposit box previously used by Cole before he switched Led Zeppelin’s money to box 51 on the night of July 28.

NYPD detectives also spoke to Hammond, the guard with the time clock who Liefer saw that night. “He was very slow answering and repeated himself several times,” Detective O’Connor’s notes read. “The only bellman he [had] seen that night was Frank Benzie. He did not see any other bellman there, or anyone else … he did not see anything and does not know anything about the larceny.”

NYPD notes from its interview with Hassan Hammond. The NYPD redacted the file to remove Hammond’s address and date of birth

7.45pm on Sunday, July 29, 1973: The theft is discovered

At 7.45pm on July 29, as Led Zeppelin prepared to take to the stage for the final night of the three-night run at Madison Square Garden, Cole walked up to the hotel cashier’s desk and spoke to Robert Rey, a 50-year-old cashier.

The band’s tour manager planned to remove some cash from the box to pay bills, including to pay the film crew hired to shoot the concerts, before they departed for the UK the next day.

“Mr Cole presented him with the key to safe deposit box 51. Mr Rey took the key and with the guard key opened the safe deposit box door, removed the box and handed it to Mr Cole,” Detective O’Connor wrote in the case file after interviewing the cashier.

“Mr Cole opened the box in Mr Rey’s presence and then asked Mr Rey ‘Where is the money?’ Mr Rey said he did not know,” Detective O’Connor’s notes continue.

“Mr Cole ran to the lobby and called his attorney, Mr Weiss. Mr Weiss came back to the box with Mr Cole, looked in the box and then put his hand to his head.”

The band’s management discovered that all of the money inside the box had vanished. All that was left in the box was the band’s passports, Rey told the detective.

The shocked cashier called the hotel’s security manager Mr Campbell who then called the NYPD at 8.05pm, the case file shows.

“When we were just about to get into the limousines, I opened the thing and there was fuck-all in there. There was no money, just the passports. I fucking screamed,” Cole recalled in the 1985 book “Hammer of the Gods” by Stephen Davis.

8.05pm on Sunday, July 29, 1973: The NYPD begin their investigation

Officers from the NYPD robbery squad descended on the hotel, examining the almost-empty safe deposit box. “No marks or scratches on safe deposit box,” the handwritten police complaint report from that evening reads.

The original NYPD complaint form for the robbery of the cash from Led Zeppelin

The police officers were told by the hotel that every safe deposit box had two keys: One held by the hotel to be used by cashiers to open the boxes and another key that was given to customers to use. Each box could only be opened by inserting both keys into its locks.

Police officers removed the locks of box 51, taking them away for scrutiny back at headquarters by technicians to see if they could discover how the box was opened.

A still image from Led Zeppelin’s concert film ‘The Song Remains The Same’ showing the locks removed from safe deposit box 51

Keen to show they were taking the theft seriously, newspaper photographers were allowed to shoot the box being dusted for prints by NYPD Officer Gerald Donohue.

“It was showing evidence, they did that all the time. If there was a shooting, they’d hold a gun up,” Ruppmann recalls. He covered the robbery for the New York Daily News, shooting photos of the police investigation inside the Drake Hotel that night.

NYPD Lieutenant John McKenna was at the scene, telling reporters that the theft held the record for the largest amount of cash stolen from a New York hotel.

Despite the chaos at the hotel, the members of Led Zeppelin remained unaware of the theft and were driven to Madison Square Garden to perform the final show in the three-night run at the venue and also the last date of their US tour. Cole, their constant companion on the road, remained behind to speak to the police.

“Almost immediately backstage, I noticed something was strange,” Danny Goldberg, the band’s press manager, wrote in an article published in the August 1974 edition of Rock Scene magazine.

“Richard Cole, Zeppelin’s legendary road manager was nowhere to be seen. The very reason that Richard is worthy of the word ‘Legendary’ is that at concerts he is the single person in charge of keeping everybody in their right place – keeping them moving in the right direction at the right time.”

This time, the band’s performance lasted more than three hours. While Bonham played his “Moby Dick” drum solo, the three other members of Led Zeppelin gathered in their dressing room. 

“Those three members of the band were told of the theft at that time – but it wasn’t until later that it became clear the amount of money involved,” Goldberg wrote in his 1974 article.

All four members of Led Zeppelin were back on stage, newly informed of the robbery. That night, the band were joined on stage by Mike Quashie, a performer known as the “The Limbo King”, who appeared as the band finished playing “Whole Lotta Love”. 

Wielding flaming torches, Quashie lit Bonham’s gong and one of his drum sticks on fire as the drummer continued to play. The show ended with an encore of the song “Thank You” to cap off the band’s week in New York.

While detectives swarmed the hotel, the band members avoided the building following their performance and instead visited an apartment on East 86th Street that belonged to Shelley Kaye, an assistant to their lawyer Steve Weiss. Meanwhile, “the band’s roadies had to get into the rooms and get rid of the drugs,” journalist Lisa Robinson wrote in Vanity Fair.

The band still had to work that evening, though, entertaining around 100 guests at the Carlyle Hotel on 35 East 76th Street where Ahmet Ertegun, the powerful Atlantic Records boss whose death in 2006 caused a final reunion performance by Led Zeppelin in 2007, hosted a party for the band with around 100 guests in a banqueting room.

“While Robert and Bonzo went straight to the party, Jones and Page accompanied by Peter [Grant] wanted to return to the Drake to change clothes,” Goldberg wrote in his 1974 article.

At the Carlyle Hotel party, Ertegun and producer Jerry Wexler presented Led Zeppelin with gold awards for their album Houses of the Holy that was released in March. Page posed for a photograph at the hotel with Quashie and Rocky Aoki, the founder of the Benihana restaurant business.

The band members returned to the Drake Hotel after midnight, now fully aware of the scale of the theft as well as the police and press presence around the building.

They “brushed past newsmen in the hotel lobby and refused to answer questions about the missing money,” according to an Associated Press report published hours later.

Grant, the former wrestler, took issue with Ruppmann who had been in the hotel photographing the police and now turned his camera on to the band.

Writing in his book “Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored” published in 1992, Cole recalled what happened next. “Peter flew into a rage. He grabbed the fellow’s Nikon and flung it across the lobby. The lens cracked. The flash attachment shattered. The photographer stumbled to the ground in a futile effort to rescue his camera,” he wrote.

Ruppmann, speaking about the incident more than 50 years later, says: “I think that was the first time I was physically challenged.”

He denies a claim made in some accounts of the incident that Grant threw him against a wall at the hotel. “I wasn’t physically hurt, just scared,” he says.

Monday, July 30: Led Zeppelin and the hotel hold a press conference about the theft

The morning of July 30 saw New York’s daily newspapers filled with coverage of the audacious theft from the visiting rock band.

“Led Zeppelin robbed of 203G”, the headline of the New York Daily News read. “Rock group’s hotel box rifled,” the subheading read. Below it was a photograph taken by Ruppmann the night before showing NYPD officers dusting the safe deposit box for prints.

Sensing an opportunity to make their concert film more dramatic, the film crew hired by the band to document their Madison Square Garden shows shot footage of bundles of the newspaper being deposited on New York streets.

That morning, the band’s press manager Goldberg organised a press conference in the Drake Hotel. Journalists and news television crews assembled in the building to interview Grant, the band’s manager, as well as Paul Underhill, the manager of the hotel.

Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant speaking to journalists during a press conference at the Drake Hotel on July 30, 1973 (WNBC TV)

“Some of the money had been put in last Tuesday but it was only a small amount,” Grant told the assembled journalists according to footage of the press conference broadcast by WNBC TV. “The majority of the money was from Madison Square Garden on Friday and Saturday. We had a substantial amount of bills that we had to pay before we leave and we don’t like to leave a country leaving bills behind.”

Underhill, the hotel manager, appeared nervous in front of the journalists and cameras. “Pending a full investigation of this very serious matter which is the investigation, of course being carried out by the police department. Frankly, I prefer to make no comment specifically with regard to this matter. I feel that I would rather get the whole facts first,” he said, going on to explain that there was “no other way at all” to open the boxes without both keys.

Drake Hotel manager Paul Underhill speaking during a press conference on July 30, 1973 (WNBC TV)

One journalist asked Grant how he thought the money may have been taken. “I have no idea. I just have no idea. Could it be a duplicate key? I don’t know. You come up with a winning idea.”

Seizing upon the idea of a duplicate key, the hotel manager was asked whether that was a possibility. “No indication at all that I have. But as I say, the investigation is being carried out fully at the present time,” Underhill said.

Other journalists asked about Cole, prompting Grant to respond: “Mr Cole has been all over the world and he’s handled lots of money. He’s worked for lots of very, very well-known groups and as far as I’m concerned he’s 100 percent.”

Around this time, Grant was arrested by NYPD officers over the altercation with Ruppmann, the New York Daily News photographer during the previous night. Grant was loaded into a squad car and taken to police headquarters on charges of petty larceny and assault that were later reduced to harassment.

A friendly guard at the police headquarters advised Grant to remove his jewellery in the cells. “When you get in there, don’t even talk to anyone,” Grant was told by the guard, according to Cole in his 1992 book.

Grant was “released contemplating dismissal”, according to an article published in Record World on August 11, 1973.

Outside the Drake Hotel, Lieutenant John McKenna who had been on the scene since the money was discovered to be stolen, spoke briefly to WNBC TV reporter Phil Curtis. “It’s an active investigation right now. We’re pursuing normal investigative leads, background check on all employees, people connected with the rock group,” he said.

NYPD Lieutenant McKenna interviewed by WNBC TV reporter Phil Curtis outside the Drake Hotel (WNBC TV)

While McKenna held court at the hotel, NYPD detectives Richard E Wilkins and Walter Basley interviewed Banawan, the hotel cashier who relieved Jaconski when his shift ended at 7am on the day the theft took place.

“He states that he (1) did not know about the amount of cash in boxes #51 or 53. (2) That he did not handle any transactions involving those boxes that he could recall,” NYPD interview notes in the case file read.

Banawan, confident of his innocence, offered to take a lie detector test. On the day of the theft, he explained, he took a lunch break from 1pm to 2pm and the cashier’s desk was staffed by Wesley, the 62-year-old hotel employee who had initially set up Led Zeppelin’s safe deposit box with Cole on July 24.

Tuesday, July 31: Led Zeppelin leave New York

With NYPD and FBI lawmen still swarming the Drake Hotel, Led Zeppelin delayed its departure from New York back to the UK, instead staying at the hotel to be interviewed by NYPD detectives before finally leaving for the UK one day later than planned on July 31.

First, though, the four band members assembled in room 1618 of the Drake Hotel to be interviewed about the theft by Detective O’Connor. “All stated that they are unaware of the procedure of the way the monies are handled,” the detective’s interview notes explain.

“They further state that Richard Cole, the assistant manager of group, takes care of all their financial accounts. Money is supplied to them by Mr Cole at their demands. They further state that Cole is a trusted member and to their knowledge he has no need to steal the money.”

The NYPD record of an interview with the four members of Led Zeppelin at the Drake Hotel in July 1973

August 1 onwards: The police investigation continues

Despite interviewing the band, Cole and many hotel employees, the NYPD detectives were no closer to finding the thief or recovering the money. Many of the people present at the hotel that week submitted their fingerprints to officers. The first people to be fingerprinted were Cole the tour manager, Weiss the band’s lawyer and Cole’s friend Bogorad.

Later on in the month, NYPD officers returned to the hotel, fingerprinting everyone from bellman Benzie, the hotel manager Underhill, Rey the employee who discovered the missing money with Cole, and Jaconski who had helped Cole to remove money from the box on the day the money vanished.

On August 10, with no sign of the money being found, Detective O’Connor and the hotel manager opened all of the unaccounted for safe deposit boxes in the hope of discovering some of the band’s stolen money or other clues.

The detective’s efforts proved fruitless. The search turned up only the cashier’s receipt book, $200 in cash belonging to a former employee and a “blank check book and cigarette lighter” belonging to a former guest identified as Mr Beaver.

“There are 138 safe deposit boxes located on the east side of the cashier’s desk,” Detective O’Connor’s notes explain. “Hotel personnel possessing a box would go directly to their box and open same without any notation being made of transaction on cards maintained for that purpose.”

The NYPD and FBI had spent weeks combing the hotel, interviewing employees and searching for clues in the safe deposit box room. Yet they were no closer to finding the stolen money. Detective O’Connor, who had worked the case since the theft was discovered, was transferred to a different NYPD division. Detective Verni now took over the investigation.

Tadeusz Jaconski, the last hotel employee to handle the box

One of the most crucial people for the NYPD to investigate was Jaconski, the hotel employee who opened box 51 with Cole at 1.20am before returning it to the store room.

Jaconski was the last person to see the box before it was opened and its contents removed. LedZepNews has decided to publish Jaconski’s name as an online obituary notice indicates that he died in 2018.

Jaconski was the only person in the NYPD case files who was interviewed twice, reflecting his importance to the case. Following his initial interview by Detective O’Connor on August 1, NYPD detectives investigated Jaconski’s background.

What they found alarmed detectives, resulting in its own page in the case file. Jaconski had previously worked at the Bedford Hotel on 118 East 40th Street from February to July 1970 as an auditor, a similar role to the one he held at the Drake Hotel.

Hyman Arbesfeld, the manager of the Bedford Hotel, told detectives on October 30, 1973 that “Jaconski was released because it came to his attention that he was renting rooms to prostitutes and putting the money in his pockets.”

“Mrs Dorothy Foster who is a switchboard operator for the hotel states that Mr Jaconski was a pimp for these girls,” notes taken by Detective Verni read. “She stated that he had cards printed up and he would give them to the hotel employees to give to the guest. On the cards there was some kind of a message that would indicate to the guest that a prostitute could be obtained.”

Armed with this information, NYPD Detective Verni, NYPD Sergeant Trapp and FBI agents Astarita and Dooly interviewed Jaconski for a second time on November 6, 1973. He repeated his earlier explanation that he unlocked the box for Cole around 1.20am before replacing it. The final section of the interview notes are obscured because they were printed on the reverse side of the page in the NYPD case file.

Page, writing in his 2020 book “Jimmy Page: The Anthology”, expressed his belief that Jaconski may have been connected to the theft. “Later, I was told that the robbery had something to do with the night porter. When the money disappeared, so did he.”

However, LedZepNews has seen no evidence that Jaconski “disappeared” after the theft. Instead, he agreed to a second interview with the NYPD and FBI on November 6, 1973 and appears to have lived in the New York area until his death in 2018.

Mr B, the bellman with an arrest record and thousands of dollars in cash

Another crucial person named in the NYPD case file is a Drake Hotel bellman present on the night of the robbery, who LedZepNews is referring to as Mr B.

Liefer, the friend of Jaconski, told detectives that he saw this bellman when he visited the hotel at 4am on the morning of July 29, 1973.

Months after the theft, NYPD detectives finally tracked down Mr B on January 17, 1974 and interviewed him about the night’s events.

“He stated that he was on vacation the night of the theft, but came in about 5am to pick up some money that he had in his box,” Mr B told NYPD Detective Verni, according to the case file. Mr B confirmed to the detective that he used safe deposit box 21 and opened it that night.

“He stated that he stayed till about 5.30am and then he went home,” the detective’s interview notes continue. “He and Richard Cole are good friends and he was often invited to have a drink with him. [Mr B] stated that he does not know anything about the money, who took it or how it was taken.”

Detective Verni was clearly suspicious of Mr B, writing in his interview notes that the bellman “has a record of 17 arrests”. Alarmingly, the hotel bellman had “purchased a 1974 Ford in September and paid $4,000 in cash.”

Mr B, a hotel bellman in New York, had bought a brand new car with $4,000 in cash at a time when the average house price in the US was $32,500.

“He further stated that he sold his house in Florida … for $18,500 in May. In view of the above it is requested that this case be marked active,” Detective Verni wrote.

After spending months investigating the theft, the NYPD now had a new lead. A Drake Hotel bellman who was in the hotel at the time the money was stolen had admitted to being near the safe deposit boxes and opening one of them despite not working that day, had a lengthy arrest record and was in possession of thousands of dollars in cash less than two months after the theft took place.

The NYPD decided to investigate Mr B’s claim to have sold a condominium in Florida. If his story checked out, it would explain how the bellman was able to buy a new Ford car in cash. But if the house hadn’t been sold, it would be extremely suspicious.

Detective Verni called the FBI for help. On February 28, 1974, the detective spoke to FBI Agent Astarita who had also been investigating the Drake Hotel theft and asked him to “check into the background” of Mr B. “He was to see if Mr B did sell his house and to try and pick up any information that would aid in this investigation”.

The FBI came back empty handed. It wasn’t able to check whether Mr B’s claim to have sold his Florida house was correct. Agent Astarita told Detective Verni on May 17, 1974 that an FBI agent in Florida “has been unable to come up with any information at this point.”

Detective Verni filed another request on May 22, 1974, this time asking for help from the West Palm Beach Police Department. He asked the police to “make inquiries” into the owners of Mr B’s previous Florida home, along with the purchase price and financial arrangements around the sale. “Refer our confidential case: ‘Led Zeppelin’”, he instructed the Florida police force.

Detective Verni’s request for information from police in West Palm Beach. The document was redacted by the NYPD to remove Mr B’s Florida address

It seems that Detective Verni never got the information he was looking for about Mr B’s Florida house sale. The final page of the NYPD case file from May 1974 ends with a note reading “it is requested that this case be marked closed pending further information.”

The investigation into Mr B continues

The NYPD didn’t get all the answers it wanted about the theft in 1974, closing the case without ruling out Mr B’s involvement. But LedZepNews has now found the Florida property records that New York detectives and the FBI searched for in 1974, allowing us to continue the investigation into who may have stolen Led Zeppelin’s money.

Using a series of documents obtained from the Palm Beach County Clerk, LedZepNews has confirmed that Mr B, the Drake Hotel bellman, did indeed sell a Florida condominium in 1973.

A New York resident with Mr B’s name transferred the deeds of a West Palm Beach condominium on June 11, 1973, Florida records show. That suggests the bellman was telling the truth when he told NYPD detectives that he bought the Ford car with $4,000 cash in September 1973 after selling his home in May.

But what about the price of the house? Mr B claimed to have sold the house for $18,500 in 1973, giving him enough money to buy the car. LedZepNews has also obtained a mortgage agreement dated July 12, 1973 that shows the purchaser of Mr B’s property took out a $12,000 mortgage to fund the purchase, indicating that a sale price of $18,500 was possible for the condominium.

Mr B’s explanation for his infusion of cash checks out, but the hotel bellman still had 17 arrests in New York to his name and was spotted in the room where the money was stored around the time that it was stolen.

Despite the NYPD and FBI spending weeks investigating Mr B, his fingerprints were never taken and compared to prints from the safe deposit box, the NYPD case file reveals.

It seems Mr B may have been the last remaining lead in the case. Phil Carson, a senior vice president at Led Zeppelin’s record label Atlantic Records, told author Bob Spitz in his 2021 book “Led Zeppelin: The Biography” that a Drake Hotel bellman was a suspect in the case and was “watched by the FBI for years.”

Was the theft an inside job?

The NYPD case file revealed by LedZepNews sheds new light on the police investigation of the Drake Hotel robbery. But the case remains unsolved and theories continue to circulate about who carried out the crime.

A popular explanation has been that the theft was an inside job carried out at the direction of the band’s management in order to avoid paying taxes on the band’s income from its US tour.

This may seem like a farfetched explanation, but it’s actually one of the most likely theories. Spitz, writing in his 2021 book “Led Zeppelin: The Biography”, claimed that “no less than five sources close to the band told this author that Grant had admitted spiriting the Drake money away.”

Michael Des Barres, an associate of Led Zeppelin whose band Detective was signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song record label, told Spitz: “Peter told me that Richard did it. It was a tax thing. He said, ‘Why would you let all that money go to these other cunts?’”

When LedZepNews spoke to Spitz about his book in 2021, he was confident that the robbery was an inside job. “I think we can pretty well assume that we know how it happened,” he said.

Led Zeppelin’s departure from the US soon after the theft, albeit delayed by one day, could be perceived as a band that wasn’t overly concerned about the missing money.

“It had reached that point where we really couldn’t care too much. I mean, if the tour had been a bummer, then that would have been the last straw, but it wasn’t,” Page told the New Music Express magazine in its September 1, 1973 issue.

Unity Maclean, a former Led Zeppelin publicist told Barney Hoskyns in his 2012 book “Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin” that “the strange thing about the Drake robbery was that Peter wasn’t that unhappy about it.”

“Usually if Peter had lost a couple of quid he’d be miserable. You’d have expected him to turn America upside down to find that money, and he didn’t,” she continued.

Was the band unconcerned about the stolen money because it had actually been spirited out of the US by someone connected to Led Zeppelin’s management?

In his 2008 Led Zeppelin biography “When Giants Walked The Earth”, author Mick Wall wrote that Geoff Barton, the editor of Classic Rock magazine, “recalls Grant boasting over lunch with him in the mid-Eighties of bringing ‘false-bottomed suitcases’ stuffed with wads of cash back into Britain from various Zeppelin tours.”

LedZepNews revealed in August that Led Zeppelin made use of an intricate network of businesses that spanned the world to reduce its tax bill for its 1977 US tour, signing the band members up as employees of a Dutch business owned by a company in Curaçao, a Caribbean island, which was in turn owned by a foundation headquartered at a bank in Switzerland. This structure allowed a significant portion of the band’s ticket income to leave the US without being taxed.

If Led Zeppelin went to these elaborate lengths in 1977 to reduce its tax bill on a US tour, could the Drake Hotel theft in 1973 have been a clumsy way to bring about the same outcome?

Mr B, the hotel bellman in the safe deposit box room at 5am on his day off, claimed to be a friend of Cole, after all. The band would easily have been able to recruit hotel employees to help them to spirit away the cash.

The mystery of the Drake Hotel robbery continues

The mystery of the robbery has continued for decades, with the original NYPD files long thought to have been lost or destroyed.

Mark Blake’s 2018 biography of Grant “Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin and Beyond” contains a claim that the NYPD case file had been intentionally removed, something LedZepNews is now able to disprove.

Page had breakfast in New York with former Led Zeppelin security guard Danny Francis and an NYPD detective years after the robbery, Blake writes in the book.

“We wanted to know if the police files for the case were still around,” Francis told Blake. “Our detective friend checked and found out they had been moved to a police warehouse. After weeks of searching the warehouse, the folder was eventually found, but it was empty.”

The closest thing to an official explanation offered by Led Zeppelin about the theft comes from the liner notes for the 2007 reissue of the album The Song Remains The Same which was assembled from those three Madison Square Garden shows.

“A staff member of the hotel quit their job and fled to Jamaica soon after the theft,” Cameron Crowe wrote in his liner notes for the album. LedZepNews has found no evidence that the NYPD ever found a Drake Hotel employee fled to Jamaica.

Page, speaking to Blake in 2007, told him that “I was led to believe it was one of the night porters, as he had a duplicate key for the safe. Of course, by the time they realised this, he was gone – off to Puerto Rico or somewhere,” according to Blake’s 2018 book.

The book, written with authorisation from Grant’s family and with access to his papers, contains a copy of a letter sent to Grant’s mansion in the UK following the theft.

Written on headed paper from the Sheraton Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, the letter read: “Fat pig, your money means nothing to us. We showed you how easy it is to hit you when you are big. Next time you plan a tour in the USA, you better have 1 million dollars available. Since you can’t get to us that could be a problem for you. Don’t forget you are nothing without your boys. Now you wont [sic] want Robert to loose [sic] his voice or Jimmys [sic] Guitar to blow up. Don’t forget you are dealing with.”

There is no suggestion that the letter from Jamaica had any link to the people behind the Drake Hotel theft. Still, the mythology around Led Zeppelin and the robbery of $180,000 persists, leading to the many theories about the culprits.

Fifty years after the money vanished from Led Zeppelin’s safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel, new facts have emerged about what happened during that week in New York. And with those facts come fresh questions about the robbery.

Why did Cole move the money on July 28 from one safe deposit box to another? Why was Mr B, the hotel bellman with a lengthy arrest record, in the safe deposit box room at 5am on his day off? And how thoroughly did NYPD detectives investigate Jaconski, the last hotel employee to handle the box who was accused of running a prostitution ring?

The chances of solving the mystery likely evaporated in 1974 when the NYPD closed the case. But at least now, more than 50 years after the band’s money vanished, we have some concrete information about one of the most infamous chapters in Led Zeppelin’s history.

Do you have any information to share about the Drake Hotel robbery? You can contact LedZepNews by emailing ledzepnews@gmail.com

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6 Comments on "Exclusive: NYPD files on robbery of $180,000 from Led Zeppelin revealed after 50 years"

  1. Enjoyed reading this updated story with the FOIA info obtained, combined with relevant statements related to the theft that have been published over the years (some now shown here to be false).

    Many may have reached their own determination a long time ago, others may be left to ponder further after reading.
    One thing for sure, for a few minutes this entry took me right back to the mid 70’s like it was yesterday.

  2. Roy JOHN Watson | 9th January 2024 at 5:02 pm | Reply

    no one ever charged and the money was taken from under the nose of madman grant and richard cole you never know do ya

  3. It’s always a bit of a dust up when led zeppelin comes/came to town…if it’s not one thing Peter would have made it interesting to say it was interesting..bless him

  4. The big mystery for me is, which show I went to that weekend. I could’ve sworn that we arrived while they were playing WIAWSNB, but after a check of setlists, they didn’t play that song.

  5. EXCELLENT reporting ! Love the history !!

  6. Jonathan wood | 15th March 2024 at 7:28 pm | Reply

    Many years ago i thought I read that Led Zeppelin successfully sued the Drake for the theft and there was an out of court settlement so maybe this explains why the band were a little indifferent to the loss as the Drake may have covered their losses.

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