Joe’s Stories – Some old, some new, mostly true A story about Aldi Stores

By on July 17, 2017

We were introduced to an Aldi store many years ago while visiting relatives in Germany. Being impressed with their concept of marketing, we wondered if they might come to the U.S., which they eventually did. The recent public announcement that they were planning several hundred new stores in the U.S., reminded me of a story that was headline news in Europe but was only mentioned briefly here when it occurred.

Similar to some of our local stores, they began as a family owned neighborhood grocery store near Essen, Germany. In 1947 the business was passed on to brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht who were then in their mid-twenties. Their store model was really appreciated by shoppers and soon became very successful. As the number of stores increased throughout Germany, the brothers agreed to divide into two divisions. Karl took control of Aldi South and Theo headed up Aldi North.

Their success continued and soon they were ranked among the wealthiest men in Europe. As such they became targets for criminal elements. Eventually there was an abduction and ransom scheme carried out against Theo Albrecht in November 1971. While it was in the news at the time, some of the background information only became public after the principals involved had all died.

Heinz J. Ollenburg was a 47 year old attorney living in Duesselldorf, who had accumulated high debts from his gambling habit. Desperate, he contacted Paul Kron, a convicted safecracker (perhaps one of his legal clients?) and enlisted his help. Together they conspired to target the Albrecht family, by abducting Theo.

Their efforts were definitely not very professional and almost comical in execution. Three times they lay in wait to nab Theo as he left the firm’s headquarters. The first time they apparently got cold feet and left the area without confronting Theo. The second time they went there but had forgotten to bring their guns and decided not to try it without them. But on the 29 of November, the abduction occurred. They commandeered Theo’s Mercedes as he was about to drive home.

Even then they weren’t certain this unassuming man in a worn business suit was indeed the  multi-millionaire head of a business. So they demanded to see his identification which confirmed he was indeed the Theo they wanted. He was taken at gunpoint  to Ollenburg’s law office in the inner city, where they held him for 17 days in a closet in the back room of the office.

Their demand was for seven million marks ransom money which was delivered to them by a church bishop who was agreed upon as the go between by all parties involved. They met on a dark country road well outside the city and the money was transferred in two suitcases. Shortly after confirmation of the successful delivery of the largest ransom in Germany history, Theo Albrecht was released unharmed.

Ollenburg went to Mexico but was soon captured there. Kroll stayed around but attracted the attention of police because he was regularly cashing 500 mark bills from the suitcase money.

They were both charged with the abduction and sentenced to eight years in prison. Ollenburg returned 3.5 million marks to Allbrecht. Paul Kron, however, complained that Ollenburg had only given him 10,000 marks.

After his release from prison, Kroll lived in a small apartment and admitted that his involvement was a big mistake which was emphasized by the “shock” of imprisonment. He also stated in an interview by the Bild, a newsmagazine, that Theo Allbrecht had called him several times and talked about meeting but it never occurred.

For Theo, the abduction and confinement was a life changer as he lived the rest of his years somewhat withdrawn and avoided being in public. He died in 2010, never knowing where the rest of the ransom money went, or where it is.

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