The car came in through the diamond store's front door at 3:30 a.m. the day after Halloween.
Moments later, an alarm woke Kimberlee Hughes, telling her something was wrong at Donald Haack Diamonds & Fine Gems Ltd., where she's the office manager.
And so began a convoluted tale of Charlotte-area diamond retailers -- traditionally fierce rivals -- working together to try to catch a thief.
When Hughes got to the SouthPark-area store early that morning, she recalled in an interview, she found the gaping hole, but no car. More importantly, she found no missing jewelry. Whoever had crashed in didn't find the safe, where display case contents are stored each night.
A couple of days later, Hughes called other area jewelers. Just to give you a heads up, she said, we had an attempted burglary here with a car.
That piqued the interest of Chuck Smith, owner of Morrison Smith Jewelers in Myers Park. He asked her for her e-mail; he had something to forward to her.
It was a photo of a man who snatched a diamond from a store in Northlake Mall, caught on a security camera Nov. 3, Smith said in an interview.
Hughes tacked up a printout of the photo in her store's office.
Tuesday afternoon, a man walked into Donald Haack Diamonds and started talking with Ellen Walke, a sales clerk. He wanted to sell a diamond.
The neatly groomed man was calm in his pressed shirt, dark pants and boots, she recalled.
Walke told him the store's gemologist, who was out, was the only one who could offer a price.
The man told her it was a 2-carat diamond with E color, a technical term that means it was colorless, a valuable trait..
That was a little strange, she thought; most people don't talk in gem jargon. What was stranger was he picked the precious stone from a paper napkin.
Just then, another store employee, Sue Ann Wilson, recognized the man as the one in the photo. She pulled over Hughes, who agreed.
They called police and clued in Walke. She tried to stall by asking the man where he was from (Atlanta, he said) and where he got the diamond (it came from an earring, he said). Meanwhile, she recalled, store clerks spied a second man sitting at the wheel of a silver Impala.
After about 10 minutes of calm chitchat, the two left, just a few minutes before police arrived.
Hughes called Diamonds Direct, two blocks away, telling them she thought a suspected diamond thief was on his way over.
Soon after, a well-dressed man walked into Diamonds Direct. As he pulled out a diamond, an off-duty police officer working security became suspicious.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Sgt. Casey Carver has been working diamond stores long enough to know that "if you buy a $20,000 diamond loose, you'll at least get it in a presentation box," he said later.
A receptionist came up to Carver and told him she thought this may be the guy Donald Haack had been calling about.
Carver called Hughes; she rushed over with the photo.
Yup, it was the guy, Carver said.
He called for backup. Those officers arrested the Impala's driver, and Carver and another security guard moved in on the man inside and told him to put his hands against the wall.
That suspect, Everett Williams, 40, and the driver, Myron Drayton, 35, both of Tampa, Fla., were charged with larceny for the Northlake theft, Carver said.
When Carver had gone out to the Impala, he saw a crisp, collared shirt hanging in the window. It looked the same as the one worn in the Northlake Mall theft, he said.
Police also found clothing, bottles of cologne and several thousands dollars of cash. They believe Williams and Drayton traveled from Atlanta to Greensboro to suburban Virginia to Charlotte.
The loose, 2-carat diamond probably came from a theft in Fairfax, Va., based on a microscopic serial number inscribed on the diamond, Carver said. He's still not sure where the diamond stolen from Northlake Mall is.
"Guys do this for a living," Carver said. "They're good at it, but they get complacent and stupid."