It’s easy to think that bank heists, train robberies, and large-scale theft is something that only exists in movies. People plotting elaborate escapes for years, drilling through high-security vaults, and hi-jacking airplanes seem like nothing short of a James Bond film. Yet, believe it or not, things like this do happen.
And when they do happen, they go down in history as some of the most notorious heists. Some of these criminals were caught red-handed, and other mysteries remain unsolved to this day.
Valerio Viccei’s Got Away With $98 Million
On July 12, 1987, Valerio Viccei and his company pulled off one of the biggest bank robberies in history in Cheval Palace, Knightsbridge, England. Before this, he had been wanted for more than 50 other bank robberies from his previous life in Italy.
On the day of the robbery, two men entered the Knightsbridge Security Deposit Center to rent a security deposit box. Once inside the vault, they drew handguns and subdued the managers and security guards. They proceeded to break open the safety deposit boxes and stole an estimated $98 million. Viccei almost got away, but when he returned to London to retrieve his Ferrari he was arrested. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison and died in a gunfight during day release in 2000.
The Banco Central Burglary Case Is Still Open
On Saturday, August 6, 2005, a group of burglars tunneled 256 feet under the city into the vault of the Banco Central branch located in Fortazela, Brazil. Once reaching the vault, they removed five containers of uninsured 50-real notes, an amount estimated to be around $71.6 million and weighing 3.5 tons. The heist remained undiscovered and the bank was open for business the next day.
Banco Central is the central bank for Brazil and is responsible for the money supply for the country. Since the bills were not numbered subsequently, they were impossible to trace. After an investigation, there were 25 people believed to have been involved. Eight of the suspects were arrested but the accused leader of the heist, Luis Fernando Ribeiro, was killed by kidnappers. Arrests, recovery of the money, as well as kidnapping and murder of the perpetrators has been ongoing with more than $50 million of the money still unaccounted for.
The Baker Street Robbery
In 1971, a group of criminals rented a leather goods store in the vicinity of Lloyd’s Bank on Baker Street in London. On September 11, they broke into the bank after having tunneled 50 feet from the leather goods store into the vault. Inside of the vault, the burglars stole millions of dollars worth of jewelry, valuables and cold hard cash from the safety deposit boxes.
During the heist, a local radio officer caught the transmissions of the robbers from the vault going to the leather shop. When he notified the police, they scrambled to 750 banks in the area and failed to catch the thieves. Upon opening the vault, they found a message that said: “Let’s see how Sherlock Holmes solves this one.”
The Lufthansa Heist Kicked Off A 35-Year Investigation
The Lufthansa Heist occurred at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 11, 1978. The heist was planned by Jimmy Burke, an associate of the Lucchese crime family and was executed by a small group of men. The gang was tipped off by an airport employee that was in debt about a shipment of untraceable money coming into the airport via Lufthansa Airlines.
Using inside information, the group studied the airport layout, guard names, and protocols to carry out the robbery. All in all, they stole $5.875 million ($22 million today) of jewelry and cash. This led to an investigation lasting 35 years with various gang members being killed by one another and a series of arrests, the latest being in 2014. Above, alleged Bonanno crime family captain, Vincent Asaro, leaves a Brooklyn courthouse with his lawyers after he was found not guilty on counts of racketeering. He was charged in connection with the Lufthansa heist prior.
The Northern Bank Robbers Held Innocent Families Hostage
On the night of December 19, 2004, groups of armed men dressed as Police Service of Northern Ireland came to the houses of two Northern Bank officials in Belfast. The men held their families hostage, instructing them to go to work the next day as if nothing happened.
After testing the loyalty of their captives throughout the day, the burglars had the officials give them entry to the bank that night. Here, the burglars made their way to the cash handling and storage facility where they transferred the cash to a vehicle. The official’s families were freed and the burglars got away with £26.5 million in pounds sterling and as well as significant amounts of other currencies. It was later discovered that the heist was performed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the case was never solved or the thieves apprehended.
The D.B. Cooper’s Airplane Heist Is The Only Unsolved Hijacking
On November 24, 1971, a man who called himself “Dan Cooper” performed the only unsolved air policy raid in the history of flight. He purchased a one-way ticket to Seattle in cash from the Portland International Airport. On the flight, Cooper informed a flight attendant that he had a bomb and delivered his demands for $200,000 (around $1.2 million today), four parachutes, and a fuel truck to refill the plane upon arrival in Seattle.
When the pilot was informed, he notified the authorities about the demands and the president of the airline authorized the payment. When the plane landed in Seattle, the passengers were escorted off of the plane, and Cooper was given his ransom. Once the plane was back in the air containing Cooper and four other employees, Cooper jumped from the plane and it was assumed that he died during the jump.
Many Believe D.B. Cooper Was Robert Rackstraw
Even though many people thought that D.B. Cooper died during his parachute jump, it hasn’t stopped amateur sleuths from trying to solve the heist. For years, the number one suspect has been a San Diego man named Robert Rackstraw. Rackstraw was a high school dropout who became an Army paratrooper in the 1960s, meaning he had experience with parachutes.
Rackstraw was initially ruled out because, at the time of the heist, he was in his 20s and witnesses said Cooper looked to be 35-45 years old. Rackstraw later claimed to be Cooper but retracted the statement saying it was a joke. Rackstraw died in his condo on July 10, 2019, forever leaving the D.B. Cooper mystery unsolved.
The Great Train Robbery
The Great Train Robbery was the heist of £2.6 million from a Royal Mail train that was heading from Glasgow to London on the morning of August 8, 1963. With careful planning based on inside information from a man known as “The Ulsterman,” the group tampered with the line signals in order to stop the train at Bridego Bridge.
Led by Bruce Reynold, a group of 15 men attacked the train using assault force where they raided the High-Value packages carriage. Here, they subdued the workers and removed all but eight of the 128 sacks from the carriage, filled up their getaway car, and hid at Leatherside Farm. After the police found this hideout, it led to the arrest of numerous members of the gang although the bulk of the money was never discovered.
The Millenium Dome Raid
The Millenium Dome raid was an attempted robbery of the Millenium Dome’s diamond exhibit in Greenwich, London on November 7, 2000. The attempt was performed by a local gang with the goal to ram-raid the Da Beers diamond exhibition and then escape into the Thames River on a speedboat.
The exhibition had numerous jewels on display including the Millenium Star, a 203.4-carat gem worth £200 million and is regarded as one of the nicest gems in the world. However, the attempted robbery was foiled by the Flying Squad of the Metropolitan Police Service who were tipped off by the Kent Police Serious Crime who had been monitoring the robbers for previous crimes. If the heist had succeeded it would have been £350 million worth of diamonds and the biggest robbery in history.
Central Bank of Iraq
On March 18, 2003, the day before American missiles began to bomb Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, the world witnessed the biggest bank heist in history. Around 4 a.m., three trucks came to the Iraq Central Bank and began to load metal boxes out of the building and into the trucks. The boxes contained $900 million in U.S. $100 bills and $100 million in Euros.
The money was not taken by force but with a handwritten note that was written by Sadam Hussein’s son Qusay and signed by his father. Sadam planned to use the Central Bank for his personal money and the U.S. feared that he would use it to help in his own war effort. Out of the $1 billion, only around $650 million was ever discovered and Sadam had successfully stolen from his own citizens of Iraq.
The Harry Winston Heist
On December 4, 2008, four men, three of whom were dressed as women, committed one of the largest jewel robberies carried out in France. The group walked into the Marry Winston store in Paris, France tricking the guards with their disguises. Once inside, they took handguns from their jackets and corralled the people in the store into a corner while the others took almost every other piece of jewelry in the store including two storage cases.
In total, the robbers had stolen an estimated $105 million setting a record for jewelry theft in France. The robbery was believed to have been executed by a group that refers to themselves as “The Pink Panthers” and a $1 million reward was announced to anyone that had information about their whereabouts.
The Västberga Helicopter Robbery
On September 23, 2009, a G4S cash service depot was robbed in Västberga in southern Stockholm Sweden. However, this was no typical robbery, since the robbers used a stolen helicopter as a form of transportation in order to land on the rooftop of the G4S building.
The Swedish police were unable to pursue the robbers in their own helicopters because there were decoy bombs placed near them and their police cars had their tires blown out by caltrops the thieves had placed all over the road. This was the first helicopter robbery in Swedish history with $5 million stolen in total. Eventually, seven men were sentenced to prison although there were believed to have been more with the longest sentence only being seven years.
Brussels Airport Diamond Heist
On February 18, 2013, eight masked thieves in two police cars stole an estimated $50,000,000 worth of diamonds from a Swiss-bound airplane operated by Helvetic Airways at the Brussels airport. Prior to the robbery, the burglars hid in a construction site until they made their way to the airplane where the gems were being transferred from a van onto a plane.
The robbers stopped transfer while brandishing their guns and loaded 130 bags into their cars and drove off. The entire heist was completed in 20 minutes without a single shot fired and was believed to be an inside job. Then, in May of that year, 31 people were arrested in connection with the theft and some of the diamonds were recovered.
Antwerp Diamond Heist Was The Biggest Of The Century
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Known as “the heist of the century,” the Antwerp diamond heist was one of the largest diamond heists in history when it was pulled off in 2003. During the weekend of February 15th and 16th, diamonds, gold, and other jewelry estimated to be worth more than $100 million were stolen from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre in Belgium. The theft is believed to have been committed by a five-man team led by Leonardo Notarbartolo.
Notarbartolo had rented a space inside of the AWDC to gain 24-hour access as a tenant as well as opened up a safety deposit box. During the heist, the group made their way down to where the safety deposit boxes were kept where they forced them open and stole the contents. The diamonds were never recovered and Notarbartolo was arrested and sentenced to 10 years but was released earlier on parole.
Dar Es Salaam Bank Robbery
On July 11, 2007, bank security guards made off with $282 million from the Dar Es Salaam private financial institution in Baghdad. Local police claimed that two guards masterminded the robbery but there was also a third accomplice. The money that was taken was in American dollars with officials believing the thieves must have had a connection to the militias because they were able to make it through the checkpoints throughout Baghdad.
It is still unclear today why there was so much cash on had or why it was so easy for the robbery to take place. The heist was the second largest in Iraqi history, right behind Sadam’s theft of $1 billion.
The Crown Jewels Robbery
In 1671, the Anglo-Irish adventurer Colonel Thomas Blood set out to steal the Crown Jewels of England. In order to do so, he befriended the Master of the Jewel House in the Tower of London disguised as a parson with a prostitute posing to be his wife. After numerous visits, he eventually managed to convince the Master to let him and three of his accomplices go into the vault that held the Crown Jewels.
Blood and his companions clubbed the Master and bound him. They proceeded to saw the scepter in half, flatten St. Edward’s crown with a hammer and shove the Royal orb in their breeches. The entire plan ended up falling apart and Blood was apprehended and taken to Charles II. Instead of being punished the king found the whole thing rather funny and pardoned him for the crime.
The Great Brink’s Robbery
On January 17, 1950, the Brink’s Building in Boston, Massachusetts was robbed. At the time, it was the largest robbery in the history of the United States with $2.775 million ($28.2 million today) stolen in cash, money orders, and other forms. Named “the crime of the century,” it consisted of an 11-member gang who managed to get copies of the keys of the Brink’s depot.
After six aborted attempts, the group finally decided the night of January 17. Upon entering the building, they tied up the guards and took almost everything. Eventually, all 11 men were caught and received various sentencings but were all free by 1971 with only $58,000 of the $2.7 million ever being discovered. The events inspired the 1969 comedy The Great Bank Robbery, shown above.
13 Pieces Of Art Were Stolen In The Boston Museum Heist
In the early morning ofMarch 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers arrived at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The two were admitted into the museum claiming that they were there due to a disturbance call. Once inside, the two men overpowered the security guards and over the following hour stole 13 extremely valuable works of art by artists such as Rembrandt, Degas, Manet and more.
The paintings were estimated to be worth a total of $500,000,000, the largest theft of private property in history. However, no arrests were ever made and the paintings were never found. To this day there is still an investigation by the FBI and a reward of $10 million for any information.
The Wilcox Train Robbery Was One Of The Most Iconic Heists Of The Old West
In the early morning of June 1, 1899, in the area near Wilcox, Wyoming, a Union Pacific train was stopped before it could cross a wooden bridge. Before the employees on the train could know what was going on, armed men known as Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch” boarded the train and separated the train crew into different train carriages using force.
While some of the gang kept all of the workers in line, others went and used dynamite to blow up the train car with all of the valuables as well as the train tracks so that they couldn’t be pursued. The gang escaped on horseback with $50,000 ($7 million today) and the train robbery was one of the most iconic heists of the Old West.
The Hatton Garden Was Robbed By A Group Of Elderly Men
In April 2015, seven men attempted to break into the London Hatton Garden security deposit vault with one of the boldest robberies in recent times. The ringleader of the bunch was Brian Reader (top left), a 76-year-old career criminal who teamed up with other experienced London thieves in order to get the job done.
The men ended up burglarizing the garden on April 2, during a period in which the Easter Bank Holiday and Passover coincided. The men had entered through an elevator shaft and then drilled through the vault walls and stealing more than £200 million. However, by April 2016, all of the men had been apprehended and pleaded guilty to the crime.
Securitas Depot Robbery
On the evening of February 21, 2006, Britain experienced the largest cash robbery in British history. Around 8 p.m., the manager of the depot named Colin Dixon was abducted by a group of armed men. While this happened, Dixon’s wife and kids were also being held hostage at their home.
The entire family was then taken to the Securitas depot where 14 staff members were bound by heavily armed and masked robbers. As the hostages lay bound, the robbers got busy and stole as much money as they could from the cash cages. Although shaken, luckily none of the captives were actually harmed with numerous of the perpetrators going to prison.