These are without doubt the biggest, most successful robberies and heists of all time…
Although these days high profile crimes tend to involve computers and networks more than rifles and bags of cash, many of the biggest heists in history were pulled off without any technology whatsoever. All that was required was a sufficient amount of planning and of course a good helping of greed. Check out these 22 most successful robberies and heists and see how the masterminds behind them did — or didn’t — get away with the loot…
The Great Train Robbery
In August 1963, Bruce Reynolds and his gang boarded a mail train at Bridego Railway Bridge in Buckinghamshire, England and made off with £2.6 million or the equivalent of £50 million today. Although it was an enormous lump of cash, and most of the robbers fled the country, their luck eventually ran dry and they were all caught. Many books and movies were written based on this story, including Buster in 1988, named for one of the gang, staring Phil Collins.
Dunbar Armored Facility Robbery
The largest cash robbery to ever take place in the United States was an inside job, orchestrated by Allen Pace, one of the employees, on September 12, 1997 at the Dunbar Armored car facility in Los Angeles, California. The thieves made of with about $18 million. They were eventually caught and Allen received 20 years in prison. $10 million of the loot is still unaccounted for, the rest being found in the form of homes and cars.
Drumlanrig Castle Robbery
On August 27, 2003, 4 men posing as tourists stole a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, Madonna of the Yarnwinder, from the Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland using nothing more than an axe. Valued at around £50 million, it was stolen not for re-sale, but to hold the painting to ransom from the owners. They wanted £4.25m in exchange for its safe return.
Northern Bank Robbery
Smart planning, some hostage-taking, and a lot of guts were needed in order to pull off this heist in Belfast, Ireland that amounted to over $50 million. The night before the crime, two officials of the Northern Bank were visited by the robbers acting as policemen who then proceeded to hold both of their families hostage. Some 10 years on, the money has still not been found, due to the sheer amount of money taken. It’s pretty hard to launder…
Cellini Salt Cellar Robbery
The Cellini Salt Cellar, part enamelled gold table sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini, was stolen from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in May 2003. Surprising enough, however, the work of art was recovered in Zwettl, Austria buried in the ground exactly 1,000 days later. Eventually Robert Mang, a resident of Vienna, turned himself in after pictures of him were circulated around the web.
The Graff Diamonds Robbery
The Graff Diamonds robbery took place on 6 August 2009 when 2 men posing as customers entered Graff Diamonds in New Bond Street, London and stole jewelry worth nearly $65 million. The robbers used a professional make-up artist to alter their appearances by using wigs and latex prosthetics. The artist took 4 hours to apply the disguises, telling her it was for a music video. Although the robbers were all eventually caught, none of the stolen jewels have been recovered.
The Brink’s-MAT robbery occurred on 26 November 1983 when 6 robbers broke into the Brink’s-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport, London. The gang gained entry to the warehouse via the security guard. The robbers thought they were going to steal £3 million in cash. However, when they arrived, they found 3 tonnes of gold bullion and stole £26 million worth of gold, diamonds and cash. Most of the stolen gold has never been recovered and 4 of the robbers were never convicted.
The Securitas Depot Robbery
The Securitas depot robbery was the largest cash robbery in British history. It took place on the evening of 21 February 2006 from 6:30pm until the early hours of the next morning. Several men abducted and threatened the manager and his family, tied up 14 staff members and stole £53,116,760 in bank notes from a Securitas Cash Depot. All the robbers were eventually caught and convicted.
Carlton Hotel Robbery
The Guinness Book of World Records says the world’s biggest jewelry robbery took place in August 1994, when 3 thieves burst into the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes. Firing machine guns. They robbed the Carlton’s jewelry store just as it was being closed. They made off with £30m in jewels. It was later discovered that the rounds they had been firing were actually blanks. The jewels were present due to a display by Lev Avnerovich Leviev the Israeli Billionaire.
Banco Central Burglary at Fortaleza
A gang of robbers found their way inside the Banco Central vault, thanks to a rented house that let them enter through a tunnel dug underground. As expected of a high-profile bank in Brazil, the vault was equipped with alarms and various sensors, which were successfully disarmed. An estimated R$164,755,150 was stolen, amounting to over an estimated whopping $95 million. Although arrests were made, many of the gang are still at large.
Antwerp Diamond Heist
Leonardo Notarbartolo, along with several others, planned to rob the Antwerp Diamond Center in Belgium in February, 2003. The center is known for having many diamonds within its walls, so the thieves started planning 3 years before their heist. They rented an office building where Notarbartolo posed as a diamond merchant to establish ties with the company and its employees. The Italian thief and his crew were able to pull of a $100 million diamond heist. Even to this day officials are still puzzled as to how they did it.
Heist at Harry’s
Back in December, 2008 a few hours before closing time one man and three women came into the Harry Winston Jewelers in Paris to look at some products. However, what seemed to be simple window shopping soon turned into a $108 million heist when the 3 “ladies” who turned out to be men, ripped off their wigs and proceeded with their robbery. They were all caught and are now serving a hefty prison sentence, some for the 2nd time…
Schiphol Airport Robbery
The heist in February, 2005, saw a gang of 8 hooded thieves pull up on the runway in two black vehicles with blue police-like markings. They drove up the runway with the blue lights flashing toward the truck that just hauled in uncut diamonds due to be delivered to Antwerp. With almost no hiccups whatsoever they drove away with $118 million and pulled of the largest diamond heist in history. The vehicles were later found nearby burnt out.
British Bank of the Middle East Raid
In January 1976, £25 million which was an extortionate amount in those days, was stolen from the Beirut branch of The British Bank of the Middle East by a group associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). To get to the loot stores in the bank, the group blasted through the wall of a Catholic church next door. Over a 2-day period, the robbers loaded trucks with money, gold, jewels, and stocks and bonds. To this day, the thieves were never caught.
E.G. Bührle Art Museum Robbery
On February 11, 2008, 3 men in ski masks forced themselves into the E.G. Bührle Art Museum in Zurich and took with them 4 different paintings that were valued at nearly $139 million. All of them were genuine 18th century art that included the works of Cezanne, Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh. The thieves will have difficulty finding someone to take them, they are obliged to multiply their contacts and proposals. That increases the chances for police.
Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery
Valerio Viccei, a famous criminal in Italy, moved to the UK in order to continue his devious activities. Their target was Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre, known to have famous clients. He became a customer there so that he could rent a safe deposit box in order to gain access. On July 27, 1987 Valerio and his companions subdued the manager and employees, whilst the bank was closed and ransacked as much cash as he could, totaling £60 million. He could have gotten away clean to Latin America if he did not return to get his beloved Ferrari.
United California Bank Robbery
The United California Bank burglary took place on 24 March 1972, when the safe deposit vault at United California Bank in Laguna Niguel, California, was broken into and looted by professional thieves led by Amil Dinsio. While the burglary itself was executed perfectly, the thieves made the mistake of perpetrating a similar crime back in Ohio a few months later which eventually led to their arrest. Dinsio was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Millennium Dome Raid
On November 7, 2000, the Millennium Dome was a scene of an attempted robbery at the Millennium Dome’s diamond exhibition in Greenwich, South East London. A local gang had planned to ram-raid the De Beers diamond exhibition which was being held there and escape via the Thames in a speedboat. The attempted robbery was foiled by the Flying Squad of the Metropolitan Police Service, who already had the gang members under surveillance for their suspected roles in a number of unsuccessful armored vehicle robberies which had taken place.
Dar Es Salaam Bank Robbery
On the morning of July 13, 2007, employees at the Dar Es Salaam Bank in Baghdad were surprised to see that the bank had been ransacked and was completely bare. Security guards made off with over $282 million from its vaults. Following the raid officials were relatively quiet and unwilling to answer questions so not much more is known about the heist except that the 3 guards involved must have had inside connections.
Gardner Museum Robbery
In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, as the city was preoccupied with Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations, a pair of thieves disguised themselves as Boston police officers, gained entry to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and stole 13 works of art. The stolen artworks have not yet been returned to the museum. An offer of a reward from the Gardner Museum of up to $5 million for information leading to the recovery of the stolen artwork remains open.
Central Bank of Iraq Robbery
On the day before the bombing of Iraq by coalition forces on March 19, 2003, Saddam Hussein sent his son, Qusay, to make a withdrawal from the Central Bank of Iraq with the help of a note, thinking that he owns the bank. The process was simple, and bank personnel consented to the request out of fear. The 5-hour withdrawal period amounted to over $100 bills that totaled to $1 billion.
Although for some time Saddam’s scheme was one of the largest heists in history, he was topped by a waiter named Stephane Breitwieser, a certified art collector. He began stealing paintings and other works of art in March 1995 he successfully made off with over 239 pieces from over 172 museums worldwide, gaining a total of over $1.2 billion before being caught in November of 2011. He differs from most other art thieves in that he did not steal for profit. He was a self-described art connoisseur who stole in order to build a vast personal collection.
[Featured image credit: schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com]