Sometimes heists really are just like the movies: disguises, guns, explosives, turtlenecks, double-crossings. Sometimes, not so much: bees, lettuce, maple syrup, Justin Bieber. In any case, the daring and duplicitous world of heists always proves to be an endlessly fascinating and entertaining subject to delve into. Just don’t get any bright ideas…
Crazy Heists Facts
26. The Pink Panthers
Named after a series of crime comedy films starring Peter Sellers, the Pink Panthers is an international jewel thief network composed mainly of Serbs, and they are responsible for some of the most audacious and glamorous heists in criminal history. Targeting numerous countries and continents, they tend to just appear and reappear out of thin air. One of their more infamous thefts was the heist of the jewellery store Harry Winston in Paris, December 2008. A gang of four thieves escaped with more than $100 million worth of jewellery, all while dressed in drag. If you’re going to do it you might as well look fierce, right?
25. The Antwerp Diamond Heist
The Antwerp Diamond Heist, February 2003, has been dubbed the “heist of the century,” and is one of the largest diamond heists in history. Diamonds, gold, and other jewellery valued at more than $100 million were stolen, and the loot was never recovered. It is believed to have been carried out by a five-man team led by Leonardo Notarbartolo, who moved into an apartment next to the Diamond Center and spent three years posing as an Italian diamond merchant to build credibility. Notarbartolo was later caught (sans his stolen diamonds), largely because police found his DNA on a half-eaten salami sandwich near the crime scene.
Perhaps best known as the heist that inspired the classic gangster flick Goodfellas, the Lufthansa Heist took place December 11th, 1978 at the JFK International Airport in New York, and was the largest cash robbery in American history at the time. An estimated $5 million was stolen in cash and $875,000 in jewels. The heist also inspired the films 10 Million Dollar Getaway and The Big Heist.
22. Lettuce Take a Minute
Imagine: You pull off the badass heist of your dreams and police just resort to making puns at your expense on social media. After a truck containing $45,000 worth of lettuce was stolen sometime between March 31 and April 1 2017 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, police asked the public to “romaine calm”, and to “lettuce know if you have any tips.” No word on how the thieves expected all of the lettuce to romaine fresh after stealing it.
At least they’ll eat healthy…
21. Rare Books
In January 2017, three thieves drilled through the skylight of a warehouse near Heathrow Airport in London and rappelled 40 feet to the floor, bypassing the security alarms and making off with more than 160 rare publications worth $2.5 million. The books, many from the 15th and 16th centuries, included early works by Galileo, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and a 1569 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
20. Possibly the Most Canadian Heist Ever
26 people were arrested in relation to a maple syrup heist in Quebec in 2012. Police found that a staggering 9,500 barrels of maple syrup valued at $18.7 million had been stolen between August 2011 and July 2012, after it was discovered that the barrels in a St-Louis-de-Blandford, QC warehouse had been replaced with water.
In January 2009, $6.8 million worth of jewellery was stolen from Kaufhaus des Westens department store in Berlin. Despite having DNA evidence of the suspect, German police could not prosecute: the DNA belonged to identical twins, and there was no evidence to prove which one of them was the culprit.
18. Bee Theft
Apparently, there’s some serious money to be made in bee theft. A single bee might only be worth a fraction of a cent, but there can be as many as 65,000 bees in each hive; that’s a lot of potential honey to be sold. Earlier this year, about $1 million worth of stolen bees were found in a field in Fresno County in what the local sheriff’s department described as a “beehive chop shop.” The alleged thief, Pavel Tveretinov, used the stolen bees for pollination before stashing them.
17. Millennium Dome Raid
An attempted robbery of the Millennium Dome’s diamond exhibition in Greenwich, South East London on 7 November, 2000 would have been the biggest robbery in history—had the Metropolitan Police flying squad not been monitoring the thieves almost from start to finish. The local gang planned to raid the De Beers diamond exhibition, which was being held in the dome at the time. Among the jewels on display was the Millennium Star, a flawless 203.04 carat gem worth an estimated £200 million and considered to be one of the most perfect gems in the world. If the heist had succeeded, they would have made off with a haul of £350 million worth of diamonds.
16. The Gardner Museum Mystery
On March 18, 1990, guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston admitted two men dressed as police officers responding to a disturbance call. Once inside, the men subdued the guards, tied them up, and promptly stole 13 works of art valued at $500 million. Among these were exceedingly valuable works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Vermeer. It’s the largest-value theft of private property in history, yet to this day no arrests have been made and no works have been recovered; as of 2017 the museum is offering a reward of $10 million for information leading to their recovery. Empty frames remain hanging in the museum in homage to the missing artworks.
15. The Great Brink’s robbery.
Also dubbed “the crime of the century,” the Great Brink’s Robbery was an armed robbery of the Brinks Building in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1950. $1.2 million in cash and $1.6 million in checks and other securities were stolen (a combined total of $27.6 million today), making it the largest robbery in the history of the United States at the time. It was the meticulously executed work of an 11-member gang, who, despite leaving few clues at the crime scene, were all eventually arrested.
14. Doing the Right Thing. Eventually.
In 1993, Heather Tallchief robbed the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas of $2.5 million. She was a driver for an armored car company and just took off with the cash. 12 years later and tired of running, she turned herself in.
13. Biker Gang
In November 2012, a group of thieves rode into a London mall on motorcycles and went to town on a jewellery store with axes and bats. They took off with $3 million worth of jewellery.
12. “D.B. Cooper”
On a rainy night in 1971, a man the media dubbed “D.B. Cooper” hijacked a Boeing 747, extorted $200,000 (not adjusted for inflation), and then jumped out of the plane with the bags full of money. Though a lot of the money was recovered, Police still haven’t found Cooper. The FBI is no longer actively investigating the case but it has nonetheless cemented itself in American legend.
11. The Great Train Robbery
In August 1963, 15 unarmed assailants used a fake conductor signal to stop a postal train heading from Glasgow to London, boarded the car, dealt with the guards, and made off with the equivalent of $41 million in today’s cash. Police later arrested almost every member of the gang.
10. The Baker Street Robbery
London, September 1971: A gang of thieves rented rented a leather goods store as a front and blasted their way to a Lloyds Bank vault on Baker Street, making off with about $4 million (not adjusted for inflation). While digging, the crew communicated with a lookout via radio. A local radio operator caught some of the transmissions and called the police, who couldn’t identify which bank was being robbed, and scrambled to about 700 banks before realizing the robbers had gotten away.
9. The Banco Central Burglary
Another one of the world’s largest heists was the Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza, Brazil, 2005. The robbers managed to tunnel beneath the vault and made off with about $52 million. 25 people were suspected to be involved, and several of the gang members are thought to have been victims of kidnapping. Arrests and recovery of the money have been ongoing, and most of the dough is still unaccounted for. The tunnel was notably well-constructed, complete with rudimentary air conditioning and electric lighting systems.
8. The Banco Itau Burglary
Another one from Brazil, this time the Banco Itau burglary in Sao Paulo in 2011. 12 men dressed in grey uniforms made it into the bank around midnight during renovations, taking $58.5 million worth of valuables from around 170 private strongboxes.
7. Helicopter Heist
In September 2009, a cash depot in south of Stockholm, Sweden was robbed after a group of armed thieves landed on the roof in a stolen helicopter. It was the first robbery involving a helicopter in Sweden’s history.
6. Knightsbridge Security Deposit Heist
The Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery took place in July 1987 in Cheval Place, Knightsbridge, England. Career criminal Valerio Viccei and company posed as customers interested in renting a safety deposit box and overpowered the guards, stealing $98 million worth of valuables ($174 million today). Viccei got away clean initially, but bafflingly returned to the UK to retrieve his favorite car at a later date and was promptly arrested.
5. Saddam Hussein Makes a Last Minute Withdrawal
As the US rained fire on Baghdad in March 2003, Saddam Hussein sent his men and his son Qusay to the Central Bank of Iraq to make a little withdrawal. In total, the men made off with almost $1 billion in cash. Later, an army sergeant would find $650 million stashed in one of Hussein’s palaces, but the rest may never be found.
4. Blending in
This one is kind of genius: In 2008, a man robbed an armored truck outside a Bank of America in Washington after putting an ad on Craigslist looking for road maintenance workers in specific attire. About 12 of them showed up to the bank wearing yellow vests, safety goggles, and respirator masks. The thief dressed the same way when he grabbed the money from the truck, so when the authorities went looking for him, they found a bunch of dudes matching the same general description.
3. Probably Too Late to Say Sorry
Another notable heist took place a few hours after a Justin Bieber concert in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013. The thieves entered through holes they’d dug into the stadium Bieber had played at, and then carved out a wall leading to a safe room with the cash the venue had acquired that weekend. They made off with well over $300,000.
2. The Crown Jewels
In 1671, Irishman Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the heavily guarded (now there’s an understatement) Tower of London in England. Posing as aristocrats, he and his gang actually managed to swindle a private viewing of the jewels, during which they wasted no time flattening the jewels with mallets so as to more easily smuggle them out of the tower. They didn’t make it very far, but Blood amused King Charles II so much that he actually gave him his own title and estate in Ireland. Not too shabby.
1. Just a Flesh Wound
When King Edward I caught a thief (named Richard de Podelicote) stealing from the Royal Treasury at Westminster Abbey in 1303, he made sure it never happened again by ordering the thief to be hanged and flayed. Richard had stolen gems, antique gold and coins, estimated to be worth approximately £100,000, equivalent to a year’s tax revenue for the Kingdom of England at the time. a dozen of Richard’s accomplices were also hanged, and several (disputed) sources claim Richard’s skin was nailed to the door of Westminster Abbey to deter other criminals.