Throughout history, clever thieves have found some interesting ways of robbing banks. From disguises to elaborate plots, history has recorded unbelievable heists. No matter the result, there is one takeaway from these events: Crime doesn’t pay—except when it does!
Bank Robberies Facts
1. Busted by a Selfie
John Morgan and his girlfriend Ashley Dubhoe robbed the Savings Bank in Ashville, Ohio in August 2015. The two crooks then took photos of themselves posing with the money and posted them to Facebook. After receiving tips pointing to the Facebook posts, authorities arrested the not-so-stealthy thieves.
2. The Money was Never Recovered
Allen Pace was an inspector for the Dunbar Armored Company, and he planned his robbery while on the job. With the help of five friends and facility passkeys, Pace took control of the depot on a busy cash night. They simply waited for each truck to arrive and overpowered the drivers. The men took almost 19 million dollars and managed to elude capture for years. A group of clues eventually led the police to the members of the crew, but the money was never recovered.
3. Small Time Crooks
The Brink's-Mat robbery occurred on November 26th 1983. Six robbers broke into the Brink's-Mat warehouse near Heathrow Airport in west London. At the time, it was described as "the crime of the century.”
Security guard Anthony Black helped the gang get access to the warehouse. Once inside, they poured petrol over staff and threatened to light them on fire if they didn’t reveal the combination numbers of the vault. The robbers thought they were going to steal £3.2 million in cash, but they found £26 million worth of gold, diamonds and cash. Inflation adjusted, they stole almost $500 million in valuables.
4.A Poorly Planned Crime of Passion
In 1972, John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile tried to pull off an infamous bank robbery. They didn’t wear disguises and made no effort to hide their fingerprints. The robbers also spent too long looting the bank, giving the police ample time to surround them. The resulting hostage stand-off became the basis of the Al Pacino movie Dog Day Afternoon.
5. From Ireland With Cash
The Donegal Square headquarters of the Northern Bank in Ireland was robbed in Dec. 2004, when the robbers assumed the facility would be flux with holiday season cash. The robbers broke into the homes of two prominent bank officials and held their families hostage, forcing them to participate in the robbery. They were able to make off with millions `worth of bank notes. There’s speculation that the IRA was involved, but the organization has denied involvement.
6. Among the Richest Heists in History
In 2007, guards in Del El Salaam bank in Baghdad were able to walk away with an estimated $282 million in US Currency. The guards slept in the bank at night, so stealing the money was easy. Unfortunately for them, it also made it easy for the police to single them out as suspects. The guards were quickly captured and most of the money was recovered.
7. Another Case of Oversharing
Hanna Sabata, the “mastermind” behind the Cornerstone Bank robbery in Waco Texas, was a troubled 19-year-old girl who was angry at the government for taking away her child and charging her with neglect. She had growing debt, and no means to pay it off, so instead of getting a job, she decided to rob a bank. She managed to make off with the money, but then foolishly logged into her YouTube account to brag about her exploits. The videos were so amateur and specific that they showed the key to the car she stole and the pile of money in the background.
8.The Heist of the Century
In 1992, a group of 10 conspirators kidnapped a family member of a guard working at the Bank of France in Tulon. At the threat of harm to his loved-one (and the explosives strapped to his body probably helped too), the guard cooperated with the thieves. The crooks made off with $30 million dollars, which was never found. Marc Armando, the suspected mastermind behind the heist, committed suicide in prison while awaiting a trial for drug trafficking charges.
9. In the Guinness Book of Records
The robbery of the Banco Central in Fortaleza, Brazil landed a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 2006, the criminals posed as landscapers working in a nearby building before building a tunnel underground to the bank. The tunnel took them to the base of the bank, which they bored into over the course of a weekend. The gang stole an estimated $70 million dollars, which amounted to 3 tons of currency. Despite capturing most of the gang, only about 10% of the money has been recovered.
Sign up to our newsletter.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
10. The Trench Coat Robbery
The Seafirst Bank Heist became famous not only for the staggering take, but for fact that the criminals wore trench coats. Despite the novelty of their clothing, the pair were professional bank robbers and were suspected in at least a dozen robberies in Washington State. William Kirkpatrick and Ray Bowman walked away with nearly $5 million dollars. Unfortunately for them, their conduct after the robbery tripped them up. Kirkpatrick was pulled-over for speeding, and a search of his car turned up fake documents, crime tools, and $2 million in cash. Bowman failed to pay for his storage locker bill on time, and when the owner opened it up, he found a cache of weapons inside and alerted police.
11. The Hillbilly Heist
In 1997, an employee of the Loomis Fargo Company set in motion a robbery that would net a $17 million-dollar payday. The mastermind was David Ghannt, a supervisor at the regional vault of the company. Shortly after the robbery, Ghannt went missing in Mexico. While he was gone, his co-conspirators spent lavishly, and drew attention from the F.B.I. Due to the participants’ lack of shrewdness, it was nicknamed the Hillbilly Heist, and was a popular subject on late night comedy shows. Around 95% of the take has been recovered or accounted for.
12. The Geezer Bandit
Nobody knows for sure if the Geezer bandit is actually an old man robbing banks, or a younger person in disguise, but whatever his or her true identity, he/she has been associated with 16 crimes across California. At each bank, he enters with a satchel or briefcase, from which he retrieves a threatening note for the teller. Information leading to his capture is worth $20,000 to the F.B.I.
13. Don’t Mess with Norwegians!
On Monday April 4, the NOKAs cash depot in Stavanger, Norway was raided by 11 heavily-armed men in black body armor who pulled off the biggest-ever heist in Norway. Despite warnings that the bank was a possible target, they were understaffed and underprepared because of the Easter holiday. The robbers got away with about $10 million-dollars U.S. and killed a cop in the process. The men were captured and convicted in March 2006, and sentenced to a total of 181 years in prison. In 2007, the court decided that wasn’t enough so they made the sentences even tougher!
14. A Justified Curse
In June 1995, four masked men burst into a Berlin bank armed with shotguns and pistols and took sixteen hostages. A half hour later, they sent a hostage out with a typewritten note demanding a helicopter, a getaway car, and 17 million deutschemarks. (About $12.5 million U.S.) After negotiations, a down payment of 5 million marks was delivered, but after that, they heard nothing from the robbers. Around 4am, a commando team burst into the bank, surveyed the empty room and exclaimed “Oh, f*** me!” It turned out that the robbers had previously dug a 384-foot tunnel to the vault, ransacked it, and escaped hours earlier.
15. Fleeing Down the River
In Monroe Washington, twelve men showed up outside the Bank of America in response to a Craigslist ad for road contractors. They were told to wear goggles, respirator masks, yellow safety vests, and a blue work-shirt. While they were waiting for the boss to arrive, a 13th man dressed in the same attire, walked into the bank across the street lugging a pump sprayer. The thief hosed down the security guard who was unloading the armored truck, and sprinted 100 yards to a creek that feeds into the Skyomish River. He then removed his disguise and fled down the creek in an inner tube. So far, there are no leads or suspects in the case, but they did recover the inner-tube about 200 yards from where he entered the water.
16. Prime Suspect: A Kidnapped Heiress!
The Kidnapping of Heiress Patty Hearst from her Berkley apartment made headlines around the world. Even more shocking was when she made headlines again, but this time for helping to rob a bank! Footage from the 1974 robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco showed Hearst wielding a machine gun. An apparent victim of brainwashing by the militant group who took her, Hearst was later arrested for the robbery and other crimes. She spent two years in prison before Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence.
17. Hollywood Robbery Caught on Film!
In 1997, two well-armed men robbed a Bank of America branch in North Hollywood. The ensuing commotion turned violent, and both robbers, as well as 11 LAPD officers and seven bystanders were injured. 2000 rounds of ammunition were discharged. Being Hollywood, the entire battle was captured on film by an aerial news camera.
18.The One-Eyed Jack
Robert Vernon Toye was legally blind, but that didn’t stop him from finding a way to rob banks. He could see just well-enough out of his right eye to lock onto the shoes of an elderly passerby, and follow them to the teller’s counter. Once at the window, he whipped out a playing card of a one-eyed Jack that read “be quiet or you’re dead.” He would make the teller think he had a gun, and once his bag was filled, he’d pull out his white cane and leave. Toye was also an escape artist, and after he was finally caught, he attempted to break out of jail 11 times!
19. Posed as Police
The heavily-armed gang of thieves involved in the Securitas Depot robbery in Kent, England posed as police officers, and kidnapped the branch manager and his family. They brought him to the depot where they tied-up his fourteen employees, and forced him to open the cash cages. The heist is one of the largest cash robberies in British history. Most of the crew was caught and convicted, but at least one member remains at large living off of the stolen money in the West Indies.
20. A Royal Inside Job
The Central Bank of Iraq robbery is considered the biggest bank robbery in history with a total take of $920 million. But here’s the kicker: the robbery was supposedly engineered by Sadam Hussein himself! Reports say that following the heist, a note surfaced that was signed by Hussein, ordering that the money be withdrawn and given to his son. His son then apparently spent hours with an unknown individual loading the money into vehicles and taking it to an undisclosed location. It’s unknown how much of the cash has been recovered, but it’s believed that $650 million was found during a raid on one of Hussein’s places.
21. Blasted Through a Church
In 1976 in Beirut Lebanon, a group affiliated with the PLA blasted through the walls of a church next door to the Bank of the Middle East, and got a crack-team of locksmiths to bust open the vault. The robbers got away with as much as $50 million in stocks, gold, cash, and jewels.
22. I’ll Have Some Wine with That!
It was the morning of New Year’s Day in Chelembra India when the opening shift arrived at the bank to discover a giant hole carved into the middle of the vault-room floor. The thieves had stolen 2.5 million rupees and about 120 gold bars. They cut their way through the floor from a space that they had rented below the bank, under the guise of building a restaurant. Less than two months after the heist, the police intercepted one of the robber’s phone calls and tracked all four bandits to the house where they were hiding. Most of the loot was recovered and everyone involved went to jail.
23. Four Guys Walk Into a Bank and…Vanish?
In January of 2006, four (or maybe five) men walked into the Banco Rio in Buenos Aires, Argentina and held the building hostage for seven hours. As they emptied the vaults, they allowed themselves to be surrounded by 200 armed police. They entertained their captives by singing “Happy Birthday” to one and releasing three others in exchange for pizza and soda.
When the police finally got fed up and stormed the building, they found the hostages unsupervised, and the robbers were gone. A search uncovered a hole in the basement that led into one of Argentina’s many underground tunnels. The tunnel emptied into the La Plata river where they escaped by boat. They were eventually caught, but only because one of the robber’s wives ratted him out to the police.
24. $98 Million Taken
In 1987, Valerio Viccei and an associate entered the Knightsbridge security deposit facility pretending they wanted to rent a security box. They then overpowered the security guards, and took control of the bank. Once their helpers were inside, they proceeded to clean out the safety-deposit boxes. Viccei was arrested and jailed. He later died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
25. Return of the Vader
Oddly enough, the Long Island robbery wasn’t the only time Darth Vader tried to rob a bank.
In 2015, a man decided to don a Darth Vader costume and rob a bank while carrying a large gun. The suspect stormed into the Federal Credit Union in Pineville South Carolina while the building was full of customers and employees, and demanded that the teller hand over cash. He reportedly made off with thousands of dollars, and fled in a grey four-door Chevy Suburban.
26. What’cha Doin in My House?
When actor Rip Torn tried to rob the Litchfield Bank in Salisbury, Connecticut, police found him drunk and carrying a revolver. He entered through a window, which he reportedly broke himself. The actor pleaded not-guilty, claiming that he was confused and thought the bank was his house.
27. My Lottery Winnings Will Cover It!
In 2007, two vault managers at the Agricultural Bank of China stole a total of 6.7 million dollars from the bank with the help of two security guards from the branch. They purchased three Chinese Lottery tickets with the stolen money, with the intent of winning a large enough prize that they could return the stolen money before it was missed and still come out ahead. One of the managers had tried it before and won, so he teamed up with the other manager to try it on a larger scale. This time, they weren’t as lucky, and they were later executed for their crime.
28.The Devil is in the Paperwork!
In 2007, a $300 million-dollar heist took place at London’s Sumito Bank, but failed when the hackers, unfamiliar with the SWIFT system for transferring money internationally, made mistakes in the transfer form. They unsuccessfully made 23 attempts over 2 days to transfer the money, and two Belgium men and the security chief of the bank were identified as culprits. The Bank Chief later explained that he agreed to the plan after it had already been formulated and his family was threatened.
29. Robbed his First Bank at 87
JL Hunter “Red” Rountree was left alone and aimless when his wife died. He had a grudge against banks after a loan nearly drove him to bankruptcy when he owned a business, so he decided to try robbing one. He walked into a bank and asked the teller for money without the use of guns or violence. He was caught on his way back to the car and got 3 years of probation. Less than a year later, he robbed another bank, and this time was sentenced to 3 years in prison. When he decided to try it again at age 91, he was arrested for a third time, and died in prison in 2004.
30. Picnic In a Vault
In 1976, Albert Spaggiari, along with a team of 20 men, broke into a vault in the Societe Generale Bank in Nice, France. Over the course of several weeks, they had carved out a 25-foot tunnel from the sewer system into the bank. They spent the weekend in the vault breaking into the safety-deposit boxes, and drank wine, cooked meals, and used antique silver bowls as toilets. The gang left no clues, but Spaggiari liked the limelight and couldn’t keep his escapades to himself. He was eventually arrested, but escaped from the magistrate’s office by jumping out a window. A waiting friend on a motorcycle whisked him away, and he spent the rest of his life on the run before dying in Italy in 1989.
31. Foiled by a Spelling Mistake
In February 2016, a group of hackers seized the systems of the Bank of Bangladesh. They used four stolen SWIFT codes to make the bank fire off requests to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, asking for millions of dollars to be sent to anonymous accounts in Asia. The bank blocked 32 requests, but authorized four. Those four allowed them to transfer $101 million dollars into untraceable accounts. A fifth request for a billion dollars was on the verge of being authorized, but a spelling mistake in the transfer form blocked it. And who says spelling isn’t important?!
32.The Nazis Took it!
The thieves behind the 3 billion dollars stolen from the German Central Bank at the close of WWII are largely believed to have been remaining members of the German SS. The robbery took place just as the Russians were arriving in Germany, and the nation was in chaos. Where the money ended up isn’t known, but it’s thought that either the Nazis hid it somewhere or kept it for themselves.
33. Robbed by a Robber
On Dec 10, 1968, a robber got away with over 300 million yen, stolen from a bank in Tokyo. It was the greatest bank job in the history of Japan. The money was loaded into one of the bank’s transportation cars, and was to be delivered to a local business. While driving, the robber was stopped by a policeman, who got him out of the car by claiming there were explosives on it. The police officer then got into the car and drove away. It turned out that the police officer was simply another criminal in disguise.
34. Not Exactly Sherlock Holmes…
Over the course of several weeks in 1971, a group of robbers dug an underground tunnel into a bank on Baker Street in London. They used explosives to break through the bank floor, and emptied the vaults. The police were notified that a robbery was happening somewhere in London, but had no idea which bank it was. They ended up searching 750 banks to find the thieves, but the robbers got away and took around 3 million British pounds in cash.
35. And the Money Just Disappeared
In October 1977, four million dollars was placed in what was supposed to be a very secure bank vault in Chicago’s First National Bank. At the start of the following week, the money was counted again, and officials were shocked to discover that ¾ of the money was gone! Nothing was out of place, and there were no signs of a break-in, which made the robbery all the more mysterious. To this day, nobody knows what happened to it.
36. Pizza Delivery! That’ll be $250,000 Please.
Brian Wells was a middle-aged Pizza Delivery Man who robbed the PNC bank in Erie Pennsylvania with fatal consequences. On Aug 28, 2003, he walked into the bank and passed the tellers a note giving them 15 minutes to place 250,000 into a bag, or else the bomb he had tied to his neck would explode. They gave him about $8000 and he escaped, but was quickly surrounded by police. Before the bomb squad could arrive, the bomb went off, literally blowing his head off. Before he died, he claimed a group of men had attached the bomb to his neck and forced him to commit the crime.
37. Billion Dollar Hiest
Moldova is one of the poorest nations in Eastern-Europe. In 2014, it made headlines when over 1 billion dollars was stolen from three of the country’s banks. Police know that a large portion of the money was passed through UK and Hong Kong companies, but the investigation met some road blocks. Internal reports detailing the activities of the banks were lost, and electronic data was deleted. A van that was transporting crucial files was also stolen, and the files burnt. Ilan Shor, a 28-year-old Israeli businessman and chairman of the board of directors for one of the banks, was tied to the robberies, but denied the allegations.
38. Women Can Rob Banks Too!
Monica Proietti grew up in a large, poor family, and was taught to steal at an early age to help make ends meet. When her second husband (who taught her the bank-robbing trade) was arrested, she set out on her own. Her handling of a machine gun and her nerves of steel made her a media darling, and Anglophone papers named her “Machine Gun Molly.” Her theft of over $100,000 from twenty different banks in Montreal made her one of the most famous and successful bank robbers in the city’s history. Her legacy came to a close when she was fatally shot in a police showdown on Sept 19, 1967.
39. A Notorious Villian of the Wild West
On June 24, 1889, Butch Cassidy and his gang robbed the Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colo., stealing the modern-day equivalent of $450,000. Cassidy walked into the bank and gave the teller a cheque to cash. When the teller bent over, he put a gun under his nose, and told his gang to enter. They escaped using safe-houses set up by the Sundance Kid. This heist made Cassidy one of the most hunted thieves of his era.
40. America’s Greatest Bank Burglar
The 1972 robbery of the United California Bank was perpetrated by Amil Dinsio and his brothers, and Dinsio was dubbed “America’s Greatest Bank Burglar” by the F.B.I.
The gang used dynamite to break through the concrete roof of the bank vault, and they stole $30 million dollars. It was the largest bank-heist in U.S. history. What made this case especially interesting was that the vault contained $12 million dollars of Richard Nixon’s money. At least $1 million of that had supposedly been bribes paid to Nixon by Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa. Dinsio was supposedly led to the vault by Hoffa, who wanted his money back.
41. America’s First Bank Robbery
The earliest recorded bank robbery in the United States took place in 1798 in Philadelphia, in the Bank of Pennsylvania at Carpenter’s Hall. Patrick Lyon, a young blacksmith was contracted by a man named Samuel Robinson to forge locks for the bank’s new location. With him was Isaac Davis, who turned out to be one of Robinson’s conspirators. After completing the work, Lyon and his apprentice fled the city to escape the Yellow Fever epidemic. When Lyon learned that he was a suspect in the robbery, he returned to Philadelphia to clear his name, but was arrested. After spending three months in jail, his name was finally cleared when Davis started depositing his stolen money in the same bank he had robbed. When questioned by police about his newfound wealth, he caved and confessed to the robbery.
42. He Traded his Lightsaber for a Pistol
Back in 2010, a man dressed as Vader (except for a pair of camouflage pants) walked into the Chase Bank in Setauket, Long Island, and walked out with a bundle of cash. One customer found the getup so funny, he started ribbing him when he walked into the bank. Vader wasn’t kidding around, however, and he won a shoving match with the customer before using his gun to order him to the ground.