Burglaries & Biggest Bank Robbery: 7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History

Patrick Lynch - March 2, 2017

Each year there are tens of thousands of burglaries and bank robberies around the globe, including at least 4,000 a year in the United States alone. While the majority of these thefts end with a relatively small haul, sometimes the perpetrators strike it rich. In this article, I look at some of the biggest robberies of all time; not all of the thieves were caught either.

1 – The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbery in 1990 ($500 Million)

This is the largest art heist of all time. It occurred in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990. A total of 13 pieces of art, valued at $500 million, were stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston. Frustratingly for detectives, no one has ever been convicted of the crime, and none of the pieces have been recovered.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
Empty frames hang in the museum as a reminder of the art heist. NPR

In what was a devilishly simple theft, two men disguised as police officers approached the museum’s security guard, Rick Abath, and said they had received a call about a disturbance. Abath was not a professional security guard (he was a musician), and he broke the rules by allowing the men inside. They quickly disarmed Abath and the other guard in the building and handcuffed them. The two thieves took approximately 81 minutes to steal the artwork which included masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Degas. Vermeer’s ‘The Concert’ was the most valuable stolen piece, valued at $200 million.

The FBI has taken control of the investigation and Anthony Amore, the current director of security at the museum, expressed his exasperation at the crime. Amore angrily states that the theft wasn’t elaborate in the slightest, because if Abath had followed protocol and phoned the police, the fake cops wouldn’t have entered the building. In his opinion, it was a poorly thought-out plan that got him lucky.

The police have yet to find conclusive evidence of the perpetrators, although gangster Bobby Donati is a prime suspect. According to Myles J. Connor, Jr., one of the greatest art thieves of all time, he cased the museum with Donati in the 1980s and believes his former acquaintance was the mastermind behind the crime. Before the robbery, witnesses at a nightclub claim they saw Donati with a sack of police uniforms.

Another gangster, Robert Gentile, is believed to know the whereabouts of the paintings as police found a handwritten list of the stolen collection. In 2015, he was recorded telling an undercover FBI agent that he knew the location of two of the pieces, and could sell them for half a million dollars apiece. However, those believed to be involved are either dead or are in prison, and appear reluctant to talk, so we may never find out who perpetrated the heist, or the fate of the paintings.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
Guns and money recovered from the robbery. Telegraph

2 – Knightsbridge Vault Robbery in 1987 ($97 Million)

This audacious theft took place in London on July 12, 1987. Two years previously, career criminal Valerio Viccei arrived in England to continue his illegal activities. Throughout the course of his life, Viccei was implicated in up to 50 bank robberies, but the Knightsbridge Vault Robbery is unquestionably his most famous. He enlisted the assistance of the managing director of the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre, Parvez Latif, to help him with the theft, which was surprisingly simple for such a massive haul.

The duo entered the Centre and asked to rent a safety deposit box. After they had entered the vault, they withdrew handguns and quickly subdued the guards and manager. One of the robbers placed a ‘Closed’ sign on the door and allowed more gang members in to complete the heist. They cracked open as many safety deposit boxes as possible and walked away with at least $97 million in 1987 value. However, it is likely they stole much more as not all the security box owners were forthcoming about the contents.

An hour later, new staff arrived to begin their shift and discovered evidence of the crime. The police found a bloody fingerprint belonging to Viccei, but instead of arresting him immediately, they bided their time and placed the thief under surveillance. As a result, they were able to identify several members of the gang and arrested most of them on August 12, 1987.

Viccei escaped to Latin America but foolishly returned to England to ship his Ferrari Testarossa to his new home. Police were aware of his return and arrested him in a dramatic scene where they smashed his car’s windscreen and dragged the fugitive out. Viccei received 22 years in prison and was transferred from Parkhurst to Pescara, Italy to serve out his sentence. He enjoyed the relative freedom of the Italian prison until April 19, 2000. On this day, Viccei was due to be released, but somehow got involved in a gunfight with police which resulted in his death.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
Securitas Depot thieves in action. Unsilent Majority

3 – Securitas Depot Robbery in 2006 ($83 Million)

This heist remains the largest cash robbery in UK criminal history, and occurred on February 22, 2006, in Kent. It involved more planning than the first two entries on the list, as a gang abducted Colin Dixon, the manager of the depot, at approximately 6:30 p.m. on February 21. Dixon was driving his car on the A249 when he was suddenly pulled over by what he believed was an unmarked police car. The fake policeman ordered Dixon into the car where he was handcuffed by other men in the vehicle.

The unfortunate Dixon was then transferred to a farm in Staplehurst, Kent, and at the same time, his wife and son were being held hostage by men in fake police uniforms at their home. The gang brought the woman and child to the farm and Dixon was told in no uncertain terms what would happen if he didn’t comply with their orders. At 1:00 a.m., all three members of the Dixon family were taken to the Securitas Depot, and the manager let the thieves in to begin their theft. The gang left the Depot at 2:45 a.m. and apparently left up to $200 million behind because they couldn’t fit anymore into their truck. The staff at the Depot were tied up and thrown in locked cages along with the Dixon family.

For such a seemingly intricate plot, it was woefully executed. As well as leaving DNA evidence on items used in the heist, a phone call recording of the plot was uncovered, and important information was entrusted to a member of the public. The gang foolishly recruited Michelle Hogg, a policeman’s daughter, as their makeup artist to create disguises but she quickly folded during questioning.

Police uncovered evidence at a remarkable speed and made their first arrests the day after the robbery. A total of 36 arrests were made by the end of June 2006, and ringleaders such as Lee Murray and Paul Allen received substantial sentences for their roles in the crime. Ultimately, too many people knew what was happening, so this robbery was doomed to fail.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
Security footage of one of the thieves dressed as a woman. Imgur

4 – Harry Winston Jewelry Store in 2007 & 2008 ($100 Million+)

Not content with carrying out a daring raid on a Harry Winston jewelry store in Paris in 2007, eight thieves completed a second theft at the same location just one year later. The gang were members of the notorious Pink Panthers group (named after the series of comedy movies) and perpetrated their first theft in October 2007. On that occasion, four armed men dressed as decorators entered the store at around 10:00 a.m. and forced the manager to deactivate alarms and open safes. Within 30 minutes, they left with hundreds of items of jewelry worth over $30 million.

Most people would be delighted to escape scot-free with such a huge haul, but whether they were motivated by greed or simply the adrenaline rush of planning and completing a heist, they returned to the same store on December 4, 2008. On this occasion, four men entered the store (two were dressed as women) and pulled out handguns. There is a suggestion that a security guard helped the gang on both occasions.

Within 20 minutes, the gang left with an estimated $70 million worth of jewelry. Detectives referred to the spectacular theft as the ‘heist of the century, ‘ but on this occasion, the gang did not disappear into the wind. Police discovered 19 rings in a plastic box encased in a concrete mold down the rainwater drain of the home of Douadi Yahiaoui. He was a suspect in the crimes and police tracked him down to the northern Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. Doudou, as he is known, was a career criminal and served over 20 years in prison for drug offenses and robbery.

An estimated 25 people have been arrested since the crime took place, and in 2015 the eight men directly involved in the theft were jailed. The sentences ranged from eight months to 15 years. Doudou was supposedly the mastermind, and he received the longest sentence.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
What one of the Million Pound Bonds Looked Like. LOLWOT

5 – City Bonds Robbery in 1990 (£292 Million)

On May 2, 1990, John Goddard was walking down a quiet side street in the City of London holding a briefcase. Nothing unusual about that, you might think except for the fact his case held 301 Treasury Bonds valued at almost £1 million each! As a messenger with a money broker called Sheppard’s, Goddard routinely carried these Bank of England Treasury Bills, but on this day, he ran into a mugger who relieved him of the bonds, which were as good as cash.

Police believe that a petty crook named Patrick Thomas was the mugger, but Thomas couldn’t be charged since he was murdered in December 1991. Five men were eventually arrested in connection with the theft, including Keith Cheeseman, who received a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence. However, he was the only person to serve jail time for the robbery because the other four individuals were acquitted due to lack of evidence. Bizarrely, during the trials of these four men in 1991, no evidence was offered, so they were all able to walk free.

An informant helped the police recover 299 of the bonds, and the FBI and City of London police worked together to infiltrate the gang. There are a few unanswered questions regarding the City Bonds Robbery. First of all, why was Cheeseman the only person convicted? And who murdered Thomas?

Police wrapped up the case relatively quickly, but it seems incredible in such a lucrative robbery that only one man suffered the consequences when the identities of other participants were presumably known. It is also remarkable that one of the largest robberies in history was carried out by a low-level thief using a knife in broad daylight.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
Digital image of what faced the thieves. Thuglifer

6 – Dar Es Salaam Bank Robbery in 2007 ($282 Million)

For a theft that resulted in the heist of approximately $282 million, the Dar Es Salaam incident in Baghdad, Iraq received relatively little media coverage. The thieves clearly used the prevailing chaos in the city to perpetuate the heist on July 11, 2007. At the time, even the local police and Iraqi Government couldn’t agree on the most basic details. Local police said two guards pulled off the robbery whereas the Interior Ministry suggested that three men were involved.

The morning after the theft, employees of the bank came to work only to find the doors unlocked, the vault wide open and the money has gone. There are a host of unanswered questions about the robbery, and to this day, no one has been arrested and none of the cash has been recovered. Why did the bank have so much cash on that day and why was it in U.S. Dollars rather than Iraqi Dinar?

It is likely that the men had the assistance of the local militias because there is no other way they could steal that amount of money and safely leave the city. To give you an idea of the utter carnage in the city of Baghdad at that time, a total of 18 people were murdered on the same day as the heist.

As the Nazis proved during World War II, it is much easier to steal huge amounts of money in wartime than in times of peace. Whoever carried out the Dar Es Salaam bank robbery took advantage of lax security and will probably never be caught.

7 Multimillion Bank Robberies in Crime History
Devastation after the robbery. Daily Mail

7 – Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in 2015 (£200 Million+)

This was an exceptionally clever theft perpetrated by a gang of up to six men. It had shades of Ocean’s Eleven insofar as evidence of the crime wasn’t discovered for several days. On April 1, 2015, electrical cables beneath the pavement in Kingsway caught on fire which caused major problems in central London for several days. The police now believe the fire was started by the robbers.

The following day, six men descended onto the roof of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, disabled the elevator shaft, and went down to the basement where they found safety deposit boxes filled with valuables. Then they disabled the security system and drilled into a concrete wall to gain access to the boxes. The men apparently worked all night, and after 11 hours, finally left with millions of pounds worth of jewelry. The gang returned a couple of days later and stole even more goods! The building was closed because it was an Easter Bank Holiday weekend, and although police at Scotland Yard received information regarding a burglar alarm being triggered, they didn’t announce that they knew of theft until April 7.

UK newspaper the Daily Mirror released CCTV footage to the public on April 10. By May 19, the Metropolitan Police Force announced the arrest of nine suspects. In the end, seven men were convicted of the robbery and received terms of 6-7 years apiece. The four ringleaders pleaded guilty and probably shocked police when they found the men ranged from 58-74 years of age. The four men had an enormous amount of criminal experience under their belts and proceeded to use a book called Forensics for Dummies to avoid leaving a DNA trail.

It later transpired that the gang benefited from a huge slice of luck during the heist. One of the thieves triggered a silent alarm and security guards were contacted at home. A call was made to Scotland Yard and officers should have been sent to the scene. However, there was a mix-up in the way the call was categorized, so the police were not dispatched. When one of the security officers arrived on the scene, he found that the main doors were secure with no other evidence of a break-in, so he classified it as a false alarm.

Police called in the Flying Squad, who quickly identified the suspects and made the arrests. The unfortunate Hatton Garden company went into liquidation in September 2015 because business dried up after the robbery.

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