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 sophisticated technology. All that was required was a sufficient amount of planning and of course…greed. These are the 25 biggest robberies, raids, and heists ever.
On December 11, 1978 Jimmy Burke , an Irish American gangster who was part of the Luccese crime family in New York City got permission from the Gambino crime family (who controlled most of JFK airport) to carry out a heist. That morning, before the sun came up, gunmen from both families entered building 261 and made off with $6 million. It was much more money than anyone expected though, and led to a lot of infighting after the robbery.
The Great Train Robbery
In August 1963, Bruce Reynolds and his gang boarded a train at Bridego Railway Bridge in Buckinghamshire, England and made off with £2.6 million or the equivalent of £40 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.
Dunbar Armored Facility Robbery
The largest cash robbery to ever take place in the United States this inside job was 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.
Drumlanrig Castle Robbery
On August 27, 2003, four men actin 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 $40 million it was recovered not long ago.
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. The officials obviously gave the thieves the access they wanted. The case still remains unsolved.
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 not long after. Eventually Robert Mang, a resident of Vienna, turned himself in.
The Graff Diamonds Robbery
The Graff Diamonds robbery took place on 6 August 2009 when two men posing as customers entered the premises of Graff Diamonds in New Bond Street, London and stole jewellery worth nearly £40 million (US$65 million). The robbers used the services of a professional make-up artist to alter their hair by using wigs, their skin tones and their features using latex prosthetics. The artist took four hours to apply the disguises, having been told that it was for a music video. Although the robbers were all eventually caught, as of yet none of the stolen jewels have been recovered.
The Brink’s-MAT robbery occurred on 26 November 1983 when six robbers broke into the Brink’s-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport, London. At the time, it was described as “the crime of the century”. The gang gained entry to the warehouse from security guard Anthony Black. The robbers thought they were going to steal £3 million in cash. However, when they arrived, they found three tonnes of gold bullion and stole £26 million worth of gold, diamonds and cash. Once inside, they poured petrol over staff and threatened them with a lit match if they did not reveal the combination numbers of the vault. Most of the three tonnes of stolen gold has never been recovered and four of the robbers were never convicted. According to the BBC, some have claimed that anyone wearing gold jewelery bought in the UK after 1983 is probably wearing Brink’s-MAT.
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 18:30 GMT until the early hours of 22 February 2006. Several men abducted and threatened the family of the manager, tied up fourteen staff members and stole £53,116,760 in bank notes from a Securitas Cash Management Ltd depot in Vale Road, Tonbridge, Kent. All the robbers were eventually caught and convicted.
Carlton Hotel Robbery
The Guinness Book of World Records says the world’s biggest jewellery robbery took place in August 1994, when three thieves burst into the most famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes. Firing machine guns, they robbed the Carlton’s jewellery 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 in fact blanks.
Banco Central Burglary at Fortaleza
A gang of robbers found their way inside the Banco Central vault, thanks to a rented house that led 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. Over five containers of 50 Real Notes were stolen, amounting to over an estimated $95 million.
Antwerp Diamond Heist
Leonardo Notarbartolo, along with several others, planned to rob the Antwerp Diamond Center in Belgium on February 16, 2003. Since the center is known for having so many diamonds within its walls, the thieves apparently started planning three years before their heist. They rented an office building where Notarbartolo poised as a diamond merchant to establish ties with the company and its employees. Known to be the “heist of the century”, the Italian thief and his crew were able to pull of a $100 million diamond heist in spite of Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, infrared sensors, and even layers of security to thwart them. Even to this day officials are still puzzled as to how they did it.
Heist at Harry’s
Back in December 5, 2008 a few hours before closing time one man and three women came into the Harry Winston Jewelers to look at some products. However, what seemed to be simple window-shopping soon turned into a $108 million heist when the three “ladies” ripped off their wigs and and the four men proceeded with their robbery.
Schiphol Airport Robbery
Before the heist in February 25, 2005, four men disguised themselves as KLM Royal Dutch Airline employees by stealing uniforms and a cargo truck to avoid suspicion. On the day of the heist, they drove to a KLM truck that had 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.
British Bank of the Middle East Raid
In January 1976, £25 million (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, a PLO-affiliated group blasted through the wall of a Catholic church next door to the bank. Over a two-day period, the robbers loaded trucks with money, gold, jewels, and stocks and bonds. The thieves were never caught.