On December 11, 1978, Jimmy Burke, an Irish American gangster who was part of the Lucchese 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 £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.
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 acting 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 August 6th, 2009, when two men posing as customers entered the premises of Graff Diamonds in New Bond Street, London and stole jewelry 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 November 26th, 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 jewelry 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 February 21st, 2006, from 18:30 GMT until the early hours of February 22nd, 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 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 jewelry 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 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 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 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. 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 on 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 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.
E.G. Bührle Art Museum Robbery
On February 11, 2008, three men in ski masks forced themselves into the E.G. Bührle Art Museum in Zurich and took with them four 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. They were never recovered.
Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery
Known to be a famous criminal in Italy, Valerio Viccei moved from his homeland to the UK in order to continue his devious activities along with one of his accomplices. Their target, Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre was known to have famous and popular clients and patrons. He planned on being 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. The bank was closed and Viccei called for backup to ransack as much cash as he could, amounting to £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 March 24th, 1972, when the safe deposit vault at United California Bank in Laguna Niguel, California, was broken into and looted by professional burglars 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.
Millennium Dome Raid
The Millennium Dome raid was an attempted robbery of the Millennium Dome’s diamond exhibition in Greenwich, South East London occurring on November 7, 2000. A local gang including Lee Wenham, Raymond Betson, and William Cockram had planned to ram-raid the De Beers diamond exhibition, which was being held in the dome at the time, and then 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 completely laid bare. Three 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 guards must have had connections to local militias in order to get the loot past so many checkpoints.
SMBC London Robbery
A network of offshore accounts had been prepared, passwords and matching account details secretly intercepted. Using the stolen information, a team of foreign hackers smuggled into the bank and dispatched payment orders to every corner of the globe. Had the international gang succeeded in siphoning £229 million out of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), they would have pulled off the largest robbery in British criminal history. The elaborate operation almost outwitted security systems on the Swift (Society For Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) payments mechanism. But, unfortunately for the gang, some of the electronic forms had been filled in incorrectly.
Gardner Museum Robbery
In the early morning hours of March 18th, 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 thirteen works of art. The stolen artworks have not yet been returned to the museum. However, the investigation remains an open, active case and leads are investigated by the museum and the FBI. 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.
City Bonds Robbery
At 9:30 am on 2 May 1990, John Goddard, a 58-year-old messenger with money broker Sheppards was mugged at knifepoint on a quiet side street in the City of London. Mr Goddard was taking Bank of England Treasury bills and certificates of deposit from banks and building societies. The bonds were in bearer form and as good as cash to anyone holding them. The mugger escaped with 301 Treasury bills and certificates of deposit, mostly for £1 million each. City of London police and the FBI infiltrated the gang involved in laundering the bonds. The police recovered all but two of the 301 bonds thanks to an informant.
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 owned the bank. The process was simple, and bank personnel consented to the request because of fear. The 5-hour withdrawal period summed over $100 bills that amounted to over $1 billion.
Although for some time Saddam’s scheme was one of the largest heists in history, he was toppled by a waiter named Stephane Breitwieser, a certified art collector and now thief. Although he is not known for any single heist (ok, so direct comparisons to Saddam may not be so relevant), after 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.