No matter how much hard work and planning goes into it, not every heist ends with a joyous celebration and dollar bills raining in the club. Sometimes, even the criminal mastermind stumbles and is brought down by the long arm of the law. In this installment, we’re going to look at some heists that would have been truly amazing, had the perpetrators actually gotten away with them.
Stephane is undoubtedly the most notorious art thief, having stolen a whopping 172 artifacts from 1995 to 2001, when he was finally arrested. His arrest came after he was seen stealing a bugle from a museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, but his connection to the other missing artifacts was unknown at the time, safe for a slip-up in 1997 while stealing a William van Aelst painting that got him banned from Switzerland. Stephane’s $1.6 billion collection wasn’t for profit, but a personal collection that his mother wound up destroying in anger after his arrest in November of 2001. For his mass of crimes, Stephane only served 26 months of his 3 year sentence while his mother served 18 months for destruction of the property.
City Bonds Robbery
It was a terrible day for John Goddard, a messenger from a money broker who was transporting a heap of England treasure bills and bank certificates. These items were as good as cash – $454 million worth of cash. Goddard quickly became a part of one of the easiest heists in history when a mugger, known to be Patrick Thomas, lifted the bills. Though Thomas was never arrested, he was found dead from a gunshot wound over a year later and the gang involved with laundering the bonds were later picked up. All but 2 of the 301 bonds were recovered.
Dar Es Salaam Bank
This private institution in Baghdad was hit by its own employees, two or three guards that made off with $282 million in July of 2007. Questions as to why the bank had that much American money on hand were risen, but focus was heavily focused on how such a small team could make off with that much money without being picked-up at any of the city’s many checkpoints. After an investigation into the whereabouts of the money and who the guards were, local authorities came down on the involved trio, recovering the impressive amount of loot and putting an end to one of the world’s largest heists.
E.G. Bührle Art Museum
The ski mask may be a cliché aspect to heists in Hollywood’s greatest, but it worked well for the three burglars that lifted four masterful works of art from the E.G. Bührle Art Museum in 2008. There wasn’t some elaborate plan or masterful scheme to grab the Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh, and Monet paintings – just a quick “grab and go” and an escape van. It was amidst a string of art thefts in Switzerland but proved to be the most expensive, with the quartet of paintings being worth an estimated $163 million. As brazen as the act was, it was also stupid and eventually the three were picked up.
Knightsbridge Security Deposit
Valerio Viccei’s life may have ended abruptly in a shootout with officers in 2000 long after his arrest, but he will always been known for the Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery of 1987. Viccei and an accomplice walked into the Knightsbridge Security Deposit and request a safe deposit box rental, which were held in the vault. Once they were inside, just feet from their true intention, Viccei and his accomplice produced handguns, subduing the manager and the guards. They had the bank closed down so more of their gang could be let in to help steal the $98 million from various safety deposit boxes. It only took a month before Viccei and his crew were figured out and while the mastermind fled to Latin America, he came back a short while later to ship his Ferrari Testarossa.
Two years prior to the weekend of February 15th, 2003, Leonardo Notarbartolo rented an office in the Antwerp Diamond Center in Belgium. The mysterious man posed himself as an Italian diamond merchant, gaining credibility and trust of those that frequented the centre. Included in his rent was a safety deposit box located in the vault and a 24-hour access card to the building, the two things he needed to ensure the long-planned heist would succeed without a hitch. Despite Leonardo and his 4-man team taking off with over $100 million in diamonds, jewelry, and gold, stolen from 123 safety deposit boxes, the heist wound up being a partial failure. Shortly after the heist, Leonardo was picked up in connection to the heist, eventually being found guilty for orchestrating the event.
In Tonbridge, Kent, for the Securitas Cash Management Ltd depot on Vale Road, February 21st, 2006 started off as an ordinary day. Things took a turn for the worse when depot manager Colin Dixon was abducted by who he thought to be local police. During his kidnapping, his wife and 8-year-old son fell victim to the same ruse and were being held hostage in their home. The three were brought to the depot, where they were joined by 14 staff members and locked inside of cash cages. The armed gang made off with over $80 million, leaving behind another $230 million due to lack of transport space. In 2008, five members of the team were convicted of connections to the theft.
Mexico City’s National Museum
Banks, diamond retailers, and even art museums are heavy targets for the greatest heists, but on Christmas Eve in 1985, a group of robbers changed things up a bit and infiltrated Mexico City’s National Museum. With everyone mostly distracted by holiday festivities, the thieves were able to get in and out via the museum’s air ducts with their small possessions. Amongst the stolen artifacts was an obsidian monkey that was valued at $20 million, and that was only 1 of 124 different Aztec and Mayan figures and artifacts. The masterminds behind the heist wound up being two university dropouts who became obsessed with profiting off of archaeological artifacts. At the time of their arrest, only 13 artifacts remained missing.
Sometimes it’s just money that people take during a heist. The 2003 robbery of Drumlanrig Castle showed this when 5 men, posing as tourists, escaped with the famed Madonna of the Yarwinder painting. Why was the painting valued at over $70 million? Oh, maybe because it was an original painting by a little artist known as Leonard da Vinci. With nothing more than an axe to hold off guards, the quintet grabbed the painting and ran. The painting was missing for three years until, in 2007, the offices of HBJ Gateley Wareing in Glasgow were raided and the painting was found. Though the painting was valued so high, the robbers only sought to extort around $7 million from the Duke of Buccleuch.
New Bond Street in London is home to a prestigious diamond store, Graff Diamonds, which has on display a collection of magnificent jewels. These shining diamonds are among the world’s most precious, with some pieces being worth over $1 million on their own. So how does a duo of robbers make off with over $65 million in diamonds? Through the use of prosthetic, wigs, and skin-tone alterations provided by a professional make-up artist, the pair was able to walk into Graff, grab their payload, and get out without being recognized. A series of unfortunate slip-ups, including leaving behind a pay-as-you go mobile phone, lead to the eventual arrests of the two robbers, Craig Calderwood and Aman Kassaye.