Heists that involve the theft of millions of dollars’ worth of valuables are hugely complicated operations that require detailed planning and flawless execution right? Wrong. While the media image of heists will often involve convoluted schemes that are carried out in almost military precision by a group of highly trained criminals, the real life cases can be very different. Viewers are used to the vast majority of movies, television shows and books portraying large robberies as complex strategies that are designed by criminal masterminds. They will involve getaway drivers, money laundering ideas, gadgets, sophisticated plans, strict organization and of course, plenty of weapons.
But the truth is vastly different – especially in terms of some of the biggest thefts of all time. Although some heists involve plenty of planning, just look at this bank robbery in Brazil that saw months of operation to dig a tunnel under the building, they will more often than not, be more simple ideas carried out by incredibly desperate and brazen individuals. In other cases, a person might just sense an opportunity to make off with piles of cash or valuable goods, thanks to a specific circumstance and they can’t resist the temptation. Whatever the case, it is clear that many heists are carried out with such ease that they are almost laughable. The situations that sometimes allow people to steal millions of dollars can be unbelievable easy, in stark contrast to the Hollywood image of a great robbery.
10. Dunbar Armored Heist
The Dunbar Armored robbery is famous for being the largest heist of cash, rather than simply valuable goods, in the United States. It took place in 1997, with Allen Pace organizing a plan to steal cash from armored security vans as they entered the depot to deposit the money. The raid itself was carried out thanks to information that Pace was able to collect while working for the depot, along with the help of five of his friends that he let into the building with his own access key. From there, the gang simply waited for each van to arrive before overpowering the guards one at a time, removing the cash from the security vans and loading it into a waiting rental lorry. They eventually made off with $18.9 million, $10 million of which is still unaccounted for.
9. Musée d’Art Moderne Theft
On May 10, 2010, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris suffered a theft of five prized artworks with a value estimated to be around $150 million, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The lone criminal simply cut through a perimeter fence with standard tools before smashing a window and climbing through into the museum. From there, he was able to cut the paintings from their frames and carry them out of the museum.
The heist would almost certainly have been foiled, due to the lack of precautions or advanced planning demonstrated by the thief, if it were not for several security lapses. The alarm system proved to be faulty and did not go off while the security guards monitoring CCTV were asleep during the break in.
8. Canadian Bitcoin Robbery
In what was described as an incredibly low-tech robbery for such a modern virtual currency, a thief managed to steal around $100,000 worth of Bitcoins in, 2014. The heist was pulled off in an incredibly simple way, with the person just opening a chat window with the company that hosted the Bitcoin Exchange and pretended to be its CEO. While talking with the data center employee, he successfully managed to convince them to reboot the servers of the exchange and give him direct control, allowing the theft to take place.
Security experts theorized that the person who made off with the Bitcoins would likely have been an employee of the hosting company, someone who knew how it would deal with such a request. Otherwise, it would have been an incredibly brave person to have openly committed such a crime.
7. Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery
Masterminded by Valerio Viccei, who was wanted in his homeland of Italy for dozens of bank robberies, the Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery was almost laughably easy to pull off. On July 12th, 1987, Viccei and some accomplices got access to the vault by stating they wanted to rent a safe deposit box. Once in, they brought out hand guns and ordered the staff to the ground. They then proceeded to place a ‘closed’ sign on the building’s door to stop customers from coming in, while further accomplices entered and began forcing open the safe deposit boxes. Altogether, the thieves left with an estimated $98 million, a hoard that would be worth around $180 million today when adjusted for inflation. Viccei was eventually arrested and found guilty but spent most of his sentence in Italy, where he was allowed to live in an open prison in relative luxury.
6. Galleria Ricci Oddi Heist
The painting “Portrait of a Woman” by Gustav Klimt, was stolen from the Galleria Ricci Oddi, on February 18, 1997. When the artwork was discovered to be missing, police could not find any way that anyone had illegally entered the building to remove any of the items held inside. The sheer lack of evidence of any sort of break-in through conventional means, investigators concluded that the thief used a truly unique but incredibly easy method to steal the painting. Rather than risk entering the art gallery itself, the suspect instead climbed to the roof of the building, opened a skylight and supposedly lowered a fishing line and attempted to hook a painting that had possibly been cut from its frame or loosened at an earlier time.
5. Casino Armored Car Theft
On October 1, 1993, Heather C. Tallchief was the driver of an armored security van that was transporting money to a casino, when she simply drove the van away while the other security guards were inside the casino. She managed to drive the van, without any sort of police chase or presence, to a factory warehouse where the money was unloaded. Those involved then fled the country and seemed to have gotten away with the crime. In an unusual twist, Tallchief confessed her part in the robbery in 2005, a total of 12 years after the crime took place. She reported being overcome with guilt and surrendered to a federal courthouse in New York, although she put most of the blame of the theft on her then boyfriend Roberto Solis, who is also claimed to have the stolen money.
4. Stardust Sportsbook Robbery
The Stardust Sportsbook robbery took place in 1992. It was unlike many other casino heists or most of the entries in this article, simply because of the sheer lack of planning and any threat or violence to anyone involved. The theft itself was incredibly easy to pull off; a cashier working at the Stardust Hotel and Casino, working in the sports book, simply walked out of the building with around $500,000 in cash and chips, at some point during his shift. No security guards or CCTV caught the act and the crime was only discovered when workers turned up for the next shift. The cashier, William John Brennan, promptly disappeared and has never been found.
3. Marseilles Museum Robbery
On December 31, 2009, a man entered a museum in Marseilles, posing as a visitor to the gallery to admire the artwork. He walked up to “The Chorus” by Degas and out of view of the public and security, managed to cut the painting from its frame. He then rolled up the painting and hid it under his coat before leaving the museum in full view of everyone inside the building and the CCTV in operation at the time. Even worse for the Marseilles gallery was the fact that the artwork was on loan from the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. Police were initially flummoxed when the artwork was first reported missing, as there was no evidence of forced entry, with the unbelievably simple robbery only discovered after the CCTV was examined.
2. Croydon Airport Robbery
During the 1930s, Croydon Airport, once the hub of air traffic in London before being replaced by Heathrow, was used mainly used by Imperial Airways to transport goods and gold bullion in and out of the city. On May 4, 1935, three men approached the airport in a taxi, asked the driver to wait for them as they went in, and simply walked to the room that housed all of the gold bullion, loaded it into boxes and then left. The only security worker at the airport was busy due to an incoming flight, leaving the men free to wander around the airport. Only one person was ever convicted out of a supposed gang of five men and the gold was never recovered. It remained the largest robbery in Britain’s history in terms of the value stolen, until the famous Great Train Robbery that took place in 1963.
1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft
Very early in the morning of March 18, 1990, two people approached a side entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and buzzed on the intercom, claiming that they were police officers investigating a supposed disturbance. As they were disguised effectively with police uniforms, the security guard allowed them entry, allowing the two thieves to overpower the only two guards and tie them up. The two fake cops then took 81 minutes to load up their car with numerous paintings that were cut from their frames. The pair were never caught after fleeing from the scene of the crime and the museum estimated that they had lost artwork, including works by Rembrandt, Degas and Manet, with a value of around $500 million. This makes this hilariously easy heist the biggest robbery of private property in history.