Movies like Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job can make even the most law-abiding citizens daydream about pulling off a heist of their own, but crimes in real life rarely go as they do in the movies. Even if the robbers initially make it out of the crime scene with their loot, there’s usually some sort of evidence to connect them to the crime.
Raonel Valdez, for example, pulled off one of the largest gold heists in Florida’s history in 2012. However, after vanishing with $2.8 million in gold, a single witness was enough to put a private investigator on Valdez’s trail. After two years of holing up in several different places, Valdez was arrested this past winter and is awaiting trail in a Miami jail.
Getting away with a giant robbery for two years is unusual enough, but very rarely do the criminal masterminds get away with their treasures without a trace. These rarities do happen occasionally, though, and they’re just as brilliant and mysterious as you’d think. Read on to see some of the greatest robberies in world history, where the criminals’ prizes were never seen again.
6) The Stolen Tucker Cross
This 22 karat gold and emerald cross was rescued from the 1594 shipwreck of the San Pedro, a ship that was headed from Cuba to Spain, when it was sunk by a hurricane off the Florida keys. Explorer Teddy Tucker was scuba diving in the wreck in the 50s when he found the cross, which he has called his “most treasured discovery.” Tucker sold his finds from the shipwreck to a museum in Bermuda, where the cross was brilliantly displayed for many years.
In 1975, however, the cross was stolen, and the robbers left a cheap replica in its place. No one has an inkling to who stole the cross or where it was taken, but investigators have made the assumption that the robbers melted down Tucker’s prized treasure to sell the gold and emeralds separately on the black market.
5) The Gardner Museum Heist
Boston’s Gardner Museum is home to some of the most prize paintings in the world, but in 1990, it lost several of them to a perfect robbery. On the night of March 18, two men disguised as police officers tricked the guard on duty into letting them into the museum, saying they were responding to a call. They asked the first guard to call the second guard on duty to the front desk, where the robbers then handcuffed both of them and locked them in the basement.
The thieves then proceeded to rob the museum, stealing paintings including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633), A Lady and Gentleman in Black (1633) and a Self Portrait (1634); Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660); Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk (1638); five Edgar Degas’ impressionist works; and Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni (1878–1880). They also took a Chinese vase and a finial from the top of a flag pole. No one knows who the robbers were, where the precious works of art have gone, or how the thieves managed to smuggle all those items out of the museum unseen. The Gardner Museum is still searching for their artwork and the perpetrators to this day.
4) The Antwerp Diamond Heist
Antwerp, Belgium is the diamond exchange capital of the world, which made it the perfect place for a perfect crime. In February 2003, the impenetrable vault under the Antwerp Diamond Centre was somehow broken into, despite its heat detectors, seismic sensors and a lock with 100 million possible combinations.
The thieves escaped with $100 million worth of diamonds, none of which have ever been recovered. Leonardo Notarbartolo was eventually convicted as the ringleader of the heist, but he never gave away his partners in crime or the location of the stolen diamonds. Notarbartolo got out of prison on parole, and is still reaping the benefits of the diamond heist including riches, magazine interviews and movie rights.
3) Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology
In 1985, Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology was robbed of 140 valuable figurines. The heist took place on Christmas Eve, when the guards were particularly distracted from their duty due to the holiday. The museum’s security system had been broken for quite a few years, so the thieves had no problem slipping in and out of the museum unseen with their goods. The tiny objects were immensely valuable, made of materials like jade and gold, but small enough to all fit into a couple small boxes or bags.
The robbers climbed over the museums’s seven-foot fence, crawled into the building through the air duct, and smuggled their treasures out the same way. The stolen items had historic value, being of Aztec and Mayan origin, but they also had a lot of monetary value. Just one of the figurines, an obsidian monkey, was worth $20 million alone. The thieves and their loots were never seen or heard from again.
2) The Plymouth Mail Truck Robbery
In August of 1962, a group of thieves got away with stealing $1.5 million out of a mail truck stopped in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The mail truck was delivering a load of small bills from Cape Cod to the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, when two gunmen hijacked the vehicle on Route 3 in Plymouth.
The robbers were dressed as policeman and weilded submachine guns, which they used to threaten the truck’s driver and guard, who they tied up and threw in the back. The victims say the truck was driven to several locations for money to be dropped off, before they were abandoned on the side of the road in Randolph, MA. Neither the money nor the thieves have ever been uncovered.
1) Japanese Bank Robbery Of 300 Million Yen
In 1968, a small bank in Japan began receiving bomb threats from an unknown source. The bank notified the police and upped their security, but after a few days, nothing came of the threats. A short time after the threats were made, a bank car carrying 300 million yen (about $800,000) set out to make a delivery.
The police pulled the car over, telling the car’s driver and guards that the bank manager’s house had been bombed, and they suspected the car was the next target. The men got out of the car, and when they saw smoke and flames coming out from under it, quickly ran away. Then, the “police” got into the car and drove off with the 300 million yen, leaving a road flare and a smoke bomb on the road behind them. The bank manager’s house hadn’t actually been bombed, and the whole thing was set up to steal the yen. The money and robbers have never been caught.