What is it about thievery that’s so appealing to the fairly moral general public? Not when someone breaks into your house, or when someone you know is mugged, obviously, but in an abstract way. Maybe Robin Hood’s the root of the problem, or Bonnie and Clyde, or the slick chemistry between Clooney and Pitt in the better Ocean’s films.
Whatever the reason, whenever there’s an outlandish heist or an utterly peculiar robbery of something completely unexpected, there’s always a good amount of media attention. And maybe its the thought of all of those dollar and pound signs that make a reader jokingly consider just for a second what it would be like to steal an extremely rare animal, a priceless work of art, or a trove of bitcoins.
Just a handful of people step over the line, often through necessity or greed, but sometimes simply motivated by a sense of humor. Although theft is always hard to justify, it is sometimes extraordinarily odd. Below is a list of 10 of the most audacious, strange, or just plain weird crimes of the last few decades.
10. March 2003: Space Shuttle Columbia Wreckage
The Space Shuttle Colombia disaster, which killed 7 of NASA’s astronauts in 2003 was one of the worst in the history of space exploration. The returning shuttle disintegrated 39 miles above the earth in Texan airspace just minutes before it was scheduled to land. The wreckage was scattered over hundreds of miles, and was slowly located in the decade following the crash. Every bit of debris was of great importance to NASA, as they tried to piece together the cause of the crash.
Only four days after the crash, it was announced that two Texans were being indicted for the theft of pieces of the shuttle. Although the public had been ordered not to touch any of the wreckage, a student named Bradley Gaudet and a 43 year-old woman named Merrie Hipp (who had impersonated an NASA agent to acquire a circuit board) were convicted and sentenced to a possible 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
9. October 2013: Henry Moore sculpture
Art Theft has always been a glamorous affair, played out in between cocktails by tuxedo-clad gentleman thieves. In 2010 one of Moore’s paintings was stolen as part of three item heist from a gallery in the UK which was estimated to have netted the thieves almost $400,000.
However, the theft of Moore’s 1950 sculpture ‘Standing Figure’ from a Scottish estate is likely to have been carried out by individuals intending to sell the £3m artwork to a scrap metal dealer to be melted down. Sadly, this isn’t the first instance of Moore’s works being pilfered, in 2012 two men were imprisoned for selling another of his works for just £46.
8. January 2014: The ten-ton, three-storey high mango in Bowen, Australia
The most recent bizarre theft to hit newsstands was that of a massive fake mango from Queensland. The 10 metre high fiberglass fruit was widely recognised throughout the area, and would’ve taken a team of men and a crane to remove.
The international media quickly weighed in with theories, suspects, and a history of the fruit, but soon realised that something even more fishy was taking place when it emerged that the local police were not pursuing the case. It eventually turned out to be an odd publicity stunt for the local Nandos, who issued a statement saying that there ‘was more to come’, though exactly what that will be and whether it’ll have anything to do with fast food is yet to be revealed.
7. March 2013: 82-ft, 22-ton Turkish Bridge stolen overnight
The theft of the Henry Moore sculptures shows the lengths that scrap metal thieves are willing to go to to procure the odd chunk of bronze or steel. However, these small time crooks are completely put to shame by the villains behind the disappearance of a 22-ton bridge that used to cross a small creek in a small village in the Golcuk district of the western Turkish province of Kocaeli.
There are various examples of bridges being carted off in the last few decades, though none as quickly and quietly as this one. Exactly how a group of bulgars could silently dismantle such an enormous structure in such a short period of time is unknown, and begs the question of whether the local residents really have no knowledge of the identity of the perpetrators. A local commentator noted that the villagers now have to take their socks off and wade across the creek in order to tend the plantations.
6. August 2011: 594 pigs worth more than $100,000
Intricate security systems which make use of motion detectors, time-locks, and CCTV were installed in farms across Minnesota following the theft of 750 hogs from two different farms in 2011. The criminals were never found, but speculation as to the identity of the rustlers was rife throughout the pig farmer community.
A Courtland farmer named Tim Waibel stated that the thieves were likely to have a good knowledge of both the industry and the area, as the pigs were stolen at the perfect age for sale and disappeared without a trace. Because of the systems surrounding the sale of pork it is probably that the animals were held by an accomplice farmer before sale.
5. April 2013: 11,000 pounds of Nutella
The baffling thing about this crime is exactly what happened to the $20,000 worth of condiment that thieves acquired from a truck in Germany. Because it is likely that the boxes of spread were carried to another truck the criminals must have been aware of what it was they were stealing. It has been speculated that the crime is part of a wider network of food thefts in the area that have included five tons of coffee and a truckload of red bull.
4. September 2010: 30-foot-tall inflatable blue gorilla
As the Chicago Tribune elegantly put it, the theft of the 350 pound, thirty foot high gorilla is ‘believed to have been a prank.’ The inflatable primate went missing from the roof of a Kia dealership, and was eventually recovered early in the morning after it was spotted on the roof a local high school.
The gorilla (nicknamed Mr Pickles) which went missing is valued at around $4000, and is used in many of the dealership’s adverts. We can only hope that the identities of the students involved in the prank are known by some of their peers.
3. July 2008: Live Shark
Disappointingly the shark that was stolen from a British aquarium does not look like the one pictured above. Due to its rarity, there are few photos of the Marble species of Shark. The fish is in fact so rare that the shark was one half of the only breeding pair in England. Together, the two fish would be worth almost $100,000, but without its partner the 2-foot long female is only valued at around $16k. As a result the owner of the aquarium stated that they were expecting the thieves to return to make an attempt on the second shark.
2. August 2012: 720,000 Gallons of Maple Syrup
Although the disappearance of $20m of Maple Syrup was noticed at the end of August 2012, it is possible that the theft took place several weeks or even months before. As with all of the best crime films, the victims didn’t know they’d been hit until some time after the heist. The 16,000 barrels of syrup were drained into a tanker, and left behind to throw the management of the storage facility 160 miles north of Montreal off the sugary scent. The price of maple syrup is controlled by storing any excess product from good years, and it was from these reserves that the syrup was stolen.
Several months after the theft was discovered a facility in New Brunswick was raided by police, and a large amount of the syrup was returned to its rightful owners but no arrests were made. Much later on, in May 2013 the Maple Grove Farms of St. Johnsbury were accused of having purchased “hot” syrup from one of the kingpins.
1. June 2008: Jamaican Beach
There are some crimes which just too perfectly pulled off. The disappearance of an entire beach from the coast line of Northern Jamaica is one such crime. The local police estimated that it would have taken around 500 trucks, and a large team of men to completely remove the sand from the Coral Spring beach in Trelawny. The scale of these kinds of logistics has lead to accusations of political and police corruption, and black market hotel dealings.
When questioned by the BBC at the time the deputy commissioner stated that the complexity of the investigation was due to the many aspects involved in the crime: “You’ve got the receivers of the stolen sand, or what we believe to be the sand. The trucks themselves, the organisers and, of course, there is some suspicion that some police were in collusion with the movers of the sand.”
The sheer audacity of a this crime places it in the top slot on the list of the most bizarre, and although there is something funny about an entire police force scratching their heads over the disappearance of a geographical feature, the implications of the levels corruption are worrying. Three years later an $8-million ‘stolen sand’ lawsuit was brought to the supreme court by the owners of the beach, Felicitas Limited against three western Jamaica hotels which were being built at the time of the robbery.