An anonymous, disguised individual complete with trench-coat, sunglasses, and hat has been the staple of detective fiction since the beginning of the twentieth century. The mysterious rendezvous, late at night in an underground car park has been a catalyst in a vast number of books and films. These characters, though, are eventually unmasked at a key moment to reveal the villain or hero – but in real life this isn’t always the case.
Despite continuous probing from the media, rolling speculations from bloggers and real world gossip, some people retain their anonymity, remaining just off stage in the shadows, or walking in crowds unrecognised. Each of the people on this list have chosen to remain anonymous, though their reasons differ greatly. If some of them were to be recognised it would simply lead to a continuous hounding by the press; for others it would lead to their immediate imprisonment. However, each of the masked or mysterious individuals on this list share one characteristic; they’re all exceedingly wealthy…
5. D.B Cooper: $1.1m
The accounts of the events of November 24, 1971 read like the opening of a script for a low budget thriller: an unidentified man arrives at Portland international airport, books a ticket to Seattle under the name of Dan Cooper (a reporter’s mistake means that the name D.B Cooper is now more commonly employed) and boards his flight. As the plane takes off he orders a bourbon, lights a cigarette, and passes the pretty air hostess a note. On the note carefully printed capital letters in felt-tip marker are the words: “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.”
The plane landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport a few hours later, depositing its passengers and picking up a full tank of fuel, a parachute, and $200,000. Twenty minutes into the flight Cooper asked the remaining crew members to lock themselves in the cabin, and 15 minutes later the rear door of the plane was opened. At this point the pilot felt the plane’s tail shift as a weight was removed, and Dan Cooper disappeared forever.
Although the FBI investigators insisted that there was little chance that the man calling himself Cooper can have survived the parachute jump, the case file remains unclosed, and currently runs to over 60 volumes which detail over a thousand possible suspects. In modern terms the $200,000 would be worth just over a million dollars, and as a result there have been a number of copycat hijackings (including 15 in 1972) though none which achieved the same success.
4. Banksy: $20m
At the end of 2013 the world’s most famous graffiti artist spent a month working his way across New York’s five boroughs, uploading a photo of his work each day to his Instagram account. The range of reactions from New Yorkers represents the world’s mixed feelings for the forty year-old, Bristol-born artist. New York’s hipsters spent the month tracking their way across the city, from the Upper West Side to Staten Island, where they found people scrubbing the paintings off, charging for entry, peeing on them, or laying flowers.
Whatever people feel about the graffiti artist, his success is undeniable. His works regularly go for upwards of $100,000, but can sell for as high as $1.8m. The list of celebrities who own one of Banksy’s works continues to grow, and currently includes Brad Pitt, Ashley Olsen, and Christina Aguilera; many others have expressed an interest though some are now finding that they have been priced out by his rising auction rates.
3. Daft Punk: $60m
Although the identity of this French act is is technically known, they’re included on this list because their entire image is based on anonymity. Unlike their contemporaries such as Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold, the names Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo will mean little to those outside of the EDM scene.
From the late 90s, when the band began receiving greater publicity around the time of Discovery, the band began appearing in robot masks and gloves. As a result, despite their wild success the two men can pick up their own luggage from an airport carousal without being recognised by those around them.
Nom de plumes have been used throughout history, with many famous authors choosing to adopt pseudonyms – such as George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, and Lemony Snicket – for political or social reasons. The arguments for anonymity in modern times are greater than ever, with celebrities receiving 24/7 attention from rolling news websites like TMZ, and gossip magazines.
2. Satoshi Nakamoto: $400m
There was a wonderfully ‘farcical’ scene recently in LA, following the Newsweek article which claimed to have unmasked the creator of the digital currency ‘bitcoin’ which has received a huge amount of coverage over the last year. Journalists hounded Dorian S Nakamoto outside his house as he repeatedly denied any involvement, stating that he’s “not in bitcoin,” and doesn’t “know anything about it.”
Nakamoto’s involvement is looking increasingly tenuous, and speculation as to bitcoin creator’s true identity continues. The media interest is partially due to the shadowy nature of the elusive, genius hacker who makes use of the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, but public interest is piqued due to the fact that his stash of the first bitcoins to be created is valued at anywhere between $400m to $1.1bn.
The conspiracy theories surrounding Bitcoin are varied, and have only been fuelled by the nature of the internet. Some speculate that Nakamoto may be a collective group of people, but this hasn’t stopped various people like Dorian S Nakamoto being ‘outed’ as the billionaire genius.
1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Robbers: $500m
It was recently announced by the FBI that the two men who were involved in the largest Art heist in America had been identified. Although their names have been withheld by the FBI, who finally tracked them down 23 years after the 1990 robbery, their whereabouts is apparently known. What has happened to the paintings, or the estimated $500m that the 13 paintings would have sold for, is still a mystery.
The robbery is another story fit for the big screen; the two men tricked their way into the museum by wearing police uniforms, and managed to manoeuvre the first security guard out from behind his desk and away from the panic button by claiming to have a possible warrant for his arrest. When the second guard appeared on the scene, asking why the first was being arrested, the conmen responded “You’re not being arrested… This is a robbery. Don’t give us any problems and you won’t get hurt.”
The men made off with various Rembrandts, several of Degas’ drawings, a Manet oil, and an ancient Chinese vessel. They were, in fact, so successful that it was necessary for them to make two trips to their car. The thieves demonstrated limited respect for the paintings, as they ‘sliced’ several of the works right out of their frames. The image above shows how the museum decided to leave some of the empty frames hanging, in the hope that the $5m reward, or the FBI investigation, would someday lead to the paintings’ return. Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the F.B.FBI’s Boston office, recently announced that the case is reaching its ‘final chapter’. It is possible that soon, the identity of the largest private property thieves ever may be revealed.