Even in our digital era, the smallest bank branch still holds a stash of cash. To criminal minds, it’s the ultimate temptation, and to some, it’s a challenge that's just waiting for the right approach. Any bank robbery can be a dangerous and even traumatic situation for the employees and customers who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, in certain cases, the circumstances are uniquely shocking.
Sometimes, it’s the amounts involved that are staggering. Other times, it’s the preparation and execution of the heist that takes it to the next level. The kind of planning, time, effort, and diligence that can go into a big bank heist are staggering. In some instances, it’s the sheer daring and personalities of the crooks that make their deeds exceptional.
We’ve scoured the records to find 15 cases where crooks took it over the top. We’ll point out, however, that despite meticulous planning and even violence in some cases, the majority of the robbers do get caught in the end. So – don’t try this at home.
15 UFC Fighter Pulls Off Securitas Depot Robbery
Billed as the largest cash robbery in Great Britain when it took place back in 2006, the Securitas Depot heist was masterminded by former UFC fighter "Lightning" Lee Murray. The plot was brutal. First, the night before the robbery, the thieves kidnapped the bank manager by masquerading as plainclothes cops. They took him to a remote farm, while another group kidnapped his wife and child and brought them to the same location. With his family under threat, the manager returned to the branch with the thieves in the early hours of the morning. Once their van was inside the bank, the gang overpowered security guards and let the rest of the thieves, armed with weapons that included an AK-47, into the bank. After the bank manager deactivated the alarms, the thieves helped themselves. One of the gang had previously cased the joint and taken pics, so they knew exactly where to go. At that, the gang had to leave £153 million behind because they didn't have any more room in the truck. Murray didn't enjoy the money for long, however. He was caught about four months later in Morocco, where police also discovered drugs. He's now serving a 25-year sentence in that country.
14 $500K In 2 Minutes: The Trash-Talk Bandits
The Trash-Talking Bandits walked into a Wells Fargo bank in Westminster, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, in January 2014. The armed robbers they proceeded to threaten, beat, and verbally abuse about 40 customers and bank employees before making off with about $500,000. The whole thing took only about two minutes and was the largest cash robbery in Colorado history. The men were believed to be in their 20s and escaped in a black Cherokee that they abandoned not far from the bank. Then, in a stunning development about five weeks later, Denver lawyer Michael Pellow contacted the FBI and made arrangements to return some of the stolen money. The exact amount that was returned was not revealed to the media, and Pellow refused to say who had brought it to him. Despite the return of the money, the FBI has offered a reward of $50K for information leading to the crooks' arrest, but so far, they're still at large.
13 The Model And The Bank Robber
An aspiring model and a bank robber get together, and the result is mayhem – at least for a while. Their numbers may not be as big as some of the others on the list, but the odd couple of Abigail Kemp, 24, and Lewis Jones, 35, made up for it with flair. They were responsible for a rash of bank and jewel heists in Georgia and the southern states during 2015 and 2016 that netted them millions. Friends from her school days describe Kemp as a rich girl gone bad who had been expelled from expensive private schools and was hanging with criminal elements in her teens. But it doesn’t sound like either of them had really thought out the whole criminal lifestyle thing. Abigail was taped during several jewelry store robberies, and once the pictures circulated in the media, her neighbors were only too eager to call the cops to rat on the pretty lady who wore expensive bling. Hottie Abigail was dubbed "the Diamond Diva" and was a media sensation when she was finally captured along with Jones and a number of accomplices. None of the jewels or cash was ever recovered, and the FBI believed the pair and their gang were acting on behalf of a foreign gang who moved the loot overseas.
12 The Patty Hearst Heist
Patty Hearst was a privileged teen when she was kidnapped by a revolutionary group calling themselves the "Symbionese Liberation Army" or "SLA" in 1974. Hearst was the granddaughter of Randolph Hearst, the legendary founder of the publishing empire that still bears his name. Once the SLA captured her, the small group of only 20 members kept Patty locked in a closet and threatened her with death and violence. After weeks of captivity, she went through a process that's now recognized as a reaction to the trauma of kidnapping and actually started to sympathize with her captors. In return for her allegiance, she got out of the closet and became sympathetic to the group's radical ethos, which included armed bank robbery to fund their activities. In April 1974, security cameras captured Patty taking part in the robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. Despite the fact that the FBI noted that the other gang members pointed guns directly at Patty during the robbery, a grand jury indicted her for her role in the heist. She eventually was caught and served two years in jail before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. President Bill Clinton subsequently granted her a full pardon.
11 North Hollywood Robbery And Shootout
The notorious armed robbery and subsequent shootout that took place in North Hollywood in 1997 changed the LAPD and American policing forever. On that fateful day in February, two heavily armed robbers entered a Bank of America branch and took their haul. But police were quick to arrive on the scene, and things got bloody. It being Hollywood, TV cameras were also quickly on the scene, capturing the tense standoff that went on for a very long 44 minutes. The robbers were better armed than police and stood like something out of a movie, firing machine-gun rounds into a crowd of cops and tactical units that eventually filled the entire street. News helicopters circled overhead, providing the city and the rest of the world with a blow-by-blow view of the incredible battle. More than 2,000 rounds were fired, and while the cops were outgunned, they had numbers and training and eventually got through the crooks’ tactical armor. Then, a SWAT team arrived on scene to even up the firepower. Both robbers ended up a bloody mess on the street, with 11 cops and 8 passersby injured. As a result of the shocking street battle, the LAPD upgraded cops' weaponry, (a move followed by other police forces), and the city itself passed legislation restricting gun ownership.
10 Loomis Fargo and Company: The Driver Goes Rogue
Loomis Fargo, the amalgamation of two older corporations, was still a new company in 1997 when it was hit with a daring heist. Philip Noel Johnson worked for the company as an armored car driver in Florida. One day, after ten years at the job, he decided to give into what has to be every armored car drivers’ temptation. He overpowered his co-workers and took off with about $18 million, kidnapping two of the company’s guards at gunpoint. They were later released unharmed, and Johnson stashed the dough in a shed in North Carolina. He spent a few months on the lam in Mexico but was nabbed when he tried to re-enter the US on a bus. Local newspapers reported that Johnson was sobbing as he was sentenced to 25 years, claiming that he had intended on returning most of the money to the company in exchange for better treatment of his co-workers. He also claimed to be planning on building homes for the poor. The judge wasn't convinced – and there's no parole for federal inmates. Shockingly, the company was hit with a second major theft just a few months later.
9 The Stopwatch Gang
Three Canadian crooks committed a stunning 100+ armed bank robberies across Canada and the United States, beginning in Canada in 1973 with a daring $750,000 gold heist from the airport in Ottawa. By 1976, Paddy Mitchell, Lionel Wright, and Stephen Reid ended up in prison in Canada but only temporarily. After Reid and Wright had already escaped from prison, Mitchell faked a heart attack by poisoning himself with nicotine from his cigarettes. When he was taken to the hospital, the ambulance was met by his cronies, Reid and Wright, who locked his guards in the back of the ambulance and took off. They made it to the States, where they began their bank-robbing career in Florida, later ending up in California. That's where they were eventually captured in 1980. It was the FBI that dubbed the three as the "Stopwatch Gang," based on their meticulous and well-planned operations. The gang robbed banks in 90 seconds or less, and the leader actually wore a stopwatch to time them. It allowed them to completely avoid responding police, and so they never resorted to violence. The three were also known for their politeness when dealing with bank customers and employees.
8 First American Bank Heist Caught On Camera
A latter-day Bonnie and Clyde duo committed the first American bank robbery ever to be captured on film. In April 1957, Steven Ray Thomas and Wanda Di Cenzi walked into the St. Claire Saving and Loan in Cleveland, Ohio and drew guns. They ordered the bank’s employees to fill bags with cash, which amounted to $2,376. The bank, as it turned out, had installed a newfangled surveillance system just a day before, and cameras captured the duo at work. Naturally, there was no video at the time, but one of the bank tellers was savvy enough to be able to activate the camera secretly to take a total of 14 pictures of the criminals at work. The pics may look grainy to us now, but they did the trick. After they were circulated by police, the two, along with the driver of the getaway car, were identified and captured by the cops.
7 The Knightsbridge Security Heist
The infamous Knightsbridge Security Heist went down on July 12, 1987 in the City of Westminster, part of London, UK. Italian immigrant Valerio Viccei was already wanted for 50 armed robberies in his native country before he arrived in London in 1986. He was a colorful character with a hard-partying, playboy lifestyle. Lucky for Valerio, the manager of the Knightsbridge Security Deposit was a cocaine addict who owed the mob large, giving him a man on the inside. The heist began when two members of the gang entered the institution and asked to rent a safe deposit box. Once they were inside the vault, guns came out, and they put a "temporarily closed" sign on the door. The robbery netted Valerio and his gang an incredible £60 million, or about 98 million USD at the time, making it one of the largest robberies of all time. Valerio got the money, but he left a bloody fingerprint, and while he fled in South America for a while, he was caught when he came back to the UK to pick up his Ferrari Testarossa.
6 Brazilian Central Bank in Fortaleza Robbery
At a cool 165 million reais or about 70 million USD, the Brazilian Central Bank in Fortaleza heist made the Guinness Book of World Records, although the absolute title of largest bank robbery is arguable. This one reads like a Hollywood script – crooks set themselves up as a landscaping company and moved into a building near a bank. Over about three months, they dug an elaborate tunnel 256 feet long underneath two city blocks. They even equipped it with lighting and air conditioning. Then, between the evening of August 6 and August 7, 2005, they smashed their way into the bank’s vault from below. That’s no mean feat – it was about four feet of reinforced concrete. From the vault, they took the cash in five containers that weighed over 7,700 pounds. A few of the suspects were apprehended, but most remain at large, including a career bank robber who, along with most of the cash, escaped prison via a tunnel.
5 British Bank Of The Middle East, Lebanon
No one’s exactly sure how much was stolen from the British Bank of the Middle East in Beirut, Lebanon in 1976. In fact, no one’s sure exactly when the theft started and when it ended, although the estimates are that about 200 million USD in cash, gold bars, jewels, and stocks were lifted from the bank over a couple of weeks as the country’s bloody civil war raged on the streets of the city. What is known is that a gang associated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, led at the time by Yasser Arafat, decided to help themselves to what they could while chaos reigned. The story goes that Corsican locksmiths aided the revolutionary thieves in entering the bank and plundering what they could lay their hands on. By the time the theft was discovered, the bank building had been reduced to near rubble by bombings. Rumor has it that the dude behind it was the infamous Abu Hassan, the terrorist who masterminded the violent 1972 Munich Olympics attacks on Israeli athletes. Terrorism is expensive, we guess.
4 The Brinks Job
When it happened in Boston in 1950, the Brinks heist was dubbed the “crime of the century.” For that era, the haul of $2.7 million was enormous, and the planning for the crime was slick and smooth. On a frosty January morning, seven armed robbers walked into the Brinks Building on Prince Street, which was a depot for the company’s armored cars. All of the crooks were dressed identically in navy coats, gloves, and caps and were sporting Halloween masks. They even wore the same shoes. They marched straight into the room where bank employees were counting the dough and made off with cash, checks, and securities, while leaving behind only a cap, along with the tape they’d used to tie up the workers, as a clue. The thieves barely spoke, and the robbery went smoothly; the gang had staked out the place for more than a year and had accessed details of the alarm system. They split the money and made a pact to go straight for at least six years. But, one of the gang had to serve a prison sentence for an unrelated crime, and once he was inside, he started to worry that he'd be ripped off. He ended up making a deal with the cops and ratted out the rest of the gang. Eight of them were sent to jail, but most of the money was never recovered.
3 Stockholm Syndrome
The bank robbery that gave us the term “Stockholm Syndrome” happened in August of 1973. Jan-Erik Olsson, a career criminal, along with a prison buddy by the name of "Clark Olofsson," attempted to rob the Kreditbanken in Stockholm. The operation quickly went sideways, however, and ended up with police surrounding the building. As heavily armed cops camped outside, the pair took four bank employees hostage and began a bizarre five-day long negotiation with police. The pair demanded money, guns, bulletproof vests, and a car. Things started to get weird. One day, the prime minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, received a call from the robbers, telling him the hostages would die if their demands weren’t met. The next day, the PM got another call, this time from one of the hostages, who wanted to know if they could escape with the criminals! Eventually, police used gas cartridges to immobilize the crooks and arrested them. The hostages, however, came to the robbers’ defense and told police the robbers had saved their lives. A Swedish psychiatrist who worked with police is credited with coining the term "Stockholm Syndrome" to describe the hostages’ emotional shift from fear to sympathy.
2 Hackers Steal $45 Million
There are no dramatic photos of this heist, just a successful bank machine run by one of the hackers responsible for what police said amounted to about $45 million in stolen funds. The group of seven cybercriminals came from Yonkers, New York, and used weaknesses in the way banks and other companies process payments to hack prepaid debit cards. The gang, while based in the US, operated in 26 countries. Without a single shot fired, the group managed to siphon away the funds by hacking into credit card company systems to bypass withdrawal limits for prepaid Mastercards. The Bank of Muscat was targeted, in particular, and took pretty much the entire hit of $45 million. Police and law enforcement in Japan, Canada, Germany, and 13 other countries took part in the investigation along with US prosecutors, and the gang was arrested in 2013. The technique they used is called “unlimited operation” since there's the potential to snag unlimited amounts by overriding withdrawal limits.
1 Northern Bank Robbery, Belfast
The IRA is credited with masterminding this spectacular heist that netted them £26.5 million, or over 50 million USD at the exchange rate of the time in 2004. It was the biggest cash heist in UK history, and the highest levels of the IRA were believed to have been involved in planning the deed. On a Sunday evening, gangs of armed men showed up at the homes of two bank officials, taking their families hostage at gunpoint. The bank officials were then forced to report for work Monday as if everything was normal. According to the crooks' instructions, the dudes from the bank removed cash in a sports bag then met up with the robbers outside in a maneuver caught on CCTV. It was a test run. The two bank employees then finished their work day as usual. After hours, they let the gang into the bank, where they helped themselves. The hostages were released unharmed. Despite an enormous number of police and resources attached to the case, no one has been successfully prosecuted, and the money was never recovered. One man received a suspended sentence for money laundering, and another was charged, but the case fell apart. The robbery even affected peace negotiations in Northern Ireland at the time and nearly derailed the process. Police believe the IRA may still actually be sitting on some of the cash.
Sources: dailymail.co.uk; nydailynews.com; si.com
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