10 of the most spectacular and famous robberies in history
Bank robbery movies make us dream of adventures of spies and mysteries, dodging lasers and outwitting watchmen. But these robberies do not only happen in the movies, but also in reality. Some lone thieves or gangs like the Pink Panthers dare to commit the most incredible heists in history. They are criminal minds who live among us and who gamble everything for money and fame.
Diamond theft in Antwerp
In 2003, a gang of Italian thieves called «The School of Turin» staged the largest diamond robbery in history. Their target was the Antwerp Diamond Center, the world’s largest gem market. With careful planning and sophisticated tools, they managed to circumvent the multiple security measures of the subway vault and open more than 120 safes. They made off with unset diamonds, gold, silver and other jewelry worth more than $100 million. Although some members of the gang were arrested, most of the diamonds were never recovered.
Robbery at the Central Bank of Iraq in Baghdad
The biggest robbery in history occurred the night before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Qusay Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, entered the central bank in Baghdad with a letter signed by his father authorizing him to withdraw money for national defense. With the help of several workers, he loaded sacks of bills into vans and made off with nearly $1 billion. Only about $650 million was recovered and the fate of the rest remains a mystery. Qusay Hussein died in July 2003 in a clash with US troops.
Robbery at Brazil’s Central Bank in Fortaleza
In 2005, a gang of thieves pulled off the largest bank robbery in Brazil’s history. Their target was the Central Bank of Fortaleza, where millions of reais in banknotes that were to be withdrawn from circulation were stored. The criminals rented a house near the bank and dug a subway tunnel of almost 80 meters until they reached the vault. There they drilled through the concrete floor and made off with some three and a half tons of cash, valued at about $70 million. Although some members of the gang were captured, most of the money was never recovered.
Robbery at Brussels airport
In 2013, a gang of thieves disguised as police officers and armed with assault rifles perpetrated the largest diamond heist in history. Their target was a Swiss plane carrying jewelry and gold from Antwerp to Zurich. The criminals entered the Brussels airport through a hole in the fence and made their way to the plane, where they threatened security employees and seized 121 parcels containing diamonds and gold bullion, valued at around 37 million euros. They then fled in two cars, which they then set on fire. Despite the arrests and subsequent findings, most of the loot was never recovered.
Hatton Garden diamond theft
In 2015, a gang of veteran thieves perpetrated the largest jewelry heist in England’s history. Their target was the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, a security depository full of diamonds and gold in central London. Taking advantage of the Easter long weekend, the criminals entered through the elevator shaft and used an industrial drill to bore through the concrete wall of the vault. There they opened 73 safes and made off with loot valued at around 20 million euros. The police managed to catch the thieves thanks to security cameras and forensic evidence.
Theft in the Green Vault of the Dresden palace
The robbery in the Green Vault of the Dresden Palace was a daring heist in which a gang of thieves made off with historic jewelry valued at $129 million. The criminals, members of a Berlin criminal clan, cut the bars on a window, extinguished the alarms with a fire and smashed the display cases with axes. Police recovered some of the loot, but other items are still missing. Five men were sentenced to prison for the robbery, which occurred in November 2019 in the German city.
Attempted robbery and London’s Millennium Dome
The Millennium Dome robbery was a failed attempt to take $200 million worth of jewelry from an exhibition in London. A group of thieves planned to break in with a bulldozer, smash the display cases with axes and escape by speedboat on the River Thames. Police, who had been watching them for months, apprehended them before they could touch the jewelry. Four of the robbers were sentenced to long prison terms for the robbery, which occurred in November 2000.
Jewelry theft at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes
In July 2013, a masked and armed robber broke into the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, where Leviev’s signature jewelry was on display. Taking advantage of an oversight by the security guards, the criminal made off with a suitcase containing rings, earrings, pendants and diamond watches, valued at €103 million. It was the largest jewelry robbery in the history of France and one of the most spectacular in the world. The perpetrator of the heist was never identified or arrested, despite the reward offered by Lloyd’s insurance company. The hotel and the security company were ordered to pay millions in compensation.
Robbery of the Dunbar Armored
It was a robbery of the Dunbar Armored Cash-in-Transit company’s warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, California, on September 12, 1997. Six men stole $18.9 million in cash in less than 30 minutes, making it the largest cash robbery ever to occur in the United States. It was masterminded by Allen Pace III, a former Dunbar employee who knew the details of the depository and recruited five childhood friends. The group infiltrated the warehouse with a key that Pace still had and subdued the guards with duct tape. Pace knew which bags contained the higher, non-sequential bills and took them. He also took the security camera recording devices. The group returned to a party where they had established an alibi. The theft was not discovered until two years later, when one of the thieves, Eugene Lamar Hill Jr. accidentally turned over a wad of bills with the original strips to a real estate agent, who contacted the police. Hill confessed and implicated the other thieves and three men who had helped them launder the money.
Robbery at United California Bank in Niguel
A group of professional thieves from Ohio planned a daring heist in sunny Laguna Niguel, California, in 1972. Their target was the safety vault at United California Bank, where they believed millions of dollars from President Nixon’s secret fund were located. Using explosives and special tools, they drilled through the vault’s concrete ceiling and gained access to the safe deposit boxes. There they found a fortune of $31 million in banknotes, gold bullion and jewelry. It was the largest bank robbery in U.S. history.