15 Most Outrageous Bank Robberies of All Time

Clever thieves find all kinds of ways to get their hands on bank reserves, donning outrageous disguises and crafting elaborate strategies.   Throughout history, particularly brazen criminals have logged spectacular thieving efforts across the globe.  Success rates vary, but crime generally does not pay.  Public interest in robberies is directly related to the entertainment value provided by the crooks.  Interesting approaches, high paydays, and outright successes are embraced by observers, who root for creative criminals that beat the system.  Robin Hood effect aside, robbing banks is hard work – just ask the would-be gangsters on our list of outrageous bank robberies.

Photo by Ell Brown on Flickr

Photo by Ell Brown on Flickr

1. Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery

Spectacular robberies are especially captivating when criminals heist huge sums of money or large amounts of valuable goods.  The $98 million taken in this 1987 robbery ranks it among the top dollar-amounts ever stolen.  To pull-off the heist, mastermind Valerio Viccei and an associate entered the security deposit facility pretending they wanted to rent a security box.  Once guards and security personnel were vulnerable, the men overpowered them and took control of the bank.  After putting up a closed sign and letting-in their helpers, the men proceeded to clean out the safety deposit boxes.

The strongarm robbers did not get away with their crime.  Viccei was arrested and jailed, but due to laws in Italy where he was imprisoned, he led most of his life with lots of liberties.  He died under suspicious circumstances as police were sure his next plot was underway.  Like many criminals, Viccei led a high-profile life of luxury, which led to his downfall.  Before committing the Knightsbridge robbery in England, he was already wanted for dozens of bank robberies in his native Italy. Interestingly, Viccei befriended one of the law enforcement officers responsible for his arrest, frequently corresponding with him while incarcerated.

2. Dunbar Armored Robbery

Armored trucks ferry countless sums of money between banks and financial institutions.  In 1997, an employee of the Dunbar Armored Company decided to make a play for one of the largest cash heists in U.S. history.  The mastermind behind the crime, Allen Pace, was an inspector for the company who used his time there to plan a robbery.

With the help of five friends and passkeys required to access the facility, Pace took control of the depot on a busy cash night.  The men simply overpowered each driver as they came in with trucks full of cash, transferring the take to their own rented truck. Iin the end, the men loaded-up nearly $19 million dollars before high-tailing it.  the men managed to elude capture for years, making efforts to conceal their wealth.  A group of clues eventually led to one of the members of the crew, which started the whole case unraveling.  The men were eventually sentenced to terms ranging from seven to twenty-four years.  Most of the money was never recovered, including some that was burned to avoid being traced through sequentially numbered bills.

3. Brink’s – MAT Warehouse

One of the most notorious heists ever committed, the Brink’s-MAT robbery targeted the company’s bank facility at Heathrow Airport.  The conspirators got a little more than they bargained for, intending to steal a few million in cash.  Upon arrival, the six-man crew was greeted by nearly $30 million dollars worth of gold bullion, diamonds and cash.

The job was an inside effort, in part, aided by the cooperation of security guard Anthony Black.  The man is also responsible for the downfall of the group, as he was the one to turn over his fellow conspirators.  Once inside, the men disabled the remaining guards by dousing them in gasoline and threatening to set them ablaze if they failed to cooperate.  The crooks made off with 3 and one-half tons of gold, most of which has never been recovered.  Of the six original thieves, only two were ever sentenced for the crime, and the restitution for the entire amount stolen – nearly $28 million, was placed on a single perpetrator Micky McAvoy. Survivors associated with the crime are said to be cursed by it.

4. Dog Day Afternoon

Al Pacino portrayed a memorable bank robber in Hollywood’s Dog Day Afternoon, a depiction similar to a real life bank hold-up.  In August, 1972 two men, John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile, undertook an infamous bank robbery plot that didn’t end well for the pair.  The poorly planned heist was a crime of passion, executed without basic precautions.  For example, the men were not disguised, leaving them vulnerable to identification later.  To make matters worse, they made no effort to conceal their fingerprints.

The men were homosexual, adding a further layer of notoriety to the crime, which actually drew gay rights activists to the crime scene.  the bumbling robbers spent too long looting the bank, so the police were able to resond and surround them.  The ensuing hostage stand-off provides the subject matter for the movie, in which Wojtowicz negotiates for help escaping. The poorly executed crime was too nerve-racking for the eighteen year-old Naturile, who was eventually shot dead by the police.  For his role in the crime, John Wojtowicz received a prison sentence totaling more then 27 years. Wojtowicz served 6 years of his sentence.  Although the film takes liberties with the story, most of the events depicted are true.  Some of the money given to Wojtowicz for his story was used by his partner to get sex reassignment surgery.

5. Northern Bank Robbery

This cash robbery stands as one of the largest takes in Ireland’s history.  There have been money-laundering arrests associated with the crime, but it remains unsolved in large part.  There is speculation that the IRA was involved in the heist, but all factions of the organization have denied involvement.

The Donegal Square headquarters of the Northern Bank was robbed in December of 2004, giving up nearly thirty-million pounds sterling to the thieves. First, the gang of criminals gained entry into the homes of two prominent bank officials.  Holding their family members hostage, the men were forced to participate in the robbery.  The timing of the robbery, before Christmas, gave the criminals access to a cash storage facility loaded with currency bound for the holiday shopping season. With the help of the terrified bank staffers, the gang was able to make off with millions worth of bank notes.  Since the robbery, bits and pieces of the haul have been recovered, and some individuals have been charged with attempting to launder proceeds from the robbery, but the investigation continues to this day.

6. Cheddington Mail Van Raid (Great Train Robbery) of 1963

An English train robbery intercepting a Royal Mail coach yielded a sizable pay day for the brazen gang behind the robbery.  As much as 2.6 million pounds was seized as the men took-over control of the train.  The coach was travelling between Glasgow and London, when the men engineered the track signals to facilitate their crime.  One of the men on the crew was an experienced train robber, so the men had his abilities to guide them.  After boarding the train and disabling the conductor with blows to the head, the men were able to gain control.

Bruce Reynolds, one of the group’s core members, along with 15 other men, concocted the robbery scheme including several of the gang’s central figures.  After gaining control, the men unhitched the cars they did not need and proceeded up the track to their waiting getaway truck.  Two tons of mail bags were loaded into the truck before the crew departed to a hideout seventeen miles away.  The crew divied up the take and hurriedly left their safe house as the area heated-up with police.  Their downfall ensued when a member of the gang failed to do his part by burning down the hideaway.  Using clues left at the hideout, investigators eventually caught up with a dozen conspirators, some of whom were given jail sentences of 30 years each.

Photo by colin.brown on Flickr

Photo by colin.brown on Flickr

7. Dar El Salaam Bank

This modern-day heist came amid turmoil in the Middle East, allowing guards at a Baghdad bank to walk away with a staggering sum of money.  In 2007 a group of insiders worked together to orchestrate one of the richest heists in history, bilking an Iraq bank out of an estimated $282 million in United States currency.

There are still mysteries surrounding the crime, which left the private banking facility reeling after several prison guards banded together to pull off the heist. The guards, who slept nights at the bank, disappeared along with the money, singling them out as suspects immediately.  The guards wre arrested quickly, and most of the money was recovered.  The incident is reminiscent of a move pulled by Sadaam Hussein in 2003, when he used his son to withdraw nearly one billion dollars from the bank before his collapse.  Most of the money was later found in the walls of the despot’s palace, but hundreds of millions have yet to be recovered.  While it is more of a “fleecing” than a traditional robbery, Hussein’s approach was no less criminal than that of the guards at the private Baghdad bank.

8. Cornerstone Bank Waco, Texas

Some bank robberies involve huge sums of money and cleverly devised plots, requiring intricate coordination between multiple participants.  Others are less complicated.  While giant paydays are the stuff of bank robbing legend, it is not only the dollars attached which make robberies outrageous.  Sometimes the motive, the amateurish crime itself, or the ridiculous follow-up create the true spectacle surrounding a crime.  In the Waco case of the Cornerstone bank, it is the antics of the unskilled criminal which propel the bank robbery into the outrageous category.

Hannah Sabata, a troubled 19 year old girl, had a beef with the government for taking away her child and charging her with neglect.  She also had mounting debt with no means to pay-up.  Hannah’s solution was not a summer job, but instead an impromptu bank robbery.  The young lady first stole a car to use for her getaway, before appearing at the bank to demand money.  With threats of violence, she convinced the teller to hand over the loot, which she successfully fled with.  Full of herself, and proud of the effort, she promptly logged on to her YouTube account to brag about her exploits.  So specific were her amateur videos that she showed the key to the car she stole and the stack of money taken from the bank.  Not only did she talk about the crimes, but she reinforced her guilt by writing about them for the world to see.

9. Bank of France Robbery in Toulon

The suspected mastermind behind this high-profile French robbery committed suicide in prison this year.  Marc Armando, sentenced to 18 years for his role in the famed heist, was incarcerated awaiting trial for a drug trafficking charge when his body was found hanging in his cell.  It is thought that Mr. Armando provided the coordination behind the 1992 Bank of France robbery known as the heist of the century.

To carry out the plot, a group of about 10 conspirators kidnapped a family member of a guard working at the bank.  With threat of harm to his loved one, and a back-up cache of explosives strapped to his body, the guard cooperated with the gang of thieves.  The crooks made away with around $30 million dollars, most of which was never recovered.  Some of the gang members were never prosecuted for their crimes, but a bulk of the gang was held accountable in court.  Within a couple months, authorities had rounded up a majority of the gang’s members, but only about 10% of the money they stole has been recovered to date.

10. Banco Central in Fortaleza, Brazil

In terms of values stolen during high-dollar bank robberies, this one lands in the Guiness Book of World Records for a “pure” bank heist.  Sure, Saddam Hussein fleeced his own bank for a cool billion, but that wasn’t a genuine effort like the Brazilian affair.  In 2006, a group of criminals numbering in the dozens banded together for the creative Brazilian bank robbery.  The gang posed as landscapers working in a nearby building, before digging a tunnel underground to their intended target.  The 250 foot passageway took them to the base of the bank, which they bored-into over the course of a weekend. In the end, the group took off with an estimated $70 million worth of stolen funds.

The gang was successful in removing what amounted to three tons of currency, and eluding police for a time.  To date, 28 members of the gang have been held accountable for their crimes, including Antonio Reginaldo de Araujo, considered to be the criminal mastermind behind the robbery.  Some of the conspirators already convicted are serving sentences as long as fifty-three years.  Despite rounding up a good share of the gang, only about 10-percent of the stolen money has ever been recovered.

11. Sentry Armored Car Courier Company

One of the largest cash robberies in United States history, the crime was against an armored transport company, but the take was money from banks.  Bounty valued at more than $11 million dollars was taken from the bank truck facility with the help of an insider.  One of the guards on duty the night of the crimes assisted the thieves, pretending he was the victim of an attack and robbery committed by three men.  The conspirators were exposed due to various money-trails left in their wake.  According to the gang, seven-million in cash was split between four robbers, resulting in money laundering concerns for the group.  After attempting to conceal some of the booty in Greece, and other amounts in Switzerland, some of the crooks U.S. holdings were exposed, leading to their arrests.

The guard on duty was found handcuffed to a pipe, complete with a detailed account of how he ended up there.  Unfortunately for the inside man, security records indicated that a garage door had been accessed by the guard.  His story unraveled when details of his account did not match facility records. To date, only about $1.5 million worth of the stolen cash has been recovered.

12. Seafirst Bank Robbery

This high-dollar heist became well known for the staggering take, but also for a quirky characteristic shared by the thieves.  When the two men robbed the Seafirst Bank in Lakewood, Washington they were commiting the richest bank robbery in history (at the time).  But they also wore trenchcoats, which immediately assigned the iconic feature to the case, forever known as the “trench coat robbery“.

Despite the novelty of the attire, real guns were used and the men behind the coats were not casual about their profession.  Ray Bowman and William Kirkpatrick were professional bank robbers, suspected in at least two dozen other robberies in Washington State.  At Seafirst, the duo walked away with nearly $5 million dollars and a place in the record books.  Unfortunately for the pair, they would trip themselves up with less than professional behavior.  Kirkpatrick was pulled over for speeding, yielding all kinds of clues during a search of his car.  In addition to fake documents and crime tools, Kirkpatrick carried close to $2 million dollars with him.  His counterpart, Bowman, didn’t fare much better, failing to pay his storage locker bill on time.  The owner of the locker opened it up, alerting the police to a cache of weapons found inside.  It was not long before Bowman was in custody too.

Photo by matteson.norman on Flickr

Photo by matteson.norman on Flickr

13. First Interstate Bank Bellevue, Washington

This bank was one of many robbed by a prolific couple doing business on the West Coast in the late eighties and early nineties.  John Madison and Carolyn Marie Williams carried out more than fifty armed robberies across California, Washington and Texas before being prosecuted for the First Interstate heist.  The couple used a precise M.O. each time they robbed, with Carolyn driving the getaway car and John brandishing a gun inside.  In fact, his calling card was to discharge a round from the gun into the bank ceiling, showing robbery victims he meant business.  His quirky habit earned him the nickname “Shootist” from police officers.

Both of the Williams’ pleaded guilty to their crimes and Johnny Madison received sentences totaling 92 years for the crimes he could be prosecuted for.  His own record-keeping helped police outline the eight year string of successful robberies committed by the Williams’.  By the time he was brought down in 1994, his running total was approaching one-million dollars.

14. Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery

In October of 1997 an enterprising employee of the Loomis Fargo Company put a robbery attempt in motion that would yield a $17 million dollar payday.  The mastermind was David Ghannt, a supersisor at the regional vault of the Loomis Fargo Company.  The robbery represents the largest cash heist on U.S. soil, but the bid was unsuccessful.

Eight people were eventually indicted as direct conspirators, as well as sixteen others identified as playing peripheral roles in the scheme.  Ghannt was suspected for his role in the crime almost from the beginning, as he went missing to Mexico shortly after the robbery.  His co-conspirators spent lavishly once he was out of the country, drawing suspicion and getting everyone noticed by the feds.  Nicknamed the “hillbilly heist” because of the participants’ lack of savvy, the crime was a highly popular late night comedy target. Despite the high-profile spending of the gang members, around 95% of the total take was eventually recovered or accounted for.

15. Geezer Bandit Hold-Ups

There is no way of knowing exactly what lies beneath the disguise of this bank robber associated with at least 16 crimes across California.  Is an elderly man, as it appears, really committing the brazen robberies?  Or is it the work of a clever master of disguises concealing his youthful identity in an effort to misguide investigators?  Whatever the case, the circumstances surrounding the robberies provide entertainment value as well as serious concern for victimized banks.

Many of the Geezer’s targets have been Bank of America locations, but his patterns are not exclusive to any particular company.  His approach is the same everywhere though.  He enters each bank with a satchel or briefcase, from which he extracts a note for the teller, which describes his or her imminent death if cooperation is not forthcoming.  His total estimated take has not been revealed, but the growing tally is assumed to be significant given the number of successful crimes he has pulled off.  During one robbery, he was seen to be fleeter of foot than most elderly subjects, supporting the theory that it is a younger person in disguise.  His or her popularity is explained by the unique nature of the effort, but there are twenty-thousand additional reasons for the public to pay attention to this story.  Information leading to the Geezer’s capture is worth $20,000 to the FBI.

Brad
 

Brad Hopper is a student of politics - past and present. Looking at historical figures and their roles in government helps guide our understanding of public service, so we strive to learn lessons from past leaders. Political scientists, like Hopper, contribute to the continuum of effective government by studying today's public policy, always giving a nod to political role-players found throughout history.

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