The old adage says: “Crime doesn’t pay.” But after reading this article you might want to amend that to: “Crime usually doesn’t pay, but sometimes it does.” Listen, if you were planning to rob a bank, you should probably change your plans. According to a comprehensive 2006 study conducted by economists from the Universities of Surrey and Sussex in the United Kingdom, the average bank robbery in America netted the criminals a little over $4,300. (It is likely closer to $7,000 today.) And that’s a nice chunk of change, but it’s not going to replace a real income unless you rob a couple of banks a month.
Considering that about one fifth of bank robberies end up with the perpetrators arrested, the chances of you robbing enough banks to generate a comfortable living and not ending up living in prison are low. But when you consider the payoffs from a few of these single crimes, you might still see the allure. Just keep in mind these are some of the biggest bank robberies in history; your own criminal enterprise is probably not going to make you an illicit multimillionaire in one go. And even if it does, there’s still the whole laundering mess to deal with.
14. The West Hartford Wells Fargo
You probably don’t associate small Connecticut cities with major, international crime, but that’s what happened in a dramatic bank robbery back in 1983. A group of guerrilla soldiers known as Los Maceteroes, who were working in the hopes of an independent nation of Puerto Rico, robbed a Wells Fargo bank and made off with more than seven million dollars, which would be worth around $17 million today. The group sent much of the money to poor communities in Puerto Rico in a latter day Robin Hood move. The rest they hid in Cuba and in various drop sites around Puerto Rico and America. The FBI only recovered about $80,000.
13. United California Bank, Laguna Niguel, CA
This bank robbery will impress you even before the adjustment for inflation. And well it should, being that it is one of the largest, most audacious robberies not only in American history, but in global bank robbery history, too. The robbers, who were all related either by blood or marriage, broke in a branch of the United California Bank on a March evening in 1972, leaving with thirty million dollars. Adjust that to dollars at a 2017 valuation, and the robbers netted the equivalent of more than $172 million bucks. And the only reason they were caught was due to some fingerprints left on dirty dishes.
12. Securitas Depot Robbery, Kent, UK
Technically this was not a robbery of a bank, but rather of the facility where vast sums of money that are deposited in banks are held to, y’know, prevent the money from being stolen. Sigh. And as the Securitas Depot Robbery remains the largest cash theft in British history, it gets a spot on the list. In late February of 2006, a group of armed robbers posing as policemen abducted the manager of the Securitas Depot along with his wife and young son. They forced the manager to allow them access to the cash stores in the facility and made off with more than 53,116,760 British Pounds, which is close to $70,000,000 USD right now. (And keep in mind that currently the Pound is at a historically weak exchange rate.)
11. Bank of Pennsylvania at Carpenter’s Hall – The Original Heist
America’s first major bank robbery came only a few years after the fledgling nation had taken shape. And it ultimately resulted in no cash being lost and no serious prison time served despite the fact that the authorities knew all the details of the crime. In the late summer of 1798, a man named Isaac Davis and his accomplice broke into Philadelphia’s Carpenter’s Hal, the temporary home of several banks, and made off with more than $162,000, which would equal several million dollars today. The accomplice died of yellow fever, but then Davis, like an idiot, began depositing the stolen cash in the very place from which he took it. He was questioned, gave a full confession, returned the money, and was pardoned.
10. British Bank of the Middle East
In the midst of the fog of war, a few opportunistic bank robbers got filthy rich. In 1976, Lebanon had descended into civil strife, and the capital, Beirut, was being torn apart by fighting. In this environment, a group of thieves associated with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) used both high explosives and skilled locksmiths to break into the vaults of the abandoned British Bank of the Middle East. They made off with cash, gold, jewels, and other valuables that all together were worth an estimated $50,000,000. That is equal to some $150 million in 2017 terms.
9. Manhattan Savings Institution – Crime of the 19th Century
In late October of 1878, the Manhattan Savings Institution was relieved of nearly $2.5 million worth of cash, stocks, and bonds. That sum would equal around $65,000,000 today, and was the largest bank robbery in United States history at the time. The mastermind of the weekend break-in and theft was a man named George Leslie, who had apparently spent years planning this perfect crime. He had also spent much of the preceding decade orchestrating many other bank heists around the nation, and had never been caught. Sadly for Leslie, he was murdered by one of his accomplices months after the Savings robbery as the result of an affair conducted with the killer’s wife. Being long dead, Leslie was not apprehended for the crime he had perpetrated.
8. Northern Bank, Belfast, UK
This 2004 robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK is remarkable for being 100% unsolved despite the complexity of the plot and the value of the haul. A group of armed robbers took the families of a pair of bank managers hostage and then coached the men to go to work the next day, acting normally for an entire work day. The managers then let the robbers into the bank after hours, and the thieves gathered up assets worth more than $41 million USD. They then disappeared (leaving the families unhurt) and were never tracked down.
7. Bank of France, Toulon
As if kidnapping and threatening the family of a bank employee was not enough, the robbers behind this audacious 1992 robbery also strapped explosives to the body of the guard they took hostage. These two factors successfully compelled the guard to help the thieves into the Toulon branch of the Bank of France, where they stole more than $30 million dollars (French Francs to be precise. This was pre-Euro, you’ll recall). Many of the robbers were never caught, only 10% of the cash was recovered, and the likely mastermind was never convicted of the crime, though he was later jailed for other crimes.
6. Banco Central, Brazil
This 2005 robbery was an exercise in patience and planning. The robbers posed as a landscape and maintenance crew serving a building near to the Banco Central in Fortaleza, Brazil. The team worked for weeks to slowly dig a tunnel underneath the bank, a tunnel into which they diverted electricity and even air conditioning, thus keeping themselves comfortable as they dug. When they finally broke into the bank, the thieves were able to abscond with cash worth about $70 million USD. Most of the suspects involved in the massive crime were never apprehended, and most of the cash remains missing.
5. San Miguel Valley Bank, Telluride – Butch Cassidy’s First
On June 24th, 1889, Butch Cassidy committed the first of what would be a long string of bank robberies. He and a pair of accomplices walked into the San Miguel Valley Bank of Telluride, Colorado, and simply aimed a gun at the teller and demanded access to the bank’s cash. They stuffed sacks with more than $20,000, which would equal about half a million bucks today. Not the largest heist of all time or even of the era, but it was the first robbery in what would become a prolific career lasting for another twenty years.
4. Dar Es Salaam Bank – Take the Money and Stroll
One of the largest bank robberies of all time was committed without the use of force, without any injuries, and without any real chance of catching the perpetrators or recovering the missing cash. In 2007, the Dar Es Salaam bank of Baghdad, Iraq (not of Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania — confusing, right) was casually robbed by the guards who were supposed to be guarding it at night. The men instead removed more than $280,000,000 worth of cash and assets and walked away, leaving the vaults and doors wide open.
3. Bank of England Treasury Bonds Mugging
That’s right, one of the biggest bank robberies that ever took place did not occur in an actual bank itself, but rather on a street as a messenger carried bonds from the Bank of England on a routine delivery route. The messenger was mugged by a petty criminal brandishing a knife. The mugger likely did not even know the value of the documents he had just obtained, though in fact the bonds in the stolen briefcase were each valued at nearly £1 million. And there were 300 bonds in the briefcase. Yep, this guy stole nearly 300 million pounds. But he was found dead a little while later, and all but two of the bonds were recovered by the authorities.
2. North Hollywood Shootout – The Deadliest Heist
The 1997 failed attempt at a robbery of a North Hollywood, CA Bank of America has the dubious distinction of being the most violent bank robbery in American history. During the multiple-hour robbery and ensuing police standoff, some 2,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by both the armoured suspects and the LAPD. Both perpetrators died, a dozen police offers were wounded, and eight civilians were also injured during the melee. The only arguable positive effect of the robbery attempt and violence was a thorough redress of LAPD policy which saw the authorities much better armed thereafter.
1. Central Bank of Iraq – Family Affair
No one ever accused Saddam Hussein of being a great guy. His lack of moral fiber extended beyond wartime atrocity and suppression of his own people, too: Hussein and his family also perpetrated the greatest bank robbery of all time. In March of 2003, anticipating the coming coalition invasion, Hussein directed his son Qusay to oversee the removal of nearly one BILLION dollars worth of cash and assets from the Central Bank of Iraq. The money and goods were loaded onto trucks and driven away and, to this day, the location of most of the loot remains unknown.
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