According to the FBI, approximately 4,000 bank robberies and burglaries occurred in the United States alone last year. Despite their frequency, would-be bandits seldom escape with more than a few thousand dollars before being captured. There are, of course, exceptions.
The following are ten cases in which a mix of cunning, raw force and good fortune resulted in some very remarkable heists.
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Place & Time: Fortaleza, Brazil; 2005
Stolen: $70 million
The team behind this massive theft spent three months excavating a 256-foot tunnel beneath the bank after renting a commercial property in the heart of the city and posed as landscapers. Then, over an August weekend, they tunneled up through reinforced concrete into the vault of the Banco Central branch and removed 3.5 tons of Brazilian real notes, the majority of which were never recovered.
Place & Time: London, 1983
Stolen: £26 million ($41 million)
After renting a commercial property in the city and posing as landscapers, the gang responsible for this massive robbery spent three months building a 256-foot tunnel beneath the bank. Then, over an August weekend, they tunneled up through reinforced concrete into the vault of the Banco Central branch and removed 3.5 tons of Brazilian real notes, the majority of which was never recovered.
Place & Time: Kent, UK; 2006
Stolen: £53.1 million ($83 million)
Our audacious theft is still the largest cash robbery in British history, and it was carried out with a more brutal vision than the majority of the other heists on this list. After acting as police officers and abducting both the Securitas branch manager and his family, the highly armed band of robbers brought him to the depot, where they handcuffed his 14 employees and forced them to open the cash cages. The majority of the gang (which included one of the world's top cage fighters) was later apprehended and convicted, however at least one is claimed to be living off the loot in the West Indies as a free man.
Place & Time: Belfast, UK; 2004
Stolen: £26.5 million ($41 million)
A few days before Christmas, a group of criminals acting as authorities persuaded its way into the houses of two bank branch managers, taking them and their families hostage. The following day, with their families still at risk, the managers were instructed to report to work as usual and to let the robbers in at the close of business. Following their looting, the criminals released the families unharmed. Many have speculated that the entire incident was orchestrated by the Provisional IRA or Sinn Fein, however, the crime remains unsolved to this day.
Place & Time: Baghdad, Iraq; 2003
Stolen: Over $920 million
Considered the world's largest bank heist, this audacious heist was purportedly planned directly by Saddam Hussein just days before the American invasion. According to reports, a note written by Hussein was discovered following the crime, instructing the bank to withdraw $920 million and send it to his son Qusay, who reportedly spent the better part of five hours packing the piles of money into trucks and transporting them to an undisclosed location. Today, it is unknown how much of the whole missing cash has been recovered, although at least $650 million was uncovered during a raid on one of Hussein's palaces.
Place & Time: Beirut, Lebanon; 1976
Stolen: $20-50 million
During the height of Lebanon's civil war, a gang affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization blew through the bank's walls via a nearby church and hired a crack team of locksmiths to smash open the vault. They reportedly walked away with up to $50 million in gold, cash, stocks, and jewelry once they were finished.
Place & Time: London; 1987
Stolen: £62 million ($97 million)
Perpetrated by Italian playboy and career criminal Valerio Viccei—who was involved in over 50 bank robberies during his lifetime—this operation was shockingly simple to carry out. After breaking into the bank during work hours to unlock a safety deposit box, he and his armed accomplice "subdued" the manager and security guards, allowing them to allow in further accomplices to assist in busting out as much of the vault as possible. They eventually fled with at least £62 million worth of cash, jewelry, and other items. Viccei gained a brief period of freedom by fleeing to South America, only to be apprehended and imprisoned by British police upon his return to England to reclaim and ship his Ferrari Testarossa.
Place & Time: Baghdad, Iraq; 2007
Stolen: $282 million
While many specifics surrounding this massive heist of largely American cash remain unknown, the Iraqi Interior Minister did state that the burglary was orchestrated by a couple of bank guards who were supposedly tied to militias roaming the region in 2007.
Place & Time: Buckinghamshire, UK; 1963
Stolen: £.2.6 million ($4.1 million)
This meticulously organized effort to intercept a Royal Mail train carrying high-value parcels (on the route from Glasgow) took several months to plan. A band of fifteen robbers devised and carried out the now-legendary plot, which required manipulating the train's trackside signals to bring it to an isolated area, where the conductor was overpowered and the loot was stolen. Unsurprisingly, it has subsequently inspired a slew of films and books.
Place & Time: Los Angeles; 1997
Stolen: $18.9 million
The largest cash robbery to ever occur in the United States was also an inside job. On a Friday night, the mastermind was a regional safety inspector for Dunbar who recruited five of his childhood pals to attack guards at a filled cash drop vault. Once they gained access to the booty, they loaded a U-Haul and fled, nearly escaping with the entire operation until one of the criminals became sloppy and eventually confessed. However, more than half of the money remains unaccounted for to this day.