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World's Greatest Heists and Robberies

Updated on April 23, 2013

Fake Cops Steal $49 Million In Airport Diamonds In Three Minutes

People trust a uniform – that’s what eight robbers counted on as they sped across the tarmac at Belgium’s Brussels airport in February, red-and-blue lights flashing on their cars, bound for an armored truck loading $49 million in diamonds onto a plane to Zurich. The men – wearing cop anoraks and toting laser-sighted machine guns – helped themselves to enough sparklers to the Kardashians vajazzled for years. All up, it only took three minutes. The gang whizzed across the runway and back through the hole they’d cut in the fence. Not a single passenger on the plane noticed anything suspicious.

Plucky Aussie Robbers Drill Into Bank

Two Aussie bandits proved their smarts in 2004, even if they forgot about the “running off with a big sack of cash” part of being a robber. The pair entered an St George bank in Neutral Bay, Sydney, by removing bricks in the shared wall of the shop next door, then climbing through the hole. The blokes waited until morning, when they’d planned to force staff to open the safe. But a sharp-eyed customer spotted then skulking inside, and soon 70-armed rozzers had surrounded the bank. Alas, the dup had already fled back through their own giant glory hole, empty-handed.

Audacious Cash Heist Made Famous by Goodfellas

The cool thing about 1990 mafia epic Goodfellas is that it wasn’t imagined by a Hollywood Exec after a bullshit brainstorm – it’s based on actual events, including the daring Lufthansa Heist that forms a major part of the film’s plot. In 1978, a worker at New York’s JFK Airport, who owed the mob $20K in gambling debts, told the mafia that millions of dollars in untraceable, easy-to-pilfer money arrived every month from West Germany. Jimmy Burke (pictured below; he was Robert De Niro’s character in the flick) took control of the job, and in the early hours of December 11, six gunmen – most of them wise guys – burst into an airport cargo depot, frog-marched an employee into the vault, and walked away with 40 parcels of cash worth $6 million. The crew’s elation didn’t last long, though. As portrayed in Goodfellas, one by one they began mysteriously onto meat hooks and making scarves out of chicken wire. Burke claimed they’d spent too lavishly and were attracting heat from the cops. Others say he didn’t want to share the booty. After all $6 million bucks buys a lot of meatballs.

Hold-Up Loons Blast 1100 Bullets At Cops

One thing’s for sure about Larry Phillips Jnr and Emil Matasareanu – they watched too many Die Hard movies. And they probably sprinkled PCP on their Weet-Bix, judging by their fearless actions on the morning of what’s become known as the “North Hollywood shoot out”. In February 1997, the pair walked into a Bank of America branch brandishing modified AKM machine guns and an HK-91 rifle. They were also wearing DIY body armor too thick to be penetrated by normal cop bullets. They pumped 150 rounds into the banks ceiling, then another 75 in anger into the safe when it only contained $300K – just under half of what they expected. But this was just the warm-up. When they fled, they got into an 8-minute shot out with police positioned on the street outside the bank, wounding cops and civilians. Even the coppers pump-action shotguns couldn’t pierce their hardcore armor. Phillips took cover behind parked cars and continued blasting cops and helicopters that’d arrived on the scene, despite being hit in the shoulder. He split from his partner, was shot multiple times after his AKM jammed, and died. Meanwhile, a few streets away, Matasareanu was transferring his guns and ammo into a carjacked Jeep, but when it wouldn’t start, he got into another firefight and was hit more than 20 times in the legs. He died on the scene. When the gun smoke cleared, the stats were crazy: 11 injured cops, seven injured civilians, 300 police deployed, over 1100 rounds fired by Phillips and Matasareanu (roughly one every two seconds) and more than 650 by the boys in blue. John McLane would’ve been proud.

“Impenetrable” Vault Raided For $100 Million In Jewels

The diamond capitol of the world isn’t South Africa, New York or Lil Wayne’s mouth – it’s a little known Belgian town called Antwerp, and more than $16 billion worth of premium bling passes through there every year. So it’s no wonder that it proved irresistible to a five-man crew headed by Leonardo Notarbartolo, cousin of an alleged mafia don. Three years before the robbery, the Italian rented an office in the Antwerp Diamond Centre under the identity of a diamond dealer, giving him instant credibility and 24 hr access to the building. Even so, the place was supposed to be impenetrable – protected by radar, a seismic censor, heat detectors, a magnetic field, a lock with 100 million combos and its own private security force. Staff came to work on February 16, 2003, to find that 123 out of 189 safety-deposit boxes had been ransacked, with a claimed $100 million in jewels missing. Its here, however, the story gets murky. Notarbartolo, sentenced to 10 years jail, claims he only stole $20 million (it was never recovered), and was hired to do the job as part of a massive insurance fraud.

Glamorous Crime Network Strikes Across The World

Not to be confused with the gay-rights activists of the same name, the “Pink Panther” syndicate have it all – style (they drive Porsches on jobs), glamour (they hit swanky locations like Monaco, Dubai and London’s Mayfair) and serious juice (they’ve nicked an estimated $500 million in loot from more than 120 stores). The 200 strong group are known for their daring, ingenious robberies and have links to the Serbian mafia. Their first known hit was on a diamond dealer in London in 1993, where they hid the sparklers in a jar of face-cream. In 2005, they raided a jewelry store in Saint-Tropez, France, wearing flowery t-shirts, and escaped on a speedboat. Three years later, they hit a Paris Jeweler dressed as women, making off with $100 million in gems. So, then…we’ve got a group of flamboyant, cross-dressing flower-lovers with exceptional smooth skin and a thing for jewelry. Are we sure they’re not that gay rights group?

Cage Fighters Mastermind Kidnapping And Robbery

Why earn a living rolling around the floor with semi-naked men when you can simply steal your millions? In February 2006, Pommy mixed martial arts fighter Paul Allen and Lee Murray hatched a plan to rob security company Securitas. They stocked up on surveillance gear to stake out the company’s main depot as well as the home of Securitas manager Colin Dixon. Then they got their mate, Michelle Hogg, to create some prosthetic mask disguises. On the evening of the robbery, the crooks broke into Dixon’s house, tying up his family and forcing him to help them gain access to the depot. By the end of the night, the duo were flush with $80 million - Britain’s biggest ever cash heist. Allen and Murray fled to Morocco, but Allen was eventually extradited and flown back to the UK…in a Chinook helicopter (yeah, he’s that hard). Murray is serving 10 years in Morocco for his part in the crime.

Gardner Digs 80-Metre Tunnel Straight Into Bank

While his neighbors thought he was shoveling manure, Brazilian gardening enthusiast Paulo Sergio was putting his horticultural skills to better use: burrowing an underground tunnel into a bank vault full of cash. Along with between 10 to 20 helpers, Sergio pulled off the biggest heist in Brazilian history, digging an 80-metre tunnel from a fake gardening business he’d set up straight into a branch of Banco Central. Cops aren’t sure how the Don Burke of the criminal world broke through the vaults meter-thick iron and cement floor – no explosion was heard – but they do know the human mole walked away with $90 million in bank notes.

$282 Million Vanishes In Baghdad Insider Job

As well as being one of the biggest robberies in history, the heist at Baghdad’s Dar Es Salaam bank is one of the most suspicious. Employees turned up for work at the bank in July 2007 to find the vault open and empty - $282 million empty. Iraq’s Interior Ministry said three of the bank’s guards were responsible, but sources close to the ground suspect the guards had links to the militias (with so many check points in the war torn city, it would have been tricky for the robbers to move a quarter of a bill without being noticed). It’s never been revealed just why the stolen moolah was in US dollars, not Iraqi dinars, or why the bank had so much cash on hand. Even spookier is the fact that the second-largest heist in history barely received any media attention around the world. That solves it then – it was clearly the work of the Illuminati or Hillsong.

$1.4 Billion Art Thief Does It For The Love

Stephane Breitwieser (pictured) managed to be the world’s best and crappiest art pilferer in the same breath. On the one hand, the French waiter stole 239 artworks from 172 museums between 1995 and 2001, worth an estimated $1.4 billion. And Breitwieser’s methods were amazingly simple – he’d walk into a museum, use his girlfriend to make a distraction, then walk out with a piece of art under his jacket. On the other hand, while his efforts could have set him up for life, the crazy kleptomaniac didn’t sell a single thing, continuing his job as a food collector. Instead he kept the pieces locked at his mum’s house in a darkened room so the sunlight wouldn’t fade them. At his trial in 2005, Breitwieser told the judge his crimes were motivated by his love for art – another stroke of genius that saw him serve just 26 months of a three-year sentence.


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    • qeyler profile image


      5 years ago

      I liked this hub very much. Very interesting.


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