There are many ways of getting enough money to live on – working hard all your life, gambling or being born into royalty are all possibilities…or you could just steal it. That’s the route taken by the people on this list, who have managed to pull off the most audacious and impressive heists in the history of heist-ing. Some of them got caught, some didn’t but they were all, for a time, insanely rich. Find out more in our Top 10 Most Famous Heists.
One of the biggest art thefts ever and one of the most famous unsolved crimes. The scene was the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, and the date was March 18 1990. Two apparent policeman walked in during the night, while St Patrick’s Day celebrations were in full swing outside, and tricked the security guards into leaving their posts. The thieves then tied the guards up and made off with several major pieces of art, including Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” and his self portrait. The works have never been recovered and the museum is still offering a reward of $5 million for information that would lead to their return. It is estimated that they are worth around $500 million but, of course, you can’t really put a price on art. There are a few puzzling things about the case, such as why the thieves passed by valuable Botticellis and didn’t take them, but maybe it will all be solved one day.
Now this is an example of how the most elaborate plans can go wrong. The men who robbed the Graff Diamonds jewelry store in August 2009 had taken a lot of care to escape detection – they engaged the services of a professional make-up studio and had prosthetic faces attached, telling the make-up artist that it was for a music video. Then they simply walked into the store, brandished their guns and escaped with 43 pieces of jewelry, worth an estimated £40 million ($65 million). They even took care to keep changing getaway vehicles, to shake the police off their trail. But one of them left his mobile phone in the car, which allowed the police to track,arrest and jail them. The gang leader – Aman Kassaye – is currently serving 23 years, with the other three robbers serving 16 years each. None of the jewelry has so far been recovered.
It’s widely acknowledged that robbing a Vegas casino is among the toughest of heists to pull off. But several people have tried, and some have succeeded. The most successful was Bill Brennan, a man no-one knows anything about outside his impressive feat. He worked in the Stardust casino and midway through a shift in September 1992, he went to lunch. That’s not remarkable. What is remarkable is that he never came back. And has never been seen since. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of the $500,000 in chips and cash that he had stashed in his rucksack. It’s the biggest casino theft ever, and almost glorious in its simplicity. Some say he was in cahoots with a security guard, who later killed him, explaining both his disappearance and the ease with which he walked out with the money. Again, it may never be explained.
The holder of the Guinness World Record for the biggest bank heist is this 2005 Brazilian theft. The haul was R$ 164,755,150 (about $71.6 million), carried off in 50-Real notes, which weighed about 3.5 tons altogether. The method was a classic bank-robbing one – the robbers tunneled under the bank from a building 78 meters away and somehow got through a meter of re-enforced concrete to get into the vault and get away with the money. After that, it all got a bit nasty, with the body of suspect Luis Fernando Ribeiro turning up two months after the robbery, in an apparently related murder. Several other suspects were kidnapped, some by police officers (Brazil is not above a bit of immoral policing). Only around R$9 million of the money has ever been recovered, prompting rumors of a police cover-up. Another one that will run and run.
This 2008 robbery has many things in common with the other thefts on the list – the use of a tunnel to break in (in this case to a Milan jewelry showroom), the robbers wearing fake police uniforms..and a fatal flaw. The fatal flaw in this case was that some of the most valuable pieces weren’t in the Damiani showroom at the time – they were adorning A-listers in Hollywood. The thieves had picked Oscar night to strike, knowing that the showroom owner would attending the ceremony in L.A. but seemingly not realizing that the most expensive pieces would be going as well – like the 1865-diamond bracelet that Tilda Swinton was wearing (above). Still, the thieves got away with up to $30 million worth of jewelry, so they probably weren’t too upset….at least, not until they were arrested the following December.