The Pros Of Cons: 8 Greatest Heists In American History
Who doesn’t love a good heist story? From Ocean’s 11 to Baby Driver, the heist is an intriguing, exciting, dangerously fun crime, that concludes with a massive payday. But while movies add glamour and great soundtracks to the world of high-end theft, real life is typically a lot grittier. And more often than not, the thieves are caught…eventually. In the spirit of sticking it to the man, here are the greatest heists ever performed on American soil. See who got away — and who didn’t — below.
Photo: Erik Dreyer (Getty Images)
D.B. Cooper - 1971
On Thanksgiving Eve, 1971, a slightly uglier version of Don Draper hijacked a Boeing 727 on its way to Seattle. Without alerting any fellow passengers, Cooper informed the nearest flight attendant he had a bomb in his briefcase and coolly demanded $200,000 in cash (over $1 million in today's money). The pilots relayed his message and the FBI had his money waiting when the plane landed. Cooper got his money, released the passengers, and had the captain plot a direct course to Mexico City. Within an hour of takeoff, Cooper parachuted from the back of the plane and disappeared into the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest, never to be seen again.
United California Bank - 1972
A few months after Cooper made off with a small fortune, a group of expert burglars broke into the safe deposit room at the United California Bank in Laguna Niguel. Led by mastermind Amil Dinsio, the crew stole nearly $9 million in a perfectly executed heist. The law eventually caught up with Dinsio, however, when the gang performed an identical heist on a bank in Ohio. The feds were able to track travel records between the two states, which led them to a former safe house used by the crew. Not a shred of evidence turned up at the site, until an agent popped open the dishwasher and discovered the thieves had forgotten to run it. Fingerprints on the dishes led to one of the crooks, who rolled on his boss in return for immunity. Next time you're laying low at a safe house and get a sudden pang of hunger, do yourself a favor and hit the local Waffle House.
Loomis Fargo Heist - 1997
A man named David Ghantt worked the Loomis Fargo vault in North Carolina and couldn't stand being around all that money without getting a taste. His taste turned out to be $17.3 million. He stashed the money with one of his accomplices and fled to Mexico until the heat was off. Unfortunately for him, the heat never cooled and a few months later when he placed a call to one of his co-conspirators, the feds caught up with him along the gorgeous coast of the Yucatán Peninsula as his pasty body flapped in the wind of a parasail.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist - 1991
One morning, two men posing as police officers responded to an alarm at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Once inside, the two men subdued security guards and tied them up, making off with $500 million worth of art. Paintings included works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas. Though one of the stolen paintings turned up at auction in 2001, no arrests have ever been made and the remainder of the priceless works remain at large.
Lufthansa Heist - 1978
Unofficially traced to Jimmy "The Irishman" Burke (of the Lucchese crime family), the legendary Lufthansa Heist was the biggest ever pulled off on American soil (at the time). Every month, a German plane carrying money from military servicemen and tourists flew into New York to be held overnight at the JFK vault before being deposited the next day. Using highly detailed insider information about the facility, a group of masked men muscled their way into the break room just before dawn and forced security personnel to open the vault. The robbery netted nearly $6 million, and though a few henchmen have been pinched over the past 40 years, the mastermind behind the huge payday has never been caught.
Pierre Hotel Heist - 1972
Another Lucchese Family classic, this robbery took place in the wee hours of January 2, when all the guests were sleeping off their hangovers from the night before. Because everyone had dressed for the occasion, millions of dollars in jewels were being held downstairs in the safe deposit room until banks opened the next morning at 9am. Pretending to be a guest at the hotel, Robert Germaine was admitted into the locked Pierre Hotel at 3:50am, where he held the guard at gunpoint and let the rest of his four-man crew inside to pry open safety deposit boxes. The crew made off with $3 million in cash and jewels before absconding to a warehouse where they discussed ways to fence the stolen goods with Lucchese Family Consigliere, 'Tick' Furnese. Furnese wanted 33 percent of the take for his part, which the crew refused. Eventually, feds caught up with head thief Sammy Nalo due to a huge gambling debt he had accrued. Crap luck? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Dunbar Armored Truck Depot Robbery - 1997
Nothing like an old-fashioned robbery to bring you and your five closest friends together. Allen Pace, working as a regional safety inspector for Dunbar, was able to study the gaps in the armored car depot's security system for months. Recruiting his five friends as wingmen, the sextet stunningly drained the vault of $19 million in less than 35 minutes. Police knew it was an inside job, but couldn't pin anything on Pace...until one of his egghead friends paid his real estate broker with a stack of bills still wrapped in the currency straps from Dunbar. The agent sang like a canary and the gang's s'mores night was interrupted when police came busting in to haul them all off to a treehouse behind bars.
The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist - 2011-2012
OK, this one technically happened in Canada, but it deserves a place on this list for being the most hilarious and bizarre heist ever conceived. Slowly, drip by drip, 3,000 tons of maple syrup were stolen from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers facility in Quebec. The Federation had formed in 1966 to control the flow of maple syrup, by means of a strategic syrup reserve. In 2011, an enterprising young thief began syphoning syrup from the reserves and selling it on the black market. At first, the thief carefully syphoned stolen barrels at a remote location before refilling them with water and placing them back in the storehouse. But after a few months, he grew lazy and started syphoning directly in the storehouse, leaving the drained barrels empty. The thief was caught when annual inspections revealed hundreds of empty barrels. Genius. The ensuing investigation led to 17 arrests, with the "mastermind" Richard Vallières sentenced to eight years in prison. We'd say he got himself into one sticky situation.