When the words “bank heist” come up (probably not regularly, we admit) pictures of cowboys with bandannas over their faces recklessly holding up a financial institution may spring to mind, or even the iconic image of Bonnie and Clyde with their guns and classic car. There’s certainly a glamorous, romantically rebellious element to the notion of heists and bank robbers, and the outlaws involved in these crimes have long captured our attention. The anarchical idea of someone living outside the law, escaping the clutches of the authorities and amassing huge fortune has made for some great stories and legendary movies, with an element of idolization and fascination directed towards these criminals.
These days, bank heists have progressed far beyond the put-’em-up guerilla attacks, and are now carried out online by advanced tech-whiz hackers and digital criminals who steal identities and break into secure systems, from a highly encrypted headquarters. But some of the biggest bank heists in history really did see criminals walking into the bank and grabbing the cash themselves, without the use of technology – and in many cases getting away with it.
In order to pull off a successful bank heist, bank robbers have to use clever creativity and cunning strategy to avoid being caught. From Butch Cassidy to Saddam Hussein, there have been some impressive bank heists worthy of Hollywood, passing off in the most unconventional ways. We’ve compiled the 10 greatest bank heists of all time, from all over the the world. These bank heists have made their mark in history, and their executors made off with baffling amounts of money.
10. Loomis Fargo and Company (1997) – $18 million
1997 was a hard year for Loomis Fargo and Company, with two enormous heists in March and October. In March, in a Florida branch of the bank, armoured car driver Phillip Noel Johnson used brawn instead of brains in overpowering two of his co-workers and making off with about $18 million. He stashed the cash in a storage shed in Mountain Home, North Carolina, and then moved to Mexico City. He was apprehended at a U.S. border crossing when he was pulled from a bus with identification known as one of Johnson’s aliases. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Indeed, many bank heists are inside jobs,with employees from the bank using their position to coordinate the crime against their employer. The second Loomis Fargo and Company heist in Charlotte, North Carolina in October 1997 was lead by David Scott Ghannt, who was a vault supervisor and armoured car driver. He was assisted by Steve Chambers, who was friends with one of Ghant’s ex-colleagues also in on the robbery. Ghannt planned the heist in a one-night raid, taking $50,000 with him to Mexico – the plan was to have Chambers wire the rest of the money to him in increments and then return for the rest of the money when it was considered safe. Ghannt an co. didn’t get away with their gains though, as they were captured by the FBI and Mexican police.
9. Dunbar Armored (1997) – $19 million
The Dunbar Armored robbery is considered to be one of the largest heists in the history of the United States. This was another inside job by regional safety inspector, Allen Pace. He took photographs of the interior of the Los Angeles car depot, and then returned with conspirators where they managd to dodge the security cameras and tie up the guards with duct tape, making off with the money in a U-Haul truck – all while using radio headsets to communicate with each other. The group almost got away with the heist, but when the get-away truck’s tail light was found at the scene, it led to Pace’s arrest.
8. Northern Bank (2004) – $50 million
This heist was a large cash robbery from the Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast, Ireland and is considered one of the largest bank heists in UK history. The night before the heist occurred, the robbers – disguised as police officers to gain entry to the houses – visited the homes of two Northern Bank officials. Their families were then held hostage by the robbers, and the officials gave them the access that they demanded. The Irish and UK governments blame the heist on the Irish Republican Army, which the group and its leader have vehemently denied any involvement. The heist still remains unsolved, although arrests have been made. Northern Bank were forced to recall GBP 300 million worth of banknotes and reissued new notes in different colours.
7. Banco Central (2006) – $69.8 Million
The Banco Central heist in Brazil is arguably one of the most creative heists in history. The robbers were able to steal almost $70 million dollars by tunneling below the bank that spanned over 250 feet. But how were they able to tunnel below the bank without being caught? They posed as a landscaping business. Not only did they dig a tunnel, they were able to connect lighting and an air conditioning system to the tunnel so that they could rob in comfort. The tunnel took 3 months to make and authorities say it was clear the team comprised mathematical skill and advanced tools. Some suspects have been apprehended – but not all – and to this day the police have only been able to recover $9 million.
6. Great Train Robbery (1963) – $74 Million
In 1963, 16 robbers stopped a train called The Night Flyer. The train was carrying high value packets and bank notes being sent to numerous banks in London. Given that it was a postal train, numerous banks were impacted by this famous heist led by Bruce Reynolds. The robbers boarded the train when it was stopped at (rigged!) red lights at Sears Crossing. The criminals then attacked the staff in the High Value carriage and collected their loot. The men in other parts of the train didn’t even realize that the heist had taken place until they found the engine was missing as well as two carriages. 120 of the 128 mailbags were removed and they robbers made off with $74 million. Even though most of them left the country, the 17-strong team was eventually tracked down.
5. Securitas Depot (2006) – $92.5 million
Considered to be the largest cash robbery in British history at the time, the Securitas Depot robbery took place in Kent, England and lasted several hours. It began when a number of men abducted and threatened the family of the bank’s manager and tied up 14 staff members. From there, the criminals were able to steal over $92 million in bank notes from the depot and once the robbers had their money, they left the hostages in cash cages. These robbers met the same fate as most of the other lawless characters on our list; they were eventually caught and sent to trial.
4. Knightsbridge Security Deposit (1987) – $200 million
Led by a famous Italian criminal of the time, Valerio Viccei, this bank heist took place in July of 1987. The Knightsbridge Security Deposit was known to have famous clients and patrons and had, therefore, valuable economic resources attractive to a cunning criminal. Viccei closed the bank by threatening the manager and staff into submission with handguns. Once they’d taken control of the bank, already-notorious bank robber Viccei called for backup and his guys ransacked and robbed the bank with $200 million in cash, jewellery, and more. Viccei almost got away with it, but he was captured when he returned to his homeland to retrieve his precious Ferrari.
3. British Bank of the Middle East (1976) – $210 million
This bank heist made history as it extended over a week-long period. In the midst of the chaos that was a civil war in Beirut, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization used brute force to gain access into the bank by blasting through a wall that was shared with a Catholic Church. Using the help of Corsican locksmiths, they cracked the bank’s vault and got away with $20-$50 million dollars in gold bars, cash, stocks, and jewels. Today, the stolen loot is valued at over three times its worth in 1976, equivalent to about $210 million.
2. Dar Es Salaam (2007) – $282 million
This bank heist was accomplished overnight and very quietly. The heist of the Dar Es Salaam bank, located in Baghdad, is considered one of the largest robberies since the 2003 war started and people took advantage of the banks’ vulnerability. The money was stolen by the security guards who slept at the bank overnight. When the employees came into work the next morning, they found the front door open, vault doors ajar, the money gone, and the guards missing.
1. Central Bank of Iraq (2003) – $920 million
Starting on March 18th, the day before the US began bombing Iraq, almost $1 billion was stolen from the Central Bank of Iraq during the course of several robberies. There were no bandit masks, guns, or hostages. The weapon that made this heist possible was a note, signed by Saddam Hussein.
He had his son, Qusay, withdraw the money which included boxes of $100 bills stamped with a seal identifying them as ‘security money’. It took over 5 hours to load the money onto the trucks. Qusay was later killed by the United States military in the midst of a fight. The location of the money remains unknown and technically – since Saddam was the ruler at the time – it’s possible no laws were broken, though corruption was undoubtedly involved. These incidents executed by Qusay are still considered robberies, viewed as an attempt to hide the money that Hussein obtained unethically and stole from citizens in the first place.