In the movies, bank robbers and burglars are often charming rogues who always stay one step ahead of the police, but in real life they're usually just sloppy, terrible meth heads who get arrested within minutes of attempting their first heist.
However, every so often a real-life bandit or group of bandits manages to outshine their cinematic counterparts with a scheme so clever, so bold, or so insane that we can't help but be in awe of them.
The following happened, in our actual world:
On the morning of November 6, 2012, a gang of six apocalyptic marauders came blazing up onto the second floor of London's Brent Cross mall on a fleet of motorcycles and robbed the shit out of a jewelry store before peeling out through the mall's front entrance and Quantum Leaping back into the netherverse, never to be seen again.
The raiders stormed into the shopping mall dressed head to toe in jet black riding armor and Snake Eyes helmets and roared up to Fraser Hart jewelers two to a bike, where the pillion riders hopped off wielding axes and bats and proceeded to smash the store into fucking dust. Keep in mind, this is in broad daylight in the middle of a giant commerce center, which is another way of saying there is plenty of cellphone footage of the incident:
Within a matter of minutes, the raiders had snatched up more than $3.1 million in Cartier and Rolex watches, loose diamonds, and an undisclosed number of those Jane Seymour "Forever Heart" pendants. Then they leaped back onto their doom cycles and thundered off, screaming at random bystanders and dropping loot like cartoon bandits in their wake.
Mall security sprang into action and locked down the entire mall just in time to prevent the bikers from returning and stealing anything else and keep the panicked, terrorized throngs of mid-morning shoppers trapped inside. Investigators found three stolen motorbikes dumped at a nearby golf course, but the trail of jewels apparently didn't lead any further than that, because the riders themselves remain shrouded in mystery.
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We assume their biker babe girlfriends got the best proposals in history.
The phrase "art theft" is more likely to call to mind The Thomas Crown Affair, Vincent Cassel doing parkour, or Catherine Zeta-Jones' butt getting attacked by laser beams than earth-shattering explosions and burst-firing machine pistols. That's why absolutely everyone was taken by surprise when two cars suddenly burst into flames near the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm, Sweden, and a man strolled inside with an MP5 (more commonly known as "the machine gun from Die Hard") and held the lobby guards hostage.
The man contacted two associates already inside the museum, who proceeded to draw pistols (this was in pre-9/11 Sweden, where metal detectors weren't standard issue in every semi-official public place) and snatch up a Rembrandt and two Renoirs, three paintings with a combined value of about $30 million. The two men met the third in the lobby, and the trio ran outside to a waiting speedboat to make their stunning getaway, because apparently nobody saw an issue with building a museum directly on the water (the museum was built in the mid-19th century, back when people used boats to steal things all the time, so it's even less excusable).
Somewhere in the world, a Batman costume began to cry.
Police and emergency crews, distracted by the dual car firebombings, failed to notice the commotion at the museum in time to stop them, but the thieves scattered nails around the museum entrance to thwart any oncoming police cars just in case. Altogether, their departure ranks third behind jet pack and trained motorcycle bear as the most awesome way to flee a crime scene.
The police later found the boat abandoned in a lake in southern Stockholm, but it took several more years before the paintings were all finally recovered. Over a dozen criminals and shady art dealers were ultimately thrown in jail for their part in the heist, presumably by an enraged Andy Garcia.
But, honestly, who could blame them? It's that hair. You just have to own it.
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This past May at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, thousands of teenage girls gathered to watch Justin Bieber style his hair like a Lilith Fair headliner and do whatever it is that he does to hypnotize them into giving him their parents' money. However, when it came time for the stadium managers to count the fat stacks of cheddar they'd raked in over the weekend, they found the cash room totally empty, except for some scattered chunks of debris that had fallen from the ceiling, as if God had looked down upon the sea of Beliebers and cried tears of concrete and plaster dust.
Via NY Daily News
"Baby, baby, baby, nooooooo!"
A group of enterprising thieves had somehow managed to chisel through 2 feet of reinforced concrete, lower themselves into the vault room in the middle of a stadium packed with hundreds of security guards, dozens of cameras, and thousands of potential witnesses, and make off with almost a half-million dollars in Krugerrands, or pirate treasure, or whatever they use for money in South Africa.
Investigators believe the break-in was pulled off by a small group of people who had obtained fake security certificates to gain access to the backstage areas of the stadium, which FNB itself admits is relatively easy to do. For each event, they hire about 50 extra security guards in addition to their regular staff, and evidently all you need in order to be eligible for one of those freelance slots is one of these embarrassingly easy to forge certificates and a shirt that doesn't have any bloodstains on it.
He's clearly security. You can tell by his official security shirt.
So, a handful of people infiltrated the stadium's laid-back secondary employee screening process just prior to the concert and were able to cordon off the area above the cash room without anybody thinking anything was amiss -- if one person is where they aren't supposed to be, that raises suspicion, but if a group of people are standing around someplace, you assume they know what they're doing. Either that, or the glare of the arena lights off of the Biebs' golden gloves was so powerful that it blinded the regular staff members to the half-dozen burglars jackhammering through the floor and boot-clicking down to the parking lot with armfuls of stolen money.
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The opening shift of a bank on the second story of a massive high-rise in Chelembra, India, came to work the morning of New Year's Day 2008 to discover a giant hole carved into the middle of the vault room floor and 2.5 million rupees missing from their safes. Also, 160 pounds of gold bars had been stolen, because apparently this bank houses the accounts of several time-traveling conquistadors.
The bandits cut their way through the floor from a space below the bank that they had rented out under the pretense of building a restaurant. They even filled the space with furniture and construction materials and hung up a sign that essentially read "We are renovating this space for a new restaurant, which is totally a real thing that will be opening soon." All told, the preparation cost them two months and a down payment of 50,000 rupees on the rented space, which means they received about a 5,000 percent return on their investment.
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"I'm sorry, we're out of the fish. Might I suggest a gigantic plate of money instead?"
The thieves didn't simply steal the money and whistle off into the sunset, either -- this was one of the largest heists in Indian history, which meant the police weren't going to just shrug their shoulders at the first bad lead and move on to the next case. The cops were going to scorch the damned earth to find that money, so the thieves left several red herrings to throw them off the trail. They planted pro-communist writings at the scene of the robbery and deliberately left a gold bar in a hotel room in a neighboring state to trick investigators into thinking a bunch of Maoist terrorists had robbed the bank and were skating across the southern tip of India to golden victory. It's actually a bit unfair to compare this heist to a movie, because these guys clearly put way more thought into their plan than was put into all six of the current entries in the Fast and Furious franchise.
The misdirection didn't work for long, though. Less than two months after the heist, the police intercepted one of the robbers' cellphone calls and tracked it to a house where all four of the faux restaurateurs were hiding. Most of the booty was recovered and everyone involved got sent to jail. So maybe it wasn't that great of a plan, after all.
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Ironically, they all had to work the kitchen.
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Four (possibly five) guys walked into the Banco Rio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and held the entire building hostage for seven hours, allowing themselves to be slowly surrounded by 200 police officers as they packed up over 140 safe deposit boxes worth about $8 million and prepared for their totally unfeasible escape ("escape" here meaning "stepping outside into a volley of 200 adjudicating pistols firing in unison").
In the meantime, the robbers entertained their captives with hilarious antics, such as singing "Happy Birthday" to one of them and releasing three others to the cops in exchange for pizza and soda. The police finally grew tired of their hijinks and stormed the building, only to find the hostages sitting around unsupervised. The bank robbers had completely vanished.
And they say, sometimes late at night, you can still hear them steal.
A thorough search of the building led the authorities to the basement, where they discovered a hole in the wall covered up with an iron lid. The hole led into one of Argentina's many subterranean tunnels and emptied out into the nearby La Plata River, where the thieves had climbed onto a boat and escaped. Sources are unclear, but it is assumed that they took all of the pizza with them.
The robbers had left behind almost no clues, except for a few toy guns and a note that claimed they had only stolen "money, not love." Because love don't cost a thing. However, love apparently costs more than one of the robbers was willing to pay, because his wife dimed him out to the police, resulting in the arrest of everyone involved.
Oh, love, you are such a cruel bitch.
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The Pink Panthers are a gang of international jewel thieves who, quite frankly, make everyone else on this list look like a big pile of shit. The group is made up of anywhere from 60 to several hundred members, and they have stolen -- get this -- as much as $500 million in diamonds and other valuable gemstones over the past two decades.
They first showed up on the scene in 1993, swiping an $800,000 diamond from a jeweler in London and hiding it in a jar of face cream (this earned them the nickname "the Pink Panthers" from the police, because the same trick had been used in The Return of the Pink Panther). Their heists range from cunning tasks of deception (in one case, they coated nearby benches with fresh paint to prevent anyone from sitting down and becoming potential witnesses) to balls-out smash-and-grab runs (in another case, they drove a pair of limousines through a jewelry store window and stole everything in reach).
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But not before putting on their prom dresses and drunkenly screaming out the sunroof.
All told, Interpol has linked the Pink Panthers to robberies in over 100 stores in 20 countries around the world, from Dubai to Japan to the United States. They have a pool of legitimate passports that they trade back and forth, they speak numerous languages, and many of them are suspected to be heavily armed ex-soldiers from Eastern Europe, otherwise known as the Land Where Not a Single Fuck Is Given.
The group has fallen off the radar for the past few years, with small handfuls of members being arrested here and there, but re-emerged in a big way this past year. First, three Pink Panthers escaped from Swiss prisons over the summer, with the last escapee, Milan Poparic, busting loose in grand fashion. Two accomplices (most likely Pink Panthers themselves) crashed two big trucks through the prison's front gate and drove all the way up to the exercise yard, blasting AK-47s at the guards to keep them pinned down while they leaned a ladder against the fence for Poparic to climb over. Then they simply drove off, like they'd just pulled over to the side of the road to pick up an old couch from somebody's front yard on their way to Food Lion.
Later that same week, during the Cannes Film Festival, one of the Pink Panthers strolled into the Carlton International Hotel on the French Riviera with nothing but a face-obscuring scarf and a handgun and robbed a hotel room of $136 million worth of diamonds, gemstones, and watches. The valuables were being stored in preparation for a sale exhibit, because the Cannes Film Festival is like a bug lamp for rich people, but apparently nobody felt the private security team guarding the diamonds needed to be armed, because they totally weren't.
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Stop! ... please?
Police have yet to make any arrests or recover any of the stolen property, but the fact that the most expensive jewelry heist in history took place a few days after one of the Pink Panthers broke out of prison in a Michael Mann-esque storm of gunfire and bravado probably narrows down their list of suspects a bit.
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Related Reading: Ready for heists that put Oceans 11 to shame? Click here and learn about the man who burgled the Louvre for patriotism. Sometimes the simplest heists are the best heists, as this thief who randomly chose to steal a $4 million painting can attest. If you're more a fan of mystery, read up on these crimes with endless unanswered questions.