5 Real Robberies With Better Twists Than Any Heist Movie
Everyone loves a good heist movie. And it's easy to see why, what with all the exciting chases involving tiny British cars, the hacking of The Man's mainframe, and the giant, balls-to-the-wall helicopter battles over Los Angeles. But that kind of stuff doesn't happen in real life.
No, in real life thieves don't need helicopters or EMP devices to pull off shit bigger than anything you've seen on the silver screen. You just need a ridiculous plan and the balls to carry it out.
A French Gang Tunnels Into a Bank Vault, Has a Party Inside
One day back in the late 1970s, French photographer and former Vietnam War paratrooper Albert Spaggiari got up and said, "You know what? Wedding photos really aren't my 'thing.'" So he gathered up a group of professionals including some former paratrooper pals, an attempted assassin, and a jewelry appraiser, and he planned up a heist that, if successful, would land every last one of them on the swanky end of Easy Street. Over a long weekend due to Bastille Day (you know, that holiday named after the Rush song), the group would clean out the vault of the Societe Generale bank.
Societe Generale: currently, France's most feared general.
For months, the men pulled 10-hour night shifts to dig a 30-foot tunnel under downtown Nice, digging at the snail-like pace of six inches per night. Then, on July 16, 1976, the team finally busted through the outer wall of the bank vault ... and, due to a slight miscalculation, right into the back of a massive bank of safety deposit boxes. That was nothing a little quick thinking (and a stolen car jack) couldn't fix, however, and they were soon inside -- and that's when they transformed from successful bank burglars into downright obnoxious ones.
See, once they got in there, they welded the vault's door shut from the inside and presumably donned their striped sailor shirts and red berets while laughing like "oh-hoh-hoh-hoh," busting out the bread, cheese, and pate, and having themselves a full-on Frenchman party. They popped bottles of wine and drank it from priceless chalices; when the urge struck, they dropped big ol' deuces into antique silver tureens. Oh, and somehow, during all that, they also found time to break into hundreds of safety deposit boxes and retrieve "$8 million to $10 million in gold, cash, jewelry and gems."
And silver. Specifically, silverware, which they used to eat their brie.
As might be expected with such a ridiculously audacious crime, it didn't take authorities long to catch up with Spaggiari and force a confession out of him -- but they hadn't seen "audacious" just yet. While at the magistrate's office, he complained about the heat and asked if he could open a window. When his wish was inexplicably granted, the Spagster jumped out the window, landed on the roof of a car 10 feet below, then hopped onto the back of a speeding motorcycle, presumably throwing up an exaggerated bras d'honneur as he zoomed away.
He was sentenced to life in prison in absentia, which is sort of like that dinner invitation from your weird uncle in Detroit (as long as you never bother going there, you never have to deal with it). And just to rub salt in the wound, he would eventually use all the free time he found while relaxing at his Argentine villa (purchased with the proceeds from the heist) to write a book all about it.
A Man Uses Chocolate to Charm His Way Into a Vault Full of Diamonds
More than half of the diamond trading in the entire world takes place in the small district surrounding the train station in Antwerp, Belgium -- we're talking more than $23 billion that flows through there every single year. And as you can imagine with a place where every bank vault looks like something straight out of Captain Jack Sparrow's recurring wet dreams, security is also like something straight out of a movie: "briefcases handcuffed to wrists, cameras filming the milling crowds from many angles, a special police station, and circles of steel pillars at both ends of the district."
You have to wear a black catsuit just to deposit a check.
So how could someone possibly pull off a huge robbery in a place like that? Well, getting a bank to voluntarily hand over a gold-plated key and a diamond-encrusted all-access pass to their vault certainly doesn't hurt.
For more than a year, Carlos Hector Flomenbaum was a much-beloved and trusted customer of ABN Amro Bank, possibly because they couldn't help but love a guy with a name like Carlos Hector Flomenbaum, or possibly because he looked like everybody's grandpa.
"What's this in your ear? Why, it's a 10-carat diamond!"
Or maybe it was because Flomenbaum spent that entire year charming the staff's asses off by telling them how pretty and/or handsome they looked today and gifting them expensive chocolates until they blushed and handed him a special VIP key that granted him full access to the vault whenever he damn well pleased. It seems that even the highest of high-tech security systems are no match for some good old-fashioned pimp charm.
Naturally, he then used said key to walk straight into the vault one weekend in March 2007 and relieve it of more than 120,000 carats of diamonds, estimated to be worth $28 million. His access was so unrestricted that officials weren't even sure exactly when he did it -- they could only narrow it down to "sometime between Friday and Monday," or, as we like to call it, "the weekend." Only after he was long gone did anyone realize that (big shocker here) Carlos Hector Flomenbaum was a false identity -- something that apparently doesn't come up during the application process for a super secret bank vault pass ... not if you're carrying the right amount of chocolate, anyway.
A Gang Steals an Entire Bridge
It's one thing to pull off a particularly foolhardy crime and then get caught. It's another thing to steal something that any non-insane person would perceive as patently unstealable -- such as, say, a freaking 10-ton bridge -- and then be long gone before anyone ever realizes anything was up.
Now, we've seen our fair share of stolen bridges here at Cracked, but while stealing a bridge in the dead of night simply takes, you know, being Russian, stealing one in broad daylight -- with the full permission of everyone around, no less -- takes balls the size of Putin's hubris. But that's exactly what a gang of Czech metal thieves did back in April of 2012.
It went nicely with all the steel they had in their balls.
The men walked right up to railway employees at a depot in Slavkov and presented forged paperwork saying that they had been "hired to demolish the bridge, and remove the unwanted railway track to make way for a new cycle route." After performing a background check consisting of giving their butts a lengthy scratch, the railway officials waved the nice gentlemen along (we're picturing them clanking as they went, with arms full of pickaxes and ACME plunger detonators). It was only after the men had driven away with tons of metal to be sold for scrap that the officials realized that hey, maybe a bridge isn't so unstealable after all.
The stolen metal was thought to be worth around $6,300. It sounds like relatively small potatoes until you factor in the cost of potentially millions of dollars it would take to rebuild the bridge -- and that's not even taking into account the cost of contracting Superman to swoop in and save the train that was no doubt speeding toward the missing bridge as the brash thieves drove away with trucks full of twisted metal.
It's like that time those master thieves looted the Louvre for kindling.
And, strangely, this seems to be just one of similarly costly robberies taking place all over the world. About a year later, in Turkey, thieves upped the ante by stealing a 22-ton bridge, and before that, in India, 40 thieves drove in on cranes, told guards that they were with the public works department, and stole half a bridge. By only taking half, they presumably had their eyes on the award for "biggest commuter mindfuck."
Julian Altman Plays a $4 Million Stolen Violin for Half a Century
Julian Altman was a talented violinist, but -- according to his mother, at least -- he lacked one important skill required for making a career of it: the ability to own a priceless violin.
In 1936, Altman got a job playing at the Russian Bear in New York, which was somehow not an old-timey gay bar. It was, however, conveniently close to Carnegie Hall. He soon befriended the local musicians and doormen, plying them with cigars to let him sneak in and watch concerts in the wings. He even brought his mother and daughter along to show them just how nice of a guy he was.
"His wife gave birth, and his mother gave birth to him? This guy's all right!"
One fateful day, famous Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman was in town, and it was common knowledge that he owned a rare 1713 Stradivarius. After giving the world's most gullible doorman a nice cigar and telling him that he'd totally keep watch while he went and smoked it, Altman slipped into Huberman's dressing room, slid the Strad under his gypsy costume (did we mention that his job at the Russian Bear involved wearing a gypsy costume? That seems like something we should've mentioned), and walked out.
After dropping it off at home, he made it back just in time to play "Hungarian Rhapsody" (not a Queen song) at the Russian Bear. He was never even questioned in regard to the theft -- Huberman simply played the show with his other ridiculously valuable violin (a Guarnerius) and quietly collected the insurance money.
"With Strad's strings still warm in the coffin?!?"
So did Altman sell it? Pawn it? Only slip it out of its case in the dark of night to fondle it while quietly masturbating? Nope -- he played it. For 50 years. Altman never achieved what one might call Huberman status, but for most of his life, he toted that Stradivarius around to clubs, churches, and social gatherings, where he'd sometimes just leave it lying around unattended for some dumb kid who'd watched too many cartoons to pick up and use as a bow and arrow.
Finally, in 1985, Altman confessed on his deathbed that the violin he'd been playing all his life was stolen. At first he claimed to have purchased it from some unidentified thief, but later admitted that it was his helicopter-parenting mother who had masterminded the whole affair. His story was corroborated (and his status as a criminal mastermind toppled) when his widow found newspaper clippings about the theft right inside the violin's case.
Everyone assumed the case just held spare change and cigarette butts.
In a move that demonstrates that ballsy people tend to stick together, his widow then pocketed a hefty six-figure finder's fee from Lloyd's of London (who had paid out the insurance money all those years before), and the prized violin has since been purchased by lauded soloist Joshua Bell ... for nearly $4 million. Four million motherfucking dollars. Oh, and in order to disguise the true quality of the violin for all those years, Altman slopped black shoe polish all over it.
A Japanese Man Uses a Shitty Cop Costume and a Smoke Bomb to Steal 300 Million Yen
December 10, 1968, started out as a typical day for four employees of Japan's Nippon Trust Bank. Driver Sekiya Ryoichi was accompanied by the bank's assistant manager, Nakata Eiji, in shotgun, while Furukawa Jun'ichi and Takahashi Isao took the backseat for a transport run of 300 million yen down the streets of Tokyo to a Toshiba factory. To be clear, this wasn't an armored car or anything -- just a regular car with metal cases full of cash in the trunk, because that's apparently how Japanese bankers rolled in the 1960s.
They protected the yen with the power of friendship.
As they approached the dropoff point, a police officer on a motorcycle stopped them (this wasn't totally out of the norm, since their route took them right past a prison). The officer claimed that the bank's branch manager's house had just exploded and that, furthermore, there was a bomb under the car and they really needed to get right the hell out, like, right the hell now.
Coincidentally (or not), the branch manager had in fact received a bomb threat just days earlier, so the officer's story checked out. The four jumped out of the car and the cop crawled underneath to check it out. Almost immediately, smoke started billowing out and the officer scrambled back out, screaming, "It's dynamite. It's going to blow!" As the four bank employees ran for their lives, wondering how much it would cost to wash terror piss out of dress slacks, the "cop" nonchalantly got in the driver's seat and drove away, leaving nothing behind but the smoke bomb he had set off beneath the car and a shoddily painted fake cop motorcycle.
In hindsight, the uniform wasn't that convincing either.
That's when the group of bank employees presumably stopped, spent an inordinate amount of time glancing at the receding car, at each other, back at the receding car, and back at each other before breathing out a collective "Ohhhhhh shit."
The robbery resulted in the largest Japanese police investigation ever, with a final tally of countless hours dedicated by hundreds of officers (two of whom "died of exhaustion working the case") and a bill three times the value of the stolen money. But even with detective power equal to a hundred Batmans, the cops couldn't solve the case -- the investigation only turned up two real suspects, one of whom poisoned himself, and another whose alibi eventually checked out. Both the statute of limitations and the civil liability statute have now run out, meaning the thief could literally narrate his own 20/20 special, and no one can do shit to him. As for the money? Unbelievably, another bank employee decided to take out an insurance policy on the transport just 15 minutes before the crime occurred. Maybe we're just being armchair detectives here, but did anyone ever question that guy?
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For more insane robberies, check out 5 Real Bank Heists Ripped Right Out of the Movies. And then check out 22 Creative Ads for Illegal Activities.
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