7 'Ocean's Eleven'-Style Heists (That Happened In Real Life)
Hollywood makes the "big heist" look like a cool, dramatic affair. And if they do it right, the audience is left in awe of the criminals who pulled it off against all odds. That, of course, is irresponsible. In reality, criminals are not so bold or ingenious, they're just thugs who- oh wait, absolutely everything in this article is about bold and ingenious criminals in real life? Well dang. Let's praise some crime!
A 16-Year-Old Rappels From The Roof Of A Car Dealership To Steal Guy Fieri's Lamborghini
In 2013, Max Wade wanted to impress a girl. Like most stories that start this way, what followed was pure idiocy. His plan sounds like ... well, like something a 16-year-old would come up with. He wanted to climb to the top of a car dealership, rappel down like in Mission: Impossible, and steal Guy Fieri's $200,000 yellow Lamborghini.
It was a stupid, stupid idea. And it worked.
A security camera snapped a shot of the car zooming across the Golden Gate Bridge, and that was the last time anyone saw it until a year and a half later. When cops eventually caught the kid and recovered the car, it wasn't even because of the original crime. Wade (by then a hardened 17-year-old career criminal) was apprehended after he shot five times at the girl he originally wanted to impress, plus her actual boyfriend. Turns out felony grand larceny of a reality TV star's automobile is not an instant ticket to Flavor Town.
Thankfully, neither the girl nor her boyfriend were seriously injured, but Wade was sent to jail for that, as well as the theft. Fieri even testified, and it's weird watching the interview. You keep waiting for him to take a bite of a jalapeno popper and call it "funkalicious," but all he does is crack jokes about this teenager who was just sentenced to life in jail. Dynamite!
A Master Thief Parachutes Onto The Roof Of A Palace To Steal A Priceless Jewel
Gerald Blanchard was the sort of thief who would sneak into banks through heating vents, build secret hiding spots in the places he wanted to rob, then escape arrest by crawling through the ceiling of a police station. You know, classic hacky crime novel fodder. So when he heard about the Sisi Star, a priceless piece of jewelry created for Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Blanchard figured it was the sort of thing someone like him should steal as spectacularly as possible.
How? By grabbing a pilot friend, boarding a light plane, and parachuting down to land on the roof of the Austrian palace containing the jewel.
He then rappelled down a wall and slipped in through a window he had unlocked while on a tour of the palace museum the day before. After disabling the alarm, Blanchard quickly switched out the Star with a replica he had bought in the museum gift shop. It seems it was a very high-quality gift shop, because it took several weeks before anyone noticed the Star was missing. They actually found his abandoned parachute way earlier, but didn't think much of it, because who hasn't suddenly remembered they're wearing a parachute right before entering a museum?
Once he had this historically significant jewel in his possession, Blanchard ... put it in his grandmother's basement and promptly forgot about it. He knew he couldn't fence it; he just took it on a whim, like it was a Twix bar at the supermarket checkout line. He led the cops to it in 2007 after being arrested for some unrelated crimes. Twenty years after this movie-caliber heist, this master thief keeps busy by, uh, getting caught shoplifting gaming consoles at Best Buy. The sequels are always a disappointment, aren't they?
A Group Of Old Men Drill Their Way Inside A High-Security Vault
Hollywood law dictates that every heist crew must include a grumpy old guy who used to be a legendary thief. Imagine a whole flock of these dudes, and you have the crew behind the 2016 Hatton Garden Jewelry robbery in London.
The group was made up of very veteran thieves (aged 58-76, with a 49-year-old whippersnapper as an accomplice) who decided to get together for one last job: stealing $18 million in gold and valuable stones from a safety deposit company. After three years of careful planning, including the essential purchase of a copy of Forensics For Dummies, the gang infiltrated the building dressed as construction workers. They then shimmied down to the vault through a freaking elevator shaft. Again, these are senior citizens. One of them had to stop to get his insulin shots.
After spending several hours drilling through the reinforced vault, they discovered that the coveted safety deposit cabinets were bolted to the floor and ceiling. So the geezers snuck away empty-handed ... and came back two days later with better tools. This time they tore through 73 deposit boxes, loaded their swag into garbage bins, and waltzed away.
Unfortunately for the gang, it looks like Forensics For Dummies didn't have a chapter on how to avoid CCTV cameras. Some light detective work revealed that they were still holding regular meetings at a nearby pub, and casual lip-reading showed that they were liberally boasting about the heist. Note to aspiring geriatric criminal gangs: Maybe get your grandsons to order Surveillance For Dummies for you as well.
An Autistic Flutist Steals $159,000 In Feathers For An Underground Community Of Fishermen
Edwin Rist was an American flute player and student at London's prestigious Royal Academy of Music, which is the perfect cover for a gentleman thief, come to think of it. In 2009, he finished performing at a swanky concert and made his way to Tring's Natural History Museum, which he infiltrated using 1) some wire cutters for the barbed wire, 2) a diamond-tipped glass cutter to slice through a high window, and 3) a rock, for the same window, after he dropped the glass cutter and thought "Fuck it."
Months earlier, Rist had disguised himself as a photographer to enter the vault, so he knew exactly where the most valuable treasures were. Wearing latex gloves, he broke the locks and rifled through case after case of precious ... feathers? Wait, what?
Turns out the museum contains one of the world's most extensive collections of bird skins and feathers, many gathered from species that haven't been around for centuries. Rist made off with a selection of the best specimens, then made an estimated $159,000 selling them to the "feather underground." Which is a shady network of ... fly fishermen? Who obsessively hunt rare feathers to ... tie to fishing flies? What the hell is going on with this story?!
Rist apparently used a big chunk of the money to pay for new flutes. He was arrested in 2011, and the court gave him a suspended sentence after taking his Asperger's syndrome into consideration. He was also ordered to pay full financial restitution, which is probably going to take a while, unless there's big money in fluting these days.
Venice's Fanciest Art Thief Steals A Painting For A Mob Boss, Then Steals It Back For The Cops
Vincenzo Pipino was the classiest art thief in Venice, itself easily the classiest city in which to steal art (sorry Kenosha, Wisconsin). He had a surprisingly courteous relationship with the police, and his victims even considered it a mark of good taste to have their art stolen by him. But then in 1991, Pipino was recruited by the notorious crime boss Felice Maniero, who wanted to steal Venice's treasures to use as a bargaining chip with the Italian authorities. That's some Carmen Sandiego shit if we've ever heard it, but Maniero was a genuinely dangerous dude, so Pipino couldn't exactly say no.
A few days later, Pipino joined a tour group through Venice's Palazzo Ducale, then hid in a cell until nighttime, at which point he emerged to steal Vivarini's famed Madonna col Bambino for Maniero. It was the first successful robbery from the Ducale, a place that's been in business for longer than America.
On the same day, Maniero's heavily armed goons smashed into a church and stole Saint Anthony's Chin. That is, the literal chin of a saint. Italy has had a very long time to nurture some very odd priorities. Pipino didn't like the sacrilegious theft, or that he'd just helped those same people steal something else, so he decided to un-help them by stealing back the painting for the cops.
According to Pipino, Maniero told him that the painting was being kept at his cousin's, along with his pets. Assuming that meant dogs, Pipino broke in with some tranquilizer-laced meat ... only to find himself face-to-face with two tigers, which you may recognize as exactly two tigers too many. Fortunately, they were friendly enough, and the tranquilizers eventually worked, allowing Pipino to replace the painting with a replica and escape to heist another day.
A $200,000 Diamond Vanishes During An Ocean's Twelve Promo Event
Ocean's Eleven was so successful that it spawned not only two sequels and a spinoff, but a pretty bonkers real-life theft. In 2004, the studio decided to promote the upcoming Ocean's Twelve by sending George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon to the Monaco Grand Prix. And since the movie features some expensive jewelry, the producers thought it would be clever if two cars in the race sported flawless $200,000 diamonds on their noses. What could go wrong?
What the producers forgot is that the movie involves expensive jewelry getting stolen. All was going well until Austrian driver Christian Klien crashed one of the bedazzled cars nose-first on a hairpin bend during the very first lap. Because of safety regulations, Team Jaguar was only allowed to go clean up the mess once the race was over ... two hours later. Fortunately, there were hundreds of cameras covering every angle of the track, so it's not as if someone could simply walk up to the car and steal the diamond. Unfortunately, someone did that anyway. By the time the car reached the mechanic, the rock was gone. We should mention at this point that said rock was also not insured.
To this day, no one knows where the diamond ended up. Was the crash so potent that it turned into coal? Was Klien involved, and if so, was he really Sandra Bullock in a latex mask? Whatever happened, the diamond's owners, gem company Steinmetz, clearly learned from the incident, because the next time they lent diamonds for the Grand Prix, they put them on the drivers' helmets instead. Sure, it would be even smarter to not lend diamonds for the Grand Prix, but still.
A Woman Poses As An Armored Car Company Employee For Five Months At The Behest Of A Criminal Poet
Heather Tallchief was a young go-getter in the security industry, whose tight ponytail and thick glasses were a refreshing presence in a land of buzz cuts and mustaches. After getting to know her for months, her co-workers felt they could safely leave her alone in an armored car during a Vegas casino delivery run in October 1993.
They could not.
Tallchief's co-workers loved her so much that when she vanished along with $4.1 million in unmarked bills, they were worried sick that she'd been kidnapped. In reality, Tallchief had driven the armored car to the garage of an "auto repair company" she had started under a fake identity (one of 12 she'd racked up by age 21), where she met up with her accomplice, an older ex-con turned poet named Roberto Solis. If you're into poetry books published from prison in the 1970s, you know him better as "Pancho Aguila."
Tallchief and Solis packed their haul and mailed it to one of her fake identities in another state. Then, after she ditched her ponytail and glasses in She's All That fashion, the pair boarded a private jet they'd booked weeks earlier while posing as an elderly wheelchair-bound gambler and his nurse.
But this case clearly needs yet another plot twist. In 2005, Tallchief turned up at a courthouse and surrendered to authorities. She claimed Solis had manipulated her into pulling off the heist with a combination of seduction and straight-up brainwashing, then took all the money and left her alone with their child. Such is the dangerous power of poetry.
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