10 Greatest Heists in History

Our post about the Egyptian Pyramids made me think: What if someone tries to rob the jewels and valuable stuff inside them?

Wait . . . Have they ever been robbed before? If yes, they could be the greatest heists in history, right?

I had to find it out. In fact, many pyramids have been robbed earlier. However, that didn’t amaze me at all, because no one knows anything much about them. On the other hand, I found out many other breathtaking and greatest heists in history.

Greatest Heists in History

Criminal masterminds have a weird history of being idolised. Fans who live vicariously through their daring exploits seem to adore even thieves who don’t always share their looted wealth with the needy.

Discover the incredible stories behind the greatest heists in history, whether the criminals were caught or the case still remains unsolved.

And, as famous as some of these heists are, it’s possible you’ve never heard of the perpetrators — and some were so well-planned that the real culprits may never be discovered.

History has taught us that no matter how large the trap, a cunning mouse will always find a way to steal the cheese. Here is our list of the 10 greatest heists in history.

10 : Opera House heist (1987)

The Top 10 Greatest Heists in History
greatest heists in history

On March 19, 1987, a crew acting as Central Bureau of Investigation personnel raided the Opera House branch of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri & Sons Jewellers in Bombay (modern-day Mumbai), India, for a bogus income tax investigation. The case is still a mystery.

In the 17 March 1987 issue of The Times of India, a person posing as Mon Singh or Mohan Singh submitted a classified advertisement seeking “Dynamic Graduates for Intelligence Officers Post and Security Officers Post.” The applicants were instructed to report to the Taj Intercontinental hotel between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. the following day. To interview the prospects, he booked an office in Mittal Towers in Nariman Point. At least 26 individuals were chosen and told to report to the Taj the next day when they were briefed on the ‘mock raid’ by Singh.

Around 2:15 p.m, they came to the Opera House branch of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri & Sons Jewellers. Singh approached the owner, Pratap Zevari, and presented him with a ‘search warrant’.  He demanded that the proprietors turn off the surveillance cameras and hand over a licenced revolver that was kept on the premises.

No phone calls were allowed, and Singh and the bogus Central Bureau of Investigation personnel collected samples of ornaments to determine the purity of the gold. Singh chose a few ‘samples’ of jewellery and packed them in polybags. In addition, money was collected. Singh asked two guys to load the briefcases into the bus after 45 minutes. He asked others to keep watch on the shop and left in the bus to ‘supervise’ another raid. Never to be found again. And hence the opera house robbery has made it to the number 10 on our list of the greatest heists in history.

09 : Heist of Mona Lisa (1911)

The Top 10 Greatest Heists in History
greatest heists in history

Peruggia, an Italian museum worker, artist, and thief, most famous for stealing the Mona Lisa, committed what has been called the largest art theft of the twentieth century in 1911. According to authorities, the former Louvre employee hid within the museum on Sunday, August 20th, knowing the museum would be closed the next day.

However, according to Peruggia’s interrogation in Florence after his arrest, he entered the museum about 7 a.m. on Monday, August 21st, by the same door as the other Louvre employees.

He said he was unrecognizable from the other workers since he was dressed in one of the museum’s standard white smocks. He removed the picture from the wall and dismantled the protective case and frame when the hall was empty. He then removed his smock, wrapped it around the painting, slipped it under his arm, and walked out of the Louvre through the very same door.

For two years, he kept the picture hidden in a trunk in his apartment. Later he returned to Italy and was finally caught when he contacted Mario Fratelli, the owner of an art gallery in Florence, Italy. Peruggia claimed he did it for a patriotic reason, wanting to return the painting to Italy “after it was stolen by Napoleon” (Napoleon looted many works of art from Italy during the Napoleonic Wars).

Vincenzo may not have known that Leonardo da Vinci gave this painting to Francis I as a gift when he relocated to France to work as a painter in his court. This robbery gave the artwork such a huge fame, and also puts it on the 9th rank of our greatest heists in history.

08 : Thomas Blood and the Crown Jewels Of England (1671)

The Top 10 Greatest Heists in History
greatest heists in history

Colonel Thomas Blood the “Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels,” as one of history’s most daring criminals, and has also secured the 8th position on our list of the greatest heists in history.

The Crown Jewels were stored in a cellar at the Tower of London, behind a massive metal grille. Talbot Edwards, the Keeper of the Jewels, lived on the floor above the basement with his family.

Colonel Blood, dressed as a ‘parson,’ visited the Crown Jewels in 1671 and became close with Edwards, later returning with his fake wife (a prostitute). His wife staged a fake stomachache and was escorted to Edward’s apartment to rest. A few days later, the ‘Parson Blood’ came with four pairs of white gloves for Mrs Edwards as a token of his gratitude for her kindness to his wife.

The Edwards family and ‘Parson Blood’ became fast friends and met up on a regular basis. He also introduced a fake nephew who he claimed would marry the daughter of Edwards.

‘Parson Blood’ arrived at 7 a.m. on May 9th, 1671, with his ‘nephew’ and two other men. Others in the party expressed a willingness to see the Crown Jewels while the ‘nephew’ was getting to know Edward’s daughter.

Edwards took the group downstairs and unlocked the door to the holding cell. Blood attacked him with a sword after knocking him unconscious with a hammer.

To flee, they crushed the Jewels with mallets and packed them inside their pants. They didn’t go very far, though, as many soldiers are said to have tackled them off their horses. Blood was not only pardoned by King Charles (even after Lord Ormonde didn’t want him to), but he was also given Irish lands worth £500 per year! Blood became a well-known character in London, frequently appearing in Court.

Since that day, no other burglar has attempted to match Colonel Blood’s daring in stealing the Crown Jewels!

07 : The French Bank Vault Tunneler (1976)

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greatest heists in history

Albert Spaggiari has made it to the 7th position our list of the greatest heists in history. When Spaggiari learned that the sewers were close to the Société Générale bank’s vault in Nice, he began planning a bank break-in. He eventually decided to try excavating into the bank vault from the ground level. Spaggiari hired a box in the bank vault and installed a loud alarm clock inside. To check for any acoustic or seismic detection gear, he set the clock to chime at night. The vault had no alarms since it was thought to be impenetrable: the door wall was extraordinarily thick, and there was no clear means to gain access to the other walls.

Spaggiari contacted Marseille-based professional gangsters, who opted not to take part in the theft after reviewing his plans and the location. His collaborators were most likely recruited through old OAS acquaintances. His workers entered the sewers and dug an eight-metre-long (26-foot) tunnel from the sewer to the vault level over the course of two months.

During this prolonged excavation, Spaggiari and his workers had taken numerous safeguards while drilling for long periods of time. To avoid any hazard to the operation, he urged them not to drink coffee or alcohol and to get at least 10 hours of sleep every shift.

Spaggiari’s team broke into the vault itself on July 16, 1976, during the long weekend of Bastille Day. They broke into 400 safe deposit boxes and stole between 30 and 100 million Swiss francs in cash, securities, and valuables.   It was the largest heist in bank robbery history at the time.

Spaggiari allegedly gave his troops a supper of wine and pâté, and they sat down in the vault for a lovely meal after welding the vault door shut from the inside. The group rummaged through the various safe deposit boxes for hours.

Before they left on 20 July they left a message on the walls of the vault: sans armes, ni haine, ni violence (“without weapons, hatred, or violence”)

06 : The Collar Bomb Bank Robbery (2003)

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greatest heists in history

Anyone who has seen 30 Minutes or Less will recognise this one, but the true tale is even more terrible. A middle-aged pizza deliveryman entered a bank in 2003, delivered the teller a note requesting the money in the vault, and then lowered his shirt to reveal a collar bomb around his neck and chest. He got away for about 15 minutes after snatching the money before being nabbed by state cops.

He began yelling that he had been forced to commit the robbery and that the bomb was about to detonate. The police encircled the area and waited for the bomb disposal team to come, but the bomb began beeping and exploded before they arrived.

With FBI investigators, a long paper trail of clues, and dead bodies stored in freezers, the story gets crazier from there. If you like true stories that are crazy than fiction, this is a must-read.

05 : Isabella Stewart Garden Museum Theft (1990)

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greatest heists in history

Two men disguised as police officers and armed with firearms invaded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston early on Sunday, March 18, 1990, tied up the security guards, and spent the next 81 minutes ripping artwork from the museum’s galleries. They departed the building with 13 artwork by Degas, Rembrandt, and Vermeer, totalling $500 million in value which makes it to the list of the greatest heists in history.

  The incident occurred during a busy holiday weekend when local police were occupied managing the St. Patrick’s Day parade and festivities. The robbers were familiar with the museum’s layout as well as its security systems, however to what extent is still unknown. They removed some of Gardner’s most valuable paintings, as well as lesser-known items including an ancient Chinese beaker and a bronze Napoleon-era finial.

The fact that none of the stolen artwork has emerged is a strange element of the incident. The works would have been difficult to fence because the robbery garnered so much attention, but if the motive for the crime was to make money, it would be logical to assume that at least one or two pieces would pop up on the black market after all this time has gone.

Empty Frames

Today, empty frames hang in the Museum as a replacement for the missing artwork and as a symbol of optimism in the hope that they will be found.

The Museum is offering a $10 million compensation for information that would lead to the restoration of the stolen art.

04 : Great Train Robbery (1963)

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greatest heists in history

The armed heist of £2,600,000 (mainly in used banknotes) from the Glasgow–London Royal Mail Train near Bridego Bridge north of London on August 8, 1963. Two accomplices—an unidentified insider who gave key train schedule and cargo information and another individual who provided a country hideaway, Leatherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire—aided the 15 holdup guys, who wore helmets, ski masks, and gloves. Bruce Reynolds, a notorious thief and armed robber, was the ringleader.

The thieves stopped the train by deactivating a green rail signal and activating a red signal with batteries. The engineer was badly hurt by a strike to the head, but the train’s fireman went to investigate and was apprehended uninjured. The thieves used Land Rovers to transport roughly 120 mail bags to their farm hideaway, where they divided the loot. Six burglars were then recruited to set fire to the farmhouse, but they did such a bad job that the police discovered everyone’s fingerprints. 12 of the 15 thieves were arrested, convicted, and jailed as a result of this and other evidence (none serving more than 13 years).

Ronnie Biggs, one of the convict, escaped from prison in 1965, had his face changed by plastic surgery, and escaped to Paris, then to Australia, and finally to Brazil. Biggs returned to the United Kingdom in 2001 and was arrested again.

Despite the large sums of money stolen, none of the robbers was able to retire comfortably on their loot. Buster Edwards eventually became a flower vendor at Waterloo station. When Phil Collins portrayed him in the film Buster in 1988, he gained a lot of attention. In the late 1990s, he committed suicide. In 1989, James Hussey and Thomas Wisbey were found guilty of cocaine trafficking, while Charles Wilson was shot and killed in Spain.

03 : Antwerp Diamond Heist (2003)

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greatest heists in history

In 2003, The Antwerp Diamond Center’s underground vault (which was at that time, safeguarded by infrared heat detectors, sophisticated locks, and eight other layers of protection) was broken into by a group of Italian criminals known as “The School of Turin,”. Despite such high security, the gang plundered 123 of the vault’s 160 safes without setting off any alarms or leaving any traces of forced entry, something security didn’t find until the next day.

Leonardo Notarbartolo, a small-time diamond trader, Diamond Centre tenant, and robber infamous for numerous petty jewel crimes, led the robbery.

According to Notarbartolo, he was hired by an unidentified diamond dealer to photograph the vault’s intricate security system. The merchant built a full-size duplicate of the vault based on the photos. According to Notarbartolo, the dealer arranged for him to join a small group of Italian jewel thieves, each with their own collection of skills for the crime. However, the police are not satisfied with this anonymous diamond dealer story. There is no evidence to back up these claims.

They turned off the infrared director that detects heat. They then used plastic bags to block surveillance cameras. Cameras, a combination dial, a keyed lock, magnetic sensors, a lockable steel gate, light sensors, heat and motion sensors, and keypad disarming sensors were all bypassed. Surprisingly, they discovered a foot-long vault key in a metal box close to the door.
The burglars broke into the vault and used a customised drill built out of ordinary parts to open 109 safety deposit boxes. They stuffed bags with diamonds, jewellery, and gold bars worth millions of dollars in Israeli, Swiss, American, European, and British currency.

Getting all of the loot out of the building took two hours. It wasn’t until Monday morning that the theft was uncovered.
The items thrown away by the burglars were discovered on private land owned by a grocer. The evidence was sufficient to link Notarbartolo to the crime.

Notarbartolo was sentenced to ten years in prison in Belgium for coordinating the heist, while the other three gang members were each sentenced to five years.

While in jail a few years later, Notarbartolo claimed the entire event was an insurance fraud masterminded by the diamond dealer, who contacted the Italian organisation for the job.

He claims they only received $20 million in stuff, and that he was not the mastermind behind the Antwerp diamond theft, and he has never led investigators to the diamonds’ whereabouts.

Authorities claim that $100 million is still missing, which puts this on the Number 3 of the greatest heists in history.

02 : Russian Hacking Ring 2014 (2010s)

The Top 10 Greatest Heists in History
greatest heists in history

According to new cybersecurity research, a hacking ring is responsible for banking theft on the scale of $1 billion. According to Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab, the hackers have been active since at least the end of 2013 and have attacked more than 100 banks in 30 countries. According to Kaspersky lead security researcher Vicente Diaz, the hackers operate slowly and take no more than $10 million from each bank, which is one of the reasons why the theft went undetected for so long and this is also the reason for this robbery to bag the 2nd rank on our list of the greatest heists in history.

Hold Security, a Milwaukee-based information security firm that originally found the hacking ring defined it as a small group of “fewer than a dozen guys in their 20s… headquartered in a small city in south-central Russia, the region flanked by Kazakhstan and Mongolia,” and dubbed it CyberVor (Russian, lit. “cyber thief”).

They lurk for months after getting access to bank computers through phishing techniques and other methods, taking screenshots and even footage of staff using their computers to study the banks’ systems.
According to Kaspersky, once the hackers have a good understanding of the banks’ operations, they can make money without raising suspicions by programming ATMs to dispense money at specific times or creating bogus accounts and transferring money into them.

Although the attackers may be expanding throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, the majority of the targets have been in Russia, the United States, Germany, China, and Ukraine.

Kaspersky has not named the banks till now, and the company claims it is still working with law enforcement agencies to investigate the attacks.

01 : The Central Bank of Iraq (2003)

The Top 10 Greatest Heists in History
greatest heists in history

This one tops our list of the greatest heists in history. Three large trucks pulled up to the Central Bank of Iraq around 4 a.m. on March 18 2003, the day before American cruise missiles began raining down on the Iraqi capital, and a steady stream of metal boxes — filled with $900 million in the US $100 bills and $100 million in euros — were loaded onto the waiting vehicles over many hours. There were no weapons or explosives used in the theft; all that was needed was a handwritten statement sent to the bank’s governor, stating that exceptional precaution was required to prevent the money from falling into the wrong hands.

Qusay Hussein, the chief of Iraqi security forces, delivered the signed paper, and the signatory was his father, Saddam Hussein, the soon-to-be-deposed Iraqi dictator.

No one at the Central Bank asked for a valid financial justification for the withdrawal. The New York Times quoted an unnamed Iraqi official as saying, “When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it.” No wonder how this one tops the list of greatest heists in history.

When US officials realised that the trucks had carted away a quarter of the Central Bank’s hard currency holdings, they were concerned that the resources would be used to fuel the war. When $650 million was discovered hidden behind a false wall of Saddam’s son Uday’s palace, several officials assumed the money came from the Central Bank. ( The treasure turned out to be Uday’s own).

After a few years, the FBI found a few deposits which they claim to be from the greatest heist in history, but to date, most of the looted treasure of the Iraqi ruler is probably still in circulation. In some ways, Saddam Hussein’s massive robbery continues to this day, showing once again that robbing a bank without a weapon or looting without a mask is possible.

Thank You for scrolling till here. Hope you liked our list of the greatest heists in history of mankind.

You might also want to check out The top 10 major assassinations this world has ever seen

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