Masterminds and Mischief: 50 Stories of Audacious Robberies

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1 London’s £292M Street Robbery

London's £292M Street Robbery

A robber stole bearer bonds valued at £292 million from a courier on a street in London, England, in 1990. Today, this is equivalent to £758 million, or $1.086 billion USD. It remains the highest amount ever stolen in a street robbery.


2. A 74-year-old pensioner was unmasked as the Japanese cat burglar in 2017 after nine years’ worth of heists. Mitsuaki Tanigawa stole more than 29 million yen (£194,000) during his spree. Upon his capture, he admitted, “I have been defeated.”


3. Despite having DNA evidence of the suspect, German police could not prosecute a $6.8 million jewel heist because the DNA belonged to identical twins, and there was no evidence to prove which one of them was the culprit.


4. In 2017, a team of thieves stole $18,000 worth of high-tech equipment from a warehouse. However, their luck turned when the authorities discovered about 100 GPS tracking devices among the stolen items, leading to their capture within hours.


5. In 1987, Brazilian scrap thieves unknowingly stole highly radioactive caesium-137 from a shuttered hospital. People handled the glowing powder, showed it to neighbors as a curiosity, and even dabbed it on their faces like makeup. This event resulted in four deaths, including a toddler who ingested the powder.


6 Antwerp’s Mysterious Diamond Heist

Antwerp's Mysterious Diamond Heist

No one knows how the perpetrators of the 2003 Antwerp heist, dubbed the “Diamond Heist of the Century,” managed to bypass 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations.


7. Roadside food stall operators in Kenya during the 2010s purchased transformer oil stolen from transformers by thieves for deep-frying purposes. Reports indicate that transformer oil lasts much longer than regular cooking oil when used for frying.


8. King Farouk of Egypt, nicknamed the Pickpocket King, was infamous for stealing Winston Churchill’s pocket watch. He was a known kleptomaniac and stole from several rulers. Upon escaping from Egypt, authorities found the world’s largest porn collection at the time among his belongings.


9. Locals are stealing bricks from the Great Wall of China to build houses, while visitors are taking them as souvenirs.


10. Thieves stole Charlie Chaplin’s body in 1978 and held it for ransom. His widow refused to pay ransom demands of £400,000 because “Charlie would have thought it ridiculous.” Authorities discovered the body 11 weeks later.


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11 Mumbai’s Banana-Induced Confession

Mumbai's Banana-Induced Confession

The local police in Mumbai, India, force-fed a thief 48 bananas in 2016 to make him excrete a stolen gold chain that he had previously swallowed in an attempt to avoid getting caught.


12. Pretty Boy Floyd was an American bank robber who was active in the 1920s. He was infamous for destroying mortgage documents during robberies, freeing many citizens of their debts.


13. At 14 years old, John Carmack, founder of “id Software” and renowned for his contributions to the development of Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein, faced arrest for aiding a group of children in stealing Apple II computers. They accomplished this by melting the windows and breaking into the building using a combination of thermite and Vaseline.


14. Sleight of hand artist Apollo Robbins was so proficient that he once managed to pick the pockets of two secret service agents assigned to former president Jimmy Carter. He stole the former president’s itinerary, the keys to his motorcade, and the badges of the agents.


15. Thad Roberts, a former intern at NASA, served a 6-year sentence in a federal prison after having sex with his girlfriend on a bed full of stolen moon rocks that were brought back from the Apollo 11 moon landing mission.


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16 Texas’ Dead Bank Robbers Program

Texas' Dead Bank Robbers Program

As a result of a staggering 1700% surge in bank robberies during the Great Depression, the Texas Bankers Association established the Dead Bank Robbers Reward Program, offering a $5000 reward to individuals who successfully neutralized a robber during the crime without any inquiries made.


17. In 2009, hundreds of brightly colored extinct bird specimens were stolen from a Natural History Museum in the UK. Later investigations revealed that a student had sold the feathers online for fly-fishing lures in order to purchase a golden flute. The perpetrator had Asperger’s syndrome and therefore never served any jail time.


18. The owner of a tire shop in Fort Worth, Texas, bought a guard dog due to frequent robberies in June 2017. During the next robbery, the intruders managed to steal the dog.


19. In 1948, a man named Sadamichi Hirasawa robbed a bank in Tokyo by pretending to be a public health official. He then gave a fatal dose of cyanide to all 16 people in the bank under the pretense of a routine dysentery inoculation. He only took some money lying on the desks, amounting to 160,000 yen (about $2,000 US at the time), but left the majority behind, leaving his motive unknown.


20. At 12:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve 2017, three men pulled off a $6 million jewelry heist only a half mile from Times Square and 7,000 NYPD officers. Police said the men waited until midnight, when the officers would be busiest to break into KGK Holding Jewelry.


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21 Einstein’s Brain in a Cider Box

Einstein's Brain in a Cider Box

Someone stole Einstein’s brain and chopped it into pieces, storing them in a cider box under the thief’s beer cooler.


22. Master idiot Peter Scott was a burglar whose victims included Sophia Loren and the Shah of Iran. Disturbed during a heist by a woman, he shouted, “‘Everything’s all right, madam,’ and she went off to bed thinking I was the butler.” On other occasions, he would reassuringly shout, “It’s only me!”


23. In 2017, Canada minted a $1 million dollar coin. It was a 100-kg discus measuring nearly 60 cm, made up of pure gold, and worth $5.8 million. Thieves promptly stole it, and it has never been found.


24. Unknown culprits stole a beach in Jamaica in 2008. The 500 truckloads of sand remain missing to this very day.


25. Thieves stole 240,000 manhole and street drain covers in Beijing in 2004.


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