by Jaclyn Lambert

From Hollywood-dramatized shootouts at a Blackjack table to underworld Mobster racketeering, our culture is collectively fascinated by the cliche of a street-smart thief dressed all in black. However, the following examples of infamous crime capers didn’t spring from the fictional realms of film or literature, but were pulled off by real-life villains — some of whom never even got caught!

The Brinks Robbery

January 17, 1950

Boston, MA

In 1950, 11 masked and armed burglars stole over $1.2 million in cash, as well as $1.5 million in checks and money orders, from the 165th Prince Street Bank. Several mainstream media outlets during that time, dubbed this heist the “crime of the century,” and as subsequent investigations unfolded, it was revealed that Boston underworld criminals, Joseph McGinness and Joseph O’Keefe, had orchestrated the entire operation. Eventually, all 11 accomplices were arrested and convicted for their high-profile criminal involvement.


D.B. Cooper Air Piracy Heist

November 24, 1971

Portland, OR & Seattle, WA

An unidentified man, popularly referred to by the press as “D.B. Cooper,” hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft, extorted $200,000 in ransom money from its passengers, and parachuted from the plane after collecting his loot. Federal investigators have since discovered bags of cash stashed in forests of the Pacific Northwest; however, the infamous D.B. Cooper is still considered at-large. Although he presumably did not survive the skydive, FBI authorities cannot trace his whereabouts.


United California Bank Robbery

March 24, 1972

Laguna Niguel, CA

A group of 7 career criminals, led by alarm expert Amil Dinsio, used dynamite to blast into the United California Bank’s reinforced concrete vault, then snatched $30 million in cash and valuables from safety deposit boxes. With his extensive experience disarming complex security systems, Dinsio masterminded the operation, which broke previously-set world records for the most money stolen from a bank at that time. Despite his strategic planning, however, the men were ultimately apprehended because they left dirty dishes in their kitchen before carrying out the burglary, allowing police officers to connect their fingerprints with those left behind at the crime scene.

Lufthansa Heist 

December 11, 1978

New York, NY

Syndicates connected to the notorious Lucchese Family of organized crime robbed an estimated $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. A mob associate named Jimmy Burke hired gunmen to break into the airport’s vault where supposedly untraceable amounts of American currency transported from Lufthansa, Germany, were being securely held. Following a violent showdown with JFK employees, the burglars executed a successful getaway with their $6 million dollar haul, launching a widespread federal investigation that led to bloody deaths and eventual incarcerations. Considered one of the largest cash robberies to occur on U.S. soil, this heist was also a key plot component in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster masterpiece, Goodfellas.


Gardner Museum Robbery 

March 17, 1990

Boston, MA

On St. Patrick’s Day, two men entered the Gardner Art Museum, disguised as Boston police officers. After issuing a false claim that they’d arrived in response to a “dispatch call,” the burglars subsequently overpowered the security guards on duty and locked them in the museum’s basement. Then, they stole 13 invaluable paintings from artists, such as Johannes Vermeer and Edgar Degas. Although these robbers made a clean break from the crime scene 25 years ago, recent news reports indicate that the FBI has finally discovered their identities. No names will be released, however, until the Feds gather more evidence, as these suspects are believed to have ties with a New England-based criminal ring.


Stardust Casino Heist 

September 22, 1992

Las Vegas, NV

William John Brennan, a sports book cashier for the former Vegas landmark Stardust Hotel and Casino, casually walked in the door during early morning hours. Shortly thereafter, he left with over $500,000 in cash, then vanished into the strip’s sea of garish neon lights and overcrowded streets. Somehow, Brennan managed to avoid the casino’s surveillance cameras, and has yet to be tracked down since. In fact, the 22-year-old case remains unsolved to this day.


Dunbar Armored Robbery

September 12, 1997

Los Angeles, CA

A Dunbar employee named Allen Pace, along with 5 accomplices, robbed the Dunbar Armored truck depot  and swiped $18 million in cash. Although investigators encountered several obstacles in cracking the case, they suspected all along it must have been an inside job. Early evidence suggested that Pace had carefully studied the truck depot’s layout and knew exactly how to retrieve the money without being detected. Finally, one of his accomplices was arrested, then later confessed and revealed the other robbers’ names to law enforcement. Pace was ultimately sentenced to 24 years in prison.


Collar-Bomb Case

August 28, 2003

Erie, PA

Brian Douglas Wells, a pizza delivery man entered a local bank demanding money and threatening to detonate a time-bomb secured around his neck. Shortly after making his getaway, police officers apprehended him, at which point, the bomb was inadvertently set off. Wells died in this explosion, and his family later alleged that he had been kidnapped then forced into committing the robbery. This heist still remains largely shrouded in mystery because, while the FBI has formally named him a willing participant in the crime, Wells’ relatives continue to maintain his innocence.

Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme 

December 11, 2008

New York, NY

The Feds took former NASDAQ chairman, Bernie Madoff, into custody on charges of masterminding the largest, most elaborate accounting and Ponzi scheme in American history to-date. These fraudulent investments are reported to have generated over $65 billion from the 4,800 clients “represented” through Madoff’s firm. In the aftermath of his widespread illegal activity, this one-time Wall Street broker pled guilty to 11 federal offenses, including securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements, perjury and falsifying SEC documents. He is currently serving 150 years in prison for this extensive laundry-list of white collar felonies.


YouTube Cornerstone Bank Heist 

November 28, 2012

Waco, NE

19-year-old Hannah Sabatta stole a car and single handedly pulled off a bank hold-up in her small Midwestern hometown. Immediately following the robbery, this brazen teen published a YouTube video, proudly displaying the looted cash and bragging about her new fortune. However, Sabatta failed to consider the consequences of publicly posting a confession and was arrested the next day on counts of theft and burglary. Nebraska law enforcement officials plan to use this YouTube video as evidence against the teenage defendant in trial.


“This article originally appeared on the Atlanta Lockmasters blog


JaclynJaclyn Lambert is a freelance writer and media relations specialist, that dabbles in different kinds of hobbies. In her spare time you can catch her reading fiction on her Kindle.



11 Responses to Top 10 Most Interesting Heists in US History

  1. Pam says:

    You’re back! I think Cooper was most interesting because he or his remains were never found.

    Good to see ya!

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Hi Pam,

      Great to hear from you! I think it would be interesting to have this new contributor do individual detailed posts on the most interesting of these heists.

      I have a very thoughtful new post coming up in a few days from a new contributor on the Darlie Routier case.

      • Pam says:

        Yes, it would. I was reading about her. Welcome Jaclyn, Looking forward to your post. Good idea, writing about the most interesting. All are interesting & unique. Also, looking forward to hearing about Darlie Routier!
        Keep on writing, Patrick!

      • Pam says:

        A “thoughtful” post about Darlie? Can’t wait for that one! Just up the road from me. Actually, in Rowlett, People are always shocked when Mothers murder their children. I’m not surprised or shocked about the behavior anymore. We had that other one, the Smith mother from the Dallas area, also.

  2. Jo-Anne says:

    Some of these I have heard of others I hadn’t till now

  3. Rick says:

    Interesting post, Jaclyn!

    Patrick – It’s good to see that ATCB is up and running again. :)

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Hi Rick, I have a couple of new contributors so I thought I would run their posts. Onward! Please check out today’s Darlie Routier post by John W. Taylor!

  4. Elliot says:

    Very interesting topic, thanks for posting.
    Orange County DUI lawyer

  5. suggestion says:

    An excellent source for the Pizza Bomber case is “Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery” by Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella. Clark was one of the FBI agents investigating the case, and Palattella covered news from the case for the local paper. Very compelling read

  6. a shen says:

    The first nine were interesting.

    The very last one was an idiot.

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