Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Impressive Heists that Shocked the World

If you’re a fan of the Oceans Trilogy, then you probably appreciate the complicated planning and execution required of a good heist. Just like with anything else in life, it takes quite a bit of work to come away from an endeavor with enough money, or loot, to become financially set. Only a few have had the rare combination of guts and brains that enabled to them to pull it off — at least until an enterprising investigator figured them out. Here are 10 impressive heists that shocked the world.

  1. DB Cooper Hijacking: DB Cooper holds the distinction of being responsible for the only unsolved US aircraft highjacking. He pulled it off on November 24, 1971, beginning on a Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle. Cooper, who appeared to be in his mid-40s, did it in style, wearing a suit, dark coat, sunglasses, tie and mother of pearl tie clip. His announcement of the hijacking to the flight crew was as subdued as his appearance — he simply slipped a note to a young flight attendant indicating that he had a bomb in his briefcase and demanded $200,000 in unmarked bills and two sets of parachutes, which were delivered upon arrival to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Cooper and the crew then agreed to fly to Reno, and not long after takeoff, he jumped out of the plane, vanishing and leaving behind only two of the four parachutes he requested, his tie and mother of pearl tie clip. Despite an extensive manhunt, he was never found, though a portion of the ransom — $5,880 in dollar bills — was recovered on the banks of the Columbia River in 1980. Today, the true whereabouts and identity of Cooper remain unknown despite several men being suspected and others coming forward through the years.
  2. Schiphol Airport Truck Hijacking: Not every heist is as unique and well-planned as Cooper’s, but sometimes less is more. The Schiphol Airport truck hijacking on February 25, 2005 came with an estimated loot of $118 million in uncut diamonds, and all it took was a stolen KLM truck, stolen KLM uniforms and, of course, guns. The thieves drove up to the truck that was carrying the stones — which was en route to a plane bound for Antwerp — forced the drivers onto the ground face-first, jumped in and took off. Police believed, because the thieves’ knowledge of the truck and its precious cargo, that they received inside assistance. In fact, one of the men performed a test run two weeks prior to the incident, stealing a KLM truck different from the one they used during the robbery. The preparation paid off, as none of the trucks’ cargo has been recovered and nor have any of the thieves been caught.
  3. Antwerp Diamond Center Heist: The diamond trade has long been a mainstay of Antwerp, making it the perfect town for one-stop heisting. The Antwerp Diamond Center was the target of thieves on February 16, 2003, when 123 of 160 vaults were plundered and more than $100 million in gems were stolen. The job was apparently so fruitful and easy that the remaining vaults were left untouched because the thieves couldn’t handle any more material. No one knew about the massive breach in security until the next day, when workers stumbled upon the ransacked area, which was littered with gold, money, cut and uncut diamonds and jewels. Investigators determined that it was an inside job undertaken by people familiar with the complex security system and the contents of the vault. After DNA was taken from the vault and a half-eaten sandwich found in a bag dumped by the thieves alongside a road, the heist was traced to a group of thieves named The School of Turin — one member was a diamond merchant who worked in the Diamond Center and had seen the vaults several times before. Even though law enforcement found the culprits, they have yet to recover the diamonds.
  4. Harry Winston Heist: On December 4, 2008, more than $100 million in jewelry was stolen from the Paris branch of Harry Winston, one of the world’s most famous jewelers. Four armed men — three of whom were cleverly disguised as women, wearing long tresses and winter scarves — stormed into the store and left with bags full of diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Authorities suspected it was an inside job because the robbers knew the names of employees and exhibited knowledge of the store. In June of 2009, 25 people were arrested in connection with the heist and some jewelry was recovered. It was good news for Harry Winston, which endured another robbery just 14 months earlier when $20 million in jewelry was stolen.
  5. ABN Amro Bank Heist: In early March of 2007, a man who went by the intriguing name of Carlos Hector Flomenbaum managed to steal $28 million in diamonds from the ABN Amro Bank in Antwerp. The heist was a year in the making for Flomenbaum, who charmed employees and ultimately won their trust, as he was given a special key to access his diamonds when he pleased. Almost four years later, authorities still haven’t uncovered his true identity. Bank employees described him as gray-haired, six-foot-three inches tall and between 55 and 60 years old. He spoke English with an American accent, often wore a baseball cap and used an Argentinean passport. A fascinating character to say the least.
  6. Central Bank of Iraq Heist: The largest bank heist of all-time was orchestrated by one of the world’s biggest criminals. During the lead -up to the US invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein ordered for approximately $1 billion to be taken from the Central Bank of Iraq and given to his son Qusay, who would oversee the loading of three large trucks. According to Saddam, the action was taken “to protect this money from American aggression.” About $650 million was later found by US troops in the walls of Saddam’s palace. Of course, both Qusay and Saddam were later killed — in the dictator’s case, it was for reasons far worse than stolen money. Note: Given that Saddam was despot, his action may not have technically been a “heist.” Regardless, most Westerners would consider it stealing.
  7. Dar Es Salaam Bank Heist: Post-Saddam Iraq was the setting of another massive bank heist, though the almost $300 million in US dollars taken was only a fraction of what Saddam snagged four years earlier. It transpired on a July morning when employees were arriving for work. They discovered three of their colleagues, who happened to be guards, were missing and had left the front door open. Financial transactions in Iraq have mostly been done in cash since the US-led invasion, so robberies such as this one have become common. With the near-anarchy and poverty of the country, it’s not difficult to understand why they occur.
  8. Mona Lisa Heist: The Mona Lisa is an iconic painting that any serious art collector would love to own. On August 21, 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia , a custodian at the Musee du Louvre in Paris, took what would become his most valuable possession. He did it by hiding in the closet during closing time, eventually walking out with the painting hidden beneath his coat. The Italian immigrant later claimed that he had taken it for patriotic reasons in an effort to ensure Leonardo’s painting was put on display in his homeland, though he was caught when he tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The painting was displayed throughout the country before it was returned to France in 1913, and Peruggia was lauded by Italians for his supposed deed.
  9. Gardner Heist: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston currently boasts a collection of 2,500 works of art, but it’s best known for the heist of 1990. Early on March 18th after the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities were winding down, thieves dressed as police officers handcuffed two security guards and walked out with thirteen works of art worth more than $500 million — the largest art theft in American history. Included in the bundle were Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert. More than 20 years later, the frames still hang empty in the museum and the thieves have not been caught, though some have hypothesized that gangster Whitey Bulger or a faction of the IRA were behind it.
  10. Stardust Heist: He didn’t come away with a mind-blowing amount of money, but there’s something to be said for the simplicity and efficiently with which Bill Brennan heisted from the Stardust Resort and Casino in September of 1992. The then-cashier at the casino loaded up a backpack and left unchecked during his lunch break and never returned. He did it alone, it wasn’t elaborately planned, and to this day, nobody knows his whereabouts. Considering the suffocating security presence at most casinos and the elaborately schemed heists that have failed in the past, Brennan, though a bad guy, deserves a bit of credit.