Since the creation of money, and the banks created to keep it secure, people have been scheming to steal it. Though we know stealing is wrong, thieves have devised major heists to acquire vast quantities of money or other valuables. These misdoings have always captured the American imagination. It’s hard not to feel curious about or interested in these carefully constructed plots, whether they succeed and remain unsolved or lead to subsequent arrests. They’re as much a part of American pop culture as stories of the Wild West and Honest Abe. If you’re the type of person who is endlessly fascinated by these types of stories, here are the 25 biggest heists in American history for your reading pleasure.
Unsplash, Etienne Martin
Wells Fargo Robbery 1983
In 1983, the guerrilla group Los Macheteros from Puerto Rico broke into the Wells Fargo bank in West Hartford, Connecticut and stole $7 million. That would be $16.9 in today’s currency. The group said they’d use the money to fund education, food, clothing, housing, and children’s toys in Puerto Rico.
Juan Segarra Palmer, one of the leaders of the guerrilla group, was sentenced to 65 years in prison, but his sentence was later commuted by Bill Clinton.
1978 Airport Heist
In 1978, an estimated $5.9 million dollars, or $21.6 million today, was stolen in cash and jewels from the JFK International Airport in New York, New York. At the time, it was the largest cash robbery in American History.
The heist inspired the films 10 Million Dollar Getaway, The Big Heist, and Goodfellas. It was rumored, but not proven, that notorious ganster Jimmy Bruke was the mastermind behind the robbery.
United States Trust Company Theft
In January 1935, $1.5 million dollars, which would be the equivalent of $25.6 million in today’s money, was stolen from the Manhattan Company in New York, New York. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover linked the robbery to an international bank robbery ring based in southern France.
Eventually nine suspects were arrested, including John Phillip Spanos, who had evaded capture for four years as a fugitive in Greece.
Loomis Fargo Robbery
One of the vault security guards of Loomis Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina and his girlfriend carried out a robbery of the bank in 1997. The couple and eight accomplices stole $17.3 million, which would be $25.9 million today.
David Ghantt, the guard, was a suspect from the start of the investigation. He and his co-conspirators were apprehended and 95% of the money was recovered.
An Inside Job
In 1982, 25-year-old Cristos Potamtsis, a guard for Sentry Armored Courier, attempted to steal $11 million ($27.4 million in today’s money) with a friend while he was on duty one night.
He was arrested a few months later while vacationing at a private resort, and his 21-year-old partner-in-crime was also eventually apprehended.
Great Brink’s Robbery
The so-called “crime of the century” occurred in 1950 when the Brinks Building in Boston, Massachusetts was robbed for nearly $3 million in cash, checks, money orders, and other securities. This plot the work of an eleven-member gang.
The gang wore rubber Halloween masks, used copied keys, and bound and gagged building employees. The majority of the gang was arrested five days before the statute of limitations on the crime ran out.
Loomis Fargo Robbery
In 1997, another Loomis Fargo employee, driving an armored car driver at the Jacksonville, Florida stole $18.8 million ($28.1 million today) after overpowering his coworkers.
He was arrested after moving to Mexico City when he attempted to re-enter the US and aroused the suspicion of customs workers. Almost all of the money was eventually recovered.
Dunbar Armored Robbery
The Dunbar Armored Car Robbery in Los Angeles is America’s largest cash robbery, the amount stolen was $18.9 million, or what would be $28.3 million today. Allen Pace, a regional safety inspector for Dunbar, robbed the depot with five childhood friends.
Though the group managed to keep the secret at first, they were apprehended when one of them tried to pay a real estate associate with a stack of bills in their original binds.
Pierre Hotel, 1972
The robbery of the Pierre Hotel in New York in 1972 has been called “the most successful hotel robbery.” Samuel Nalo and Robert Comfort stole $27 million, or $155.3 million by today’s standards.
The masterminds and a handful of crime associates took 19 hostages in the process. The only surviving perpetrator of the heist, Nick “The Cat” Sacco, is currently in prison.
Master Bank Burglar
In 1972, a group of family members led by Amill Dinsilo robbed the United California Bank in Laguna Niguel, making off with $30 million, or a whopping $172.4 million today.
The group was arrested when police managed to link the crime to a similar one in Ohio from months before. Dinsilo has self-published a book about the robbery since.
$500 Million Dollar Museum Theft
In 1990, two men dressed as police officers stole 13 objects from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. This included paintings by Rembrandt, Degas, and Vermeer at a value of $500 million in today’s dollars.
Though the FBI posted a $5 million reward for the return of the paintings, the investigation is still ongoing today.
Miami Airport Heist
In 2006, masked men looted a warehouse that held $80 million in cash after it arrived on an international flight for the Miami Federal Reserve. The men stole $7.4 million.
Flickr, Jimmy Baikovicius
The conspirators were identified and charged with armed robbery. $1 million of the stolen money was recovered from their property.
Plymouth Mail Robbery
In 1962, two men pretending to be police officers erected a highway barricade near Boston, Massachusetts and detoured an armored mail truck. They disarmed the guards and stole $1.5 million, or $12.6 million today.
Three people were indicted, but the money was never recovered. In his book “My Life in the Mafia,” Vincent Teresa claimed that mobster John Kelley planned the job.
Brooklyn Delicatessen Caper
In 1969, a group of robbers stole $1.37 million from Wells Fargo truck guards when they took them hostage at Nielsen’s Delicatessen during the guards’ lunch break.
The robbers left behind nearly half of the money in the vehicle, probably because of the number of witnesses around the scene. The seven men believed to be involved were never identified.
Largest Unsolved Robbery
Two men impersonating FBI agents acting on a tip about a potential robbery entered the Puralator Armed Terminal in Brentwood, Pennsylvania in 1982, took a guard hostage, and stole $2.5 million.
In 1990, a federal drug trafficking informant blamed a Pittsburgh mobster for the crime, but the claim wasn’t substantiated and no one was charged.
Berkshire Depot, 2002
In 2002, a masked gunman tied up two security guards at the Berkshire Armored Car Services Depot in Rutland, Vermont. He then proceeded to steal $1.9 million. The robbery is the biggest in Vermont history.
Though police had a partial palm print and the knowledge that the perpetrator had a thick New York accent, they didn’t end up arresting any suspects.
Plane Hijacker Never Seen Again
One of the more famous cases on this list, a man nicknamed “D.B. Cooper” by the media hijacked an aircraft in the Pacific Northwest in 1971 and made off with $200,000 before jumping out of the plane.
Despite an extensive manhunt, investigation, and tremendous ongoing public interest, the man was never found, making this the only unsolved case of air piracy in history.
North Hollywood Shootout
In 1997, two armed men attempted to rob a Bank of America in North Hollywood, California. Both men were killed, and 11 LAPD officers and seven bystanders were injured after 2,000 rounds of gunfire were discharged.
Due to the violent nature of the incident, the showdown was closely covered on local news stations, leading to questions of the appropriateness of using violence as entertainment.
Heiress Robs Bank
In another highly publicized crime, 19-year-old publishing heiress Patricia Hearst participated in an armed robbery in Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, California after being abducted from her Berkeley apartment.
It is commonly believed that Hearst’s participation was a result of months of brainwashing by the militant group that kidnapped her.
Coin Show Robbery
In 1982, two men pretending to be delivering a package robbed a coin show at the Montgomery Civic Center in Montgomery, Alabama to the tune of $3.5 million in rare and valuable coins.
The men bound, blindfolded, and threatened employees of the civic center, who were later able to identify their captors.
First National Bank Of Arizona, 1981
In 1981, four gunmen wearing Halloween masks stole $3.3 million from the Tucson branch of the First National Bank of Arizona after threatening to kill the manager’s wife and children if he did not cooperate.
At the time, the robbery was reported as the largest-ever bank heist in the United States. FBI agents even called the operation “pretty professional.”
Hardcore Jewelry Heist
In 2011, Stuart Kingston Jewelers in Wilmington, Delaware was robbed by five men from a jewelry theft ring. They got away with $4.4 million in gold, diamonds, and other items, including a $2 million dollar ruby sculpture.
Suspects were taken into custody and charged with robbery, conspiracy, and possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. They were called “hard-core” by a U.S. attorney involved in the case.
Marjorie Jackson, 1977
In 1977, millionaire recluse Marjorie Jackson was murdered while her home was being robbed. The thieves stole $3 million, which would be $12.7 million in today’s money. Jackson had withdrawn and hidden money around her house just months before the crime.
To this day, $1.6 million of the money is unaccounted for, investigators and private citizens alike continue to wonder what really happened.
First National Bank of Barrington, 1981
In 1981, over $1 million in cash, gold, and other valuables, a sum that would equal $2.8 million in today’s money, was stolen from safety deposit boxes at the First National Bank of Barrington in Chicago, Illinois.
It was the first successful looting of a safe-deposit vault in a federal bank in the United States. To this day, no arrests have been made.
Transylvania University Book Heist
In 2004, four college students stole prized books and manuscripts valued at over $5 million from the Special Collections Library at Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky during daylight hours.
The heist, which had been called a “frat prank” that spun out of control, recently inspired the film adaptation of \events, American Animals. It just goes to show that truth, like the dozens of wild heists that have happened in the United States, is stranger than fiction.