While films like Oceans 11 make them seem like a fairly routine—and glamorous—occurrence, the fact remains that big bank heists aren’t exactly common. With advancements in security these days, a movie-worthy heist might feel like something relegated to fiction… only that isn’t always the case.
Plenty of robbers have labored over elaborate schemes that saw them exiting vaults with big bags o’ bucks slung over their shoulders. And while some of these thieves spent time behind bars, most of their loot remained out of the authority’s hands. Here’s how 15 criminals managed to pull off their massive heists—and nabbed noteworthy hauls in the process…
1. Kenya Commercial Bank (Kenya): A police station across the street didn’t stop thieves from targeting this bank. The three perpetrators had their own property nearby—a bookstore—and, in 2017, they used that to their advantage to pull of the unbelievable…
Thika Town Today
The heist: The men tunneled from their bookstore to the vault of the bank next door, using boxes to cover up their work. In the end, the trio swiped 52 million Kenyan shillings, or about $500,000. The men were, however, eventually charged for their crime.
Citizen TV Kenya / Twitter
2. The Great Train Robbery (England): In 1962, after an informant told him just how much money Royal Mail trains carried, English ne’er-do-well Bruce Reynolds assembled a team of 15 men to rob a 12-carriage train.
The heist: To pull it off, the men fussed with the light signals on the tracks, forcing the train to stop. Then, they knocked out the driver and took about $3.6 million in bank notes. The men were eventually arrested, but most were set free years later on probation.
National Media Museum Collection
3. Punjab National Bank (India): In 1980s, Sikh separatists opposed to the Indian government would often lead bank heists to fund their operations. One fighter for their cause, separatist Labh Singh, masterminded the largest heist in India’s history.
The heist: In 1987, with about a dozen other men dressed as police officers, Singh marched on the Ludhiana branch of the national bank, AK-47s in tow. Thankfully, no one was injured, and the separatists made off with about 58 million rupees ($4.5 million).
4. West Hartford Wells Fargo (United States): Throughout the Cold War, infamous Cuban ruler Fidel Castro hated America for a number of reasons, including for its exploitation of Puerto Rico. So he hired a Wells Fargo armored truck driver named Victor Gerena to perform a little thievery.
Ninian Ried / Flickr
The heist: In 1983, Gerena, who was part of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Los Macheteros, stole $7 million from one of the trucks he drove. Before Wells Fargo knew what had happened, he fled to Cuba, never to be seen again.
5. Dunbar Armored Car Depot (United States): Whenever he saw armored cars, Allen Pace III of Los Angeles, California, saw dollar signs. Inclined to launch a heist, the Dunbar security guard knew better than to target the cars. Instead, he set his sights on the depot…
The Rule of Justice / YouTube
The heist: Pace and a team of five men subdued the depot’s employees, slid into the vaults, and loaded $20 million into a rented U-Haul, destroying security cameras along the way. Authorities eventually caught the team, but $15 million still remains at large.
Dunbar / YouTube
6. Banco Central (Brazil): Three months before heist day, a group of Brazilian thieves made a little investment. They rented a property just a few blocks from their target and set up a fake landscaping business. Then, their plan was ready…
The heist: Disguised as landscapers, the thieves tunneled—complete with wood framework and lighting—from the neighboring property to underneath the bank. Without setting off an alarm, they lifted $95 million, of which authorities only ever recovered $9 million.
7. Bank of France Toulon (France): In 1992, 10 men had a contact on the inside of a French bank holding millions in assets. After hearing her talk about the money inside, they decided it was time to try and make out like bandits…
Louis Lecompte / YouTube
The heist: The men first kidnapped a bank guard’s family. In case this didn’t do the trick, they also tied explosives to his body. Naturally, he let them into the bank, and they swiped about $21 million. Their inside lady eventually snitched on them, though less than a tenth of the money has been recovered.
Louis Lecompte / YouTube
8. British Bank of the Middle East (Lebanon): In 1976, Lebanon was in the middle of a vicious civil war, which made banks sitting ducks for people who wanted to, you know, win the war. So members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization hatched a scheme…
The heist: The PLO group blew a hole in the side of the bank, right beside the vault. They cracked open the vaults and stole between $20 and $50 million in currency, jewels, bonds, and anything else of value. Those responsible were never caught.
NY Daily News
9. Northern Bank (Ireland): On December 20, 2004, a group of unidentified men hatched a plan to steal some cash from Ireland’s oldest bank chain, launching the United Kingdom into a finger-pointing frenzy.
The heist: Late at night, the armed men burst into the home of bank executives and held their families at gunpoint. Their instructions were simple: open up the vaults after-hours and let them in. The executives complied, and the robbers took home about $37 million.
10. Brink’s-MAT Robbery (London): Under the cover of darkness in November 1983, a guard at the Brink’s-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport let six thieves into the highly secured area. Upon entering the target area, however, the thieves changed their plans…
The heist: The thieves planned on taking £3 million, but found an additional three tons of gold in the vaults. So, they took everything, leaving with £26 million ($41 million). Most involved were caught by police and convicted—but none of the money was recovered.
11. United California Bank (United States): Amil Dinsio (pictured) wasn’t an amateur: he made a living off robbing banks. So, in 1972, he and a team—which included an alarm expert named Phil Christopher—set their sights on a southern California bank.
The heist: After entering the bank, Christopher disabled the alarm systems and the crew blasted a hole in the roof with a stick of dynamite. Once in the vault, they took $36 million—about $176 million by today’s standards, after inflation.
Santa Ana Public Library
12. Knightsbridge Security Deposit Vault (England): Valerio Viccei saw himself as a bit of a gangster—he had 50 armed robberies under his belt. So he and a partner hatched a plan to swipe big bucks from an English vault. All they needed were award-winning acting skills…
The heist: Viccei and his friend posed as potential clients for this vault and asked the manager for a look at some safety deposit boxes. Once they had access, they pulled out guns and, with additional accomplices they let in from outside, they swiped about $98 million.
13. Securitas Depot (England): After suffering a career-ending knife injury while protecting his friends, MMA middleweight Lee Murray assembled a team to conduct the largest bank heist in British history. Their plan was surprisingly simple…
The heist: Posing as police officers, Murray and his crew kidnapped the bank manager and his family, holding them at gunpoint while the staff handed over the equivalent of about $100 million. Three months later, the crew was arrested.
14. Dar Es Salaam (Iraq): In 2007, employees of the large Iraqi investment bank showed up to work, only to find something curious: tons and tons of American money had been filched from vaults. What happened?
The heist: After the money was discovered to be missing, the Interior Ministry and the Finance Ministry set up investigations that proved fruitless. The best theories suggest night guards swiped the $282 million, though the money was never recovered.
15. Central Bank (Iraq): On March 18, 2003, one day before America invaded Iraq, dictator Saddam Hussein knew his country’s money wouldn’t make it through the war. So he sent his son, Qusay Hussein, to the bank with a signed note. He had one simple job…
Iraq State Television / Wikimedia
The heist: At the behest of his father, the younger Hussein supervised workers filling three massive trucks with metal box after metal box, each bursting with money. After that, he led the trucks with nearly $1 billion away from the scene. One third of it was never seen again.
Thomas Hartwell / Wikimedia
Those were some serious hauls! Somewhere out there, someone’s living large on stolen funds.
Share these unbelievable bank heists with your friends below!