The saying goes, “Crime doesn’t pay.” That may be true for most people but a few have definitely figured out ways to make crime pay. Some of the more prolific have had movies made about them, like Frank Abignale, Jr. Starting his criminal career at the age of 16, Abignale started forging checks before moving on to more complicated identity scams. In 2004, Steven Spielberg paid tribute to Abignale’s life in the wildy enjoyable Catch Me If You Can.
However, Abignale isn’t on this list. It’s not because he’s not a great criminal but mainly because he’s not a burglar. The thieves we included on this list have the audacity to steal objects from people’s homes. A few might be clever but they’re all despicable. Even still, learning about their careers can be helpful in protecting your own homes.
One of the most famous cat burglars in history, Charles Peace probably inspired more than a few Sherlock Holmes stories. Peace operated in England during the second half of the 19th century and was first sent to prison for stealing a gold watch from an elderly man. He quickly moved on to more lucrative burglaries but almost ended his career when he murdered a man following an argument. Now on the run, Peace made his way to London where he executed some of the most brilliant crimes of his career. Peace was eventually caught while robbing a mansion. He had successfully avoided prosecution for his past crimes, including the murder, by convincing English police that his name was John Ward. Eventually, his girlfriend ratted him out for the 100-pound bounty. He was hanged in 1879.
Leonardo Notarbartolo is a skilled burglar currently living in Italy. Most of the people on this list are either dead or in jail but Leo has managed to survive despite repeated manhunts by the police and mafia. Though Leonard made most of his money from large mansions across Europe, he is most famous for robbing the Antwerpe Diamond Centre in 2003. The crime scored his crew $100 million in diamonds that have never been found. He was eventually jailed for the robbery but was paroled in 2009.
Bill Mason was a celebrity jewel thief in Florida during the 1970s and 80s that eventually amassed a $35 million fortune. He robbed the apartments of movie stars, like Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller. Though talented, Mason claims his greatest successes were the result of his victims mistake. Bob Hope, for example, left his safe unlocked and full of jewelry. Mason served a number of short jail sentences and eventually settled into a quite life though he’s believed to have become very wealthy from burglaries not linked to him.
Burglars often specialize and Blane Nordahl is no exception. Best known as the “Silver Thief”, Nordahl is believed to have committed some 150 burglaries worth an estimated $3 million. He’s been caught a number of times in his career despite taking extreme precautions. Nordahl is known for extensive research and would even test silver before removing it from the house.
The guy stole his own mugshot. For some people, crime pays very well. This was definitely the case with Jack MacLean, a burglar and jewel thief that earned $133 million in his career. When MacLean was finally arrested, he had a mansion, speed boat, and a helicopter. MacLean rarely damaged the properties he robbed and would often pick locks and disable home security systems. Like most of the burglars on this list, MacLean was eventually arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. While inside, he started writing books offering defense advice to homeowners.