When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, legendary bank robber Willie Sutton very famously replied, “because that’s where the money is”. Well actually, he didn’t say that. At least not according to his autobiography. However, he admits that, had someone actually asked the question, that’s probably what he would have said. Then he elaborates: “Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life”.
Not only does this quote explain the motives of prolific bank robbers, but I think it also explains the public fascination with bank robbers and fantastic bank heists. Most of us are prohibited by our consciences from undertaking such dangerous and illegal acts. But we don’t mind living vicariously through the brazen acts of others. Hence our fascination with such legendary figures as Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger.
So if you’re feeling a little bored today and need some excitement, check out this list of 9 Insane Bank Robberies. It’ll slake your thirst for adventure so you don’t have to buy a gun and go on the lam.
9. San Miguel Valley Bank (Butch Cassidy, 1889)
Butch Cassidy isn’t just a character from a movie played by a guy who makes salad dressing. He was a real-life bank robber, and on June 24, 1889 he and three cowboy accomplices robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colorado, making off a cool $20,000. It was early in his bank-robbing career, but this was the largest single hall Butch ever made. Following the robbery the gang fled to the famed ‘Robbers Roost’, an outlaw hideout in southeastern Utah. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, $20,000 in 1889 would be pretty close to $1,000,000 today.
8. Agricultural Bank of China (Ren Xaiofeng and Ma Xiangjing, 2007)
In 2007, Ren Xaiofeng and Ma Xiangjing, two vault managers at the Agricultural Bank of China, pulled off the biggest bank robbery in Chinese history. This is truly amazing, since Xaiofen and Xiangjing are probably the stupidest bank robbers of all time. You see, these two dipsticks stole the money with the intention of paying it back before anyone noticed. How, you ask? By winning the lottery. Yes, really. In March and April of 2007, they stole $5 million and spent almost all of it on lottery tickets. When they didn’t win, they stole another $2 million and tried again. Jackpot! This time they won…$15,000. Realizing they were screwed, they used this money to run from the law. Didn’t work. They were caught and, in April 2008, executed.
7. Central Nation Bank and Trust (John Dillinger, 1933)
John Dillinger became a legend in popular culture because of his brazen schemes. I mean, you know a guy is cool if Johnny Depp played him in a movie. One time Dillinger and his gang pretended to be a film crew scouting locations for a bank robbery scene. Bystanders just watched happily as Dillinger and company carried out a real robbery in broad daylight. Awesome, right? Well, that wasn’t Dillinger’s biggest job. His greatest heist, financially speaking, occurred in October, 1933. He and his gang robbed the Central Nation Bank And Trust Co. in Greencastle, Indiana, and got away with $76,000. Today that would be about $1.25 million.
6. Bank of Ireland (Unknown Irish Gangsters, 2009)
On Thursday, February 26, 2009, a team of gangsters forced themselves into the home of bank employee Shane Travers. They took his girlfriend, her mother, and her mother’s 5-year-old grandson hostage, and told Travers that he would be robbing his employer in the morning. Sure enough, on Friday Shane Travers drove his car to the Dublin branch of the Bank of Ireland, went in to work, then walked out with $10 million. He put the cash in his car and drove to the spot where he was to meet the waiting gangsters. Authorities were pretty pissed off, claiming the bank did not follow protocol once they realized a robbery was in progress. It seems likely that, when Travers explained the hostage situation to fellow employees, he was allowed to walk out with the cash. Of course, what would you have said? “Sorry mate, I don’t want your girlfriend and her family to die, but I have to follow protocols. You know”.
5. North Hollywood Shootout (Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, 1997)
Warning: This video is intense.
This is by far the most violent and terrifying robbery on this list. On February 28, 1997, two heavily masked gunmen ”Larry Phillips and Emil Matasareanu” armed with illegally modified automatic assault rifles and wearing full-suit body armor, walked into a Bank of America and stole about $300,000 in cash. Problem is, it just so happened that a couple of cops on patrol spotted them entering the bank. When the two came out of the bank and saw the police waiting for them, they immediately opened fire. In the 20 minute shootout that ensued, the criminals alone fired about 1300 rounds of ammo. Unbelievably, though there were 18 injured, including civilians, only the two gunman were killed.
4. Iraqi Central Bank (Qusay Hussein and and Abid al-Hamid Mahmood, 2003)
On March 18, 2003, just two days before the start of the Iraq War that outsted Saddam Hussein from power, Saddam’s son Qusay and one of his top advisors backed four trucks up to the Iraqi Central Bank, loaded them up with $1 billion, and drove off. This isn’t your typical bank robbery. After all, the country’s brutal and widely feared despot was behind it. Saddam had a habit of taking pretty much whatever he wanted. Still, despite the fact that his picture was all over it, the money didn’t belong to him, so you have to call this a bank robbery. Fortunately, a lot if not most of the cash was recovered when U.S. soldiers raided Saddam’s various palaces sometimes in stashes of hundreds of millions of dollars.
3. British Bank of the Middle East (Palestine Liberation Organization, 1976)
On January 20, 1976, a group of crooks (believed to have been sponsored by the Palestine Liberation Organization) made off with $20 – $50 million worth of cash, gold bars, stocks, and jewels from British Bank of the Middle East in Beirut. Taking advantage of the chaos caused by the Lebanese civil war, they decided to rob the bank the easy way and just blast a big hole in the wall. Then they just brought in a team of locksmiths from Corsica crack the bank’s vault. Today, it is estimated that the loot stolen would be worth at least three times as much as it was worth in 1976.
2. Pacific National Bank (Stanley Mark Rifkin, 1978)
Here’s a bank robbery pacifists can appreciate, as there were no guns, no masks, no hostages, and no getaway cars. Hell, the bank robber, Stanely Mark Rifkin, never even touched the money he stole. Rifkin was computer consultant in Southern California, and one of his clients was a company that serviced the computers at Security Pacific National Bank (SPNB). Rifkin was therefore a familiar face around the bank’s headquarters in Los Angeles. Over time, he learned a bit about how wire transfers were conducted between SPNB and other banks. Specifically, Rifkin learned that, because the security passwords for making transfers changed every day, the guys working in the wire transfer room had to write them down on a piece of paper. One day, using his job as a computer guy as cover, old Stanley managed to talk his way into the secret subterranean room where wire transfers were carried out. He spotted the piece of paper with the security password, memorized it, then left. Later in the day, he called the wire transfer room pretending to be a fictional SPNB employee named Mike Hansen. Mr. Hansen said he needed $10.2 million transferred a bank in New York and recited the necessary security codes. Transfer complete.
1. Brazil’s Banco Central (Unknown Gang of Burglars, 2005)
The #1 insane bank robbery sounds like more like a big-budget caper flick starring George Clooney than a real-life bank robbery. But I assure you, this is a true story. In 2005 a gang of burglars rented out a house in Fortaleza, Brazil, two blocks away from the local branch of Banco Central. Over the course of three months, they tunneled their way underneath those two blocks toward the bank. On the weekend of August 6 and 7, 2005, they blasted their way through 3.6 ft of steel-reinforced concrete and into the bank vault, somehow managing not to trip the security system. The crooks made away with about $70 million in uninsured, non-sequential bills. What does it mean that the money was ‘uninsured’ and ‘non-sequential’? It means people who had their money in that bank were screwed, and that the authorities had no way of tracing the cash.