World’s All Time Greatest Heists

If you live in a big city, you probably hear it on the news every night: Another robbery just took place somewhere relatively close to you. Whether it’s a bank robbery that is carefully planned and calculated, or the often-times random and desperate home-invasion robbery – there’s no doubt quite a few stories to be told on the subject.

But some robberies go down in the record books as unlike any other. Some are the themes to block-buster movies and best-selling novels, while others still remain largely mysterious, with very few actual documented evidence or facts. When it comes to some of the largest, most daring heists in history, here are the top examples that we found.

Dunbar Armored Robbery:

DunbarTruckThe largest cash robbery to have occurred in the United States, in 1997 yielded $18.9 million. It was an inside job: Allen Pace worked for Dunbar as a regional safety inspector. With five friends, he overpowered guards and loaded his haul into a truck. They were caught when a gang member used some of the cash in its original wrapping.

Great Train Robbery:

GreatTrainRobberyThe theft of £2.6m doesn’t sound that much these days, but that was big money when thieves stole mailbags from a Royal Mail train in England in 1963. Armed only with a metal bar, the tale of the theft has entered British history. Most of the 17-strong gang were captured and imprisoned, but Ronnie Biggs and Charles Wilson notoriously both escaped.

Ferdinand Marcos:

MarcosThe former Philippine President was a greedy man. He is widely believed to have taken between $5 billion and $10 billion, through government loans, bribes, embezzlement, taking over private companies, and outright theft. The proceeds were put in foreign bank accounts and invested in real estate in the US. He was toppled by massive protests, and died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.  Authorities have so far recovered more than $4 billion of stolen assets.

Sani Abacha:

AbachaBy the time he died of a heart attack in 1998, General Sani Abacha had reportedly stolen from $3 billion to $5 billion in his five years of governing Nigeria. He got money through dodgy bond deals, but also by simply taking tens of millions in cash from the Central Bank in tens of millions of dollars for “national security” projects. Nigerian officials have managed to reclaim a small part of the money through smart sleuthing and hard-fought legal battles, but the bulk of it remains missing.

Jean-Claude Duvalier:

DuvalierFormer Haitian President ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier may top the list here, in terms of how much money he is believed to have stolen from a small, poor country. “Duvalier allegedly stole the equivalent of 1.7 to 4.5% of Haitian GDP for every year he was in power,” says the World Bank. The search for his money is still going on, decades after he lost power in 1986.

Saddam Hussein:

SaddamIraq’s dictator took money the easy way: he asked. He sent his son and personal assistant with a hand-written note to the bank’s governor, telling him to hand over US $920 million and 90 million euros.  It was probably hard to say “no.”

UK bonds:

UKbondsAt 9.30 a.m. on May 2, 1990, messenger John Goddard was walking down a side street in the City of London when someone pulled a knife on him and stole his briefcase. It goes down as the most lucrative mugging in history: the case contained £292 million in bonds that were as good as cash. The suspected thief was later found shot dead.

Aleksandr Andreevich Panin:

AleksandrAndreevichPaninAlso known as “Gribodemon” and “Harderman,” this Russian cyber thief was responsible for malicious software known as “SpyEye” which infected more than 1.4 million computers and collected bank accounts, credit card numbers and passwords. “He commercialized the wholesale theft of financial and personal information,” said a US official. How much was stolen as a result? No one really knows: estimates run into the hundreds of billions.

Bernie Madoff:

MadoffBernie Madoff conned investors out of $65 billion, making most of the others on our list look like small-time amateurs. He used a Ponzi scheme – convincing people he could deliver high returns, bringing in new investors and using their money to pay off older ones, while all the while he was pocketing his own share. When investors starting asking for their money back, the rotten structure collapsed. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Jérôme Kerviel:

KervielThe “rogue trader” to beat all rogue traders, Kerviel made risky bets on European stocks – and lost. He faked the system to hide his losses, but in 2008 he got found out. French bank Société Générale reported losses of €4.9bn. His lawyers said he was the victim of a greedy system, but he was sentenced to prison for three years, and has recently been released.


SiemensOne of the largest companies in the world was also one of the largest corrupters. Siemens, a German electrical company, paid hundreds of millions in bribes in at least a dozen countries. “Bribery was nothing less than standard operating procedure at Siemens,” said a US official, using “the time-tested method of suitcases filled with cash.” It paid the largest-ever corporate fines related to foreign bribery, in the US and Germany.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum:

TheIsabellaStewartGardnerMuseumOn March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston Police officers demanded entrance to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They told the guard on patrol that they were responding to a disturbance, then drew him away from the alarm button and asked him to call his partner. The thieves then handcuffed both of them and threw them in the basement, where they duct-taped their hands and feet to pipes. The bandits then stole around $500 million worth of priceless art, the largest art heist in history. Priceless works like Vermeer’s The Concert, Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Manet’s Chez Tortoni were taken, never to be found again. Empty frames currently hang in some rooms of the Gardner museum where the paintings originally hung, and tourists visit to see the scene of the crime.

The Kunsthal Museum of Netherlands:

TheKunsthalMuseumNetherlandsRomanian gang members stole seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Gaugin and Monet in under three minutes from the Kunhsthal Museum in Rotterdam on October 16, 2012. The thieves got away with the artworks, worth more than $24 million, even though they tripped the small museum’s alarm system — probably because the small museum had no guards. Last year, the mother of one of the alleged thieves claimed to have burned the paintings, perhaps to protect her son from prosecution. Olga Dogaru’s son was the alleged ringleader of the heist, and his and his accomplices had already been arrested. Dogaru first buried the paintings in different locations, then burned them so the police could never find them. The two thieves have been sentenced to 6-8 years in prison.


Photo of Aleksandr Andreevich Panin courtesy of