Move Over Danny Ocean; Here are 13 Real Heists from Around the World

Danny Ocean & Co. are back at it, this time taking Las Vegas by storm once again. In 2001’s Ocean’s 11, we saw the crew take out not one but three Las Vegas casinos at one time — the MGM, the Bellagio, and the Mirage. In Ocean’s 12, the team heads across the pond to pull off another heist. This time, to dismal reviews, they were after the world’s oldest stock certificate, issued by Dutch East India Company in 1602. This Friday, June 8th, they’re back in Vegas.

To celebrate the release of Ocean’s 13, we decided to cast the special effects and clever screenwriting aside to find the less-than-glamorous inspiration for Hollywood heists. From actual casino jobs in Vegas to East Coast bull semen robberies, here are 13 heists that really happened — one for each of Ocean’s crew.

In September of 1992, Bill Brennan, a cashier at the Stardust’s (which has since been demolished) sports book, casually left for lunch after a shift with over $500,000 in cash and chips inside of a bag draped over his shoulder — the biggest theft from a Las Vegas casino in history. Even after being on the the FBI’s most wanted list, and appearing on America’s Most Wanted, there have been no signs of Brennan. Some believe he worked with an accomplice who later killed him for his half of the money, though others — such as the police — are convinced he worked alone and fled the country. Fifteen years later and still no sign of Bill Brennan.

Meet Heather Tallchief. In October of 1993, Tallchief, 21, and accomplice Roberto Solis, 48, made off with a Loomis Armored truck filled with $2.5 million USD outside of Circus Circus. The two escaped the United States via the Cayman Islands and St. Martin, though Solis — a man who Tallchief thought was in love with her — later left, leaving her with only $1,000 to her name and a kid to raise alone. After running from the law for over 12 years, Heather Tallchief finally surrendered in September of 2005. “There’s no running away anymore,” she told MSNBC. “I’ve done enough of that.” Her sentence: 63 months in prison.

In August of 2005, Brazil saw its largest bank robbery to date, a heist that netted its masterminds $65 million USD. Police estimate that at least 20 members spent three months tunneling 80 meters underground from a nearby house (just like Short Circuit 2) and carted out over 20,000 pounds of money without as much as an alarm going off. Two suspects have since been caught, though only $500,000 has been found, which is a shame for the bank. It turns out their insurance only covered theft during transportation, not while it sat in the vault. Oops.

February, 1994. Across the pond, in Oslo, Norway, Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, was stolen from a lower level gallery in the National Gallery of Norway. Two men, a ladder, some wire cutters, and 50 seconds is all it took to wander off with Norway’s most famous and valuable painting. A few months later the thieves offered the painting back in exchange for a $1 million USD ransom, but the offer was refused. Good thing, too, as a sting operation held in May of 1994 successfully recovered the unharmed painting and returned it to its owners. Four men were convicted and sentenced for the theft in 1996. However, the drama for The Scream wasn’t over yet. In August of 2004, nearly 10 years after the first theft, The Scream, along with Munch’s Madonna, was stolen once again — this time at gun point at the Munch Museum. “The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls,” a French radio producer and witness to the theft told the BBC. “All you had to do is pull on the painting hard for the cord to break loose – which is what I saw one of the thieves doing.” Have no fear — the paintings were once again recovered, and in much better condition than expected. But come on, Norway, twice?

You’ve seen the movie Goodfellas, right? The character, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, is responsible for the Air France Robbery of 1967 in which Hill and crew simply walked into the Air France cargo terminal at JFK and left with USD $420,000. It really happened. Working on a tip from cargo supervisor Robert McMahon, the team used a woman to seduce a security guard into getting a copy of a key that locked the main security door separating the criminals from the money. Keys replaced unnoticed, Hill and Tommy DeSimone (portrayed by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas) walked in, unlocked the door, and walked out with the bags without as much as a peep from an alarm or question from a guard. This robbery later led up to the famous Lufthansa Heist, ” the largest cash robbery ever committed on American soil at the time.”

In December of 2006, a delivery man in Santa Clara, California had just loaded up his Mazda MPV with nearly $200,000 worth of microchips from his employers warehouse when an unmarked white van lightly rear-ended him in traffic. Both parties got out to investigate the damage, while a second man jumped into the Mazda and drove off, stealing the car and the pricey microchips inside. Peanuts compared to a well-orchestrated November 2006 heist on the Island of Penang, in the pirate-infested waters of the Strait of Malacca. Two box trailers entered the MASKargo Complex under the charade that they were there to sniff out illegal workers. The customs officials believed them, of course, and let them into the facil
ity without as much as a search of the trailer. Once inside, 20 men armed with parangs (a machete-like knife, not a style of Caribbean folk music) jumped out and rounded up the complex workers in the area. “To neutralise the threat of a fight-back, the robbers plied their captives with chloroform. Some were forced to drink a white solution which caused them to vomit. Anyone still standing was beaten with sticks,” according to The Star Online. They made off with 585 cartons and 18 pallets of microchips and motherboards, a heist worth roughly $12 million USD. Not too shabby for an hours worth of work.

Not everyone steals famous paintings, cash, or microchips. In fact, some people go to great lengths to get their hands on some very unsavory — yet quite expensive — items. In November of 2005, a farmer at Smithburg, Maryland’s Stonewood Acres had ventured to Pennsylvania to visit relatives. When he returned to the farm, he noticed a 70-pound tank filled with $75,000 worth of bull semen had been opened up, with sixty-five “straws” containing the sperm of nearly 50 bulls missing. “Frozen bull semen is big business because it saves on the transportation cost of putting a bull and a cow into the same pen to breed,” explains the Washington Post. “Frozen semen can also last for many years, outliving the bull who produced it.” Moo?

The Securitas depot robbery of 2006 is the single most profitable (for the criminals, that is) crime in Britain’s history, just barely beating out the 2004 Northern Bank robbery of Belfast, Ireland. The Securitas heist began on the evening of February 21st, when the depot manager, Colin Dixon, was heading home. Posed as a policeman, one of the robbers pulled Dixon over and forced him into their car, where he was handcuffed and driven to a nearby farm. Meanwhile, Dixon’s wife and kid were also abducted and driven to the same farm, where the family were bounded together and driven to the Securitas depot. Fourteen depot employees were also restrained while £53 million in used bills ($92.5 million USD) was loaded into a truck.

Here’s one you’ve probably never heard of: The Robert Zemelsky Musky Heist, or the Day That Everything Changed. In 1963, Robert Zemelsky, a Spooner, Wisconsin area fisherman, reeled in a world record 70-pound muskellunge and hauled it into the Hayward, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to have it weighed and measured. Unfortunately for him, he failed to take any pictures of the gigantic fish, and the employees at the department immediately seized the fish and kicked him out. You see, Hayward prides itself on having the largest “musky” on record, and the Department of Natural Resources couldn’t bare seeing someone from a rival town capturing anything larger than their hometown pride. So they stole it. These days, Hayward folks don’t have to worry about any larger fish popping up — they’ve built not only the world’s largest fiberglass structure, but the world’s largest fish (above). The 4.5-story-tall, 143-foot-long musky replica is the centerpiece of Hayward’s National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, built in 1960. Oddly enough, the Robert Zemelsky Heist isn’t the only musky-related controversy in Wisconsin. It happens quite often.

D.B. Cooper is one of America’s most notorious hijackers, one that is still at large after 35 years of being on the run. On November 24, 1971 — the day before Thanksgiving — “Dan Cooper” hijacked Northwest Orient Airlines flight 305 with a briefcase “bomb.” He handed a flight attendant a note saying “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” With that, the flight attendant alerted the pilot who then relayed details of the situation to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The pilot was instructed by radio control to comply with Cooper’s requests: four parachutes and USD $200,000. Why four parachutes? Allegedly he requested the extra three for the pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendant as a way to insure they were not fake. Passengers were dropped off at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, in exchange for the parachutes and cash. Loot in hand, Cooper instructed the pilot to take to the skies again, this time headed for Mexico. Not even the trailing F-106 fighter jet saw D.B. Cooper as he jumped out of the slow-moving plane; it’s believed that he landed safely somewhere near Ariel, Washington. The Wikipedia entry on D.B. Cooper has a massive amount of information — everything from possible suspects to pop cultural reference. Most definitely worth a read.

The Isabella Gardner Museum heist of 1990 is called “the biggest art heist in history,” and the culprits, after 17 years, are still unknown. Just a few hours after Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities ended, two men dressed as policemen knocked on the side security door at the Isabella Gardner Museum, where they were greeted by two museum guards. It only took a few minutes for the guards to realize they had made a mistake — these weren’t Boston’s finest, they were art theives. Before they knew it, they were handcuffed, duct taped and dragged into the basement. The con men cut three Rembrandt’s from their frames (which still hang empty today) as well as “The Concert” by Johannes Vermeer, “Landscape with an Obelisk” by Govert Flinck, and other various sketches. The paintings have never been found, and the museum never reimbursed. Moral of the story: make sure your valuable art is insured!

What’s the biggest bank robbery in history? On the eve of the first round of Baghdad bombings in March of 2003, a gang broke into the Central Bank of Iraq and filled up three tractor trailers with cash totaling approximately USD $1-billion. Over half of that billion was later found hidden in the walls of Saddam Hussein’s palace by US troops, yet the rest still remains
unaccounted for. Just down the road in Basra, Iraq, UK troops foiled yet another high-dollar bank heist. Roughly 60 men blasted their way into the national bank in broad daylight, using another round of explosives to penetrate the vault. The loud explosions alerted nearby UK troops, who broke up the party.

In August of 1963, fifteen gun-less men wearing ski masks and helmets jumped on a stopped Royal Mail traveling post office train running from Glasgow to London, stealing £2.3 million in used bank notes. Today that amount would be worth nearly £40 million. Bruce Reynolds (left) was the mastermind behind the heist, and after his capture and subsequent prison time, he was treated as a celebrity. There are numerous books, films, and musical tributes devoted to telling the story of the Great Train Robbery. Among them is a film called Buster starring Phil Collins, who plays the lead role of Buster Edwards, one of them men involved in the robbery. After his release from prison in 1980, he ran a flower stall outside of London’s Waterloo station.