Technology has taken the thrill out of the good old fashioned bank heist. No longer is money stolen by jumping on a train, blasting a hole in the side of a bank or tunneling under a vault. Today, big sums of money are stolen using a computer and, although banks still fall victim to the thief passing a note to the teller, the days of the big heist may be gone forever. What were some of the most notable bank heists in history?
We've all heard of Butch Cassidy and his partner the Sundance Kid, but few know the story of one of the wild west's most notorious villains. On June 24, 1889, Cassidy and his gang robbed the Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colo. making off with $20,000, equal to more than $450,000 today.
Cassidy and two other cowboys dressed up as well-to-do settlers out for a day on the town. Cassidy entered the bank handing the teller a check to cash. When the teller bent over, Cassidy grabbed his neck, put a gun under his nose, and told his gang to come in. They escaped by using a series a series of safe houses set up by the Sundance Kid. This heist was what made Cassidy one of the most hunted thieves of his day.
Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde became well-known Depression-era criminals not just because of the string of bank robberies and the murder of nine police officers and numerous civilians. Instead, the media found all the makings of a great story in this unmarried, attractive couple running from law enforcement. Although its unknown how much they stole from their string of bank robberies, most historians say that without Bonnie, Clyde may have been nothing more than a petty thief that nobody knew.
Their story ended in grand fashion. A criminal profiler found a pattern to Bonnie and Clyde's movements and predicted that they would soon come to New Orleans. When they arrived, a group of lawmen open fired on their stolen car. The coroner's report found nearly 50 gunshot wounds to the couple and a search of the car revealed a large cache of weapons. (For related reading, check out Is Identity Theft Still An Issue?)
John Dillinger was another depression era bank robber who stole several hundred thousand dollars from 24 banks between 1933 and 1934. He would often use such clever tricks as pretending to film a bank robbery scene for a movie and posing as a bank alarm salesman.
Dillinger was regarded as one of the most ruthless criminals of his day. As a result of his crimes, including his string of robberies and escaping from jail twice, J. Edgar Hoover established the Federal Bureau of Investigation using Dillinger and his gang as his campaign platform to launch the new government agency. An informant supplied the whereabouts of Dillinger and after authorities attempted to arrest him, Dillinger pulled a weapon causing agents to fire. He was fatally shot three times.
In what is now called the largest bank heist in history, in 2003, Saddam Hussein ordered his group to raid the Iraq Central Bank. According to CNN, they came away with more than $1 billion just hours before the United States started bombing Iraq. Much of the money was found in various places including $650 million in one of Saddam's palaces.
The Bottom Line
Although recent history is filled with figures who have used technology to steal large sums of money, the stories that later became the subject of movies, books and theater productions may be a thing of the past. Stories of credit card theft and Ponzi schemes just don't seem to grip the country like the notorious figures above. (For some white collar crimes, check out Investment Scams.)