As far as heists go, the Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza, Brazil, in 2005 is up there with the all-time largest. If you haven’t heard about it, here is a quick recap. On August 6, 2005, robbers accessed the Fortaleza-based Banco Central Bank vault using an 80-meter tunnel. They made away with over 160 million Reais (equivalent to 3.5 tons of cold, hard cash). Of the about 25 people thought to have been involved in the heist, only eight were arrested, and R$20 million was recovered. Over time, more than 129 arrests have been made, and a further 32 million Reais have been recovered.

The robbery hugely divided opinions. Some people root for the robbers not being caught, saying they were clever and nobody was hurt. Others said a robbery is a robbery, so the perpetrators should be hunted down and brought to book. This begs the question: are there other unsolved heists? This piece highlights some of the most popular ones.

1. D.B. Cooper and the $200,000 Ransom

In 1971, D.B. Cooper (not his real name) hijacked flight 305 of the Northwest Orient Airlines. After takeoff, he notified the flight attendants that he was in possession of explosives. He demanded $200,000 (equivalent to $1,500,000 in 2024) and four parachutes in exchange for the passengers. After meeting his demand, D.B. Cooper took off with the pilots and cabin crew. He jumped off the plane before reaching Mexico City with his $200,000.

This heist has never been solved despite detectives interrogating hundreds of suspects. A small portion of the money was found along the banks of the Columbia River in 1980, renewing public interest in the case. However, that’s all the authorities got. The man’s identity, fate, and the whereabouts of the rest of the money have never been known.

2. The $500 Million Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist

In the morning hours of March 18, 1990, two men walked into the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston and stole works of art believed to be worth over $500 million. The thieves came in dressed as police officers responding to a disturbance call. They locked the real guards in the basement and looted the museum for over an hour.

Some of the stolen 13 pieces of art include Vermeer’s The Concert, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, and A Lady and Gentleman in Black by Rembrandt, again. Unfortunately, the thieves’ identity and the fate of the stolen items have never been known.

3. The $100 Million Antwerp Diamond Heist

In February 2003, the Antwerp World Diamond Center lost $100 million worth of diamonds. A gang of thieves called “the School of Turin” broke into the facility against all odds. They got into the underground vault with state-of-the-art locks, infrared heat detectors, and many other security features without being detected.

Once inside, they broke 123 out of 160 safes. In this heist, however, one of the thieves known as Leonardo Notarbartolo, was caught but never gave up his accomplices or the location of the diamonds, leaving this heist unsolved. It was dubbed the “heist of the century” and is one of the largest robberies in history.

4. The Plymouth Mail Truck Robbery

On August 14, 1962, the Plymouth Mail Robbery happened. Dubbed “The Great Plymouth Mail Truck Robbery,” the heist was the largest at the time. A mail truck traveling from Plymouth to deliver money to the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, was ambushed by the thieves who disguised as police officers.

They had installed a fake highway workers’ sign to detour the mail truck, after which they gagged and blindfolded the police officers accompanying the truck. The heist remains unsolved – even the guards who were ambushed do not know how many people were involved. About $1.5 million in cash was lost.

5. The 22-carat Gold and Emerald Tucker Cross Heist

As Teddy Tucker was scuba diving in the wreckage of San Pedro in 1955, he discovered a 22-carat gold and emerald cross. He then sold it to the Bermuda government, which displayed it in a museum. Twenty years later, when Bermuda was preparing for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, the cross was stolen and replaced with a cheap replica. The original cross has never been found, and no one knows who stole it.

6. The Northern Bank Heist

In 2004, a group of robbers escaped with £26.5million from the Northern Bank in Belfast. Dubbed one of the biggest heists at that time, the gang held hostage the families of two cash clerks for 24 hours, forcing them into submission. The robbers stole used and unused pound sterling banknotes. They loaded the cash into a van and drove away in two trips.

No one knows who pulled off this heist because the only man who was arrested, Ted Cunningham, denied all charges. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has also been associated with this robbery over time.

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Last Update: April 30, 2024