From the Wild West of America to the criminal underground of London, bank robbing has always been one of the riskiest – but most rewarding – crimes to appeal to ballsy criminals. Whether they did it with elaborate planning or simply went in all guns blazing, the following bank robbers have earned enough notoriety and fame (as well as cold hard cash) to land themselves in the history books
10. Allen Pace – Dunbar Armored robbery
Allen Pace was only involved in one robbery, but he came oh so close to not being caught. In 1997, Pace worked as a regional safety inspector for Dunbar Armoured Security in Los Angeles. Whilst working, he had ample time to take pictures of the armoured car depot, time the security cameras and work out a plan in which he could avoid detection. Together with a group of five friends, Pace used his work keys to enter the facility on September 12th. When inside, the group followed his plan and disabled the guards one by one. Knowing the vault would be open due to large amounts of money being transferred, they rushed the remaining vault guards, subduing them before they could raise any alarm. For half an hour, they loaded U-Haul vans with cash – Pace picking out bags known to contain high denomination, non-sequential bills. Before leaving the facility with $18.9 million – the largest cash robbery ever in the United States – Pace destroyed all the recording devices in the security cameras. Knowing that it had to be an inside job, the police examined all employees, including Pace, but came up empty handed. Meanwhile, the gang were careful laundering their new found wealth using a series of dummy corporations and property deals. However, after one of the gang members gave an unknowing associate a wad of bills still wrapped in the original cash straps, the police were soon tipped off. After being arrested, Eugene Lamar Hill confessed and named the rest of his associates. Pace was sentenced to 24 years in prison, yet less than half of the money was recovered.
9. Anthony Curcio
Anthony Curcio is responsible for one of the most elaborately planned armoured vehicle heists to ever occur in the United States. By his mid 20s, Curcio had already organised and taken part in several high dollar thefts, scams and counterfeiting schemes as well as running a legitimate real estate business. Following the recession in 2008, he plotted to rob a Brink’s armoured van. For 3 months he followed an armoured van as it made its deliveries around Washington, taking note of its schedule and mapping the van’s cameras and blind spots. Considering police protocol and response to armed robberies, he planned on using the river to escape. After dabbling with a few escape options, he settled on using a cable and pulley system to transfer himself and several bags across the river and to safety. Using Craigslist, Curico hired 20 workers, dressed in blue jeans and safety vests, to meet in the bank’s carpark under the belief they were part of a cleanup crew. Dressed in similar clothes, Curico pepper sprayed a guard transferring money to the armoured van. Quickly grabbing two bags containing over $400,000, he made his way to the creek and left the scene of the crime – whilst the police arrived to a parking lot full of people matching the robbers description. A homeless man, suspicious of Curcio during the planning stages, wrote down his car license plate and contacted police a month after the robbery. He was arrested and a DNA match linked him to the crime. He refused to name his co-conspirators and spent 6 years in prison. After his release, he has devoted his life to working with youth in the prevention of drug abuse and crime, and has even featured on the cover of GQ.
8. The Geezer Bandit
The Geezer Bandit is the name given to a bank robber targeting banks in the Southern California area who remains still at large. Having robbed 13 banks so far, his modus operandi appears quite simple in comparison to some of the other lavish robbers on this list. Acting as a normal customer, he approaches the teller with a leather case, before drawing a revolver. Passing the teller a note demanding money or face being shot, it has been estimated he has stolen in excess of $130,000. Although his description is of an elderly man in his late 60s-70s and around 6ft with an average build, there are theories he may infact be younger and simply using a disguise. Surveillance of his most recent robbery shows him fleeing from the scene on foot, running abnormally fast for a man of his age. With a $20,000 reward on his head, the Geezer Bandit is not expected to strike again and his last robbery was in 2011.
7. Northern Bank Robbers
On 19th December 2004, armed men entered the premises of Chris Ward and Kevin McMullan, two officials of the Northern Bank in Ireland. With their families held captive, the hostages were told to report to work as usual. Ward was instructed to take one million pounds, place it in a sports holdall and then leave the bank. Using this as a dry run for the main robbery, Ward then returned to work. The same evening, Ward and McMullan stayed after closing hours and gave entry to the remaining members of the gang. They entered through the staff entrance and headed towards the bank handling and cash storage facility. Here they transferred bags to several vehicles parked not far away. Nearly £26.5 million was stolen along with small values of US dollars and Euros. The gang fled and eventually released their captives. Following the robbery, many blamed the IRA, who steadfastly denied any such involvement. Between February 2005 and February 2014, several arrests had been made, including bank employees and IRA members, with small amounts of money recovered. The case remains unsolved and the robbers have still avoided capture.
6. Bruce Reynolds
Bruce Reynolds is the criminal mastermind responsible for the 1963 Great Train Robbery. After tampering with signals causing the train to stop, Reynolds and a crew of 15 people boarded the train. Despite a vain attempt at stopping the robbers, the guards were stormed and subdued. Using a ‘human train’, they transferred 120 sacks of money from the train to the getaway truck in less than 20 minutes. Valued at £2.6 million, it was the biggest robbery in the UK at the time. After a number of accomplices had been captured, Reynolds left with his family to Canada in 1964 under the new identity of Keith Hiller, before shortly returning to London after running low on cash and plotting another robbery. In 1968, Reynolds made a mistake by contacting his old friends in the criminal scene, allowing the police to see past his fake-identity and arrest him. He plead guilty to robbery and served 25 years in prison. Despite their best efforts, most of the money was never recovered. Perhaps what makes Reynolds stand out from similar robbers was his ability to pull off one of the greatest thefts in history without the use of any weapons – relying only on his wit.
5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, was the leader of the Wild Bunch gang in the American West. Cassidy began his criminal career with the robbery of a clothier’s shop. Despite being caught, no charges stuck and he was released. Aiming bigger, he robbed his first bank in 1889, stealing approximately $21,000. During 1896-97, he began the formation of the Wild Bunch and together they hit banks in Idaho, netting $7,000 and recruiting Harry Longabaugh (otherwise known as the Sundance Kid) along the way. They went on to ambush a group of men representing the Pleasant Valley Coal Company and stole a sack of gold valued at around $7,000. Their most famous robbery occurred on June 2nd, 1899 when the Wild Bunch robbed a Union Pacific train. Wearing masks made of white napkins, the holdup resulted in a steal of approximately $60,000. The gang continued a series of robberies, including the raiding of the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada, gaining much notoriety and fame. With the Pinkerton Agency hot on their trails, Cassidy and Sundance headed to Southern Bolivia. After a small robbery taking 15,000 pesos, the two held up in a small boarding lodge. Tipped off by their whereabouts, the Bolivian army surrounded the house with the intention of taking the men alive. However, true to form, the bandits refused to be taken into custody and a shootout ensued from 2am until early the next morning. The officers entered the premises after a lull in the shooting and found the two men dead from multiple gunshot wounds. The two were buried in unmarked graves which have yet to be found, leading to speculation the two bandits killed were not Cassidy and Sundance.
4. Patty Hearst
At the time, Patty Hearst seemed like the most unlikely of bank robbers. Her grandfather was William Randolph Hearst, the creator of the world’s largest newspaper and magazine business, and her family had great political influence as well as sizeable personal wealth. When she was just 19 years old, she was kidnapped from her Californian apartment by the urban guerrilla group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Their original motives were to use the Hearst’s enormous political sway to release imprisoned SLA members as well as using her kidnapping to make the front pages of newspapers worldwide and raise awareness of the group.
However, different from other kidnappings, Patty Hearst released a statement two months after her abduction announcing she was a member of the SLA and would from now on be known as Tania. 12 days later, Tania entered a bank along with other members of the SLA in San Francisco wielding a M1 carbine and stole over $10,000. During the event, two members of the public were shot and killed. Along with the bank robbery, she was also found to have made improvised explosive devices for two failed assassination attempts. Hearst was arrested 18 months after her original kidnapping. Despite her assertment that was an ‘urban guerilla’, many psychologists believed she had been brainwashed – she had gaps in her memory, a lower IQ and suffered extreme nightmares. During her sentencing, the judge believed her actions had not been voluntary and she was released from jail in 1979 under stringent conditions. Hearst later received a full presidential pardon – perhaps the only bank robber to ever do so.
3. Bonnie and Clyde
Outlaws and sweet-heart couple Bonnie and Clyde took America by storm as they travelled the United States with their gang during the Great Depression. Starting in February 1932, the gang began a series of small robberies, usually gas stations and grocery stores. Five months later, Bonnie had been arrested after a store robbery left the owner shot and killed. After a jury declined to indict her, she was released and rejoined the gang. After being suspected of bootlegging, a five-man force of police officers investigated their living quarters. Bonnie, Clyde and their cohorts killed two lawmen before making their getaway. Many of their possessions were left behind, including a camera whose photos were quickly plastered in every major newspaper across the nation. The gang resumed their bank robberies whilst also kidnapping lawmen and robbery victims. They usually released their captives far from home and with money to help them travel back. Such stories quickly made headlines, as did their more violent struggles. With their new found notoriety, their daily lives became more difficult; restaurants and motels were often out of the question, leaving them to campfire cooking and bathing in streams. As public perception soured, there was increasing pressure on the law to put an end to their spree. On May 23rd 1934, the couple were ambushed on a rural road in Louisiana. A posse of four Texas officers opened fire, shooting over 130 rounds into their vehicle, with the two lovers suffering over 50 bullet wounds. Their funerals were attended by over 20,000 people and, despite their wish to be buried side by side, Bonnie’s family would not allow it. All in all, they are believed to have been responsible for at least 12 bank robberies and the killing of 9 police officers.
2. John Dillinger
During the Great Depression, John Dillinger stood out as the most notorious bank robber of all.
After robbing a grocery store and netting $50, Dillinger was quickly captured and sentenced to 20 years in prison. During his time, he plotted an escape plan with his fellow prisoners. The group, known as ‘The First Dillinger Gang’, were successful in securing his release, killing numerous police offices in the process. The gang raided police arsenals in order to gather supplies including machine guns, revolvers and bulletproof vests. Between October 1933 and June 1934, the gang hit a series of 7 banks, stealing somewhere in the region of $269,000. His downfall came when Anna Sage, a Romanian immigrant and local madam threatened with deportation, contacted the FBI with whereabouts of Dillinger in exchange for not being deported. Federal Agents were informed that Dillinger would be attending a screening of the Clark Gable gangster picture ‘Manhattan Melodrama’. Agents were stationed outside the theatre with instructions by Samuel P. Crowley that any man could open fire on Dillinger at the first sign of resistance. After the movie let out, Dillinger ignored commands to surrender and headed towards an alley, with determination of a shoot-out. He was shot four times with the fatal wound entering the back of his neck. There were reports of stander-bys dipping their skirts or handkerchiefs in his blood as keep-sakes. His body was displayed to the public and over 15,000 took the opportunity to view it. Dillinger robbed 24 banks, 4 police stations and escaped from 2 prisons; easily becoming the most notorious criminal of a bygone era.
1. Jesse James
Already a celebrity during his lifetime, Jesse James has become a legendary figure of the Wild West. After the end of the American Civil War, Jesse James married his cousin after a nine year courtship. Joining up with his brother Frank and the Younger brothers, a group of outlaws was formed. The James-Younger Gang were believed to be the participants of the first robbery of an American bank during peacetime in February 1866. They stole some $60,000 in cash and bonds before killing a bystander and fleeing the scene. For the next two years the gang carried out a series of robberies across Missouri and Kentucky, but they never came into the public eye until December 1869. After robbing the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri, Jesse James shot a clerk believing him to be Samuel P. Cox; a member of a militia who had previously killed one of James’ fellow guerrillas during the War. This case of mistaken identity propelled James into the newspapers with a story about revenge and a daring getaway. After being branded outlaws and with a reward on their head, the gang carried out a string of robberies from Iowa to Texas and Kansas to West Virginia. They robbed banks, stagecoaches and trains, often in front of large crowds. Following a series of failed robberies which left most of his gang dead and his brother leaving the State, James trusted only the Ford brothers as he returned to his home state and plotted another robbery. Unbeknownst to him, Robert Ford planned on collecting the reward and shot James in the back of the head. The death of Jesse James became a media sensation and he went on to forever be remembered as the greatest bank robber in the Wild West.