Crime might not pay, but that might be because your average criminal is actually dumb as rocks. Perhaps it’s not crime that doesn’t pay, but being stupid enough to think you can get away with a major bank heist after little to no preparation. Looking at some of the more clever criminals out there, it turns out that most of them end up getting caught anyway. But at least with these characters, the actual crimes are much more amusing and might end up as a motion picture starring a fast-talking, eye-pleasing cast.
The Craigslist Decoys
Several years ago in Monroe, Washington, a man dressed in a yellow vest, respirator mask and blue shirt robbed an armored truck. He pepper-sprayed the guard and made off with a bag of money, running at top speed toward a nearby creek. Police gave chase and were met with several confused civilians dressed in the exact same outfit as the robber. As it turned out, this particular criminal put up a Craigslist ad asking for people to show up at that specific date and time, dressed just like him. The ruse worked, and confused police were unable to apprehend the criminal— though they did mention they had succeeded in capturing several individuals that matched the suspect’s description.
The Enviable Gas Thieves
If you depend on a car to get you around town these days, odds are your wallet is somewhere between “anemic” and “Ethiopian”. Thanks to soaring gas prices, every last activity, every excursion, every late-night beer run is hurting more and more. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just press a button and fill up for free?
Well that’s exactly what some crafty criminals were thinking back in 2008 — the last time gas prices spiked. Believe it or not, almost every gas pump in the major chains is manufactured by the same company: Gilbarco. This means that, much like figuring out how to pick the vending machine lock in high school, there’s one standard way to trick just about every pump in the country into giving you free gas. Which is exactly what these thieves did. Because of the near-identical design of the pumps, stations from Shell to BP all across the southwest were turned into free money machines simply by unplugging a wire and keying in a number on a pad.
The Toys R’ Us Bandit
In November of 2000, Jeffrey Allen Manchester plead guilty to several armed robberies and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Deciding this just wouldn’t do, he eventually landed a spot in the prison’s metal shop and ended up escaping by hitching himself under a delivery truck. As a freed convict, Manchester’s first move was to try to get out of the country, gather his assets, and most importantly: stay out of sight.
Just kidding, Manchester’s first words out of prison were “Take me to Toys R’ Us”. Really. Manchester seemed intent on creating a Terminal-like existence for himself, living in the unexplored depths of the Toys R’ Us and the Circuit City next door. He eventually fashioned himself a nice room from a closet under some stairs, complete with electricity, plumbing, and even a TV and Xbox. Manchester became a part of the local community, attending church, dating a local woman, and even dressing up as the Easter bunny for church celebrations. Unfortunately, these connections were his downfall when his girlfriend turned him over to police.
Brick Wall Bandits
At a bank in Bulgaria in 2009, several hundred thousand dollars worth of currency vanished suddenly from the vault. “Suddenly” may be a poor choice of words, however, as the money vanished on a Saturday and wasn’t noticed until the following Wednesday. The thieves were so subtle and stealthy, it took almost 4 days before anyone bothered to check on the money.
The heist went off without a hitch because the robbers didn’t settle for the typical run-and-grab robbery. They simply pre-paid a few months rent on an adjacent apartment, then drilled a hole through the wall one night. That was all that was separating the bank from the outside world: a brick wall. Ironically, shortly before the robbery the local police had recommended several security upgrades—all of which would have stopped the heist.
Jerry Ramrattan had a problem: his girlfriend was accusing him of rape, and he was having a hard time disproving her. Thankfully Ramrattan was a private investigator by trade, so he knew all the twists and turns of the seedy criminal and legal underbelly of society. This was a huge help in ducking his girlfriend’s rape charges, and also aided him in getting her convicted of several acts of armed robbery, not a single one of which she actually committed.
Despite the mind-boggling level of douchebag that’s involved in the decision to both rape your girlfriend and then manufacture armed robberies to get her thrown in jail, there is a certain genius to Ramrattan’s plan. There’s no one Americans will pay less attention to than a person accused of a crime, and Ramrattan concocted elaborate stories and produced mounds of incriminating “evidence” to implicate his girlfriend. The girlfriend spent seven months in jail before being acquitted, and even then was only let loose because one of Ramrattan’s cohorts talked to the police.
Fat Fold Bandits
We’ve all had that fateful moment where we needed something hidden from parents, nosy siblings, or the authorities, and we desperately try to find somewhere innocuous to stash it. Sometimes it’s as easy as throwing it in your pocket, or if you’re desperate, throwing it in your underwear—few will have the bravery to search there, especially if you breath really hard and pretend like you just finished a particularly sweaty run.
Ailene Brown and Shmecko Thomas were simply taking this impulse to its logical conclusion when they decided to steal a whole host of merchandise by stuffing it under their rolls of fat. And by “whole host” we’re not talking a couple of candy bars here. No, Brown and Thomas tried to smuggle out an entire wardrobe—complete with four pairs of boots.
The Banco Central Tunnel
In August of 2005, nearly 160 million reals went missing from a bank vault in Brazil, making it one of the largest cash heists in history. Investigators concluded that the robbery was perpetrated by thieves using that old stand-by: the tunnel from an adjacent building. But the Banco Central tunnel was no run-of-the-mill excavation, no it was considerably more complex and imaginative.
To start out, the Banco Central thieves weren’t half-assing anything. They didn’t purchase a neighboring building, the picked one almost a football field away. To accommodate such a large, complex excavation, the tunnel even had its own air conditioning and electricity. They even used the cover of operating a landscaping company so no one questioned the large amount of soil going in and out of the building on a regular basis. If this is starting to sound like an operation perpetrated by highy-educated, highly-trained professionals in the geology, excavation, and engineering disciplines, well that’s actually exactly what authorities suspect.
The Bomb Hostage Robbery
Some tales of imaginative criminals are funny, most are relatively harmless, and then there are some that sound like they were cooked up by some insane, brooding criminal mastermind straight out of a movie. The story of Brian Douglas Wells definitely falls in the latter category.
The plan was straightforward and brilliant. A bomb would be strapped to Wells’ chest, he would rob a bank claiming to be an innocent hostage. He and his accomplices were to get the money while Wells remains an innocent bystander. The bomb (which was supposed to be fake) was designed such that Wells would have always ended up with a smoldering, fist-sized hole in his chest. He died on the scene. His accomplices were eventually brought to justice, but that didn’t stop a copycat from trying to pull something very similar a few short years later.
The Lufthansa Heist
One of the most famous and lucrative robberies in American history, the Lufthansa heist was immortalized in the movie Goodfellas. You’ve probably heard all about the heist, and more importantly, the bloody fallout that resulted. What doesn’t often get talked about is the extreme level of detail, planning and cleverness that went into making the raid a success.
All-in-all the “Goodfellas” had to disable over a dozen airport guards and employees — all without firing a shot or raising an alarm — to make off with the loot. They would take each hostage’s wallet to get their ID and use it to threaten the hostage’s family. This was used to give the Goodfellas 15 extra minutes to escape, which was vital since they knew security could lock down the airport in less than 90 seconds. The heist succeeded not just because they had connections at the airport or were a group of hardened, experienced criminals. That was part of it, but when it comes down to it, ingenious planning is the real victor here.
Museon Museum Heist
You’ve probably heard the phrase: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing humanity that he doesn’t exist”. The idea is that truly great and pure evil doesn’t care about size or ego, it cares about wreaking havoc and doing damage—two things that are easier the less noticeable you are.
That’s why the Museon Museum heist is so disconcerting. Somehow the thieves were clever enough to make it past the 24 hour guard patrols, the motion sensors and the camera recordings to make off with more than $15 million in priceless jewels. To this day, no one is entirely sure how the thieves managed their near-invisible heist.