As much as we like to be assured that our money is sitting safely inside a bank vault, there’s something about the audaciousness of a bank heist that captures the imagination.Why else would there be so many successful films depicting them?
Spectators generally like to focus on superlatives: either the most massive robberies or the most fruitless ones. But the actual heist is only the beginning of the story. What happens afterward is just as important, which is why we rounded up some foreign bank robbers who were caught — or at least identified — but still managed to turn things around for themselves.
Known as the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery, this heist was organised by a group of Bolsheviks that included Vladimir Lenin and Joesph Stalin.
These revolutionaries supported using robbery and other militant activities as a means to their end, and they stole approximately 341,000 rubles ($3.4 million in today's terms) from a bank stagecoach in Tiflis--now the capital of Georgia--as funds to purchase more weaponry. Sources dispute where exactly Stalin was at the time of the attack, but there's no doubt that both men went on to achieve great political success without having to answer for the crime.
British-born Kenneth Littlejohn had quite a colourful career: After two Birmingham robberies and a brief stint in jail, he moved to Dublin in 1970 to start his own company and became a popular guy in town, even learning to fly and winning the affections of a local billionaire heiress.
He then moved back to England, and through the connections of his brother Keith, whose prison rehabilitation had become the pet project of Lady Pamela Onslow, Kenneth managed to convince MI6 to hire him as an agent to infiltrate the Official Irish Republican Army.
The two brothers subsequently robbed a Dublin bank of £67,000 in 1972--apparently at the behest of the British government, who of course denied the claims. The siblings managed to return to England, where they were caught two years later, but escaped two years after that. While on the run, Kenneth brazenly gave press interviews; he was inevitably imprisoned again but was let out early on the
By his mid-30s, Derek Creighton 'Bertie' Smalls had already become a career criminal as well as a respected figure in the London underworld.
In 1970, he led a gang of thieves in robbing a Barclays Bank of a record £237,000. After he was caught, the clever robber offered to give up the name of every criminal he had worked with in exchange for full immunity, which was granted to him for the first and only time in British history.
Smalls' underworld cohorts were so inflamed by his snitching that they put a £1 million price on his head, forcing him to live under police protection until he died of natural causes in 2008 at the age of 73.
Stephen Reid was part of the three-member Stopwatch Gang, which gained notoriety for carrying out speedy bank heists that garnered an estimated $15 million over 140 robberies.
He was sentenced to two decades in prison after the police finally caught up in 1980, but Reid didn't allow jail time to stop his productivity. He embarked on a writing career, submitting a manuscript of his eventual novel 'Jackrabbit Parole' to Susan Musgrave, a writer-in-residence at the University of Waterloo.
Their correspondence turned romantic, and the pair married in 1986, a year before Reid was released on parole. He slipped up in 1999 and was convicted for another bank robbery, but apparently he's reformed enough for his Wikipedia tagline to be 'writer' instead of 'robber.' Not bad, Mr. Reid.
While operating a photography studio in Nice in 1976, Albert Spaggiari plotted to rob the Société Générale bank, and enlisted a gang to dig a 25-foot tunnel between the vault and the city sewers.
The robbers worked the whole weekend, reportedly cooking meals and drinking wine while emptying deposit boxes inside the vault, and made off with almost $10 million worth of cash, gold and jewels.
A few months later, police found Spaggiari and elicited a confession. However, during his court hearing, the resourceful thief distracted the judge and leaped out of a nearby window, making his getaway on a waiting motorcycle. Spaggiari was never caught again, despite writing a book about the heist along with two other books, and even giving a broadcast interview. The spoils of the heist were never found, even after his death in 1989.
With a net haul of merely $38,000 from 24 robberies, the interest in Gregory Roberts lies in the fact that he became known as the 'Gentleman Bandit'--apparently, he only stole from businesses that were insured and said 'please' and 'thank you' to his victims.
He was eventually imprisoned but escaped (in broad daylight!) and evaded capture for 10 years before landing behind bars again. There, Roberts penned his semi-autobiographical novel 'Shantaram,' which became so popular that Johnny Depp signed on to play the protagonist in the film adaptation, though the project was later cancelled. Nowadays, the former convict spends his time getting glowing write-ups in Vanity Fair.
A Brussels bank lost $28 million worth of diamonds in 2007 when one of their 'trusted customers' raided the vault and simply walked out.
Going by the fake identity Carlos Hector, the thief had posed as a successful businessman and befriended the bank's staff by using charm and even chocolate.
The charade went on for a year, during which he obtained a key to the vault. The mysterious robber was never seen again, and neither were the diamonds.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.