'Ocean's' Inspiration: Greatest Real-Life Heists of All Time

Hollywood heists are often inspired by their real-life counterparts.


May 31,2007 —, 2007 -- With "Ocean's 13" poised to explode on the box office this summer is a not-so-subtle reminder of the fascination that heist movies hold. But in this case, it's art imitating life. High-class, big-score heists are very real and happen more often than one would think.

Here is a look at some of the greatest heists in modern history:

The Mark: Brinks Mat Warehouse, Heathrow, England, 1983

The Take: $37 million in gold bullion and $12,000 in diamonds

A group of armed men dressed as security guards entered the Brinks Mat warehouse and subdued the real security staff. Police suspect the group had inside information, as it completely disabled the multilayered, sophisticated security system and enter the vaults.

About 3 tons of gold bullion worth around £25 million ($37 million at the time) was stolen, along with two smaller boxes of diamonds. It is said in some circles that any gold jewelry purchased in London after 1983 is likely to be Brinks Mat gold.

The Mark: National Australia Bank, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 2004

The Take: More than $40 million

An armed gang captured and held hostage two executives of the National Australia Bank, along with their families before the bank opened one morning in December. The gang issued precise instructions to the executives and threatened to kill family members if any alarm was raised. The bank employees were told to go to work and act as if everything was normal, and then, when everyone else had left for the day, they granted the thieves entry to the bank. The robbers calmly stole more than $40 million in bank notes and then released the executives and their families.

Although many officials blamed the IRA and up to seven people were arrested in connection with the robbery, no one has been convicted. The most solid lead on the money was a curious one, as shrink-wrapped bank notes appeared at the Newforge Country Club, a common leisure center for police.

The Mark: Carlton Jewelry Store, Cannes, France, 1994

The Take: Nearly $59.64 million in jewels

The greatest jewelry heist of its time took places in Cannes, France, when three men burst into the Carlton Hotel's jewelry store firing machine guns into the air. As store employees and customers panicked, the thieves quickly packed nearly $60 million worth of jewels into bags and made their escape. Oddly, there were no bullet holes in the ceiling of the store -- the thieves had used blanks.

The Mark: Banco Central, Brazil, 2005

The Take: $65 million in bank notes

In perhaps the most sophisticated and well-planned robbery in South America's history, a group of thieves worked for months to tunnel about 200 meters under two city blocks and into the vault of the Banco Central. Months in advance, the group had set up a fictitious gardening company to hide the dirt they excavated while tunneling. A handful of suspects have been arrested in connection with the robbery, and several million dollars have been recovered by authorities, but more than $50 million is still unaccounted for.

The Mark: Knightsbridge Security Deposit, England, 1987

The Take: $66 million in cash

Two men entered the Knightsbridge Security Deposit and requested a safe deposit box. When the bank manager showed them the box, the two drew handguns and subdued the bank manager and security guards. After letting in additional accomplices, the thieves made off with $66 million (current inflation-adjusted value of $111 million) in cash and personal possessions from the safe deposit boxes. Several members of the crew were later apprehended after police recovered a fingerprint of one of the robbers.

The Mark: The Securitas Cash Management Depot, Tonbridge, England, 2006

The Take: $92.5 million in bank notes

Two men posing as police officers abducted an unsuspecting depot manager, while two other members of the crew, also posing as police, arrived at the cash depot manager's home and told his wife and son that the manager had been in an accident. Both the bank manager and his family were driven to a farm in west Kent. The gang then brought the depot manager and his family to the depot, where they threatened and subdued 14 members of the depot staff, loaded more than £53 million (about $92.5 million) into a truck, and drove away. More than 30 people have been arrested in connection with the robbery and a handful have been formally charged with conspiracy and kidnapping.

The Mark: Antwerp World Diamond Center, 2003

The Take: More than $100 million in gems

As the staff of the Antwerp World Diamond Center was relaxing during their weekend days off, they were completely unaware that highly skilled thieves were breaking into 123 of the center's 160 vaults to steal more than $100 million worth of gems and documents verifying the gems' value. Months before the break-ins, a small crew had rented an office in the Diamond Center in the name of a fictitious company to copy the master keys and find holes in the security system.

The scheme went off without a hitch and became the most successful jewel heist in history. Only one of the crew members was ever identified, but due to extradition agreements, has never been formally charged in connection to the heist. To date, none of the diamonds have been found.

The Mark: Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway, 2004

The Take: "The Scream" and "Madonna" paintings, worth almost $270 million

Not bothering with sophisticated planning or stealth of any kind, two men broke into the Munch Museum in broad daylight and simply ripped two of Oslo's greatest treasures, "The Scream" and "Madonna" by Edvard Munch, from the wall. Wearing all black and masks, the thieves split up, one holding back security guards and crowds of civilians by threatening them with a revolver and the other running through the museum toward the two paintings.

By banging the paintings against the wall and on the ground the thief was able to free them from their security wires. Minutes after their entrance, the pair took the paintings, exited the museum and hopped in a getaway car. Eyewitness accounts and dogged police work eventually led to the arrest and conviction of three men involved in the robbery in 2006 as well as the safe return of both paintings.

The Mark: The Isabella Gardner Museum, Boston, 1990

The Take: Artworks by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet and others, worth $300 million

Two men dressed up as police officers and knocked on the side security door of the museum. When a pair of security guards opened the doors for them, they overpowered and bound the guards. Ninety minutes later, the thieves simply walked out with 13 historic pieces of art and the security tape that recorded the crime. After 17 years, not a single person has been prosecuted for the theft.

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