Brussels Diamond Heist and 5 Other Big Capers

Brussels thieves pulled off heist in less than five minutes.

ByABC News
February 19, 2013, 12:48 PM

Feb. 19, 2013— -- intro: The airport tarmac in Brussels was turned into a crime scene Monday night when thieves stole more than $50 million worth of diamonds from a Zurich, Switzerland-bound airplane.

The heist unfolded in fewer than five minutes without a single shot fired.

The gang cut through an airport fence and drove up to the Helvetic Airways jet in cars with flashing lights.

Dressed in police uniforms and carrying submachine guns, they unloaded 120 packages of rough and cut stones while holding the pilot and co-pilot at gunpoint, according to the Belgium prosecutor's office.

The swift and brazen heist is just the latest in a string of capers that sound like they're straight out of the movies.

quicklist: 1title: Graff Diamonds, London, $65 Milliontext: Two sharply dressed men entered Graff Diamonds' flagship store in the middle of the day Aug. 6, 2009, and ripped off about $65 million in jewelry.

The thieves left the store with 43 pieces of bling -- including earrings, watches, rings and a necklace made of 272 diamonds -- and a hostage in tow.

Police said the men arrived at the store in a London taxi and made an incredible getaway, changing cars three times in a distance measuring less than half a mile. They crashed once, handed a bag of jewels to an accomplice on a motorcycle and gave police the slip, despite being right in the center of London.

But authorities caught up to the thieves less than two weeks later. Aman Kassaye, who is said to have been the ringleader, was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Three accomplices were sentenced to 16 years in prison on conspiracy to rob charges.

A 16-carat yellow diamond stolen in the heist showed up last year in a Hong Kong pawn shop, The Guardian reported.

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quicklist: 2title: Antwerp Diamond Center, Belgium, About $100 milliontext: Thieves were ankle-deep in diamonds when they broke into the Diamond Center in Antwerp, the world capital of diamond-cutting, in February 2003.

In what was dubbed the "heist of the century," the gang walked into the city's highly guarded Diamond Center one night after it had closed and pilfered 123 of its 160 safety deposit boxes -- no guns, no bloodshed, no screeching tires.

Considered an impenetrable bank, the center's vaults were protected by 10 layers of security, "including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field and a lock with 100 million possible combinations," according to Wired magazine.

Italian Leonardo Notarbartolo was arrested several weeks after the heist. He later was convicted based on DNA evidence found on a sandwich left behind at the scene.

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quicklist: 3title: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, $300 to $500 milliontext: At midnight March 18, 1990, two men wearing police uniforms knocked on the door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, informing the guard on duty that they had received a complaint about a disturbance on the premises.

Once inside, the thieves proceeded to perpetrate the greatest theft of artwork in history.

Making off with between $300 million and $500 million worth of masterpieces, the two thieves stole a Vermeer, three Rembrandts, five paintings by Degas and four other paintings.

The heist wasn't discovered until the morning when the guard's replacement arrived.

The thieves have never been captured and the statute of limitations on prosecuting the perpetrators has passed.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, the museum's namesake, died in the early 1900s, stipulating in her will that nothing in the museum be changed after her death.

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quicklist: 4title: Harry Winston, Paris, About $105 Milliontext: The blond ladies who walked into jeweler Harry Winston's Paris store in December 2008 proved appearances can be deceiving.

The pistol-packing ladies turned out to be men who were members of an international crime syndicate nicknamed the Pink Panthers.

They stole sacks of emeralds, rubies and diamonds as large as birds' eggs to the tune of $105 million.

A number of the thieves -- all of whom were Serbian nationals -- were caught and convicted.

In 2011, authorities found a cache of diamonds stashed in a Paris drain pipe, but not everything has been recovered.

In 2003, a Graff store in Japan was robbed in three minutes by armed thieves also believed to be members of the Pink Panthers and who made off with $37 million.

In October 2007, the same Harry Winston store in Paris was knocked over by a different group of robbers who made off with $20 million.

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quicklist: 5title: Dunbar Armored, Los Angeles, $18.9 milliontext: One of the largest cash robberies in U.S. history took place in 1997 at Dunbar Armored, an armored car company located in Los Angeles.

Company employee Alan Pace and a band of thieves entered the armored car depot using Pace's keys and timed the robbery to avoid being caught by security cameras.

Once inside, they assaulted the guards and raided the vault he knew was opened on Friday nights, making off with $18.9 million.

Pace and several other members of the gang were arrested, after one of them, Eugene Hill, paid someone with a stack of bills still wrapped with Dunbar-branded cash straps.

Pace was sentenced to 24 years in jail.

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