The Most Expensive Heists in History

Blair Pfander

We like to think that super-wealthy people gain their riches by honest means. Well, mostly honest, anyway.
But a few bold crooks have turned lying, cheating, and stealing their way to unfathomable fortunes into an art form. With the forthcoming US release of “Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers,” we found ourselves wondering about some of the most elaborate jewelry heists in history. Here, a look at the thieves who bagged the biggest sums.
adiamonds The Most Expensive Heists in History
1. Location: Antwerp, 2003
The Haul: Loose diamonds, gold, and jewelry
The Heist: Legendary sneak Leonardo Notarbartolo rented an office in Antwerp’s diamond center for three years prior to executing this massive jewel heist. His rental included a tenant ID card that provided 24-access to the building in which Notarbartolo posed as an Italian diamond merchant. Over the weekend of February 15, Notarbartolo and four associates forced open 123 safe-deposit boxes, all of which were made of steel and required key and combination locks. The gang destroyed security footage but made one fatal error linking them back to the crime: a partially eaten sandwich left near the crime scene (hey, you can’t heist on an empty stomach).
Estimated Value: $100 Million
winston The Most Expensive Heists in History2. Location: Paris, 2008
The Haul: Fine jewelry and watches
The Heist: Four men—three of them clad in glamorous drag with platinum blonde wigs—sauntered into the Paris branch of Harry Winston just before closing on December 4, 2008. Shortly after their arrival, the swanky lads whipped out a .357 Magnum and a hand grenade and proceeded to clean out the shop’s jewelry section, which included a smattering of diamond rings, watches, and necklaces. The gang’s heavy Slavic accents caused conjecture that the heist was the handiwork of the Pink Panthers, a global network of ex-soldier thieves.
Estimated Value: $107 million
airport The Most Expensive Heists in History3. Location: Amsterdam, 2005
The Haul: Uncut diamonds

The Heist: With a crowd watching, thieves dressed in stolen KLM uniforms forced drivers out of a KLM truck loaded with diamonds destined for an Antwerp flight at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Holding them at gunpoint, the gang forced the drivers to lie face down on the ground before climbing in and driving off with the most expensive diamond loot in history.
Estimated Value: $118 Million
Munch_320px4. Location: Oslo, 2004
The Haul: “The Scream” and “Madonna” by Edvard Munch
The Heist: On August 22, 2004, thieves clad in black stormed Oslo’s Munch Museum and made a beeline for the iconic “Scream” by Edvard Munch. More interesting than the heist, however, was the getaway: the robbers used drag racer Thomas Nataas—best known for racing a “batmobile,” or a car painted to look like one—to store the stolen goods.
Estimated Value: Undergoing the heist price-jacking undergone by the “Mona Lisa,” the recovered “Scream” sold for a record-breaking $120 million at Sotheby’s in May of 2012.
zurich The Most Expensive Heists in History5. Location: Zurich, 2008
The Haul: “The Boy in the Red Waistcoat” by Paul Cezanne, “Poppies Near Vetheuil” by Claude Monet, “Blossoming Chestnut Branches” by Vincent Van Gogh, “Count Lepic and his Daughters” by Edward Degas
The Heist: You don’t need to have Frank Ocean smarts to steal millions, as evidenced by the three amateurs who strode into Zurich’s E.G. Burle Foundation on February 10, 2008 brandishing nothing more than handguns. Since they weren’t targeting specific works, the lucky crooks bagged four French impressionist works that happened to be hanging next to each other.
Estimated Value: $160 million
Gardner046. Location: Boston, 1990
The Haul: “The Concert” by Vermeer, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt, and “Chez Tortoni” by Manet
The Heist: Disguised as Boston policeman “responding to a call,” two thieves tricked a night guard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum to gain access to the collection through a security door. Once inside, the thieves claimed to “recognize” the guard—who, they said, had a warrant out for his arrest—and handcuffed him (along with a second guard) to the basement pipes. In addition to works by Manet and Rembrandt, the savvy thieves bagged surveillance footage and cameras. The thirteen works they stole remain MIA, but some valiant citizen could be made rich by the $5 million reward the museum has offered for any information leading to recovery.
Estimated Value: $300 – $500 million
images 1 The Most Expensive Heists in History7. Location: Paris, 1911
The Haul:  “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci
The Heist: Vincenzo Peruggia—a disgruntled Louvre employee—was finally caught with Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” after trying to unload the lifted merchandise to a Florentine art dealer (interestingly, Pablo Picasso and French poet Guillaume Apollinaire were both considered suspects prior to Peruggia’s arrest). The infamy surrounding the teensy-weensy portrait is considered a major factor in the work’s whopping $750 million value today.
Estimated Value: (Adjusted to 2013) $750 million

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