The 10 Best Bank Robbers in History

    August 12, 2011 at 6:00 am

    30-minutes-or-less-poster30 Minutes or Less opens in theaters tomorrow and, at long last, we’ll finally get to see Jesse Eisenberg and Azis Ansari reluctantly rob a bank together. Most of the time, bank robbers are just desperate bumbling idiots, but every now and then a bank robber comes along that changes everything. It turns out that, strange as it may seem, some people are just born to be incredible bank robbers. They’re cunning, ruthless, super smart, and (at least sometimes) they’re very successful. Hey, everyone’s good at something, right? Here are the 10 best bank robbers of all time:

    James Richard Verone – $1.00

    June, 2011

    james richard veroneJames Richard Verone worked as a Coca Cola delivery guy for 17 years. He never got into any trouble with the law. Then Coca Cola laid him off. Desperate for work, Verone took a job as a convenience store clerk, but after a short time at his new job he began to suffer from medical problems that caused extreme pain. Verone didn’t have any medical insurance at his new job, so a doctor’s visit was out of the question. Without the resources to secure health insurance, Verone chose the only obvious option: bank robbery. Verone knew that convicted felons in prison received full medical service, so he walked into bank and handed the bank teller a note that said he was robbing the bank for one single dollar. He then told the bank teller, very calmly, that he would sit in the bank’s waiting area and wait for the police. As expected, the police showed up and arrested Verone for bank robbery. He is now in prison and receiving medical treatment, and the news story has added fuel to the healthcare debate that’s been raging for years now. It’s a long way to go for a doctor’s appointment, but Verone got everything he wanted, which is more than we can say for a lot of other bank robbers.

    Butch Cassidy – $20,000


    butch cassidy gangButch Cassidy (seated on the right in the photo above) was a career criminal who made a name for himself in the Old West Bandit circuit by plundering trains and ranches along an elaborate network of hideouts known as Outlaw Trail. But his robber of the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colorado in 1889 would be the crown jewel of his criminal career, and the story would propel him to his now legendary bandit status. Butch’s hostile takeover of the bank fit every description of a classic, cliche Old West bank robbery: he and three other masked bandits entered the bank with guns a’blazin’, snatched $20,000 from the vault, and rode away on horses just as quickly as they had arrived.  Butch bought a ranch in Utah a few years later, shortly before he was arrested for stealing horses in Wyoming. From then on, Butch was in and out of prison for a variety of cliche Old West crimes. Eventually, Butch decided that he’d been running from U.S. Marshals for long enough, so he went to South America to continue his crime spree. In 1908, Butch stole a mule from a Bolivian bank courier. The Bolivian police tracked him to his hideout and a shootout ensued. During the firing spree, Butch was shot. Rather than surrendering to Bolivian authorities, Butch killed himself.

    John Dillinger – $76,000


    john dillingerJohn Dillinger is without a doubt the most notorious bank robber in American history, and that’s because he was the coolest bank robber who ever existed, period. Dillinger wasn’t an idiot, either. The Butch Cassidy robbery model didn’t work anymore. Banks were far to secure, and an elaborate check-and-balance system made it nearly impossible to just waltz into a bank blindly and rob the place. Bank robberies took planning, and Dillinger was a cunning planner. He would organize elaborate rouses in order to access information about banks and scope out the lay of the land when planning a heist. Sometimes he would pose as a bank alarm salesman in order to gain access to the inner-workings of the bank. Sometimes he would pretend to be a movie director who was scoping out possible locations for an upcoming bank heist movie. After he’d gained access to the bank and gathered all the necessary intel, he’d hit the bank with his posse and execute the entire robbery in a stunningly short amount of time. Speed was the name of his game, and he was good. Dillinger’s biggest haul came from his robbery of the Central National Bank in Indiana, where he made off with about $76,000 in cash. Eventually he was tracked and killed by the FBI, but over the span of his career it’s estimated that he stole at least a few hundred thousand dollars from various banks throughout the Midwest. In short, John Dillinger was so cool that only Johnny Depp could play him.

    Bonnie & Clyde – $???


    bonnie and clydeEveryone knows who Bonnie and Clyde are, because they captivated the world during their brief stint as America’s premiere bank robbing lovebirds. They were the Brangelina of bank robbers during the early 1930’s. Bonnie and Clyde’s violent 4-year crime spree stretched across the Midwest and included bank robberies, gas station hold-ups, car thefts, and at least a dozen cold-blooded murders. Clyde Barrow was the driving force behind the couple’s headline-worthy adventures, and Bonnie Parker was the love-stricken girl who refused to leave her man’s side. Eventually, the criminal couple was ruthlessly gunned down in a booby trap set by Louisiana police officers, who ambushed the crime-savvy lovebirds and unloaded over 125 rounds into the vehicle. It’s been reported that Bonnie and Clyde were hit by 50 bullets, each suffering multiple fatal wounds.

    Larry Phillips and Emil Matasareanu – $303,000



    You may remember watching Phillips and Matasareanu battle it out with police shortly after their bank robbery in 1997, because it was one of the first post-bank robbery gun battles that was videotaped in its entirety and broadcast on live television. Phillips and Matasareanu went to painstaking lengths to guarantee that their bank heist would go off without a hitch. They entered their target bank in North Hollywood, California carrying 5 illegally modified automatic machine guns each. Once they’d snatched $303k from the bank vault, they began their escape from police, who were already arriving at the scene. A few blocks away, Phillips and Matasareanu decided to square off and battle it out with the cops. Both of the bank robbers were equipped with bulletproof armor, nerve-calming drugs, and a massive cargo of ammunition (3,300 rounds of armor piercing bullets), and they exchanged fire with the police, who were severely out-gunned, for several hours before finally succumbing to wounds they received during the violent shootout. Phillips eventually killed himself during the battle and Matasareanu died from bullet wounds shortly after his capture. This event inspired police forces across the country to issue armor piercing ammunition to their field officers.


    Stanley Mark Rifkin – $10.2 Million


    stanley mark rifkinStanley Mark Rifkin was working as a contractor to develop a back up system for the wire room in the Security Pacific National Bank in Los Angeles. Basically, he was a computer nerd, but he was a smart, cunning computer nerd. He realized shortly after starting his work in the bank that the transfer agents routinely left the bank’s transfer code written down in the back room, so Rifkin memorized it, then transferred $10.2 million dollars to a Swiss Bank account that he’d set up. The bank didn’t realize that it had been robbed until 8 days later. Shortly after pulling off what was (at the time) the biggest bank heist in U.S. history, Rifkin used some of the money to purchase $8 million worth of Russian diamonds. He then returned to the U.S. to sell the diamonds, but a business associate ratted him out to the FBI and he was arrested about three weeks after the bank robbery. What an idiot. If he had been more patient and waited a couple of years, he probably would have quadrupled his chances of getting away with it.

    David Scott Ghantt – $17 Million


    loomis+fargoDavid Scott Ghantt was an armored car driver and vault supervisor with Loomis Fargo & Co. His job was to transport massive amounts of money to banks and make sure that the money made it safely to the bank’s vault. Basically, it’s the perfect job from which to rob a bank. Ghantt conspired with a friend to pull of a massive bank heist that was actually pretty simple: instead of loading the money into a bank vault, he would load $17 million into a van, then escape to Mexico while his partner made off with the van full of cash. After that, his cohort in crime would wire him money until it was safe for Ghantt to return to The States. The craziest part about this scheme was that it worked perfectly. In fact, $17 million turned out to be too much money to transport. Ghantt’s partner had to leave $3 million in the van because it was taking to long to transfer the money to another vehicle. In the end, though, the FBI managed to track Ghantt down with the help of Mexican authorities, and once they had Ghantt it was easy to find his partner and retrieve most of the money they had stolen.

    Allen Pace – $19 Million


    allen pace robbery1997 was a big year for bank robberies, and specifically for armored car heists. Allen Pace was a regional safety inspector for Dunbar Armored Cars. His job was to tour armored car facilities and ensure that they maintained proper safety protocols, but when he visited the Los Angeles Dunbar Armored Car Depot, he used his exclusive access to the facility to begin plotting a massive heist. He took hundreds of photos of the depot, drew out blueprints and schematics, and went to painstakingly detailed lengths to ensure that his heist would go off without a hitch. Pace assembled a small group of friends and managed to infiltrate the depot and tie the security guards up with duct tape while avoiding every security camera in the facility. Then he loaded $18 million in cash into a U-Haul truck and took off with it, taking the hard drives for the security cameras with them. Pace and his team were careful in the aftermath of their robbery too, and they covered their tracks fairly well by laundering the money through various phony property deals and fake businesses. Eventually, though, one of Pace’s cohorts slipped up and gave an associate a stack of bills still wrapped with the bank’s cash strap on it. The associate became suspicious and alerted the authorities, who eventually traced the robbery to Pace. However, only about half of the money has actually been recovered. They’re still missing around $10 million of the stolen money.

    The PLO – $20 Million


    plo robberyIn 1976, a group of Palestinian guerillas known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the PLO) set their sights on the British Bank of the Middle East in Beirut. The team blasted through the wall of an adjacent Catholic church to gain access to the bank, then deployed a team of professional safe crackers to do the dirty work. Once the vault was opened, they began loading the loot into trucks. The bank was closed for the next two days, so the PLO had plenty of time to load about $20 million in cash and another (possibly) $30 million worth of gold, jewelry, and stocks & bonds and make off like (literal) bandits. The men behind the PLO robbery were never found, although a decent amount of the stolen money and goods have been recovered.

    Saddam Hussein – $1 Billion


    saddam husseinIn 2003, American and British forces invaded Iraq with the specific goal of toppling the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. As the invading forces closed in on his palace, Saddam did what any level-headed ruthless megalomaniacal dictator would do: he sent his guys to the bank. Saddam’s men raided Iraq’s national bank and forcibly seized approximately $1 billion in cash before the American forces came crashing down on Baghdad. This all happened in broad daylight, and there were numerous eye witnesses, so the Americans were very aware that this had happened. Large caches of money were found over the next few months in key locations and regime strongholds, including $650,000 in cash that was seized from Saddam’s palace, despite the fact that the entire city had been looted at that point. In the end, a decent portion of the money was collected and returned to the bank (or what was left of it, anyway). It’s doubtful that anyone will ever be able to steal more than a billion dollars in a single bank heist, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about bank robbers, it’s that they’ll never fail to surprise us.


    1. Xerxy says:

      What? Nothing about Ronnie Biggs? Outrageous.

    2. Me says:

      No Willy Sutton?

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