WHILE the culprits of most heists are quickly rounded up by cops there are a handful of criminal masterminds who have managed to take off with their million-pound loot and avoid capture.
The world’s most notorious unsolved heists have captivated amateur detectives and internet sleuths for years revealing the astonishing lengths criminals will go to snatch the goods.
From million-pound bank robberies to mission-impossible-style diamond burglaries – each unsolved heist shows the sheer ingenuity of these clever thieves.
Each member of the gang plays a crucial role and on the day of the heist every aspect must play out seamlessly.
Any small error, a fingerprint or DNA evidence left behind at the scene, could offer cops a key clue and mean the whole gang goes down for the crime.
But one thing these unsolved heists have in common is that those responsible or only some of them have been brought to justice.
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One of the most famous unsolved robberies of all time, dubbed the Antwerp Diamond Heist, saw a criminal gang infiltrate one of the world's most secure vaults.
The gang of Italian criminals known as ‘the School of Turin’ made off with £90million worth of loose diamonds, gold and silver in Belgium Diamond Centre in 2003.
The plan was masterminded by career thief Leonardo Notarbartolo, nicknamed ‘The Artist’, who used a camera hidden inside a pen to work out the layout of the vault during visits disguised as a diamond dealer.
The centre where the vault was held was believed to be impenetrable – a 14-floor fortress guarded by a private security team, protected by metal turnstiles and each person ID’d on the way in.
The vault was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations.
During his visits, he was allowed into the vault which showed hundreds of safe-deposits boxes each with 11,000 possible combinations, and was able to hide a small camera near the door.
The gang built a replica vault and Notarbartolo spent months planning the heist with his partners in crime, The Genius who specialised in alarm systems, The Monster who was good with everything from picking locks to mechanics and electrics.
The King of Keys, an older man who was among the best key forgers in the world and one of his pals named Speedy.
Two days before the heist, a shipment of De Beers diamonds worth millions was brought to the district – a prime time for the gang to strike.
On the day of the heist, the group gained access through a balcony and made their way to the vault by covering up cameras while The Genius disabled the alarm system.
When in the vault’s antechamber they disabled the magnetic field, and the King of Keys was stunned to find the vault’s original key hanging in a nearby utility room – they were in.
Working against the clock as their body temperature heated the vault while trying to keep their heart rates low, The Monster set about disabling an alarm inside.
The King of Keys began breaking into the deposit boxes and the gang grabbed as much loot as they could and made their way back to Notarbartolo’s car outside.
The group would come unstuck however when Speedy and Notarbartolo went to dispose of the evidence, planning to burn everything in the woods.
Speedy, who was known to panic sparking concern amongst the others, went hysterical and scattered evidence everywhere before they fled the scene.
However, a farmer, who had trouble with local teenagers dumping rubbish on his land, came across the bag and called the cops, the evidence lead them straight to Notarbartolo’s arrest.
The Monster, Ferdinando Finotto, The Genius, Elio D’Onorio and Speedy, Pietro Tavano were all arrested and served five years each for the crime after fleeing with jewels to Italy.
The King of Keys was never caught it remains a mystery as to how exactly the gang managed to dodge so many security measures.
THE BANCO BANK ROBBERY
In August 2005, a Brazilian gang broke into a vault at a Banco Central bank and swiped a whooping £27million in cash.
The gang planned the heist for three months, renting a commercial property nearby and tunneling for 256 feet to position themselves underneath the bank.
They disguise the property as a landscaping business selling real and artificial grass so that no one would question the huge amounts of soil being removed from the site.
The tunnel was so well constructed it had its own air conditioning system and lighting and the group even broke through a metre of underground steel-reinforced concrete.
Once inside, they managed to steal five cases full of uninsured 50 real notes, weighing roughly 3.5 tons – with the bank taking two days to notice.
The bills were not numbered sequentially, making them almost impossible to trace.
25 people were thought to be involved in the heist but only eight were ever arrested and others met a bloody end.
In October 2005, the body of the alleged mastermind Luis Fernando was found dumped on a quiet road 200 miles West of Rio after being kidnapped.
The body of another suspect, Evandro José das Neves, was discovered in a São Paulo favela in October 2006.
Only £7million was recovered while £20million remains unaccounted for.
THE NORTHERN BANK HEIST
The Northern Bank robbery was one the biggest and most high-profile heists in UK history after robbers escaped with £26.5million in cash in Belfast.
On December 20, 2004, a gang of three masked men held the families of two Northern Bank cash clerks hostage at gunpoint.
The gang held the worker's siblings, girlfriends and parents hostage for 24 hours while the two key holders, who had access to the cash vault in the bank’s basement, were forced to go to work.
At 6pm, when all the bank employees went home, key holders Chris Ward and Kevin McMullan stayed back to let the gang members into the bank.
Shortly after 6pm, Ward was made to leave the bank with a sports bag filled with £1.2million in cash.
Ward gave the cash-filled sports bag to one of the gang members waiting in a getaway vehicle before returning to the vault.
From then on, the gang had uninterrupted access to the bank, stealing £26.5million in cash.
The stolen money consisted mostly of uncirculated Northern Bank notes but also included £8.85million pounds sterling of used notes, and over £1million in other currencies such as US dollars and euros.
Key questions such as who sanctioned the robbery and who was involved in the heist itself remain a mystery.
However, in January 2005, Chief Constable Hugh Orde of the Police Service of Northern Ireland announced at a news conference in Belfast that the IRA was responsible for the raid.
The only man jailed over the €30million robbery was Ted Cunningham, but he denies any wrongdoing and in January 2020 told the Irish Sun that his “focus” was on clearing his name.
Cunningham was arrested by investigators under Operation Phoenix at his home in Co Cork on February, 16, 2005.
On March 10, 2008, he appeared at Cork District Court charged with ten money laundering charges.
Following a 45 day trial, he was found guilty on March 27, 2009, and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Cunningham was later released by the Court of Criminal Appeal in May 2012, and at a retrial pleaded guilty to laundering £100,040 on January 15, 2005 and laundering £175,360 on February 7, 2005.
He received a five-year suspended sentence on February 27, 2014, but is appealing his conviction.
Experts, including the FBI, believe the Northern Bank robbery was an inside job.
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Key-holder Chris Ward, who was involved in helping the gang after his family was taken hostage, was arrested in November 2005.
However, Ward was cleared of any involvement in the theft in central Belfast and was found not guilty.
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