These Are The Greatest Heists in History (and Folklore)

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Whether you call it the 5-Finger Discount, the Smash-n’-Grab or the good ol’ train robbery; whether it’s art or gold or rare books; whether it’s someone robbing an ancient gravesite or the liquor store on the corner, history is chock full of robberies. Why, there’s probably someone robbing you right now, as you read these words! No? OK well, still, there have been a lot of incidents of theft over the years, and some of them are pretty spectacular.
Did you know, for example, that the American Revolution was a reaction to the theft of several tons of fine iced tea from a French admiral? You did? You knew that? Then you need to find your elementary school history teacher… and rob him.
But seriously, folks, today we are going to discuss some of history’s greatest heists, and all but one of them is (probably) pure fact!

5 And Let’s Round Things out with Our Good Friend Prometheus

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Prometheus, an immortal Titan who did humanity a good deed by stealing fire from the gods. But in the process, he did himself no favors, as he was condemned to spend eternity having his liver eaten daily by an angry eagle. There are times when immortality is really kind of a bitch, huh? Still, we all can thank our mythical friend every time we celebrate the 4th of July or burn damning evidence of fiscal malfeasance.

4 The June 2nd, 1899 “wilcox Train Robbery” is About the Most Iconic Heist of the Wild West

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Granted, it came a bit late in the game, but still, this robbery had it all: trains, dynamite, subterfuge, and a daring escape. The targeted Union Pacific train was making its way through Wyoming in the dead of night when it was stopped by two “signal men” who of course turned out to be ruthless robbers. They blew open the rail car holding the strong box and then dynamited part of the tracks so no train could easily follow. The thieves set out on horseback, having pre-planned their escape so that multiple fresh mounts waited along their route. The bandits made off with about $50,000 of 1899 money (some of it in gold) which today equals about 7 million bucks. Not bad, guys. I mean, it is bad, because you’re thieves, but you know what I mean.

3 You know that whole 8th Commandment? Thou Shalt Not Steal?

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Yeah, they didn’t listen to that even back in the bible days (which at the time were just called “days” I believe). In fact, there were so many thieves and “shop lifters” that they even came up with a commandment to ah… dammit. I shouldn’t have put the commandment part first. But hey, even Yahweh himself seemed a bit unclear on this one. He drops the Commandments on Moses in one chapter of the book of Exodus, but then a few chapters later, he’s all: (Exodus 3:21-22) “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people [the Israelites], so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians!” Yup, you heard it from God: rob ‘em and then get the hell out of there!Jesus. Let’s move on to some cowboys.

2 We All Know the Tales of Tomb Raiders and Mummy’s Curses and the Awesome Chase Scenes with Sick Guitar Licks That Accompany Them, Right?

And we can picture the (also awesome) turn-of-the-century monocle-wearing British Egyptologists with cigars and pith helmets overseeing an “archeological team” that is in fact doing more tomb robbing than excavating. But what many folks don’t know is that raiding pyramids and crypts and the like of Ancient Egypt goes back every bit as far as any Ancient Egyptian dynasty. In fact, stealing from the tombs of dead royalty was so common that I’ll only bother with one specific example that is a case-in-point illustration: it seems that thieves raided and robbed Tutankhamen’s tomb so shortly after his death that he hadn’t even been buried yet. While the priests were still preparing his body for interment, thieves went in and looted the treasures they had begun to install, which then had to be replaced (and, we can only imagine were immediately stolen again, leading one of the assembled priests to say with a sigh “Well, JEEZ, guys! This is the pits!”).

1 The Number One Spot Goes to a Rather Recent Family of Thieves

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You may remember the charmed surname “Hussein” from the last decade? Or maybe the last two or three decades? Well, right before that whole thing got started in 2003, a certain Saddam Hussein, never one to not rob his own countrymen blind on the eve of their potential annihilation at the hands of a powerful if potentially misled mass of forces, this Mr. Hussein decided to make a bank withdrawal, in cash, of about a BILLION U.S. DOLLARS. Now, let’s be clear: this withdrawal? It was actually bald-faced theft. The bank in question was Iraq’s central bank, not Saddam’s bank. But to Saddam, there wasn’t much difference. Things didn’t work out too well for the newly minted even-richer despot, though, did they?

So what did we learn today? That even in days gone by, crime didn’t pay! Except for the Wilcox boys. And for lots of other people who got away with robberies. I guess maybe instead the take away lesson is that crime might pay, but you’re still a jerk. Except for Robin Hood, he’s cool.

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