The fame and fortune that is associated with a gold bullion heist are, for most of us, in the realms of our deepest and darkest fantasies. Nevertheless, the thought of living in riches and never having to work again has seduced some individuals to try their luck at stealing large hoards of gold. And although many have gotten away with it, a lot of the robbers found themselves behind bars eventually.
Turns out, pulling off a gold heist isn’t as easy as it may seem.
Here, in ascending order, we count down the first 10 of the 20 biggest gold heists in history, telling you what happened to the loot and where the robbers are now.
Croydon Airport Gold Robbery (1935) – 20 kg of Gold Bars & Coins
The “Croydon Aerodrome Gold Robbery“, also known as the “Imperial Airways Gold Heist” was the theft of just over 20kg of gold bullion, made up of gold bars, gold Sovereigns and gold American Eagles from South London’s Croydon Aerodrome (Croydon Airport) on the 6th of March, 1935.
It was customary to only have one security guard on duty who held the key to the security room for all incoming cargo flights. Three men had managed to get their hands on a set of keys and they were able to simply walk into the airport unabated and steal over £21,000 worth of gold from right under the security guard’s nose.
Three men were charged with the theft of the gold bullion (now worth £742,000 in today’s money). Only one of the men was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison, whilst the other two men were acquitted after a key witness changed their testimony. The gold was never found and the remaining gang members weren’t identified.
Cramahe Township Gold Theft (2019) – 22 kg Gold Bars & Coins
On April 28, 2019, a homeowner in the Cramahe Township, Northumberland County, Canada, reported over 22kg of gold bullion missing from their home. The gold was made up of five-ounce gold bars, one-ounce wafers and gold coins manufactured by The Royal Canadian Mint. There was no forced entry into the home and nothing else in the building had been disturbed. There were “no real identifiers” on the gold bars and their disappearance is a complete mystery.
Manhattan Gold Bucket Thief (2016) – 39 kg Gold Flakes
On September 29, 2016, Julio Nivelo reached viral fame after pulling off the simplest gold heist in living memory. On a busy Manhattan street corner, he walked right up to an open armored vehicle and snatched a 19-liter bucket of the back of the truck. It wasn’t until hours later in his bedroom in New Jersey, that Nivelo realized what he’d stolen: more than $1.6 million in gold.
After trading a lot of the gold flakes for cash, Nivelo had about $1.2 million and once he’d stashed some of the cash, he gave $200k to his fiance, snuck into Mexico and finally made it home to Ecuador. After thinking he was in the clear, the local authorities caught up with him after about a month of being back. They refused extradition to the United States and instead sent him to prison in Ecuador for nine months.
San Francisco Mint Double Eagle Robbery (1898) – 44 kg Gold Coins
After starting work at the San Francisco Mint in 1898, by 1901, Walter Dimmick was trusted with the keys to the vaults until an audit showed that over $30,000 of gold Double Eagles were missing. The six bags of gold bullion coins weighed over 44kg in solid gold and would have a value of over $2.14m in today’s money.
Although there wasn’t any hard evidence, Dimmick was the main suspect and he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. The coins have never been found.
Mexico City Mint Theft (2019) – 44 kg Gold Coins
Armed robbers stole more than $2.5m worth of gold coins from a vault that had been left open at a mint in Mexico City. The brazen thieves left with more than 1,500 gold centenarios. Two people, one wielding a firearm broke into the Mexican Mint, throwing a security guard to the floor. The other robber went to the vault, which was wide open, and filled his backpack with 1,567 gold centenarios coins.
The centenarios have a face value of 50 pesos but traded for 31,500 pesos (about $1,610 USD) apiece at the time of the robbery and have a total weight of 44 kg of pure gold. The same Casa de Moneda branch was also broken into in 2018 while the building was being renovated, but the heist was not as successful.
Coral Gables Gold Heist (2012) – 45 kg Gold Nuggets
On the morning of October 12, 2012, George Villegas leaves his apartment with two-wheeled suitcases, packed with hundreds of gold nuggets sealed in plastic bags, each weighing more than 50 pounds. Working as a courier for his cousin’s Bolivian gold mining company, Quri Wasi Inc., George is to deliver the gold to a refinery in Opa-locka.
Villegas entered a cramped elevator in his apartment building to be greeted on the first floor by Cuban gangster Raonel Valdez waving a gun in his direction saying “We want the gold,” in Spanish. “We’re only here for the gold.” Villegas tried to wrestle the firearm from Valdez, but Valdez squeezed the trigger. Luckily the gun jammed. Valdez then knocked Villegas down and snatched the suitcases with over 45kg of gold nuggets, worth over $2.8m dollars.
Raonel Valdez-Valhuerdis, 34, was captured while crawling through bushes near the Guatemala–Belize border. Leading up to the trial, George Villegas died of a heart attack and couldn’t testify against Valdez in the case. However, in January 2017, justice was served and Valdez was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Perth Mint Swindle (1982) – 68 kg Gold Bars
On June 22, 1982, three men duped the Perth Mint in Western Australia to hand over 49 gold bars weighing a total of 68kg and at that time valued at $653,000 (2019: $3.3m).
According to police at the time, three brothers–Brian, Ray and Peter Mickelberg–orchestrated the swindle. The brothers supposedly stole cheques from a Perth building society and then tricked the mint into accepting those cheques in exchange for the gold bullion. The gold was picked up by a security company who delivered it to an office in Perth and then to Jandakot Airport, where the gold bullion seemingly disappeared.
The three brothers went to trial in 1983 and were found guilty and sentenced to 20, 16 and 12 years in jail. All three convictions were overturned in 2004 and the case continues to be fought by the Mickelbergs, who maintain their innocence. The theft remains unsolved.
In 1989, 55kg of gold nuggets were found outside the gates of TVW-7, a Perth television station, with an anonymous note addressed to Alison Fan – one of the station’s reporters. The note supported the brothers’ innocence and claimed that a prominent Perth businessman was behind the swindle.
Singapore Brinks Robbery (2012) – 70 kg Gold Bars
On July 2, 2012, gold bars worth about $4.3 million went missing from Brink’s Singapore. In 2012, gold prices were at their peak and the two robbers were set to make a pretty penny on the gold bullion heist. However, they didn’t get very far.
Brink’s Singapore realized that the gold bars had gone missing and alerted the police. Twelve hours later, one of the men was arrested at Singapore airport trying to leave the country. Teo Wen Wei, 28, was charged with aiding and abetting Jonas Tan Teck Leng in the theft of 70 x 1 kg gold bars weighing a total of 70kg.
Very little information is documented about the case and it is unknown whether the gold bars were recovered.
The Great Gold Robbery (1855) – 91 kg Gold Bars & Coins
Probably the most well known of all the major gold robberies, The Great Gold Robbery took place on May 12, 1855 and was one of the most brazen crimes of the century, with the culprits stealing £12,000 in gold bullion, over 91kg in weight which would be worth somewhere in the region of £3.4m in today’s money.
Belonging to Abell and Co., Spielmann, three boxes of gold bullion were transported by Chaplin & Co. Carriers from London Bridge, via Folkestone, UK, and Boulogne, to Paris, France. Each box was solidly constructed, weighed and sealed at the carriers’ office and taken to London Bridge station. At London Bridge, the three boxes were placed in iron traveling safes and secured with two locks. The safe keys were entrusted to railway staff in London Bridge and Folkestone and also to the captain. It was customary practice to load the safes on to the trains with the guard on the night train from London to Folkestone.
When the train arrived at Boulogne, the boxes were taken out and weighed and it was found that one of the boxes weighed 18kg less than it should have, whilst the other two boxes weighed a little more. Despite the slight difference in weight, the boxes were transferred to a train for Paris.
Once the boxes arrived in Paris, they were opened and found that all of the gold bullion had been replaced with lead shot. As the weight was correct in London and wrong in Boulogne, it was understood the robbery happened on the journey from London to Folkestone, or before the gold had reached Boulogne.
After a large investigation by UK and French police, it eventually emerged that the robbery was committed by four men and a wider network of accomplices to pull off the meticulously planned operation: the idea man, William Pierce; an ex-railway employee, George Agar; a mastermind criminal who helped to plan the heist, George Tester; a railway clerk who supplied the gang with duplicate keys to the on-board safe; and a train guard called Burgess who ensured the gangs tools were loaded into the guards van so the men could carry out their work.
Everything went to plan, until the following year when George Agar’s ex-girlfriend (Fanny Kay,) who was recruited to act as a receiver, failed to receive a £7,000 payment from Pierce and decided to blow the whistle on the mob to the governor of Newgate Prison. By the time the trial came around, Agar was already serving life for a separate incident regarding a bogus cheque and William Pierce, Goerge Tester and Burgess were sentenced to 14 years transportation.
The Philadelphia Mint Gold Bar Robbery (1893) – 183 kg Gold Bars
In 1893, Henry S. Cochran, an employee at the Philadelphia Mint was caught embezzling 183 kg of gold bars worth a massive $134,000 ($8.8m 2019) over a 10-year period.
Cochran used a bent wire through small holes in an iron-lattice door to the mint’s vault to knock the highest gold bar from the top of the stack. Still using the bent wire, he would push the gold bar close to the door and unlodge the door briefly by its rusty hinges so he could remove the gold from the vault.
$108,000 worth of gold bullion was found stashed in Cochran’s home and the remaining missing gold was found in the mint’s ventilation system.
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