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Century's Biggest Gold Heists by Decade

The Century’s Biggest Gold Heists by Decade

John-Rothans

Written by John Rothans

Jan 17, 2020

For many, gold’s allure can be hypnotic. It drives desperate people—even entire nations—to commit dangerous gold heists. Despite facing an array of security obstacles, some people succeed with their crimes.

The past century alone has given us some of the biggest gold heists ever. As America’s Gold Authority®, we break down the most noteworthy ones from the past century.

The 1920s

What: The Farmers State Bank Heist
Where: Grass Lake, Michigan
When: July 29, 1920
How Much: Nearly $70,000 in cash, gold, and bonds

Our century of gold heists starts on the low end of the financial spectrum. Two aspects make this one stand out:

  • The movie-ready drama surrounding the bank robbery: Six robbers ended up in an extended confrontation with authorities as locals chipped in to help the police apprehend the thieves. Sadly, the battle claimed the life of a local sheriff.
  • The remaining mystery: Investigators never recovered some of the stolen loot, which even today may rest at the bottom of a small lake west of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The 1930s

What: The Croydon Aerodrome Gold Robbery (aka “the Imperial Airways Gold Heist”)
Where: South London
When: March 6, 1935
How Much: 44 pounds of gold bars and coins

While more gold was involved in this crime than in the Farmers State Bank Heist, the “Croydon Aerodrome Gold Robbery” offered far less drama.

Three criminals somehow acquired a set of keys to a security room, walked in, grabbed gold worth more than £21,000 (in today’s money, approximately £742,000 or $989,000), and simply walked away.

Three suspects stood trial separately, but only one was convicted. The gold, unfortunately, was never recovered.

The 1940s

What: The Nazis’ Europe-wide Gold Pillage
Where: Throughout Europe
When: 1939–1945
How Much: 1,038 tons of gold

Wars cost money, and Nazi Germany officials sought to finance their battles with gold stolen from citizens, companies, countries—anywhere gold could be found. Their plunder included half a billion dollars taken from foreign governments.

The Nazis’ greed ultimately went unrewarded, though, thanks to the eternal heroics of the Allied soldiers.

The 1950s

What: The Malton Airport Gold Heist
Where: Toronto, Canada
When: September 24, 1952
How Much: $215,000 CAD in gold bars

It’s now known as Pearson International, but it used to be Malton Airport—site of the mysterious heist of $215,000 CAD in gold bars.

What makes it mysterious? Consider this:

  • The crime remains unsolved—no gold from among the six (of 10) stolen boxes was ever recovered.
  • Witnesses and guards saw no robbers.
  • Authorities named no suspects, offered multiple theories, and prosecuted no one.

The 1960s

What: The Great Winnipeg Gold Heist
Where: Winnipeg, Canada
When: March 1, 1966
How Much: Approximately $385,000 CAD in gold, roughly worth $3 million CAD today

The gentlemen responsible for pulling off this heist knew what they were doing. With props that included Air Canada employee uniforms, a stolen Air Canada truck, and fake waybills (used to provide carriers with information about the goods they were transporting), the robbers pulled off the Great Winnipeg Gold Heist without firing a single shot.

Unfortunately for the criminals, fingerprints linked them to the crime, helped authorities recover the gold, and put the mastermind in prison until 1974.

The 1970s

What: British Bank of the Middle East Heist
Where: Beirut, Lebanon
When: January 20, 1976
How Much: 12 tons of gold bars

Eight men associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization blasted through a wall that the British Bank of the Middle East shared with a church. From there, locksmiths helped open a vault and make off with an almost unimaginable amount of gold: 12 tons.

Authorities never recovered the gold, nor was anyone charged with the crime.

The 1980s

What: The Brink’s-Mat Robbery
Where: South London
When: November 26, 1983
How Much: 3 tons of gold bars

The Brink’s-Mat incident is the biggest gold robbery in Britain’s history. It took six armed men plus an insider (a security guard) to pull it off. While the thieves expected to find about £3 million in loot, what they ended up finding and taking was an astonishing £26 million in gold bullion, diamonds, and cash—a haul that’s worth more than £87 million today.

Of the six conspirators, two ended up imprisoned for many years. The other four avoided convictions related to this crime. And the gold? It was never recovered.

Such was the size of the theft that the BBC once reported claims that “anyone wearing gold jewelry bought in the U.K. after 1983 is probably wearing Brink’s-Mat” gold.

The 1990s

What: Kerry Packer Safe Cracking
Where: Sydney, Australia
When: April 1995 (specific date undetermined)
How Much: More than 600 pounds of gold bullion worth $5.4 million AUD at the time

Investigators believe pillow talk between a wealthy executive’s former secretary and her criminal boyfriend led the boyfriend to literally cart away more than 600 pounds of gold kept in the executive’s safe.

Police suspected the secretary’s criminal boyfriend—only ever identified as Mr. X—because the vault was cracked so expertly, and he was one of the few they knew who could pull off such a job. That the security staff spent its time at a club next door rather than faithfully executing their duties certainly helped Mr. X.

Despite long stints of surveillance, however, the chief suspect never gave himself away. Investigators made no arrests and never recovered the gold.

The 2000s

What: The World of Warcraft Real Gold Theft
Where: South Australia
When: 2008
How Much: 75 bars of gold bullion valued at $75,000 AUD

A nurse who made tens of thousands of real dollars amassing a faux fortune playing the online video game World of Warcraft cashed out her virtual haul and purchased 75 bars of gold bullion.

What she did is called “gold farming.” It involves selling virtual items for real currency. But Kristina Finchman’s fake money ended up buying her real problems. Her house was robbed multiple times, and all of her possessions were stolen, including her wall safe filled with gold. A man she met online, who ended up becoming her real-life boyfriend, was accused of the theft.

Suspecting a fraudulent claim, Finchman’s insurance provider refused to cover her loss. The two parties confidentially settled their dispute.

The 2010s

What: The Summer Bliss Robbery
Where: Curaçao
When: November 30, 2012
How Much: 70 gold bars (weighing nearly 500 pounds) worth about $11.5 million

Spoiler alert: The Summer Bliss Robbery is one very expensive unsolved caper, with hundreds of pounds of gold never recovered and no one ever convicted of the crime.

The mystery started with six men boarding a fishing boat named the Summer Bliss, on which gold was being transported. The men assaulted the boat’s captain, grabbed the gold, and disappeared within minutes.

Authorities made multiple arrests over the following months, but none resulted in a conviction because of legal obstacles that stemmed from conflicting reports and witness discrepancies.

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