ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

Heist movies have a long and storied tradition in Hollywood, so much so that nearly every decade has their signature crime film that sets it apart. The genre can run the gamut from lighthearted to downright grim, but most of the time they operate in a space that is clearly separated from our lived reality.

For the upcoming film Triple 9, however, a gritty, authentic, and no-holds-barred crime story is prominently on display. The NSFW Red Band trailer is so powerful, it's easy to get lost in these hard-fought streets in just two minutes.

Just as Triple 9 looks way more intense than your average heist movie, here are some of the most unbelievable real-life American heists that were ever attempted.

5. Lufthansa Heist

If we're talking iconic American heists, you certainly can't leave out Lufthansa. In 1978, Irish-American gangster Jimmy Burke, an associate of the Lucchese crime family, discovered that untraceable money was flown into the states by the millions once a month. It would arrive via Lufthansa and get stored in a vault at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Burke arranged his team and set out to enact the plan in the early morning of December 11th. After incapacitating a cargo agent and bursting into the lunch room where employees were on break, they used supervisor Rudi Eirich to infiltrate the vault. At the time, it was the largest heist on American soil, bringing in $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry. Today, this combined total would equate to over $21 million.

The unexpectedly huge amount of money led to an extreme amount of infighting and murder before most of Burke's cronies could even be tried for their crimes.

4. Collar Bomb Bank Robbery

via CNN
via CNN

While the size of the plunder might be the typical benchmark for a noteworthy robbery, sometimes outrageous circumstances surrounding the crime can be just as significant. Case in point: The 2003 case of a middle-aged pizza delivery man holding up a bank with an explosive locked around his neck. At the time and even now, it seems like the premise for a movie, but the real-life case certainly didn't have a blue-sky ending.

The delivery man, Brian Wells, was able to get $250,000 when he confronted a teller with a shotgun. Once the police apprehended him, Wells claimed that he was forced to commit the crime by three unnamed people who placed the bomb around his neck. As police were waiting for the bomb squad to arrive and deactivate the collar, the explosive went off and killed Wells. Ultimately, two co-conspirators were found guilty of the crime, and they maintain that Wells was in on the plan all along.

3. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist


Art theft is not just a European game anymore. In 1990, two thieves took advantage of Boston's St. Patrick's Day revelry to pull off a heist that nabbed them 13 expensive works of art. In the early hours of the morning on March 18th, they disguised themselves as police officers and tricked their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Once inside, they tied up the guards and achieved the largest private property theft in history, stealing an estimated $500 million worth of fine art including paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Degas. No arrests have ever been made, and no artwork has ever been recovered.

2. Monroe's Craiglist Robbery

FBI/Monroe Police Department
FBI/Monroe Police Department

Sometimes the most fascinating heists have nothing to do with a unexplained success. Back in 2008, Anthony Curcio devised a plan to rob an armored car (once again, Brink's is the unlucky target), and he built a cable pulley system to carry himself and huge bags of cash up a river in an inner tube. Already, this sounds like a scene from a Leslie Nielsen comedy, but it gets so much better.

Curcio took to Craigslist to "employ" 15-20 construction workers and told them to come dressed in jeans, a blue shirt, work shoes, and a yellow safety vest. They arrived to "work" on the day of the heist, Curcio showed up in the same exact outfit before quickly pepper spraying the guard carting the money. Curcio made off with $400,000 and traversed the river toward a getaway vehicle.

He was eventually arrested after a homeless man came forward with his license plate number, but his heist as the "D.B. Tuber" (which references the next person on the list) has lived on in folklore.

1. D.B. Cooper


On the day before Thanksgiving in 1971, a man who identified himself as "Dan Cooper" bought a one-way ticket from Portland to Seattle. After the flight took off, Cooper (who the media mistakenly referred to as "D.B. Cooper") informed the nearest flight attendant that he had a bomb and was hijacking the plane. His demands: Four parachutes, a fuel truck to refuel the plane in Seattle, and $200,000 in negotiable American currency.

But here's where the story gets really absurd. After the airline agreed to these terms and let the passengers off the plane, Cooper and co. set a course for Mexico, keeping the cabin unpressurized per Cooper's new demands. As the remaining crew stayed in the cockpit, Cooper hovered near the rear exit door. Somewhere around Portland, Cooper strapped the marked bills to his body, opened the staircase door, and jumped with only his parachute to keep him alive.

Still to this day, this guy has never been located or positively identified, and the FBI continues to keep an open case file on him. That's some real commitment to a crime.

(Sources: Wired, ArsTechnica, Mic)


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