The fame and fortune that is associated with a gold bullion heist is, for most of us, in the realms of our deepest and darkest fantasies. The thought of living in riches and never having to work again has attracted some individuals to try their luck at stealing large hoards of gold, and although many have got away with it, a lot of the robbers do find themselves behind bars eventually. Pulling off a gold heist isn’t as easy as it may seem. We count down the 20 biggest gold heists in history, tell you what happened with 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 guards nose.
An Imperial Airways Cargo Plane at Croydon Airport in the late 1930’s – Source: Croydon Airport
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 28th, 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 the 29th of September, 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.
The moment Julio Nivelo stole the 19-liter bucket of gold flakes from an armored van on a busy Manhattan street corner.
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, gave $200k to his fiance, Nivelo snuck into Mexico, through latin America 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 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, the main suspect was Walter Dimmick and he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. Still to this day, the mystery lives on and the coins were never 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 1500 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 1567 gold centenarios coins.
Armed robbers made off with $2.5 million in gold coins after a Mexico City mint left its vault door wide open. Source: RT
The “centenarios”, have a face value of 50 pesos, but traded for 31,500 pesos ($1,610) 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 a fall morning in 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 enters 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 tries to wrestle the firearm from Valdez, but Valdez squeezes the trigger and the gun jams. Valdez knocks him down and snatches the suitcases with over 45kg of gold nuggets, worth over $2.8m dollars.
Valdez being accosted late 2012 by U.S. Marshalls. Source: CNN
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 22 June, 1982, three men duped the Perth Mint in Western Australia to hand over 49 gold bars weighing 68kg and 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 twenty, sixteen and twelve years in jail. All three convictions were overturned in 2004 and the case currently remains unsolved and continues to be fought by the Mickelbergs who maintain their innocence. 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 stations reporters. The note was protesting the brothers innocence and claimed that a prominent Perth businessman was behind the swindle.
Singapore Brinks Robbery (2012) – 70 kg Gold Bars
July 2nd, 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 realised that the gold bars had gone missing and alerted the police and 12 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 15th of May, 1985 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 travelling 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.
William George Tester (left), James Burgess and Edward Agar (right) in 1855 – Source: Wikipedia
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 £7000 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 ten 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.
The Summer Bliss Robbery (2012) – 216 kg Gold Bars
November 30, 2012, masked men in “Police” jackets boarded the the “Summer Bliss” fishing boat in Curacao and stole 70 gold bars weighing a total of 216kg with an estimated worth of $11.5 million. The gold shipment was being transhipped through Curacao and officials on the island had been advised beforehand that it was coming as part of normal security procedures.
The “Summer Bliss” fishing boat in Curacao. Source USA Today
6 men entered the boat and the captain was struck over the head and the gold looted in matter of minutes. The bandits made off with the 486 lbs of gold bullion in 3 separate cars. Over the following months, seven people were arrested in suspicion of the robbery due to conflicting reports, witness discrepancies, a history of local government corruption and dubious police cooperation they were never charged. To this date the Curaçao gold heist remains unsolved.
Kerry Packer Safe Cracking (1995) – 285 kg Gold Bullion
On the last weekend of April, 1995, a mastermind criminal only known as “Mr X” pulled off the most audacious gold bar heist at the home of Sydney based media mogul, Kerry Packer. The thief got away with 285kg of gold bullion worth $5.4 million. The cops who were tailing “Mr X” said he was so good at what he did that, though police knew it had to be him, he never gave them an inch, despite hundreds of hours of police surveillance. The police couldn’t even make an arrest, let alone charge the intelligent safe cracker.
Police suspect that “Mr X” walked into Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press building and jimmied open two doors with a crowbar or screwdriver. From there, he entered Packers office and headed straight to the safe that was hidden in a drinks cabinet. Experts believe he cracked the Chubb safe in a matter of minutes and left very little evidence behind other than a small burn on the carpet from a charred piece of metal. He then wheeled 285kg of gold bars out of the building, packed them on to the back of his ute and simply drove away.
Kerry Packer (left) and Mr “X” the man believed to have been involved in the theft of Kerry Packer’s gold.
After leading police on a wild goose chase for months on end, leading then to dead-end after dead-end, the police finally gave up and closed the case. For 15 years after, “Mr X” continued to live a normal lifestyle and didn’t slip up once, no spending sprees, no incriminating evidence and he even drove the same beaten up Ford Falcon ute. Sergeant John Jungblut, of the Sydney police said “He was one of the best crooks I’ve ever, ever had to work on”…
Sibanye Gold Mine Theft (2014) – 508 kg Gold Concentrate
On the 11th of June, 2014, 20 miners, employees of the Sibanye Gold Mine were arrested after a six-month police operation that saw them steal over 508kg of gold. The men were believed to have stolen over $20 million worth of gold concentration (a sand like substance with high purity levels of gold) over a year of working at the gold mine. A police source said the suspects had used specially designed bags that were fitted inside their overalls to steal the gold concentrate. It would then be taken to secret locations where other members of the syndicate would take the gold for processing. Although all 20 miners faced court proceedings at the Oberholzer Magistrates’ Court In Carletonville, very little can he found online about the verdict of the case.
Golden Door Jewelry Creations Armed Robbery (1983) – 736 kg Gold
On February 10th, 1983, two masked gunmen stole gold bullion estimated to be worth up to $11 million from Golden Door Jewelry Creations, a large gold smelting company and jewelry wholesaler based in North Miami. The two bandits wearing nylon stockings over their heads burst in to the jewellery wholesalers, tied up the owner and two other employees and got away with a whopping 736kg of gold bars, spools, chains and jewellery. The robbers never got caught and the gold was never found.
Guarulhos Airport Armed Robbery (2019) – 748 kg Gold Bars
A group of armed robbers stole a haul of gold bullion worth at least $30 million from Guarulhos airport in Brazil on Thursday 25th July, 2019. Eight men targeted a cargo terminal driving two trucks that resembled those of the Brazilian federal police. Four men exited the trucks with covered faces with at least one of the men carrying a rifle. Two airport workers were taken hostage during the ordeal but they were both released unharmed.
The armed robbers left the airport with 748kg of gold bullion and other precious metals due for shipment to Zurich and New York. Three suspects were arrested, all logistics workers from the airport itself. There is an ongoing investigation into the gold heist and as of yet nobody has been charged.
Brink’s-Mat Robbery (1983) – 3 tons of Gold Bars
The Brink’s-Mat Robbery is the largest gold bullion heist in British history. At 6:30AM on the 26th November, 1981, a gang of six armed robbers from South London broke into the Brink’s-Mat warehouse at Heathrow Airport. The robbers, headed up by Mickey McAvoy and Brian Robinson had expected to make off with £3m in cash. Anthony Black, a Brinks-Mat security guard who was living with Brian Robinson’s sister at the time, was the inside help and gave the South London gang quick access to the site where they overpowered other security guards by dousing them in petrol and threatening to set them alight.
Unit 7, Heathrow trading estate – The location of the Brink’s-Mat robbery in November 1983
The inside information from Anthony Black, also helped the robbers disarm a number of highly advanced security systems, but when the safe was opened they soon realised they had a completely different problem/fortune on their hands. Instead of being faced with £3 million of easily transportable cash, the gang found 6800 gold bars divided into 76 cases and a stash of £100,000 worth of cut and uncut diamonds, all bound for the Middle East. Shifting this amount of gold bullion was a challenge the robbers were not expecting to be facing, so a number of the gang were sent to get better transportation.
With a bigger getaway van now in place, the gang loaded all of the gold bullion using the warehouse’s forklift truck, but it still took them nearly 2 hours to clear the safe completely. They left the Brink’s-Mat warehouse at 8:15am and not long after 8:30AM the alarm was raised by one of the security guards.
Needless to say, converting the gold bullion into cash was another major hurdle in the heist that the gang of robbers hadn’t planned on. They were forced into approaching a senior underworld crime boss, only known as “The Fox” who had the gangland connections to smelt down the gold and distribute it through the appropriate avenues. With the assistance of the Adams family and a jeweller named Solly Nahome, who agreed to sell the smelted down gold.
One of the robbers, Brian Robinson, was caught after security guard Anthony Black, now his brother in-law, mentioned his name to officers that were investigating the case. Robinson was arrested in December 1983 and police quickly discovered the family connection and black confessed to aiding and abetting the whole operation.
Micky McAvoy entrusted a portion of his share to George Francis and Brian Perry. Perry then recruited Kenneth Noye, who had the knowledge and know-how to safely dispose of the gold bullion, but large amounts of money moving through a Bristol Bank raised suspicions of the Bank of England who in turn alerted the police.
Brian Robinson (left), Micky McAvoy and Kenneth Noye (right).
Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson were soon jailed for 25 years respectively and Anthony Black was was sentenced to six years. However, the majority of the 3000 kg of gold bullion has never been recovered and the other four members of the gang were never convicted. By 1996, half of the gold that had been smelted was thought to have made its way back to the legitimate gold market and according to the BBC, anyone who had bought gold jewellery in 1983 is probably still wearing Brink’s-Mat!!
British Bank Of The Middle East Heist (1976) – 12 tons of Gold Bars
On January 20th, 1976, eight armed men stole 12 tons of gold bullion bars and ingots worth $50 million from the British Bank of the Middle East in Beirut. Another $160 million of silver and platinum, gemstones, bonds, Lebanese and foreign currency, and stock certificates were also plundered in the raid. The group of men who were associated with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization took advantage of the chaos and civil unrest in the country and broke into the bank easily without alerting authorities.
The British Bank Of The Middle East Heist in Beirut.
The robbers used sheer brute force to gain entry into the bank, blasting through a wall that was shared with a Catholic church. A police report assumes that with the help of a team of locksmiths, the group of men cracked the vault and stole the entire contents. None of the money or gold bullion has been recovered, and no one has ever been charged for the crime.
The Spanish Looting of the New World (1516-1650) – 181 tons of Gold
In 1516, Spain conquered Peru and completely destroyed and ransacked the ancient Incas civilization. Gold bars, ingots, silver, jewellery and gold coins were transported by ships across the sea to Spain and it is said that over 181 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver were looted from the New World. In today’s money thats over $8.5 billion in gold bullion. When you think of countries stealing from countries, this may not sound like a lot in the current world climate with trillion dollar national budgets, however, during 1516-1650 prices across Europe rose by an unmanageable 500% due greatly to the imports of gold and silver bullion to Spain.
Nazi Germany Gold Plunder (1939-1945) – 1038 tons of Gold
The Nazi Germany Gold Plunder is the stolen gold or “Raubgold” in German, that was plundered throughout World War II to help Nazi germany finance their war efforts. It is believed that Hitler executed a policy of looting the assets of countries, companies and private citizens by collecting looted assets in central depositories and transferring the gold bullion to overseas banks. $550m in gold was looted from foreign governments alone, including $223m from Belgium and $193m from the Netherlands. These figures don’t include the hoards of gold instruments, gold jewellery and even gold teeth that were plucked from the victims and prisoners of Nazi concentration camps.
100 tons of Nazi gold found hidden in a salt mine (left). Gold rings from prisoners of WWII concentration camps (right).
Japan Invasion of China (1937) – 6600 tons of Gold
Prince Chichibu of Japan, the younger brother of Emperor Hirohito was assigned by the emperor as the head of a top secret operation called Golden Lily – a highly secretive group that was tasked with looting China for all its wealth including cash, gems, China’s gold coins, precious metals and gold bullion! Starting In 1937, the Rape of Nanking began, and the task force carried out its duty with full force. The gold bullion hoard was much more than expected and the Japanese looted Nanking for over 6000 metric tonnes of gold bullion, a bounty of silver and an unimaginable amount of precious gemstones, making the Japanese Invasion of China one of the biggest gold heists ever recorded.
So there you have it. That was the Top 20 Biggest Gold Robberies Of All Time. We hope you enjoyed it. Did we miss anything? Is there an additional gold heist that should be added to this list? Leave your comments below to let us know!