Listicle: 5 Actual Heists From Actual Real History

Now You See Me 2 is the surprisingly popular sequel to the surprisingly popular box office hit Now You See Me, which came out in 2013. It has an unreal returning cast: Mark Zuckerberg, Lex Luthor, the fella who made Batman’s car and told Andy Dufresne he’d meet him again, the white fella who couldn’t jump, and The Hulk, also bolstered by Harry Potter and your one who was in John Goodman’s bunker.

And once again, it involves a massive, globetrotting heist played out by magicians.

This type of film always plays well with audiences that love the thrill of a heist so elaborate or impactful that it almost seems impossible (almost). Ok, so it’s probably entirely impossible without the use of special effects, which are really difficult to pull off in real time in real life. Not impossible though, and we know this because they actually happened in actual real life, are these five actual real life heists that I have gathered in this handy listicle for you. They should make some movies about some of these. They’re fun.

5 Actual Heists From Actual Real History

1. The Mona Lisa Theft

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A modern reimagining of what experts think Da Vinci was trying to achieve with this painting of his. Twice, side by side, because more is better. Image source.

The Mona Lisa is probably the world’s most famous painting. Yeah, I’ve thought about it, it’s definitely the world’s most famous painting. AND IT WAS ROBBED ONCE. It was actually painted by Michelangelo and Da Vinci, that swine, stole it and claimed it as his own!


That’s a blatant lie and I apologise for it. But, The Mona Lisa was valued at £525 million according to this website (because sometimes they publish articles for people who love the idea of maybe being wealthy one day) in this post on the world’s greatest heists.

The Mona Lisa was stolen from The Louvre in 1911! Stupid Lourve left its back door open. Or not quite, but the heist was relatively straightforward – it’s still a good story though. Italian national (hero?) Vincenzo Perugia simply hid in the museum and stole the painting after hours, seeking to return it to Italy, the home of its creator (Michelangelo). He was caught and the painting was restored. It’s said that Mona Lisa never took her eyes off him the whole time during the robbery.

2. The Great Train Robbery

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A baddie. Image source.

If The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting (and I did think about it, remember?) then I think the Great Train Robbery is the most famous heist. It took place in 1963 in Buckinghamshire, England and concerned a sum equivalent to about £40 million today. The bulk of what was stolen was actually never recovered. I just looked up flights, and you could get to Buckinghamshire for about €111 with Aer Lingus, which might just be a worthwhile investment if you’re going to find the bulk of £40 million lying in a ditch somewhere.

The heist was pretty elaborate. It involved a 15-member gang taking over a train without the use of firearms and making away with the enormous sum of money only to be tracked down soon after. The aftermath of the heist is about as interesting as the heist itself. Some members of the gang got away, some were arrested (but then escaped from prison), and most appeared to have hidden away their shares of the money quite quickly. In 1979, a film starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland was made about the heist, though a modern remake could have Zac Efron and Daniel Day Lewis in it… I might pitch that…

3. Mexico City Museum Heist

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Some things were stolen from the Mexico City Museum. This is a thing, but not one of the stolen things. Image source.


There’s a scene in Ocean’s 11 in which Danny Ocean (George Clooney (bad Batman)) claims to have orchestrated a heist stealing “Incan matrimonial head masks.” It’s meant to sound a little bit outlandish, but in 1985 a group of robbers actually pulled off a similar heist. The incident was written about by The Richest, another site aimed at people with wealthy ambitions, in a write-up about unsolved robberies. Basically, a small group of people made their way into a low-security Mexico City anthropology museum and got away with bags full of Mayan and Aztec artifacts worth untold millions. The report mentions that a single obsidian monkey figurine was worth about $20 million (or about £14 million). The question, naturally, is why did the museum leave the back door open?

4. The Antwerp Diamond Heist

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Some diamonds. Not necessarily the stolen diamonds because I don’t have those. These are my personal diamonds from my private collection. Image source.

Something a bit more modern here. I was alive when this one happened, but that doesn’t implicate me, I was in school, I have a class alibi. In 2003, a group of thieves somehow (check out my research) got into the main vault of the Antwerp Diamond Centre and stole roughly £70 million in diamonds. The vault was said to have nearly impenetrable security (including heat sensors) and it’s never been revealed publicly how exactly they managed to get in and out (back door was left open). The diamonds were never recovered and only the ringleader, Leonardo Notarbartolo, was ever caught (and has since been released on parole). Hmmm, I wonder how I could get in touch with him for an interview…

5. The D.B. Cooper Mystery

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D.B. Cooper selfie moments before he boarded the plane. Image source.

In 1971, an American man hijacked an airplane by threatening a stewardess with a bomb (one which he likely didn’t have to begin with). Calling himself D.B. Cooper, (“I’m D.B. Cooper”, he’d say) the man allowed the passengers to disembark once the plane landed in Seattle. In exchange, he was given a parachute and a bag containing $200,000 (he really should have asked for more). He ordered the plane to fly once more and leapt out of it mid-flight with the bag of cash strapped to his body – and was never found. Evidence finally surfaced late last year when a young boy stumbled across some rotting money that matched the serial numbers of the cash Cooper was given, but there was no body and Cooper’s real identity has never been confirmed (though there’s increasing speculation that he was a man named Richard Lepsy who played for Aston Villa in the 80s).

There are many more heist tales and unsolved crimes out there. But these are five of the I wrote about, so deal with it. So, heists are cool, movies are fun, magic is what it is, and all those things together seems to work.

Listicle over.

Featured image source.