REMINDER: The #1 thing you can do to support the site is share the articles!
By Pauli Poisuo
Look, we know we like writing about criminals, both inept and otherwise. For a Modern Rogue, it's sort of like looking in a mirror -- except, for us, we see the worst version of ourselves and then do the exact opposite of that in the most kickass way imaginable.
Regardless, we do admire the sort of tenacity that's only seen when a child ditches a hammer and goes straight for the steamroller when they want to torture their action figures. Which is why we can't help but be in awe of these crooks who performed ordinary crimes in what they assumed to be God Mode.
The Flying Bank Robber Lives Up To His Name
Frank Sprenz, the "flying bank robber," was exactly what his nickname said. He stole a plane, robbed a bank, and escaped in said plane. But that was just the cherry on the giant cake of his yearlong, plane-related shenanigans. Sometimes, he landed planes in front of bars like it was nothing, went in for a drink, then left when someone pointed out that this was awesome and they should call a newspaper. Because it was at that, and only that point when it briefly occurred to him that a highly wanted criminal probably shouldn't be pulling off Hollywood stunts like that. This incident marked Sprenz's two months on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
Sprenz made his name in 1958, when he performed a daring prison escape with four other inmates: They made a cell key from a piece of metal, threw hot coffee on a guard, and legged it. The others were caught (and in one case, killed) within a week, while Sprenz was able to evade capture for over a year. During this time, he used a bunch of aliases and disguises, stole 29 cars and even 3 airplanes. He'd be seen in Pennsylvania, then nab a plane, fly it to Vermont, and freaking deliberately crash it to elude authorities. He used one of those planes to perform a bank heist in Ohio, just casually landing it in front of the bank, robbing the place for $26,000, and then flying the hell away.
"I finally made it, mom! And you said nobody would ever want me."
As you can probably guess, an escaped felon who was seemingly teleporting all over the country was not the most popular guy with law enforcement, especially when their attempts to capture him drew media comparisons to Keystone Cops. As months flew by (heh) and Sprenz kept popping up in different states like the world's most annoying game of whack-a-mole, his FBI notoriety grew from "one of those ten guys we'd like to catch" to "Yeah, just let us catch this one, please." It got to the point where J. Edgar Hoover personally took over the case.
Sprenz was ultimately caught the way he'd escaped so many times: By a plane. Determined to leave the Feds behind once and for all, he used his bank heist money to buy a used plane and flew it from North Dakota to Mexico. Which went great, at least until Sprenz decided to take a friend for a joyride, screwed up the landing and crashed into a tree. And a cow. Another pilot saw the wrecked plane, reported it, and that’s when the FBI came knocking on Sprenz's door.
He spent the rest of his life in and out of prison, indulging in increasingly stupid and awful crimes because that's what tends to happen when the only sentence in your CV reads "Flying planes to go steal stuff while repeatedly dunking on J. Edgar Hoover." Although his notoriety waned in his later years, the authorities were paying him careful attention for a long-ass time. How careful? Well, when the super-secure Alcatraz was closed in 1963, the last inmate to leave the premises was not an ultra-violent murderer or a powerful mafioso -- it was Frank freaking Sprenz.
The Guy Who Robbed A Vault With An Anti-Tank Gun
In 1966, Joel Singer and his crew pulled a heist that would land Mr. Singer a spot on the FBI's famous Most Wanted list, and a few months down the line, a cool 5-10 years of hard labor. Still, even though he was caught, he at least got something out of the deal: Namely, eternal street cred among the criminal element, thanks to the extremely hardcore way he pulled his score.
Singer was the kind of thief that wasn't content with just robbing an armored car. He wanted to rob an entire armored car company. So he and his accomplices broke into the Brink's Inc. armored car headquarters in Syracuse, took one look at their huge vault, and presumably thought, "Man, that's basically a tank."
That's when he took his giant anti-tank gun out and started blasting away.
Let's be honest: the robbery was incidental. He just wanted an excuse to use that gun.
The gang had thoughtfully brought along a freaking anti-tank gun from the Russian-Finnish Winter War. They set it up, equipped the barrel with a homemade silencer, and started firing away. 31 shots later, a 24x18-inch section of the foot-thick, reinforced wall of the vault was starting out its new life as a sieve, and the men sawed the rest of the way in. The crew escaped the scene with a cool $430,000 in cash and checks, ready to take their place in the pantheon of real-life GTA V characters.
There was just one, teensy-weensy problem: Their badass plan meant that the cops had a hell of a clue to follow. Very few North Americans dealt in 1939 anti-tank weaponry from the Finno-Russian front, and the investigators soon discovered that the FBI was already tracking a gun precisely like the one used in the Brink's heist. They'd already figured out that Singer and another man had jointly bought one, but they thought that it was heading to Canada, where it would be used by radical groups in Quebec that wanted to secede.
The Brink's heist brought new focus on the gun hunt, and the FBI managed to track down Singer's uncle, who had a jar of coins that could be traced back to the burglary. The suddenly very cooperative uncle told the investigators that he'd helped Singer stash the anti-tank gun in a nearby bay, where they found it a few weeks later. After some quick ballistics tests, they located Singer in Montreal and apprehended him, and the case was as good as closed.
Except for the fact that they never arrested anyone else from the crew. And that jar of coins was the only money ever recovered.
The Gang That Turned Robbing ATMs Into A Fast & Furious Movie
What would you do if you absolutely, positively had to rob a bunch of ATMs? Would you use a crowbar? Explosives? Would you let a rat inside the machine in a convoluted, Goldfinger-inspired scheme to have it eat the money inside and thus increase the value of your own?
If any of those sounded like a good idea, you're clearly not thinking out-of-the-box enough. Obviously, you'd want to tour the United Kingdom in a bunch of high performance cars, using stolen trucks and motor homes as mobile HQs.
No, that's not the plot of a movie you vaguely remember. That actually happened.
In a weird hodgepodge of The Italian Job and one of the earlier Fast & Furious movies (before everyone started jumping off skyscrapers and fighting Jason Statham), a gang of seven British criminals spent an entire year roaming the outskirts of the UK, robbing 13 ATMs in various, ridiculous fashions. They stole powerful luxury cars, equipped them with fake plates and sped through the roads like they were practicing for a Mad Max future. They slept in motor homes that they used to haul the tools and cutting equipment that they needed in their capers. They stashed gas in various locations for quick refueling. At one point, they even had a Scania semi that they used to store and hide a particularly cool Audi RS4. Yeah, they had a mobile truck they could hide their super vehicle in, just like Knight Rider.
You may have already guessed that these guys weren't exactly about subtlety. They hit their ATM targets with "gas attacks" of acetylene and oxygen fueled cutting implements, or just straight up tore them off the wall for later use. They evaded capture by focusing their capers in quiet villages that were decidedly unprepared for this kind of thing. Whenever cops actually got near, they weren't above tearing ass on public roadways at speeds of up to 150 mph ... with those acetylene and oxygen bottles still in the car, essentially turning themselves into ridiculously dangerous mobile bombs.
Of course, this kind of confidence leads to stupidity, which leads to arrests. The police started picking up the gang members one by one, yet the remaining members kept at it. That is, until February 2016, when the four remaining members of the group had the misfortune of bumping into a thing that's famous for stopping rowdy Englishmen making noise in the North: Angry Scots. After their latest ATM attack, the crooks were chilling near a McDonald's in Arbroath, Scotland. A local officer happened by and unceremoniously shotgunned their tire after they tried to escape by ramming into his car. The gang was sentenced to a combined 100+ years in prison, and upon their sentencing, received such a gloriously fiery lecture from the judge that just listening to it must've felt like an additional 100 years:
"The overwhelming impression that remains with me is one of breathtaking arrogance on your part."
Damn. We bet they were sent to their room without dinner, too.
The 200-Member, High-Tech Pickpocket Gang
It's easy to think of pickpocketing as an Artful Dodger type of petty crime, where small gangs of roving petty criminals use sleight of hand to relieve fat tourists of their extra cash. This makes it all the more surprising when you hear about Cannon to the Wiz, a giant Chicago-based pickpocket group that had more than 200 members and some seriously high-tech tools at their disposal.
And no, we don't know where they got the name. We assume it was the only legible thing someone had scribbled on a napkin during one of those drunk brainstorming sessions. That, or the boss screamed out that phrase while having a stroke, and it just stuck.
Members of Cannon to the Wiz (ugh) integrated their pickpocketing with a heaping side order of identity theft. The average day at their crime office worked like this: First, they'd steal a wallet or a handbag. Then they substituted their own photos on stolen driver's licenses -- some enterprising members even kept an array of computers, cameras and printers in their cars so they could do this almost instantly after the theft. Then it was just a matter of visiting nearby businesses to bleed the victims dry before they had any idea it was happening.
To be fair, this dude totally deserves to have his wallet stolen.
Another popular Cannon to the Wiz (seriously?) method was a complex 2-man bank fraud called "split deposits". A member of the group would pose as an ID theft victim and write a check to another one, posing as another victim. Then the other fraudster would cash it and everyone would go about their merry way. The higher-ups of the gang would generally be more restrained, paying underlings and bribing corrupt officials to get the identity information they needed for their shenanigans.
The gang was able to run pretty rampant from at least early 2007 to 2009, picking an unknown, but probably extremely impressive, amount of pockets and using the stolen IDs for a total haul of around $2.1 million. Eventually, however, their targets became a bit higher profile, and one turned out to be the assistant attorney general of Michigan, who spent sleepless nights wondering if they'd bought a house in her name. They even managed to pull their pickpocket/ID theft trick on the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, by stealing his wife's handbag, which just so happened to contain a bunch of checks for their joint checking account. Suffice it to say, Bernanke was not very pleased.
After the gang had pulled fast ones on victims of that caliber, it was only a matter of time before they got roughly 100% of all available federal agents on their collective ass. In the summer of 2009, the long arm of the law finally caught Clyde Austin Gray, one of the (if not the) ringleaders of Cannon to the Wiz. Presumably, they were thoroughly unsurprised to find out that he went by the equally atrocious nicknames "Poochie" and "Big Head."
The "Heist of the Century" Attacks Everything With Everything
When even the people who actively tried to stop you from stealing things refer to your crime as the "heist of the century," you know that you've done something right. Well, wrong, technically, but you're damn good at what you do, obviously.
In 24 April, 2017, the city of Ciudad del Este in Paraguayspent over three hours as a stage for a heist mission to end all heist missions. It started after midnight, when a team of gunmen unexpectedly prevented access to the town's police HQ by blocking the roads with burning vehicles. Then they started bombarding the building with grenades and Molotov cocktails filled with bullets. Because, you know, the bullets go bang in the heat and create the impression of an even larger attacking force, because that's totally necessary when you're already tossing grenades at someone.
This, of course, was just a tiny diversion.
At the same time, a larger group attacked the headquarters of Prosegur, a private security company. They also blocked the roads with burning cars, then actively fired at any approaching vehicles and even set up anti-aircraft guns in case the police would attempt an aerial assault (which they didn't, what with being busy with grenades and things). After that, they made way to the vaults inside Prosegur, filled with an estimated $49 million in cash and valuables. They started robbing said vaults by blasting them liberally open with high-powered explosives that they, of course, were packing in abundance.
"We're just going camping, Mom. We'll be back in a few days."
Officers started arriving on the assorted scenes, just to quickly find out that they and their regulated sidearms were up against a highly trained group with infrared sights and automatic weapons. Oh, the cops would've had that gear too, but it was in their HQ, which someone was actively grenade-lobbing to oblivion.
Unfortunately for the robbers, the cops at the scene had evidently all been shown Die Hard as part of their basic training. For the next two hours, the severely under-gunned cops put up a fight, and the heist gang eventually had to make their escape with just $8 million. They split into three groups, stuffed themselves into security vans, and sped away, leaving explosives and caltrops behind them to make sure no one was following. That's how prepared these guys were -- they basically had every non-atomic weapon available in their arsenal, yet someone saw fit to give everyone a bunch of freaking caltrops just in case some barefoot ninjas tried to follow them or something.
Incredibly, the police still managed to stay on the gang's tail. They determined that the criminals came from neighboring Brazil and had crossed the river dividing the countries with speedboats, one of which they actually managed to intercept. The death toll in this 50-man, unexpected assault on the very infrastructure of Paraguay's law enforcement was ultimately 1:3 in favor of the police. And even the one officer the robbers did manage to kill was probably asleep in his car at the time.
Holy crap. That’s one badass police force, right there. It kind of makes us wonder why anyone would try committing a crime in Paraguayin the first place.
Like this article? Check out "5 Ridiculous Cyber-crimes You'll Be Amazed Were Pulled Off" and "5 Real Smuggling Schemes That Sound Totally Made Up".