Monday, January 24, 2011

The Great Bank Robbery of 2011

RHYS: It's True Crime Tuesday again.

We have often commented on this blog that true crimes rarely match up to the ones we create on the page. It's rare to find the fiendishly dashing villain who masterminds a brilliant crime. Usually they are sordid, bungled affairs carried out by not-very smart individuals with not a Moriarty among them.

So my spirits were raised by a true crime that happened a couple of weeks ago that reads like a Hollywood script.
Thieves rent a building, dig a hole from their basement into a neighboring bank's security vault, and quietly break in and make off with the goods.
Is it Hollywood or real life? Both, actually. On New Year's Eve in Argentina's capital, a band of thieves tunneled through a 100-foot-hole into a neighboring bank and stole the contents of up to 140 safety deposit boxes. Nobody was harmed.
The spectacular robbery seems to come straight out of Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "The Red-Headed League," about thieves attempting to tunnel into a pawnbroker's basement. This robbery was particularly well executed--the thieves rented the next door business and ran it as a store for several months while they dug the tunnel. The tunnel was lit, ventilated and even carpeted. It is also suspected that someone working for the bank was in on the heist and had provided the plans of the bank's basement (which the bank's executives didn't seem to know they possessed, for some reason).
I have to confess that I've always had a thing about bank robberies. I suppose it's because of my love affair with the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--aided by a brilliant script and the eye candy of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. I suspect that I'm not alone in my admiration for someone who can pull off a truly clever heist--the Topkapi kind of crime. Many people seem to find bank robbers clever and dashing and glamorous (as long as they don't hurt or kill people) and actually cheer for them if they get away. Bonnie and Clyde, Derringer, Butch and Sundance--all became folk heroes akin to Robin Hood. I suppose because stealing from a bank is perceived to be robbing the rich (although it's actually our money they take).

I sometimes wish I wrote thrillers because I'd enjoy plotting out a really clever jewel or art heist--or maybe a story about tunneling into a bank in Argentina. So how about you--are there any criminals and crimes that you secretly admire?


  1. You and your bank robber thing, Jan! You're so funny. I think they're scary.

    Wasn't there another movie about buying the business next door and tunneling in? Very recent..

    The Town was pretty much snubbed in the Academy Awards nominations..I'm kind of surprised by that. We just saw Socal Network--sigh, talk about good writing!

  2. Tunneling -- it's been put to such good use in so many films. Wasn't there a tunnel in Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorites. And of course in The Great Escape. But those were used to escape prison, not break into a bank.

    The Town is on my list to see - loved Chuck Hogan's book that it was based on, Prince of Thieves. They did the scene where he's hiding out at Fenway Park? Tunnels figure in that, too.

  3. Oh Hallie I was going to mention The Great Escape...but I'll instead say Victory, you know, the Sly Stallone/Michael Caine movie of POW's playing soccor against the Germans. I'm a fan of the tunnels under Chicago as well, but my favorite story (and I can't remember the author at the moment, although it might be Michael Black)) is about a group of thieves who used the flooding of those tunnels and the resulting power outage to pull off a heist of some kind. As I am slightly claustrophobic, it would take a lot to get me in a tunnel of any interesting a plot twist might that be...a claustrophobic forced to dig a tunnel to aid in a theft(say top secret military info) or lose his wife and kids.

  4. The Town...I knew there was a name missing from that list.

    Don't admire real life criminals, but I will confess to an admiration for Kathleen Turner's character in Body Heat. I LOVE that story.

  5. Interesting post. My grandfather was a banker in Chicago during the heyday of armed bank robberies. He was at times, a bank vice president and president. Gangsters abounded in Chicago, as we know it's Frankie S's "Kind of Town." My dad's family would eat brunch at the same hotel as Al Capone. Family legend has it that were were one or two (or more) armed robberies at my grandfather's bank. I've wondered if I could find out more about them. According to my brother, my granddad kept a loaded gun in his desk. I have no idea whether this is accurate, but he was the son of a Wild West marshal, so it could be true.

    Anyway, one day my dad was in Catholic school when another kid came rushing in and said some old guy got shot at the bank. My dad ran out of class (and from the nun) to the bank, afraid my grandfather was dead. It turned out that a gray-haired guard was killed in the robbery, but thankfully, not my grandfather. Unfortunately, the key witnesses, dad and grandfather, have gone to the great beyond, and I have no one to interview. Good thing I can always make it up. And possibly will one day.

  6. Oh, Ellen - how interesting! Like you, I've become interested in family history just in time to attend someone's funeral. Rule of thumb: if you think you'll be curious "one day" ASK NOW! And write it down.

  7. Rhys,
    You and I share the bank robber thing -- I think it's because they are the intellectuals among criminals --okay, that might be an overstatement, but at least the clever ones.

    And Hank, I think there was a Woody Allen movie where they rented the the neighboring business and tried to tunnel through -- I read the script.

    And I just saw the Social Network too, fabulous writing and the irony of a kid with no friends creating Facebook (or maybe there is no irony, it makes perfect sense.)

    Hi Ellen!! What a great family story.

  8. Clint Eastwood in Kelly's Heroes. He put a group together to rob a German bank filled with gold.

    My Dad and his tank unit did it in WWII. But it was only paper money. A Lt. told them it was no good so they burned it to make cofee. Baskets full. When they were down to the last basket, the Lt. cam back and told them it was occupation money and still good. Dad did end up with the huge Nazi flag from the top of the bank becuase he gunner won it by shooting it down. My parents put in on the sidewalk on VE day so everyone could walk on it.

    At least Iknow where my facination comes from.

  9. I have echo what Hallie said about family history. Don't wait. Ask now. Once people have gone, the stories die with them. There are so many good stories my grandmother told that I only half remember and now I can't ask her any more

  10. Absolutely. I spent the day going through the home of a 90 yr old aunt who just passed away. Wow..lots of stuff I wish I had talked to her about. Also found a stack of letters from my uncles to my father when he was in the Army and stationed in Alaska.