where can i talk to a few thieves?
July 31, 2007 6:56 PM   Subscribe

i'm writing a book and in it are a series of thefts from expensive homes and galleries; thefts of items, money, etc. where can i research realistic (as in, not ocean's twelve laser dancing) schemes that people have used to pull off extremely large heists?

these would be, ideally, first hand accounts, books, etc. of people who have lived to tell of their abilities as thieves. also, helpful would be police accounts of catching thieves and/or strategies they use for compiling evidence in cases like these. i want the book to have as much factual evidence as entertainment value on this matter. thanks in advance.
posted by dflemingdotorg to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
what about the TV show, " It Takes A Thief " - which is on the discovery channel.
The premise of the show is real thieves staging fake robberies, then explaining to the owners of the property how they exploited the lapses in security. It definitely shows some fairly realistic methods for staging and stopping serious theft.
posted by Flood at 7:10 PM on July 31, 2007

I have seen a site with quite a bit of art crime info on it. I am digging through my bookmarks.

I did find this site. Art Crimes. It isn't the one I was thinking about.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:13 PM on July 31, 2007

Another TV show called The Masterminds is about this kind of thing; the subject matter is actual crimes. I've only seen two episodes: in one a truck driver for a shipping company used bribery and some social engineering on warehouse workers to load extraneous merchandise on his rig to make off with some millions of dollars worth of stuff, and in another a bank robber rented a lock box, went in to use it, was somehow left alone, and crawled up above the ceiling tiles to hide until closing time and then drilled the safes.
posted by moift at 7:28 PM on July 31, 2007

There are good books and web pages about the Brinks job, the Gardner museum heist, the Lufthansa robbery and the Brinks Mat gold theft. Those are the most famous I know.

This looks like an interesting heist book list, from amazon. Hmmm, I think I'm going to order some of those.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:36 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Apparently life really isn't like the movies. Doing some searching I came across this article that describes how "the scream" was stolen in Norway in 2004.

An eyewitness said one man dressed in black and wearing a mask rushed towards the "Madonna" painting, "grabbed (it) off the wall and then started banging it against the wall and against the ground because the gray strings weren't breaking off for him."

"He then saw 'The Scream', ran towards that and grabbed that off the wall and then he started rushing out the front and we started rushing out the back."

The painting was attached to the wall by wires, witnesses said, noting that no alarm bell could be heard when the painting was taken. They also said guards did not prevent the robbers from fleeing with the paintings.

So basically guy runs in, yanks priceless painting off the wall and leaves. No high tech anything involved.

Oh yes, at the end there's this choice quote, ...Christophersen also said the robbers threatened the guards with guns as they headed to their getaway car.

The only bit of work the robbers did was shake their guns threatiningly for a few seconds as they were strolling out.

Apparently that's the real world. Sigh....
posted by jourman2 at 7:52 PM on July 31, 2007

read confessions of a master jewel thief. great book.
posted by jcruelty at 8:20 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

My father, who was a prosecuting attorney once upon a time, used to say that the most expensive and successful thefts that he saw or heard about were cargo jobs, sometimes conducted with inside help.

They all tended to follow a similar formula; the gang would "get their hooks into" a driver somehow, generally via gambling or drug debts, and present them with the carrot and the stick: do a little favor and they'd get the debt forgiven, don't cooperate and Bad Things would happen. The 'favor' usually involved parking their truck at a particular rest area or restaurant at a particular time, and walking away.

Trucker would come back to their rig after the preset amount of time had elapsed, and either (A) their whole rig would be gone, (B) the trailer would be gone, (C) items would be missing out of the trailer. (Option C is the more subtle route, since it increases the amount of time that would elapse before the missing stuff was noticed, giving the thieves time to unload it.) I was always impressed/surprised by the simplicity of such schemes.

Not sure what the situation is like now; this was all prior to (and somewhat during) the crackdown on East Coast organized crime in the 1970s. However, a little Googling suggests that cargo theft -- usually with fairly simple schemes of varying aggressiveness -- is still an ongoing problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:20 PM on July 31, 2007

I 'stole' this nonfiction book (Confessions of A Master Jewel Thief) from a hospital waiting room. It's actually fairly well (ghost)-written and recounts several actual heists, from motivation to planning through execution. None of the robberies were strong-arm situations (although some were quite clumsy thefts), so it gives you get a very romantic view of the thief.

if you don't feel like reading it, here's what I got: basically, what it boiled down to was that this guy simply had crazy gravitas -- that's how he did it.
posted by fishfucker at 8:24 PM on July 31, 2007

dang it -- too slow.
posted by fishfucker at 8:26 PM on July 31, 2007

posted by rhizome at 8:26 PM on July 31, 2007

not exactly right but catch me if you can by frank abignale
posted by DJWeezy at 8:52 PM on July 31, 2007

Real Great Train Robbery -- factual account of the robbery that the book/movie of that name is based on, it's very similar to what Kadin2048 said. (The book is pretty good, too, done in Crichton's believable no-really-I've-got-footnotes! style, but isn't actually how it happened...)
posted by anaelith at 8:55 PM on July 31, 2007

This MSNBC article might be a good place to start.
posted by ASM at 8:56 PM on July 31, 2007

You should check out episode 59 of Mythbusters, Crimes and Myth-Demeanors 2. They confirm myths for getting past finger print scanners, thermal motion sensors, and ultrasonic motion sensors.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:13 PM on July 31, 2007

How about talking to people in jail? Or the local detectives at your closest large city. You'll have to go through channels, but I guarantee you, each has a valuable story (but may be too much sifting for 'gold' nuggets)
posted by filmgeek at 10:20 PM on July 31, 2007

Note that you are unlikely to find out about the best heists ever, because part of having the best heist ever is not telling everyone about it. In fact, I'd think that in some of the best heists ever, no one realizes any crime has taken place. Some dude somewhere has a huge cubic zirconium in a safe and he thinks it is his priceless diamond.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:18 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

For an amazing and entertaining first person primer on basic burgling techniques as well as some more elaborate capers, check out You Can't Win by Jack Black.

In some ways it may be a little antiquated but for the most part it is timeless.
posted by quarterframer at 7:11 AM on August 1, 2007

This is an interesting story of daring theft on a grand scale.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:50 AM on August 1, 2007

Crime As Work by Peter Letkemann

Non fiction academic study of professional or career thief, what motivates them, how they learn their trade and the different types (surreptitious or overt). There was also a good deal on safe cracking (means, materials and methods). As well as a section on casing.

The book was quite old (1973) in terms of lasers. Most stories were drawn from the '50s and '60s but it wasn't a long book and full of footnotes, so might provide further leads.
posted by phoque at 4:25 PM on August 1, 2007

posted by Frank Grimes at 8:00 PM on August 1, 2007

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