Like a scene out of a movie, every criminal dreams of pulling off that perfect heist. Sometimes they fail, but sometimes it works out even better than they could have planned for. Here are 35 times cops talk about the smartest criminals they ever caught.
1/35. I locked up a guy a few years ago and he had an unusual crime on his criminal history. "Theft of an ATM."
I asked him about it and he told me he was with four accomplices. They all turned up at a local bank in overalls with a large truck. They asked for the manager and told him, "We're here to repair the ATM." The manager helped them load the cash machine onto the truck (full of cash) and they drove away.
He got snapped when one of the accomplices got picked up for another charge and tried to make a deal.
2/35. One of my colleagues pulled over a guy who had several pounds of something (wink, wink) in the car. He managed to stop the car, get out, and run without the officer seeing him.
While they were still looking for him, he actually had time to find a way home and report the car stolen. They had no proof who was in the car or where he was.
The only reason he got caught is because his ex-wife ratted him out. Almost the perfect crime.
3/35. One of the guys I put away escaped from a new prison by climbing the fence. He was always great at climbing things, he would get to the tops of pine trees no trouble.
When he was running from the police helicopter he hid underneath a shed with hay bales inside it. This gave off a heat signal so they couldn't pick up where he was. He also ran the same loop to make the dog handlers think the dog had got onto a false positive.
He was found hiding in someone's cupboard eating their food about two weeks later.
4/35. 3 guys rolled up to construction site in the CBD and stole all the giant rolls of copper wire.
The drove up with high vis gear on and told the project manager he'd been delivered the wrong gauge. The workers helped them load it and they left.
5/35. I used to work with law enforcement and one Friday night a guy who must have been on something really strong managed to shut down a major roadway during a foot pursuit.
This guy ended up taking several shots from a 9mm and a shotgun and then wriggled out of the grasp of several officers trying to subdue him and got into a police car and drove off with it.
He only managed to get about 10 feet before crashing into a cement barrier and knocking himself unconscious. The guy ended up living too.
6/35. A Fire Marshal once told me about his nemesis, a fire bug naturally. Apparently the arsonist had a thing for burning old barns. Never a building that was in use, always an old abandoned one.
At first, he thought it was just series of unrelated barn fires, because this arsonist was an expert at not leaving any evidence. No matches, lighters - nothing you would expect.
Based on the evidence, it seems as though the entire interior of the structure caught fire at the same time, with no trace as to how. How did the arsonist do it?
Turns out he would take a balloon filled with accelerant like gasoline or kerosene and suspend it by a string it 20ft+ off the ground. Under the balloon he'd light a candle and start the balloon swinging on a long arc.
He'd have a good 20+ minutes before the arc of the swing slowed enough that the candle would ignite the balloon. The balloon ignites, the accelerant is spread evenly across all surfaces and the balloon, string and candle disappear in the fire.
The Fire Marshall told me it was damn near the perfect crime.
7/35. My colleagues dash cam showed the car in front of him was swerving all over the road in the middle of the night. He followed him for a while, then flipped on the lights to pull him over.
Guy pulls over, and before the officer can do anything, suspect turns off the car, gets out, throws his keys into the woods, cracks open a 5th of vodka, and chugs the whole thing down.
Suspect later said he already had multiple DUIs and had become something of an expert on drunk driving laws. He took advantage of a loophole wherein the cop didn't have time to see if he was actually drunk behind the wheel of the car.
Chugging the vodka right there would immediately have an effect on any sobriety testing. He hadn't opened the vodka in the car, so no open container infraction. And he made sure his keys were most definitely out of reach, so there was now way that he could be "operating a vehicle under the influence."
You'll be happy to know he go busted a month or so later and lost his license.
8/35. In school we would stuff tissue up the hole where change comes out of the snack machines. The change would get stuck here until the end of the day, then pull out the tissue and - Blam! You got some change.
9/35. Once the Coke machine at our school started spewing out extra cans. I took about 10 of them, and I was never caught.
Take that Scotland Yard!
10/35. So my professor arrested Ted Kaczynski - the Unabomber serial killer. My professor always told me that they would have never caught him because of how ingenious his IEDs were.
He used random pieces of wood from the sawmill next to his cabin as containers for the bombs he made, and always peeled the labels off of the batteries he used for power.
The only reason he got caught was because he had sent a similar manifesto to his brother before the one he sent to the New York Times, and his brother notified the police.
11/35. After a long day, I responded to a call by a distressed man who had left his car keys inside his new Mercedes Benz. Didnt take long to realize the only way to break him intones car would be to call a locksmith which would result in a $200 bill.
Luckily for the owner of the car, a suspicious looking man walking down the street told us he would do it for him for $20. We were pretty skeptical, but also curious, so we let him give it a try.
In less than 2 minutes, this guy went onto the roof of the car, punched down extremely hard, then bumped the driver side door. Magically, it opened. The owner gave the guy his 20 bucks and off he went.
2 weeks later, I arrested the same guy for stealing a car. Maybe hes not so smart after all.
12/35. My dad was a lawyer and he had a couple of guys who had scratch built an ATM. This would have been back in the 80's before the days of skimmers and cameras to clone cards, so they built their own ATM and installed it in a wall on a public street in order to collect card details to use later on.
I don't know if it actually dispensed money - I'm guessing it just showed an error message.
He told me that very occasionally he had come across criminals who had worked so hard for their spoils that he felt they had kind of earned them. These guys were his example. He was also confused that two people smart enough to do this chose not to make an honest living.
13/35. Not a police officer, but in Germany we had a hilarious case about this. A student had a grow operation in his apartment that was such a good construction job that the police testified in court that it was "really well done."
The judge then complimented the guy that he "sold quality products for a fair price" and the prosecutors even stated: "if this substance becomes legal in Germany, he will be the man for the job." He still had to pay a few thousand euros as penalty (but he earned about one thousand per month, so it's fair).
14/35. Once had a guy who shoplifted on an industrial scale. He stole hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds-worth of merchandise from a particular clothing store. Every day.
He'd go to different branches all over the country (UK obviously) - he spoke nicely and was smartly dressed. He just used to fill up bags with high value products and walk out.
He had a warehouse unit somewhere with his own till that he would use to generate receipts for these items and go back to return them (at a different branch) and get cash refunds.
He was at it for years - made enough to put his kids through private school. When he got caught he was jailed for about a year, but they never found his warehouse, and when he was released, he went right back at it.
15/35. We get a call reporting that the phone system of a major UK bank has been hacked and that the caller has had several thousand pounds stolen from their account as a result. Seems unlikely, but officers went round to see what had happened. Obviously the bank's system was fine, but scammers had done something fairly clever.
Turns out that there is a way in the UK of keeping a phone line open when only the recipient hangs up. The scammers called the victim and pretended to be from the bank, before asking for account details. Victim was suspicious so hung up and called the bank back at their real telephone number. However, the scammers held the line open and played a dial tone down the line so the victim thought that she was making a new call, then they played a "ring ring" sample before a new scammer answered the call and took down the bank details while pretending to be the bank.
16/35. In the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia, my uncle went on a string of armed robberies where he would run into a store with a gun, then shove the attendant against the wall and superglue their hands to the wall before stealing the money in the cash register. He had no intentions of using the gun, and it was actually never loaded. He just thought it would be funny to glue people to the wall and steal their stuff.
17/35. In the eighties or nineties the laws around using guns/weapons in armed robberies were altered to make the sentencing harsher, so my uncle decided using a gun wasn't worth it, but didn't want to have to mug people without a weapon. So my uncle gets creative and does what he is good at doing - making DIY weapons, a skill he used to his advantage in jail, many, many times.
He goes down to the grocery store and buys bars of soap, shoe polish and paint sealer. Spends the next few weeks using his blowtorch to melt the soap into mounds and molds them into shape, and uses a mix of paint, shoe polish and paint sealer to make the look like hand guns.
Apparently he isn't the best at hand crafting, but he only mugged people at night anyway, so it worked for a few months. The cops searched his house in bullet-proof vests to find the "gun" half-melted in the kitchen.
At his trial, the judge laughed at him and mentioned he had never encountered an individual who managed to terrorize a community with a bar of soap.
18/35. Criminal here. I was complimented by police officers on my elusiveness.
I was 13 and took my dad's truck out for a joy ride while my parents were out of town for the night. I wasn't so good at driving stick, and got pulled over. I ran for it. I hid in a field for a half hour or so while watching more and more police show up to investigate. When I heard the dogs, I knew it was my time to make it or break it.
So I ran, and boy did I run. I made it to a road and hopped a fence into someone's yard, and hopped a few more fences (I was, and still am, very athletic). Lost the dogs, but the cruisers were everywhere. I made my way to my house and there were cops on every corner of the street. But a bit of stealthy fence-hopping and I was at my basement window and I crawled in, with the cops literally outside my house. I gathered my things in the dark, and was ready to head off to my buddy's place, but I was surrounded.
13 yo. me gave the police a very entertaining chase, and they even said so. I felt so complimented that they enjoyed the chase, too. They also said I had no chance of getting away.
I remember eating a grapefruit and trying to 'play it cool' while they were questioning me.
19/35. In Italy there was always an urban legend of this happening with a guy behind the fake ATM facade who would take people's cards, read their codes as they put them in, then put their card into the real machine behind him, take out the maximum and give them back the lower amount that they wanted.
They would only put the facade up on the weekends when the banks were closed.
I heard the story in the '90s and supposedly it took the banks a while to figure out what was going on.
20/35. An friend of my father's was driving home drunk and hit a parked car about 2 blocks away from home. Not a good situation, right?
Didn't freak out. Just got out and walked the rest of the way home. Woke up a couple of hours later and reported his car missing. Police showed up a few hours later saying the thieves didn't get far, but his car was wrecked.
He thanked them for finding it and 'got information' about where it was. Small town at the time and no one suspected a thing. Got off completely free. It's impressive, but still pretty messed up.
21/35. In the 70's there was a notorious gangster in Copenhagen, Denmark who ran all the crime in the city. It was mostly harmless stuff, really. Cigarettes from the Eastern block. Booze. That kinda thing. He would mostly have it brought into the country via small boats.
On one occasion he had a big load of cigarettes set to arrive in the morning on a beach. Beaches are generally empty as we have incredibly cold weather. But lo and behold, on the morning one of his shipments arrived, the skies were blue, the sun was hot, and everyone and their mother was on that beach. Witnesses everywhere. How was he supposed to get his illegal smokes off the boats?
He went to a production company and rented equipment for a small film shoot. Cameras, a directors chair, megaphones, etc. He then went around the beach and cast good-looking young males to be extras in a movie about a cigarette smuggler.
When the boat came in, he lined them up in a long line from the trucks to the boats, called "ACTION, and had them unload the cigarettes into the trucks. When all the contraband was safely in the trucks, he called, "CUT," thanked everyone, and drove away.
22/35. While in school to be a fire fighter we were studying how to identify points of origin of fires. We learned about this fire investigator that wrote books on arson. He was pretty well known for being able to find the points of origin. He helped solve hundreds of fires but was unable to find the arsonist, and many of the fires where started in crazy and bizarre ways. After many many years of following these fires, writing books, making lots of money and always being so quick to find the methods used, another investigator questioned how he was never able to catch the person starting them. Turns out HE was the one starting them all.
23/35. Best one I've heard was a guy who would drill a tiny hole beside a window to open the latch. He would then enter at night, and go straight to the front door and open it, so he could make a quick exit if needed. If he couldn't open a door, he would leave again immediately. He stole stuff, then closed the window and locked the door behind him.
Most people had no idea they had been robbed. He took wallets off bedside desks while people slept beside them. Or sometimes just took some cash and cards but left the wallet. When he got caught, he was making a plea deal, so it was in his interest to admit all crimes so he couldn't later be prosecuted again for them. He took police round dozens of houses, and each had a tiny drill hole... And every house owner thought they had lost wallets and credit cards never knowing they had been burgled.
24/35. Had a call to the IT helpdesk, from a department of the company I was working at asking, "When are the new computers going to arrive?"
This caused some consternation, as we didn't know what they were talking about. But it wasn't an order that had 'gone missing' as much as the entire department's computers.
Someone had - in broad daylight - rocked up in a transit van, done a masterful piece of blagging and convinced everyone (security included) that this was part of IT's rolling hardware update program. So they loaded their "old" computers in the van, and he said he'd be back "soon" with the new ones.
25/35. Guy I know was one of those people who drive around way too fast, neon lights, etc. you know the type. So one day he blasts past us as we are walking one day, police car in pursuit. He pulls down into a long and winding lane. He lives down the end. About 20 minutes later, cops come back out.
He comes out triumphantly later. Turns out he had enough of a head start that when he got to his house, he pulled off his steering wheel. It was a quick release one, and just ran into his house. Police pulled up a second later and he explained that it couldn't have been his car, it had no steering wheel. He got away with it.
26/35. First, Ill tell you about the smartest criminal I ever dealt with. Suspect would go door to door saying he was with Publishers Clearing House. He would tell people they were one of several finalist.
He then explained he would need their name, date of birth, and social security number to verify who they were. After that, he would ask what hours they weren't home so they could ensure if the victim won the prize, they would be home.
Naturally, he would break into their homes when they weren't home and steal all their valuables. To top it off, he would steal their identity and take out a bunch of loans in their name. After over 50 cases, I finally caught the guy. Made off with over a half million dollars in 3 months before he was caught.
Now, for contrast, let me tell you about the stupidest criminal I ever dealt with.
Suspect was robbing a gas station late at night. Suspect pointed a gun at the cashier demanding money. The cashier was surrounded by plexiglass all around.
Cashier refused to give suspect the money and hit the panic alarm, which locked the door. Suspect was angry and fired a shot at the cashier. The bullet ricocheted off the plexiglass and struck him in the forehead. The bullet knocked him unconscious but didn't penetrate the skull.
As I arrived, the bullet was still protruding from his forehead and he was knocked out. He got 99 years for his stupidity. The best part was the cash register only had $60 in it.
27/35. I was an Military Policeman at Fort Carson. A young man was in the service for two years before he received a dishonorable discharge, sending him back home to Pennsylvania. When he got home he used his uniform to get discounts and praise.
That's illegal. But then, one day, he decided to make things a step crazier.
He decided to hop on a plane to Colorado. He arrives in full uniform but with Lieutenant rank makers on. He gets off the plane and uses government transportation to get on base. He doesn't have an ID but hell, hes an officer. So they let him on.
He goes walking and comes across a woman with a flat tire. He helps her change it out and she invites him over for dinner. There he meets her husband and their kids, and convinces them that he is waiting for housing. They let him live with them for a month. He cleans the house and babysits the kids.
The only reason he got caught is because of one phone call he made to his mother from the base. She became worried about him and called the army. His mother let the people know he was not in the military.
After that, the search began. I was the one who picked him up. He gave me a straightforward statement and was genuinely nice. I just remember sitting on the office couch with him watching TV, waiting for him to get transferred from my custody.
I told him that I was genuinely impressed and that after whatever happens to him happens, he should get it together and do well. He wasn't the brightest kid, but damn he had balls. I guess that is what it really takes to be a criminal.
28/35. Not a cop, but a cop told me about this. Evidently there were these two twin brothers, big, tall, muscular fellows. Their scam was ingenious. Both brothers would go into Home Depot separately and each begin shopping, filling up his cart with high-value stuff, each filling up his cart with identical items.
The first brother would go to the cashier and legally pay for his purchases. He'd show his receipt at the door and take his purchases out of the store.
The second brother would hang around the entrance, far enough from the exit not to arouse suspicion. The first brother would take his car to the entrance and give the receipt to the second brother. First dude then takes his purchases to load up in their vehicle.
Second brother then takes the cart full of items, plus receipt, back to the returns counter and says he changed his mind and wants his money back. Home Depot would refund the "purchases." Dude basically just sold Home Depot their own items.
Evidently they pulled this trick off and on for years before someone caught on.
29/35. I know a guy who was stopped by police while driving home late after having some drinks. Cop comes up and takes his license and registration and walks back to his car. The guy called 911 and reported gunshots fired at a bar about a mile or two away. Cop runs back to the window and throws the license back and tears off to go to the scene of the "shooting". Guy got away with it once and then a second time the cop was smart and busted him later for filing a false report.
30/35. As a child I caught Carmen San Diego, she had managed to steal Mt. Rushmore.
31/35. Hatton Garden heist is my favourite. Huge water-cooled drill, 50cm of concrete, all dressed as builders. Safety deposit boxes totalling 14m were robbed and they rolled them out wearing overalls, in wheelie bins. A proper movie-worthy heist.
32/35. So in 8th grade my football coach robbed a bank in a small town in Washington State. He had a great elaborate plan. He posted an add on Craigslist for job offerings telling people they had to wear very specific clothes, at a specific location at the exact same time an armoured vehicle was supposed to arrive at a bank. So when the armoured vehicle arrived he was dressed in the same clothes as everyone else, he robbed the armoured car then proceeded to run down to a nearby river, and he got in a tiny inflatable raft and floated down the river.
He was caught by a homeless man who recognized the car that he drove up to the bank in. He was just recently released from jail I think. I'm pretty sure he made a huge turn around with his life and was writing children's books in jail and now travels the country as a public speaker.
33/35. I was 15, spending the night that night at my friends place, who just so happens to live behind "the strip" in our little town. In front of his apartment complex, there was a John Deere Dealership, we decided we wanted to climb the 8ft chainlink fence, to sit on damn tractors. The minute we started sitting on them, a ton of Police surround the place, turns out they'd been staking it out, as it had just been ripped off the previous night (totally my luck). At the end, the police ended up complimenting me about how calm I was, and how I handled the situation, instead of running.
34/35. Not police but I was watching back the CCTV footage one day when I was bored at work in a retail store. A guy walked in, picked up a 42" tv and walked straight back out again with it and put it in his car.
He returned another 4 times, each time to pick another tv off display, without any of the sales staff on the shop floor noticing. Walked straight passed them calm as anything wandering through the store with top of the range tv's worth a lot of money at the time. I believe he got caught in another shop just down the road doing the same thing
35/35. Not a police officer, but a police dispatcher here. We had a theft from a gas station recently. The thieves arrived after closing time with a large tank on a trailer pulled by a large truck. They proceeded to hack into the gas pump by an unknown method and change the price to $0.01 per gallon and steal 1000 gallons of gas. I'm impressed.