If Hollywood movies are to be believed, museums have Fort Knox security, guards brandishing lasers and crocodile infested moats. The truth is somewhat less glorious, as this list of 5 best museum heists will show how way too-easy breaking into renowned museums really was.
1. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
On a chilly December evening, 2002, two burglars climbed the roof of the museum, smashed in a window with a simple sledgehammer, took two random Van Gogh landscapes off the wall and escaped via rope to a getaway car. All in all, the heist took less than 4 minutes. In a recent documentary the burglar Octave Durham states he didn’t have a specific interest in art. He targeted the museum just because he could, as that’s the eye of a burglar. Oh, a security guard saw them escaping but, the Dutch being Dutch, she was not allowed to try
and stop them, just call the police.
2. The Louvre, Paris
Would you consider working at a museum for a while, just so you could steal the greatest artwork ever made? An Italian criminal named Vincenzo Perugia did just that. In 1908 he moved to Paris, got a job at the Louvre and started observing the routines of the museum’s workers. One night he hid in the Museum’s gallery, removed the frigging Mona Lisa from its frame and when the museum doors opened the next morning, walked out carrying the canvas underneath his museum-staff white smock.
3. The Whiteworth Gallery, Manchester
This museum had guards, alarms and cameras to protect its collection, but all precautions were for naught. It was the spring of 2003 when in came a crew and out went three works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Gaugin. A few days later the works were found nearby, with a note attached explaining that the crew didn’t want to steal the artworks. It was just to show the state of the museum’s security and they did use the word “woeful”.
4. Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, Boston
The largest-value theft of private property in history was waaay too easy. All it took was a Saint Patrick’s Day binge, two fake police uniforms and a roll of duct tape. In 1990 on March 17 this night, two men in uniform buzzed the museum’s intercom and asked to be let in to check a disturbance in the courtyard. They were buzzed in, then promptly took the two security guards and tied them down in the basement, making off with 13 artworks to the tune of $500 million(!) The heist took 81 minutes and was never solved. The investigators were baffled by the fact that pricier artworks were not taken and to this day, there’s a $10 million reward for information that will lead to the return of the missing artworks.
5. National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Christmas Eve 1985, eight guards are on nightshift at the famed museum, watching over some of the most important South-American art ever created. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the guards, the biggest heist EVER takes place right under their noses. 140 pieces of Mayan and Aztec art were taken. The burglars knew exactly what to take in order to make this a comfy, profitable heist. Most pieces were miniatures and it’s said all 140 pieces could fit in a couple of suitcases. The museum’s curator estimated ONE such piece at $20 million and if you ask WHY ON EARTH the eight guards didn’t catch on, well, it wasn’t the burritos. It was the alarm system – which was defunct for the past three previous YEARS.