Our world is full of notorious criminals who have stolen everything from famous artworks from prominent museums to hefty sums of money – they come from all over the world, including the US, India, France, etc. Despite their criminal and fraudulent activities, it is undeniable that these thieves are extremely skilled; nevertheless, no one would want to meet them in person!
Together, they have amassed one of the world’s biggest debts by stealing from people all over the globe. These thieves will take your wallet in seconds if you’re not careful – get to know some of the world’s most notorious thieves by reading our list of 15 of the greatest thieves known today.
Derek ‘Bertie’ Smalls
Derek Smalls was a prolific armed robber in Great Britain during the 1960s and 70s. His most famous robbery was of the Ilford Barclay’s Bank branch in 1970, where he made off with a staggering £237,000 – it was a record amount at the time. Smalls fled to Paris after the robbery and later ended up on the Costa Del Sol. He kept tabs on the police investigation into his robbery by reading newspapers.
Bertie Smalls surrendered to the police and became an informant in order to get immunity. He provided law enforcement with evidence against members of the underworld, which made him very famous. He was known as Britain’s first snitch or supergrass. Despite the many revenge bounties placed on his head by people like the Kray twins, he passed away from natural causes in the year 2008.
Doris Payne is a world-renowned jewel thief who has been active for over seven decades. She is most famous for her heist of a 10-carat diamond ring worth $500,000 in Monte Carlo in the 70s. Doris is skilled at posing as a wealthy client in order to gain access to valuable items and then quickly steal them.
She has stolen from a variety of businesses, both large and small, whenever she has the opportunity. Thanks to her boldness and criminal prowess, Doris has achieved cult status in recent years; a 2013 documentary about her life only added to her infamy.
Payne has been convicted numerous times; however, she has only gotten minimal punishment. Even now, at the age of 90 years old, she does not seem to regret her life of crime and is even suspected of other thefts, like the stealing of a diamond ring worth $33,000 in North Carolina. It’s clear that Payne has never been remorseful for her actions and continues to break the law even at an advanced age.
Frank Abagnale Jr
Frank Abagnale is one of the world’s most well-known con men, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can. He was a master of deception, able to assume many different identities, including lawyer, doctor, prison consultant, and airline pilot.
At just 21 years old, he committed many crimes but was eventually caught and confessed to his crimes; he later helped the government improve its ability to detect and prevent fraud. Frank Abagnale’s story is a cautionary tale of the dangers of deceit and deception. Nowadays, he works closely with the FBI through his security firm, Abagnale & Associates, to help prevent these types of crimes.
Carl Gugasian never planned to be a career criminal; he was an army officer with an Ivy League education and a Ph.D. in probability and statistics. He started robbing banks as a mock exercise but quickly began to gain a reputation as the “Friday Night Bank Robber.” Even now, he is one of the most notorious bank robbers in US history, having robbed several banks, shot many people, and stolen $2 million. His name is still associated with crime and violence!
Gugasian was clearly very dedicated to his criminal activity, going to great lengths to improve his skills. However, once he was caught and arrested, he showed remorse and cooperated with the investigation; this led to his sentence being reduced from 115 years to just 17. Gugasian is now teaching calculus to other inmates while in prison!
Through the years, several documentaries, movies, and novels have been made in an attempt to tell the life story of Jesse James – the well-known Western gangster. But who was this man that caused so much havoc?
Jesse James, along with his brother Frank, was born to a preacher; however, during the Civil War, they decided to join the Confederate militia instead. It was then that they started their lives of crime – robbing banks, trains, and stores throughout the southern states.
The two soon formed the James Younger gang and began to cause mayhem in all the towns they visited. Jesse James had a large reward placed on his head but ultimately ended up getting killed by Robert Ford – a criminal acquaintance of his. All of this took place in 1882 when Jesse James was only 34 years old!
Despite being cold-hearted and remorseless, he was often portrayed as a rebel and folk hero – especially in the American south. Sometimes, the most simple explanation is usually the correct one! In 1995, Jesse James’ remains were exhumed, and scientists verified that it was actually him in the grave. This disproved the popular belief that he had faked his own death.
Albert Spaggiari was a photographer by day and a robber by night. His first robbery was of a jewelry store, where he stole a diamond ring to give to his girlfriend. However, Spaggiari became famous for his next robbery, which was of the Société Générale bank located in Nice, France.
To carry out his robbery, Spaggiari handpicked a group of experienced thieves to help him, including Gaby Anglade. The group made their way into the bank by crawling through the sewers and digging a tunnel under the vault. Then in 1976, on Bastille Day (July 16th), they broke into the bank’s vault, stealing 60 million francs. While they were robbing the bank, the thieves even had a picnic on the floor!
After Spaggiari was caught, he came up with a plan to escape during his trial. He distracted the judge by showing him a coded document, then jumped out of a window and escaped on a motorcycle. Spaggiari lived the rest of his life running from the law, most likely in Argentina after he had plastic surgery.
Munisamy Veerappan Mallar was a controversial figure who evaded capture by the police for nearly three decades. He was eventually killed by a Special Task Force in the year 2004.
Veerappan was a notorious criminal who carried out his activities in the forests of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. It is believed that he killed around 10 dozen people, countless poached elephants, and smuggled loads of sandalwood and ivory.
He also killed many anti-poachers and police officers, as well as civilians whom he was suspicious of being snitches throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. Further, Veerappan was kidnapped and asked for ransom by many high-profile cultural and political figures. Even though a lot of people went to his funeral, he is still a very controversial figure in India.
Bill Mason stole from some of the most high-profile individuals in the United States, including Truman Capote. He got away with millions of dollars worth of jewelry and other valuables. His memoir, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, documents his crimes and how he eventually returned one of his stolen items – an Olympic gold medal – out of guilt. Mason’s story is a fascinating look into the mind of a skilled and successful thief.
Mason became a professional thief at a young age and quickly learned how to use his charm and social skills to gain access to the homes and belongings of wealthy people. He would then rob them blind, making off with whatever he could get his hands on. In total, Mason stole an estimated $35 million worth of goods from his victims.
Further, he was quite skilled in orchestrating robberies and remained at large for almost five years. Even though he stole a large number and value of items, he was only imprisoned for a few years.
A skilled forger and fraudster, Natwarlal was responsible for duping hundreds of banks, small shops, and businesses out of millions of rupees. He often posed as a government official and sold famous landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Parliament House of India, the Rashtrapati Bhawan, and the Red Fort to unsuspecting foreigners.
Using 50 different aliases, forging documentation, and impersonating others, Natwarlal was able to pull off these daring crimes. He quickly became famous for escaping prison and for his high-profile crimes.
Natwarlal escaped from prison many times throughout his career, even in 1996. He was 84 years old and in a wheelchair at the time, but he still managed to evade capture at a railway station in New Delhi. This was the last time anyone saw him in public. His escape skills and ingenuity made him a legend in his own time.
When art thieves are mentioned, Vincenzo Peruggia is often cited as one of the best of the 20th century. His most famous theft was also his simplest. Peruggia, who worked at the time at the Louvre in Paris, stole the Mona Lisa by hiding in the museum one night and removing the painting from the wall. With no complicated scheme or plan, Peruggia’s theft is considered remarkable for its simplicity.
It was relatively easy for Vincenzo Peruggia to steal the Mona Lisa; he simply hid the painting in his clothes, walking past an unguarded area. However, he was apprehended trying to sell it two years later. He only spent one year in jail before being drafted into the Italian Army during World War I.
Peruggia, who died of a heart attack at 44, was known as a hero in Italy. Unfortunately, his theft became somewhat of an inspiration; other robbers have attempted to steal the Mona Lisa four times.
A con artist from Israel, Leviev, has been convicted for multiple frauds, forgeries, and thefts. In total, he stole about 10 million dollars in a Ponzi scheme that targeted several Europeans between 2017 and 2019. Even though he stole millions, he was only sentenced to serve two years in jail throughout his criminal career.
This year, a documentary came out called The Tinder Swindler, which was produced by Netflix. This film caused the app Tinder to ban Leviev from using their service. Even though he was exposed and his crimes were made public, he still managed to sign with a talent manager. He also started earning money by making personalized videos on Cameo, where he charges 200 dollars per video.
Anna Sorokin is a well-known con artist and fraudster. She arrived in the US in 2013, pretending to be a wealthy German heiress called Anna Delvey. Over the course of several years, she managed to defraud hotels, banks, and even close friends, amassing a total of $275,000.
In the year 2017, she was finally caught and convicted of her crimes. She was sentenced to over four years in jail, after which she was deported back to her home country of Germany.
Interestingly, Anna Sorokin has now taken up selling artwork online – including pieces she created while serving prison time. Netflix launched a series based on her story called “Inventing Anna” in February 2022. The show became hugely popular, with millions of viewers tuning in. It’s safe to say that Sorokin’s story – though criminal – is a fascinating one.
This thief from France stole over 200 artworks from more than 170 museums in France and throughout Europe. The total value of the art he stole was approximately $1.4 billion – he did this between 1995 to 2001 while doing other jobs such as being a waiter.
Unlike most art thieves, Breitwieser’s reason for stealing wasn’t profit-driven. He claimed to do it out of love for art. In the year 2001, he was caught and apprehended in Switzerland. After spending two years in jail, he was extradited to France and sentenced to three more years in prison in the years 2005 and 2013.
In 2006, he published an autobiography called “Confessions of an Art Thief” in which he detailed his experiences and exploits.
Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were two American criminals who gained notoriety for their crimes during the Great Depression. The pair was responsible for robbing numerous banks, small stores, and funeral homes, as well as killing an estimated four civilians and nine police officers.
In 1934, they were finally caught by a posse and killed in a hail of gunfire – although their story ended tragically, Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree captured the imagination of the American public and made them household names.
Strangis is a con artist and convicted felon who stole nearly $1 million from employees and investors of his wife, Sarma Melngalis’ vegan restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. He lied to her about his past, claiming to have a military background, and was eventually found guilty of tax fraud and grand larceny in 2017. The couple divorced in the year 2018.
In 2022, his story was featured in the Netflix documentary called “Bad Vegan,” – which described his deceitful actions and how he went on the run from the law, resulting in a nationwide manhunt.
The Bottom Line
There are many famous thieves who have been immortalized in history for their daring and illegal activities. From stealing paintings to robbing banks and skimming millions of dollars, these criminals have captured the public’s imagination. However, as you will see, most of them did not get away with their crimes scot-free. In fact, crime rarely pays off in the long run. Even so, their stories continue to be popular among filmmakers, authors, and journalists.
Are you aware of any other notorious thieves that should be on this list? Comment below and let us know!
What are some of their most famous heists?
The world’s most notorious thieves have committed some of the most daring and expensive heists in history! From art thieves who made off with millions of dollars worth of paintings to bank robbers who cleaned out entire vaults, these criminals have stolen billions of dollars worth of goods and money.
What’s the punishment for theft?
The punishment for theft can vary depending on the severity of the crime and the jurisdiction in which it was committed. In most cases, however, theft is punishable by fines or imprisonment!
Is there anything I can do to prevent theft?
Some basic precautions can help reduce the risk of theft – these include:
1) Securing your belongings in a locked room/safe
2) Keeping your valuables out of sight, if possible
3) Notifying authorities if you notice any suspicious behavior
4) Keeping a close eye on your belongings when in public places
5) Avoiding carrying large amounts of money or other valuables with you
How do they get away with it?
They often have inside help, such as corrupt police officers and politicians; they may also have a sophisticated escape plan that includes forged papers, disguises, and money to bribe people. They may also have underworld connections that help them get away with their crimes.
Why are they so successful?
There are many factors that have contributed to their success. Firstly, they are very meticulous in their planning and carry out their robberies with precision; they are also experts in disguise and evasion and have been able to evade capture for many years. Further, they have a very good understanding of the law and know how to exploit loopholes in the system!
Can anything be done to stop them?
Though many people may think that there is nothing that can be done to stop robbers and thieves, this is not always the case! There are a number of steps that can be taken to help protect oneself from these criminals, including installing security systems in homes and businesses, being aware of one’s surroundings, and keeping valuables out of sight. Further, it is important to report any suspicious activity to the police so they can investigate.
What drives them to steal?
Some people might steal because they feel like they need the item and cannot afford it; others might steal because they simply enjoy the thrill of stealing. Often, people who are driven to steal do not have a strong sense of morals/ethics and do not see anything wrong with taking something that does not belong to them. Further, many thieves are addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes along with stealing and find it difficult to resist the temptation.