5 of History's Great Bank Robberies

iStock/AndreasKermann
iStock/AndreasKermann

Ed. Note: This list was pulled from the mental_floss book Forbidden Knowledge.

When the famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he supposedly replied, "That's where the money is." Sutton claimed he never actually said it. Pity. Someone should have. Anyway, here are the stories of five famous bank robberies.

1. The Great Northfield, Minnesota, Raid

OK, in terms of actual success, this 1876 robbery was a bust. But it had a heck of a cast: legendary bandits Frank and Jesse James; Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger; and three lesser known outlaws. Their target was Northfield's First National Bank, which the gang settled on after casing a half-dozen other towns. Clearly, not enough casing, as the robbery couldn't have gone worse. The bank's cashier refused to open the safe, an alert passerby sounded the alarm, and townspeople killed two of the robbers as the rest escaped. A week later, a posse killed or captured all of the other outlaws except the James brothers, who escaped home to Missouri. It was the beginning of the end for 19th-century America's most notorious bandits. Worse still? The take from the Northfield bank was a mere $26.70.

2. Hitler's Treasures

As the German army rolled through Europe in World War II, it ransacked the banks of other countries, transferring the loot to the central Reichsbank in Berlin. But when the U.S. Third Army neared the German capital, the stolen booty was hidden in mines near the village of Merkers. Unfortunately for the Nazis, the Third Army captured Merkers before the treasure could be moved again. And it was truly a treasure: 55 boxes of crated gold, 8,198 bars of gold bullion, and a few tons of artwork. The total value of the precious metals and currency was put at $520 million, and it took 50 years to return the loot to the robbed countries. In 1997, several countries waived their remaining claims, and the funds were used to aid Holocaust survivors.

3. Thinking Inside the Box(es)

In early 1976, the Lebanese capital of Beirut was in the throes of a civil war. Palestinian guerrilla groups had gained control of the city's aptly named Bank Street and set about knocking off a dozen banks. The biggest prize on the lot? The British Bank of the Middle East. To get to the loot, a PLO-affiliated group blasted through the wall of a Catholic church next door to the bank. Next, imported Corsican safe-crackers were employed to open the vault to get to the safety-deposit boxes. Over a two-day period, the robbers loaded trucks with $20 million to $50 million in currency, gold, jewels, and stocks and bonds (not bad for a couple days' work). The bad guys got away, though some of the stocks and bonds were later sold back to their owners.

4. More Francs Than a Wiener Schnitzel

How many Frenchmen does it take to rob a bank? Well, at least 10, if you're talking about the 1992 Bank of France robbery in Toulon. Using inside information from a bank employee, the gang kidnapped a guard's family and forced the guard to open the bank's doors. But just in case the "we've got your family and we'd be happy to off them" tactic wasn't convincing enough, the group decided to ensure the poor guy's cooperation by strapping explosives to him. Apparently, it was pretty effective. Once inside, the robbers removed the film from the surveillance cameras, emptied the vaults of 160 million francs (about $30 million), and took off in several vans—including one belonging to the bank. Within two months, most of the gang was caught, betrayed by the bank employee (not to be confused with the guard) who'd helped in the job. But several of the robbers still got away, and amazingly, less than 10% of the loot was ever recovered.

5. The Trench Coat Job

It was past quitting time when two men wearing buttoned-up trench coats let themselves into the Seafirst Bank in Lakewood, Washington, a suburb of Tacoma. Flashing a gun, the pair stuffed 355 pounds of cash—$4.46 million—into sacks and made a clean getaway. This 1997 heist wasn't the work of amateurs. Nope. Ray Bowman and William Kirkpatrick were real pros. In fact, between 1982 and 1998, Bowman and Kirkpatrick were believed to have robbed 28 banks around the country for a total of more than $7 million. Even more impressive: only once was there gunfire, and no one was hurt. A special FBI task force was formed, but it was stupidity that finally tripped them up. Kirkpatrick was stopped for speeding in late 1998 by a Nebraska state trooper. A search of the car turned up four handguns, fake badges, two ski masks—and $1.8 million in cash. Meanwhile, Bowman had failed to pay the rent on a storage locker in Kansas City, Missouri. When the owner opened it, and found a virtual armory of guns, he called the cops, and they collared Bowman at his suburban Kansas City home a few weeks after Kirkpatrick's arrest. The dapper duo was convicted in 1999, with Bowman getting slapped with 24 years, Kirkpatrick with 15.

Ed. Note: This list was pulled from the mental_floss book Forbidden Knowledge.

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

- Dash Rapid 6-Egg Cooker $17 (save $3)

- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

- HP Neverstop Laser Printer $250 (save $30)

- HP ScanJet Pro 2500 f1 Flatbed OCR Scanner $274 (save $25)

- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

- Mead Composition Books Pack of 5 Ruled Notebooks $11 (save $2)

- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

- Officemate OIC Achieva Side Load Letter Tray $15 (save $7)

- PILOT G2 Premium Rolling Ball Gel Pens 12-Pack $10 (save $3)

Toys and games

Selieve/Amazon

- Selieve Toys Old Children's Walkie Talkies $17 (save $7)

- Yard Games Giant Tumbling Timbers $59 (save $21)

- Duckura Jump Rocket Launchers $11 (save $17)

- EXERCISE N PLAY Automatic Launcher Baseball Bat $14 (save $29)

- Holy Stone HS165 GPS Drones with 2K HD Camera $95 (save $40)

Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

- DEWALT 20V MAX LED Hand Held Work Light $54 (save $65)

- Duck EZ Packing Tape with Dispenser, 6 Rolls $11 (save $6)

- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

- Full Circle Sinksational Sink Strainer with Stopper $5 (save $2)

Home Décor

NECA/Amazon

- A Christmas Story 20-Inch Leg Lamp Prop Replica by NECA $41 save $5

- SYLVANIA 100 LED Warm White Mini Lights $8 (save 2)

- Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle Vanilla Cupcake $17 (save $12)

- Malden 8-Opening Matted Collage Picture Frame $20 (save $8)

- Lush Decor Blue and Gray Flower Curtains Pair $57 (save $55)

- LEVOIT Essential Oil Diffuser $25 (save $5)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Did the Northern Lights Play a Role in the Sinking of the Titanic? A New Paper Says It’s Possible

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, is the most famous maritime disaster in history. The story has been retold countless times, but experts are still uncovering new details about what happened that night more than a century later. The latest development in our understanding of the event has to do with the northern lights. As Smithsonian reports, the same solar storm that produced an aurora over the North Atlantic waters where the Titanic sank may have caused equipment malfunctions that led to its demise.

Independent Titanic researcher Mila Zinkova outlines the new theory in a study published in the journal Weather. Survivors and eyewitnesses from the night of the Titanic's sinking reported seeing the aurora borealis light up the dark sky. James Bisset, second officer of the ship that responded to the Titanic's distress calls, the RMS Carpathia, wrote in his log: "There was no moon, but the aurora borealis glimmered like moonbeams shooting up from the northern horizon."

Zinkova argues that while the lights themselves didn't lead the Titanic on a crash course with the iceberg, a solar storm that night might have. The northern lights are the product of solar particles colliding and reacting with gas molecules in Earth's atmosphere. A vivid aurora is the result of a solar storm expelling energy from the sun's surface. In addition to causing colorful lights to appear in the sky, solar storms can also interfere with magnetic equipment on Earth.

Compasses are susceptible to electromagnetic pulses from the sun. Zinkova writes that the storm would have only had to shift the ship's compass by 0.5 degrees to guide it off a safe course and toward the iceberg. Radio signals that night may have also been affected by solar activity. The ship La Provence never received the Titanic's distress call, despite its proximity. The nearby SS Mount Temple picked it up, but their response to the Titanic went unheard. Amateur radio enthusiasts were initially blamed for jamming the airwaves used by professional ships that night, but the study posits that electromagnetic waves may have played a larger role in the interference.

If a solar storm did hinder the ship's equipment that night, it was only one condition that led to the Titanic's sinking. A cocktail of factors—including the state of the sea, the design of the ship, and the warnings that were ignored—ultimately sealed the vessel's fate.

[h/t Smithsonian]