Shoplifting. Carjacking. Bank robbery. These are the small-minded matters of casual thieves with no imagination. It takes a truly daring thief to go bigger. Today, I’ll be sharing with you the people who went above and beyond, pushing the boundaries to the absolute maximum of just what exactly can be pilfered. Grab your loot bag and put on a balaclava, as I explore some of the biggest things ever stolen.
10. Easy Airmiles
On May 25th, 2003, two men stole an entire Boeing 727 right off the runway of Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Luanda, Angola.
It did not have clearance to fly, it did not communicate with air traffic control, and it has never been seen again. It just veered precariously onto the runway and took off, without any lights on. The FBI and the CIA searched the globe for years and couldn’t find so much as an in-flight peanut. They spotted two men boarding the plane before it took off – American pilot and flight engineer Ben C. Padilla, and a mechanic from the Congo named John M. Mutantu.
Neither of the men were even certified to fly a 727, but both had been helping to carry out renovations on the plane in the months prior. Padilla’s sister has stated that she believes he was somehow coerced into stealing the plane and is now held against his will somewhere. Others have speculated, based on the fact that Padilla was previously found guilty of fraud, that the theft was a money-making scheme. The mystery – to this day – remains unsolved.
9. A Bare Bones Operation
In a bizarre court case, known as‘United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton’, the matter in question was a stolen dinosaur. The ordeal began when Florida man Eric Prokopi brought the fossilized skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Bataar– a relative of the Rex we know and love – from Mongolia to the UK, and then to the US.
In customs, he claimed that the bones came from UK soil. On reaching the US, Prokopi auctioned off the dino for over a million dollars. However,when the Mongolian government became aware of the dinosaur’s true origin, they prevented the sale. According to Mongolian law, fossils are culturally significant and their removal without official approval is illegal. As a result, police arrested Prokopi on counts of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possession of stolen property, and giving false statements. He went to jail for three months, and the skeleton went back to Mongolia. For something that’s been dead for millions of years, the literal Tyrannosaurus Bataar had quite the trip.
8. Crime of the Cen-Tree
Stealing a tree is never an easy task. But if this perplexing case from 2012 is anything to go by, the older the tree, the harder it is to steal. Indeed, it took a lot of planning and patience for poachers to steal one particular red cedar tree from Vancouver Island, just off the South-Western Canadian coast.
At 800 years old, the tree was a full 9 feet wide at the base, and the high quality of its wood made it an unfortunate target for poachers. On a routine stroll, the tree cut eighty percent of the way through baffled park rangers.
It seemed someone had attempted to steal the giant tree but had given up. Rangers brought in professionals and had the tree safely felled to avoid it collapsing and crushing unlucky hikers, leaving it to decompose and feed the forest. But this was all part of the thieves’ plan. With the tree felled safely, they returned and stole the whole thing. Speculation arose as to how the thieves were able to source the heavy-duty machinery necessary to transport the colossal tree away, but however they did, it was never seen again.
7. Enlightened By Thieves
For Buddhists at a temple in Tacoma, Washington, in 2015, enlightenment came– as usual – by letting go of material objects. Only,this particular type of enlightenment was much more literal than usual, as it involved the loss of a three-thousand-pound, twelve-foot-tall copper monastery bell.
Police were baffled as to how thieves managed the theft due to the bell’s enormous weight and size.The temple abbot speculated that “the people who stole it wanted to make money” with no consideration for “the significance of it and how important it is in the practice of Buddhism”. Indeed, monks commonly use bells to signify the beginning of meditation, making them highly sacred to Buddhist monks. The thieves likely melted the bell down to sell the copper, or may have turned to the black market for a buyer.
I doubt a pawn shop would accept a suspicious, three-thousand-pound religious bell, but sometimes, a bargain’s a bargain. After all, you never know WHAT is ‘gonna come through that door.
7. Brick-By-Brick Blasphemy
Christianity also experienced pious plundering in 2008, when thieves made off with an entire church. The holy building had stood in the village of Komarovo since 1809 and the thieves hauled it off brick by brick.
Initially, the theft went unnoticed, as they weren’t using the Church at the time. Moreover, it was located in a remote area of the town. Church officials had been considering resuming use of the building, but that plan was dismantled before their very eyes. Of course, they could still gather in the open-air foundations of the building every Sunday morning. In rural Russia, churches are targeted more often than you’d think, as religious icons and building materials can be sold off for a profit. I like to think it all comes down to foul play between rival churches, but you’ll have to ask the Pope.
5. A History Of Crime
In the 1980s, somewhere in Tel Aviv, Israel, Major Arye Yitzhaki was restoring a World War II Mustang fighter plane for the Israeli air force.
The plane was parked up at a reserve airfield, waiting for transport to Israel’s Air Force Museum. After fixing it up, Yitzhaki developed plans of his own for the vehicle. On an otherwise normal day, he flew the antique all the way to Sweden and sold it illegally for $331,000.
Six years later, the Israeli government finally tracked it down and retrieved it. So at least this plane story has an uplifting ending. High-flier Yitzhaki, on the other hand, had a much more grounded fate: the terrestrial confines of a jail cell.
4. A Bridge Too Far
Some people build bridges. Others burn them. In rare cases, some steal them. This was the case in 2012, when two men with little respect for history were arrested for stealing a hundred-year-old bridge in China!
The bridge was an easy target – as far as stealing entire bridges goes – because it was surrounded by construction sites and received very little foot traffic. Eventually, one of the bridge’s few regulars attempted to stroll over the bridge and found that it no longer existed. A police investigation ensued, and after an eyewitness described seeing the culprits lingering near the bridge with a truck one night, the police were able to track them down. The thieves confessed that they’d used two cranes and two trucks to pick up and move the sixteen huge stone pieces that made up the bridge.
I just wonder if the bridge was sat pretty in a billionaire’s garden before the thieves were caught…
3. You Wouldn’t Steal A Ship…
Some people just have a taste for the biggest loot. And I don’t just mean kids stealing their parents’ credit cards to pay for upgrades on Fortnite. In 2017, Somali pirates with tastes on the large side managed to hijack a fully-loaded oil-tanker.
The ship, called The Aris 13, had decided to take a time and fuel-saving shortcut through what’s known as the Socotra Gap. They soon regretted the shortcut after their ship got hijacked by local pirates.
In a scenario reminiscent of a certain Tom Hanks film, ransom discussions soon began, regarding both the crew and the ship’s contents. Once the pirates realized the tanker was under the employ of prominent Somalian businessmen, who Somali pirates tend to avoid tussling with, they released the crew – and later the ship – without ransom.
Despite being one of the biggest thefts of all time, the pay out was nothing but deep water for the pirates.
2. The USA’s Underwater Heist
In 1968, for reasons still unknown, Soviet submarine K-129 sank 16,000ft to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, 1,600 miles northwest of Hawaii.
At the time, Russian technology was unable to locate or retrieve the warhead-laden wreckage, but their Cold War rivals in the USA soon caught wind of the submarine’s fate. The Americans weren’t going to miss this opportunity to get their hands on a Soviet submarine laden with potentially-useful documentation, not to mention intact nuclear weaponry. To keep things hush-hush, they assigned the CIA – rather than the navy – to the case. In 1974, with an inflation-adjusted equivalent of $4 billion spent, the CIA had built the Hughes Gomar Explorer.
This essentially involved grafting a giant skill crane onto a ship, to drag the submarine up to the surface. The procedure wasn’t perfect, and parts of the submarine broke off during recovery and sank back down.
But the chunk the CIA caught on their expensive fishing trip did indeed contain nuclear torpedoes, as well as some of the sailor’s bodies.
Inquiries about the operation, which was initially presented to the public as nothing more than a manganese-mining operation, had a surprising cultural outcome too. Covering the tracks of the operation led to the development of the phrase “neither confirm nor deny”. This is now known as the ‘Glomar response’, after the name of the recovery vessel.
Before I reveal the biggest thing ever stolen, there are some honorable mentions that I’d be remiss not to acknowledge. While not enormous in the bigger picture, a special hat belonging to Greg da Silva of Cape Town, South Africa was the largest of its kind. Made using a thousand eggs, Greg owned the largest egg hat the world had ever seen.
Tragically, Greg’s eggs were stolen during a 2011 trip to Germany, while he was hospitalized with heat stroke. The hard-boiled summer heat left him scrambled, and the theft was no yolk. You can only imagine what the thief must have looked like, making a quick getaway, presumably in a convertible.
If that wasn’t whacky enough for you, in 2017,a 12-foot-tall inflatable gorilla with stylish shades – designed to lure customers into a car dealership – was deflated and stolen in Texas.
While undoubtedly humorous, the gorilla cost $10,000 and the thieves were never caught. This wasn’t the first theft of its kind in the world of American dealerships, with an even bigger, 35-foot-tall inflatable gorilla being stolen in 2006.
Harambe frowns down upon us all. Finally, there’s The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist. This robbery that took place over several months at a facility in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec, between 2011 and 2012. In total, three thousand tons of maple syrup, or $18.7 million Canadian dollars’ worth, was stolen.
Adjusted for inflation, this suspected insider job was the most valuable heist in the Canadian history.
1. A Mountain Of Crime
As far as Earthly objects go, things don’t get much bigger than mountains. So, for thieves who take the phrase ‘go big or go home’ a little too seriously –stealing a mountain is the logical conclusion. This could possibly be the biggest thing ever stolen. Locals from the Humta village in eastern India are slowly but surely bringing the aforementioned phrase to life, by stealing the peak of the nearby mountain Humt Pahad.
Locals chip away the rock to sell to property developers and use the earnings to feed their families. The village doesn’t have much else in terms of industry, so people work eleven hours a day hewing the peak from a point into more of a stub.
While this is in fact illegal, local authorities tend to turn a blind eye, as the mountain is one of the few sources of work in the area. A local businessman has even laid a claim of ownership upon the mountain in an attempt to remove the criminal edge from the operation, but the authenticity of the claim is questionable at best. Unless something changes, the locals will eventually have stolen an entire mountain. Impressive.
Did any of these sizeable crimes shock you? What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever had stolen? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!