Humans have been mesmerized by gold for millennia. Its history traces to ancient civilizations in the Americas and Africa in which people used the precious metal for its rarity, sacred rituals, and regalia decoration. The Spanish fascination with gold during the Age of Exploration stemmed from the allure of wealth and expansion. Conquistadores like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro seized upon gold resources abundant in the Americas, notably within the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Their expeditions resulted in the transportation of substantial quantities of gold to Spain.
Today, cultures around the world continue to value gold, whether by buying gold jewelry as investment pieces for family members or by adding gold to an investment portfolio to diversify a retirement plan.
A 1-ounce gold bar is worth more than $2,000 today. Scale that up to the shiny gold bars used by financial institutions and made popular in movies, and the price soars to more than $750,000 for one 400-ounce bar. It's no wonder gold heists have captured the public's attention for decades. SD Bullion aggregated news articles to compile five of the biggest, most notorious gold heists in recent history.
Blockbuster movies and bestselling books tell stories of massive security breaches that lead to the precious metal disappearing from plain sight. Sometimes, real-life crimes are the basis for TV shows, films, and books. Continue reading to discover five notable gold heists—one of which is still under police investigation.
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- When: Jan. 22, 1976
- Where: Beirut, Lebanon
- How much: Gold bars worth at least $110 million today
A group of robbers blasted their way into the British Bank of the Middle East in Lebanon's capital city during the Lebanese civil war. The thieves then opened the vault with the help of skilled locksmiths. Once inside, the group took an unknown number of gold bars, jewels, foreign currency, and stock certificates.
The bounty was never recovered, and no one has ever been arrested for the crime. The Guinness World Records claims this gold heist to be the greatest robbery of safety deposit boxes in history.
- When: Nov. 26, 1983
- Where: London, England
- How much: Gold bars worth more than $109 million
Six thieves broke into the Brink's-Mat warehouse in London shortly before dawn. The men were looking for foreign currency, but instead, they happened upon 3 tons of gold bars worth $109 million today.
Police eventually arrested several people involved, including Anthony Black, Brian Robinson, and Micky McAvoy. The others involved in stealing and reselling the gold on the black market were never caught. McAvoy died in 2023, taking what he knew of the robbery to the grave. That same year, the BBC aired a TV series, "The Gold," dramatizing one of England's most notorious gold heists.
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- When: Nov. 30, 2012
- Where: The coast of Curaçao
- How much: Gold bars worth $15.37 million today
This gold heist stands out as it's the only one on the list that didn't take place on land, but rather on a boat off the coast of the Caribbean island of Curaçao. At least six masked robbers wearing jackets with the word "police" on them boarded a fishing boat and stole 70 gold bars.
The jackets the thieves wore were unusual because police in Curaçao refer to themselves as "polis" in the local language, Papiamento. The men loaded all 476 pounds of gold into three cars and drove away. The boat crew described the gold heist as something one would see in a movie.
- When: July 25, 2019
- Where: São Paulo, Brazil
- How much: Gold worth at least $30 million
A cargo terminal at São Paulo's international airport became the central point for a gold heist, and Brazilian police said the robbers could do it because they had insider information. Eight people drove two trucks into the terminal, with four getting out of the trucks wearing masks. The armed robbers took some employees hostage while stealing 1,653 pounds of gold and other precious metals.
One airport employee who claimed the robbers kidnapped him was later arrested for his involvement in the heist.
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- When: April 17, 2023
- Where: Mississauga, Canada
- How much: Gold bars worth $20 million
According to the claim, 24 gold bars weighing more than 882 pounds and $2 million cash were loaded onto an Air Canada passenger and cargo airplane in Zurich, Switzerland, and flown to Toronto's airport. Once the gold bars were off the plane, the thief walked into Air Canada's cargo hangar at Toronto Pearson Airport, showed a fake shipping document, and left with the gold and cash.
Security firm Brink's was hired to ship and protect the gold, which was supposed to go to a bank in Toronto. Brink's sued Air Canada for the loss, but the airline responded to the suit, denying any improper procedures. Several months after the heist, police have made no arrests.
Written by: Sheeka Sanahori. Additional research by Luke Hicks. Story editing by Cynthia Rebolledo. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Ania Antecka.