3 Greatest Thieves of all Time

by | Nov 11, 2018 | Learn

The advent of electronic surveillance and security equipment such as CCTV video surveillance, burglar alarm, electric fence, and infrared fence will make one to believe that no crime should go unnoticed or at least be reduced to bare minimum.

It is appalling to see that as technology keeps advancing, so also does criminal wile keeps advancing to create a perfect balance in their mode of operation.

But having watched good heist films, it is cleared that thieves can actually get away without leaving any footprint behind which could lead to their apprehension, they were actually seen defeating the modern day technology.

What caught our attention was how these thieves were able to carry out their theft successfully and independently, through their skilful techniques without being caught. We decided to share the three greatest thieves of all time and their modus operandi.

Stephane Breitwieser portrait picture

Stephane Breitwieser

born October 1, 1971

Origin

France

Favorite Target

Art

Earnings

$ 1.4 billion 

The first on our list is one of the most prolific art thieves of modern times – Stephane Breitwieser, born October 1, 1971 is a Frenchman notorious for his art thefts between 1995 and 2001. 

This Frenchman travelled around Europe in his early 20s working as a waiter from 1995 to 2001. But he had a second job, and that was stealing art collections from museums due to his love for artworks. 

He admitted to have stolen 239 works of art worth estimated sum of $1.4 billion from 172 museums, while travelling around Europe and working as a waiter. 

Modus Operandi:

What got us fascinated about him was he never made any effort to sell the stolen artworks, which he got from dozens of museums in France and five neighbouring countries. Instead, he kept them in his private collection in his mother’s home in Mulhouse (France) for his private viewing pleasure. His room was kept in semi-darkness so that sunlight would not damage the paintings.

Stephanie Breitwieser (his mother) maintained that his criminal disposition originated purely from the passion he has for any object he fell in love with. “I did it because I loved these things, because I simply had to possess them.”

The most valuable work of art Stephane Breitwieser stole was Sybille, Princess of Cleves by Lucas Cranach the Elder from a castle in Baden-Baden in 1995. Its estimated value at auction would be £5-£5.6 million. 

Stephane Breitwieser was finally caught in November 2001, after stealing a bugle dating from 1584, one of only three like it in the world and with an estimated value of £45,000 from the Richard Wagner Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland. 

On January 7, 2005 he was sentenced to three years by a court in Strasbourg where he only served 26 months. His mother was also sentenced to three years in prison for destroying large portion of the artworks as evidence whilst Stephane’s girlfriend was also sentenced to eighteen months in prison for receiving stolen goods.

William Francis "Willie" Sutton Jr Portrait

William Francis “Willie” Sutton Jr

born June 30, 1901

Origin

United States

Favorite Target

Bank & Jewellery

Earnings

$ 2.0 millions

William Francis “Willie” Sutton Jr – also known as Gentleman thief deserves to be on the second position in our list.

Sutton was born into an Irish-American family in June 30, 1901 in Polish neighbourhood in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was the fourth of five children, and he never furthered his education after his 8th grade in school.

He turned to crime at an early age, throughout his professional criminal career, he never killed anyone. He is loquacious in nature and also a chain-smoker with Bull Durham brand of tobacco.

Modus Operandi: 

Sutton is a “gentleman thief”, a thief with impeccable manners who would try not to cause harm or injury to his victims. He once said “You can’t rob a bank on charm and personality” and he also said, they were never loaded, because “someone might get hurt.” These statements made us to believe that he was truly amazing and caring even though he was a thief. 

One of the Sutton’s brilliant techniques is the ability to disguise. Sutton conducted a Broadway jewellery store robbery in broad daylight, impersonating a postal telegraph messenger. Sutton’s other disguises included a police officer, messenger and maintenance man. He usually arrived at banks or stores shortly before they opened for business. 

During his forty-year robbery career, he stole an estimated $2 million ( about $28 millions today). he eventually spent more than half of his adult life in prison and escaped three times.

For his talent at executing robberies in disguises, he gained two nicknames, “Willie the Actor” and “Slick Willie“. 

When he was finally arrested, he was asked why he robbed, he said “I robbed because I enjoyed it, I love it, I was more alive when I was inside a bank robbing it, than at any other time in my life.” He attempted so many prison breaks but recaptured. 

Sutton has since contributed positively after his release from jail by delivering lectures on prison reform and consulted with banks on theft deterrent techniques. He made a television commercial for New Britain Bank and Trust Company in Connecticut for their credit card with picture identification on it. 

His lines were, “They call it the ‘face card.’ Now when I say I’m Willie Sutton, people believe me.”

Charles Frederick Peace Portrait

Charles Frederick Peace

born May 14, 1832

Origin

England

Favorite Target

Fancy Houses

Earnings

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The last on our list is Charles Frederick Peace – also known as “The Banner Cross Killer”, and one of the most prolific cat-burglars in history. 

Charles Peace was born in May 14, 1832 in Darnall Sheffield, England. He was the youngest son of a shoemaker John Peace and his wife, a naval surgeon’s daughter. Peace got his infamous reputation for burglaries committed while living in London.

Peace was also described as a violent individual who committed various murders during his lifetime, and often attempted to kill police officers who took him into custody. 

Peace’s earliest criminal feat started with stealing an old gentleman’s gold watch, and later advanced to burglary. On October 26, 1851, Peace broke into a house belonging to a lady in Sheffield and stole some valuables which was later found in his possession when he was arrested. 

Modus of Operandi: 

He was arrested and sent to jail continuously within two decades because of his sophisticated burglaries in Manchester, Kingston upon Hull and Doncaster.

He was declared a wanted fugitive after shooting a man in Sheffield following an ensued argument. 

He fled to London where he committed his accomplished heist in a grand style for almost 2 years. His best modus operandi was that during the day, he would be well-dressed as a respected violinist who performed at local concerts whilst at night, he would break into fancy houses while the owners were asleep. 

On one notable occasion, the owners woke up during a burglary and set their security dogs on Peace, he defended himself only to punch them in the face, thereby killing the poor animal before breaking loose. 

Peace evaded arrest by changing his facial features and even using a fake arm as he had lost fingers, he was eventually caught and hanged in 1879.