4 Stories of Notorious Thieves
Sometimes a thief will make a name for themselves not by what they steal, but by how they steal it. The following thieves were bold, violent, brilliant or possibly just very lucky.
The Dinner Set Gang
The Dinner Set Gang was a group of Robin Hoods operating in the United States during the 1960’s and 70’s. They targeted only the wealthiest Americans and gave the profits of the heist to the poor. It should be noted that in every case “the poor” meant “The Dinner Set Gang,” so the Robin Hood analogy doesn't entirely work.
Anyway, the thieves, Peter Salemo and Dominick Latella, would note wealthy Americans whose names appeared in Forbes magazine and cross reference them with Who's Who in America to net the addresses. Once confirmed, they would then find images of the property to be raided in various magazines before executing the heist. Say what you will about their morals, but they were at least keeping their local library afloat.
The crimes worked out like this: they would attack at dinner time (hence the name) since the house would be virtually empty. It was typical of their targets to have lengthy, multi-course meals, and it was considered rude to leave the table during the meal, so any servants would also be in the dining room. Latella served as the watch while Salemo climbed into the second story. On average they absconded with a quarter of a million dollars in jewels each heist.
The duo had retired successfully but was eventually caught when they came out of retirement in the 90s. These thefts were intended to pay for Salemo's wife's breast cancer treatments. Detectives had been on their trail for twenty years at the time of their arrests.
Charles “The Ox” Reiser
The Ox was a safe cracker in early 1900's Chicago, notorious for serving as a mentor for many of the organized crime bosses of the day. Though he would eventually amass quite a fortune (he was able to dabble in real estate on the side, eventually owning at least one apartment complex), he wasn't particularly good at avoiding capture. His rap sheet began early in his criminal career with his first arrest happening around 1902 when he was twenty-two.
Though he was a successful safe cracker by all measures, Reiser's infamy doesn't come from the nature of his crime but rather from his complete and total refusal to take shit from anyone or anything, the law included. Remember that first arrest in 1902? That case was dropped because he got out on bail and murdered the only witness. The same thing happened again in 1905 and 1909. You could tell whenever Reiser had made bail because people would just start corpsing up shortly afterward.
This wasn't limited to those who witnessed his crimes. His first wife died of asphyxiation, which was “purely accidental” and completely unrelated to her threatening to go to the police. In 1920 one of Reiser's partners had been questioned by police about a job the two pulled together. Just to play it safe, he was murdered… as was another partner a year later who had been arrested.
But ultimately Reiser would reap what he sowed. While recovering in the hospital in 1921, Reiser's not-choked-to-death wife found him dead in bed. It was officially ruled a suicide despite the fact that he had ten bullet holes in his body, implying that The Ox had legendary endurance or that everyone in the Chicago hospital simply did not give a damn.
The 300 Million Yen Affair
The largest heist in Japanese history, the 300 Million Yen Affair was never solved. The statute of limitations has long since passed (the robbery itself was committed in 1968) preventing any legal action against the criminal, but no one has yet to come forward to claim responsibility for the crime.
On December 10th four bankers were transporting nearly three-hundred million yen in the trunk of a company car. The money was intended as bonuses for factory workers in Fuchu, Tokyo. While driving through Fuchu the group was stopped by a police officer on a motorcycle. According to the officer someone had just blown up their branch manager's house and the police were warned that dynamite had been strapped to one of the company cars. The bankers allowed him to investigate, exiting the car. While the officer was underneath the vehicle smoke started to pour out. The bankers took cover and the officer drove off in the car.
The money was ultimately transferred across a series of cars during the getaway. The thief left over one-hundred pieces of evidence at the scene comprised of everyday items that would fail to identify him one way or another. The closest the investigators came to naming a suspect was a 19 year-old boy whose father was a police officer. He died of potassium cyanide five days after the theft, however, without a confession. Despite undertaking the largest investigation in Japanese history the police were unable to make any arrests in the case.
The case of Mr. Breitwieser is a curious one. First, he began stealing art from museums and private collections starting when he was twenty-four, and did so across Europe. Second, he stole over two-hundred pieces (most estimates place the number just under two-hundred and forty) until he was arrested in November 2001, averaging one theft every fifteen days. Finally, he never once sold any of the pieces he stole because he was in it for the simple appreciation of what he stole, proving that you can be a career criminal without ever making a profit from it.
Most of Breitwieser's thefts worked like this: after finding a piece he liked his then-girlfriend would stand as watch, create a distraction, or both. Breitwieser would then find a means of taking the piece. For paintings, which made up the bulk of his collection, he would usually find a way to remove the nails that pinned the frame together, but in some instances he would simply cut the painting out. Then he would hide it under his coat and the two would leave.
The items he stole were kept in his bedroom at his mother's house. His mother, perhaps thinking a little too highly of her son, thought at first that each piece had legitimately been bought at auction and couldn't recognize that many of them were by famous artists. But eventually something about her son owning hundreds of pieces of art while working nights as a waiter tipper her off. Shortly after his 2001 arrest she proceeded to destroy the art, cutting, smashing, garbage disposing and throwing out the pieces worth thousands of dollars each. She would later say that she did it out of anger towards he son and not in an attempt to destroy evidence. She would go on to serve jail time, too.
Breitweiser was released in 2007.