Are you aware that most famous thieves in writings, film, and television are based on actual people?
All kinds of notorious people have made a name for themselves as art, jewel, or bank thieves throughout history. Most of today’s pop culture characters are inspired by these famous criminals.
For example, Bonnie and Clyde are frequently mentioned in various forms of media to refer to a couple who would do anything for each other. This is based on Bonnie Park and Clyde Barrow, two real-life criminals from the early 1900s.
Of course, Bonnie and Clyde aren’t the only criminals on the loose. There have been even more fascinating slick criminals in history that you should be aware of. So, keep on watching to discover even more.
Here Are The 27 Most Notorious Famous Thieves Throughout History
Adam Worth is one of history’s most famous thieves. In fact, he was so well-known that he inspired one of fiction’s most famous criminals, James Moriarty. James Moriarty is a fictional villain from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes book series.
Worth began as a bounty jumper, a man who joined the army solely to collect a bounty and then left. Following these exploits, he relocated to New York and formed a pickpocket gang. Worth’s criminal career was long and colorful. Even after serving three years in prison, he continued to plan and carry out bank robberies.
Alan Golder is best known for stealing cats. He crept into people’s homes at night, usually around dinnertime, to rob them. As a result, he earned the moniker “Dinnertime Bandit.”
He began his criminal career when he was only six years old. This could have stemmed from his father (who was also a criminal) abandoning him and his family. Golder became a full-time robber at the age of 21.
For a brief period of time, he worked as a police informant. He quickly returned to his criminal ways, however. Golder kept robbing houses in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. When he was apprehended, the police estimated he had stolen around $5 million in jewels and items.
Albert Spaggiari must be mentioned when discussing famous thieves. Spaggiari is one of history’s most famous bank robbers. He is the mastermind of the Société Générale Bank robbery.
Spaggiari led a team of 20 men into the bank vault on a Friday in 1976. Their entry point was a tunnel dug from the sewers. They welded the door shut once inside the vault and remained there until Monday. They spent the entire weekend emptying safe deposit boxes and withdrawing cash. They stole $10 million in cash, gold, and jewelry from a French bank.
The gang left a message on the wall before leaving. “Without Guns, Without Violence, Without Hate,” it said.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone, or simply Al Capone, is more than just one of history’s most famous thieves. He is also one of America’s most well-known crime bosses. Al Capone is the co-founder and leader of the Chicago Outfit crime syndicate.
Al Capone and his organization committed a number of crimes, including robberies, gambling, prostitution, and murder. His reputation developed as Chicago’s crime czar. Because of his charitable contributions, he was dubbed the “modern-day Robin Hood” by some. He was known as “Public Enemy No. 1” by the police and the media.
One interesting fact about this well-known thief is that he has a scar on his left cheek. He got it from a fight in a saloon when he was younger.
Anne Bonny, a pirate from the 1600s, is one of history’s most famous thieves. She was a crew member on Captain John Rackam’s ship, and he was her lover. They sailed the Caribbean with the rest of their crew, robbing other ships.
During ship raids, Bonny disguised herself as a man, carrying a sword and pistol around her waist. A privateer attacked and captured their crew in 1720. The Governor of Jamaica ordered their execution. Bonny was imprisoned because she was pregnant while her lover was executed.
Because accounts differ, historians are unsure of her exact death date. However, according to some sources, she died in April 1721.
Most thieves prefer to keep their entire criminal careers hidden. Some thieves, on the other hand, will write autobiographies about their exploits. One of the latter is Bill Mason. Mason published Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief in 2003. In his memoir, he detailed his robberies and named the celebrities from whom he stole.
Mason is widely regarded as one of history’s most famous jewel thieves. Armand Hammer, Bob Hope, and Truman Capote were among the celebrities he robbed. He also stole Johnny Weissmuller’s Olympic gold medal. He amassed a total of $35 million by the end of his criminal career. He is now a successful author in New York City.
Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr is one of history’s most famous female burglars. Starr had a tight relationship with the James-Younger Gang. They were a gang of outlaws from Missouri. To satisfy their desire for more money, the gang frequently robbed and murdered.
Starr married after the Civil War, but she remained involved in the criminal world. Jim Reed, her husband, was also a thief. They stole horses and robbed carriage passengers. Starr passed away just a few days before her birthday. People are still puzzled as to who shot her from behind.
Her story was published in The National Police Gazette after her death. Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen, which was published in 1889, became a historical reference for many. Her popularity grew as a result of the novel, and she quickly rose to become one of the most famous thieves of all time.
Clyde and Bonnie
As previously stated, Bonnie and Clyde are so well-known that they are frequently mentioned. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were lovers who committed crimes across the Central United States. They robbed stores, gas stations, and even funeral homes with their gang. They allegedly killed several police officers during their robberies.
The couple was killed on a rural road where police were conducting a stakeout. Clyde’s vehicle appeared around 9 a.m., and they enticed him to pull over. When he stepped outside, the cops opened fire, killing Clyde with a single headshot. Bonnie, who was also in the vehicle, died as a result of gunshot wounds.
Bonnie and Clyde have inspired several films after their death. Bonnie and Clyde, a 1967 film, is one example. Another example is The Highwaymen, a 2019 Netflix film.
Carl Gugasian stands out when it comes to bank robberies. People consider him to be America’s most prolific bank robber. He robbed over 50 banks during his 30-year criminal career.
He was a meticulous individual who meticulously planned his robberies. He would usually stake out a bank, observe the employees for a few days, and then return on a Friday night to rob them with all of his equipment. He preferred robbing banks and stores on Friday nights because he expected fewer civilians to be present.
After discovering his ideas and equipment in shut drainage pipes, the police could assemble a case against him. He was finally apprehended in 2002.
Despite being thieves, many of them follow some sort of moral code. Some well-known thieves will refuse to resort to violence. Charles Peace, on the other hand, is not one of them. Charles Peace is a well-known British thief who is also responsible for several murders.
He robbed several houses throughout his life. Because the police frequently apprehended him, he spent several years in and out of prison. In the end, he was found guilty of murder and hanged in 1879.
The Case of Charles Peace, directed by Norman Lee, was released in 1949. This film depicted Charles Peace’s life and crimes. This is not the only piece of peace-related media. He is mentioned in a lot of literature and films.
Many famous thieves begin their criminal careers at a young age. One of them is Colton Harris Moore. He had stolen boats, cars, and even small planes as a teenager. Despite his age, he had already stolen vehicles worth more than $100,000.
He fled to the Bahamas in 2010 on a stolen plane. However, he was arrested a week later after police discovered him on a stolen boat. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and was granted parole in 2016.
People dubbed him the “Barefoot Bandit” because they thought he committed most of his crimes while barefoot. The police, however, declared this rumor false because it was proven that he wore shoes during robberies.
There are numerous crime documentaries that show how police apprehend well-known thieves. CNBC’s profile of David Brankle is one example. Brankle is a bank robber who has robbed over 40 banks in the last 20 months. He robbed banks in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee, among other places.
It took a long time for police to identify and identify him. Despite this incredible feat, he began his career as a clumsy robber. When he first robbed a bank, he forgot to bring a bag and simply stuffed the cash into his pockets.
Brankle is currently serving a 20-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution.
Derek Creighton Smalls
When criminals are unable to flee the police, they will sometimes make a deal in order to avoid or reduce their sentence. In the case of Derek Creighton Smalls, he became what the British call “supergrass.”
A criminal informant is referred to as a supergrass. Smalls, as a supergrass, apprehended numerous other thieves in London. During the trial, he was able to present substantial evidence against his co-conspirators. As a result, he did not have to serve any jail time.
Dinner Set Crew.
Individually, the most famous thieves are well-known. Some, on the other hand, are well-known as a group. One example is the Dinner Set Gang. They are a gang of thieves who raided wealthy people’s estates. They traveled from Florida to New England solely for the purpose of robbing the wealthy.
Peter Salerno and Dominick Latella were two of the first members. They both noticed a pattern in the lifestyles of the wealthy. The elite did not frequently excuse themselves from dinners. They considered leaving at any point during the meal to be impolite. As a result, the rest of the house was open for robbery.
The media dubbed them the Dinner Set Gang because they frequently robbed houses during dinner time.
Doris Marie Payne.
Doris Payne is a well-known jewel thief in the United States. Her criminal history is one of the most extensive among thieves. She stole diamonds, jewelry, and high-end clothing over the course of six decades.
Most people remember her for stealing a diamond ring in the 1970s. Payne stole a 10-carat diamond ring worth around $500,000 in Monte Carlo. Despite being apprehended, authorities were unable to locate the ring.
The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, directed by Matthew Pond, was released in 2014. Interviews with her family and other officials involved in her case are included in this film.
The Gang of Forty Elephants.
The Forty Elephants Gang is another organization on this list of famous thieves. While the name implies that they have 40 members, this is not the case. The gang had about 70 members in total.
The Forty Elephants Gang frequently robbed estates in London’s Elephant and Castle district. They would disguise themselves as housemaids and sneak into the homes of wealthy families to steal from them. Aside from houses, they also robbed shopping malls throughout London.
The exact number of members of the gang is unknown to this day. Only a few names were associated with the group, according to the authorities. However, they lacked evidence to back up their claims.
Some may believe that famous thieves have no other interests besides jewels and money. This, however, is not the case. Some thieves dabbled in writing as well. Francois Villon is one such case.
Villon was a poet from France. He is still the most well-known of the French poets of the 15th century. His poem collection Le Testament is considered autobiographical by historians.
He robbed a Parisian chapel. He was apprehended by authorities and promptly expelled. It is unclear whether he was expelled solely for this act or for other robberies as well.
Jr. Frank Abagnale.
Frank Abagnale, Jr. is a well-known thief today. He is a convicted felon who began his criminal career when he was young. He was already defrauding people with fake checks when he was only 15 years old. He continued to con people for the rest of his adolescence and was arrested several times.
Catch Me If You Can was his first book, released in 1980. He wrote about his experiences as a criminal. The book quickly became popular. Steven Spielberg adapted the novel into a film in 2002. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks starred in it.
Abagnale has long since abandoned a life of crime. He now runs the consulting firm Abagnale and Associates.
Saint-Remy Jeanne de Valois
Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Remy is the next name on this list of famous thieves. Remy is a significant historical figure in France. She was a key figure in the Diamond Necklace Affair. Remy forged Queen Marie Antoinette’s signature in the 1780s to purchase an expensive diamond necklace.
However, the queen refused to purchase the necklace. Because the necklace was so expensive, this incident nearly bankrupted the jeweler. This incident harmed the queen’s already blemished public image. Remy’s actions contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution.
James Jesse Woodson.
Another of history’s most famous thieves is the leader of the James-Younger Gang. Jesse Woodson James is a thief who frequently preys on banks and trains. James and his gang committed theft through violent means.
Despite this, the James-Younger gang was thought to be good people. They frequently compared James to Robin Hood. This is because the James-Younger gang preyed on the wealthy. There was no evidence, however, that they were donating their stolen goods outside of their gang.
James is still a well-known figure today. In fact, most modern film portrayals of Wild West outlaws are based on Jesse James.
John Herbert Dillinger.
During the Great Depression, John Dillinger was one of the most well-known thieves. He organized several bank robberies as the leader of the Dillinger gang. His gang also went after police stations.
Dillinger was charged with robbery, homicide, assault, and grand theft auto throughout his career. Regardless, the media was obsessed with him. Dillinger made frequent appeals to them, and it worked. The press portrayed him as a Robin Hood figure.
Dillinger’s plastic surgery is an intriguing fact. He had plastic surgery while fleeing to Chicago. He did this to avoid being identified by the police. Unfortunately, he was still apprehended and detained.
After being apprehended, some well-known thieves became criminal informants. Jonathan Wild, on the other hand, played both sides simultaneously. Unbeknownst to them, the government sought information on criminals from Wild. Wild knew many thieves by name as the leader of his own crime ring.
He revealed the identities of his opponents and bribed prison guards to release his own men. He used his government power and influence to carry out his own crimes. This is why he was dubbed the “Thief-Taker General.”
The police eventually discovered the truth. He was arrested and later publicly hanged.
Gillis Lester Joseph
Most thief names are frightening and intimidating. Lester Joseph Gillis, on the other hand, earned the moniker “Baby Face Nelson” due to his youthful and innocent appearance. Despite appearances, Gillis is one of America’s most famous bank robbers. For a time, he and his gang were dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” by the FBI.
Gillis joined the Touhy Gang, a Chicago suburbs crime syndicate. They carried out a string of armed robberies at various residences and banks. They robbed the home of magazine executive Charles M. Richter in 1930. They stole approximately $205,000 in jewelry.
During the Battle of Barrington, Gillis died at the age of 25. On November 27, 1934, a gunfight erupted between the police and Gillis. This occurred in a small town near Chicago, Illinois. What began as a car chase on Highway 12 ended in the deaths of three people: two agents and Gillis himself.
Ma Barker is one of the most well-known thieves of all time. Barker has appeared in numerous films, books, and even music. She is a well-known figure in popular culture. This is due to her status as the mother of the Barker-Karpis gang’s leaders.
Many people feared the Barker-Karpis gang during the Great Depression. They were the most terrifying and oldest criminal organization at the time. The gang not only robbed banks, but also kidnapped and murdered people.
The majority of these crimes were planned by Barker. She planned and organized, while her sons carried them out. Barker was “the most vicious, dangerous, and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade,” according to FBI Director Hoover.
Mary Frith is one of London’s most well-known thieves. Many in the underworld knew her as the infamous Moll Cutpurse. She was not only a skilled thief, but also a fencer and a broker.
She could sing, dance, and play the lute as an entertainer. She would sometimes do this while dressed as Tom Faconer. Her accomplices would scour the audience and rob them while she distracted them.
After her death, her story piqued the interest of many writers. William Shakespeare, the famous playwright, mentioned her in his play Love’s Labour’s Lost. The Roaring Girl, written in 1611, is another play in which Firth appears.
Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava.
If you want to know what the biggest heist in history was, the answer depends on who you ask. Most people, however, will respond to Natwarlal’s con. Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava goes by the alias Natwarlal. He disposed of the Taj Mahal. What’s incredible about this con is that he pulled it three times.
Natwarlal is India’s most notorious conman. He was skilled at forging signatures and documents. He began by selling celebrity autographs. Later on, he moved on to bigger things, such as the Taj Mahal, India’s Parliament House, and others.
Natwarlal, like most famous thieves, inspired depictions of his life. Rakesh Kumar directed Mr. Natwarlal, an Indian Hindi action-comedy, in 1979.
It was very common for people to steal horses in the 18th century. A highwayman who frequently stole horses and carriages was one of the most well-known thieves. Richard Turpin was his name. Turpin, like his father, was a butcher. He did, however, join a gang of outlaws who frequently stole deer and other livestock.
Rookwood, a novel about Turpin written nearly a century after his death, was written by Harrison Ainsworth. It told a fictional story about Turpin riding his horse, Black Bess, from London to York. While the story is not true, it drew a large number of readers. Turpin became well-known as a result of this novel.