Top 15 Most Notorious Bank Robbers in History
Forget edge walking, highlining, and cliff camping. Executing a bank robbery is, indeed, the most daring activity to partake in. One wrong move and you are either pushing up daisies or behind bars.
Carrying out a bank heist is not for your average adrenaline junky. It requires meticulous planning, a level head, fast thinking, and a solid objective just like these infamous bank robbers. Despite having all these, there is zero guarantee of a successful escape or a life out of jail.
Below are history’s most notorious bank robbers who thrived living life on its very own edge.
1. John Dillinger
A repeat offender and fugitive from justice, John Herbert Dillinger was the most vicious bank robber of the 1900s. In his life of crime, he killed, wounded, and terrorized numerous citizens in the Midwest.
Dillinger, who had served in Utah’s USS navy, was first arrested in September 1924. While in prison, his inmates taught him how to rob banks. He executed his first bank heist immediately after his release robbing 5 banks in just 4 months!
Between 1933 and 1934, John broke out of prison twice and fled across the country whilst robbing banks. He became Public Enemy Number 1.
In July of 1934, a friend of John’s partner collaborated with the authorities and set him up. He tried to escape the police ambush but was shot dead outside a theatre in Chicago, Illinois.
Read about 20 infamous gangsters from Chicago here.
2. Baby Face Nelson
Lester Gillis, commonly known as Baby Face Nelson, was a notorious bank robber and murderer from Chicago, Illinois. If you are as curious as I am, you’re most certainly wondering why a criminal would be named Baby Face.
Well, Lester appeared way younger than most men his age and botox hadn’t even hit the market yet! It is hard to believe that an innocent-looking man would be as dangerous as he was.
Gillis first began as a petty thief. He later joined Al Capone and his gang and began bootlegging and racketeering.
In April 1930, Nelson robbed his first bank escaping with USD 4,000. Seven months later, he and his gang robbed the Itasca State Bank. In 1934, Nelson and Dillinger became partners.
Baby Face met his demise in a gun battle with the FBI. He died outside Barrington, Illinois.
3. Clyde Barrow
Clyde Barrow was part of a two-man criminal gang in the 1930s. He traveled the greater part of Central U.S. terrorizing civilians and robbing banks.
Born to a poor family in Dallas, Texas, Barrow opted for a life of crime to cater to his financial needs. Despite getting legitimate work, he found a thrill in stealing cars and robbing stores.
Barrow’s life goal was to gain an extensive amount of fame and fortune from robbing banks. In 1933, he made his first huge bank robbery in Minnesota. It marked the beginning of other bank heists.
Barrow’s robbery escapades found their way to the press. At the time, America was going through economic turmoil and new federal statutes made it ten times harder for bank robbers to evade the law.
A manhunt began on May 23rd, 1934, Barrow was shot dead in Black Lake, Louisiana.
4. Bonnie Parker
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was the most wanted female bank robber of the 1930s. She was the lover and criminal partner of Clyde Barrow. Many believed that it was Parker’s soft spot for Barrow that had her join his infamous lifestyle.
Bonnie’s first bank robbery was at the National Bank of Lawrence in Kansas. Between July and August 1933, she successfully robbed two banks in Oklahoma and one in Texas.
Bonnie and Clyde became a force to be reckoned with. The famous duo was responsible for a string of other heists, the death of civilians and police officers. Bonnie died in 1934, during a shootout in Black Lake after a police ambush.
To learn about the most famous bank robberies in America, click on this link.
5. Pretty Boy Floyd
Charles Arthur Floyd, a.k.a Pretty Boy Floyd, was a professional bank robber whose weapon of choice was the machine gun. Just like Clyde, he grew up in poverty and as a result, he became a full-time criminal.
After serving a 4-year sentence in Missouri, Floyd joined a team of burglars. The gang robbed several banks in Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan. He returned to his hometown after escaping apprehension by a whisker.
Arthur continued his unlawful activities in Oklahoma and in 1933, he faced serious charges. He was accused of being part of a Kansas City massacre that led to the death of 3 police officers. He was gunned down in October 1934, a month after the death of Baby Face Nelson.
6. Edwin Alonzo Boyd
Edwin Boyd was a famous Canadian robber of the 1950s. He was known for his numerous bank robberies across Toronto and other parts of the country. He was also the son of Glover Boyd, a policeman who served in Toronto city.
The devastatingly handsome fellow was a classy, charming man who always wore a fine suit as his ensemble. He made the first robbery in 1951 at the Bank of Montreal, Danforth Avenue.
Alonzo continued robbing banks until 1952 when he was arrested. He was sentenced to life in prison but was released in 1969 on parole.
7. Butch Cassidy
At the age of 14, Butch Cassidy ran away from home to pursue his life as a criminal. He dropped his government name, Robert LeRoy Parker, and named himself after his mentor and a local cattle thief, Mike Cassidy.
In 1894, Cassidy was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing a horse in Wyoming. Eight months after his release, he made away with USD 7,000 from a heist at the Montpelier National Bank, Idaho.
The Idaho robbery wasn’t Cassidy’s first rodeo. In 1889, he robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Colorado. It is believed that he and his partner, the Sundance Kid, robbed at least 6 other banks during their criminal partnership.
Cassidy met his death (as most, if not all, criminals do) during a gun exchange with South American State soldiers. The authorities had been tipped off by a local at San Vicente. He identified Cassidy as one of the bandits behind an earlier courier attack.
8. Sundance Kid
Sundance Kid was a Pennsylvanian-born gangster and the fastest gunslinger of Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. His early life was similar to that of his partner in crime, Butch Cassidy. He was arrested at the age of 20 for stealing a horse and gun from a cowboy in Wyoming.
Shortly after his release, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh/Sundance Kid began his life as an outlaw. He joined Butch Cassidy in the 1900s. In September 1900, the two took part in the robbery at the National Bank of Winnemucca.
In 1908, Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy were shot dead by Bolivian soldiers.
9. Jesse James
Jesse Woodson James was a gang leader and pro-bank robber in the 1860s. Before becoming a criminal, he served as part of a pro-Confederate group that fought in the American Civil War.
James and his brother Frank were the ring leaders of the James-Younger Gang. The gang is said to have robbed trains and banks in 11 states across America. After an unsuccessful burglary at the Northfield First National Bank, the group was dissolved in 1876.
Jesse still continued breaking the law and participating in dangerous heists. His days were, however, short-lived. He was shot dead in the back of his head by Robert Ford, a member of his gang and government informant.
Find out the 20 most famous train robbers in the world on the Discover Walk website.
10. Stanley Mark Rifkin
Stanley Mark Rifkin committed the most effortless bank robbery of the 20th century. Using only his computer and good memory, he wired USD 10.2 million into a New York bank account from Security Pacific National Bank.
No weapons, no hostages, and no injuries. The robbery was, in fact, the cleanest of its kind. The bank, based in Los Angeles, had no clue about the theft until the FBI informed them.
After his successful mission, Rifkin began planning another bank heist at the Union Bank of Los Angeles. His idea was to use the exact tactic he did.
To clean up the cash, Stanley bought diamonds worth USD 8.145 million which he later resold. The stolen money became untraceable. He was, however, set up by a potential client and his former business partner, O’Brien.
In March 1979, Stanley received his sentence of 8 years imprisonment for two counts of fraud.
11. Patty Hearst
Patricia Campbell Hearst was the daughter of the business mogul and prominent figure, William Randolph Hearst. In February 1974, she made the headlines after being kidnapped from her apartment by an American militant organization known as the Symbionese Liberation.
Patty’s transition into a life of crime was quite the anomaly. Held hostage by the Liberation, she was tucked away in a closet for weeks. She was 19 at the time.
Patty went days without food or water. As part of her routine, she was made to memorize the political tracts of the group blindfolded. Slowly, she began believing in what they stood for. A classic case of brainwashing.
Patty became a member of the gang in April, 2 months after her kidnapping. That same month, she took part in a USD 10,000 theft at the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. She then robbed the Crocker National Bank and stole USD 15,000 in cash.
Hearst was arrested and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.
12. Willie Sutton
Willie Sutton was a hoodlum and talented actor from Brooklyn, New York. He is one of the few burglars who died having killed no one despite spending over 30 years committing crimes.
Sutton’s acting skills were his disguise. A pretty smart way of evading the law and outwitting the authorities. He would get away with mimicking any character he wanted to. A messenger, a local guard, a sickly man, even a janitor!
In 1930, he committed his first bank robbery at the Corn Exchange Bank in Philadelphia while posing as a Western Union messenger. He was arrested but broke out of prison two years later.
Willie continued his bank heists up until 1952. He was captured and detained until 1969 when he was released on parole.
13. Jeffrey Erickson
After finishing high school, Jeffrey Erickson joined the United States Marine Corps. He quit the police force, got married, and settled in Hanover Park, a suburb of Chicago.
Jeffrey and his wife had a peculiar life, according to his neighbors. The couple kept to themselves and were often seen going on bike rides in the wee hours of the morning.
On January 9th 1990, Jeffrey and his wife stormed into the First Nationwide Bank in Wilmette. This became his first-ever bank heist. His disguise was a false dark beard. It earned him the street name the Bearded Robber.
In the following 2 years, Erickson stole a total of about USD 180,000 from his bank robberies. He was indicted in February 1992. In July, he was shot four times after trying to escape the authorities.
14. Jill Erickson
Jill Sandra Erickson was the adopted child of Fran and Carl Cohen. At 17, she fell in love with Jeffrey Erickson after meeting him at a local bar in Illinois. The two wed in July 1983 and Jill soon became Jeffrey’s accomplice and partner in crime.
In the early years of their marriage, the couple lived a normal life. Jill worked as lab technician while Jeffrey was a chauffeur. Things took a turn in 1990 when they robbed their first bank. They proceed to steal from 8 others within Chicago.
The couple was the new Bonnie and Clyde. Jill was the assigned getaway driver while Jeffrey was the disguised robber. In December 1991, Jill was shot dead during a police gun exchange.
15. Albert Spaggiari
Albert Spaggiari was a French fugitive and big-time bank robber. As a photographer and entrepreneur, his life was too mundane for his liking. He quickly grew tired of it and sought an adventure, a thrill that involved high risk and money.
Spaggiari broke into Societe Generale Bank in July 1976. His aim was to get his girlfriend a diamond with the stolen money. He subcontracted a group of other bank robbers and together, they dug a tunnel leading up to the bank.
Valuables and money worth 60 million francs were stolen from the heist. They successfully escaped. Unluckily, one of the arrested burglars snitched on the rest of his allies including Albert.
Albert fled to Argentina after facial reconstruction. Despite several police manhunts, he was never found. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia.
These notorious criminals have inspired numerous films, series, songs, and books. Others such as Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd remain legendary figures. Willie Sutton dedicated his years in jail to writing a memoir.
Burglary isn’t exactly the best way to gain public attention but these bank robbers sure made the headlines!
Read about the 20 most gangsters of all time on the article.