#1  
Old 02-10-2012, 09:20 AM
DrForrester DrForrester is offline
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Super Criminals

It's a popular story line in movies and literature that a heist or scam takes place, then the investigators immediately narrow down the suspect list to only 2 or 3 super-criminals who have the skills required to perform the given heist.

I have always written this off as a plot device that allows the story to progress much more quickly than the standard police investigation. It all seems a little too "deus ex machina".

But, I have always wondered if there is any truth behind it... Are there a dozen or fewer supremely talented career criminals out there - the sort that would have access to building plans, custom make the required tools, and so forth as in popular mythology?
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Old 02-10-2012, 09:31 AM
Horatio Hellpop Horatio Hellpop is offline
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More often, a bomb maker might put a signature element in his detonator (see: Lockerbie Bomber, Unabomber, etc.) or a hit man may have a signature element that has to be there for him to get paid.

Not many serious criminals will leave Riddler-like clues, though.
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Old 02-10-2012, 09:40 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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I think you might find small time criminals and psychopaths to leave their signature, intentional or otherwise, at the scene of the crime.
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Old 02-10-2012, 09:50 AM
Czarcasm Czarcasm is offline
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Originally Posted by Krokodil View Post
Not many serious criminals will leave Riddler-like clues, though.
And nobody is dumb enough to leave Joker-like clues, because that would be suicide.
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Old 02-10-2012, 09:57 AM
DrForrester DrForrester is offline
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There certainly have been cases of serial killers (Zodiac et alia) that have left Joker-type messages and puzzles for law enforcement. However, whenever one of these pillars of society is caught, they're almost always just lucky rather than actually skilled in some fashion. (Green River Killer, BTK)

It would take a very different class of criminal to, for example, steal high-end jewelry or paintings than to walk up to a parked car and shoot the occupants.

Are there high-end merchandise thefts - large amounts of currency, jewelry, paintings, etc - that are more than the usual "smash & grab" operations that are popularly reported?
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Old 02-10-2012, 11:41 AM
thelurkinghorror thelurkinghorror is offline
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
I think you might find small time criminals and psychopaths to leave their signature, intentional or otherwise, at the scene of the crime.
Yeah, like they saw it in some movie and decided it would be a good idea. It's an easy way to get recognition but most "super criminals" got so far by not being so ostentatious and short sighted.

This is used in Home Alone to show how Daniel Stern's character leaving calling cards means that he is both incompetent and stupid because he basically leaves evidence that he committed past crimes as well.
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Old 02-10-2012, 11:46 AM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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I think it's mostly a movie device as it's usually portrayed.

I know there are some people who have reputations with the police, but the police usually raise up their prime suspects based on connections or locations, not skills. For example, a local park has drug problems. When a volunteer reported license plate numbers to the police, several of them were from West Seattle (which is a bit of a drive from us, but it is where the ports are). Given the drug arrests and the connection to that part of town, the police were pretty much certain that a particular guy was supplying the drugs being sold in the park, and that many of the sales were probably to other dealers.

In another case, a neighbor's new chrome rims were stolen. The cops were pretty much certain it had to be someone at the shop that installed them because of the special tools required to remove them, and other thefts from customers of the shop.

So, again, it's more an issue of proximity and interconnection than of being a "super-criminal" with special skills.
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Old 02-10-2012, 11:46 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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To me the "super criminals" are the folks who steal millions like Ken Lay.
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Old 02-10-2012, 03:02 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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I just finished reading a book called "The Napoleon Of Crime" about the real-life thief Adam Worth who was one of the inspirations for Professor Moriarty. He was a master criminal of sorts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Worth
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Old 02-10-2012, 03:12 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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Well, ask yourself... when's the last time you heard of a Cezanne being stolen from the Louvre? When's the last time anyone actually stole the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London? When's the last time a master thief stole a priceless relic from the WHite House?

Short answer... it just doesn't happen.

Now, ARE there occasionally big heists that end up netting millions of dollars? Sure, the Lufthansa Caper chronicled in the movie Goodfellas comes to mind. But even then, the robbers weren't masterminds, just garden variety Mafia thugs who went after a big score the old-fashioned way.

Last edited by astorian; 02-10-2012 at 03:14 PM.
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Old 02-10-2012, 03:24 PM
MikeS MikeS is offline
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Originally Posted by DrForrester View Post
Are there high-end merchandise thefts - large amounts of currency, jewelry, paintings, etc - that are more than the usual "smash & grab" operations that are popularly reported?
Well, there was a half-million-dollar jewelry heist in Chicago earlier this week. The thieves broke into the sushi restaurant next door and then knocked a hole in the adjoining wall.

Last edited by MikeS; 02-10-2012 at 03:24 PM. Reason: I before E except after C
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Old 02-10-2012, 03:50 PM
BMalion BMalion is offline
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Well, there was a half-million-dollar jewelry heist in Chicago earlier this week. The thieves broke into the sushi restaurant next door and then knocked a hole in the adjoining wall.
Shades of the Red-Headed League!
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Old 02-10-2012, 03:56 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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If the police had a short-list of master criminals that they knew who they were, why aren't they already arrested?
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Old 02-10-2012, 04:10 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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If the police had a short-list of master criminals that they knew who they were, why aren't they already arrested?
I'm thinking of the scene from Heat ...
"If we arrest them now, all we have them on is break and enter. They haven't stolen anything yet. They'll get a few months max."
  #15  
Old 02-10-2012, 04:22 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Yes, there's a spectacular crime every so often - maybe every year or two. But seriously? You need how much to live the good life - $100,000 to $250,000 a year barely covers it? A gang of four or so would need to do a million-dollar heist every year just to live the good life; or 10 heits of $100,000. Doing the Oceans 1x thing and living in villas and a few rooms in a 5-star hotels while reconnoitering ups the price even more.

Then there's the money-laundering aspect as discussed in a dozen prior threads. How are you going to pay for the suite at the Waldorf with cash without being noticed? How do you plan to turn a few hundred pounds of gold bars into legitimate bank balances? Plus - who buys a stolen Cezanne? The market for those has to be pretty specialized... It's difficult enough for drug cartels, but at least they have a steady stream of income rather than sporadic big heists.

More likely, every so often some bonehead who's doing life on the installment plan, 2-5 years at a time, stumbles on a great idea - "My girlfriend works at this jewelry store and they have the stupidest alarm system you ever saw... No motion detectors!"

Last edited by md2000; 02-10-2012 at 04:22 PM.
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Old 02-10-2012, 04:28 PM
Gagundathar Gagundathar is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
If the police had a short-list of master criminals that they knew who they were, why aren't they already arrested?


Preemptively?
One assumes they are all free individuals with no warrants out for arrests.

I suppose we should round up the usual suspects each time a crime is committed.

It does sound more optimal than randomly shaking down the closest kin just because most of the time a homicide is committed by someone known by the victim.

Or maybe not.
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Old 02-10-2012, 05:08 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Preemptively?
One assumes they are all free individuals with no warrants out for arrests.
In which case, the police don't have a shortlist of known master criminals.
  #18  
Old 02-10-2012, 05:15 PM
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I know there are some people who have reputations with the police, but the police usually raise up their prime suspects based on connections or locations, not skills.
"Round up the usual suspects."
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Old 02-10-2012, 05:21 PM
DrForrester DrForrester is offline
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I once saw a documentary about a master thief (Steve Blumberg - I'm pretty sure I am remembering the name). He stole books. He was the son of a rich family. He was never employed in the traditional sense. He bought a house in Iowa (I believe) because it was centrally located within the US. He stole books from lots & lots of university collections. The documentary said that he used elevator shafts and air ducts to move past many security features.

One main reason that he was able to get away with his crimes for many, many years was that he never sold a book. After his eventual capture, the police found that his house was FULL of books.
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Old 02-11-2012, 09:39 AM
pdunderhill pdunderhill is offline
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Crime and politics.

Hello good people,
I'd always thought that crime and the acquisition of money per se, once sucsess is reached, tend to become boring. The Game becomes everything.
Thieves become dictators/politicians/Bankers, Hitler anyone?
Drug dealers see above.
So, in answer, the most sucsessful criminals have that skill-set amongst many others and would probably appear as very high/over acheivers in many other fields.
Just my DAG!
Peter
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Old 02-11-2012, 10:22 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Originally Posted by pdunderhill View Post
I'd always thought that crime and the acquisition of money per se, once sucsess is reached, tend to become boring. The Game becomes everything.
Thieves become dictators/politicians/Bankers, Hitler anyone?
Drug dealers see above.
So, in answer, the most sucsessful criminals have that skill-set amongst many others and would probably appear as very high/over acheivers in many other fields.
Just my DAG!
Peter
As I said - I doubt there's enough money in theivery to sustain itself in a decent lifestyle. You hits either are so numerous or so spectacularly big that you will very quickly get caught. Very few criminal enterprises provide the large regular income that the drug trade appears to.

Someone like Hitler was not a crook. (..thinking "I am not a crook!" ...shake jowls.) He was a fanatic who wanted to take his country in a particular direction. He did not appear to live the high life like Saddam Hussein or Ghaddafi or Marcos. However, those were not crooks either. They started off as standard army officers or politicians, and simply enjoyed the same perks of office that anyone else in that position in those countries would aspire too. Their skill-set would not be ability to plan heists or such; instead it's leadership, and a ruthlessness to bump off whoever's in their way or presents a threat.
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Old 02-11-2012, 11:33 AM
pdunderhill pdunderhill is offline
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Yes thanks MD2000,
I'd posit that the third reich, doesn't deserve capitalization, was probably the largest criminal enterprise ever undertaken, Supertramp called WW2 'the Crime of the Century' and if you consider them as cultural observers rather than 'just' another bunch of musicians they have a point.

It's the oldest battle between an individuals altruism versus their selfishness.

Altruistic criminals or thieves, if that's not a contra-indication in terms, can become bandits, folk heroes or rule a country, the Borgias and Sforzas come to mind. Before anyone trys to ask me to 'cite' I went to School, Downside School, Somerset UK, with one of the Sforza scions and a very, very nasty piece of work he was, familial brutishness.
IMHO criminality is an approach to society, we all have it. If you are poor and find a substantial amount of money on the street do you aveil yourself of it?
Conversely do you always give your last coin to some one who's needs are greater than yours.
Personally, I, like most of us c.6,000,000,000 live in the vast morrass of grey morality. The idea of the company of anyform of extremist behaviour, by any definition leaves me cold. And the Cat seconds me!
Peter, London is cold brrrgh.
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Old 02-11-2012, 01:37 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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OK.

Not every crime is theivery. In fact, murder is worse. I'll posit that murder in the name of an ideal is so twisted it is a much worser crime. Of all the horrible things we think of the nazis, living the high life like byzantine emperors with a dozen palaces adorned with gold bathroom fixtures, consuming sumptious 10-course meals, all the women you want and total decadence is not what comes to mind. But of course, that is what makes it so much more incomprehensible.

The Crime of the Century was not theft, even though there was a bit of that.

To get back to the OP, the real "mastermind" also understands how to stay under the radar. Like the drug kingpins, a theft ring would have to stay under the radar but do enough work to pay all the bills. That means, like the drug system, farming out smaller less noticeable jobs to a large array of underlings sufficiently removed from the top that they can't finger the leader in court. The really big offenses that make headlines guarantee the police will spare no effort to catch the perps.

Last edited by md2000; 02-11-2012 at 01:38 PM.
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:05 PM
DrForrester DrForrester is offline
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Speaking of how difficult it would be to finance a luxurious lifestyle on a career in crime, especially a crime that required skill rather than luck, it may not be entirely inappropriate to mention Richard Kuklinski -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Kuklinski

Although he didn't live in opulence, he did pave his way in life (for decades) using crime and skill. He didn't sit at the top of a crime pyramid & collect from an army beneath him.

Still, he's not really the invisible art thief who prowls Europe with a bag of tricks.
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:24 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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There are a couple of stories that kinda sorta match the supercriminal "big heist" archetype: the Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza in Brazil and the Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery in London. There's one other I'm trying to think of involving tunnelling into a bank similar to the Banco Central burglary; I'm trying to think it happened in Britain and involved a huge amount of cash and jewels, but I'm drawing a blank and can't find it on google. Wikipedia also mentions the theft of almost a billion dollars from the Bank of Iran, but i'm not sure that counts, since that was basically Qusay Hussein backing up a couple of trucks and ordering them filled.

Last edited by pravnik; 02-11-2012 at 02:25 PM.
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:29 PM
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Originally Posted by DrForrester View Post
Are there high-end merchandise thefts - large amounts of currency, jewelry, paintings, etc - that are more than the usual "smash & grab" operations that are popularly reported?
Art robberies, specially from churches or from people who've obtained the object through long inheritance rather than museums, seem to involve very little smashing - it's more of a "grab and run".

The problem in those, from what the news says (I don't trust newscasters any further than I can throw them, but I don't have a better source) is figuring out who may want the items.
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Old 02-11-2012, 03:24 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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There are a couple of stories that kinda sorta match the supercriminal "big heist" archetype: the Banco Central burglary at Fortaleza in Brazil and the Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery in London. There's one other I'm trying to think of involving tunnelling into a bank similar to the Banco Central burglary; I'm trying to think it happened in Britain and involved a huge amount of cash and jewels, but I'm drawing a blank and can't find it on google. Wikipedia also mentions the theft of almost a billion dollars from the Bank of Iran, but i'm not sure that counts, since that was basically Qusay Hussein backing up a couple of trucks and ordering them filled.
There's the burglary in Marseilles, IIRC, where the safe deposit box vault did not have a motion detector; the theives tunnelled in from the sewers and spent all weekend opening boxes. But from what I heard about it, it was also a bunch of small time crooks who came up with one good big job.

Perhaps you're thinking of Jason Statham's The Bank Job, allegedly based on a real story about someone doing the same sort of job as Marseilles to retreive royal blackmail pics while doing a safe deposit box robbery. Not sure how much that is based on a real incident.

There were some spectacular thefdts like the bullion from Heathrow(?) IIRC - again, allegedly a bunch of crooks who lucked onto one good heist.
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Old 02-11-2012, 08:11 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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...
So, again, it's more an issue of proximity and interconnection than of being a "super-criminal" with special skills.
[ital. added]

Hannibal Lecter: ...What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir...
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just...
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day...
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Old 02-11-2012, 08:45 PM
PaulParkhead PaulParkhead is offline
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There were some spectacular thefdts like the bullion from Heathrow(?) IIRC - again, allegedly a bunch of crooks who lucked onto one good heist.
Perhaps the Brinks-MAT robbery?
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Old 02-12-2012, 12:41 AM
tellyworth tellyworth is offline
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This story about a 2003 theft from the Antwerp Diamond Center is rather good.
  #31  
Old 02-12-2012, 03:21 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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If the police had a short-list of master criminals that they knew who they were, why aren't they already arrested?
They knew who Al Capone was, it took years before they had any solid evidence against him.
  #32  
Old 02-13-2012, 11:33 AM
MikeS MikeS is offline
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Wikipedia also mentions the theft of almost a billion dollars from the Bank of Iran, but i'm not sure that counts, since that was basically Qusay Hussein backing up a couple of trucks and ordering them filled.
<nitpick> If Qusay Hussein had managed to rob the Bank of Iran, despite the animosity between their respective countries, it would have been pretty impressive indeed. </nitpick>
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Old 02-13-2012, 12:33 PM
fiddlesticks fiddlesticks is offline
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Originally Posted by DrForrester View Post
I once saw a documentary about a master thief (Steve Blumberg - I'm pretty sure I am remembering the name). He stole books. He was the son of a rich family. He was never employed in the traditional sense. He bought a house in Iowa (I believe) because it was centrally located within the US. He stole books from lots & lots of university collections. The documentary said that he used elevator shafts and air ducts to move past many security features.

One main reason that he was able to get away with his crimes for many, many years was that he never sold a book. After his eventual capture, the police found that his house was FULL of books.
Not so much a thief as a trust fund kid with an illegal hobby.
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Old 02-13-2012, 01:34 PM
EdwardLost EdwardLost is offline
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A crime that does require special skills is forgery. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a short list of known master forgers for particular types of art and documents. By the time the crime is discovered the suspect may be long dead.
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