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A robbery, an art

Following the release of season 4 of Casa De Papel released on Netflix this Friday, April 3, 2020, the Grunge News team decided to return to the biggest robberies and robbers in history while studying why robberies fascinate the public so much.

Money has always been a vice for man, and at times has pushed him to make the most imaginable robberies possible. These hits have inspired great films, such as "Heat" or "Ocean’s Elevens", and are also called "breakages of the century".

Several large robberies are known throughout the world, a big one being the train linking Glasgow to London on August 8, 1963.

That night, a gang of 15 individuals stopped a postal train, picked up the first two cars, and grabbed more than £ 2.5 million. The plan for this robbery was impeccably thought out and the non-use of firearms made it the breakage of the century of the time. Many of the robbers had been caught, but some of the lucky ones had fled to Brazil. Even today the money was never found, and had to be spent a long time ago.

Truth be told, you don’t have to go too far abroad to experience historic breakages. Right here in France, we had renowned robbers, such as Francis the Belgian, or Jacques Mesrine. One of the most spectacular breakages took place in 1976 in Nice in France.

That day a gang robbed a bank with a new and clever operating mode. They used the city's sewers and dug an 8-meter-long tunnel. They managed to steal 371 chests, or around 31 million euros. The brains of the operation, Albert Spaggiari was imprisoned, unlike all of his teammates who fled. The money was never found.

Among these robberies and groups of robbers who have marked history, one stands out. He is described as the most powerful gang of his time: the “Stopwatch Gang”.

Stephen Reid is a great Canadian criminal and writer. He is a member of the famous “Stopwatch Gang”, and has been found guilty of having participated in bank robberies twice. After a jovial childhood, he fell into drugs which took a turn for the worst. At just 13 years old, he ran away from his home and went to Vancouver, more than 3,200 km from his native village. Instantly, he frequented popular and dangerous districts, and discovered crystal meth; this drug pushed him to commit his first robberies to be able to afford his daily doses. His lack of maturity and lucidity led him to prison at the age of 21.

Two years after the start of his sentence, he escaped and went to live in an hidden apartment basement.

There he met the two other future members of the “Stopwatch Gang”, namely Patrick Mitchell and Lionel Wright.

Each of the three men had a different addiction: one for drugs, the other for prostitutes and the last for horse racing. Their needs motivated them to carry out robberies. It was not uncommon for the gang to share more than $ 30,000 in one day.

They were nicknamed the “Stopwatch Gang” because they carried out the robberies in 90 seconds, with timers around their necks. Their particularities were also the precision of their plans, non-violence towards the victims and the wearing of masks and disguises to preserve their anonymity.

Between 1974 and 1980 they robbed more than 140 banks in Canada and the United States, collecting 15 million Canadian dollars.

Among these numerous robberies, they succeeded in stealing $ 750,000 from the Ottawa airport in 1974, but also in stealing $ 283,000 from the Bank of America Corporation in San Diego... setting a new record.

This last robbery is the one of the most notable ones in history. It took place following their escapes from prison, where they had been locked up for 3 years. The first to escape was Reid, on leave of absence. He escaped through the toilets of a restaurant, then went into a hall full of police officers, to find his driver who was waiting for him. Impressive, right ? Immediately he prepared the escape of his two friends, and all 3 fled to Florida. It is from this moment that their robbery activity resumed.

The famous robbery took place on September 23, 1980. That day, they disguised themselves and applied bandages on their fingers to avoid leaving any fingerprints. They then mingled along with all the customers. After a few minutes, a truck containing their future money arrived, and the robbers began their plan. They managed to steal $ 283,000 in a few minutes, leaving no victims and escaping in broad daylight.

After a month on the run, Reid and Wright were arrested and were sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Considered dangerous criminals, they were locked up in high security places.

Mitchell meanwhile was on the run. He decided to complete smaller solo robberies. One day, he went into exile in the Philippines, married and built a family.

6 years later, Reid wrote his story "A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden" and became a famous writer.

The Stopwatch Gang was an extremely intelligent group of robbers addicted to the money and adrenaline. Only, this addiction also led to their loss, because during their whole life, they would be caught up in their past. Reid eventually fell back into drugs (died in 2018) and Mitchell never stopped robbing, which led him to end his life behind bars in 2007. Wright meanwhile disappeared and was never found.

Robberies have always been highlighted by the media and have always fascinated the public. Indeed, very often when a robbery occurs it is quickly publicized. Films / series are often inspired by reality. We can see that in the film “The Death Instinct” inspired by the autobiography of the famous French criminal Jacques Mesrine shot dead by the police on November 2, 1979. Other films and series invent a completely different storyline, while being inspired by true events. This is the case of the successful series “La Casa De Papel” (available on the Netflix streaming platform). In the first 2 parts of the series, the spectator witnesses the burglary of the Spanish banknote printing press.

We can then make a comparison with one of the most important banknote printing plants in Europe located in Rennes where, in 2014, a robbery was foiled. That year, a group of 12 robbers (11 men and 1 woman) had devised a plan which then seemed perfect for entering the building (printing billions of tickets each year). The robbers were well prepared and had with them to carry out this breakage: weapons of war, hoods, handcuffs, grinders, thermal spears, bulletproof vests and stolen cars with make-up, plans of the company and a interior video taken by former employee, security guards, radio jammers and roadblock harrows. They also planned their hideout after their escape; a gîte south of Rennes. However, the entire organization, which then looked perfect, was thwarted by the authorities on the night of Thursday June 12 to Friday June 13, 2014 when a search operation was then undertaken.

The operation's head then declared that it had assembled for this robbery a team of young people from the cities and with some experience of robberies. We also find this type of character in “La Casa De Papel” with the Professor who also brings together young people with all criminal experiences.

The robberies are therefore fascinating already, generally by the ingenuity of the plans put in place, to manage to extract a maximum of money, while extricating oneself from the clutches of the police without any harm. An ingenuity that is found in many movies and robberies in addition to the violence that is the essence of most of this entertainment.

However, as we have been able to study in this document, not all robberies are violent (especially with the Stopwatch Gang). The fact that the robbers are looking for money (in most cases) is also a factor that attracts the average person: having enough money to be able to live peacefully and without constraint. A dream that many share. Breaking the rules by stealing and avoiding prosecution provides adrenaline.

Adrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter substance that speeds up the heart rate, increases blood pressure, dilates the bronchi and pupils and raises blood sugar (according to the Larousse Dictionary). All these demonstrations then make us more alert and vigilant in order to face the danger to come. When some people find adrenaline unpleasant, others find it stimulating since it is widely secreted during a hold-up, for example, or even when viewing / reading a hold-up story. This is also one of the reasons why robberies still fascinate the population so much.

The population is always thirsty for new news of the sorts because most people would like to have the adrenaline that the robbers have in action. They therefore rely on books / films / series ... to escape reality for a bit. The robberies are oftenly all bigger in relation to each other and each robber or group of robbers have their own mode of operation... this is what makes them all the more incredible.


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