The police soon surrounded the Great Buenos Aires Bank fully armed after receiving a call of a bank robbery in progress. They were waiting for the right moment to storm into the bank. The leader of the robbers identified as Walter aka the man in the grey suit soon established radio contact with the police, assuring them that robbers were aware that they were surrounded and were not ready to give up yet. He also warned them to keep their distance to prevent the situation escalating into a national scandal. The robbers however treated the hostages well, even ordering pizza for them when they were feeling hungry and singing birthday songs for a bank employee who was constantly receiving birthday texts from loved ones. After hours of radio silence, the police stormed the bank at about 7pm but found no one to arrest. The robbers were gone, like they disappeared into thin air without taking anything. On getting to the basement, the police discovered that the robbers were really after the bank’s reinforced steel safe-deposit boxes of which they emptied 143 and escaped through a hole which they covered with a piece of furniture. They also left a note which stated “In a neighborhood of rich people, without weapons or grudges, it’s just money, not love”. Well, these guys were really at their ‘A’ game and their heist has been known as the robbery of the century.
How did this crazy fiasco begin?
Well, it all started when Fernando Araujo came up with the crazy idea of committing the crime of the century. Needless to say he is not your typical law abiding citizen and often got hooked up on the wrong side of the law. He studied eastern philosophy, taught martial arts, grew Marijuana and was addicted to any media on Bank robberies. He never missed the latest news, movies, TV shows and documentaries of successful and failed heists and soon started plotting his own. He soon hit on an idea which he shared with his friend, Bolster who was an engineer. His plan was to typically disappear through a hole. Bolster being a law abiding citizen initially refused to take part but soon agreed when he extracted a promise from Araujo that it would be non violent. He also agreed due to the fact that his family had nearly entered financial ruin because of unexpected bank closures.
But why did Araujo need Bolster?
Bolster was a very smart and creative engineer. His assignment was to drive his truck to the Peru beach at night and alight at the spot where the city’s drain tunnel emptied into the Riodes de la plata. He would then walk through the drain tunnel network for about 30 minutes till he reached the location adjacent to the bank. Armed with a hydraulic shovel, he would chisel out the earth night after night creating a tunnel to the bank. He had also calculated the precise angle for the tunnel from the underground canal to the bank’s foundation.
Araujo had estimated a yield of about $60 million dollars from the heist which itself had become quite costly to setup. He had to sell his to compensate for the heists demands but this didn’t do much. They needed a sponsor and they soon got one. A retired Uruguayan criminal, Luis Mano Vitette Sellanes was drawn to the to plan and invested over $100,000.
Another problem was how to crack open the safe-deposit boxes without alarming the people outside and hostages that it was what they were after. Bolster was the man to figure this out but all he needed was a few of the boxes to practice his tools on. Araujo then obtained a few of them from the manufacturer and Bolster commenced work immediately. He developed a kind of jack hammer which he called the power cannon. It was designed to pack enough punch to open the safe boxes with little noise and it could be transported in pieces and easily reassembled at the bank. Next, Araujo ordered for two zodiac boats, one machine powered and the other with paddles. Owing to the shallowness of the canal, Bolster then built a dam to raise the water level to enable the boat drift quickly.
On January 13, 2006, the seven men prepared for their roles in the coming heist. They first applied glue to their finger tips to prevent it from leaving prints. Julian Zalloecheverria then drove their getaway truck to the pick up spot. Bolster drove to Peru beach and made his way to the tunnel he had dug beneath the bank. Beto who was dressed like a doctor, with an oversized lab coat was the first to enter the bank followed by Doc who wore a ski mask. Beto then brought out a toy gun and ordered everyone in the bank to get on the floor. Vitette and the last member of the gang Luis the Uruguayan drove to a garage close to the bank carrying their tools including the power cannon with them. After barricading the garage door, they joined the others upstairs pretending to be part of the robbery.
Araujo, the master planner himself parked a car stolen earlier that morning outside the bank. It served the purpose of a dummy getaway car thus fooling the police. He wore a baseball cap, a ski masked pulled over a long blonde wig and glasses making him unrecognizable even by his gang members. Each man had a task to perform. Vitette was to stall the police while acting as a negotiator between the police and the robbers, Luis and Beto would subdue the hostages and Doc would go to the bank’s basement to activate the next man, Bolster who would then proceed to decapitate the safe-deposit boxes. Doc carefully broke the thin wall separating Bolster’s tunnel from the bank and the engineer set off to work immediately.
Meanwhile, upstairs Vitette was stalling the police acting as Walter the negotiator, a handsome man sporting a fake moustache, wearing a tailored suit and a yamulke. He would try to buy the men the time needed to empty the boxes. As part of the plan, they released three hostages to trick the police into thinking that they had the upper hand. On the radio dialogue with the police, Vitette emphasized that they didn’t want to have a repeat of the Ramollo gunfight which had become a national scandal and they wanted a peaceful resolution which involved the police keeping their distance.
When it was obvious that the hostages were hungry, Vitette told the Police negotiator to order six pizzas. He and Beto also sang birthday songs for an employee. On receiving a signal from Araujo, Vitette told the hostages that the gang members were having a meeting and anyone who moved would be shot. He then proceeded downstairs where Bolster was fervently working against the clock to open those safe-deposit boxes. Soon the loot was piling up and the rest of the gang began packing up the stuff into bags.
Time to leave…
They then cleaned up the room. Bolster assembled a series of fake bombs he had designed and all scrambled back into the hole except Araujo and Doc. Both men used bleach to remove any traces of DNA left and randomly scattered tufts of hair from a barber’s shop in order to confuse investigators. Next, they cleaned up evidence of the wall breach and then went out through the hole which they covered with a heavy cabinet. They then boarded the zodiac boats with their loot and paddled away through 10blocks to the rendezvous point. After loading the loot onto the getaway truck, all seven men drove off to the place where they would celebrate and share the loot.
At the bank, after hours of waiting, the police decided to storm the bank only to find nothing but hostages and toy guns and not tangible bit of evidence to start an investigation. The next day, Bolster scattered credit cards collected from the safes at random points in the tunnel far away from their escape route sending investigators on a wild Goose chase. The gang had made approximately 20 million dollars or more from the heist.
Despite their flawless plan, five weeks later they were nabbed by detectives. Well, they left no loopholes but were exposed by Beto’s wife as a means to have revenge on him for planning to elope with his girlfriend and most of his own share of the loot. She identified most of the gang members apart from Doc and Luis the Uruguayan. The other gang members were promptly arrested, tried and found guilty. Although not the the end they had wished for, all the gang members undoubtedly had a little pride in having accomplished the heist of the century.
Attribution: The featured image in this post was gotten from Pixabay.