These robberies will go down as the biggest in Aussie history books.
The number of burglary victims recorded by the police has decreased by 5% across Australia. From 176,286 in 2017 to 168,031 in 2018, it is at a nine-year low. The number of robbery victims, however, has increased across the country: armed robbery up by 3% and unarmed robbery up 8% from 2017 to 2018.
Bank robbers were notorious in Australia in the 1980s. Let’s look at some of the biggest heists in this country’s history.
Australia’s Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon is a bank heist movie starring Al Pacino, inspired by the actual Brooklyn bank robbery in 1972 that ended with hostages and a hail of gunfire.
Our own real-life version of Dog Day Afternoon happened in Sydney in 1984 in a case of life imitating art.
Hakki “Tim” Bahadir Atahan was a 35-year-old Turkish-born immigrant who arrived in Australia in 1970.
He had previously committed an estimated 20 bank heists, pocketing nearly $200,000 between March 1983 and early January 1984
Atahan’s criminal career ended violently on 31 January, 1984, when he brazenly attempted to rob three banks in a single day. He started by taking about $17,000 from two banks in Macquarie Place. Police were already hot on his tail by the time he stormed into a Commonwealth branch in George Street.
Unfortunately for Atahan, a bank employee had managed to set off the alarm before he could even demand the cash. The bank was completely surrounded as he was stuffing $40,000 into his briefcase.
In an attempt to escape, Atahan took five hostages with him as he made his way to the getaway car. He held a gun to the head of the bank manager, which prevented police from getting a clear shot.
As soon as they got to the car, Atahan ordered the bank manager to drive. The chase ended up in Atahan’s home where police had blockaded the area and a helicopter hovering above.
Smashing through the blockade, Atahan shot at police and hit one officer in the face. As the police fired back, Atahan was hit several times and died.
Biggest gold heist in Victoria
Just recently, a 48-year-old man from Hawthorn East held up a CBD gold dealer while wearing a surgical mask.
Staging one of the biggest armed robberies in Victoria’s history, Karl Kachami threatened and assaulted an employee of the Melbourne Gold Company with a Glock pistol before carrying the entire contents of a safe on a trolley.
According to Armed Crime Squad detectives, Kachami took $3.9 million worth of gold bullion, jewellery, and cash on 1 May 2020, which was later discovered at a rural property near the Gippsland town of Dollar.
Kachami took advantage of changed security measures due of COVID-19 to get inside a building housing many gold and precious gems dealers.
The great bookie robbery
On 21 April 21 1976, six bandits burst into the Victorian Club in Melbourne brandishing submachine guns. They escaped with almost $1.4 million in one of the biggest armed robberies in Australian history.
Bookmakers were about to settle bets from the Easter race meetings when six hooded men pointed their guns at patrons in the club. During that time, security guards from Mayne Nickless were delivering the cash proceeds.
One guard attempted to draw his gun, but a robber hit him in the head and threatened to kill him.
One of the gunmen took a waitress and held a gun to her head, threatening to shoot her if anyone tried to escape.
The bandits opened the security boxes with bolt cutters, dumped the cash into three mailbags, and escaped through the side door. While the official figure was $1,375,000, bookmakers claim the amount stolen could have been as high as $3 million.
The $500,000 Qantas hoax
The Great Plane Robbery of 1971 is another crime that seems to jump out of a movie.
Eerily similar to the plot of the 1966 thriller Doomsday Flight, a man phoned Sydney police around midday on 26 May 1971 alerting authorities of a bomb aboard Qantas flight 755 bound for Hong Kong.
The man, who identified himself as Mr Brown, said the bomb would explode once the plane descended below 6,500 metres. He then asked for $500,000 in exchange for information on the location of the bomb. To prove he was not bluffing, Mr Brown told police that an identical bomb was also hidden at the airport.
Qantas rerouted Flight 755 back to Sydney, with the plane circling in the air for several hours until it almost ran out of fuel. Mr Brown called the Sydney airport again with instructions on where to deliver the $500,000 he was demanding. Driving a Kombi to Qantas House, Mr Brown took the suitcases of cash from a window and disappeared.
Finally, he called the Sydney airport at around 6:20 in the evening to reveal that there was no bomb on the plane and it was all a hoax.
Mr Brown was later identified as travelling Englishman Peter Macari. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his audacious crime.
Murwillumbah bank mystery raid
On November 23, 1978, a security guard patrolling the Bank of NSW in Murwillumbah found the front door open early in the morning. Bank officials discovered that $1.7 million destined for local workers’ fortnightly pay packets were missing.
Although the robbers were never caught, suspicions point toward the Magnetic Drill Gang as the culprit. This carefully planned heist was orchestrated by chief safe-breaker Graham ‘The Munster’ Kinniburgh.
Kinniburgh, considered the most influential gangster in Victoria at the time, was said to be practising cracking safes at a warehouse days before the robbery.
The gang was previously suspected of committing at least 14 other raids on banks in Melbourne and Sydney, using their signature tool – an electromagnetic diamond-tipped drill – to break into safes.
The unofficial story is that the Magnetic Drill Gang broke through the back door, drilled a small hole in the safe, and fed a medical cystoscope into the hole to open the lock’s tumblers.
As soon as the robbery was discovered the next morning, locksmiths from the Chubb Vault Company were flown in from Brisbane. They worked on the door for five hours but were unsuccessful, not able to get the safe open after the lock had been damaged by the thieves. The police then called in an engineer and staff from the Tweed Shire Council to break through the vault wall, and only then was the full extent of what had been taken known.
The money taken would be worth $8.8 million today, which is why the Murwillumbah bank robbery is considered the biggest heist in Australia’s history. Kinniburgh died in 2003 after being shot by Lewis Moran. He was never charged for this crime.
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