5 Famous Crimes Involving Cars
Making a Murderer got us thinking about famous felonies perpetrated around vehicles.
Much like the rest of the country, we are riveted by Making a Murderer, Netflix’s addicting series chronicling the tumultuous saga that is Steven Avery’ life. The bulk of the evidence the state presented against the man came from the Avery family salvage yard, a sprawling lot that likely houses all sorts of automotive treasures. (There must be a great barn find in there.) Given how intertwined the case is with cars, it reminded us of other true tales of dastardly deeds that heavily featured wheels. Here, our top five picks.
The San Francisco Armored Semi Heist
After a Loomis semi-truck full of cash money took off from Sacramento, California, on a rainy night in March 1999, it stopped only twice before arriving in San Fran. First at an intersection just before getting on the freeway, then at an Interstate weigh station. So imagine the shock at the final destination when the back doors were yanked open and a massive hole was discovered in the roof.
$2.3 million, or about 250 pounds worth, had vanished. The truck wasn’t armored, but the sides were reinforced and an alarm on the trailer doors remained untouched. The thin aluminum roof was the perfect entry point, though no one, including the armed guards riding in the cab, could fathom when anyone would’ve had the time to cut a hole, get in, grab the cash and get out. No one was ever arrested. After the robbery, Loomis wisely stopped using semis as transports.
The West African Carjacking Ring in New Jersey
Two months ago, authorities arrested a gaggle of Garden State carjackers who were shipping pilfered luxury rides to Africa. After a 16-month investigation, dubbed Operation Route 17 in a nod to the stretch of highway where the majority of the thefts occurred, 21 men were arrested after having snatched more than 90 cars, including Land Rovers, Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, Maseratis, Porsches, Jaguars and Bentleys.
More than $4 million worth of rides were boxed up in shipping containers in the Bronx, bound for Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Nigeria, where they enjoy a higher resale value. The crooks scouted cars at golf courses, expensive eateries, affluent malls and homes in the Jersey suburbs, tailing marks for days before the rest of the team would swoop in for the grab. While the particulars have a Gone in 60 Seconds feel, the culprits lacked the stealth and subtlety of Nic Cage et al., often using guns to force victims from their vehicles.
The Beltway Sniper
The nation was panicked and riveted for three weeks back in 2002 when a sniper was shooting random citizens across Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. Seventeen people lost their lives and another 10 were critically injured by the time the shooters, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, were caught. The two skirted apprehension in part because of false early reports that the vehicle used in the crimes was a white box truck. While law enforcement agencies frantically searched the wrong rides, the murderous duo had no problem getting around in their rolling sniper nest, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice sedan.
The Caprice, formerly an undercover police car from New Jersey, had been modified so that the trunk could be accessed through the backseat, and there was ample room for a person to lay down to take aim. A small hole cut near the license plate allowed the shots to emerge unfettered. Tragically, the car was so mundane that it had been checked by patrol cars hours prior to several shootings, but waved through road blocks because it wasn’t a white van.
The Attempted Assassination of Charles de Gaulle
In 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle narrowly escaped death after a dozen armed gunman sent a hail of bullets his way. His savior? His Citroen DS, or “La Deesse” (The Goddess). The ineffective assailants, a group called Secret Army Organization who thought de Gaulle dishonored France by acquiescing Algeria to Algerian nationalists, pulled up alongside de Gaulle’s sleek Citroen on the Avenue de la Liberation. Traveling at more than 70 mph, the hit men opened fire, spraying the car with 140 bullets.
Two motorcycle bodyguards were slain, the Citroen’s rear window was obliterated and several tires were hit. The Goddess went into a front-wheel slide, and then the glorious hydropneumatic suspension immediately stepped in, compensated and leveled the car out, allowing the driver to regain control and accelerate out of the danger zone to safety. Seven years later, de Gaulle returned the favor when he saved the French manufacturer from outright sale to Fiat by limiting the Italians’ ability to buy shares.
The Ofnobank, Israel’s Biker Bank Robber
Ofnobank is a mashup of the Hebrew words for ‘biker’ and ‘bank,’ which pretty much sums up Ronnie Leibowitz’s year-long robbery spree in Tel Aviv back in the 1990s. Leibowitz would scream up to a bank branch atop a Moto Guzzi, rush in clad in his helmet, wave a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and collect as much cash as he could from the nearest teller. He was always out the door in under 90 seconds. While he’d zip away on the bike, he’d stash a van nearby and would drive the bike into the back. Responding police cars, looking for a rider, would let the van slip by unnoticed. (If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s the same technique Ryan Gosling’s fateful bank robbing character employed in The Place Beyond The Pines.)
Leibowitz hit 21 banks, eluding capture every time. Reportedly, on several occasions, he would strike while the police had a different suspect in custody. His ability to escape left him a national media darling, with some outlets erroneously calling him a modern-day Robin Hood. Ironically, his reason for the holdups was to fund his family’s affluent lifestyle. Caught after the police set a trap, he promptly confessed, repaid his entire haul (a meager $150,000) and served eight years in prison. He later would be featured on an Israeli stamp and purportedly sign an endorsement deal with Moto Guzzi.