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How a photographer stole 900 crore from bank ?

Master mind at work

By Agha SabirPublished about a month ago 5 min read

The bank vault boasted an imposing 20-ton door, and its walls were fortified with iron to ensure maximum security. Such was the confidence of its creators that they deemed it unnecessary to install a security alarm within the vault. It was hailed as an impregnable stronghold. However, this perception was shattered when the criminals ingeniously devised a meticulous plan, outwitted the security measures for a grueling 27 hours, and successfully concealed themselves within the vault.

On July 19, 1976, the sun rose over Nice, France, as employees began their day at Societe Generale Bank. This bank was renowned for its security and boasted the strongest vault in the world. As per their usual routine, the staff attempted to open the vault door. Despite entering the combination, the door remained shut. This was not the first time the heavy, 20-ton door had caused trouble due to its complex lock. What transpired that day would go down in history as one of the most significant bank robberies ever.

The bank staff found themselves in a familiar situation and reached out to the Vault manufacturing company for help. In just thirty minutes, the company's experts arrived at the bank and began their efforts to unlock the door. To everyone's surprise, even the experts couldn't get the door open this time. Despite multiple attempts, the door refused to budge. With customers waiting in line, the situation was becoming more serious as the bank's reputation was on the line. After three hours of trying, they made the decision to drill a hole in the vault's wall to uncover the reason behind the door's stubbornness.

Upon inspection, it was evident that the vault door showed no signs of forced entry, and the walls were devoid of any marks as well. However, upon drilling a hole and peering inside, it was discovered that the vault door had been welded shut from the inside. This mysterious discovery left everyone puzzled, as there seemed to be no other way into the vault. Determined to uncover the truth, they decided to break through the thick walls of the vault, which proved to be a challenging and time-consuming task due to the iron reinforcement. Finally, after hours of hard work, a hole was created for entry. To their shock, the vault had been looted, with some lockers broken into and others left untouched. Adding to the intrigue, a message was spray-painted on the wall inside. The words "without arms, without hate, and without violence" were translated into English. Just as the bank staff was starting to calm down, they stumbled upon a tunnel that had been dug under the vault floor. The responsibility now fell on the police, who had arrived by then. The robbers had managed to break into 400 out of the 4000 safe deposit boxes in the vault, stealing valuable items such as money and gold blocks before fleeing. The tunnel they had dug led to the city's largest underground sewerage line. There, the police discovered a wealth of evidence, including tools and 27 gas cylinders that the robbers had used to light a welding torch. Additionally, ventilation equipment for fresh air in the sewerage line and an electrical cable about one kilometer long were also found. The heist was valued at over $20 million at the time. Today, it is estimated to be worth $110 million, equivalent to around 900 crore rupees. This was not only the biggest bank robbery of the century, but the police investigation also holds the title of the largest investigation in France.

Over the next few months, law enforcement worked tirelessly, capturing suspects in the area and questioning bank employees. Despite their efforts, the robbers remained elusive. Then, in October 1976, a breakthrough came when a member of the gang was apprehended thanks to a tip from his girlfriend. Initially, he denied any involvement, but after intense questioning, he confessed and revealed the gang's identity. What surprised the police was that this gang was known for minor thefts, not major bank heists. The real mastermind turned out to be someone else. During questioning, the gang members provided a name - Albert Spaggiari, a photographer. When the police arrested him, he appeared nothing like a criminal, living a simple life in a regular house on the outskirts of the city.

When his neighbors were asked, they all described Albert as a simple photographer who keeps to himself. However, the police had a completely different opinion about Albert Spaggiari. He immediately admitted to being the mastermind behind the bank robbery. Albert revealed that he had rented a locker in the bank and would take photos of the vault under the guise of accessing his locker. He cleverly placed an alarm clock in his locker, which he set to go off at night. When the alarm went off without alerting anyone, he realized there was no security system in the vault. Albert then posed as an engineer to obtain a city map and locate the sewer line closest to the bank. After calculating a 26-foot tunnel from the sewer line to the bank vault, he enlisted the help of a gangster and his henchmen to carry out the plan. The tunnel took two months to dig by hand, working only at night to avoid detection.

During this period, Albert went to great lengths to ensure that no sound would travel up to the street above the sewer line. On the night of July 18th, between Saturday and Sunday, they finally entered the Vault. Over the next 27 hours, they calmly carried out the robbery, even stopping to have lunch and dinner. As they left, they left behind those famous words. During the questioning, he wrote down the details of his plan and the stolen money in a code word on a piece of paper. He claimed that he would only give this evidence to the judge, who would be the only one able to decipher the code word. The judge then summoned Albert to his chambers. Albert handed over the paper, which contained a map of the city. Just as the judge began to understand the map, Albert made a sudden move and leaped out of the room through the window. The room was on the first floor, with a car parked below. Albert landed on the car roof, quickly got up, and escaped by hopping onto a waiting bike. Despite the police's best efforts, they were unable to apprehend him.

His interview was aired on an Italian TV show after many years, during which he revealed his fascination with treasures since the age of twelve. He fulfilled this passion through a daring heist, almost taunting the French police in the process. The mystery of Albert's whereabouts after that remains unsolved to this day. Albert Spaggiari passed away in 1989.


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Agha Sabir

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    Agha SabirWritten by Agha Sabir

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