8 Fascinating Nonfiction Books about Heists
Fictional heists can be a lot of fun and a popular subject for books and action movies, but incidents of the real thing have real implications. When items of value go missing, it’s not just the owner who loses, but the many organizations and teams who spend tireless hours and untold amounts of money in attempting to locate and repossess the stolen things. Plus, there are considerations around the people who originally owned an item and suffered theft through colonialism and other conquests.
While Netflix’s docuseries This Is a Robbery about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist whetted the appetite of many for more true crime theft stories, it is only the beginning. Check out these books to explore more well- and lesser-known heists. From filched and priceless works of art disappearing like a fine mist to items mysteriously captured for keeps, these astounding stories will seem all the more amazing for being real.
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson
At just twenty years old, Edwin Rist is already on his way to fame as a flutist. But one night in 2009 after a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, he heads to the Museum of Natural History and commits an act that will solidify his fame not as a musician, but as a thief. Writer Kirk Wallace Johnson learns about the theft just two years later on a fishing trip in New Mexico. Soon, Johnson is enchanted by the unusual story and the many questions it inspires, leading him to investigate the incident and what came after, and resulting in this fascinating tour of Rist’s heist. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook.
Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief by Doris Payne
After decades of crime, jewel thief Doris Payne tells her story in her own words. Born a Black girl amid the Great Depression in West Virginia, Payne knew her options for a future were limited. With a turbulent childhood involving racism, an abused mother, and a memorable incident at a jewelry store, in her life narrative Payne endeavors to take her future into her own hands, beginning with shoplifting and evolving to more elaborate schemes. Though arrested many times, Payne keeps at her work, escaping prison and ultimately finding worldwide fame in 2013, arrested yet again at the age of 83. Also available as an audiobook.
The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick
Notably stolen twice (once in 1994 and again in 2004), Edvard Munch’s The Scream is arguably one of the most famous pieces of visual artwork in the world. Taking advantage of the spectacle that was the Winter Olympics the year of the first heist, two thieves lift the painting from the National Gallery in Oslo in The Rescue Artist. Leaving no stone unturned, Dolnick examines the many players involved in the heist and the search for the missing painting, including the half-English, half-American undercover cop with an unlikely background who finds himself on this equally unlikely case.
Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story behind the Most Audacious Heist in History by Ben Mezrich
With access to some of the most valuable materials in the astronomy field, NASA fellow Thad Roberts can’t help but want a piece of it for himself -- ostensibly for romantic purposes. With the aim of obtaining a piece of the moon for his girlfriend, Roberts concocts a scheme involving his girlfriend and another NASA intern to break into a seemingly impenetrable lab. The goal: to get a hold of moon rocks -- more than $20 million worth. But once in his possession, the moon rocks quickly become a predicament and Roberts himself is perhaps not all he seems to those around him. Writer Ben Mezrich investigates the out-of-this-world crime with the help of extensive documents and an eye for the unusual in criminal activity. Also available as an audiobook, an ebook, and an eaudiobook.
Norco ‘80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan
Sometimes, it’s easier to just take the cash and run. Rather than lifting an item of value to sell later, five landscapers turn to bank robbery for their payday in 1980s Southern California. With a born-again Christian with apocalyptic beliefs as its leader, the group endeavors to make out with the heist of a lifetime aided by extreme weapons. But the imperfect plan forces a reckoning for law enforcement and responses to similar crimes as nearby areas turn into warzones in the aftermath of the crime. Norco ‘80 covers it all, from the development of motives to the act itself to the hunt for the criminals to the courtroom and beyond.
Heist: The Oddball Crew behind the $17 Million Loomis Fargo Theft by Jeff Diamant
North Carolina -- $17 million dollars. It sounds impossible for the average person to pull off, but Loomis Fargo guard David Ghantt does just that in Jeff Diamant’s account of this unbelievable heist. A seemingly masterful job well done, everything goes askew when Ghantt leaves the money to a group of apparent accomplices who not only masterminded the heist to begin with, but now wants to kill the one person who actually made it happen. Chased both by the FBI and his supposed team, Ghantt sets off to Mexico to develop a plan of his own in this charged explanation of a 1997 robbery.
The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps by Michael Blanding
To the average person, maps may not seem like anything too special. But to map dealers, they are everything. E. Forbes Smiley knew it all too well, as both a map dealer and a map thief who “collected” priceless maps from Yale University for years while working over a period of years. With illuminating detail, author Michael Blanding explains the background of maps readers need to know to understand the gravity of Smiley’s crimes as well as the actual crimes with input from the thief himself. The Map Thief considers other thefts attributed to Smiley, despite Smiley’s denials, and maps out a journey for readers they will not soon forget. Also available as an ebook.
Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby
Known as the “diamond capital of the world,” Antwerp, Belgium, is perhaps the best place to pull off a diamond heist. At least, that is the case for one group of career thieves who in 2003 lifted $108 million in diamonds from a reportedly impenetrable vault. And while the theft goes off without a hitch, the thieves don’t quite get away with their crime in Selby’s telling of the story. Fascinated by the process of the heist, Selby digs into criminal Leonardo Notarbartolo’s nearly flawless plan to get away with stealing flawless diamonds.