Brink's Building Robbery: The Heist That Tore A Gang Apart
The Brink's building heist of 1950 is one of the most daring robberies of the 20th century. Like something from a movie, the robbery itself went off without a hitch, but the aftermath brought the crack crew down. These guys were serious pros; no one was hurt, and everything was gravy until one of the group's members folded under pressure while he was in jail years later. Like a Scorsese movie but shorter, this is the story of a crew that could have made almost $3 million in 1950 money if they'd just kept their cool. Instead, greed brought them down, and no one made off with any of that sweet, sweet Brink's cash.
A late-night robbery shook Boston
Around 7:30 P.M. on January 17, 1950, a gang of armed men wearing creepy masks, pea coats, and chauffeur's hats charged into the Brink's Building in Boston, Massachusetts. These cats were prepared: No one heard them stomping down the hall because their footsteps were muffled with crepe-soled shoes. Once inside, the robbers forced the five employees on duty to the floor, took a pair of their glasses, and emptied the vault of $1,218,211.29 in cash and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. Once the gang exited the building, they were like ghosts.
The FBI needed a hand
Source: New England Historical Society
When the FBI arrived on the scene, it became apparent that the gang had planned every detail of the crime down to the last second. Outside of a scant few traces of physical evidence—some rope, some adhesive tape, and a chauffeur's cap—there was nothing to lead investigators directly to the thieves. The most interesting evidence that the feds found was something that wasn't there: four revolvers that had been taken from employees working in the building. The agents hoped that the gang would try to sell these guns, which they could track from the serial numbers. Aside from that, all the FBI could do was interview everyone who worked at the bank to make sure that they weren't a part of the heist.
Everyone knew someone involved with this theft
To find the Brink's Bandits, the FBI offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to their arrest. This brought in a flood of questionable tips from people hoping to score the cash, but it didn't bring the feds anywhere closer to catching their men. In their attempts to catch the gang, agents followed a tip to the bottom of the Boston waterfront, interviewed former federal inmates, and even tracked down people who were reported to be spending more money than usual, be it in nightclubs, on car lots, or just in general.
On the upside, the FBI recovered two of the four revolvers that went missing from the Brink's Building. One was in a trash can, and the other was rusting deep in a sand bar at the edge of the Mystic River in Somerville. Two months after the robbery, the FBI discovered parts of a green 1949 Ford stake-body truck that was seen outside the Brink's Building buried in a dump in Stoughton, Massachusetts, which meant that at least one of the people they were looking for lived in the area.
Things fell into place ... kind of
Around the time that the FBI made the dump discovery, they brought in Specs O'Keefe, a fantastically named, nearsighted criminal known for robbing bookies and craps games. Initially, O'Keefe was let go, but after he was pulled over for speeding six months later, police found five guns in his car. After a thorough search of his home, they discovered $70,000 in a chair belonging to his sister, and Specs officially had some explaining to do. He was left to stew in a Pennsylvania jail, which is exactly what his associates didn't want.
O'Keefe talked, because of course he did
Initially, Specs didn't talk to the authorities, as his crew feared he would. Instead, he opted for sending demanding letters to the rest of the gang, threatening to turn informer unless he was given a larger cut of the money. They didn't bite, but as a grand jury trial against the gang got underway, the feds still hadn't found any of the stolen bills aside from what was in O'Keefe's sister's chair. The gang was falling apart at the seams, but none of them wanted to talk except for Specs. Realizing that he was facing down decades in prison, he decided to turn on the 10 other members of the crew.
O'Keefe walks and the gang goes down
Following O'Keefe's confession on January 11, 1956, the United States Attorney at Boston gave the go-ahead to the FBI to charge the 11 members of the gang with conspiracy to commit theft of government property, robbery of government property, and obviously, bank robbery. O'Keefe was allowed to walk from prison, but that opened him up to the hit that one of his former gang members had placed on him. The hitman shot at O'Keefe with a machine gun, but he survived with a few scrapes.
Two members of the gang passed away before they stood trial, but the rest of the members were convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison, which they all served together at the state prison in Walpole, Massachusetts. Curiously, only $58,000 of the $2.7 million was ever recovered. If anyone knows where the money is, they're not saying.