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  • It's January 13, 2006, a beautiful summer day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when a call

  • went out to local police at 12:38 PM that Banco Rio was being robbed.

  • Located in a serene, rich neighborhood in Argentina's capital, the prestigious bank

  • contained a fortune in its vaults.

  • Police officers arrived at the scene to discover that four thieves and twenty three hostages

  • were inside.

  • They secured the perimeter, guarding the only two possible exits from the bank.

  • After communicating and negotiating with the robbers throughout most of the afternoon,

  • the thieves suddenly went silent.

  • At 7 PM, police officers broke into Banco Rio and found a confounding scene: the hostages

  • were alive and well, almost one hundred and fifty safety deposit boxes were forced open

  • and emptied of their contents, and the robbers...were gone.

  • No sign of the thieves could be found, no windows were broken, and the exits had been

  • watched by police the whole time.

  • How did these thieves get away with what has become known asthe robbery of the century”?

  • How did they disappear under the careful watch of more than one hundred police officers?

  • We dug deep into this infamous Argentinean bank heist to find out.

  • Banco Rio, now known as Banco Santander Rio, was one of Argentina's leading financial

  • institutions, with branches throughout the country.

  • One of its branches was nestled in the calm, wealthy neighborhood of San Isidro, in Buenos

  • Aires' northern suburbs.

  • How well off was San Isidro?

  • Well, the neighborhood now has two golf courses, a sailing club, and a jockey club.

  • You can almost see the residents clutching their pearls.

  • In 2006, Argentina was already no stranger to infamous bank robberies.

  • In fact, a heist that had happened a few years earlier had left the nation reeling, and as

  • it turns out, inspired the heist of Banco Rio.

  • In 1999, thieves had broken into a bank in Ramallo, Argentina, and taken hostages in

  • order to negotiate their freedom from police.

  • The robbers tried to leave the bank using the hostages as shields and police opened

  • fire, killing one of the robbers, but also two innocent hostages.

  • As though the tragic event wasn't enough of a PR nightmare for the police, the whole

  • bank heist had been shown on live TV via the many news cameras at the scene.

  • Most Argentinians had seen both the robbery and the killings go down in real time.

  • The nation was in shock.

  • As a result of the Ramallo case, police in the 2006 Banco Rio heist were more reluctant

  • to take drastic action when they arrived at the scene of a bank robbery in progress.

  • That warm January day, with even more news cameras trained on the hostage situation at

  • Banco Rio, police were trying to move as carefully as possible.

  • Then again, they weren't in a rush, because they thought they had the thieves trapped

  • and surrounded.

  • Over 100 officers had shown up at the scene, and every vantage point to the bank that wasn't

  • occupied by a news photographer was occupied by a sniper.

  • The two bank exits were covered.

  • Where could the thieves go?

  • One of the robbers inside, who bypassed several cool Argentinian names to codename himself

  • Walter instead, was negotiating the release of hostages with police.

  • The thieves let the bank's security guard walk out the door unharmed, then a young man,

  • then a young woman as well.

  • It seemed like things were going well and the robbers were playing along with the cops.

  • Walter, who had been given the nickname ofThe Man in the Gray Suit”, seemed to

  • be in a strangely happy mood given the gravity of his situation.

  • He and the other thieves were treating the hostages well.

  • At one point, they sangHappy Birthdayto one of the bank employees after discovering

  • it was the man's birthday, which is more than you remembered to do for most of your

  • friends last year without Facebook reminding you.

  • Later on, around 3:30 PM, Walter called police to complain that the 23 remaining hostages

  • were hungry and they'd like some pizza.

  • After this call, the line went silent.

  • What was happening inside Banco Rio?

  • For three hours, with Walter having ghosted them, the police had no idea what to do.

  • Do they barge in, putting hostages in danger and risking another Ramallo-like situation?

  • Like a needy ex, they kept trying to contact Walter even after several missed calls.

  • Finally, special forces lined up and forced their way in to discover a truly unbelievable

  • situation.

  • Twenty three hostages were being held or had been locked into three separate floors: the

  • lobby, the mezzanine, and the basement conference room.

  • The thieves were nowhere to be found.

  • Police even double checked to see if they were hiding among the hostages, but could

  • not find them.

  • When they entered the basement, they realized what the thieves had really been after.

  • Out of the 400 reinforced-steel safe deposit boxes in the basement, 143 had been cracked

  • open.

  • Why didn't the thieves steal cash from the bank instead?

  • Well, most Argentinians at the time were pretty distrustful of the country's banking system.

  • During the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, the banking system had collapsed, wiping out

  • the fortunes of those who had most of their money in bank accounts.

  • Viewing money held in bank accounts as suspiciously as most people view bitcoin today, Argentinians

  • instead decided they would only use banks for their safe deposit boxes, which couldn't

  • be wiped out in the event of a crisis.

  • In these safeguarded boxes, Argentinians piled in their cash, jewelry, and other valuable

  • items that they could always reclaim in the event of an emergency.

  • Given that San Isidro was an exceptionally rich neighborhood, the safe deposit boxes

  • of this particular branch of Banco Rio contained an immense amount of wealth.

  • After officers found so many of the boxes forced open, they also found the only few

  • pieces of evidence the thieves had left behind: a battery pack, a tool that police assumed

  • had been used to crack open the boxes, and a row of toy guns.

  • That's right; the robbers had conducted this epic bank heist without even using real

  • weapons.

  • The last item police found was perhaps the most perplexing and obnoxious piece of evidence.

  • The robbers, trying to make some sort of poetic statement, left behind a note that read, “In

  • a neighborhood of rich people, without weapons or grudges, it's just money, not love.”

  • Argentinians throughout the country, lacking Netflix at the time, had been watching the

  • whole robbery unfold for hours from their televisions, and now saw that the thieves

  • had pulled off an impossible escape as well.

  • Public opinions and rumors in Argentina almost immediately depicted the robbers as Robin

  • Hood-like folk heroes.

  • After all, they had stolen from the rich, hadn't harmed anyone, and given the money

  • to…(pause)...well, it seemed they'd given it to themselves.

  • But still; their heist was somewhat ingenious.

  • So who was at the center of it all?

  • And how had they executed and gotten away with such a perfect heist?

  • Well, the mastermind behind the robbery of the century turned out to be a man named Fernando

  • Araujo.

  • You see, the Ramallo bank heist had made an impression on Araujo, who thought the robbers

  • had almost pulled off the perfect heist, but botched it all up when they tried to leave.

  • One day, when Araujo was a few bong hits deep and talking to a dear friend, he thought of

  • the obvious: what if the robbers never had to leave?

  • What if, instead, they disappeared through a hole?

  • Araujo's friend, Sebastian Garcia Bolster, agreed that this sounded like a crazy, yet

  • perfect plan.

  • However, he didn't pay his friend's theory much attention, as Bolster was neither a criminal

  • or in any dire financial straits.

  • Also, most people don't take grand stoned plans seriously.

  • Araujo and Bolster had grown up together in an upper middle class neighborhood, also located

  • in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires, and while Araujo sometimes dabbled in hobbies

  • on the wrong side of the law, Bolster enjoyed a completely legal lifestyle.

  • Bolster had a wife and child and was mechanically inclined, repairing mostly small engines for

  • money and tinkering around with inventions.

  • Araujo, on the other hand, had a very impulsive and somewhat eccentric lifestyle, teaching

  • martial arts occasionally to pay the bills while also cultivating marijuana for money.

  • He was a free-spirited artist who was dealing with a recent break up as many free-spirited

  • artists do: melodramatically.

  • He decided he needed to remove the world from his personal space, so he blacked out the

  • windows of his loft.

  • According to others, Araujo ate relatively little and slept whenever the mood hit him.

  • Frequently high on weed, permanently underfed, and presumably lacking a whole lot of Vitamin

  • D, Araujo was drawn towards stranger and stranger ideas.

  • His biggest obsession?

  • Bank robberies.

  • Apparently, Araujo voraciously consumed any and all media involving bank robbers, from

  • movies and shows to documentaries of real-life heists.

  • His goal was to observe the mistakes other fictional and real robbers made, and use these

  • observations to plan out the perfect heist.

  • In 2004, Araujo finally realized he had not only figured out a plan, but also needed his

  • friend Bolster's mechanical and technical knowledge to help him.

  • Bolster wasn't too happy about the idea, and he knew banks were harder to break into

  • than most people thought as he had worked part-time in a bank for a while.

  • However, he was also furious that his father and grandfather had entrusted money to banks

  • and then lost it all during economic downturns, so like many people, he ended up hating bankers.

  • When Araujo guaranteed Bolster that no one would get hurt - in fact, they wouldn't

  • even have real weapons - Bolster agreed to the plan and got to work.

  • So what exactly IS the prep work for the robbery of the century?

  • Thanks partly to its temperamental weather, Buenos Aires has plenty of storm drains underneath

  • its streets that lead directly out to the river.

  • The robbers would enter one that ran close to the bank and then dig up a tunnel to connect

  • it to the bank itself.

  • However, bypassing the bank's nighttime alarm system would be a huge challenge, much

  • more difficult than digging a hole.

  • So how would the thieves turn off the bank's alarm?

  • Simple: by not tripping it at all.

  • The thieves would rob the safe deposit boxes in the bank's basement in the daytime, when

  • the alarm wasn't set, but the bank was swarming with people.

  • How would they enter a bank during the workday and not draw attention to themselves emptying

  • the safe deposit boxes?

  • In Araujo's mind, the answer was even simpler: stage a fake bank robbery upstairs, to cover

  • the real bank robbery going on in the basement.

  • Some say the phraseit's so crazy it just might workwas born that day.

  • The duo then proceeded to assemble a crew of experienced thieves, financiers, and misfits

  • they'd need to pull off this job, presumably in anOcean's Eleven”-style montage.

  • Enter: an experienced bank robber named Doc and his associate Ruben Alberto de la Torre,

  • nicknamed Beto.

  • They were former members of an Argentinian group of armed bank robbers known, unimaginatively,

  • asSuper Banda”.

  • Another fixer and a getaway driver were added to the crew.

  • Araujo also found a financier and problem solver in retired rich Uruguayan thief Luis

  • Mario Vitette Sellanes, who invested $100,000 into the operation.

  • What did they need the money for?

  • Well, Bolster had to come up with a way to get into the bank, spend a lot of time and

  • energy tunneling through, and find a relatively unobtrusive way to get the safe deposit boxes

  • open so they wouldn't be heard from upstairs.

  • Bolster decided to rent a safe deposit box at another Banco Rio branch, noted down the

  • brand name, and ordered a few boxes himself to find the best way to open them.

  • He concluded that a jackhammer punching through the locks would do the job, and could be kept

  • to a reasonable noise level.

  • He built a jackhammer that could be transported in pieces to the bank, assembled there, and

  • then taken apart.

  • However, as anyone who's seenThe Italian Jobor almost any heist movie knows, getting

  • a lot of valuable, heavy goods out of the location you're robbing presents its own

  • challenge.

  • Since the thieves were going to drop back down into water-filled drains, getting the

  • goods into Zodiac boats seemed like a good idea, but the water level was usually too

  • low to hold up the loaded-down boats.

  • Since Bolster couldn't make it rain - no more puns, we swear - he naturally decided

  • he'd build a wooden dam in his shop, disassemble it, and reassemble it in the storm drains

  • over several days.

  • The morning of the heist, the seven men met for coffee - because apparently even bank

  • robbers need caffeine to start their day - and then dispersed to start the heist of the century.

  • Bolster headed to the storm drains to make his way towards the bank underground.

  • Julian Zalloecheverria drove the getaway car to a pre-arranged meeting spot.

  • Vitette and a mystery man named Luis the Uruguayan drove a stolen car to the garage under the

  • bank, while the rest of the men drove another stolen car to the bank itself.

  • Beto and Doc headed in first, with Beto waving around a toy gun he had stolen from his nine

  • year old son that morning.

  • Shockingly, this worked, and everyone in the bank immediately dropped to the floor.

  • Araujo left another stolen car outside the bank purposely to make it look like a getaway

  • vehicle, so police would think they had found the robbers' escape plan.

  • Araujo walked into the bank in a baseball cap, ski mask, long blond wig, and sunglasses;

  • how he managed to avoid weird looks on the sidewalk before entering is anyone's guess.

  • Meanwhile, Bolster had reached the end of the tunnel he had dug and was just chilling

  • in the dark underneath the bank.

  • Doc went down, broke the basement wall separating the bank from Bolster's tunnel, and let

  • Bolster in to help with the robbery, unbeknownst to anyone inside the bank.

  • This was because Luis and Beto had already subdued and isolated the hostages.

  • Vitette then took on the persona of Walter to deal with the cops that had just arrived,

  • in order to make police believe that the robbers had been caught in a heist gone wrong.

  • Araujo's plan was somewhat brilliant: the thieves were basically staging a visible botched

  • bank robbery upstairs to cover up the invisible robbery happening in the basement.

  • Vitette even released a few hostages one after the other to make the police think that they

  • had the upper hand, and could get the rest of the hostages through negotiation alone.

  • The whole crew had been told they had two hours to get in and get out.

  • Bolster assembled his jackhammer-like contraption in 20 minutes and spent another hour and a

  • half opening safe deposit boxes.

  • After Vitette got the signal from Araujo to come downstairs, he told the cops to order

  • pizza and then went down to the basement, telling the hostages if they moved they'd

  • be killed.

  • Beto and Vitette helped Bolster stuff the valuables into bags, while Araujo and Doc

  • sprayed bleach to destroy any DNA and threw around fistfuls of hair from a barbershop

  • floor to confuse police even further.

  • As you do in a bank heist.

  • As the men exited through Bolster's tunnel, they cleaned up all evidence of the broken

  • wall, and hid the hole behind a large, heavy cabinet.

  • The men piled into the Zodiacs, and even though the motor malfunctioned, Araujo had brought

  • paddles.

  • The men paddled to the getaway van ten blocks away, used a previously tested pulley system