Massachusetts

The Great Brinks Robbery of 1950: Not Quite the Perfect Crime

The Great Brinks Robbery was the biggest armed robbery in U.S. history at the time. Thieves vanished after stealing $2.7 million, leaving few clues. It was almost the perfect crime. Almost.

A detective examines the Brinks vault after the theft. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

A detective examines the Brinks vault after the theft. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

It happened in 1950 at the Brinks Armored Car depot in Boston’s North End. The gang of 11 that stole the money after two years of meticulous planning almost got away with it. They failed because they fell out over the division of the spoils. Police arrested all of them five days before the statute of limitations ended.

The Brinks Robbery

The idea for the heist came from Joseph ‘Big Joe’ McGinniss, but career criminal Anthony ‘Fats’ Pino. McGinness masterminded the crime. Pino also recruited a gang to watch the depot for 18 months to figure out when it held the most money.

The gang stole plans for the depot’s alarm system, and then returned them undetected. They also removed the cylinders from locks, one by one, and had a locksmith duplicate the keys. Planning for the Brinks robbery took two years and included six failed attempts.

The gang wore outfits similar to Brinks uniforms – Navy pea coats and chauffeur’s caps – and rubber Halloween masks. At 6:55 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, seven of the gang members entered the counting room. They surprised the five employees and bound and gagged them face down on the floor.

The thieves cleaned out everything except the General Electric payroll. It took them only 35 minutes to load 14 canvas bags with a half ton of cash, coins, checks, securities and money orders. Two of the gang members waited outside in the getaway truck.

3 Clues

They left but three clues: a chauffeur’s cap, the adhesive tape used to gag the Brinks employees and the rope used to tie them up. No one was hurt. The thieves divided up some of the loot and promised each other they wouldn’t touch the money for six years so the statute of limitations would run out. Then they split up to establish alibis.

The tampered lock at the Brink's building. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

The tampered lock at the Brink's building. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

They almost made it. Investigators had few leads and little solid evidence. Law enforcement officers interviewed hundreds of people who lived and worked near the Brinks depot and questioned known criminals. According to the FBI, "in the hours immediately following the robbery, the underworld began to feel the heat of the investigation."

Police picked up and questioned well-known Boston hoodlums. From Boston, the FBI quickly spread the pressure to other cities.

"Veteran criminals throughout the United States found their activities during mid-January the subject of official inquiry," the FBI reported.

The robbers' truck was found cut to pieces in Stoughton, Mass., but it didn’t offer many clues. The FBI was flooded with unhelpful tips.

The Rat

One gang member blew it for all of them. Joseph ‘Specs’ O’Keefe left his loot with another member when he served a prison sentence for a different crime. While behind bars, he wrote angry letters to his cohorts demanding money and suggesting he might talk.

When O’Keefe got out of prison, Fats Pino sent a hit man to kill him. The hit man shot at O’Keefe with a machine gun in the Dorchester section of Boston. O’Keefe escaped with minor wounds and made a deal with the FBI to testify against the gang. All eight were caught and convicted. Two died before they were tried.

Police recovered only $58,000 of the $2.7 million stolen.

This story was updated in 2018.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Sandra Mcgee Tansey

    Sandra Mcgee Tansey

    January 17, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    A couple of the robbers ended up getting caught in Dorchester, Mass. in a house on Adams St.

  2. Laura Gauthier

    Laura Gauthier

    January 17, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Probably when the head man decided to kill off everyone else instead of splitting the money up!

  3. Linda Brayman

    Linda Brayman

    January 18, 2014 at 12:42 am

    ah greed

  4. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    January 18, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    For the 1950 winter carnival parade our class presented a reenactment of the Brinks Robbery and won the blue ribbon! I believe at least one of the robbers came to a Weirs Beach, NH hotel to try to avoid capture.

  5. Megan Lee Bitgood

    Megan Lee Bitgood

    January 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Thieves getting greedy…Oh the irony!

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  7. McJunny

    October 16, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Those dudes were savages

  8. Phil

    January 18, 2018 at 9:49 am

    I met one of them years later at Norfolk Pre-release. It would have been in 1977. I don’t remember the name. Another prisoner pointed him out to me when I went over to pick him up for work.

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  11. Joseph DuPont

    June 28, 2018 at 1:21 am

    Dear Editor,
    On January 17th 1950 papers around the world printed about the crime of the century. After writing the FBI for information on the arrest of Joseph O’Keefe and Stanley Gusciora on Junw 12th, 1950 in Towanda , Pa. I was informed by the FBI in writing , that they had destroyed all of their records after spending 28 million dollars to “solve” the case. I just dicovered that some of the Brinks case was transferred to NARA in 2005. However, the records remain fully restricted! It would seem that any paper in the Boston area would want to to file a Freedom of Information Act request with NARA, via email to specialaccess_foia@nara.gov, referencing the the following citation.

    91-HQ-5535
    Record Group 65
    Boxes 253-280 are located in Entry UD 05D 9 A
    REID 425280

    Why would records of a crime 68 years ago be deemed restricted! People question the JFK files still hid from us. Towanda’s chief of police, Dean Meredith, caught the above mentioned men with stolen guns, ammo, cloths and luggage from Kean and Couldersport, Pa. Had he not, the FBI would never have gotten O’Keefe to turn state’s evidence just days before the statutes of limitation. After seeing how the FBI operates today flags should should go up as to why there was no mention of the chief’s heroic and historic actions in Meredith’s obituary in 1999! I guess Meredith stole some of J. Edgar Hover’s thunder.

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