Hollywood has told stories of incredible fiction robberies, and many that portray real-life events. But even in their portrayal of real-life bank robbers, some of these films don’t do the true stories justice.
We explore some of the most notable bank robbers who ever lived:
Butch Cassidy was the leader of the Wild Bunch gang, a group of criminals that included some of the most prolific bank robbers that ever lived, the likes of the Sundance Kid, Elzy Lay, and Kid Curry.
The exploits of Butch Cassidy were recreated in the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Butch is one of the most popular symbols of the “Wild West,” and he will likely be one of the first that come to mind when people think of Wild West robbers.
Lester M. Gillis, Otherwise known as “Baby Face Nelson”
Lester was a criminal from a very early age. At age 12, he shot a man with a gun. He went on to become one of the most notable people during one of the golden ages of gangsters.
Though he was rather small—5’4 and 133 lbs—what Nelson didn’t have in size, he made up for in crime. Aside from being a violent figure, he was a successful bank robber. His first bank robbery occurred at age 21. Though he started young, he also died young. At age 25, Nelson was killed by federal agents.
Charles Arthur, also known as “Pretty Boy Floyd”
“Pretty Boy Floyd” is a popular figure in pop culture. He was an American bank robber who operated mainly in the Midwest and West South Central states.
Pretty Boy Floyd gained press coverage throughout the country in the 1930’s, until he was pursued and killed by a group led by Melvin Purvis, a notable FBI agent who led manhunts that caught Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger.
Another depression era gangster, John Dillinger was the leader of the “Dillinger Gang,” or “Terror Gang.” This group was accused of robbing 24 banks, four police stations, and a number of other criminal activities. What’s made John Dillinger notable and famous among bank criminals is that this burglar was able to escape from jail twice.
Some say that Dillinger was the most notorious depression era gangster, even standing out above Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. Dillinger gained a lot of media attention during his spree, and they reported accounts of his colorful personality and even painted him as a sort of Robin Hood figure.
This American bank robber had a career that spanned 40 years, stealing as much as $2 million. After being caught, over half of his adult life was spent in prison, but he was able to escape three times.
Willie was known for executing many of his burglaries in disguise. Due to this approach, he earned the two nicknames, “Willie the Actor” and “Slick Willie.”
This notorious criminal has had a number of films, books, and pop culture entertainment created regarding his exploits. Jessie James was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, and gang leader. He was the most famous of the James-Younger gang, which was joined by his brother, Frank James. The brothers were committed a number of atrocities against Union Soldiers during the Civil War, and after the war they went on to rob trains, stagecoaches, and banks.
In 1882, Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford, a younger member of the James-Younger gang who wanted to collect the reward for James’ head due to his celebrity status. This story-line has since been recreated in the Hollywood film, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” starring Brad Pitt. James has since become a staple figure of the Wild West.
Mark Mikhaylich (No Photo Available)
This Ukrainian bandit is a modern day bank robber that makes our list. In 2001 Mark Mikhaylich robbed a string of banks, placing him on the FBI’s most wanted list and earning him the nickname of “the Holiday Bandit.” What is most remarkable about Mikhaylich is that he accomplished these robberies despite being six feet five inches tall. (One would think his size might make bank robbing rather difficult.)
Mikhaylich was able to steer clear of authorities for over two months, after robbing nine banks in total. The majority of his robberies occurred in New York City with one taking place in New Jersey. He earned the nickname of the Holiday Bandit because many of these robberies occurred during Christmas time.
Patricia Campbell, known as “Patty Hearst” and “Patricia Hearst Shaw” was the granddaughter of the great American publisher, William Randolph Hearst.
Though Hearst wasn’t one of the most successful bank robbers, she was one of the most storied. She gained national attention in 1974 as a 19-year-old student while living in Berkeley after a left-wing terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, abducted her. The group threatened to kill Patty, and after some time she began to support their cause, created propaganda announcements for the group, and partook in illegal activities that included bank robberies.
Hearst was eventually pardoned by President Bill Clinton, but her tale remains a unique story of student turned indoctrinated sympathizer of a terrorist group, and then turned bank robber.