The Mona Lisa is the most popular item at the Louvre today, but few people are aware it was once stolen. The Mona Lisa is the most popular item at the Louvre today, but few people are aware it was once stolen. 'Mona Lisa' is the most popular item at the Louvre today, but few people are aware it was once stolen. (Photo: Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock)

5 famous heists you've probably never heard of

Mission impossible? Nah. Sometimes it just takes a little ingenuity.

We've seen the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt pull off the perfect heist in the "Ocean's Eleven" franchise. And in real life, similar cleverly orchestrated burglaries are no less exciting. Indeed, fact is often stranger than fiction. Below, we travel down memory lane and revisit five of the strangest heists from the recent past.

A Rembrandt, a Vermeer and a couple of fake mustaches

Apparently, a disguise that includes a fake mustache actually works. Just ask the two men who walked right into the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston in the spring of 1990. Wearing fake police uniforms (and yes, fake mustaches, too!) the thieves stole three Rembrandts, five Degas sketches, a Vermeer, a Manet and a bronze eagle from atop a framed Napoleon-era banner. The crime remains unsolved, and 13 pieces are still missing. Frames where the artwork once hung still sit empty on the wall. The museum's $100,000 reward remains on the table if you're in the sleuthing mood. The curators have decided to turn the historic theft into an educational experience by creating an exhibit dedicated to the missing pieces.

The Marie Antoinette Watch, the Apple Watch of the 1800s

The Mayer Museum in Israel is home to some of the most striking watches ever built. The rarest of all was known as "The Marie Antoinette," originally designed for the queen and ultimately completed in 1827, 44 years after work on it began. The antique watch featured more than 20 mechanical tricks including a thermometer, a stopwatch and an alarm. It was surely considered the Apple Watch of its day. The $30 million watch was stolen from the museum in 1983 in one of the biggest watch heists the world had ever seen. It was eventually discovered decades later in 2007 and returned to the museum. The headline in a local newspaper declared: "Hickory, Dickory, Dock: Stolen Museum Loot Found.” The 200-year story of one of the most sought-after tech devices of modern memory is now the topic of a new book by TechCrunch editor John Biggs.

The world's most expensive bottle of wine

After being entombed in a Paris wine cellar for 200 years, a 1787 bottle of Bordeaux from Thomas Jefferson's vineyard was discovered in 1985. It was sold to a scion of the Forbes family at auction for $156,000, nine times the previous record. The only problem? It was actually from the basement of a brilliant con artist who ended up tricking the world's most knowledgeable wine collectors. Less a heist and more of a hoax, the story of this infamous bottle is captured in blow-by-blow riveting detail in the 2008 book "The Billionaire's Vinegar" by journalist Benjamin Wallace. The whirlwind story is now being turned into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey and produced by Will Smith. We'll drink to that.

That time when 'Mona Lisa' was stolen

Before "The Da Vinci Code" made Mona Lisa's face ubiquitous, the painting drew much less attention. A lot less. Indeed, people didn't even notice it was missing at first. It was stolen from the Louvre by none other than a handyman at the famous Parisian museum. After finishing his shift, he hid in an art supply closet and waited until the coast was clear. That's when he lifted the 200-pound painting (including the frame he had helped construct), snuck out of the museum and hopped on a 7:47 a.m. bus back to his apartment. Once it was noticed, the August 1911 theft catapulted "Mona Lisa" into fame literally overnight. At the time it wasn't even the most famous painting in its gallery, let alone in the Louvre. Newspapers around the world covered the heist, which led to an international manhunt. The masterpiece was eventually found more than two years later, returned to the museum and is now, we assume, under tighter security.

Men dressed as women pull off the largest jewel heist in French history

Swapping ski masks for wigs, several men disguised as women stole approximately $80 million worth of diamonds from the acclaimed Harry Winston jewelers in 2008. Bizarrely, the men had pulled off a similar heist a year earlier at the same Harry Winston store, which provides diamond baubles for celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Diane Lane to wear at red carpet events. The entire heist reportedly took less than a minute to pull off. "It was like Houdini stepped in here, and was gone before the show even started," a French criminal expert said. The police dubbed the thieves the Pink Panthers. Earlier this year, eight men involved in the scheme were finally sentenced for the crime. The wigs, however, are still at large.


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