Valerio Viccei, a man already wanted for more than 50 armed robberies in Italy, almost committed a perfect crime in 1987 in London. Valerio walked with his assistant in a bank, and they stole nearly $100 million. To be exact, $97 million.
After walking into a bank, they asked to rent a safe deposit box. Once they got into the vault, they pulled out their guns, overpowered the bank manager and guards, and put a closed sign on the bank door.
VIccei left in some friends, broke into as many of the safe deposit boxes as possible, and made off with millions in cash and valuables.
Yet, he made one mistake, and that is how he got caught. Read on to find out more about the heist, life of Valerio, and his eventual arrest and death.
Famous as “The Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery”, it took place on 12 July 1987 in Cheval Place, Knightsbridge, England. It is part of the City of Westminster in London.
Valerio led the robbery. He arrived in London in 1986 from his native Italy, where he has already pulled out more than 50 armed robberies.
Once Viccei came to London, he continued his robbery career to fund his playboy lifestyle. This time, he got help from Parvez Latif, a cocaine user acting as the managing director of the center. He already had a huge debt, so Valerio easily managed to get him on his side.
On the day of the robbery, Valerio and Parvez entered the bank and asked to open a safe deposit box. Once they entered the vault, both men drew handguns and overpowered the manager and all the security guards. They hung a sign on the street-level door saying the bank was temporarily closed. And then they let in their accomplices.
The men managed to open many safe deposit boxes, stealing more than 60 million British pounds, which is close to $97 million at the 1987 exchange rate.
One hour after the robbery, the shift changed, and the new staff discovered the crime. Nobody knew of the crime before the shift came. They alerted the police, with forensic investigators recovering a blood fingerprint tracing to Valerio.
The police started a surveillance period, which is how they managed to arrest many of his accomplices. They carried out a series of coordinated raids on August 12, 1987.
But Valerio fled to Latin America, where he spent most of the time. Yet, he decided to return to England to retrieve his Ferrari Testarossa to Latin America. But that is when police arrested him by blocking the road and smashing the front windscreen of his car. They dragged him out.
In the end, his playboy lifestyle cost him his freedom.
Born in a family of lawyers, Valerio turned to robbery at the age of 17. He blew up a local electricity power station at the time.
During his student days, he got often into trouble. Mostly, he got involved with right-wing terrorist groups in Italy. His friends called him “The Wolf”.
Viccei and his friends carried out a series of bombings and shootings in the 1970s and 1980s. But Valerio didn’t spend much time in politics. He said, “For a short time I was involved in politics, but I soon realised it wasn't worth it and just started robbing banks. I enjoyed the thrill of the chase with the police.”
And he enjoyed a playboy life. He funded his lifestyle by doing what he knew best, robbing banks. After coming to London, he carried out a successful raid on the Queen’s Bank, Coutts. But he made headlines with his Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery.
His lavish lifestyle also included many sexual conquests. For example, he was once seen with Lady Bienvenida Buck, a glamorous blonde Spanish mistress. She even visited him in maximum security prison after the big heist.
For that heist, he said, “He said: "The best job I did without question was Knightsbridge - it was magic, wonderful, when I saw all that money and jewelry I really thought I'd done it”
Fun fact: he says a third of the people never came forward to claim what was stolen. But hey, if you had a stash of cocaine in there would you tell the police it was missing?"
Asked about the missing millions, Valerio simply smirked and shrugged his shoulders.
Valerio was the mastermind behind Britain’s biggest robbery. He spent a few years in prison after getting caught and arrested. After five years in a British jail, he got extradited to Pescara prison.
Since 1996, he lived a high life in the new prison. Thanks to an Italian policy of semi-liberty, he could do as he pleased, as long as he returned to his cell at night.
Valerio could leave his cell at 7:45am every day, and then return at night. Once outside, he would drive to his nearby flat in his Volvo S90. He also had a Mercedes and an Audi A3 car at his property.
Once he got to his property, Viccei would change into one of his many designer suits and head off to the office. He ran a small translation firm. But many police officers believed he planned his next big action.
At the end of the day, Valerio would return to his jail by 10:30pm. He never revealed how much his firm made.
Instead, he said, “All the bills are paid on time. I cover the rent, telephone and cleaner in good time and am never late. I have a little money left over each month which helps pay my restaurant bills and run my cars but, in spite of all this, there is one thing I don't have - my freedom. I have to give the prison - or the hotel as I call it - a little something for my bed but not breakfast as the food is awful”.
During his time in prison, police officers became suspicious when they spotted a stolen Lancia Thema on a dirt track in the countryside near Ascoli at 11:30 in the morning.
Valerio stood there with Mafia mobster Antonio Maletesta, when the officers stopped and asked for documents. Antonio ran off, but Viccei pulled out his semi-automatic Magnum 357 handgun. Policeman Enzo Baldini jumped onto him, and both men got shot. The policeman survived with minor injuries, while Valerio was dead on the spot.
In the car, police found ski masks, believing Valerio was in the process of planning a new crime.