The Crime of the Century

On this Day:

In 1956, the FBI arrested 6 members of the Great Brink’s robbery gang, 6 days before the statute of limitations ran out.

The Great Brink’s Robbery was an armed robbery of the Brink’s Building at the east corner of Prince St. and Commercial St. in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1950. Today the building is a parking garage located at 600 Commercial Street.

The $2.775 million ($29.9 million today) theft consisted of $1,218,211.29 in cash and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. It was then the largest robbery in the history of the United States, and remained so until 1984. The robbery, skillfully executed with few clues left at the crime scene, was billed as “the crime of the century”. It was the work of an eleven-member gang, ten of whom were later arrested.

Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis was the originator of the heist, according to information later gleaned from Joseph “Specs” O’Keefe. He brought in Anthony Pino and Stanley “Gus” Gusciora.

O’Keefe and Gusciora secretly entered the Brink’s depot; they picked the outside lock with an ice pick and the inner door with a piece of plastic. They later temporarily removed the cylinders from the five locks, one at a time, so that a locksmith could make duplicate keys for them. Once this was done, Pino recruited seven other men, including Pino’s brother-in-law Vincent Costa, Michael Vincent “Vinnie” Geagan, Thomas “Sandy” Francis Richardson, Adolf H. “Jazz” Maffie, Henry Baker, James “Guillemets” Faherty, and Joseph Banfield.

The gang decided to wait for the optimal time for their heist. Pino studied schedules and was able to determine what the staff was doing based on when the lights in the building windows were on. O’Keefe and Gusciora stole the plans for the site alarms. The gang members entered the building on practice runs after the staff had left for the day. Costa monitored the depot from a room of a tenement building across Prince Street from the Brink’s building. By the time they acted, the gang had planned and trained for two years.

The heist

On January 17, 1950, after six aborted attempts, the robbers decided that the situation was favorable. They donned clothing similar to that of a Brink’s uniform with navy pea coats and chauffeur’s caps, along with rubber Halloween masks, gloves, and rubber-soled shoes. While Pino and driver Banfield remained in the getaway truck, seven other men entered the building at 6:55 PM.

With their copied keys, they came to the second floor through the locked doors and surprised, bound, and gagged five Brink’s employees who were storing and counting money. They failed to open the storage box containing the payroll of the General Electric Company’s Lynn works (according to one account, this was due to precautions that included removing the exterior portion of the lock from the box before transport), but scooped up everything else.

The robbers walked out at 7:30 p.m. They had taken money and four revolvers from the employees. The gang rapidly counted the loot and gave some of the members their cut. Then robbers scattered to establish their alibis.

Investigation and falling out

Brink’s Incorporated offered a $100,000 reward for information. The only clues police could initially find were the rope that the robbers had used to tie the employees and a chauffeur’s cap. Any information police could get from their informers initially proved useless. The truck that the robbers had used was found cut to pieces in Stoughton, Massachusetts, near O’Keefe’s home.

In June 1950, O’Keefe and Gusciora were arrested in Pennsylvania for a burglary. O’Keefe was sentenced to three years in Bradford County Jail and Gusciora to 5-to-20 years in the Western State Penitentiary at Pittsburgh. Police heard through their informers that O’Keefe and Gusciora demanded money from Pino and MacGinnis in Boston to fight their convictions. It was later claimed that most of O’Keefe’s share went to his legal defense.

FBI agents tried to talk to O’Keefe and Gusciora in prison but the two professed ignorance of the Brink’s robbery. Other members of the group came under suspicion but there was not enough evidence for an indictment, so law enforcement kept pressure on the suspects. Adolph Maffie was convicted and sentenced to nine months for income tax evasion.

After O’Keefe was released he was taken to stand trial for another burglary and parole violations and was released on a bail of $17,000. O’Keefe later claimed that he had never seen his portion of the loot after he had given it to Maffie for safekeeping. Apparently in need of money he kidnapped Vincent Costa and demanded his part of the loot for ransom.

Pino paid a small ransom but then decided to try to kill O’Keefe. After a couple of attempts he hired underworld hitman Elmer “Trigger” Burke to kill O’Keefe. Burke traveled to Boston and shot O’Keefe, seriously wounding him but failed to kill him. The FBI approached O’Keefe in the hospital and on January 6, 1956, he decided to talk.

On January 12, 1956, just five days before the statute of limitations was to run out, the FBI arrested Baker, Costa, Geagan, Maffie, McGinnis, and Pino. They apprehended Faherty and Richardson on May 16 in Dorchester. O’Keefe pleaded guilty January 18. Gusciora died on July 9. Banfield was already dead. A trial began on August 6, 1956.

Eight of the gang’s members received maximum sentences of life imprisonment. All were paroled by 1971 except McGinnis, who died in prison. O’Keefe received four years and was released in 1960. Only $58,000 of the $2.7 million was recovered. O’Keefe cooperated with writer Bob Considine on The Men Who Robbed Brink’s, a 1961 “as told to” book about the robbery and its aftermath (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

The Brinks’ robbers break into a bank.

When they arrives they see the security guard at his desk, sobbing and saying: “I c-can’t believe the boss forgot my b-b-birthday”

Seeing this opportunity, the thieves sneak round the back, steal the security codes and go to access the vault.

Unfortunately for the robbers, the head of the bank was busy giving a tour to some possible investors and is inside the vault.

Upon seeing the robbers he exclaims, “HOW DID YOU GET PAST MY SECURITY!!?!”

To which a thief replies: “You let your guard down”…

Second, a Song:

Here is a high school documentary by Belmont High School AP US History Documentary Project 2011 by: Jenny Kim, Miriam Hamburger, Kate Zolner and Najette Abouelhadi about the “Crime of the Century”, courtesy of chiclzr and You go girls!! I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Anytime four New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.” – Johnny Carson

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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