The Bad Grandpas Who Pulled Off a $21 Million Heist
In London over Easter weekend 2015, six men, several of them past retirement age, hence the nickname ‘Bad Grandpas,’ executed a daring burglary of jewels and other valuables.
As Brian Reader was making his way to Hatton Garden on Thursday, April 2, 2015, just another anonymous senior citizen on a bus, the guards at 88–90 Hatton Garden, Kelvin Stockwell and Keefa Kamara, set the alarm, as they had every working day for the past 12 years, in the basement premises of the safety deposit. Stockwell was the last to leave, and he locked the safe deposit company’s wooden front door. It was 6 p.m. This being a long holiday weekend, the two guards did not plan to return until Tuesday. Once the guards had left, the building’s concierge, Carlos Cruse, locked the magnetic glass door at the entrance of the building and left through the front door, which closed behind him and locked automatically.
A relic of the 1940s, the security deposit was nevertheless trusted among Hatton Garden jewelers, many of them older Jewish men, who believed in its sturdy dependability. Like them, it had been in the quarter for decades, and the sight of jewelers traveling to and from the safe deposit, their precious diamonds hidden in small plastic bags in money belts or concealed in their underclothing, was a part of the rhythm of daily life in what was a modern-day shtetl and commercial center. Reader and his gang were preying on elderly men and women of their same generation, men and women who valued God over technology, and who thought nothing of leaving their precious valuables in a safe deposit that had barely been updated in decades.
By early Thursday evening, Reader reached the inconspicuous seven-floor building on the handsome, manicured street. A large plaque on the outside said Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. The rest of his crew was already there: John “Kenny” Collins, Daniel Jones, Terrence Perkins, and Carl Wood. The men had arrived in Hatton Garden at 8:25 p.m. in a white Ford transit van driven by Collins.
A few minutes earlier, Collins parked the vehicle on Leather Lane, around the corner from 88–90 Hatton Garden, where Jones and his old mate Carl Wood exited. They cautiously walked around the building and around the block to conduct reconnaissance. After three years of planning, the moment had finally come. One wrong move and everything would unravel. One wrong move and the millions of pounds in jewels they had been fantasizing about for months would be out of reach.
Lionel Wiffen, the busybody jeweler whose office was in the back of the building, was still there, dealing with a customer, and the men returned to the van on Leather Lane and waited until 9:21 p.m. when Wiffen finally emerged, delayed by a last-minute phone call from his wife. Wiffen left from the fire escape door in the back of the building. For the gang, the wait must have felt like an eternity. They had been observing Wiffen for months and worried that the pesky workaholic could prove an obstacle. He always seemed to work late and had a perpetual look of suspicion on his creased face. The tension must have been palpable, though the men at this stage of the caper appeared to be confident.
Most of them were dressed as maintenance workers; Collins, the lookout man, wore casual clothing. Wood sported a dark shirt, a surgeon’s mask, dark-colored gloves, a high-visibility fluorescent vest, a navy baseball cap, and his ever-present glasses. He was also carrying a black backpack. Jones, the extroverted narcissist among them, had opted for flashier heist attire: a hooded sweatshirt, trousers with bright blue vertical stripes, a high-visibility vest, a navy baseball cap, and bright red running shoes. His face was also obscured by a black mask. The men carried walkie-talkies.
Along his way to Hatton Garden, Reader had discarded his overcoat and was now wearing a yellow hard hat and fluorescent jacket with “Gas” written on the back. He wore brown shoes, distinctive striped socks, and a colorful scarf.
Perkins, a diabetic, had brought with him a three-day supply of insulin shots, apparently mindful that the Hatton Garden job could take days. They knew they could use Good Friday to their advantage. “Fucking 20 pills a day!” he would later tell the others. “If I don’t take the insulin for three days,” he said, “you’d a had to carry me out in a wheelie bin.” But Perkins had sought to downplay his illness. Acknowledging his frailty did not appear to be in his character, and, judging by his reticence, he didn’t want the others to worry that he could be a liability if he fell ill during an operation that required both nerve and stamina, the former of which he possessed in abundance, even if the latter was waning.
Basil walked casually down Greville Street and entered through the front of the building, having acquired a key from an elderly tenant there. The immediate area near 88–90 Hatton Garden was largely deserted. But as he walked, a black taxi with its lights drove by. There were also people from the neighborhood walking their dogs. It was nighttime and nearby pubs were busier than usual with denizens eager to begin taking advantage of the long holiday weekend.
All residents had a key to the front door, which was fitted with a mortise night latch that could not be jimmied by a credit card. Even if Basil hadn’t managed to acquire a key, he would’ve noted that there was a mail slot immediately next to the front door and that a nimble intruder could access the door’s inside handle by putting his or her hand through the slot. Inside there was a glass door with a four-digit coded lock, which police say was opened with the correct combination of numbers. Basil, it seemed, had insider information.
After hours, the basement premises at 88–90 Hatton Garden, where the safe deposit was located, were reachable through a fire escape door accessible on Greville Street, adjacent to the main building. A locked gate on Greville leads to about twenty stairs that descend to a courtyard at the end of which is a door leading to the basement businesses, including the safe deposit. Only a handful of people had a key, including Lionel Wiffen.
Once inside the building, Basil observed a small, dimly lit and worn-looking lobby with beige-colored marble walls, and a list of the companies on the premises on a wall next to the elevator: among them E Katz & Co Ltd, Savvy+Sand, Hattons Antiques, Vicky Gems, and Hatton Garden Safe Deposit, next to which was written “Basement.” From inside the building’s main lobby, a flight of stairs led to the basement and the safe deposit company. Access to the flight of stairs after hours required a key to another door. Only a select few—including the building’s caretaker, the safe deposit’s two security guards, and two cleaners—had one. There was no visitor’s book recording people coming in and out of the building. But there were eight doors between the front door of 88–90 Hatton Garden and the fortress-like high-security vault. Getting past all eight, with the risk of triggering the alarm at any moment, would have made even the most experienced burglar jittery. Basil descended the interior staircase leading to the basement and then opened the fire escape door—pulling back the two bolts on the basement door—to let the others in.
He carried a large black bag slung over his shoulder, apparently designed to obstruct his face from the CCTV cameras. He had the codes to the interior doors of the building and it was his role to disable the alarm.
With the Greville Street entrance now open, Collins slowly drove the van to the gate leading to the fire escape and let the men out. Jones and Wood carefully exited and unloaded bags, tools, metal joists, and two plastic trash cans with wheels, which they took into the building, walking through the basement door. The trash cans were full of tools for the job and were heavy. But a younger strongman was conspicuously missing among their ranks. Age and wisdom would need to trump brawn and bluster.
The men had turned off their mobile phones and communicated only by walkie-talkie (Reader, the proud Luddite among the gang, didn’t have to bother turning off his cell phone since he didn’t own one). Collins, dressed in a green quilted jacket with buttons down the front and a flat cabbie’s cap and carrying a brown briefcase, walked purposefully toward his position in the office building, his arm swinging back and forth as if to propel him forward. As he did, cars and pedestrians passed by, underscoring the brazenness of the men beginning the crime on a busy Thursday evening, even if the immediate area around Hatton Garden was relatively quiet. He entered through the front door at 25 Hatton Garden, on the other side of the street, which housed Madison Jewellers. How he had a key remains unclear. But once inside, he had a bird’s-eye view of both doors to 88–90 Hatton Garden, assuming, of course, his tendency to fall asleep on the job didn’t interfere.
Once inside 88–90 Hatton Garden, the gang called the elevator to the second floor and disabled it, ripping off the elevator door’s sensor so that it remained open. They left an Out of Order sign next to the elevator on the first floor, taping it on the left side of the elevator over the down button. Then, in an adrenaline-fueled feat of athleticism that defied diabetes, arthritis, and bladder-control problems, members of the crew climbed about twelve feet down the elevator shaft from the lobby toward the basement. They had removed the metal barrier that had been installed in the 1970s after an armed robbery in the building. Prior to the burglary, the Firm had learned that the elevator didn’t go to the basement since a man with a shotgun had tried to enter the vault some forty-five years earlier.
After they landed in the basement with a slight thump, Basil cut a gray telephone cable jutting out of an alarm box, as well as the GPS aerial and the wires of an electrical box. The men used a hammer to break off the lock to the exterior wooden door. So far, so good.
It took another forty-five minutes to bring the rest of their tools— including the essential diamond-tipped power drill that weighed seventy-seven pounds—down the elevator shaft by rope. They moved slowly.
To get to the vault required getting past two sliding iron gates. The first one could usually be opened from the outside by entering a four-digit code on a pin-code box (or by a foot switch manned during the day by a security guard). The second gate was locked manually with a key. The gang reasoned that once they had deactivated the alarm, cutting through the iron gates was just a matter of brute force—and power tools.
At around midnight, as Friday dawned, the gang opened the outer iron gate, which they had disabled when they cut the wires. It would take several more hours to cut through the second iron gate.
Between the two gates was a small office containing CCTV recording equipment where the security guards could monitor five cameras—two inside the vault, two outside, and a fifth pointed at the safe deposit’s front door. The office appeared dated, and sparsely outfitted with worn furniture and a Union Jack flag. Another CCTV camera belonging to a jewelry company called Berganza Ltd— triggered by movement—was aimed at the fire exit leading to the premises from Greville Street. Basil was charged with smashing all of the building’s CCTV cameras—which he thought he did. After getting past the gate, Basil removed the CCTV hard drive and began to destroy the other cameras with a hammer.
The 999 safe deposit boxes in the basement safe deposit were protected behind the Chubb vault. After entering the safe deposit company’s entrance, a person had sixty seconds to deactivate the intruder alarm by entering a five-digit code—1930Y—on an alarm box. Basil, who was schooled in electronics and alarms, had figured out how to disable the alarm just a few weeks before the break-in, according to a person familiar with the planning of the burglary.
When the men were finally ensconced in the vault, they didn’t waste any time and began the long and arduous task of drilling through the vault’s wall, which was twenty inches of reinforced concrete. Jones, who had spent months watching hours of video footage on YouTube to know how to handle it, was the main driller, helped by Basil. Jones would later recall the responsibility bestowed upon him with a mix of bravado and exuberance. But Reader must have known from his experience tunneling underground toward a vault during the Baker Street burglary that they were a long way from accomplishing their goal.
The Hilti DD350 power drill, which cost £3,475 ($5,210) can rotate 667 times per minute in its highest gear. But even Jones struggled as the hours elapsed. The drill was so cumbersome it had to be anchored to the floor. Jones and Basil took turns aiming it at the wall. The air was thick with smoke as the cement flew everywhere with each thrust of the drill and produced a loud humming sound. So loud, in fact, that several neighbors next to the safe deposit said they heard the commotion. But it was the gang’s good fortune that the area had been under construction during the previous several months, and Crossrail, a £15 billion ($22.5 billion) project to build a high-capacity, high-frequency railway line for London and the southeast, had sent out letters to local residents warning them about upcoming construction. No one thought anything was amiss.
Reader was the commander, and he and the Firm would have calculated how long it would take before the sun rose and they had to flee. Each passing hour brought with it the risk of getting caught. But Jones’ and Perkins’ later boasting suggests that they had been running on pure adrenaline, barely able to conceal their excitement that they were back in the game. They were giddy at the recollection of the slowly widening hole. Perkins and Jones were urging each other on, no doubt determined not to let Reader’s grumpy mood undermine their high spirits. The gang allowed themselves periodic bathroom breaks; at one point, Collins escaped from his lookout perch across the street to buy fish and chips.
As Jones wielded the drill and he and Basil struggled to breach the reinforced concrete, Perkins would later recall that he had taken a seat in the safe deposit, away from the others, at some points taking a break to inject a shot of insulin. He also suffered from heart problems; the stress of the job was intense.
The neighborhood outside was eerily quiet because it was the holiday weekend, but the area’s private security guards and the local Camden police were on duty. Across the street, the getaway driver and lookout man, Collins, was fast asleep, snoring. Perkins pressed a button on his walkie-talkie and called out to him. No answer. At one point, Basil had to interrupt the burglary, walk across the street, and wake up Collins.
But the gang had bigger problems to worry about besides Collins’ propensity for napping.
Shortly after 12:21 a.m. on April 3, Alok Bavishi, whose family owns the safe deposit company, received a call that the intruder alarm had been triggered. The alarm managed to send a text message to the Southern Monitoring Services alarm company, which in turn notified the police. Bavishi was told that police were on the scene, giving him a false sense of security; in fact, the police had not come. Bavishi’s concerns were also tempered by the fact that a previous alarm had been triggered by an insect. But he still called Keefa Raymond Kamara, one of the guards, who said he couldn’t come as the trains had stopped running and he didn’t have a car. Then he called Stockwell, his other trusted security guard, but the call went to voicemail.
He kept trying, and finally reached Stockwell, who agreed to go to the safe deposit to see what was happening. Stockwell arrived nearly an hour later by car at 1:15 a.m., just barely missing Carl Wood, who would later be seen on a CCTV camera at 12:51 a.m. at the top of the basement stairs, before he went down to rejoin the others. Stockwell’s arrival also went unnoticed by the gang since Collins was blissfully asleep. After three years of meticulous planning, and more than five hours inside the claustrophobic safe deposit, the men were enticingly close to the shimmering jewels they had been coveting. They had braved fear and anxiety, CCTV cameras and high- security alarms, and a heavy power drill that would’ve challenged some men half their age. Now, they were just moments away from being discovered.
Alok Bavishi was initially so nonchalant that he decided not to accompany Stockwell. But he then changed his mind since Stockwell was by himself. After examining the front door and peering through the mail slot of the fire escape door, Stockwell called Bavishi, who by then was only five minutes away, to say it was a “false alarm.”
“It’s all locked up,” he told him; the main door of the building and the fire escape door exit were locked, so there was no reason for Bavishi to come. There were no signs of forced entry, so Stockwell decided that the building was secure. If he was bewildered as to why there were no police at the scene, he didn’t show it. Perhaps the lack of police response had reinforced the impression that there had been a technical glitch, and there was nothing to worry about. He left without going inside, and both men returned home.
Notified of the alarm, the police decided not to respond, as “a grade was applied to the call that meant that no police response was deemed to be required,” according to Scotland Yard. They would later issue the statement that the “call-handling system and procedures for working with the alarm-monitoring companies were not followed.”
All the while, Jones continued to wield the drill, oblivious that the security guard was only feet away, outside the vault. Oblivious to the fact that the alarm had been triggered and that their plan was perilously close to being undone, they continued to bore three adjoining circular holes through the vault’s thick wall. The men had brought jugs of water because, as they knew from their prior practice with the technology, the drill periodically needed to be doused with a coolant to keep it from overheating.
After several hours of drilling, Jones was getting tired. Perkins and Reader, the consummate professionals, were adept at keeping their emotions in check. Basil was also proficient at maintaining a professional distance. But Wood paced in circles with nervous anticipation.
“Carl, do something for fuck sake!” Perkins scolded Wood, whom the others regarded with barely concealed contempt. By then the men had been in the vault nearly six hours. Despondency and fatigue had begun to set in. Nevertheless, Perkins and Jones continued to egg each other on as Jones pushed the drill through the wall.
After hours of exhausting work, they had finally managed to drill three holes, twenty inches deep through reinforced concrete. It was the moment they had all been waiting for. They were just inches away from the jewels, inches away from their audacious goal.
Except there was an obstruction.
It took a few seconds for them to figure it out, but the metal cabinet holding the safe deposit boxes, on the other side of the concrete wall, was bolted to the floor. Their moment of glee quickly disintegrated into disbelief. What could they do? If they drilled through the cabinet, it might destroy the very jewels and valuables they had come to steal. In any case, the cabinet wouldn’t budge. They tried to use the ten-ton hydraulic ram they had brought with them to push it over. They hadn’t anticipated the cabinet being locked into place.
“Smash that up!” Jones commanded. “Smash that up! Smash that up!” as Jones pumped the ram with the aim of pushing over the cabinet. But the pump “pinged back,” Perkins would later recall, and Jones fell to the floor with a thump. Jones and Perkins then secured the pump to the floor. But it was no use. As Perkins and Jones tried to push over the cabinet with the ram, the ram wouldn’t remain in place, and then shattered into dozens of pieces.
They had broken into a secure location, shimmied down an elevator shaft, disengaged the alarm system, and drilled through concrete—and they were nowhere. The jewels were just inches away but remained out of reach. There was nothing that could be done. Their frustration was intense, only slightly tempered, perhaps, by exhaustion and the resignation of aging criminals who were no strangers to stubbornly impregnable vaults that had eventually yielded to brute force and even more brute human will. But for now, their three years of planning had come to nothing. Reader, the “Master,” had proven anything but. Age appeared to have caught up with them.
The men lugged the heavy equipment back through the back passage to the fire escape door near the back of the building on Greville Street. Meanwhile, Collins, newly refreshed from his nap, left his hideout at 25 Hatton Garden and walked cautiously though determinedly toward the white van, parked on nearby Leather Lane. He was carrying his briefcase. He approached the vehicle, suddenly stopping in his tracks, looking left and right before getting in. As he arrived at the Greville Street entrance, a large green Carlsberg truck was pulling ahead, just a few feet in front of him. One by one, Reader, Jones, Wood, and Perkins exited the building, and loaded up the van with carrier bags and tools. But Basil, seemingly a loner, left the building from the front door entrance, walking away, carrying a dark bag that concealed his face from CCTV cameras.
The men left the premises on Friday at 8:06 a.m., empty-handed, some twelve hours after they had first arrived. They had worked through the night and were overcome with sleep deprivation. Their heads must have been pounding. Like many golden agers, they needed their sleep and, judging by their later grousing about the aborted mission, they were even more irritable if they didn’t get it.
It was a typical cloudy and rainy London day. Collins had activated the windshield wipers in the white van. The fresh air, daylight, and drizzle assaulted their senses after so many hours stuck in the cavernous, dimly lit, dusty basement, drilling. Daylight also brought with it a sense of reality that had been absent in the vault and once again the fear of getting caught intensified, at least for some members of the gang.
Collins, the only one who was well rested, drove Perkins and Jones to their homes in Enfield. Then Collins drove Reader to Collins’s house on Bletsoe Walk in Islington. From Collins’ house, Collins’ brother-in-law, Lincoln, drove Reader to London Bridge station, where Reader took a train back home to Kent. It was morning rush hour as Reader slid his senior citizen pass through the turnstile at the train station.
It turned out that human will had its limits, at least for one old man. In the hours after leaving 88–90 Hatton Garden, Brian Reader did something the others thought unimaginable: he abandoned the heist, deciding that it was too risky to return to the scene of the crime. Jones and Perkins would later express how they had felt exhaustion, disbelief, and anger that Reader was abandoning them when they needed him most. Of the gang, Collins was the most sympathetic to Reader, whom Jones and Perkins resented. But Reader had made up his mind. He was out.
Perhaps the years he had spent in a jail cell flashed through his mind. He had a lot to consider. He wasn’t the spring chicken he once had been. There was his ill son, who had high blood pressure. His dead wife. Perhaps he couldn’t face another day behind bars.
The others were now bereft of the Master, both the chief strategist and curmudgeonly cheerleader. And they were irate that he had pulled out, angry at his cowardice and unwillingness to follow through on what they had started. Following the bungled burglary, Jones, in particular, was intent on going back in, convinced that they could infiltrate the vault, if only they could get a stronger battering ram to push over the cabinet.
Rather than return immediately to Hatton Garden, the remaining members of the gang decided to go home to gather their strength. Collins went back to his wife, Millie, at his home in north London, and, one imagines, took a nap. Carl Wood, ailing and perennially irritable, was, by all accounts, feeling skittish and nervous.
Jones returned to his north London home where he kept his drilling videos. At that point, there were no television reports of the break-in. Did that mean it was safe to go back? As for Reader, his decision to walk away meant that he could now be cut off from any booty. But the rest of the gang needed to make sure that Basil, Reader’s associate, and the one with the keys and codes to get into the building, didn’t ditch them. They proceeded to lobby him not to give up. “I’ll tell you something now, if we never proceeded me and you, Basil would have walked away,” Jones later recalled. The remaining team members decided to plod on.
Meanwhile, Reader was at home in his country-style manor in Kent. His last big job had imploded. He was out of the game, but at least he remained a free man.
Vinnie Jones on a Mission for Power Tools
They were an eccentric duo: the athletic fabulist who imagined himself as a would-be soldier and the pot-bellied senior citizen who made a killing selling smuggled cigarettes. But Jones and Collins were nevertheless united by a common adventurous zeal, a love of their canine companions, whom they both talked to, and a determination to finish what they had begun.
So it was that on Sunday, the day after the first bungled burglary, the two men used Collins’ Mercedes to go shopping and buy another hydraulic pump. First, they set out for D & M Tools, a tool store in the affluent west London suburb of Twickenham. Wearing a gray-hooded sweatshirt and no disguise, a jovial-looking Jones entered the store and casually asked the woman at the cash register about the store’s inventory of pumps.
When D & M didn’t have the model of pump they were looking for, they went next door to Machine Mart, another tool store, where Jones paid about £100 ($140) for a new red Clarke pump ram and hose. He used his last name for the invoice but with the initial V for his first name, which the British media would later breathlessly conclude was a reference to Vinnie Jones from the 1998 heist film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Less glamorously, it was a reference to his long-standing partner, Valerie Hart. A store attendant recalled that Jones, appearing calm and relaxed, had put his own street address on the invoice.
A CCTV camera outside D & M also recorded video footage of the two men, along with Collins’ distinctive black Mercedes with its white roof and black alloy tires. Collins, apparently giddy with excitement about the prospect of going back in, called Perkins to update him on the purchase. Then he called Wood. Returning to the scene of the crime was fraught with risks. But if they were nervous, they managed to overcome it, and decided to proceed.
Returning to the Scene of the Crime
When the remaining members of the gang returned to Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd—a full forty-eight hours later on Sunday, April 4—Perkins’ sixty-seventh birthday—they found that the fire exit door at the back of the building, which they had left unlocked, was now engaged. Lionel Wiffen had stopped by his office on Saturday with his wife to prepare for a visit by an electrician the next day. After noticing that the fire exit door on Greville Street was unlocked and ajar, he locked it, and went to his offices. He had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. He was the only person to visit the premises on the weekend. Most of the neighboring businesses were, as the criminals hoped and suspected, closed for the Easter weekend. Wiffen then checked the door leading from the courtyard into the basement. It had been bolted from the inside after Basil had left the building after the first night. After cleaning his office, Wiffen departed the building at 9 p.m.
At 9:17 p.m., Collins left his home in north London, and with Jones, Wood, and Perkins, drove his white Mercedes to Hatton Garden to check out the area. They got out of the car and walked carefully toward the fire escape door near Greville Street. They looked around. The coast was clear. Satisfied with their preliminary reconnaissance mission, the men left Hatton Garden before returning, around 10 p.m., only this time in the white van.
It is not clear how the others had convinced Basil to return to the scene of the crime, but he did. As the men waited for Basil to go to the front of the building, unlock the door from the inside and let them in, as he had done on the first night, this time Carl Wood got cold feet as he tried to open the locked fire escape door at least two times. The others were already fed up with Wood, a whiny man beset by illnesses and debt, always complaining. They were also probably calculating in their heads how much Wood’s departure would enlarge their share of the loot. Collins nevertheless urged him to stay.
“He thought we would never get in,” he later told Jones and Perkins. “The cunt I said, ‘Give it another half hour; fuck, we’ve done everything we can do; if we can’t get in, we won’t be able to get in, will we?’”
Evidently spooked, Wood scuttled back up the stairs near the fire escape and fled on nearby Leather Lane, “His arsehole went and he thought we would never get in,” Collins added.
They were now down two men. With Wood and Reader out, only three remained. It was half the crew they’d planned for, but Jones, Basil, and Perkins remained steadfast. They wanted what they’d set out to take. And when you want something strongly or for long enough, it can begin to feel like it’s already yours.
After Basil let them into the building, the gang returned to their posts inside the vault. The men carried their equipment, including several wheeled trash cans, back into the safe deposit. Jones carried a black Nike bag and the new pump and hose, enclosed in a red box that matched his shoes. Collins, for his part, returned to his lookout post at 25 Hatton Garden, this time determined not to snooze.
As Collins scanned the empty street below, Basil, Jones, and Perkins set about dislodging the cabinet, anchoring the new pump with metal joists on the wall opposite the vault.
Once again, Jones said, “Smash that up!” Jones began pumping aggressively. This time, the pump did not “ping” back. The men were urging one another on.
“It’s fucking working!” Perkins cried out. “It ain’t ping back. It ain’t fucking come back.” He egged on his friend as Jones continued to pump. The pump hissed violently and suddenly there was a loud bang.
“We’re in! We’re in!” Perkins hollered, abandoning his usual calm. They had succeeded, at last.
“It was hissing, that pump, bang, didn’t it?” Jones would later recall. The noise, he complained, had given him a massive headache. Jones slithered through the narrow figure-eight-shaped hole in the concrete. It was just as well Collins was the lookout man; he was portly and would’ve struggled to wiggle through. Once inside the vault, Jones used heavy cutting equipment to jimmy open 73 out of 999 safe deposit boxes to ransack them. The usual method to open a safe deposit box was for the box’s owner and a security guard to individually turn two separate keys clockwise at the same time. But in the absence of keys, brute force could do the trick.
Jones focused mostly on the boxes at eye level on the right-hand side. Dislodging one box would loosen the box next to it. But in a sign of his frantic state of mind or lack of experience, he chose boxes randomly, significantly slowing himself down and reducing the gang’s final booty. “The safety deposit boxes at Hatton Garden were the difficult ones—they were made in the 1950s,” a person familiar with the heist’s planning recalled. “In other places you could do a box per minute—or 60 boxes an hour. But then Jones was saying, ‘Oh, I’ll do that one, now I’ll do that one.’ So it took longer. That’s why they only opened about 70 boxes.” And of the 73 boxes they opened, about 29 were empty. Among the nearly 1,000 boxes, dozens were empty because they belonged to box owners who had defaulted on their rent, according to a statement the safe deposit company gave to police.
Nevertheless, the men quickly filled several bags and two large trash bins with jewels, gold, precious stones, and cash. The bags were so weighted down with jewels, that they struggled to carry all the loot up the stairs to the fire escape. As they emptied the boxes and stuffed jewels into wheelie bins, Perkins, at one point, nearly collapsed. Had his blood sugar gone too low? Wielding a drill while shooting himself with insulin had apparently taken its toll. But he was nevertheless elated and managed to bring several bags stuffed with jewels to the fire escape in the back of the building where Collins was waiting nearby in the van, its front lights on. Jones and Perkins loaded the trash cans into the van. The men, though exhausted, tried to work quickly. Greville Street was deserted, save two pigeons on the street, oblivious to the historic burglary unfolding before them.
Before they left, Jones brought the red pump he had bought earlier that day in Twickenham back to the van. He left behind the Sealy pump that had malfunctioned. Jones had apparently studied his copy of Forensics for Dummies, and the men scrubbed every inch of the safe deposit with bleach, ensuring that Scotland Yard wouldn’t find even a trace of DNA evidence.
At 6:44 a.m. on Sunday—more than ten hours after they’d entered for the second time, and more than two days after they’d initially broken in—exhausted and out of breath, the men sped away in the white
van. Collins dropped them off at each of their homes. Later that day, William Lincoln called his nephew John Harbinson, a taxi driver, and asked him if he would be willing to collect some goods for him for storage. He did not say what they were.
The next day, Jones and Perkins met at Collins’ house in north London to take stock of the loot before Harbinson spirited away three bags stuffed with jewels in his taxi. It was a good haul. At least £14 million, or $21 million worth of gold, gems, diamonds, and cash, most of which was stored at Collins’s house. They would meet the next day to divvy it up.
It was more than they had even hoped for.
Reprinted from THE LAST JOB. Copyright © 2019 by Dan Bilefsky. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dan Bilefsky is a journalist for The New York Times who has reported from cities around the world, including London, Paris, Brussels, Prague, and Istanbul. He is currently a Canada correspondent for the paper, based in Montreal.