It was called the crime of the century, the largest heist in US history, an almost perfect robbery. Seventy years ago today, a group of men stole $1.2 million in cash and $1.5 million in checks and other securities from a Brink’s armored car depot in the North End.
But only about $57,000 of the loot was ever recovered.
The question remains: what happened to the money?
In April 1950, FBI agents received information that some of the stolen money was hidden at 771 VFW Parkway in West Roxbury, home of Mary Hooley. She was the sister of suspect Joseph “Specs” O’Keefe, who later became an informant against the gang. Agents searched Hooley’s home and found several hundred dollars, but none could be traced to the Brink’s heist.
Stephanie Schorow,author of “The Crime of the Century: How the Brink’s Robbers Stole Millions and the Hearts of Boston,” said while there are many theories of where the missing money went, the likely answer is that the robbers quietly spent it.
“The rest might be buried somewhere," she said, “but all indications are that the robbers spent the money little by little, often in investments that went bust or on gambling and boozing.”
Schorow said many people confuse details from the 1978 movie “The Brink’s Job” with the real crime.
“For example, the movie suggests the robbers planned to hold off spending money until the statute of limitations ran out," she said. "That’s not what happened — although the robbers WERE arrested just before the state statute of limitations would have run out.”
It took almost six years for authorities to arrest the gang that pulled off the Brink’s job, which gave the robbers plenty of time to squander their ill-gotten gains.
At least one suspect bought a piece of land. The Associated Press reported that when Vincent James Costa was going through a divorce in 1988, he told a judge he bought land for $1,800 on Nov. 10, 1950, and built a house on it. (Costa also told the judge that his share of the Brink’s loot amounted to about $100,000 but his son cheated him out of most of it, according to the Associated Press).
In 1956, the case broke wide open.
On Jan. 6, 1956, Specs O’Keefe decided to cooperate with authorities. FBI agents had wanted to interview him. “All right,” he told the agents, “what do you want to know?” O’Keefe admitted to his part in the heist and agreed to testify against the other men.
Within a week, six of the Brink’s suspects — Costa, Anthony Pino, Henry Baker, Michael Vincent Geagan, Adolph “Jazz” Maffie, and Joseph McGinnis — were arrested by FBI agents. Two members of the gang — Thomas F. “Sandy” Richardson and James Faherty — managed to elude authorities and were placed on the FBI’s most wanted list.
The FBI later found Richardson and Faherty hiding out in an apartment at 87 Coleman St. in Dorchester. On May 16, 1956, plainclothes FBI agents showed up and burst through the door of the first-floor unit, taking Faherty and Richardson by surprise. “Behind a battered hall door and heavily-curtained windows the wanted pair had lived eight weeks of tedium, boredom, and frustration, broken only when their confederate sneaked in with groceries and liquor," the Globe reported.
The Globe described their hideout as a cramped one-bedroom apartment. Dog-eared magazines and paperback books were scattered about. They had been living there for a while.
“Behind a battered hall door and heavily-curtained windows the wanted pair had lived eight weeks of tedium, boredom and frustration, broken only when their confederate sneaked in with groceries and liquor," the Globe reported at the time.
Another big break happened on June 3, 1956, when a Boston man named Jordan Perry was caught trying to spend musty, worn-out bills in Baltimore. FBI agents traced the bills to the Brink’s heist and found that Perry had $4,635 of the Brink’s loot. Perry told police John “Fats” Buccelli had offered to pay him $5,000 if he could pass $30,000 of the stolen cash.
That led authorities to Buccelli’s office at 617 Tremont St. in Boston’s South End, where they discovered a picnic cooler hidden behind a fake wall. The cooler was filled with more than $57,700 in cash — $51,906 of which came from the Brink’s robbery, according to the FBI.
The tattered bills were in rough shape, and many were stuck together. The FBI found mold and insect remains on the money.
“The Perry money was the only money ever found that was connected to the robbery,” said Schorow.
More than $1,150,000 of the cash remains missing.
And the crime continues to captivate people, even all these years later.
“It was truly almost the perfect crime,” said Schorow. “No one was hurt in the robbery — that is important to remember. . . . People still wonder how a group of somewhat bumbling thieves were able to pull off such a well-timed heist. Think of the popularity of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and its remakes. The idea of a crime with fabulous loot in which no one is even scratched is always compelling.”
Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.