Largest Bank Robbery in US History


On October 27, 1878, The Manhattan Savings Institution was robbed of $3 million (about $90 million today). This enormous sum was the largest bank robbery in American History. When I think of bank robberies, (which I try to limit to once a day) I think of the wild west and the notorious robbers such as John Dillinger in the 1930’s. But the largest robbery (counting for inflation) happened right here in the Big Apple.

The Manhattan Savings Institution occupied a small fortress on the north east corner of Bleeker Street and Broadway. Criminal mastermind George Leonidas Leslie had wanted to rob the place for years and was meticulously planning a heist. He recruited prolific bank robber Jimmy Hope to organize a crew and pull off the operation.

On October 27th Hope and several other criminals kidnapped janitor Louis Werckle and his family, who lived in an apartment above the bank. He forced Werckle to open the bank and outer vault door. The actual vault had to be cracked by the team of safecrackers accompanying Hope. After several hours they got in and started carrying their newfound wealth out the back door.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Thomas Byrnes took over the case himself. After a lengthy interview with detectives (google “the 3rd degree” for an idea about how that interview went), bank employee Patrick Shevlin admitted that had helped the crew with planning and access to the building. Eventually 10 men were arrested for the robbery. Only Hope, his son, and associate Bill Kelly were convicted. Hope immediately escaped and continued his prolific life of crime.

The Manhattan Savings Institution never actually went out of business. It lasted until 1942 until it merged with other banks. Through a series of other mergers and acquisitions it is currently a part of HSBC.


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