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Meet The Pink Panthers: The Men Who Bring ‘Ocean's Eleven' To Real Life

Picture this exhilarating scene in your head: A notorious crime organization that has experienced immense success pulling off some of the world's most high profile heists come across a rare inconvenience. They have a valued member get caught and is now in jail. So what is there to do? Being the savvy breaking-and-entering aficionados they are, the gang plan an ambush of the prison complex incarcerating their accomplice.

Two vans ram the jailhouse, men take out AK-47s and unleash constant and relentless fire upon the over-matched and overwhelmed guards. The endless barrage of bullets, along with the opening in the barbed wire made by the intrusion of the vans, provides the perfect opportunity for their imprisoned comrade and another criminal to escape.

The plan comes out to be a massive success, sending French and Swiss police authorities, accompanied by their dogs, in a frenzied an ultimately futile search for the men. One guard was so traumatized by the ambush that he needs therapy to recover.

Sounds like it's right up Warner Brothers' alley, doesn't it? But this is no “Ocean's Eleven” sequel — this is real life. And for the Pink Panthers, the operation was just another successful escapade, marking the third time in as many months that a member of their organization has escaped from jail.

It's only right that the Panthers be behind an event that was one of the bigger things to happen in Europe over the weekend. After all, the crime syndicate has built its reputation on bamboozling police and racking up €330 million in over 340 robberies since 1993, according to Interpol, the intentional government agency.

According to Havana Marking, director of the film “Smash & Grab,” a documentary about the Pink Panthers and how they work, the group's emergence in the early 1990s is a result of post-Cold War conditions in Yugoslavia.

“As the Western world tried to sort of get stability back … one of the first things they did was to apply massive sanctions,” Marking was quoted as saying by NPR.

“And it meant that nobody could legally trade. … That led to a kind of black market that people saw sort of as a free-for-all. People almost had to become criminals to survive. And the Pink Panthers were sort of young men at the time who decided that diamonds … was going to be their particular niche of crime.”

That “necessity” to turn to a life a crime gave birth to a wave of cinematic heists that has shown us some of the greatest jobs in history. In 2007, the panthers audaciously drove two Sedans straight through a mall in Dubai, cleaned out a jewelery story, and drove off with $3.5 million in diamonds. Six years earlier, in 2001, had been the ultimate Italian Job in Rome.

A female member of the Panthers seduced the son of a wealthy man, manipulating the young heir into disclosing the location of his father's safe in the house. A few other members secured a renovation contract for the home. Another Panther, the safe-cracker, hid inside a chest that the “contractors” left on the bedroom balcony.

Then, after another son made his life easier by leaving the safe, which was typically hidden behind a painting, open for 15 minutes, the cracker was able to remove the diamonds and make it to the street, where he was quickly wheeled away.

“That was one of the most beautiful jobs I've ever done,” the get-away driver told Time editor Matt McAllester, who was reporting for the Globe and Mail in 2010, with a smile.

It was this type of job, so elaborate and calculated, that has become typical of the thieves that possess abilities of which few others can boast.

“I was at a club once in Montenegro and a few of the Panthers were there,” a source told Elite Daily. “Myself and a friend were talking one minute, next thing you know, one of thieves is twirling my friend's watch around his finger smiling. It's a God-given talent, man. They describe it as a God-given talent.”

If indeed there have been talents bestowed upon them from above, it seems as if the man upstairs has done so in great numbers, as the Pink Panthers are estimated to have 200 members divided amongst a network of loosely affiliated teams. Some members are ex-Balkan soldiers who joined at the Panthers' formation in 1993. None of them, however, can claim to be the head as there is allegedly no central, Godfather-like figure in the group.

The crime organization got its name in 2003 after London police found a stolen diamond hidden inside a jar of face cream, a technique that was used in one of the original “Pink Panther” films. Now, decades later, they are pulling off some of the most devious stunts and making profit off stolen commodities in quick and efficient fashion.

“They can get it to the buyer,” Marking, whose film debuts in New York tomorrow, explained. “They can get it to the person who's going to forge the diamond certificate, and then within 24 hours they can have sold these diamonds.”

With nearly half a billion of dollars stolen over the course of their thieving careers, it's a formula that has proven successful — the type of success that could make a few members love-stricken with what they do.

“I don't know why people spend money on diamonds,” one thief told NPR. “You know, I don't suffer from this showing off. For me, diamonds mean good cash. When you open a safe and you see it's a full, full safe, that's a feeling — it's like a feeling you might faint any moment. I love that.”

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Joseph Milord

Editor

Joseph is a Senior Writer, Editor and early member of the Elite Daily team. He studied Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and will probably call Jersey home forever.
Joseph is a Senior Writer, Editor and early member of the Elite Daily team. He studied Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and will probably call Jersey home forever.

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