Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: David Spalding
Wanted For: Robbery
Missing Since: August 22, 1987
Details: At 8PM on Friday, June 6, 1986, an alarm sounded at the First Interstate Bank in Hollywood, California. A police officer was sent to the bank to investigate. He found no evidence of a break-in and left. On Monday morning, bank employees arrived at work. When a bank officer opened the vault, she was shocked to discover a hole in the floor and over $2 million stolen.
Incredibly, someone had tunneled thirty yards from a nearby street, ending up precisely underneath the vault. Using hand tools, the thieves patiently sliced through the eighteen inch-thick steel-reinforced concrete floor. Once inside, they made off with over $2 million in cash, jewelry, and rare coins. The robbery was one of the biggest in Hollywood history.
Investigators were shocked at the amount of work that the thieves put into committing the crime. It was viewed as the burglary "crime of the century". Underneath the streets of Los Angeles, a subterranean highway of storm drains exist. Investigators discovered that the thieves used these drains to tunnel to the bank, where they could tunnel undetected into the vault. They dug ninety-five feet from the drain to the bank. The tunnels were approximately three-and-a-half feet wide by four-and-a-half feet high. They were all dug by hand but finished with electric tools. It was a remarkable feat of precision engineering. Experts have noted that the tunnels were dug safely and expertly.
Investigators searched underground in a three-mile radius of the bank, looking for signs of the thieves. However, no clues or physical evidence was found. It seemed as if the "perfect crime" had been committed. Fourteen months later, another bank in California was robbed in the same manner. On Saturday, August 22, 1987, the alarm system went off at a Bank of America in West Los Angeles. Police were called in to investigate. The assistant bank manager opened the vault. They discovered that the vault had been broken into; apparently, the burglars had fled while the robbery was in progress. On the floor, an eighteen-inch hole was cut through the concrete.
When investigators learned of the robbery, they were certain that it was committed by the same thieves. Because they were interrupted, however, the thieves were only able to steal $90,000. They left behind their tools and some work clothes. They also left an eighteen-inch core bit, a cutting tool used in construction to bore large holes through cement. It was purchased in the San Francisco Bay area by a construction company using a fictitious name and address in San Diego. They paid in cash.
Again, investigators searched miles of storm drains for any clues to the thieves' identity. Approximately three miles from the bank, they found a four-wheel vehicle called a quadrunner just inside a storm drain entrance. It is believed that two men were involved in the robberies. It is suspected that the used the vehicles to transport their heavy equipment underground. The core bit and drill alone required a drill press that weighed in excess of 100 pounds.
Investigators concluded that the thieves were close friends, possibly army buddies, who were able to work together for long periods of time in confined areas. It is believed that it took three to six weeks to dig the tunnels. It is also believed that a third man was involved, as the thieves must have been warned by someone outside of the bank about the alarm. Footprints indicated that one of the thieves ran through the tunnel barefoot, the other in stocking feet. They abandoned one of their vehicles and apparently escaped on foot.
Despite all of the evidence recovered, no fingerprints were found, except one that was found on the quadrunner. The print was compared to known criminals, but no matches were ever made. Investigators again went underground, looking for clues. About a mile-and-a-half from the Bank of America, they found another tunnel, completely finished. This 102-foot ended beneath a Beverly Hills bank. The mounting bolts for the drill were already in place under the vault. If they were successful, the thieves would have gotten away with between $10 and $20 million.
Investigators learned that the quadrunner was purchased by a man named "David Spaulding". His only known address was a post office box in Hollywood. One or two people using this name purchased five of these vehicles. Sales associates helped to create two composites of the same man. He is a Caucasian male, around thirty-five (in 1989), 6'0", and rugged looking, as if used to outdoor labor. Investigators nicknamed the thieves the "Burrowing Burglars" due to their underground nature.
The burglars were believed to be methodical, engaging in extensive surveillance of the underground sewers and above-ground regions, and careful use of tools to burrow their way into bank vaults.
As no bank robberies have occurred in the above manner since 1987, investigators believe the "Burrowing Burglars" have terminated their criminal careers. Fear of coming close to getting caught may have been a factor, but the more plausible explanation was the failure of the second robbery. Given the tremendous amount of time and effort applied to the robbery, an ill-gotten gain of $90,000 was a big disappointment to the robbers compared with the king's ransom of the first robbery.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the February 22, 1989 episode.
Similar burglaries have taken place in different parts of the United States, along with other countries; however, it is not likely that they are linked to the "Burrowing Burglars".
Results: Unresolved. Composite sketches have been made of two suspects, but they have never been positively identified. Police have called off their search for the robbers known as the "Burrowing Burglars" as the statutes of limitation for grand theft ran out in 1992.
- First Interstate Bank at Wikipedia
- Burglars Dig Tunnel Into L.A. Bank, Take $91,000
- Cases of Bank Thefts by 'Sophisticated' Burrowing May Be Linked
- (Book about the robbery) Hole in the Ground Gang
- Boring thieves had tunnel visions
- Forensic Topology
- Gone Gang: The Group That Got Away With Back-to-Back Heists—Then Vanished
- Space Invaders