How To Get Rich Cracking Safes

It's been several months now since the Tahoe Mystery Safe got opened, but the production company didn't live-stream it on the web as they told me they would. Supposedly they're saving a video sequence of it for the TV show "Found" on the Oprah Winfrey Network. If they can sell it, that is.

Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's too much YouTube, or maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems as if safe burglaries (or burglary attempts) are on the rise. I'm not doing any formal tracking, but I feel as if I hear about this more often nowadays.

As always, the majority of recent and past incidents are classifiable as attempts, rather than successful openings. However, there have a few more knowledgeable attacks, or so it would seem. In fact, recently someone forwarded a web link to an official-sounding alert re: an increase in ATM and bank vault attacks in Southern California by some well-organized and efficient groups that specialize in banks and ATMs. There have always been some high end, knowledgeable, and very effective safe burglary crews operating around the world and the U.S., but they are a statistical minority in the criminal milieu.

The increase in safe burglary attempts could be partly attributable to the fact that anyone can post (almost) any kind of a short video sequence on Youtube, and there sure are a handful of "safecracking" clips. Consequently, anyone with a computer and few spare minutes can watch and see how the cheapest boxes get pounded and pried open.

Americans are increasingly favoring visual learning formats like television and computers. The resulting lack of critical thinking abilities and the erosion of impulse controls and logic based plans of action conspire to make every vidiot think that watching something done on screen is virtually the same as doing it.

Most such filmmakers are kids or amateurs demonstrating mastery over what amount to very lightweight safes, sheet metal or light gauge boxes that barely qualify for the term "safe." Don't know why they do it or what they feel they're proving. Maybe it's just plain fun.

It can't be that much fun, though. On a bad day brutalizing a safe to open it is a workout, sometimes even an El Cheapo model.

Once upon a time I had to finish after two erstwhile safecrackers worked long and hard trying to pry and beat a relatively inconsequential safe open. It was at a business, and it seemed from the point of entry they didn't have much trouble entering from outside.

Once they found the relatively lightweight but decent quality safe, they went to work on it. I guess they figured a prybar and hammer would get the result they wanted, which was basically a big enough hole or opening to reach inside and extract the contents.

Based on the tool evidence as well as the damage, they started in an upper door corner, driving the prybar in for a bite. This can be deceptively difficult, even for a couple of strong guys. After the pry got a purchase, the sweating and straining started.

They seemed to have alternated between prying and hitting the door with the hand sledge. There was insulation powder from inside the door all over the office. It probably jetted out with every hammer blow, and it must have taken them a while, and it couldn't have been pretty . . .

When I got there to get it open, the top left corner of the door was pried outward until it folded, probably with the help of the hand sledge. To their credit, there was indeed access to the safe interior. They had managed to pry, beat, and fold back the top door corner, exposing an upper shelf upon which sat a camera bag and a rectangular metal petty cash box.

But damn, the opening they'd made wasn't big enough to pull either item out. At some point (probably soon after getting the opening made) they gave up and left. It was obvious they'd had a crummy night, what with safe insulation coating every surface in the office.

Oh yeah, forgot to say that at some point one of them must have inhaled a snootful of safe insulation, because one of them had thrown up (probably during a violent coughing anf gagging fit) on the adjacent desk and carpet. That must have explained why one of them had finally gotten the bright idea to remove the five gallon jug from the top of the water cooler and use it to liberally douse the torn-open corner of the safe door and the carpet and the barf with water.

That had to have been one frustrating night's work, especially to have gotten as far as being able to see something of possible value on the top shelf (camera bag and petty cash box) but still not be able to extract them, and also to have realized that prying the door open further to expose the next shelf down was going to be a lot more work than they'd already done.

As I was finishing the job of getting the door the rest of the way open, I remarked to the business owner, "well your safe is ruined, but at least it did its job."

He chuckled and said, "They would have been even more pissed if they knew where I keep the money."

I of course said "What? You don't keep it in the safe?"

Him: "Nope, I never trusted safes much. The money was in the wastebasket next to the safe the whole time. The safe was a good attention-getter, though." He indicated a medium sized trash container within three feet of the ruined safe with a bunch of papers filling the top half and covering the money bag at the bottom, which he pulled out.

I bet those safecrackers would have been worse than pissed if they'd known.

Ken Dunckel

Owner, Safecracker
Safe and Vault Service in the San Francisco Bay Are and Northern California
CA License 1985
CA Contractor 553337


Anonymous said…
Thanks for an interesting and informative site.

I was wondering if you have ever cracked a bank vault and what that experience was like.

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