7 Epic Toy Heists
While the majority of robberies center around cash or expensive jewels, not all thieves have a taste for boring currency. Some like to keep it fun by ripping off every valuable toy in sight. Take a look at seven of the most audacious thefts that were sheer child’s play.
1. THE BEANIE BABY BANDIT
Beanie mania gripped the nation in the 1990s, causing otherwise sensible individuals to pay hundreds of dollars for stuffed penguins. While some small-time operators got away with just a few hundred of the plush animals, it was Ben Perri of Glendale Heights, Illinois who was thought to have made the big score.
According to the Associated Press, the 77-year-old was arrested in 1997 for possession of over 1247 Beanies of the 6000 total that were reported missing from manufacturer Ty Inc.’s warehouse in Westmont. (A private detective hired by Ty tracked Perri to his Beanie-stocked storage lockers, then tipped off authorities.) Among those seized by cops: Bubbles, Digger, and Radar, some of which were “retired” toys that fetched more than $1000 each.
Perri, however, was acquitted in a trial after police failed to find evidence that he knew the Beanies in his possession had been stolen from Ty. (Perri claimed to have bought them at a flea market.) The collector later had to spar with police over retaining Beanie custody of the toys. "As far as we know, this is still stolen merchandise," Deputy Police Chief Jim Linane told the Chicago Tribune. "We need proof of ownership, and Mr. Perri has never proven ownership." Perri countered with "Nobody gives you receipts at the flea market. I've got a lot of money invested in those Beanies. Hard-earned money. I'm very disappointed." Ultimately, Ty and Perri agreed to a local radio station’s offer of a Christmas sale to raise money for needy children. The Chicago Tribune estimated that the haul would yield over $80,000 for charity.
2. THE BLACK MARKET LEGO BRICKS
According to a 2014 Arizona Republic story, Peoria realtor Troy Koehler and co-conspirators were arrested when investigators traced a series of LEGO set robberies to Koehler’s home. After tracking the movements of multiple thieves who would remove the security devices from expensive kits, police found that Koehler had a garage and three storage units full of black-market bricks totaling $200,000. Allegedly, Koehler would take the damaged shoplifted LEGO back to the store and exchange it for a brand new box that he would sell online for a profit. Koehler was charged with second-degree trafficking in stolen property and received a suspension of prosecution in July 2016 providing he stays out of trouble.
3. THE HESS TRUCK HEIST
From 1964 to 2014, the Hess Corporation issued a commemorative toy truck every holiday season that was sold at gas stations (since selling their gas stations in 2014, the toys have been sold online and in select stores). The trucks became popular among collectors, with the limited runs sometimes failing to meet demand. During its 50th anniversary in 2014, two men were arrested on charges of making off with nearly $11,000 worth of the 2012 trucks in Carlstadt, New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Record, suspect Miguel Centino and an accomplice, Rodolfo Chavarria, took cases containing 360 haulers off a stolen trailer and placed the cases in their vehicles. Centino was charged with one count of theft of moveable property and released on a summons; Chavarria and two other conspirators were charged with one count of receiving stolen property and were also released on summonses.
4. THE HOLE IN THE WALL GANG
An independent toy store in Hobart, Australia was victimized in 2014 when thieves managed to tunnel a hole in the wall of the building, making off with $7000 worth of remote-controlled helicopters and train sets. Owner Samm Harrington told local media that he had obtained surveillance footage of a suspicious man who appeared to be casing the place days prior. The possible thief returned the day after his initial visit and bought a $2 Hot Wheels car “so he didn’t get totally sussed out,” Harrington said.
5. THE TOY CARJACKING
In 1997, three girls under the age of 10 in Bar Harbor, Maine were accused of stealing a toy Jeep from a garage in their neighborhood. To cover their tracks, the girls repainted the red Power Wheels vehicle all black and removed all the decals, telling their parents they had found the $500 item in a trash pile. When the parents of the girl with the missing Jeep posted fliers about the theft, four of the parents chopped the car into pieces in an attempt to destroy the evidence. When the cover up was exposed, a judge ordered them each to pay a $254 fine in addition to restitution.
6. THE REWARD SYSTEM THIEF
According to a 2012 Sun-Sentinel story, Fort Lauderdale resident Michael Pollara might be one of the most prolific thieves to ever set foot in a Toys ‘R Us. For 10 years, Pollara canvassed the country, dropping in on TRU locations and perpetuating what authorities referred to as a “box stuffing” scheme: He would locate a large box with a low price, empty its cheaper contents, then fill it up with smaller and more expensive items to sell online. The system was so lucrative it’s estimated Pollara made over a million dollars in one year alone. His downfall? Being preoccupied with the perks of his TRU Rewards Card. Law enforcement officials were able to track his movements in 139 stores across 27 states because he insisted on using it during his illegal transactions. Pollara served two years for the spree.
7. CAUGHT-ON-FIRE BARBIE
Barbie, that impossibly-proportioned icon of toy shelves, was the target of a 1992 heist valued at over $1 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, collector Glen Offield was at a doll collector show when a thief entered and procured 5000 prized Barbies from his bedroom. To disguise the heist, he (or she) then set the property on fire; officials grew wise when they failed to find any immolated Barbie torsos among the ruins. Offield’s collection contained over 200 rare prototypes, as well as prized Ken and Skipper dolls. Authorities recovered the dolls from a storage later just weeks later. Neither Barbie nor her Corvettes were harmed.