Breaking The Bank: How a UFC warrior pulled off a biggest bank heist ever

February 7, 2015 - accent chair

In honour of Sports Illustrated’s 60th anniversary, is republishing, in full, 60 of a best stories to ever seem in a magazine. Today’s preference is “Breaking The Bank,” by L. Jon Wertheim, that ran in a Apr 14, 2008 issue.

Four years ago “Lightning” Lee Murray done his Ultimate Fighting Championships entrance in Las Vegas. Today he sits in a jail dungeon in Morocco, a purported designer in a largest income heist in history. SO TELL US: IS THAT SOMETHING YOU MIGHT FIND INTERESTING?

With flashing blue lights educational his rearview mirror, Colin Dixon pulled his automobile to a side of a forlorn road. It was around 6 on a dusk of Feb. 21, 2006, and Dixon had usually clocked out from his office during a Securitas income repository in Tonbridge, England, 30 miles southeast of executive London. A intentionally nondescript, brownish-red building tucked behind a automobile correct garage, a repository serves as a informal room of sorts, where income for the Bank of England is stored and disbursed. Dixon, 52, was a manager.

Now, pushing home, he figured he was removing pulled over by an unmarked military automobile for a slight trade stop. A tall, athletic-looking male in a military uniform approached. Though it would spin out that a patrolman was no patrolman during all—the uniform was fake, a Kent military badge he flashed had been purchased on eBay, and a guy’s face had been twisted with assistance from a maestro makeup artist—Dixon was compliant. He got out of his Nissan sedan and was handcuffed and placed in a behind of a other car.

He would after attest that a driver, a second male in uniform, incited and pronounced menacingly, “You will have guessed we are not policemen…. Don’t do anything foolish and we won’t get hurt.” When Dixon attempted to adjust his handcuffs, he says a “officer” who’d apprehended him brandished a pistol and barked, “We’re not f—— about. This is a nine-millimeter.”

Dixon was blindfolded and eliminated to a van, afterwards taken to a remote plantation in western Kent. Meanwhile, dual other feign cops gathering to Dixon’s home in a circuitously city of Herne Bay, along with accomplices in a second van. Greeted during a doorway by Dixon’s wife, Lynn, they explained that her father had been in a critical trade accident. They pronounced that Lynn and a couple’s immature child indispensable to accompany them to a hospital. Outside a home, a Dixons were placed in a behind of a second outpost and taken to a farm, where a Dixons were reunited. At once relieved and terrified, they were firm and reason during gunpoint. Colin Dixon was systematic to give a plotters information about a depot. “If we cooperate, no one will get hurt. Otherwise,” one abductor warned, “you’ll get a hole in you.”

A organisation of during slightest 7 group afterwards gathering to a Securitas depot, Colin Dixon concomitant a artificial military officer in a sedan and his family firm in a behind of a large, white Renault truck. By now it was after midnight on a morning of Feb. 22. Surveillance video shows Dixon being buzzed into a repository with an officer beside him. Once inside, a feign patrolman overpowers a confidence ensure and buzzes in a rest of a robbers wearing ski masks and armed with high-powered weapons, including an AK-47. Dixon told a 14 staffers operative a cemetery shift, “They’ve got my family,” and educated them not to reason a alarms. He proceeded to deactivate a confidence complement and palm over a keys to a vault. The Dixons and a staff were afterwards firm and placed in steel cages routinely used for storing cash. The lorry can be seen subsidy adult to a loading dock.

The robbers clearly knew their approach around a depot—where a doors were located and how they locked—and with good reason. One member of a gang, Ermir Hysenaj, 28, an Albanian immigrant, was a classical inside man. Months earlier, after usually a 10-minute office interview, Hysenaj had been hired for roughly $11 an hour to work a dusk change during a depot. It was after suggested that in a weeks before a robbery, he had come to work wearing a tiny video camera dark in his belt buckle.

For a subsequent 40 minutes, a squad emptied a safe of a contents, wheeling steel carts filled with income into a truck. The supply of £10 and £20 records was so large that by a time a lorry was filled to capacity, it accounted for usually one entertain of a income in a vault. Still, a conspirators absconded with a transport of £53 million, or some-more than $100 million.


Jon Wertheim

If a hop didn’t entail pyrotechnics estimable of, say, a stream film The Bank Job, it seemed to come off remarkably smoothly, during slightest from a robbers’ perspective. All their fortify and prudent credentials had paid off. There were no surprises. No one was physically injured, many reduction ventilated with bullets. No one had triggered a alarms. At around 3 a.m., Dixon’s child was means to coast out of a steel enclosure and a military were summoned. By afterwards a thieves were behind during a plantation divvying adult a money—a annuity that one British prosecutor would after impersonate as “dishonest benefit roughly over a dreams of avarice.”

As investigators worked to moment a case, they began to think that a ringleader was Lee Murray, and that he and his companion Lea Rusha were a impostors who had initial abducted Colin Dixon. Murray was no foreigner to London law enforcement. He spent time in a youthful apprehension core as an youth and after was attempted and clear in a critical road-rage incident. Ironically, he’d also been questioned by military after a trade stop in a area of a Securitas repository a summer before a robbery. But he was a distinguished figure in pockets of a sports village as well, a fearsome British enclosure warrior who’d recently left a stretch opposite a good Brazilian champion Anderson Silva. Murray mislaid a preference and was paid a homogeneous of a few thousand dollars for that fight. Now, Kent military contended, he was a refugee in Morocco, luxuriating poolside during a villa in an upscale partial of Rabat. Lightning Lee was now value a tiny happening in pounds sterling, they alleged, carrying usually orchestrated a largest income heist in history.


Photo: Kent Police/AFP/AP

Lee Murray came into a universe in 1977 with his fists balled, and he never utterly seemed to unclench them. The son of a British mom and a Moroccan father—his given name is Lee Lamrani Ibrahim Murray—he grew adult bad in open housing in a rough-and-tumble territory circuitously London’s East End.

His salvation, such as it was, came by fighting. It wasn’t so many what he did as who he was. By his possess reckoning, he was a maestro of hundreds of travel fights, backing adult his target, transferring his weight and afterwards unloading punches that would seem to erupt on impact. After so many bare-knuckle brawls, he figured, not unreasonably, that he competence as good get paid for his violence. He busy fighting and kickboxing gyms, channeling some of his primal tendencies into churned martial humanities (MMA), a increasingly renouned competition that combines a distinguished of fighting and Muay Thai with a belligerent diversion of wrestling and jujitsu. In sold Murray had designs on competing in a Octagon, a eight-sided enclosure used for bouts in a Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a preeminent MMA league, that is headquartered in a U.S.

Murray famous that while his stand-up fighting was exceptional, he was during a detriment when a hitch went to a ground. That is, he indispensable to urge his grappling and jujitsu, disciplines predicated reduction on beast strength and charge than on technique and smarts. So in a winter of 2000 he packaged a duffle bag, flew to a U.S. and done his approach to dirty Bettendorf, Iowa. Pat Miletich, a former youth college wrestler and five-time UFC champion, had non-stop an MMA training gym in Bettendorf a few blocks from the banks of a Mississippi. Aspiring fighters came there from all over a world, creation Miletich’s gym to fighters what Florence was to Renaissance painters—though with bloodier canvasses.

To this day, Miletich’s supposed Battlebox represents jaunty Darwinism during a many brutal. Under a open-door policy, anyone is acquire to come and punch opposite a fast of regulars, many of whom have fought in a UFC. Self-styled tough guys uncover adult each Monday. Those with a claim ability and ruggedness stay. The other 95% are behind on a interstate, bloodied and bruised, before sundown. Murray was one of a few who stranded it out. All bone and fast-twitch muscle, Murray was built like a sprinter. He stood 6’3″ yet could cut weight and quarrel as light as 170 pounds. One Miletich warrior likened a child with a Cockney accent to a British greyhound. “Lee Murray had world-class punching power,” recalls Robbie Lawler, a tip churned martial humanities warrior who sparred frequently with Murray. “Man, he would strike a mitts—pop-pop-POP-POP—and we would stop your examination and demeanour over since it sounded like gunfire.”

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Murray crashed with other Miletich fighters before removing a room during a shopworn motel not distant from a gym. He wasn’t antithetic to going out for a drink from time to time, yet he’d come to America’s heartland to train. When he wasn’t in a gym, strip-mining Miletich for wrestling tips, he was lifting weights or going for runs underneath a large architecture of Iowa sky. “Not one pointer of trouble,” says Miletich. “One of his initial days, we told him, ‘It’s adult to we how distant we wish to go in this sport. At your tallness and weight and a approach we hit, we could be a champion.’ It was usually a doubt of training what to do once a quarrel strike a ground.”

That spring, Murray entered a four-man MMA contest in farming Wisconsin. After winning his initial bout, Murray fought a rugged Canadian, Joe Doerksen, now a UFC veteran. Murray showed his unawareness and got hold in a acquiescence reason called an arm bar. He “tapped out” (surrendered) and accursed himself a whole expostulate behind to Iowa. Having tired his budget, Murray returned to England. But he kept fighting and started to win. While MMA was apropos mainstream in a U.S., a competition was still an subterraneous office in a U.K. Still, among a niche assembly Murray was regarded as maybe England’s best fighter. “He was one of those guys who rose to a arise when he fought,” says Paul Ivens, an instructor during a London Shootfighters Club, where Murray mostly trained. “You get guys who are tough on a travel yet they pulp in a genuine fight. He was one of a advantageous ones who would bask underneath pressure.”

In Jul 2002 Murray attended a UFC label during Royal Albert Hall in London. The UFC was perplexing to widespread a gospel to a other side of a pond, and in further to a fighters on a card, many of a organization’s brightest stars were on hand, including Miletich, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. The pretension hitch featured a Miletich fighter, Matt Hughes, fortifying his welterweight title. After a label ended, a fighters remade to a internal bar for an after party, a long-standing UFC tradition. At shutting time a fighters and their entourages filed out. Walking down a street, Miletich felt a physique on his back. It incited out to be a crony of Tito Ortiz’s. The male was giving Miletich a witty bear hug, yet unexpected Miletich felt a male removing ripped off his back. Another warrior had incorrectly believed that Miletich was being attacked. As a disagreement was being sorted out, Paul (the Enforcer) Allen, a longtime associate of Murray’s, approached. In what he certainly suspicion was a uncover of faithfulness to both Miletich and Murray, Allen cold-cocked Ortiz’s pal.

This triggered what competence arrange as a Mother of All Street Fights, a stage that’s spin as many a partial of UFC science as any hitch inside a Octagon. A who’s who of a UFC and their entourages—drunk and in travel clothes—began throwing haymakers indiscriminately. One posse member was knocked into a travel and his arm was run over by a cab. Liddell got burst in a behind of a conduct and went ballistic. “I’m attack guys with spinning backfists, usually dropping guys,” says Liddell. “It was a classical travel fight. ‘If we don’t know you, we dump you.'”

In a mayhem Ortiz and Murray corroborated into an alley and squared off. According to churned witnesses, Ortiz threw a left hook. He missed, and Murray afterwards dismissed off a mixed that embellished Ortiz. The self-proclaimed Bad Boy of a UFC fell to a pavement. (Ortiz declined to criticism to SI.) Officially, Murray was still a earnest up-and-comer. But as accounts of a m�lange rocketed by UFC circles, a skinny British child who poleaxed a strong Tito Ortiz became a teenager legend. “He’s a frightful son of a bitch,” says a UFC’s outspoken president, Dana White. “And we don’t meant fighterwise.”

As for authorised fights, Murray continued to win those too, mostly with harmful knockouts. In Jul 2003, he took on a well-regarded Brazilian warrior José (Pelé) Landi-Jons during a London event. After removing pummeled for a round, Murray regrouped and stiff Pelé with a right hand. “He’s substantially still in a ring, substantially still sleeping, catchin’ flies,” Murray gloated in a postfight interview, mimicking a dazed, open-mouthed demeanour of his opponent. “I know now that … [the] UFC have gotta open their eyes to me, they gotta take me. There’s no ifs or buts.” Sure enough, 6 months after Murray was summoned by a UFC to quarrel on a Las Vegas card. Concealing a untimely fact that he’d recently been questioned about his impasse in a road-rage occurrence that left a prime engineer in a coma—he was after charged with causing “grievous corporeal harm,” yet a jury unsuccessful to strech a verdict—Murray flew to a U.S. He won a quarrel in a initial round, trapping his opponent’s conduct between his legs as he attempted for a triangle choke, afterwards finishing him off with an arm bar, hyperextending a man’s bend joint. He had reached a top level, and all of his fortify and credentials had paid off: He’d won with a classical jujitsu maneuver, proof he was no one-dimensional fighter.

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Murray’s subsequent hitch came in a summer of 2004 in Cage Rage, a British UFC knockoff. He was pitted opposite Anderson Silva, a inhuman Brazilian who is now a Zeus of MMA. Emboldened by his new success, Murray embroiled during Silva during a weigh-in. “He talked an unimaginable volume of s—,” Silva remembers. “He said, ‘I’m gonna do to we what we did to your crony Pelé.'” According to Silva, during one indicate Murray speckled a span of his fighting shorts unresolved from a chair. Murray grabbed them, ripped off a Brazilian dwindle patch and tossed it during Silva. Though both fighters dispensed and withstood substantial punishment, Silva finished adult winning by unanimous decision. As a dual shook hands, Silva winked and pushed a present into Murray’s palm. It was a patch of a Brazilian flag. Still, Murray did himself proud, all a some-more so in retrospect, as Silva would go on to spin one of a UFC’s brightest stars.

But in Sep 2005, while training for an arriving quarrel during Wembley Stadium, Murray attended a birthday celebration for a British indication during Funky Buddha, a smart bar in London’s Mayfair district. At around 3:15 a.m., a travel quarrel pennyless out. Murray was stabbed regularly in a chest, pang a punctured lung and a severed artery. As he explained in a 2005 talk with a website, “One of my friends got concerned in a fight. we attempted to assistance him since about 6 or 7 guys was on [him]. That’s when we got stabbed. we got stabbed in a conduct first. we suspicion it was a punch. When we felt a blood entrance down my face, we usually wiped a blood and usually continued to fight. Next, we looked down during my chest and blood was literally sharpened out of my chest…. It was literally drifting out of my chest like a yard in front of me…. we died 3 times. They said, ‘Because you’re an contestant and all a training we put your physique through, that’s what saved your life.'”

In a same interview, he accidentally remarkable that he had been stabbed outward a same bar a week earlier. On that occasion, he’d “only” had one of his boobs sliced off. “It was usually a teenager stabbing, like these things occur each night of a week,” says Andy Geer, a British upholder for Cage Rage. “He had gash wounds, bullet wounds. He was a correct from-the-streets kid.”

Three weeks after a stabbing, yet lonesome in zippers of scars, Murray had resumed his training in a gym. But realistically, his earnest career was threatened. Particularly as churned martial humanities was apropos gentrified, what upholder would assent a male with such critical injuries to quarrel again? What if a injure non-stop during a fight? Murray competence have satisfied as much, and that could have been an inducement to spin to crime.


Photo: Kent Police/AFP/AP

The thieves took too many money. Had a Securitas squad done off with, say, a few million pounds, it competence have been one thing. But a bulk of a heist was such that overnight it became an general means célèbre. Even a many undisturbed British newspapers lonesome a box breathlessly and exhaustively. The notice video from a repository was televised nationally and, inevitably, done it online. Hundreds of British policemen were immediately deployed to investigate. Hefty prerogative income supposing an inducement to anyone with any believe to come forward. “The squad had no chance,” says Howard Sounes, a British author of a stirring book on a heist.

The suspects, though, also did copiousness to dive their demise. Mirroring Murray’s fighting career—disciplined and process in MMA; conceited and instinctive in travel brawls—the same thieves who had been well-spoken and staid in a tangible pilferage could perceptibly have been sloppier in a aftermath. Some squad members boasted to friends about a heist. One of a vehicles used in a crime was set fervent in a center of a field, attracting attention. The income was feeble hidden. Ocean’s 11 fast devolved into a comedy of errors that removed a Al Pacino classical Dog Day Afternoon. “That’s what happens,” says Bruce Reynolds, a convicted designer of Britain’s Great Train Robbery of 1963 and now something of an armchair researcher of British crime. “All a formulation goes into a spoliation and nothing goes into what happens once we have a money.”

Within 48 hours, military had done their initial arrest. Acting on a tip, they apprehended Michelle Hogg, a makeup artist and a daughter of a policeman. Police found a apportion of latex they purported Hogg had used to make prosthetic disguises for a robbers. (Under questioning, Hogg gave a matter observant she was too frightened to brand a thieves.) Later that day, military found a outpost used to reason a Dixons. The subsequent day, behaving on another tip, they located a second outpost used in a robbery. When they looked inside, they found guns, ski masks, bandannas and £1.3 million in cash. Acting on still another tip a following day, military raided a homes of Murray’s companion Lea Rusha, an determined churned martial humanities fighter, and Rusha’s crony Jetmir Bucpapa. In Rusha’s bedroom, military found skeleton of a Securitas depot, and dark in a circuitously garage was £8.6 million in cash.

All told, within 10 days, 5 people had been charged. Millions of pounds had been recovered. And countless additional leads had surfaced. “A squad of misfits and bruisers pulled off a biggest spoliation ever with substantial rapist aplomb,” says Sounes. “But they were also stupid. This was a shining hop that incited into a farce.”

The predestine of a indicted was hermetic in a tumble of 2006 when Hogg “went QE” (Queen’s Evidence), as a Brits say, and testified opposite her co-conspirators in sell for her freedom. She explained how she combined a disguises so a squad members who acted as military officers couldn’t be accurately identified.

On Jan. 28, 2008, after 7 months of hearing during that some-more than 200 witnesses were called, 5 men—including Rusha, Bucpapa and Hysenaj, a insider—were found guilty for their partial in a spoliation and condemned to a sum of 140 years in jail. At a sentencing, authorities urged a open to conflict romanticizing a caper. Fearing for their lives after giving endless testimony, a Dixons entered a British homogeneous of declare protection. So did Hogg, a makeup artist, who, according to churned journal accounts, has a £7 million annuity on her head. “This crime was, during heart, a crime of violence,” Nigel Pilkington of a Crown Prosecution Service told reporters. And with some-more than half a rob still unaccounted for, he vowed to continue to pursue a case. “This is not a finish of a matter for these criminals,” he said. “We intend to seize their ill-gotten gains, wherever they competence be.”


Photo: Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images

As a Securitas squad was being dull adult systematically, Murray apparently did not mount idly by. He left a country, withdrawal his mom and dual children behind. Accompanied by his crony Paul Allen—he of a barbarous UFC travel brawl—he gathering from London to Dover. There, according to Kent police, a dual piloted their automobile onto a packet headed for France. Murray is believed to have afterwards trafficked from France to Amsterdam to Spain, where he and Allen crossed a Strait of Gibraltar by packet before finally anticipating refuge in Morocco.

If Morocco has historically reason a certain outlandish allure for Europeans, Murray is believed to have left there for some-more unsentimental reasons. Because of his origin on his father’s side, Murray is deliberate a Moroccan national. And Morocco has no grave extradition agreement with Great Britain.

By all accounts, Murray lived expensively in Northern Africa. He, Allen and dual other friends from England, Gary Armitage and Mustafa Basar, lived in a villa in Souissi, an upscale district renouned with diplomats, in Morocco’s collateral city, Rabat. They tooled around city in a Mercedes and spent supernatural amounts of income on clothes, jewelry, electronic apparatus and jaunts to Casablanca.

After a few months, Murray reportedly spent tighten to $1 million on a petrify estate around a dilemma from a cousin of Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, outfitting it with an additional £200,000 in upgrades that embody marble floors and a entirely versed gym. He also consecrated a hulk picture above a prohibited tub, depicting his feat in his one and usually UFC fight. Allen bought a skill of his possess nearby.

Shortly after Murray’s attainment in Morocco in Mar ’06, a Kent military and Scotland Yard officials doing a review contacted Moroccan authorities and conveyed their concerns. Likely unbeknownst to Murray, roughly from a day he arrived in a nation he was underneath 24-hour surveillance. On Jun 25, 2006, dozens of Moroccan military hermetic off a apportionment of a Mega Mall in Rabat, where Murray, Allen, Armitage and Basar were shopping. Because some of a suspects were experts in martial humanities (and were potentially carrying weapons), a tiny army of military officers was armed. After a earthy struggle, a 4 group were arrested. A Kent military mouthpiece asserted that Murray was arrested “for offenses related to a £53 million Securitas raid.”

When a Moroccan military went to Murray’s residence, they found heroin and marijuana. The 4 group were charged with drug possession and for vigourously facing when military arrested them during a mall, a crime a Moroccan decider termed “beating and degrading members of a confidence forces.” They were found guilty and in Feb 2007 perceived sentences trimming from 4 to 8 months in prison. Armitage and Basar were expelled shortly after for time served and returned to a U.K. Allen was extradited by a British supervision and is now in a British jail, available hearing for his purported purpose in a heist.

Murray’s conditions was rather some-more complicated. Because of his Moroccan heritage, a U.K.’s extradition ask was primarily denied. “The British supervision has been putting a lot of vigour on Morocco,” says Abdellah Benlamhidi Aissaoui, Murray’s counsel in Morocco. “But Moroccan nationals can't be extradited [from Morocco]. That is a law, and a law should govern.”

The Moroccan supervision discussed swapping Murray for Mohamed Karbouzi, a suspected militant vital in London and sought for doubt in a 2003 Casablanca bombing. But a British supervision reportedly declined a exchange. Aissaoui says he has also listened that Britain competence record a grave ask to have Murray attempted for a Securitas heist by Moroccan authorities in Morocco. While a extradition disaster is being sorted out, Murray, during a insistence of Britain, sits in a jail dungeon usually outward Rabat, a caged enclosure fighter. “It’s tough for him,” says his lawyer. “He states that he’s innocent. He has not participated in this robbery. He done income from his fights. He doesn’t need to do this.”

If Murray was in fact a ringleader, a Mr. Big, it wouldn’t warn Reynolds, a Great Train Robber. He compares a heist to sport. “You’re severe a management of a state—the plea is what it’s all about,” says Reynolds, now 76 and vital outward London. “[Same as] Jesse James and Pancho Villa.” What about a money? “It’s a benchmark. Everyone wants to kick a record. It’s like [Formula One] drivers wish to kick Michael Schumacher’s record.”

Murray isn’t extenuation interviews these days (his counsel says that for Murray to pronounce to SI “is unfit right now”), many reduction vocalization publicly about his shame or ignorance with honour to a heist. But he told a crony this story: After training about Murray’s saga—the travel fights, a stabbing, a Securitas accusation—a London casino wrote him a grave minute explaining that he was no longer acquire during a establishment. That was excellent by Murray. He says he wrote a discerning note back: “Haven’t we already heard? we strike a jackpot.”


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