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Toronto Pearson's most recent gold heist, wasn't its first. Here's what happened then

A gold heist recently occurred at Toronto Pearson International Airport -- but it's not the first time this type of theft happened on its grounds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey A gold heist recently occurred at Toronto Pearson International Airport -- but it's not the first time this type of theft happened on its grounds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey
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The multi-million-dollar heist that happened at Toronto Pearson International Airport this week is not the first of its kind to take place on their grounds.

On Monday, police said a total of $20 million worth of gold and other high-value goods were reported stolen from a holding cargo facility at Toronto Pearson.

The details of what happened are, so far, sparse. A source familiar with the investigation confirmed to CTV News Toronto the stolen cargo was taken from an Air Canada plane, and its cargo operations were in possession of the high-value goods when they disappeared.

Peel Regional Police has not named any suspects and said this sort of thing is a “very rare” occurrence.

But Toronto Pearson has been the scene for a Hollywood movie-esque gold heist before – roughly 70 years ago – and it still remains a mystery to this day.

“It’s really eerie, it’s like Mark Twain allegedly said, ‘History may not repeat, but it does rhyme,’” Scott Selby, co-author of “Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History” told CTV News Toronto Friday.

MALTON AIRPORT, 1952

“In 1952, gold poured out of the mines in northern Ontario to smelters in Toronto, and that’s where they turned it into 22-carat industrial quality gold bars,” Selby said.

On Sept. 24, 1952, at around 4:45 p.m., a Brinks armoured car pulled into Malton Airport – what is currently known as Toronto Pearson – with 10 reinforced boxes of industrial gold.

“They watched the handoff, cargo workers waited, matched the manifest, signed off on it, gave a copy of the receipt,” Selby said, adding it happened in a temporary – but secure – storage area.

“Four hours after it was put there, they then moved it onto a plane, and the plane took off.”

The aircraft – a Trans-Canada Air Lines (now presently, Air Canada) cargo plane – was headed toward Montreal, but when it touched down, it was quickly revealed not all of the cargo made it.

“It was a mystery. There’s supposed to be 10 boxes, and there was only four. Six boxes – weighing 848 pounds – were just gone,” Selby said.

About $215,000 worth of gold was reported stolen, but accounting for inflation today, that would cost roughly $2.35 million.

The gold was never recovered, and whoever took off with the gold was never arrested.

Some people pointed their fingers at Howard Halpenny, then 22 years old, as Selby said he was the cargo holder responsible for getting the gold onto the plane.

“This is the main theory, [Halpenny] claimed when he returned, some of the carts were missing,” Selby said. “When he looked in the cargo hold, he thought he saw the crates [...] and he didn’t do a count.”

A cartoon sketch of what happened during the 1952 Malton airport heist. (The Toronto Star)

OTHER NOTABLE AIRPORT HEISTS

While thieves struck gold, twice, at Toronto Pearson, Selby notes it's not the only airport where a heist has taken place.

The “most famous” gold heist, according to Selby, is the Brink’s-Mat armed robbery that occurred in London, England, on Nov. 26, 1983, nearby Heathrow Airport – over 30 years after the Toronto-airport heist.

It was a massive heist where an estimated $46 million – nearly $125 million today – of gold bullion was stolen by six men from the Brink’s-Mat warehouse, who had help from one of the security guards who was in on the theft. 

Selby also brought up the infamous Lufthansa holdup in 1978 – a theft that was dramatized in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film “Goodfellas.” In this heist, $6 million in cash and jewelry were stolen from the cargo terminal at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

More recently, In 2019, eight men carried out a heist at the Sao Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, where they ran off with about 750 kilos of precious metals, including gold.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Sean Davidson and The Associated Press 

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