WPRI-TV investigative reporter Tim White grew up hearing stories about the legendary 1975 Bonded Vault heist from his father, investigative reporter Jack White.
As a student at UMass-Amherst, the younger White wrote a movie about Bonded Vault. So it's no surprise that the robbery remained present in White's thoughts when he took up his late father's beat at Channel 12.
Now, White has collaborated with former Providence Journal reporters Randall Richard and Wayne Worcester to write The Last Good Heist: The Inside Story Of The Biggest Single Payday In The Criminal History Of The Northeast (Globe Pequot Press).
It tells the tale of how Mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca, who controlled organized crime in New England from a storefront on Atwells Avenue, approved the heist of a secret Mob bank in Providence.
“It was 150 safety deposit boxes, and we’re not talking those small ones you’d see at Citizens Bank, right?" White said. "These were really large two-foot safety deposit boxes stuffed with jewelry, gold bars, cash, like you wouldn’t believe."
Security was light at the vault hidden in a fur storage facility on Cranston Street since, he said, "who would rob from the Mob?"
The value of what was taken during the robbery was initially put at $1 million, and it climbed to $4 million at trial -- a massive amount in 1975. Based on wide-ranging interviews, the authors of The Last Good Heist now conservatively put the take (in 1975 dollars) at $32 million.
White said the heist had a big impact within the Italian Mob since it eroded trust among mobsters. "This was a seismic moment in organized crime," he said.
While more than 40 years have passed since the robbery, and La Cosa Nostra is an imitation of its former self, White said Bonded Vault stands as an important New England story.
"Organized crime operated as a secondary government," he said. "And I think people in Rhode Island -- one of the reasons I love reporting here, they have steel-trap memories. But we do forget how just how powerful they were -- they had cops, they had judges in their back pocket. And that's not hyperbole."