Pavle ‘ Punch’ Stanimirovic
Jewel Heist Mastermind
Punch grew up wanting to be a jewel thief like his father. Trained by expert thieves from a young age, Punch got into the heist game with a vengeance in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before going to prison several different times for a total of 16 years.
he ‘ Pink Panthers’ are notorious for their Mission Impossible- type heists and the Riviera locations where they ply their trade. They seem to mirror the settings of the comedic Inspector Clouseau’s crime capers of the same name. Neither low- level criminals nor Mafia gun- thugs, these ‘ gentlemen’ thieves defy criminal stereotypes. There’s been much speculation as to where they started, who founded the group and how many members they have, but up until now it has remained a mystery.
All law enforcement agencies know is that the crew, which has been making headlines with daring robberies all over the world for the last two decades, is made up of Serbians, Bosnians, Croatians and Montenegrins – all from the former Yugoslavia. The true origin of the Serbian Pink Panthers is a question that can only be answered by a genuine Pink Panther. And the fact of the matter is that the group didn’t originate in Serbia, it actually all started in New York City, on 47th street in Manhattan.
Pavle ‘ Punch’ Stanimirovic was the youngest and highest ranking member of what some called the American Serbian Mafia, what the FBI called their imaginary super gang – the YACS ( Yugoslavian/ Albanian/ Croatian/ Serbian) – and what the international media now calls the Pink Panthers. Born in New York, raised in Swiss boarding schools and the son of Serbian Mafia Godfather Vojislav Stanimirovic, Punch is a bloodline bandit and a safecracker extraordinaire.
The Beginning of a Legend
“Everything started with my father escaping the former Yugoslavia,” Punch told Real Crime. “My father is such a great and charming person with so much love. He’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever seen and the last true gentleman thief.” ‘ Mr. Stan’, as he’s known, was a journalist by day who was married to an artistic and beautiful model, his third wife Branka. But he also had friends like master thief Alex Karalanovic, who helped Mr. Stan become an infamous diamond thief in New York City.
“No one spent money like my pops,” Punch said. “He was the first true flexer in this game, a true OG [ original gangster] that earned the respect of the mob, even John Gotti. He’s a saint for thieves who was deeply imbedded in the trade, buying up all the stolen diamonds from European and American thieves. He’s a big- time poker player who loved to watch boxing, play chess, and speaks four languages fluently.”
Mr. Stan was the orchestrator of the famed Vizcaya heist. On 22 March 1971 the Vizcaya was infiltrated and more than $ 1.5 million- worth of historical artwork and silver was stolen by three individuals from New York City. It was a daring robbery that set the precedent for the Pink Panthers of the future – a legacy that started right before Punch was born.
“According to Branka, Punch’s mother, the famous museum heist begins with nothing more than a delightful opportunity for a romantic sun- drenched celebration of her husband’s birthday,” Burl Barer, author of Stealing Manhattan, a forthcoming book about Punch, told Real Crime. The US ambassador to Switzerland, Henry J. Taylor, who was friends with Mr. Stan, asked him for a favour – pick up Taylor’s new Rolls Royce in Florida at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and bring it up to Manhattan. The Vizcaya was a famous national historic site and was the winter residence of industrialist James Deering. “It was designed as a palatial Italian Villa on tropical Biscayne Bay and Deering filled it with European art, state of the art
technology, and surrounded it with beautiful gardens,” Barer explained to us.
“Two first class tickets to Fort Lauderdale Airport were purchased by Mr. Taylor and they flew down. Branka was excited to go away with Stan for his birthday, just the two of them alone together in lovely Florida at the glorious, enchanting Vizcaya, followed by a pleasant drive up the coast in Mr. Taylor’s Rolls Royce. Branka was one happy passenger until they were about to retrieve their luggage.”
When Karalanovic pulled up to pick them up at the terminal, Branka knew it was trouble. She realised the romantic holiday she hoped for wasn’t on the cards, but she had no idea she would be participating in one of the grandest heists of the century. By the end of their stay, two Louis Vuitton suitcases of valuables would end up in the Rolls Royce they were driving back to New York City.
On 25 March 1971, the three jewel thieves were arrested in New York City after Mr. Stan’s Manhattan apartment was raided by the NYPD. Police recovered $ 250,000 of the loot and charged the trio on suspicion of possession of stolen property. One of the items was a priceless silver bowl that had once been the property of Napoleon Bonaparte. Police didn’t even know what they had uncovered, and the majority of the Vizcaya booty was never recovered.
The Rise of the YACS
Punch was born in 1972, and his father started tutoring his son in the methods of robbery at a young age, before sending him off to a Swiss boarding school. Mr. Stan had determined that his son would be a master safecracker, and he made sure the boy had all the tutelage he would need to succeed in the trade and to blend into society. “I grew up in this criminal network and was the first American Pink Panther,” Punch said. “My father controlled it all with close associates like ‘ The Professor’ from the beginning. I started at 16, and it wasn’t until I got involved in the 1990s that the alarm companies were infiltrated and made us millions. That’s what I brought to the table. We have been operating since the 1960s and it was huge, but NYC is where it was born.”
Before they were known as the Pink Panthers, the loose confederation of burglars and gentlemen thieves were
Right Jewels from the Barcelona heist were recovered when police caught the thieves. The five men wore wigs and wielded sledgehammers while waving guns at the clerksbelow The Pink Star diamond, sold in 2017 for $ 71.2m, is the most expensive gemstone in the world
ABOVE- left This is Punch with his girlfriend when he was driving supercars and living the life of a rock star. A millionaire by the age of 20, he spent money like water