The Greek Robin Hood Who Became A Folk Hero

By 2010, crisis in the global financial markets, excessive debt held by the government, and a series of other complex factors all contributed to the Greek economy falling into shambles, as Investopedia reports. Further complicating the lives of Greek authorities at that time were a series of bank robberies; one totaling about €250,000 (roughly $280,000 in today's money) and two others equaling around €240,000. No one was hurt. Greek law enforcement believed the man behind the robberies was Vassilis Palaiokostas, a man referred to as the Greek Robin Hood.

Since the 1980s, Palaiokostas had stolen millions from state-owned banks and jewelry stores in Greece, handing out the money to the poor — just like that notorious bandit from Sherwood forest used to do. Also adding to Palaiokostas' folkloric reputation: He'd been jailed prior to his 2010 crime spree, but he managed to escape, not once, but twice. Following his most recent robberies, says the BBC, Palaiokostas remains among the most high-profile criminals at large today, possibly because he spurns a life of riches, choosing instead to spend only what he needs on himself and then give the rest away.

His first arrest

After burning himself out with factory work, and as Greek government and economy began to show the fault lines that would one day lead to the economic crash around the turn of the millennium, Vassilis Palaiokostas (above), his brother Nikos, and an accomplice pulled off a string of robberies from the late '70s to the mid-1980s. The criminals would then distribute what they stole to the poor and needy. As the Greek economy worsened, the risky exploits of the Palaiokostas brothers and their accomplices enraptured the public. They became folk heroes, taking a stand against the monied elite, as the BBC reports.

Authorities caught up with the Palaiokostas brothers by the early '90s, and both were imprisoned on separate occasions. Around this time, the Palaiokostas brothers also became expert escape artists. The first attempt at a prison break — driving a tank through a wall of the facility — failed, but the second, using bed sheets to climb over the wall, was successful. Vassilis Palaiokostas was once more at large, and the stealing continued. What made catching him so difficult? He continued stealing from the rich, and giving to the poor, which helped maintain his cover.

The escapes

The luck of the Palaiokostas brothers would not hold. By 1999, Vassilis Palaiokostas was one of most wanted men in the entire country of Greece and the European Union. After crashing his car, Paleokostas was taken into custody and sentenced to 25 years in a high security prison, as Reader's Digest reports. Almost immediately, Palaiokostas and accomplices began to plan their escape, and after about six years in jail and careful planning, the Palaiokostas brothers tried their first escape by helicopter, and were successful.

Nikos Palaiokostas and a fugitive convict who also escaped were soon recaptured, but Vassilis remained at large, and continued to steal from the rich and powerful. The law caught up with him again after he kidnapped Greek billionaire George Mylonas, according to the BBC. Greek authorities' second attempt at imprisoning Palaiokostas was equally unsuccessful, and unbelievably, he escaped, again via helicopter. He has yet to be recaptured — linked to additional robberies, continuing to steal. He also remains beloved by some in Greece for his philanthropic crime sprees, just the kind that Robin himself is known for.