At the time, it was believed to be the biggest bank break-in ever - a late-night burglary at United California Bank in Laguna Niguel, Calif., in 1972 that netted an estimated $30 million in cash, bonds, jewelry and other valuables.
And they might have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for a similar heist less than two months later at Second National Bank in Lordstown.
A new documentary, ''Superthief: Inside America's Biggest Bank Score,'' chronicles that California job and role the Lordstown burglary played in the capture of Phil Christopher, the Collinwood native who was an alarm expert and safecracker, and brothers Amil and James Dinsio, the Youngstown crime figures who recruited Christopher for both jobs.
''Superthief,'' based on a book by Cleveland-area crime writer Rick Porrello, premiered Friday at the 36th Cleveland International Film Festival at Tower City Cinemas, and the movie will get a limited theatrical release in April at Atlas Theaters in Euclid, Mentor and Elyria and at a Columbus theater.
It is directed by Tommy Reid, who also directed a documentary based on Porrello's ''To Kill the Irishman'' about Cleveland mobster Danny Greene and produced the 2011 feature ''Kill the Irishman,'' starring Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D'Onofrio, Val Kilmer and Paul Sorvino.
Reid, who was in Cleveland this weekend with Christopher for the film's premiere, said ''Superthief'' might follow a similar path.
''I wanted to make a documentary first,'' Reid said. ''That's where all the true facts come in. But, ultimately, we'd like to have a feature film. It's in the works right now. A screenplay is being adapted.''
The movie features interviews with Christopher and the FBI agents who worked on the case as well as Christopher's wife and friends, Porrello and Cleveland area law enforcement.
Christopher said he started writing his own story while in federal prison in part to correct some of the inaccuracies about the Laguna Niguel heist, which has been featured in documentaries on Court TV and the Discovery Channel. Christopher's wife, Mary Ann, took that manuscript to Porrello, who used it as the basis for his book, released in 2005.
''They had me down as the muscle,'' Christopher said. ''I wasn't the muscle. I was an alarm expert, a safe man.''
Those skills are why the Dinsios recruited him for the California job, which went off without a hitch - except for one. Christopher's friend, Charlie Broeckel, forgot to bring their fake IDs with him to the Cleveland airport, so they ended up flying to California under their real names. That helped the FBI put them on the list of suspects.
While the California job was a lucrative one, most of the loot was in bearer bonds and jewelry from safety deposit boxes rather than cash. That's why Christopher was willing to target the Lordstown bank with the Dinsios on May 5, 1972. Christopher said he didn't worry about using some of the same techniques to pull both jobs.
''No, not at all,'' he said. ''That was how many thousands of miles away?''
The crew targeted the Lordstown bank the night before pay day at General Motors, knowing there would be extra money on hand to cash workers' paychecks. However, the box the Dinsios had to override the alarm system didn't work, and the alarm was tripped.
Trumbull County sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene, and Christopher said they hid in the woods for about a half-hour until they were gone. The crew entered the building through a hole in the roof, so there were no signs on the ground of a break-in.
''When they left, it was all clear,'' Christopher said.
They left with more than $400,000 cash - and increased attention from the FBI.
''It helped them zero in, eliminating the crew out of Chicago or some of the other crews in different possible areas and put them right in Cleveland and Youngstown,'' Christopher said. ''Then they probably listened to all of the scuttlebutt that was on the street ... The FBI had 200 agents on the case for three months.''
FBI agents came to Christopher's home on July 2, 1972, and found money traced back to the Lordstown bank.
Christopher ultimately was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for parole violations and the Laguna Niguel burglary. However, the money from Lordstown was ruled inadmissible because of a discrepancy in the FBI's testimony, Christopher said. With Christopher already facing 20 years, that case wasn't pursued.
Christopher, 69, still lives in the Cleveland area and is an iron worker. He said he's often told he looks like actor Robert Duvall, but he doesn't care who plays him if and when ''Superthief'' becomes a feature film.
''I really really haven't thought much about who I would like as long as he is halfway decent looking.''