Robber from infamous 1975 Bonded Vault heist dead at 72

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One of the robbers who took part in the infamous 1975 Bonded Vault heist has died.

Ralph “Skippy” Byrnes died on Feb. 13 of “Alzheimer’s dementia,” according to a spokesperson with the R.I. Department of Health. He was 72.

Byrnes, formerly of Warwick, was one of the eight thieves who ransacked 146 of 148 large safe deposit boxes tucked away inside the Hudson Fur Storage building on Cranston Street in Providence.

They made off with millions of dollars in cash, jewelry, silver bars and coins. Initially, the value of the heist was pegged at $4 million by police, but once-sealed FBI files obtained by Target 12 and interviews with former investigators suggest the estimated take could have been $32 million in 1975 dollars.

Investigators said many of the safe deposit boxes were used by mobsters and associates to hide their ill-gotten gains.

Byrnes was one of three men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the heist after the longest and most expensive trial in state history.

He unsuccessfully appealed his case to federal court, but his sentence was later reduced to 35 years. Byrnes was released to home confinement after serving 11 years at the ACI, and was then on parole until his sentence officially ended in 2010.

Byrnes’ death means only three of the original eight bandits who were charged with entering the Hudson Fur Storage building on Aug. 14, 1975, are still alive.

Mobster Jerry Tillinghast, who was acquitted of the charges, and Robert Macaskill, who eventually pleaded no contest after a series of appeals, remain. Joseph Danese, who cooperated with prosecutors and testified against his former underworld colleagues, was recently released from prison in an unrelated case and is believed to be living in Massachusetts.

Tim White ( is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook