There was no masked robber with a threatening note for the bank teller, no bag bulging with cash, no getaway car.
Instead, whoever appeared to have plotted a heist at a Chase bank in Pembroke Pines, Fla., chose a rather unglamorous, subterranean approach. The plan involved a narrow, 150-foot-long tunnel dug into the dirt.
Officials discovered the tunnel on Tuesday night after public works employees in Pembroke Pines, about 20 miles north of Miami, went to deal with a sinkhole in the road. Curiously, the workers found a power cord inside it. Realizing it was a tunnel, they eventually called the local police, who notified the F.B.I. on Wednesday morning.
F.B.I. investigators found that the tunnel had a diameter of about 3 feet and opened up into a wooded area, Special Agent Michael D. Leverock said in an interview on Wednesday evening. It was so narrow that a person would have to lie on his or her stomach to navigate it, Agent Leverock said.
Investigators found no other opening, indicating that the tunnel may have been unfinished. But the passageway was clearly directed toward a Chase bank on a tree-lined street across from a strip mall. Agent Leverock said they knew that the tunnel reached the bank’s property but were trying to determine whether it reached the building, a single-story white structure with a drive-through window.
No one got into the bank, and no money was stolen, Agent Leverock said. In a tweet, the F.B.I. called it an “attempted bank burglary.” But what confused investigators, Agent Leverock said, was how anyone imagined successfully penetrating a high-security bank from underground through a tunnel that appeared to be dug with pickaxes.
“Everybody here is just shaking their heads,” he said. “They could’ve been going for the A.T.M., they could’ve been going for the vault.” But after the would-be bank thief reached the ultimate destination, Agent Leverock speculated, then what?
Inside or near the tunnel, investigators found a wagon that had likely been used to haul dirt, as well as a power generator and a winch, which can be used to haul heavy loads, according to an F.B.I. news release.
The F.B.I. has no idea who is responsible, Agent Leverock said. But he joked that this tunnel appeared to be dug by a “poor man’s Chapo,” referring to the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, who famously used a tunnel — outfitted with lighting and a motorcycle on rails — to escape from the most secure prison in Mexico.
Agent Leverock, a special agent with the F.B.I.’s Miami division, said he felt he could be a bit more lighthearted than usual speaking about this event, given that no bodies were discovered in the tunnel and nothing was taken. The F.B.I. borrowed a dog trained to sniff out cadavers from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, but it found no sign of any bodies.
“This is more of a caper,” he said. “If there was something dead we would be smelling it.”
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Agent Leverock called the attempted burglary “truly a unique case.”
But there is some precedent for such a scheme. In 1976, a team of burglars in Nice, France, dug an elaborate 25-foot-long tunnel from the city’s sewer system to a vault at the Société Générale bank.
Once they entered the bank, the burglars welded the vault’s door from the inside and spent an entire weekend inside, cooking hot meals and drinking wine. They made off with about $10 million in gold, cash, jewelry and gems. Newspapers called it the “heist of the century,” and it served as inspiration for a few films.
The aspiring burglar in Florida never had a chance to attempt a heist. Agent Leverock said the tunnel appeared to have caved in, speculating that the area’s heavy rains could have caused it to collapse, exposing the secret passageway to the public.
Agent Leverock said investigators did not know how recently the digger or diggers had visited the tunnel. Just about all that was clear on Wednesday was that this was an “extensive” hole. “We haven’t necessarily hit the end of it,” he said.