this blog is written and run by crime author B.L.Faulkner check out his books here…
London Crime an in-depth look at the big robberies, the gangs and the geezers in the UK from 1930s – present day, all the facts and figures plus the aftermaths paperback £7.99 ebook £2.99, read more about it here, https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08429CBT5/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0
1963 THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY.
The Great Train Robbery was the robbery of substantial sums of money from a Royal Mail train heading between Glasgow and London in the early hours of Thursday 8 August 1963 at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England.
After tampering with line signals, a 15-strong gang of robbers led by Bruce Reynolds attacked the train. Other gang members included Gordon Goody, Buster Edwards, Charlie Wilson, Roy James, John Daly, Jimmy White, Ronnie Biggs, Tommy Wisbey, Jim Hussey, Bob Welch and Roger Cordrey as well as three men known only as numbers ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’. A 16th man, an unnamed retired train driver, was also present at the time of robbery.[
With careful planning based on inside information from an individual known as ‘The Ulsterman’ (named as Patrick McKenna in 2014), the robbers got away with over £2.6 million (the equivalent of £50 million today). The bulk of the stolen money was never recovered. Though the gang did not use any firearms, Jack Mills, the train driver, was beaten over the head with a metal bar. Mills’ injuries were severe enough to end his career.
After the robbery the gang hid at Leatherslade Farm. It was after the police found this hideout that incriminating evidence would lead to the eventual arrest and conviction of most of the gang. The ringleaders were sentenced to 30 years in jail.
The plan to intercept and rob the overnight Glasgow to London mail train was based on information from Patrick McKenna, a postal worker from Salford who had detailed knowledge of the amounts of money carried on Royal Mail trains. McKenna was introduced to two of the criminals who would carry out the raid — Gordon Goody and Buster Edwards — by London solicitor’s clerk Brian Field. His name was kept secret, and he was known to the robbers only as “the Ulsterman.”
The raid was devised over a period of months by a core team: Goody and Edwards along with Bruce Reynolds, Charlie Wilson and Roy James, Reynolds assuming the role of “mastermind” for the robbery. This gang, although very successful in the criminal underworld, had virtually no experience in stopping and robbing trains. So it was agreed to enlist the help of another London gang called “The South Coast Raiders”. This group, which included Tommy Wisbey, Bob Welch and Jim Hussey, who were already accomplished train robbers, also included Roger Cordrey – a man who was a specialist in this field and knew how to rig the trackside signals to stop the train. Other associates (including Ronnie Biggs, a man Reynolds had previously met in jail) were added as the organisation evolved and the final gang who took part in the raid comprised a total of 16 men.
Royal Mail train]
At 6:50 pm on Wednesday 7 August 1963, the travelling post office (TPO) “Up Special” train set off from Glasgow Central Station en route to Euston Station in London. It was scheduled to arrive at Euston at 3:59 am the following morning. The train was hauled by an English Electric Type 4 (later Class 40) diesel-electric locomotive D326 (later 40 126). The train consisted of 12 carriages and carried 72 Post Office staff who sorted mail during the journey.
Mail was loaded onto the train at Glasgow and also during station stops en route, and from line-side collection points where local post office staff would hang mail sacks on elevated track-side hooks that were caught by nets deployed by the on-board staff. Sorted mail on the train could be dropped off at the same time. This process of exchange allowed mail to be distributed locally without delaying the train with unnecessary stops. One of the carriages involved in the robbery is preserved at the Nene Valley Railway.
The second carriage behind the engine was known as the HVP (High Value Packages) coach, which carried large quantities of money and registered mail for sorting. Usually the value of the shipment was in the region of £300,000, but because there had been a Bank Holiday weekend in Scotland, the total on the day of the robbery was to be between £2.5 and £3 million.[
In 1960, the Post Office Investigation Branch (IB) recommended the fitting of alarms to all Traveling Post Offices with HVP carriages. This recommendation was implemented in 1961, but HVP carriages without alarms were retained in reserve. By August 1963, three HVP carriages were equipped with alarms, bars over the windows and bolts and catches on the doors, but at the time of the robbery these carriages were out of service, so a reserve carriage (M30204M) without those features had to be used. The fitting of radios was also considered but they were deemed to be too expensive and the measure was not implemented. This carriage was kept for evidence for seven years following the event and then burned at a scrap yard in Norfolk in the presence of police and post office officials to deter any souvenir hunters.
Stopping the train
Just after 3:00 am on the 8th of August, the driver, Jack Mills from Crewe, stopped the train on the West Coast Main Line at a red signal light at ‘Sears Crossing’, Ledburn, between Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire and Cheddington in Buckinghamshire. The signal had been tampered with by the robbers: they had covered the green light and connected a six-volt Ever Ready battery to power the red light. The locomotive’s second crew-member, known as the second man or “fireman”, was 26-year-old David Whitby, also from Crewe. He climbed down from the cab to call the signalman from a railway track-side telephone, only to find the cables had been cut. As he made his return to the train, he was grabbed from behind and quickly overpowered by one of the robbers. Meanwhile, the train driver, 58-year-old Mills, waited in the cab for Whitby’s return. Gang members entered the cabin from both sides of the train and as Mills grappled with one robber and attempted to force him off the footplate, he was struck from behind by another gang member with a cosh, rendering him semi-conscious.
At this stage the robbers had foreseen that they would encounter a problem. They had to move the train from where it had been stopped to a suitable place to load their ex-army dropside truck with the stolen money. Bridge No.127 (Bridego Bridge, now known as Mentmore Bridge), approximately half a mile (800m) further along the track was the chosen location.
One of the robbers (masquerading as a school teacher) had spent months befriending railway staff and familiarizing himself with the layout and operation of trains and carriages. Ultimately though it was decided that it would be better to use an experienced train driver to move the locomotive and the first two carriages from the signals to the bridge after uncoupling the carriages containing the rest of the sorters and the ordinary mail.
On the night, the gang’s hired train driver (an acquaintance of Ronnie Biggs, later referred to as “Stan Agate” or “Peter”), was unable to operate this newer type of locomotive; although having driven trains for many years (now retired), he was experienced only on shunting (switching) locomotives on the Southern Region. With no other alternative available to them, it was quickly decided that Mills would have to move the train to the stopping point near the bridge, which was indicated by a white sheet stretched between poles on the track. Ronnie Biggs‘ only task was to supervise “Stan Agate’s” participation in the robbery, and when it became obvious that Agate was not able to drive the train he and Biggs were sent to the waiting truck to help load the mail bags.
Removing the loot
The train was stopped at Bridego Bridge, and the robbers’ “assault force” attacked the High Value Packages (HVP) carriage. Frank Dewhurst was in charge of the three other postal workers (Leslie Penn, Joseph Ware and John O’Connor) in the HVP carriage. Thomas Kett, assistant inspector in charge of the train from Carlisle to Euston was also in the carriage. Dewhurst and Kett were hit with coshes when they made a vain attempt to prevent the robbers’ storming of the carriage. Once the robbers had entered the carriage, the staff could put up no effective resistance and there was no police officer or security guard on board to assist them. The staff were made to lie face down on the floor in a corner of the carriage. Mills and Whitby were then brought into the carriage, handcuffed together and put down beside the staff.
The robbers removed all but eight of the 128 sacks from the HVP carriage, which they transferred in about 15–20 minutes to the waiting truck by forming a human chain. The gang departed some 30 minutes after the robbery had begun in their Austin Loadstar truck and, in an effort to mislead any potential witnesses, they used two Land Rover vehicles, both of which had the registration plates BMG 757A.
Getaway and planned clean-up
The gang then headed along minor roads listening for police broadcasts on a VHF radio, the journey taking somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour, and arrived back at Leatherslade Farm at around 4:30 am, at around the same time as the first reports of the crime were being made. Leatherslade was a run-down farm 27 miles (43 km) from the crime scene, between Oakley and Brill in Buckinghamshire (51°48′23″N 1°3′11″W). It had been bought two months earlier as their hideout.
At the farm they counted the proceeds and divided it into 16 full shares and several ‘drinks’ (smaller sums of money intended for associates of the gang). The precise amounts of the split differ according to the source, but the full shares came to approximately £150,000 each (about £2.65 million today).
From listening to their police-tuned radio, the gang learned that the police had calculated they had gone to ground within a 30-mile radius of the crime scene rather than dispersing with their haul. This declaration was based on information given by a witness at the crime scene who stated that a gang member had told the post office workers “not to move for half an hour”. The press interpreted this information as a 30-mile (48 km) radius—a half-hour drive in a fast car.
The gang realised the police were using a “dragnet tactic”, and with help from the public, would probably discover the farm much sooner than had been originally anticipated. As a result, the plan for leaving the farm was brought forward to Friday from Sunday (the crime was committed on Thursday). The vehicles they had driven to the farm could no longer be used because they had been seen by the train staff. Brian Field came to the farm on Thursday to pick up his share of the loot and to take Roy James to London to find an extra vehicle. Bruce Reynolds and John Daly picked up cars, one for Jimmy White and the other for Reynolds, Daly, Biggs and the replacement train driver. Field, his wife Karin and his associate “Mark” brought the vans and drove the remainder of the gang to the Fields’s home to recover.
Field had arranged with “Mark” to carry out a comprehensive clean-up and set fire to the farm after the robbers had left, even though the robbers had already spent much time wiping the place down to be free of prints. According to Buster Edwards, he ‘nicked’ £10,000 in ten-shilling notes to help pay “Mark’s” drink. However, on Monday, when Charlie Wilson rang Brian Field to check whether the farm had been cleaned, he did not believe Field’s assurances. He called a meeting with Edwards, Reynolds, Daly and James and they agreed that they needed to be sure. They called Field to a meeting on Tuesday, where he was forced to admit that he had failed to “torch” the farm. In the IVS 2012 documentary film The Great Train Robbery, Nick Reynolds (son of Bruce Reynolds) said “…the guy who was paid to basically go back to the farm and burn it down did a runner.” Wilson would have killed Field there and then but was restrained by the others. By the time they were ready to go back to the farm, however, they learned that police had found the hide-out.
There is some uncertainty regarding the exact cash total stolen from the train. £2,631,684 is a figure quoted in the press, although the police investigation states the theft as £2,595,997 10s, in 636 packages, contained in 120 mailbags—the bulk of the haul in £1 and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note, which was half its size). There were also ten-shilling notes and Irish and Scottish money. Because a 30-minute time limit had been set by Reynolds, eight out of 128 bags were not stolen and were left behind. Statistically, this could have amounted to £131,000 or 4.7% of the total. It is alleged that the total weight of the bags removed was 2.5 long tons (2.5 t), according to former Buckinghamshire police officer John Woolley.
Raising the alarm
The robbers had cut all the telephone lines in the vicinity, but one of the rail-men left on the train at Sears Crossing caught a passing goods train to Cheddington, where he raised the alarm at around 4:20 am. The first reports of the robbery were broadcast on the VHF police radio within a few minutes and this is where the gang heard the line “A robbery has been committed and you’ll never believe it – they’ve stolen the train!”
Robbers and accomplices
The gang consisted of 17 full members who were to receive an equal share, including the men who were at the robbery and two key informants.
The gang that carried out the robbery consisted of 15 criminals predominantly from south London: Gordon Goody, Charlie Wilson, Buster Edwards, Bruce Reynolds, Roy James, John Daly, Roger Cordrey, Jimmy White, Bob Welch, Tommy Wisbey, Jim Hussey, Ronnie Biggs, as well as Harry Smith and Danny Pembroke, who were never charged due to the lack of evidence against them, and one still unknown, plus the train driver they nicknamed ‘Pop’. The best known member of the gang, Biggs, had only a minor role—to recruit the train driver.
Bruce Richard Reynolds was born on 7 September 1931 at Charing Cross Hospital, Strand, London, to Thomas Richard and Dorothy Margaret (née Keen). His mother died in 1935, and he had trouble living with his father and stepmother, so he often stayed with one or other of his grandmothers. Reynolds was jailed for three years on several counts of breaking and entering, and upon his release quickly started re-offending. He soon joined a gang with future best friend Harry Booth and future brother-in-law John Daly. Later on, he did some work with Jimmy White and met Buster Edwards at Charlie Richardson‘s club. Richardson in turn introduced him to Gordon Goody.
After the train heist, Reynolds escaped to Mexico with his wife, Angela, and young son, Nick Reynolds (who later became a member of the band Alabama 3, whose song “Woke Up This Morning” was the opening theme of The Sopranos) and lived lavishly with his share of the take, approximately 150,000 British pounds. When that money ran out, Reynolds moved his family to Canada and then France under false identities, in search of work, before returning to the United Kingdom to pursue opportunities promised by his old criminal contacts. He was arrested in 1968 in Torquay and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was released a decade later
Reynolds was reincarcerated in the mid-1980s for dealing amphetamines. In a 2003 interview, Reynolds recalled: “from an early age I always wanted a life of adventure.” He was rejected by the Royal Navy because of poor eyesight, and then tried to become a foreign correspondent, but his highest achievement in that vein was to become a clerk at the Daily Mail tabloid. While his life in crime did provide excitement, Reynolds said in 2003, “I’ve always felt that I can’t escape my past. And in many ways I feel that it is like a line from the ‘Ancient Mariner‘ and that the notoriety was like an albatross around my neck.”
Reynolds died aged 81 on 28 February 2013 after a brief illness. He is survived by his son Nick.
Douglas Gordon Goody]
Douglas Gordon Goody was regarded as the mastermind of the operation by the authorities.
He first made contact with ‘The Ulsterman’ in a meeting set up by Brian Field in Finsbury Park. Of Northern Irish descent, Goody was born in Putney, London in March 1930 and was still living there in his mother’s flat at the time of the robbery. In the early 1960s he joined Buster Edwards’ gang and helped rob various easy targets.
In September 2014, Goody revealed the identity of ‘The Ulsterman’ as Patrick McKenna for the first time. Revealing of the name coincided with a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the robbery. The documentary makers employed Ariel Bruce (a social worker who finds missing family members) to trace Patrick McKenna, who was found to have died some years previously. However Bruce was able to make contact with McKenna’s family. This documentary was shown in cinemas and on demand in October 2014.
Gordon Goody died in Spain where he owned a bar on 30th January 2016
Charles Frederick (Charlie) Wilson
The most dangerous of the Great Train Robbers was ‘the Silent Man’ Charlie Wilson. He was born on 30 June 1932 to Bill and Mabel Wilson in Battersea. His friends from childhood were Jimmy Hussey, Tommy Wisbey, Bruce Reynolds and Gordon Goody. Later on, he met Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards and the young driving enthusiasts Mickey Ball and Roy James, who had taken up car theft. From 1948 to 1950 he was called up for national service, and in 1955 he married Patricia (Pat) Osbourne, with whom he had three children. He turned to crime early in life and spurned his father’s legitimate but low-income wage. While he did have legitimate work in his in-laws’ grocer’s shop, he also was a thief and his criminal proceeds went into buying shares in various gambling enterprises. He went to jail for short spells for numerous offences. In 1960, he began to work with Bruce Reynolds and planned to get into the criminal big league.
Ronald “Buster” Edwards
Ronald Christopher Edwards was born on 27 January 1932 at Lambeth, London, the son of a barman. After leaving school, he worked in a sausage factory, where he began his criminal career by stealing meat to sell on the post-war black market. During his national service in the RAF he was detained for stealing cigarettes. When he returned to South London, he ran a drinking club and became a professional criminal. He married June Rose in 1952. They had a daughter, Nicky
Brian Arthur Field was born on 15 December 1934 and was immediately put up for adoption. He served two years in the Royal Army Service Corps, seeing service during the Korean War. Although soldiers in the Service Corps were considered combat personnel, they were primarily associated with transport and logistics. When he was discharged from the military, it was with “a very good character”.
Field later became a solicitor’s managing clerk for John Wheater & Co. Although he was only 28 at the time of the robbery, he was already apparently more prosperous than his boss, John Wheater. Field drove a new Jaguar and had a house, “Kabri” (an amalgam of Karin and Brian [Field]), with his wife at the Bridle Path, Whitchurch Hill, Oxfordshire, while his boss owned a battered Ford and lived in a run-down neighbourhood. Part of the reason for Field’s prosperity was that he was not averse to giving Goody and Edwards information about what his clients had in their country houses, making them prime targets for the thieves. On one occasion he described the contents and layout of a house near Weybridge where wife Karin had once been a nanny.
Prior to the robbery Field had represented Buster Edwards and Gordon Goody. He had arranged Edward’s defence when he had been caught with a stolen car and had met Goody at a nightclub in Soho. Field was called upon to assist in Goody’s defence in the aftermath of the “Airport Job”, which was a robbery carried out on 27 November 1962 at a branch of Barclays Bank at London Airport. This was the big practice robbery that the South West Gang had done before the Great Train Robbery. Field was successful in arranging bail for Goody and Charlie Wilson.
In 2014, Douglas Gordon Goody revealed to journalists the name of The Ulsterman as Patrick McKenna, a 43-year-old postal worker living in Salford, Greater Manchester at the time of the robbery. McKenna, who was from Belfast, met Goody four times in 1963. Goody alleges he only found out McKenna’s name when he saw it written inside his spectacles case.
It is not known what became of the share McKenna received but his children were ‘flabbergasted’ upon hearing of their father’s involvement. It was surmised that McKenna either donated his share to the Catholic church over the years or had had the money stolen from him.[
William Gerald Boal (22 October 1913 – 26 June 1970), an accomplice after the fact of Roger Cordrey, was wrongly convicted as being one of the robbers, despite playing a role no different to the many other accomplices of the various train robbers. Boal tragically died in jail.[
Leonard Denis Field (born 1931, date of death unknown helped with the purchase of Leatherslade Farm (hideout), paying the deposit of 5,000 pounds in return for a ‘drink’ of £12,000. Lennie was allowed to think that the plan was to hijack a lorry load of cigarettes. Despite not being in on the robbery, he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years (20 years for conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice).
John Denby Wheater (born 17 December 1921, died July 1985), was the employer of Brian Field. He was convicted and sentenced to 3 years.
At 5 am, Chief Superintendent Malcolm Fewtrell, head of the Buckinghamshire Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID), located at Aylesbury, arrived at the crime scene, where he supervised evidence-gathering. He then went to Cheddington railway station, where the train had been taken, and where statements were taken from the driver and postal workers. A member of the gang had made the mistake of telling the postal staff not to move for half an hour and this suggested to the police that their hide-out could not be more than 30 miles (48 km) away. It appeared, from interviews with the witnesses, that about 15 hooded men dressed in blue boiler suits had been involved, but little more could be gleaned.
By lunchtime of the following day, it became obvious to Fewtrell that extra resources were needed to cope with the scale of the investigation and the Buckinghamshire Chief Constable referred the case to Scotland Yard. George Hatherill, Commander of the C Department and Detective Chief Superintendent Earnest (Ernie) Millen, Head of the Flying Squad were initially in charge of the London side of the investigation. They sent Detective Superintendent Gerald McArthur and Detective Sergeant John Pritchard to assist the Buckinghamshire Police.
The police then undertook a major search, fanning out from the crime scene after having failed to find any forensic evidence there. A watch was put on the seaports. The Postmaster General Reginald Bevins offered a £10,000 reward to “the first person giving information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the persons responsible for the robbery”.
Discovery at Leatherslade Farm
Following a tip-off from a herdsman who used a field adjacent to Leatherslade Farm, a police sergeant and constable called there on 13 August 1963, five days after the robbery. The farm was deserted but they found the truck used by the robbers, which had been hastily painted yellow, as well as the Land Rovers. They also found a large quantity of food, bedding, sleeping bags, post-office sacks, registered mail packages, banknote wrappers and a Monopoly board game.
It was determined that although the farm had been cleaned for fingerprints, some finger and palm prints (presumably of the robbers) had been overlooked, including those on a ketchup bottle and on the Monopoly set (which had been used after the robbery for a game, but with real money).
Despite the big breakthrough of the discovery of Leatherslade Farm, the investigation was not going well. The London side of the investigation then continued under Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler, who replaced Ernest (Ernie) Millen as head of the Flying Squad shortly after Millen was promoted to Deputy Commander under George Hatherill. On Monday 12 August 1963, Butler was appointed to head the police investigation of the London connection and quickly formed a six-man Train Robbery Squad. With Leatherslade Farm finally found on 13 August 1963, the day after Tommy Butler was appointed to head the London investigation, the Train Robbery Squad descended on the farm.
The key breakthrough was when Detective Chief Superintendent Millen met a distinguished barrister in a smoking room of an exclusive West End club and stated that someone was willing to inform on the gang. The process of talking to the informer was handled by Hatherill and Millen themselves, and they never divulged the identity of the informer to the detectives in their command. The informant had just been jailed in a provincial jail before the train robbery, and was hoping to get parole and other favorable outcomes from talking. He clearly did not know all the names perfectly, and a second informant (a woman) was able to fill in the gaps. Millen stated in his book Specialist in Crime, ‘the break-through with the informer came at a moment when I and my colleagues at the Yard were in a state of frustration almost approaching despair’. This process saw them get 18 names to be passed on to detectives to match up with the list being prepared from fingerprints collected at Leatherslade.
Unfortunately, the decision to publish photos of the wanted suspects had already been made by Hatherill and Millen, despite strong protests from Tommy Butler and Frank Williams. This resulted in most of the robbers going to ground.
Tommy Butler, the thief-taker]
Tommy Butler was a shrewd choice to take over the Flying Squad and in particular the Train Robbery Squad. He became arguably the most renowned head of the Flying Squad in its history. He was known variously as “Mr Flying Squad”, as “One-day Tommy” for the speed with which he apprehended criminals and as the “Grey Fox” for his shrewdness. He was Scotland Yard’s most formidable thief-taker and, as an unmarried man who still lived with his mother, he had a fanatical dedication to the job. Butler worked long hours and expected all members of the squad to do the same.
The squad later had to work out rotations whereby one member would go home to rest as otherwise they were getting only three hours of sleep per night and had no time to eat healthily or see their families. When the squad tried to get him to ease the working conditions, Butler was enraged and threatened to send them back to their normal duties. Butler was said to be very secretive, with Jack Slipper claiming in his book Slipper of the Yard (1981) that “he wouldn’t even tell his own left hand what the right one was doing”. This meant that Train Robbery Squad members were often dispatched on specific errands with no knowledge of how their tasks fitted into the overall investigation.
Train Robbery squad
The six-man Train Robbery Squad consisted of Detective Inspector Frank Williams, Detective Sergeant Steve Moore, Detective Sergeant Jack Slipper, Detective Sergeant Jim Nevill, Detective Sergeant Lou Van Dyck and Detective Constable Tommy Thorburn. The senior officer, Frank Williams, was a quiet man. His speciality was dealing with informants and he had the best working knowledge of the south London criminal fraternity in the force. One of the squad, Jack Slipper, would later become head of the Flying Squad and would still be involved in the case many years later.
Post Office Investigation]
The Post Office Investigation Branch (IB) was tasked with immediately establishing the amount of money stolen, which they concluded totalled £2,595,997.10s.0d. They also sought to identify what money had been taken so that the relevant banks could be notified. Deficiencies in High Value Package carriage security were reported and secure carriages were immediately brought back into service. The installation of radios was recommended as a priority. The investigation was detailed in a report by Assistant Controller Richard Yates that was issued in May 1964
The first gang member to be caught was Roger Cordrey. He was with his friend, William Boal, who was helping him lie low in return for the payment of old debts. They were living in a rented, fully furnished flat above a florist’s shop in Wimborne Road, Moordown, Bournemouth. The Bournemouth police were tipped off by police widow Ethel Clark, when Boal and Cordrey paid rent for a garage (in Tweedale Road off Castle Lane West), three months in advance, all in used ten-shilling notes.
William Boal, who was not involved in the robbery, was sentenced to 24 years and died in prison in 1970. Police later acknowledged that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice
Other arrests followed. Eight of the gang members and several associates were caught. The other arrests were made by Sgt. Stan Davis and Probationary Constable Gordon ‘Charlie’ Case.
On Friday 16 August 1963, two people who had decided to take a morning stroll in Dorking Woods discovered a briefcase, a holdall and a camel-skin bag, all containing money. They called police, who also discovered another briefcase full of money in the woods. In total, a sum of £100,900 was found. They also found a camel-skin bag with a receipt inside, from the Cafe Pension Restaurant, Sonnenbichel, Hindelang, Prov. Allgäu. It was made out in favour of a Herr and Frau Field. The Surrey police delivered the money and the receipt to Fewtrell and McArthur in Aylesbury, who knew by then that Brian Field was a clerk at James and Wheater who had acted in the purchase of Leatherslade Farm. They quickly confirmed through Interpol that Brian and Karin Field had stayed at the Pension Sonnebichel in February that year. In addition, they knew that Field had acted for Gordon Goody and other criminals.
Several weeks later, the police went to “Kabri” to interview Field, who calmly (for someone whose relatives had dumped a large part at least of the loot) provided a cover story that implicated Lennie Field as the purchaser of the farm and his boss John Wheater as the conveyancer. He admitted to visiting the farm on one occasion with Lennie Field, but said he assumed it was an investment of his brother Alexander Field, whom Brian Field had unsuccessfully defended in a recent court case. Field, not knowing the police had found a receipt, readily confirmed that he and his wife had been to Germany on a holiday and gave them the details of the place at which they had stayed. On 15 September 1963 Brian Field was arrested and his boss John Wheater was arrested two days later. Lennie Field had already been arrested on 14 September
Jack Slipper was involved in the capture of Roy James, Ronald Biggs, Jimmy Hussey and John Daly.
The trial of the robbers began at Aylesbury Assizes, Buckinghamshire, on 20 January 1964. Because it would be necessary to accommodate a large number of lawyers and journalists, the existing court was deemed too small and so the offices of Aylesbury Rural District Council were specially converted for the event. The defendants were brought to the court each day from Aylesbury Prison in a compartmentalised van, out of view of the large crowd of spectators. Mr Justice Edmund Davies presided over the trial, which lasted 51 days and included 613 exhibits and 240 witnesses. The jury retired to the Grange Youth Centre in Aylesbury to consider their verdict.
On 11 February 1964, there was a sensation when John Daly was found to have no case to answer. His counsel, Mr Raeburn QC, claimed that the evidence against his client was limited to his fingerprints being on the Monopoly set found at Leatherslade Farm and the fact that he went underground after the robbery. Raeburn went on to say that Daly had played the Monopoly game with his brother-in-law Bruce Reynolds earlier in 1963, and that he had gone underground only because he was associated with people publicly sought by the police. This was not proof of involvement in a conspiracy. The judge agreed, and the jury were directed to acquit him.
Frank Williams was shocked when this occurred because, owing to Tommy Butler’s refusal to share information, he had no knowledge of the fact that Daly’s prints were only on the Monopoly set. If Williams had known this, he could have asked Daly questions about the Monopoly set and robbed him of his very effective alibi. Daly was clever in avoiding having a photo taken when he was arrested until he could shave his beard. This meant that there was no photo to show the lengths he had gone to, to change his appearance. No action was taken against Butler for his mistake in not ensuring the case against Daly was more thorough
On 15 April 1964 the proceedings ended with the judge describing the robbery as “a crime of sordid violence inspired by vast greed” and passing sentences of 30 years’ imprisonment on seven of the robbers.
The eleven men sentenced all felt aggrieved at the sentences handed down, particularly Bill Boal (who died in prison) and Lennie Field, who were later found not guilty of the charges against them. The other men (aside from Wheater) resented what they considered to be the excessive length of the sentences, which were longer than those given to many murderers or armed robbers at the time. At that period, there was no parole system in place and prisoners served the full term of the sentence. Train robbers who were sentenced later, and by different judges, received shorter terms.
At the time, the severity of the sentences caused some surprise and it was felt that the then crumbling Conservative government, still reeling from the Profumo scandal, had instructed the judge accordingly, to give the impression that they were still on top of things generally. When he was arrested in 1968, the mastermind Bruce Reynolds is said to have told the arresting officer Tommy Butler, that those sentences had had a detrimental effect. According to him, they had prompted criminals generally to take guns with them when they set out on robberies.
Name Age Occupation Sentence
John Thomas Daly 32 antiques dealer N/A—No Case to Answer
Ronald Arthur Biggs 34 carpenter 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
Douglas Gordon Goody 34 hairdresser 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
Charles Frederick Wilson 31 market trader 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
Thomas William Wisbey 34 bookmaker 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
Robert Welch 34 club proprietor 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
James Hussey 34 painter 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
Roy John James 28 racing motorist and silversmith 30 years (25 years for conspiracy to rob and 30 years for armed robbery)
Roger John Cordrey 42 florist 20 years (20 years for conspiracy to rob and various receiving stolen goods charges)
Brian Arthur Field 29 solicitor’s clerk 25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)
Leonard Denis Field 31 merchant seaman 25 years (20 years for Conspiracy to rob and 5 years for obstructing justice)
John Denby Wheater 41 solicitor 3 years
William Gerald Boal 50 engineer 24 years
Appeals, July 1964
On 13 July 1964, the appeals by Lennie Field and Brian Field (no relation) against the charges of conspiracy to rob were allowed. This meant that their sentences were effectively reduced to five years only. On 14 July 1964, the appeals by Roger Cordrey and Bill Boal were allowed, with the convictions for conspiracy to rob quashed, leaving only the receiving charges. Justice Fenton Atkinson concluded that a miscarriage of justicewould result if Boal’s charges were upheld, given that his age, physique and temperament made him an unlikely train robber. Luckily for him, as the oldest robber, Cordrey was also deemed to be not guilty of the conspiracy because his prints had not been found at Leatherslade Farm.
Brian Field was only reluctantly acquitted of the robbery. Justice Atkinson stated that he would not be surprised if Field were not only part of the conspiracy, but also one of the robbers. The charges against the other men were all upheld. In the end Lennie Field and Bill Boal got some measure of justice, but Boal died in prison in 1970 after a long illness.
On 12 August 1964, Wilson escaped from Winson Green Prison in Birmingham in under three minutes, the escape being considered unprecedented in that a three-man team had broken into the prison to extricate him. His escape team was never caught and the leader, nicknamed “Frenchy”, had disappeared from the London criminal scene by the late 1960s. Two weeks after his escape Wilson was in Paris for plastic surgery. By November 1965, Wilson was in Mexico City visiting old friends Bruce Reynolds and Buster Edwards Wilson’s escape was yet another dramatic twist in the train robbery saga.
11 months after Wilson’s escape, in July 1965, Biggs escaped from Wandsworth Prison, 15 months into his sentence. A furniture van was parked alongside the prison walls and a ladder was dropped over the 30-foot-high wall into the prison during outside exercise time, allowing four prisoners to escape, including Biggs. The escape was planned by recently released prisoner Paul Seaborne, with the assistance of two other ex-convicts, Ronnie Leslie and Ronnie Black, with support from Biggs’ wife, Charmian. The plot saw two other prisoners interfere with the warders, and allow Biggs and friend Eric Flower to escape. Seaborne was later caught by Butler and sentenced to four-and-a-half years; Ronnie Leslie received three years for being the getaway driver. The two other prisoners who took advantage of the Biggs escape were captured after three months. Biggs and Flower paid a significant sum of money to be smuggled to Paris for plastic surgery. Biggs said he had to escape because of the length of the sentence and what he alleged to be the severity of the prison conditions.
Wilson and Biggs’ escape meant that five of the known robbers were now on the run, with Tommy Butler in hot pursuit.
Pursuit of fugitives
Jimmy White – With the other robbers on the run and having fled the country, only White was at large in the United Kingdom. White was a renowned locksmith/thief and had already been on the run for ten years before the robbery. He was said to have “a remarkable ability to be invisible, to merge with his surroundings and become the ultimate Mr Nobody.” He was a wartime paratrooper and a veteran of Arnhem. According to Piers Paul Read in his 1978 book The Train Robbers, he was “a solitary thief, not known to work with either firm, he should have had a good chance of remaining undetected altogether, yet was known to be one of the Train Robbers almost at once—first by other criminals and then by the police”. He was unfortunate in that Brian Field’s relatives had dumped luggage containing £100,000 only a mile from a site where White had bought a caravan and hidden £30,000 in the panelling. In addition, a group of men purporting to be from the Flying Squad broke into his flat and took a briefcase containing £8,500. Throughout his three years on the run with wife Sheree and baby son Stephen, he was taken advantage of or let down by friends and associates. On 10 April 1966 a new friend recognised him from photos in a newspaper and informed police. They arrested him at Littlestone while he was at home. He only had £8,000 to hand back to them. The rest was long gone. He was tried in June 1966 at Leicester Assizes and Mr Justice Nield sentenced him to 18 years’ jail, considerably less than the 30 years given to other principal offenders.
Buster Edwards – Edwards fled to Mexico with his family, to join Bruce Reynolds (and later Charlie Wilson) but returned voluntarily to England in 1966, where he was sentenced to 15 years.
Charlie Wilson – Wilson took up residence outside Montreal, Canada, on Rigaud Mountain in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood where the large, secluded properties are surrounded by trees. He lived under the name Ronald Alloway, a name borrowed from a Fulham shopkeeper. His wife and three children soon joined him. He joined an exclusive golf club and participated in the activities of the local community. It was only when he invited his brother-in-law over from the UK for Christmas that Scotland Yard was able to track him down and recapture him. They waited three months before making their move, in the hope that Wilson would lead them to Reynolds, the last suspect still to be apprehended. Wilson was arrested on 25 January 1968 by Tommy Butler. Many in Rigaud petitioned that his wife and three daughters be allowed to stay in the Montreal area.
Bruce Reynolds – On 6 June 1964, Reynolds arrived in Mexico, with his wife Angela and son Nick joining him a few months later, after they evaded the obvious police surveillance. A year later in July 1965, Buster Edwards and his family arrived, although unlike the Reynolds they planned to return to England at some stage, and did not like Mexico. Charlie Wilson, on the run with his family still back in England visited them for 6 weeks, so three of the train robbers were together in exile for a time. After the Edwards family returned to England, the Reynolds also decided to leave Mexico and go to Canada to potentially join up with the Wilson family, leaving on 6 December 1966. They had spent much of their share of the robbery by this point – living far more extravagantly than the Edwards had. After realizing the danger in settling near the Wilsons in Montreal, they went to live in Vancouver, and then went to Nice, France. Reynolds did not want to go to Australia where Biggs was, and needing money decided to go back to England, settling briefly in Torquay before being captured by Tommy Butler.
Ronnie Biggs – Biggs fled to Paris, where he acquired new identity papers and underwent plastic surgery. In 1970, he moved to Adelaide, Australia, where he worked as a builder – he and his wife had a third son. Tipped off of interest being shown by Interpol, he moved to Melbourne working as a set-constructor for Channel 9, later escaping to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after police had discovered his Melbourne address. Biggs could not be extradited because there was no extradition treaty between Britain and Brazil, and additionally he became father to a Brazilian son, which afforded him legal immunity. As a result, he lived openly in Rio for many years, safe from the British authorities. In 1981, Biggs’ Brazilian son became a member of a successful band Turma do Balão Mágico, but the band quickly faded into obscurity and dissolved.
In May 2001, aged 71 and having suffered three strokes, Biggs voluntarily returned to England. Accepting that he could be arrested, his stated desire was to “walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter” Arrested on landing, after detention and a short court hearing he was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. On 2 July 2009, Biggs was denied parole by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who considered Biggs to be still “wholly unrepentant.”
Fate of the Robbers
The Train Robbers are now mostly dead, with only three of the known robbers still alive in Gordon Goody, Tommy Wisbey and Bob Welch. In later years, the robbers generally came together only for the funerals of their fellow gang members. At Wilson’s funeral on 10 May 1990, several attended, Bruce Reynolds saw Roy James (who got into a verbal argument with the press), Edwards, Welch (hobbling on crutches) and White (who went unnoticed most due to his ability to blend into the background). However at Edwards’ funeral in 1994, Reynolds saw only Welch (Hussey, Wisbey and James were all in prison at the time).
At Reynolds own funeral, only Welch and Biggs attended, both in wheelchairs, although a statement was read out on behalf of Gordon Goody.
After being sentenced on 16 April 1964, Field served four years of his five-year sentence. He was released in 1967. While he was in prison, his wife Karin divorced him and married a German journalist.[ Karin wrote an article for the German magazine Stern. She confirmed that she took Roy James to Thame railway station so he could go to London and that she led a convoy of two vans back to “Kabri”, where the gang were joined by wives and girlfriends for a big party to celebrate the crime. When Reynolds returned to Great Britain in 1968, he tried to contact Field as this was the only way he could get in touch with the “Ulsterman“. It seems that Field was ambushed upon his release from prison by a recently released convict, “Scotch Jack” Buggy, who presumably roughed up or even tortured Field with a view to extorting some of the loot from the robbery. Subsequently Field went to ground and Buggy was killed shortly after. Reynolds gave up trying to find Field.
Field changed his name to Brian Carlton to disappear. Sometime after his release from prison, he married Welsh-born Sian. In the mid/late 1970s they worked for the Children’s Book Centre (since sold) in Kensington High Street in London. Field and his wife Sian were responsible for the company’s operations in central and southern Europe, to where they shipped English language books and held book fairs at international English schools. Field, aged 44, and Sian, aged 28, died in a car crash on the M4 motorway on 27 April 1979, a year after the last of the robbers had completed their sentences. The accident occurred as they returned from a visit to Sian’s parents in Wales. A Mercedes driven by the pregnant 28-year-old daughter of well-known hairdresser Raymond Bessone (Mr Teasy Weasy) crossed a damaged section of the guard rail and slammed into Field’s oncoming Porsche. The Fields, Teasy Weasy’s daughter, her husband and two children were killed instantly. It was several weeks after the accident that Field’s true identity was discovered. It is not clear whether his wife Sian ever knew of his past.
The last of the robbers released, (after serving about one-third of his sentence) Wilson returned to a life of crime was found shot dead at his villa in Marbella, Spain, on 24 April 1990. His murder was thought to be related to suspected cheating in drug-dealing activity. He is buried in Streatham Cemetery.
Buster Edwards After he was released, he became a flower seller outside Waterloo Station. His story was dramatised in the 1988 film Buster, with Phil Collins in the title role. Edwards died in a garage in November 1994, allegedly committing suicide by hanging himself. His family continued to run the flower stall after his death.
Roy James James went back to motor racing following his release on 15 August 1975. However, he crashed several cars, his chances of becoming a driver quickly faded. After the failure of his sporting career, he returned to his trade as a silversmith. He produced the trophy given to Formula One promoters each year thanks to his acquaintance with Bernie Ecclestone. In 1982, he married a younger woman, but the marriage soon broke down. By 1983, James and Charlie Wilson had become involved in an attempt to import gold without paying excise duty. James was acquitted in January 1984 for his part in the swindle. In 1993, he shot and wounded his father in-law, pistol-whipped and partially strangled his ex-wife, after they had returned their children for a day’s outing. He was sentenced to six years in jail. In 1996, James underwent triple-bypass surgery and was subsequently released from prison in 1997, only to die almost immediately afterwards on 21 August after another heart attack. He was the fifth member of the gang to die, despite being the youngest.
Roger Cordrey Cordrey was the first of the robbers released, but his share of the theft had almost entirely been recovered by the police. He went back to being a florist at his sister’s business upon his release. He is now dead, and his son Tony has publicly acknowledged his dad confirmed that Bill Boal was innocent of any involvement in the robbery.
Bruce Reynolds Bruce Reynolds, the last of the robbers to be caught, was released from prison on 6 June 1978 after serving 10 years. Reynolds, then aged 47, was helped by Gordon Goody to get back on his feet, before Goody departed for Spain.] By October 1978, day-release ended and he had to report to a parole officer. Frank Monroe, one of the three robbers who was never caught, temporarily gave Reynolds a job, but did not want to attract undue attention by employing him for too long. Reynolds later got back together with his wife Angela and son Nicholas. He was arrested in 1983 for drug-related offences (Reynolds denied having any involvement). He was released again in March 1985 and dedicated himself to helping his wife recover from a mental breakdown. In 2001, he and his son Nicholas travelled with reporters from The Sun newspaper to take Biggs back to Britain.[In 2010, he wrote the afterword for Signal Red, Robert Ryan’s novel based on the robbery, and he regularly commented on the robbery. He died in his sleep, aged 81, on 28 February 2013.
John Daly Upon his acquittal and release, and after finding his share of the loot stolen and/or destroyed, Daly gave up his life of crime and went “straight”. He and his wife Barbara and their three children moved to Cornwall, where he worked as a street sweeper until the age of 70, known to the locals as Gentleman John or John the Gent. Daly told no one about the robbery as he was told he could face a retrial. He died 6 weeks after his brother in law Reynolds.
On 6 August 2009, Biggs was granted release from prison on “compassionate grounds”, due to a severe case of pneumonia and other ongoing health problems. In 2011 he updated his autobiography, Odd Man Out: The Last Straw. Having suffered a series of strokes after his release, and unable to speak for the previous three years, Biggs died at the Carlton Court Care home, London on 18 December 2013.
Tommy Wisbey and Big Jim Hussey Tommy Wisbey was luckier than most of the others, in that his loot had been entrusted to his brothers, and when he emerged, he had a house in South London and a few other investments to keep him going. Unfortunately, during his prison stint, his daughter Lorraine had died in a car accident. He took a while to learn how to live harmoniously with his wife Rene (his daughter Marilyn having moved out upon his return). Shortly after his release, Wisbey was imprisoned on remand over a swindle involving travellers’ cheques. The judge acknowledged the minor nature of his role.
Jim Hussey was released on 17 November 1975 and married girlfriend Gill (whom he had met just before the robbery). Hussey’s share of the loot had been entrusted to a friend of Frank Monroe who squandered it despite Monroe periodically checking on its keeper.
Wisbey and James Hussey fell back into crime and were jailed in 1989 for cocaine dealing, with Wisbey sentenced to ten years and Hussey to seven years. In her book Gangster’s Moll, Marilyn Wisbey recounts that on 8 June 1988, after returning home from a visit to an abortion clinic and lying down for a nap they were raided by the Drugs Squad. Her parents were staying with her and her son Jonathan while their tenants moved out of their house (they had been away on a long trip to the USA). The raid uncovered 1 kg of cocaine and Rene and Marilyn Wisbey were arrested along with Jimmy Hussey, who had been spotted accepting a package from Wisbey in a park. Wisbey himself was captured a year later in Wilmslow, Cheshire. He was allegedly staying with another woman, to the shock of his wife and daughter. In return for Hussey and Wisbey pleading guilty, the two women were unconditionally freed. Upon their release from prison, both men retired from work.
Wisbey later explained: “We were against drugs all our lives, but as the years went on, towards the end of the ’70s, it became more and more the ‘in’ thing. Being involved in the Great Train Robbery, our name was good. They knew we had never grassed anyone, we had done our time without putting anyone else in the frame”. On 26 July 1989, the two men pleaded guilty and admitted at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London that they were a part of a £500,000 cocaine trafficking ring. Wisbey’s grandson has also had trouble with the law in Cyprus.
Bob Welch Bob Welch (born March 1929) was released on 14 June 1976. He was the last of those convicted in Aylesbury to be released. Welch moved back in with his wife June and his son. He threatened the man left in charge of his share of the theft to retrieve the remainder. A leg injury sustained in prison forced him to undergo several operations, which left him semi-crippled.
Douglas (Gordon) Goody He was released from prison on 23 December 1975, aged 46 years old and went to live with his ill mother in her small cottage in Putney. Unlike the other robbers, he was exceptionally lucky in that the man he left in charge of his affairs was loyal and successful so he was able to live a relatively well-off life. In his final years of incarceration Goody had taken full benefit of the newly established education college at Wormwood Scrubbs and studied Spanish to GCE standard.
He later moved to Mojacar, southern Spain,[ where he bought property and a bar and settled down, believing it safer to be out of the United Kingdom. He was at one point accused of cannabis smuggling but ultimately cleared. He continues to reside in Mojacar.
The Ones Who Got Away]
While there has been a lot of mystery surrounding several of the gang who were not imprisoned, in reality the police knew almost the entire gang almost instantly. By 29 August 1963 Commander Hatherill had 14 names already, and told police that Brian Field had tried to enlist another gang to rob the train, who turned him down, before Hatherill’s list was unerringly accurate — all the major gang members were later jailed were identified, except Ronnie Biggs. With the exception of the minor accomplices Lennie Field, Bill Boal and the train driver, the list was complete, although of course the Ulsterman was not identified. In terms of the ones who got away, there were four others identified — Henry Smith, Dennis Pembroke, a fair haired man (25 years old — well spoken, not named) and a Nondescript man (not named but may be Jimmy Collins)
Both Piers Paul Read, and later Bruce Reynolds refer to three robbers who got away as Bill Jennings, Alf Thomas and Frank Monroe.
Bill ‘Flossy’ Jennings AKA Mr One
Piers Paul Read refers to this man as Bill Jennings in The Train Robbers, while Bruce Reynolds adds a nickname – Flossy. Ronnie Biggs refers to him as Mr One, as do other accounts. According to Bruce Reynolds, ‘Flossy had no previous convictions and stayed well out of contact with the group. A shadowy figure, nobody knew exactly where he lived — or even what his real name was. All we knew that he was one hundred per cent, and was sure to last out the hullabaloo. The last report of him said that he was in a safe house, banged up with two gorgeous girls and enough champagne to sink a battleship’
It is clear that while Reynolds claims to not have known his real name, that ‘Flossy’ was not just a participant in the Great Train Robbery, he was a core part of the gang who participated in the London Airport robbery. This robbery was the audacious raid that Gordon Goody and Charlie Wilson were acquitted of. That raid consisted of Roy James and Mickey Ball as the getaway drivers, with six robbers — Bruce Reynolds, Buster Edwards, Gordon Goody, Charlie Wilson, Flossy (and a sixth man who did not participate in the train robbery). In the end the only one caught after the airport raid was Mickey Ball, who pleaded guilty to being a getaway driver when a witness mistook him for Flossy, and to avoid being blamed for the actual violence he agreed to plead guilty as an accomplice, and was in prison during the Great Train Robbery.[
It is alleged that Henry Thomas ‘Harry’ Smith (Born 20 October 1930) was Flossy and unlike most other robbers, actually got to spend his share of the loot, buying 28 houses and also a hotel and drinking club in Portsmouth. Smith died in 2008.[ Smith was the only man not ultimately arrested that was on both the Hatherill list, and Tommy Butler’s list.
Alf Thomas is alleged to have been a South Coast Raider, but is said by Piers Paul Read to have been introduced by Jimmy White, which may have been true or a diversion by the robbers that told Read their story. The man is sometimes referred to as Mr Two or Mr Three, depending on the account. Ronnie Biggs refers to him as Mr Three and notes several times that he is the biggest of the gang, and the one who stormed the cab to subdue the driver.
It is alleged that the man referred to as Alf Thomas is Dennis (Danny) Pembroke. Following the robbery, Pembroke is said to have turned his back on crime and lived quietly in Kent, working as a cab driver. He died aged 79 from a heart attack, at home and in his sleep on 28 February 2015. Pembroke had five children, and his son Danny Jnr, said his father had never spoken about the Great Train Robbery. Certainly he showed no signs of increased wealth afterwards, but as he allegedly gave up £47,245 of the money as part of a deal with Frank Williams, 1/3 of his share was already lost.
On 6 September 1963, Flying Squad officers DCI Williams and Det Sgt Jack Slipper search Pembroke’s house, but nothing incriminating was found and he was extensively interrogated and his prints taken. Samples of his pubic hair were taken to compare with those found in sleeping bags at Leatherslade Farm, but there was no match. The Flying Squad could therefore never prove that Danny Pembroke was one of the robbers as no forensic evidence linked him to the crime scene or the farm. After release, he went to the Devon village of Beaford with Welch with three others where locals became suspicious at the amount of £5 notes they were spending.[
According to Bruce Reynolds, Monroe, who was never caught, worked as a film stunt man for a while before starting a paper and scrap metal recycling business.
The Replacement Train Driver AKA Pops/Dad AKA Peter AKA Stan Agate
The replacement train driver was never caught, and never suspected of even existing by police, due to the fact that Jack Mills in the end had to drive the train. He also never profited from the crime – Ronnie Biggs never paid him his £20,000 “drink”. The driver, of course, was not a member of the gang (as defined by receiving an equal share), just an accomplice.
Piers Paul Read called the replacement train driver ‘Stan Agate’, and Stan was apparently the true nickname of the replacement driver. Read, concerned that the robbers may have hurt him, went to see Ronnie Biggs in Brazil to get his details, although was dismayed to find that Biggs did not know his last name and knew and cared very little about him. With the meagre details provided, Read used a detective agency to track down the driver at a town 20 miles south of London, and found that he was still alive, although somewhat senile and being cared for by his wife. The wife admitted that she had burnt all the clothes that he had worn that night, and had nervously waited for either the gang to murder him or the police to arrest him. Read promised not to reveal their identities. Unlike the other three members of the gang who got away, Peta Fordham does make mention of the replacement driver, but notes that he is said now to be dead, perhaps the robbers who provided material for the book did not want the police looking for him, as at the time of publishing (1965) Reynolds, White and Edwards will still on the run.[
Ronnie Biggs, in his 1994 autobiography, Odd Man Out, said that Bruce Reynolds offered him a chance to join the gang, if he could find a train driver. Biggs was renewing the front windows of a train drivers’ house in Redhill, who he calls ‘Peter’ (and who he believes to be dead by 1994). Ronnie offers him a £40,000 share of the profits, and tells Reynolds and gives his address John Daly who then proceeds to check him out. It seems that while he was an older man, he still had to apply for two weeks leave of absence from his job. According to Biggs, ‘Peter’ was paid his £40,000 ‘drink’, although other accounts claim otherwise. Biggs states that Mary Manson ‘Peter’ and John Daly home, while Reynolds drove Biggs home.
It is alleged in The Sun that the replacement train driver was Peter Stevens.
John Wheater was released from prison on 11 February 1966 and managed his family’s laundry business in Harrogate. He later wrote two articles in the Sunday Telegraph, who published the first one on 6 March 1966.
Lenny Field was released in 1967 and went to live in North London. He disappeared from the public eye.
The replacement train driver was never found. He had no criminal record and in the end Mills drove the train, with police having no reason to suspect the other’s involvement.
Mary Manson, an associate of Bruce Reynolds and John Daly, was charged with receiving £820 from the robbery; she was held for six weeks but was released. Mary took care of wives and children of some of the robbers while they were on the run or in jail.
Fate of the Victims]
Much focus of the trial and in subsequent reporting, has been on the train driver Jack Mills, but Mills secondman, David Whitby as well as other staff were attacked, and Whitby appears to have survived Mills by only a few years despite being younger.
Mills had constant trauma headaches for the rest of his life. He died in 1970 from leukaemia. Mills’ assailant was one of three members of the gang, who was never identified by the others. However, in November 2012, Hussey made a death-bed confession that it was him,[ although there were suspicions that this was repayment of a debt, to divert attention from the real perpetrator.
Frank Williams (at the time a Detective Inspector) claims that at least three men who were directly involved are still at liberty and enjoying their full share of the money stolen and the profits from the way they invested it. One of them is the man responsible for the attack on the train driver. The train driver’s assailant is not some phantom figure lurking in the criminal underworld. Williams traced him, identified him and took him to Scotland Yard where, with Tommy Butler, Williams questioned him. He could not be charged because of lack of evidence; there were no fingerprints or identifiable marks anywhere. None of those arrested informed on him although he had completely disobeyed instructions and used violence during the robbery.
Like Mills, David Whitby was also from Crewe. He was traumatised by his track-side assault and subsequent rough treatment and never recovered from his ordeal He was 25 years old at the time of the robbery. He was able to resume his career as a secondman, but died from a heart attack on 6 January 1972 at the age of 34.]
William Gerald Boal (22 October 1913 – 26 June 1970), an accomplice after the fact of Roger Cordrey, was wrongly convicted as being one of the robbers, despite playing a role no different to the many other accomplices of the various train robbers. Boal tragically died in jail of cancer. Boal’s family are trying to have his name cleared, as he clearly was at best an accomplice after the fact with no knowledge of the robbery, and Cordrey likely told him nothing about where he obtained the cash.
The audacity and scale of the robbery was yet another controversy with which the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan had to cope. Macmillan resigned in October 1963, claiming poor health – he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and believed he did not have long to live, but the diagnosis turned out to be incorrect. He did not contest his seat at the next election in September 1964, which the Labour Party won under Harold Wilson.
After his success in securing White and Edwards, Tommy Butler got the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Joseph Simpson, to suspend his retirement on his 55th birthday so he could continue to hunt the robbers. This paid off with the arrests of first Wilson, then Reynolds. When asked by a reporter after the sentencing of Reynolds whether that was the end of it, Butler replied that it was not over until Biggs was caught. In 1969 he was finally forced to accept compulsory retirement, and later died in 1970, aged 57 years. That same day, Biggs’ memoirs were published in The Sun newspaper.
Butler’s deputy, Frank Williams, was passed over to be his replacement as head of the Flying Squad because of his deal with Edwards (which he thought would seal his promotion) and his deal with another of the robbers who was never caught. Following this, he left the force to become head of security for QANTAS. He wrote his autobiography No Fixed Address, which was published in 1973.
Jack Slipper of the Metropolitan Police was promoted to Detective Chief Superintendent. He became so involved in the case that he continued to hunt many of the escaped robbers after he retired. He believed Biggs should not be released after returning to the UK in 2001 and he often appeared in the media to comment on any news item connected with the robbery before his death on 24 August 2005 at the age of 81.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ernest Malcolm Fewtrell, Head of the Buckinghamshire Crime Investigation Department (CID) was born on 29 September 1909 and died on 28 November 2005, aged 96 years. He retired on the last day of the trial after the verdicts were handed down (at the then compulsory retirement age of 55). This allowed him (with Ronald Payne of The Sunday Telegraph, who was involved in the paper’s coverage of the case) to be the first of the investigators to write a book The Train Robbers on the robbery investigation in 1964. In the book he expressed some frustration with the Flying Squad although he mostly had praise for individual officers. His one regret was that he had the search for the hideout carried out radiating outwards from the scene of the robbery rather than an inwards search from a 30-mile (48 km) perimeter. He worked as an Accommodation Officer for Portsmouth Polytechnic before retiring to live by the sea near Swanage. He continued to express disgust at any film that he felt glamorised the robbers. It has been said that he bore a striking resemblance to John Thaw, who was the star ofInspector Morse, which, perhaps coincidentally, was a television series about a detective in the Thames Valley Police Force (the modern-day successor to Buckinghamshire Constabulary). Fewtrell was assisted and later succeeded in the investigation by John Woolley, who served in the Buckinghamshire Constabulary from 1959 to 1984.
George Hatherill (1898–1986) had his service extended by one year because of the need to complete the investigation of the Great Train Robbery. He visited Canada and the USA as a lecturer on police matters. He died on 17 June 1986 at the age of 87.]
Gerald MacArthur died aged 70 years on 21 July 1996. He was famous for breaking up the Richardson Gang at a time when a significant number of London-based detectives were known to be corrupt.
The crime scene
One of the Post Office carriages that was part of the remaining train (not involved in the actual robbery) is preserved at the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and is being restored. The actual carriage that was robbed [M30204M] was retained for 7 years following the robbery, and then taken to Norfolk and burned in the presence of Police and Post Office representatives at a scrapyard near Norwich in 1970. This was to deter collector/souvenir hunters. Locomotive English Electric Type 4 – D326 (later 40126) was involved in a number of serious operating incidents. The locomotive was scrapped at Doncaster Railway workshops in 1984. The retrieved Monopoly board used by the robbers at their Leatherslade Farm hideout and a genuine £5 note from the robbery is on display at the Thames Valley Police museum inSulhamstead, Berkshire.
The scene of the crime was for some years called “Train Robbers’ bridge” on a Network Rail maintenance sign. This led to an outcry advocating restoration of the original name of Bridego Bridge, but in late 2013 it was renamed again, as Mentmore Bridge. This renaming has yet to occur as the Network Rail signage still says Train Robbers Bridge. A diorama of the scene has been built by a local club and is currently on display near Aberdeen, at the Grampian Transport Museum for the summer of 2014.
Train Robbers Bridge Network Rail plaque
Recovery of the money]
£2,631,684 was stolen (although the police report says that £2,595,997 was stolen). The bulk of the haul was in £1 notes and £5 notes (both the older white note and the newer blue note which was half its size). The £5 notes were bundled in batches of £2,500, the £1 notes in batches of £500. There were also ten-shilling notes in batches of £250. A quantity of Irish and Scottish money was also stolen. With the exception of a few ‘drinks’ for associates, the loot was split into 17 equal shares of around £150,000 each (George Hatherill claims that there were 18 shares).
With a few notable exceptions, the money was quickly laundered or divided by friends, family and associates of the robbers. Much was laundered through bookmakers (Wilson and Wisbey were themselves bookmakers) although, astonishingly, only a few hundred pounds were identifiable by serial number so the robbers could have spent the money without fear of being traced. There were 1,579 notes whose serial numbers were known and the rest of the money was completely untraceable.
The £5 notes were of two different types, because in 1957 the British Government had begun to replace the large white notes with smaller blue ones. The final changeover had not been completed by the time of the robbery. The white notes quickly became far more conspicuous to use, making it harder for them to be spent.
Although within six months of the robbery ten of the robbers had been locked up awaiting trial and three others were wanted criminals on the run, very little of the money had actually been recovered. This has caused speculation that there is a great deal of robbery loot still out there. In fact, the money was soon seized and spent by predatory gangsters and greedy associates, relatives and lawyers. So the proceeds of the greatest cash robbery in British history were quickly used up, with few of the robbers receiving any real long-term benefit.
Less than £400,000 was eventually recovered. Over half of this consisted of the shares of Roger Cordrey (£141,017) and (allegedly) Brian Field (£100,900). A further £36,000 was recovered from Jimmy White’s caravan. Roy James was carrying £12,041 when captured. The final sum recovered was £47,245 that was found in a telephone box in Great Dover Street, Newington, South London.
Telephone box controversy]
The £47,245 recovered from a telephone box included 57 notes whose serial numbers had been recorded by the bank in Scotland. This money was allegedly part of a deal struck with Frank Williams by “Alf Thomas”. Piers Paul Read, in The Train Robbers, claimed that the police were feeling the pressure because although they had caught many of the robbers, they had failed to recover much of the money. While no evidence had been found against “Thomas”, who only had a reputation as a minor thief, some of the identifiable bank notes had been traced back to him through friends who had been charged with receiving. Given that the police had no evidence against “Thomas”, either at Leatherslade Farm or connection with either of the two gangs, Butler was prepared to let him go. Williams convinced Butler to pull “Thomas” in for questioning and in return for releasing him and not charging his friends with more serious crimes, £50,000 was to be returned.
On 3 December 1963, which happened to be the same day that Roy James was taken into custody, the police received an anonymous tip directing them to the money in the phone box. The money was driven up to Aylesbury and taken into custody by Detective Superintendent Fewtrell, who wondered how his London colleagues could know how much money there was. He had to bring in bank clerks to count the damp and musty money to determine the final sum.
Williams made no admission to the recovery of the money being the result of a deal with “Thomas”. Despite claiming that his negotiations were responsible for the return of this money, Williams in his book No Fixed Address (1973) claimed not to know the identity of the person who had returned the money, although he did mention several robbers to whom he had offered deals through intermediaries. He noted that it seemed to him that Butler was sceptical of his efforts and that at the press conference Hatherill and Millen did not reveal the circumstances behind the find and that he was never asked to talk with them about it. Despite “Alf Thomas” being the man identified as the assailant of the train driver, Jack Mills, by Bruce Reynolds (albeit indirectly), Williams only makes mention of the assailant once in his book. In this section (often quoted by other sources), he confirms that, with Tommy Butler, he questioned the man they knew to be the assailant but that they had no evidence to convict him. Strangely, however, he makes no further mention of him.
This lends credence to the claim that a deal was done with “Alf Thomas” which later caused outrage in the police hierarchy. It is hinted in several books that the deals done by Williams were responsible for his being overlooked for promotion and that Williams was unhappy that his efforts were not recognised by Butler, but were instead hidden from superiors.
For his part, George Hatherill, in his book A Detective’s Tale, stated that the motive behind the return of the money was not known for certain. He said that the money was returned by “one about whom extensive inquiries had been made and who in fact was interrogated at length. But in spite of our strong suspicions, nothing could be proved against him and so no charge could be brought. My belief is that he thought we knew more about him than we did, and thinking things were getting hot, he decided to get rid of the money to avoid being found in possession with it” Hatherill does not mention Williams at all in his book. He retired on the last day of the trial at Aylesbury.
The ten gang members who were arrested shortly after the robbery had to spend a large amount on legal fees (approximately £30,000 each).
The robbers who spent much time on the run overseas—Reynolds, Wilson and Edwards—had very little left when finally arrested, having had to spend money avoiding capture and indulging in lavish lifestyles without finding employment. Much of Jimmy White’s money was taken from him.
According to Marilyn Wisbey, her father’s share was hidden by his father Tommy Wisbey Senior in the panels in the doors of his home. Butler raided them three times but he never found the train money. The majority of the money was reputedly entrusted to Wisbey’s father and also to his younger brother Ron, who coincidentally had saved some money of his own that was confiscated by the police. (It was returned to Ron three months later). By the time Wisbey was released from jail all of his share had either been spent or invested. Marilyn agrees with Piers Paul Read’s assessment of how her father’s share of approximately £150,000 was spent. Although the Wisbey share was one that was not taken by other criminals, Marilyn Wisbey is still bitter that her relatives got to spend a fair amount of the loot while the overall sum dwindled away. However, her grandfather used some of the money to buy them a house in Upper Norwood.
Six of the robbers escaped punishment in one way or another—the “Ulsterman“, three robbers who were never caught, John Daly who was lucky to have his charges dismissed at the trial and Ronnie Biggs who escaped from jail and managed to avoid being taken back to the UK. John Daly had entrusted his money to another crook. This man had betrayed him to the police and had absconded with the money. He died before Daly could catch up with him. Upon the release of the others in the mid-1970s, “Bill Jennings” got in touch with Buster Edwards and “Frank Monroe” got in touch with the South Coast Raiders. Both said that they had no money left. “Alf Thomas” had disappeared and John Daly at the time was said to be living on the dole in West Country. Ronnie Biggs quickly spent his share getting a new life (the ultimate goal of some criminals). He loved his new life in Australia, although by the time his family arrived in 1966, all but £7,000 had been spent. £55,000 had been paid as a package deal to get him out of the UK. The rest had gone on legal fees and expenses.