CRIME FILE - Famous crime:
The Great Train Robbery
The Glasgow-to-London mail train comprised of 12 carriages pulled by a single diesel locomotive. It was a mobile mail sorting office that carried general mail items and large amounts of cash en route to London from various banks and financial institutions in Scotland. The cash and other valuable items was stored and sorted in the 'High Value Package' coach, two carriages back from the locomotive.
These were the carriages in which Reynolds’ gang were primarily interested. From his research Reynolds deduced that the amount of cash carried was considerably larger following a bank holiday. One such holiday fell on Monday 5 August 1963. Reynolds set the tentative date of the robbery for 6 August 1963.
The robbers were to board the train, disconnect the locomotive and the first two carriages from the rest and drive them to a safe location where the valuables could be transferred to waiting trucks. The main problem was how to stop the train without creating too much suspicion.
Cordrey, an emotional neurotic, was also a skilled electrician and knew about trains. He would ‘fix’ the signals, forcing the train to stop as required. The best location for this was Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. The train would reach Leighton Buzzard at 3:30 am, which would give the robbers sufficient time to stop the train, unload the money and make their getaway under cover of darkness. Reynolds suggested that they procure a nearby farmhouse some 27 miles from the planned site of the robbery.
“The purchasing of the farmhouse was to be one of the gang’s biggest mistakes.”
Reynolds’ usual talent for meticulous planning clearly abandoned him as he negotiated the deal by using a known associate to act as the purchaser under his real name and also acquired the services of a bona fide law firm, without covering his tracks.
On Tuesday 6 August 1963, the gang members left their various homes and headed to the farm to wait for confirmation that the money was on the way. All the gang members had concocted stories explaining their absences from their wives and partners, in order not to arouse suspicion. Then they all met up at the farmhouse, having travelled in a variety of ways.
Charlie Wilson and Roy James arrived in a stolen Land Rover followed by Roger Cordrey on a bicycle. Gordon Goody was at the home of Brian Field, waiting for a call from an Irishman known as the ‘Ulsterman’, whose job it was to confirm when the money was to be sent.
While they waited they played cards and Monopoly. The men were no doubt pleased that Bob Welch had brought several bottles of beer with him but the considerate gesture was to have huge repercussions during the investigations.
The gang spent the day reviewing the plan over and over again before preparing to leave at midnight. Their intention was to masquerade as an army unit on night manoeuvres. They had army vehicles, uniforms and fake official papers in order to look the part. At 10 pm they got word from the Ulsterman that a large consignment of money was on its way.
In the early hours of Thursday 8 August, the vehicles were loaded and the convoy headed for Leighton Buzzard.
After arriving at the distant signal, they dropped off John Daly and Roger Cordrey to take care of the signals and continued on to Bridego Bridge, where they donned blue coveralls to mask their army uniforms. The team split up and took up their pre-assigned posts.
Tapes were unfurled across the track to indicate where the train was to be stopped for unloading and the phone lines at the emergency call box beside the tracks were cut. The gang also cut the overhead phone lines that serviced the district.
It was pitch black and just after 3 am the Glasgow to London mail train was nearing the site. Using a portable radio, Reynolds gave the word and the false signals were activated. The mail train slowed and pulled up to where the men lay waiting.
The train's fireman got out of the cabin and made his way to the emergency call box to phone ahead. Finding the phone dead, he turned back to the train and saw Buster Edwards in overalls next to the tracks. The fireman assumed Buster was a line worker and walked towards him but was soon overpowered by two of Buster’s accomplices in balaclavas, who pushed the terrified man down the embankment, where he was handcuffed.
‘Number 3’, the burliest of the gang, entered the cabin. Jack Mills, the driver, was startled at being confronted and tried to resist. During the struggle he was hit on the head but sustained a more severe injury when he fell against the side of the cabin. While he was bleeding, Mills was dragged away and replaced by gang member ‘Number 3’.
Despite his injury, Mills, under threat of a further beating, was required to release a vacuum break that prevented the train from being moved after it had been uncoupled from the mail cars.
Postal workers in the High Value coach were alerted by the sound of the uncoupling but before they could do anything, the gang smashed into the coach and overpowered them. They were bound, gagged and left lying face-down as the gang began unloading the booty.
The gang formed a human chain leading from the carriage to the embankment and finally to the truck, where the bulky mailbags were offloaded. Forty minutes later, and leaving seven mail bags behind in the coach, the gang made their getaway.
It took three hours to unload the bags and view the spoils, over £2,631,784.00, far more money than then they had expected.