The Great Train Robbery
By Sue Schuurman
AUGUST 10, 1998:
35 Years Ago This Week
On Aug. 8, 1963, Ronald Biggs and 29 other bandits smoothly pulled off a daring holdup of the Glasgow to London postal train and in the process became nearly $3 million richer. Biggs and most of the other gang members were eventually caught. But after serving only 15 months of a 30-year sentence, Biggs managed to escape and has been living in a secret hideaway in Rio de Janeiro ever since. The fugitive-turned-folk hero recently made headlines in a controversial decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court in which Brazilian authorities refused to extradite him to Britain. (Biggs has fathered a child while hiding out in Brazil and thus, under Brazilian law, cannot be extradited.) You can meet this colorful criminal by signing up for his group barbecues held at an undisclosed Rio location (www.bscene.com.au/biggs/meetron. html).
"CHEDDINGTON, England--A well-drilled gang of about 30 masked bandits ambushed a mail train Thursday and escaped with loot estimated at millions of dollars in perhaps the biggest robbery of all time. ...
"The job was executed at 3:15 a.m., 40 miles north of London with precision and teamwork that pointed to the strategy of an underworld mastermind who has met with success in previous British train and bullion robberies. ...
"The gang first overpowered the railway signalman and set the signals for 'danger,' stopping the train. They seized the engineer and fireman, expertly uncoupled the engine and the first two cars, forced the engineer to drive them a mile down the track, then, smoothly swept up 120 mail sacks containing cash and diamonds.
"They made a getaway in two army-style trucks and a fast car. ...
"The ambush occurred at a lonely crossing by a signal which the bandits had rigged to appear red. They did not disturb electronic 'fail-safe' gadgets, but covered the green signal with a glove and used flashlights to shine a light through the red panel of the signal. The train halted exactly where they wanted it.
"When Co-Engineer David Whitby, 26, stepped down to see what was wrong with the signals, he and Engineer Jack Mills, 58, were seized by one group of bandits wearing silk stockings over their heads.
"At the same time, another group uncoupled the first two coaches, while postal workers in the remaining seven cars continued their routine unaware of the drama up front. ...
"The entire operation ... took only 15 minutes."
--compiled by Susan Schuurman
Source: Albuquerque Journal;
Aug. 9, 1963
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