Ronnie Biggs will always be remembered for his role in the Great Train Robbery – immediately dubbed the “crime of the century” after the gang grabbed banknotes worth STG46 million ($A84.
58 million) in today’s terms.
The mastermind behind the operation, career thief Bruce Reynolds, assembled at least 15 hardened criminals – including Biggs – for the job he called the “big one”.
Reynolds’ plan was to hold up the night mail train as it passed through the countryside.
As the gang waited, Reynolds was so confident that everything had been planned down to the smallest detail that he calmly lit a cigar – but a series of blunders followed.
The train appeared shortly after 3am and stopped at a set of fake signals the gang had put up.
Train driver Jack Mills got out to see what was going on and was hit over the head and knocked senseless.
The gang found it impossible to unload the cash and the crooked train driver they had brought along with them, recruited by Biggs, could not work the controls.
After hitting Mills so hard, they then had to drag him back and make him drive the train.
The train was driven about 2 kilometres, where the gang unloaded STG2,631,684 ($A4.84 million) in used notes.
They then took the cash by truck to Leatherslade Farm.
A crooked solicitor had been used to buy the farm and the gang planned to hole up there until the heat died down.
They had thought the farm would never come under suspicion – a huge mistake.
After handcuffing the train staff when they made their getaway, the robbers warned them not to do anything for 30 minutes.
That allowed detectives to conclude quickly that the gang was probably hiding within a radius of about 30 miles.
As the police closed in, the gang divided the money and fled.
But they left an awful lot of fingerprints, even playing Monopoly with some of the loot and leaving prints on the board.
The first arrests – those of Roger Cordrey and William Boal – were made when Cordrey tried to rent a lock-up from a policeman’s widow.
By December most of the robbers had been arrested. Twelve of them were jailed for a total of more than 300 years but more than one broke out of jail, including Biggs, who spent more than 30 years on the run.
Gang leader Reynolds, who died earlier this year, said: “As a career criminal you reach a pinnacle and that was it – it was a bit like a journalist finding out Hitler was still alive.
“Other crimes have got their points but for the audacity of it and the way it captured the public imagination, it’s up there.”