Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Big One: Ronald Biggs and the Great Train Robbery

"Operation Rio"

Just days later the police raided the house that the Biggs family had been renting in Melbourne and took Charmaine into custody.  She was later charged with entering the country illegally and released.  On October 24, 1969, Eric Flowers was arrested in Sydney.

With the aid of friends, Biggs was able to stay out of site for a few months but when news was received that police suspected where he was hiding he scraped together some money and a borrowed passport and booked passage to Panama on the S.S. Ellinis which departed on February 5, 1970.  Once in Panama he booked a flight to Rio de Janeiro via Caracas, Venezuela.

He landed in Rio on March 11, 1970 as Michael Haynes and settled into a cheap, waterfront hotel.  According to his own account in Odd Man Out, Biggs had very little money at this point having paid out a large proportion of his share of the loot in order to stay out of police hands.

Living cheaply, doing odd jobs and carpentry wherever he could, Biggs gradually settled into life in Rio.  While still in constant touch with his wife and family, he led a full and eventful life and entertained a string of women and enjoyed the company of a broad circle of friends.  It was during this period that he received the tragic news from home that his eldest son Nicky had been killed in a car accident. 

Biggs was understandably devastated and this, added to the fact that he was already financially depressed and missing his family got him seriously thinking about giving himself up.  To add further complication, his live-in girlfriend Raimunda informed him that she was carrying his child.  Now more than ever he needed money, not only to support his family back home but for his new Brazilian family.  To this end he had a friend contact the major newspapers in England and offer them the exclusive story of him giving himself up in exchange for 50,000 in cash.

Ronald & Raimunda Biggs
Ronald & Raimunda Biggs

In January 1974 he got a solid bite when the Daily Express contacted his friend and offered to buy the story.  After sending the paper a letter complete with his signature and fingerprints to verify his identity, the paper agreed to send a reporter to meet with him in Rio.

On January 30 the reporter arrived and arranged to meet Biggs at his hotel.  Ronnie, in company with a young attractive lady friend, went to the Trocadero Hotel to keep the appointment.  The meeting went well with the reporter, Colin Mackenzie and a photographer named Bill Lovelace in attendance.  After some discussion Mackenzie told Biggs that the paper had only authorized him to pay 35,000 for the story.  Biggs readily accepted.

The deal made, Biggs and Mackenzie got straight to work to get the story down while the photographer recorded the event.  For much of the next two days they worked at it and were still working on the morning of the third when a knock came at the hotel door and a group of men were let into the room.  They were the local police commissioner, the British Consul-General, the Brazilian Vice-Consul and two Scotland Yard detectives, Detective Inspector Peter Jones and Biggs nemesis Detective Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper Ronnie had been well and truly busted!

Almost a month of legal wrangling followed while the British government sought his extradition.  This was complicated as no formal extradition treaty existed between the two countries.  Finally the local authorities decided that Biggs should be incarcerated in a Brazilian jail for ninety days pending further enquiries.  So on February 4, he was flown to Brasilia to begin his internment.  While on the plane he was given a newspaper and discovered the truth about his situation.  When the police had turned up at his hotel room hed assumed that they had followed the reporters trail to Rio.  Little did he realize that it had been a scam from the start.  The police had got their man, the Daily Express had gotten their story and it hadnt cost them a cent!

During his time in jail Biggs learned from his fellow prisoners that because he was living with a Brazilian woman who was expecting his baby the authorities would be reluctant to deport him.

Within weeks Charmaine had come to visit him and even though she was unhappy about him having a child with another woman she was still pleased to see him.  Colin Mackenzie the Daily Express reporter also came to see him and managed to convince Biggs that he had no part in the deception his paper had perpetrated in collusion with Scotland Yard.  Biggs chose to believe him especially as Mackenzie was interested in doing a book about him.  Biggs agreed and some weeks later Mackenzie returned to see him and told him that Granada Publishing, a British publishing house, had advanced them 65,000 for the book rights. 

Charmaine Biggs
Charmaine Biggs

With money behind them the first order of business was to hire a lawyer to prevent Biggs being deported and to that end Mackenzie hired prominent Brazilian lawyer, Dr Paulo Sepulveda Pertence. 

Biggs case was getting good exposure in the press especially when his lawyer arranged for him to appear at a family court for the purposes of claiming paternity of Raimundas unborn child.  Pertence also had a writ of habeas corpus drawn up to secure Biggs release just as soon as his ninety days incarceration was over.

On May 6, 1974, the waiting was over and Biggs was fingerprinted, released and flown to Rio, handcuffed and under guard.  It wasnt until he was on the plane that he learned his case had been heard and that he was to be released on conditional liberty. 

While Jack Slipper returned to England empty handed and disillusioned, Biggs returned to his home under his real name, and, provided he stayed in Brazil, he was a free man.

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