Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Big One: Ronald Biggs and the Great Train Robbery

Fatal Weakness

The plan also required a safe house. It needed to be an isolated property in the general vicinity of the rail line where the men and vehicles could assemble before the robbery, return with the spoils afterwards and go their separate ways without fear of detection.  Originally, Reynolds had intended to transport the money to a friends house in Oxfordshire, and distribute the money later but this suggestion was vehemently opposed because, as Peta Fordham wrote in The Robbers Tale, Criminals, like other men, will trust each other with life and liberty: that trust doesnt extend to money.

With time running out and his options severely limited, Reynolds suggested they procure a nearby farmhouse which, after some hurried research, seemed to fill their needs. 

Leatherslade Farm, aerial
Leatherslade Farm, aerial

Leatherslade farm was in the heart of a small farming community just twenty-seven miles from the planned site of the robbery.  It consisted of a dilapidated, two-story farmhouse and several small outbuildings with sufficient space for both men and vehicles. 

The idea was simple but rash.  They would approach the absentee owners through a solicitor and negotiate to buy the property.  Pending the sale, the new owners would request to have a team of decorators stay at the farm for several days while they supposedly prepared the house for occupancy.  The plan, though audacious, did succeed as planned, but Reynolds natural intelligence and attention to detail seems to have deserted him at this point as he not only had a known associate act as the dummy purchaser under his real name, he hired an easily identifiable law firm to negotiate the deal and made no real effort to cover his own trail.

With the last piece of the puzzle in place, the gang members left their various homes on Tuesday, August 6, 1963 and headed to the farm to wait for confirmation that the money was on the way.

Biggs, in his book Odd Man Out, describes how he left his home early that morning and boarded a train at Redhill Station.  He had told his wife that he had secured a tree-felling contract  somewhere in Wiltshire and would be gone for two weeks.  Traveling on the same train, in a different section of the carriage, was Peter the train driver who had concocted a similar story to explain his own absence. 

Victoria Station
Victoria Station

After arriving at Victoria Station, they met Reynolds and his brother-in-law, John Daly, at a café before climbing into a stolen Land Rover for the trip to the farm.  Also in the vehicle were Jimmy White, a former paratrooper who was in charge of provisions and another man who Biggs describes only as Mr. Three.

By mid-morning they had arrived at the farm and, after unpacking, settled down to wait for the other gang members to arrive.

According to the Biggs account, the second group arrived in the afternoon driving a stolen army truck.  They were Buster Edwards, Tom Wisbey, Jim Hussey, Bob Welch and two other men Biggs referred to as Mr. One and Mr. Two who, along with Mr. Three, were never successfully identified and subsequently never arrested.  Bob Welch had brought several bottles of beer with him, a minor detail at the time, but one that was to have dire repercussions during the ensuing investigation.

Soon after, Charlie Wilson and Roy James arrived in a second stolen Land-Rover followed by Roger Cordrey on a pushbike.  The last member of the gang, Gordon Goody, was at the home of an associate, Brian Field, waiting for a call from the Ulsterman to confirm when the money was to be sent.

While the rest of the gang waited for word, they calmed their nerves with a few beers over numerous games of cards and Monopoly.  Goody finally arrived at the farm just before midnight with bad news, the money wasnt being sent until the following day.  They would have to wait.

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