Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind of the “Great Train Robbery” in Britain that brought its perpetrators cash, incarceration and pop-culture fame, died on Thursday. He was 81.
Reynolds was part of a gang that stole sacks containing 2.6 million pounds from a Glasgow-to-London mail train in August 1963. The haul would be worth more than US$60 million today, and was then Britain’s biggest-ever robbery.
Reynolds escaped to Mexico, where he lived the high life and evaded capture for several years, but returned to England when his money ran out. He was arrested in 1968 and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was released a decade later and produced occasional pieces of journalism and a well-regarded crime memoir, The Autobiography of a Thief.
Son Nick Reynolds said his father died after a brief illness.
Reynolds also performed from time to time with the rock band Alabama 3, of which his son is a member.
The audacious heist has been the subject of many books and films, including Peter Yates’ Robbery and Buster, starring Phil Collins as gang member Buster Edwards, who ended up running a flower stall outside London’s Waterloo Station.
The participants became criminal celebrities - to the chagrin of the police and the family of Jack Mills, the train driver, who was hit on the head during the robbery and never fully recovered. He died seven years later.
Most of the gang members were soon rounded up, and 12 men eventually were convicted of involvement in the robbery, though most of the money was never recovered.
One gang member, Ronnie Biggs, escaped from prison in 1965 and spent decades thumbing his nose at British authorities from his home in Brazil before returning to Britain and prison in 2001.
Reynolds flew to Rio to accompany Biggs on the flight home aboard a plane chartered by a tabloid newspaper.
In a 2003 interview, Reynolds recalled that “from an early age I always wanted a life of adventure.” Rejected by the Royal Navy because of poor eyesight, he tried to become a foreign correspondent, but got no further than clerk at the Daily Mail newspaper.
Crime provided a life of excitement, but also pain.
“I’ve always felt that I can’t escape my past,” Reynolds said in 2003. “And in many ways I feel that it is like a line from the Ancient Mariner and that the notoriety was like an albatross around my neck.”
Reynolds is survived by his son.