The Great Train Robbery

His lifestyle that can only be characterized as morally decomposed. A crafty career criminal, he famously masterminded The Great Train Robbery. His deceitful schemes allowed him to wrest away many a sizable loot from grieving victims.  Intelligent and highly motivated, he methodically considered every facet of his nefarious plans before execution.  Such was the character of Bruce Reynolds.

Around 3.00 a.m. on Thursday August 8 1963, the Travelling Post Office headed from Glasgow to Euston. It never got there. Near the Sears Crossing signal point south of Leighton Buzzard, it was hijacked. The hijackers netted about £50 million in today’s currency.   The mastermind, Bruce Reynolds.

Crimes Cars and Crumpets

Proceeds of his spoils supported a dissolute lifestyle. He sported customized outfits from Kilgour, French and Stansbury of Savile Row. Cartier watches were considered banal; Ulysse Nardin complemented his persona better.  From his criminal plunder, he easily afforded London’s finest restaurants – Le Caprice, The Ivy, Astor, Embassy and Majestic – enjoying crimes, cars and crumpets.   Major heists were celebrated in the south of France where he frittered away several months basking in rapturous grandeur.  He was living the fantasy life that [he] created.

All too common for Reynolds and his criminal underworld were vacations in Monaco basking in the warmth of the French Riviera – the playground of the rich, famous and villainous. Visiting the great museums, he entertained himself in Cannes and reveled in the splendor of Paris. Often, he would relax in the warm glow of the sunny beaches or simply absorb the beauty of Nice. (Fig 1 & 2)

Fig 1. A Cove in the French Riviera
Fig 2. The Splendor of the French Riviera

No prince was better served. Living the dissolute life meant drinking himself into sweet oblivion. On his pleasure-seeking jaunts, he sampled the finest champagnes and chocolates and dined in high class French restaurants with wine from Gevrey-Chanbertin. To embroider his persona he acquired a Zodiac convertible, an Aston Martin, a Porsche and a Triumph-TR2.  Even as a fugitive in Mexico City he spared no expense, owning as many as six Cadillacs. (Fig 3)

Fig. 3 His Car Collection

Off days, as opposed to days prowling for prospective victims, were suitably spent scanning newspapers and entertaining leads to high value targets.  Doling out £20 tips to secure preferential seats at high-end restaurants was not unusual, as was cavorting with up to ten women per day. Drinking in the Alpes Maritimes under canopies of mimosa, bougainvillea and lemon trees richly adorned his life style.  This extravagant display of unearned wealth was amply demonstrated by his sartorial tastes and care-free spending.  Fishing and horse racing aptly matched this vulgar flash of opulence. After many a night of mindless fun, he slept or luxuriated in the glistening pools of the Côte d’Azur. To hang out with associates of the underworld firm was another of his favorite pastime.

His wedding blared stridently of his excess.  Mini skirt creator, Mary Quant, designed his wife’s swanky wedding dress; the honeymoon was celebrated in the French Riviera. So familiar with his orders, his butcher often greeted his wife with best fillet as usual, Mrs. Reynolds? Unremorsefully overindulgent, following the Great Train Robbery he fled to Mexico on a false passport and was joined by his wife Angela and son Nick.  On the lam, he lived with reckless contempt for the future cheerfully mindless of the pain inflicted in his native England or the reach of authorities seeking his apprehension.  He lived in the fashionably elegant Hilton in Mexico City cruising around one of his many head-turning Cadillacs. Despite the undisguised parade of wealth, his charmed life was spiraling out of control and into the hands of the British authorities.  (Fig 4)

Fig. 4. Angela and Bruce

The Pitiful End

Unmerited happiness has its consequences.  The Utopian mental edifice he constructed was moldering from the lack of maintenance. He had overspent his entropic credits and the Forces of Entropy was moving irrevocably to foreclose. At a Frank Sinatra concert, Angela was euphoric that Sinatra had acknowledged her luminous presence.  Soon thereafter, following an altercation Reynolds smacked her breaking her nose. He later mused with laconic blandness that for every good night there was a bad one as if a penalty had to be paid.   It begs the question, why did it take so long to realize this simple universal truth?

His fugitive life in Mexico had become routinely dull.  The money stream had diminished to an alarming trickle.  In less than three years after the great train caper he had less than £3,000. He lusted for a normal life. He yearned for England.  She beckoned seductively. He complied. Hence, five years after the heist, a broke Reynolds slipped undetected into the warm embrace of his native soil. There he lived in a rented apartment on the English Riviera, the seaside town of Torquay (Fig 5).  

Fig 5. Torquay, Devon, England

Unsurprisingly, his phone calls were traced to his new residence where he was nabbed.  His old nemesis Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler, known around Scotland Yard for his professionalism and thoroughness, finally got his man.  After his arrest and trial, his fortunes sank even further.  En route to Aylesbury police station he contemplated the whole horror of prison life…. the beatings, drudgery, isolation and pointless routine. I considered throwing myself over the seat, grabbing the steering wheel and turning into the path of an incoming lorry.  That would end it all (Fig 6).

Fig. 6. Detective Butler

His worst nightmares had materialized in inconceivable ways, ushering in a more woeful streak.  His wife became bitter.  They began drifting apart.  When she finally deserted, his life was painfully intolerable.  He missed her sorely. In his jail cell, he sat clinically depressed – an abject embodiment of a human wreck.  In his words, the worst experience I had in prison was not due to the prison itself, it was to do with the fact that I was serving a sentence of 25 years and my relationship with my wife broke up and subsequently we were divorced. During this period, I naturally considered suicide, but since the real love of my life was my son, who was six years old when I went into prison, I couldn’t leave him with that legacy, that his father was a suicide. Cannabis uplifted his spirits and alleviated the odious oppression of prison life.  Unable to attend his step-mother’s funeral, Reynolds was given sedatives to avert suicidal thoughts.  During this period of mental agony, the author of an endless crime spree awakened to an inspirational reality: that he had needlessly raped society for which a price is inevitably exacted.  He spent over 20 years in the mind-numbing confines of a prison cell. His participation in the Great Train Robbery had bewitched him, he surmised; the reason he could find no form of employment, legally or illegally, after his release. In the words of his son: He chose a lunatic path and paid the price. Bruce Reynolds who lived the regal life had lost everything including his dear wife.  Following his release from prison he found himself penniless, homeless and alone.  Barely surviving he said: I became an old crook living on handouts from other old crooks.   In February 2013, he died a broken man. He lamented that crime didn’t pay… It only brought misery (Fig 7).

(Fig. 7) Crime Brought Misery – Bruce Reynolds

Excerpted from The Eloquence of Effort.

All graphic displays were extracted from online sources.