Bruce Reynolds, Great Train Robbery's kingpin, dies at 81

Feb 28, 2013

'Old crook' who masterminded the famous 1963 mail train heist leaves behind an acclaimed memoir and a song

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BRUCE REYNOLDS, the mastermind behind the 1963 Great Train Robbery, has died in his sleep at the age of 81. Although Ronnie Biggs was better known, it was Reynolds who assembled the team of 15 criminals who stole £2.6 million (nearly £40m in today's money) from the Glasgow to Euston mail train. Here are five things you might not know about the "career thief" nicknamed 'Napoleon':

He became a criminal after failing to make it as a journalist: Reynolds dreamed of becoming a reporter, but turned to crime when his media career ended in the Daily Mail's accounts department. His literary skills came to the fore years later when his 1995 memoir, The Autobiography of a Thief, was described as "one of the most enlightening true-crime books ever published", reports the Daily Mail.

He went on the run for five years: After snatching the money, Reynolds fled the country with his wife and young son. He hid out under an assumed name in Mexico and Canada, but returned to the UK in 1968 when the money ran out. When he was arrested in Torquay, the detective who nabbed him said: "Hello, Bruce, it's been a long time." To which Reynolds replied: "C'est la vie".

He struggled with life after prison: Reynolds was jailed for 25 years, but served only ten. He found life on the outside difficult and was jailed again in the 1980s for three years for dealing amphetamines. In his book, he said the Great Train Robbery was a curse that followed him around because no-one wanted to employ him "either legally or illegally. I became an old crook living on handouts from other old crooks," he wrote.

He toured with a dance-rock act: Reynolds's son Nick is a member of the British band Alabama 3 who recorded Woke Up This Morning, the theme song to the US gangster drama The Sopranos. The band wrote a song about Bruce called Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds? and the Great Train Robber robber – who preferred jazz, apparently – joined them on tour.

He died just a few months before the 50th anniversary of his crime: Reynolds marked the 40th anniversary of the robbery as guest of honour at a village fete in Oakley, Buckinghamshire, not far from the farm where the robbers hid in the days after the heist, says the Daily Telegraph. He was reunited with former police officer John Woolley, who had discovered the hideout, and the two shook hands. Reynolds won't be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the robbery on 8 August, but as he might say: "C'est la vie".

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