The mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery and “perfect gentleman” Bruce Reynolds has died, aged 81, just months before the 50th anniversary of the famous heist, which has been hailed as one of the most audacious crimes of the 20th century.
Reynolds died in his sleep yesterday morning after a period of ill-health in which he was looked after by his son, Nick.
Confirming his father’s death, Nick said: “He hadn’t been well for a few days. I can confirm that he has passed away and he died in his sleep.”
Mr Reynolds was the main man in the gang that made off with more than £2.5 million – equivalent to £40m today – when they held up a Royal Mail travelling post office that ran between Glasgow and London.
Family friend John Schoonraad said he found Reynolds to be the “perfect gentleman” and a “philosophical, gentle person”.
He said: “I know in the past he was a bit notorious, well, really notorious, for the Great Train Robbery. But he was a very nice man.”
Mr Schoonraad said he was a changed man and no longer believed in crime. “He said to me, ‘Crime doesn’t pay’. He’s done his time. I’ve always known him to be a real gentleman. He’s lectured and everything. The latter part of his years have really been quiet.”
Mr Schoonraad said that in comparison to crimes committed nowadays, the Great Train Robbery was “small potatoes”.
Eddie Richardson, an old friend of Mr Reynolds who spent time with him in jail, said he was sad about his death and said he was “good company”.
Mr Richardson, described on his website as a 1960s “south London gangland boss”, recalled Mr Reynolds being a good friend behind bars. He said: “He was good company, an experienced person, had a few stories to tell. I’m sad to hear the news. It’s a shame, really.”
Antiques dealer Mr Reynolds was nicknamed “Napoleon” and, after the Great Train Robbery, fled to Mexico. He later moved on to Canada but the cash from the robbery ran out and he came back to England.
Five years after the heist, in 1968, a broke Reynolds was captured in Torquay and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released on parole in 1978 and moved, alone and penniless, into a tiny flat in London.
In the 1980s, he was jailed for three years for dealing amphetamines.
Mr Reynolds once said he wanted to get rich but also “make his mark” with a crime to go down in the history books.
His memoirs, written in 1995, said the Great Train Robbery proved a curse that followed him and no-one wanted to employ him, legally or illegally.
“I became an old crook living on handouts from other old crooks,” he said.