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Involved in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, Ronnie Biggs became the world's most famous fugitive. He avoided capture for more than 30 years.
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Born in London in 1929, Ronnie Biggs spent time in jail for theft before joining the gang behind the 1963 Great Train Robbery, in which he and his cohorts stole roughly $7 million from an English mail train. He was sentenced to jail, but he escaped 15 months later. Biggs lived as a fugitive in Australia and Brazil before turning himself in to British authorities in 2001.
After spending 30 years on the run, Ronnie Biggs is one of the world's most famous fugitives. He was a member of the gang that stole roughly $7 million from an English mail train in 1963—an incident later nicknamed the Great Train Robbery. Biggs played only a small role in the heist, but his flight from justice made him a legendary criminal.
A child during World War II, Biggs was evacuated from his London home. He spent two years living in countryside towns. Not long after his return to London, Biggs suffered a great loss when his mother died of an ulcer. Now a teenager, Biggs started getting in trouble. He had several run-ins with the law for petty theft.
In 1947, Biggs joined the Royal Air Force. Two years later he got into trouble with police and the military authorities. Dishonorably discharged for theft and other crime, Biggs received a short prison sentence for stealing a car. More criminal exploits followed, with Biggs ending up sentenced to more than three years in prison for robbery.
For much of the 1950s, Biggs cycled through the British criminal-justice system on numerous theft-related charges. He made friends with Bruce Reynolds, the future mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery, during this time. In 1960, Biggs reportedly pledged to go straight after marrying his girlfriend Charmian Powell. He started a construction business with a friend, but he couldn't make ends meet. Biggs turned to Reynolds for a loan, but Reynolds invited him to join in a robbery instead.
On August 8, 1963, a gang of 15 men, including Reynolds and Biggs, committed what has been called "the heist of the century." They robbed a Glasgow-to-London mail train of the U.S. equivalent of $7 million in untraceable banknotes. The gang stopped the train in a remote area and trucked out their spoils. A member of the train crew was badly injured in the robbery. Like most of the robbers, Biggs was later arrested.
Sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1964, Biggs spent only 15 months behind bars. He escaped from Wandsworth Prison by scaling a 25- or 30-foot wall. On the run, Biggs made his way to France, where he had plastic surgery to hide his identity, and later traveled to Australia under a false name. There he reunited with his wife and their two sons. They even welcomed a third son during their time in exile.
By October 1969, however, the British police were closing in on Biggs. But he was one step ahead of the authorities and eventually found his way to Brazil. In 1974, Scotland Yard investigator Jack Slipper traveled to Rio de Janeiro to apprehend Biggs, but he had to leave empty-handed. Brazilian authorities refused to extradite Biggs because he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant.
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