Gold and greed are two words that often times are talked about in similar situations. When you think of gold, what words come to mind? Gold is described with words such as valuable, rare, expensive, or classy. Throughout the world, it’s seen as a precious metal…both literally and figuratively. What happens when people want it so bad they would do anything to get it in their hands?
Gold has captured the imaginations of writers and filmmakers for years, but sometimes there are heists that you just can not make up. When thieves take gold, the story always makes headlines. While some are not daring, there are modern pirates, bandits, and highwaymen that risk their lives to steal large amounts of gold.
Here is the story of that even Hollywood couldn’t make up.
The Great Gold Robbery
This famous heist is quite possibly the most famous of all gold robberies, this Victorian crime took place in May of 1855 when 91 kgs of gold were stolen from closely guarded, secured railcars heading from London to France.
Three boxes had an estimated value of 12,000 Euros at the time, which is around 2.3 million EUR in today’s market.
Because the train company was well aware of robberies, it had teams of security that checked over the boxes faithfully. The boxes themselves were protected by iron bars and two keys, that were kept separate from each other.
“The safe keys were entrusted to railway staff in London and Folkestone and also to the captain of the cross-channel steamer. It was the practice to load the safes with the guard on the night train from London to Folkestone”. British Transport Police
After the boxes were sealed and weighed twice for exact measurements, the train set off to Folkstone, where they were kept under the watchful eyes of armed guards. At Folkstone, they were placed onto the Lord Warden steamship to finish the trip to France.
Upon arrival in Boulogne, France, it was discovered that one of the three boxes weighed roughly 40 pounds less than previously recorded. The other two boxes both weighed more than they had previously weighed. Regardless, they continued shipment to Paris.
Once the gold had been dropped off at its final destination in Paris, the bankers found themselves in a big crisis. To their horror, much of the gold has been stolen and replaced with pieces of lead. They were in utter shock because the iron bars that were put in place to stop entry were all intact with no damage.
Because there was no damage to the boxes and no keys being reported missing by the trust railroad crew members, this quickly became more exciting and confusing than investigators wanted it to be.
Since the weight had changed between London and Boulogne, British police were in charge of the investigation. Throughout the lengthy ordeal, hundreds of suspects were questioned but only four were charged.
Edward Agar is the criminal mastermind behind the heist. He recruited William Pierce, a ticket printer, who he had met years before. They had discussed robbing the train en route to Paris from London. Two other men were later recruited, James Burgess, a train guard, and Williams Tester, the Margate stationmaster. Agar also enlisted the help of James Townsend Saward, a crooked criminal lawyer who helped get rid of the stolen gold.
The team hid bags of lead made of leather and carpet material at London Bridge station. They knew the amount of gold that was going to be transferred and had enough lead stockpiled to match that amount.
On the night of the robbery, Agar and Pierce bought two tickets to the train, and by doing so enabled them to give the bags to Burgess, who was working on-site.
Because the criminal crew had two train station workers, they were able to make wax copies of the keys for the iron “cages” that contained the gold. During the train rides, the team carefully snuck in, used the fake keys, and switched the gold for the heavy lead in order to keep the weight as close as possible.
As the train made stops in different cities, as many trains do, the men would get off the train as soon as they had carried out their specific assignments. Within a week, the four met at Agar’s house in West London and built a furnace. For the next three days, they melted down the gold, probably laughing at the stupidity of their clueless foes.
To this day, it is one of the most talked about gold heists, not just in Europe but all over the world. After the robbery, security concerning transportation of gold grew rapidly. There are stricter regulations with processes and who handles the logistics of any type of moving of the world’s most precious gold.
Although security has heightened and with technology at all time highs, greed will always be around and as long as gold is being mined, history says criminals will continue to try to take what isn’t theirs.