Author of the world famous ‘Jurassic Park,’ Michael Chrichton penned the novel ‘The Great Train Robbery’ about the 1855 heist. This was a major event in England for several reasons. First, the trains were a new technology in Victorian England, nobody had thought to make such a daring robbery on a train line. Second, the plan was well thought out and spanned a period of over a year in preparations. Third, it took nearly a year of detective work to track down the mastermind of the event.
Chrichton did his research well on this event and presented a narrative of the event from the perspective of the criminals, not unlike Capote had done for the Kansas crime novel, ‘In Cold Blood.’ The leader, Edward Pierce, was continually described as ‘the red bearded man.’ He had the appearance of a gentleman and was little suspected to be a criminal, as most believed Victorian criminals were of the lower class. Pierce created a master plan to rob the London train heading to the coast with a load of gold intended to pay troops in the Crimean War. While he collected information, he also rounded up necessary men and women to aid the heist. As he hired the men he needed, he told no one of the impending robbery details, just what their particular job would be. He hired Robert Agar as a lock picker early in the the preparations and left him in the dark as they worked together to bring the plan together.
The robbery entailed robbing the trains on the go, in a special guarded and locked car, sat two state-of-the-art Stubb’s safes which had two locks apiece, requiring four keys to get in. The four keys seemed the most difficult part of the preparations. Two were locked in a cupboard in a guarded office, two others were each held by managers of the bank employed to supply the gold shipments. One man was seduced by a young prostitute to obtain the key, the other was burglarized at home during the night, the key being in his wine cellar. The other two keys in the guarded office took an elaborate scheme. Pierce hired a boy to act as a thief, who ran into the office and broke a ceiling window in a failed attempt to escape. Pierce’s cab driver was a large brute with a noticeable white scar on his forehead, acted as a policeman to chase the boy and take him away safely without real repercussions. Later that night, a man Pierce had hired for his climbing ability and agility climbed through the roof into the room to unlock the door. Agar then waited until the guard went to the bathroom and ran into the unlocked room and made wax copies of the keys, returning to his hiding place on the platform before the guard returned. Several months later, after careful planning, Agar and Pierce were ready for the big day. Agar was disguised as a corpse in a coffin to be loaded into the guarded car. Agar had met the guard a few months before as he practiced unlocking the safes, the guard had been payed off, and was believed to be no threat to the operation. Pierce boarded the train in the second class cars and had one all to himself. During the route, he climbed onto the roofs of the speeding train and walked to the guarded car, where he unlocked the door from the outside. The gold was bagged and thrown off the train to Pierce’s awaiting cab driver. Bags of lead shot replaced the weight of the gold and the safes were locked up again, every one returning to their original places as well. The train delivered the safes to a ferry crossing the English Channel, then were transported to Paris to pay the troops. It was in Paris it was discovered that something was amiss. The train blamed the Parisian government, the ferry blamed the train, and the British and French governments blamed each other. After such careful planning, nearly everything went according to plan.
Over a year later, a lady-friend of Agar’s was caught robbing a drunk man and when begging and bribing didn’t get her out of police possession, she gave up information on Agar’s involvement in the robbery. Agar was apprehended, which led police to the train guard, and to Pierce. The trial was a national event, however, overshadowed by the Indian uprising against British troops on the Indian peninsula. Pierce was cool, calm, and collected the entire trial, explaining in detail his plan and the execution of the robbery. Upon sentencing, Pierce was taken into a police cab, to be taken to jail. The guards woke up and reported that they don’t remember anything but a large man with a white scar on his forehead beating them. Pierce, his mistress (who was involved in the robbery) and the cab driver made a clean escape and were never heard from again.