Read Great Train Crimes: Murder and Robbery on the Railways Online

Authors: Jonathan Oates

Tags: #TRUE CRIME / General

Great Train Crimes: Murder and Robbery on the Railways


First published in Great Britain in 2010 by
Wharncliffe Books
an imprint of
Pen and Sword Books Limited,
47 Church Street, Barnsley,
South Yorkshire S70 2AS

Copyright @ Jonathan Oates, 2010

ISBN: 978 1 84563 112 3
ePub ISBN: 9781844683260
PRC ISBN: 9781844683277

The right of Jonathan Oates to be identified as author
of this work has been asserted by him in accordance
with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

A CIP catalogue record of this book is available
from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior permission in writing of the publishers.

Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI UK

Pen & Sword Books Ltd incorporates the imprints of
Pen & Sword Aviation, Pen & Sword Maritime,
Pen & Sword Military, Wharncliffe Local History, Pen & Sword Select,
Pen & Sword Military Classics, Leo Cooper, Remember When,
Seaforth Publishing and Frontline Publishing

For a complete list of Pen & Sword titles please contact:
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Many thanks to all who have helped with this book; including, as ever, John Coulter and Reg Eden, and also Jonathan Feldman and Diann McDonald of Broadmoor Hospital. My thanks go out to those who helped more anonymously, including the staff at the National Archives and the British Library Newspaper Library in particular.

This book is dedicated to David, himself a railwayman and the son of a railwayman.

List of Plates
Railways and Crime
The Gold Bullion Robbery, 1855
The First Railway Murder, 1864
An Officer, But Not a Gentleman? 1875
The Murder on the Brighton Line, 1881
The Death of a Farmer, 1901
The Mystery of Merstham Tunnel, 1905
The Newcastle to Alnmouth Railway Murder, 1910
Murder on the Brighton Line, 1914
The Most Foul of Murders, 1915
Death of‘the White Queen’, 1920
A Crime of Passion, 1927
Murder on the Underground, 1939
Wartime Murder, 1942
Death at West Croydon Station, 1945
Death of a Railway Servant, 1952
The Difficult Passenger’s End, 1962
Throat Cutting on a Slow Train, 1964
Death of a Housewife, 1965
Killed for a Snub, 1965
Miscellaneous Train Crimes, 1897–2008
List of Plates

George Stephenson’s
at Newcastle station

One of the first trains, 1830s

Steam train, 1930s

The scene of the crime, 1900s

Metropolitan policeman,

London Bridge, 2009

Folkestone harbour

London’s financial hub,

Clapton Square, 2009

Hackney church, 2009

Nelson Square, 2009

St George’s Street, 2009

Charles Dickens and his Kent home, 1860s

Officers’ Headquarters, Aldershot,

Waterloo station, 2009

Edward VII, 1900s

Brighton railway station,

Charing Cross station,

Paddington station,

Ludgate station,

Windsor High Street and Castle, 1900s

Tower of London,

Winchester, 1900s

Old Bailey, 1900s

Portsmouth Town Hall,

Vauxhall Bridge, 2009

South Croydon station, 2009

Lavender Hill, 2009

Newcastle railway station, 1900s

Grey Street, Newcastle, 1900s

Morpeth, 1900s

Lovers in a train carriage, 1900s

Crawley High Street, 1900s

Electric train on the Metropolitan line,

Victoria railway station, 1920s

Lewes, 1900s

St Saviour’s church, Ealing, 1900s

Florence Shore’s grave, 2009

Homerton Terrace, 2009

Deptford Park gates, 2009

Liverpool Street station, 1920s

Hackney police station, 2009

Tottenham Court tube station, 2009

Train at Carlisle railway station

Train arriving at Basingstoke station,

Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot

Bognor Regis, 1950s

Memorial plaque at Russell Square tube station to victims of 2005 terrorist bombing, 2009


Mention railway crime and many people will think of the Great Train Robbery of 1963. Or perhaps the famous Agatha Christie story,
Murder on the Orient Express
. But there are many more real-life crimes which occurred on trains or at railway stations. Some of these are reasonably well known to crime buffs, such as the first railway murder ever to occur in Britain which was on a North London train in 1864. Most, however, are very obscure and have never been written about since they were committed.

This book aims to survey serious crimes – including murders and significant thefts – which have occurred on Britain’s railways and on the London Underground. It does not include the cases where bodies or parts of bodies have been found at railway stations, but where the murders occurred elsewhere. Three such cases occurred in the 1930s, at Waterloo and at Brighton. Nor are the crimes of John Duffy, the Railway Rapist, who also killed three women in 1985–6 on London’s suburban rail network, written about here, because these took place near railway stations, not on them or on trains. Most of the crimes chronicled here are given a complete chapter. These include the first ever large-scale robbery on board a train, in which the thieves believed they had escaped scot free, a high-profile assault on a young woman by an army officer, terrorist bombs on the Underground in the 1880s and numerous murders either on board trains or at railway stations. Some of these killings went unsolved, but the majority were cleared up. Then there is a chapter summarizing accounts of other railway crimes which have either have been written about recently or are fictional or are in very recent memory (from the past three decades).

The sources for this book are primarily ones which were created at the time of these crimes. Police files are a principal source. Metropolitan Police files and Assize papers, located at the National Archives, are very useful. They include witness statements, police reports, medical details and other relevant information. Some of this has never been used before. But police files do not always exist; nor are they always open for public inspection. Newspapers, both national and local, have been used. For the Victorian and Edwardian period, newspaper reporting of murders was very detailed indeed. Unfortunately, the column space devoted to them and indeed other news stories declined with time, even though the newspapers increased in page length.

The author has written six books about real-life crime already, but he has only one distant connection with railway crime. His paternal grandmother’s sister married into the middle-class Wheater family of Harrogate. One of this family was John Wheater, born in 1920, who became a solicitor. He was involved in the Great Train Robbery of 1963 and was sentenced to three years in gaol, though he had not taken any direct part in the theft itself (he had arranged the acquisition of the hideout in Buckinghamshire for the gang). On his release from gaol in 1966, he said that what he really objected to in prison was having to mix with criminals.

The Railways and Crime

I am not a timid man, but I never enter an English railway carriage
without having in my pocket a loaded revolver.


Much has been written about British trains and railways. This chapter aims to give the very briefest of summaries about British railway history and then to discuss railway crime and railway policing.

The Stockton–Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825 was Britain’s – and the world’s – first railway. However, rudimentary railways had been in use in industrial districts since the sixteenth century, where coal was transported on carts which ran on rails. What made the Stockton–Darlington line different was that the train was powered by steam and that it carried passengers as well as goods. The Manchester to Liverpool railway of 1830, though, was the first to be powered solely by steam and carried mainly passengers. Railways were much faster than other methods of inland transport, such horse power and canals, though all three methods of transport coexisted for much of the nineteenth century.

In the 1840s there was an explosion of railway building all over Britain, known as railway mania, as it was believed the railways were a way to a quick profit. A leading figure in this was George Hudson of York, who was not above sharp practice. This was all the work of private enterprise, the state not seeing for itself any role in administration nor supervision of them, though permission had to be sought by private Act of Parliament prior to construction. Many of these railway lines emanated from London. The first long-distance line was the London (Euston) to Birmingham railway, inaugurated in 1837. Another was the Great Western Railway, from London Paddington to (eventually) Bristol, in the following year. By the later nineteenth century, England was covered in a network of railways. Many of these train companies
operated small lines and were often short-lived, being soon amalgamated with others.

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