A British criminal who soared to fame after helping to rob a train of more than $7 million has died at 84 of unspecified causes. Ronnie Biggs made his name with the Great Train Robbery of 1963, though he actually spent most of the heist in a nearby car. After escaping prison, however, he managed to avoid capture for decades, traveling to Australia and Brazil before finally returning to Britain in 2001 for health treatment—knowing he'd be imprisoned, the New York Times reports. "Sadly, we lost Ron during the night. As always, his timing was perfect to the end," his publicists tweeted.
Biggs could simply have served his sentence and been paroled long ago, the Times notes. Instead, he used ropes to clamber over the prison wall and flee. After getting plastic surgery in continental Europe, he traveled to Australia; his family came along. A few years later, he headed to Brazil. Later, on the verge of capture, he was allowed to stay because his Brazilian girlfriend was pregnant. He soon began a public life in the country, offering commercial appearances and souvenirs. After heading to back to Britain in 2001, he was imprisoned until 2009, when the justice secretary allowed him compassionate release. The Guardian notes that some have been critical of his celebrity status given the beating of a train engineer during the heist.
- "Biggs wasn't a cuddly heart of gold cockney character to be feted. His gang beat a man with an iron bar, ruining his life," tweeted a Conservative party lobbyist.