Heists Making Headlines: The Croydon Aerodrome Robbery (1935)

In the final instalment of our Heists Making Headlines series, we feature another true-crime story that shook the British press. Sit back and make a strong cup of tea while we bring you details of the 1935 Croydon Aerodrome Robbery. 

06 Mar 1935, Wed Evening Standard (London, Greater London, England) Newspapers.com

Before dawn on 6 March 1935, in the quiet early hours (there’s a theme here), over £21,000 worth of gold was sitting in the Imperial Airways strong room at Croydon Aerodrome (now part of London), waiting to be delivered to the Continent.

How did a gang of robbers take off with gold worth over £1.2 million today without raising the alarm? It’s a shady business and another massive heist in British criminal history.  

06 Mar 1935, Wed Evening Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England) Newspapers.com

The gang arrived at Croydon Aerodrome by taxi; Cecil Swanland, Silvio ‘Shonk’ Mazzarda, John O’Brien and a mysterious figure referred to as ‘Little Harry’ stepped out of the car. The taxi was told to wait for them as they carried out their mission. According to Mazzarda, interviewed years later, the gang acquired a duplicate set of strong room keys from a member of aerodrome staff, explaining how they got in and out undetected.  

By the evening, Manchester’s Evening Chronicle was reporting on the ‘daring airport raid’. It was a brazen robbery and one that is still shrouded in mystery.

06 Mar 1935, Wed Evening Chronicle (Manchester, Greater Manchester, England) Newspapers.com

Swanland was soon arrested after evidence of the robbery was found at his abode. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to seven years of penal servitude, receiving his fate ‘with a smile’. After the trial, The Sunday People reported on the ‘Gold Thief’s Amazing Life’. 47-year-old Swanland, an artist, apparently had a penchant for fashionable restaurants and luxury hotels. He was the ‘man who can’t go straight’, proclaimed the Sunday People, ‘even romance couldn’t help.’ 

05 May 1935, Sun The Sunday People (London, London, England) Newspapers.com

O’Brien and Mazzarda appeared in court and were also accused of carrying out the robbery, but the case fell through when doubt was cast on the statement of the key witness, the taxi driver. The charges were dropped, and ‘Little Harry’ was never identified. Oh, and the gold? It was never recovered. 

Fancy yourself as an amateur sleuth? What mysteries will you discover in our newspaper archives? Follow us on FacebookX (Twitter)InstagramThreads, and TikTok for more content like this!   

Bank of England, Inflation calculator [as of March 2024], accessed April 2024. 
Historic Croydon Airport, £21,000 BULLION ROBBERY: 1935, accessed May 2024. 
Historic Croydon Airport, Gold Bullion Robbery: 1935 Part II, accessed May 2024.

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