Heists Making Headlines: The Eastcastle Street Robbery (1952)

In part two of our Heists Making Headlines series, we delve into another British true crime story: the 1952 Eastcastle Street Robbery. As expected, the robbery was headline news…

21 May 1952, Wed Manchester Evening News (Manchester, Greater Manchester, England) Newspapers.com

In the early hours of 21 May 1952, a brazen heist rocked the streets of central London. During the slickly planned raid, thieves took off with over £236,748 (£5.7 million at the time of writing).  

The target was a post office van transporting High Value Packets from Paddington railway station to the Eastern Central District Office on Whitechapel Road, east London. Owing to roadworks on Oxford Street, the van had to take a different route, turning down Eastcastle Street, close to Oxford Circus tube station.

22 Oct 1959, Thu Birmingham Evening Mail (Birmingham, West Midlands, England) Newspapers.com

The well-prepared attackers, split between two cars, trapped the mail van between their two vehicles. The three-man crew were ejected and violently assaulted by seven masked robbers, who swiftly took off with the vehicle and its valuable contents. The Manchester Evening News proclaimed, ‘Masked gunmen stage lightning attack in city centre.’

An eye witness whose hotel room overlooked the scene told the paper:

“I heard shouts and screaming in the road below. I looked out of the window and saw a large black saloon car parked sideways across the street. In the road was a tall hatless man with a dark silk scarf masking his face. He signalled up the street and within a few seconds a green car came down the road, sandwiching the van between it and the black car. Three more men jumped from the green car and there was a quick scuffle. I ran to the telephone and dialled 999. It took me just a matter of seconds but as I returned to the window the two cars and the mail van were being driven off.”

The Daily Telegraph produced a sketch map of where the heist unfolded:

22 May 1952, Thu The Daily Telegraph (London, Greater London, England) Newspapers.com

One thousand officers were employed to find the culprits, and a £25,000 reward was offered for the recovery of the money. The Prime Minister Winston Churchill even demanded daily updates on the investigation. According to Rex Lopez, writing in the Birmingham Evening Mail in October 1959, the three clues left behind: a raincoat bearing a laundry mark in the inner lining, a pair of half-inch steel cutters, and a wooden truncheon led to nowhere. The robbers left nothing traceable.   

Suspicions were aroused by the following factors: the van’s ambush alarm had been deactivated, and the keys were left on the passenger seat instead of with the guard, as protocol required. 

22 Oct 1959, Thu Birmingham Evening Mail (Birmingham, West Midlands, England) Newspapers.com

It was believed that notorious gangster William ‘Billy’ Hill was the brains behind the raid and that London underworld figure Terence Hogan took part. More recently, Hogan’s daughter was interviewed by the BBC and stated that her father and his team prepared for the heist by repeatedly driving up and down Eastcastle Street, claiming to be a crew working on a crime film. His connection to the raid, however, was never proved.

While more names have been linked, nobody has been convicted for the heist. At the time of writing, the case is still an unsolved mystery.

A fan of mystery? Search our newspapers and delve into the details of more curious true crime stories. And 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. 
The Postal Museum, Eastcastle Street Robbery: The Unsolved Crime, accessed May 2024. 

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