Sudbury’s Great Train Robbery

The C.P.R. station on Elgin Street in downtown Sudbury was the site of much activity on the evening of May 29th, 1952. Passengers were milling about waiting to board the trains that would take them to their next destinations and employees were busily engaged in loading and unloading rail cars when Train #8 pulled in at 10:40 p.m.

Train #8 hailed from British Columbia and made its stop in Sudbury so that it could be broken up, with one section headed to Toronto while the other was bound for Montreal. As soon as it pulled in, porters immediately began transferring baggage and sorting the packages that were bound for their various destinations.

Sudbury Train Station Gold Robbery

The gold bars were piled onto a cart like the one on the left in the photo above.

It was at this time that one such porter from Sudbury, John Buckley, who had unloaded the mail bags from one side of the rail car onto a cart, left the cart unattended while unloading the rest of the mail bags from the other side of the train onto another cart. As he was unable to see the first cart he had loaded, he was unaware (or so he claimed) of the events that occurred in the next few minutes.

A C.P.R. yard foreman noticed two suspicious looking men hurrying past the mail cart carrying something that appeared to be heavy under their topcoats. A quick check revealed that three small packages were missing from the cart and so he sounded the alarm.

In the confusion that followed it came to light that the three packages contained gold bricks from two mines, Pioneer Mine and Bralorne Mine in British Columbia and were enroute to Ottawa. Combined, these bricks weighed 190 pounds and as gold was selling at $38 an ounce, the robbery yielded the thieves over $100,000 in gold.

(Experts believed that the gold could be worth as much as $150,000 on the world’s free gold market and $150,000 in 1952 would be worth about $1.5 million today. However with gold at $1200/ounce the gold bars today would be worth around $3.8 million.)

Police were summoned but misunderstood the nature of the call and so did not show up at the scene until 15 minutes later (They thought they were being asked to provide guards for the gold shipment not to investigate a robbery). By that time, of course the thieves were long gone. An intensive investigation followed in which the Sudbury police, the RCMP, the O.P.P. and C.P.R. police as well as federal postal investigators followed up the few leads available but the case remained one of the biggest unsolved thefts in Canadian history.

Kingston Penitentiary Sudbury Gold Robbery

Sudburian John Buckley was sentenced to 3 and half years in the Kingston Penitentiary for his part in the robbery.

A few days after the robbery, Buckley turned himself in to the police. He admitted his part in the theft and named the other accomplices. A massive manhunt began which eventually involved the FBI and Interpol. Buckley was formally charged and sentenced to 3 years and 3 months at the Kingston Penitentiary for his part in the robbery. In his statement, the porter told his version of the robbery.

Apparently, it was a common occurrence for valuable shipments of gold and money to be left unguarded at the Sudbury train station. The porter saw it as an opportunity to ‘get rich quick’ and shared his idea with a relative, Harry Hedderson, whom he was visiting in Toronto. Hedderson, who was born in 1907, had a long and storied career as a criminal  having been in and out of jail for armed robbery, assault and numerous other crimes since 1925 (he also broke out of jail in Windsor in 1945). Hedderson came to Sudbury with another man, Jack Meldrum, and the trio devised a plan to steal the gold. Meldrum, as well, was a career criminal and seven years previously had also escaped from a prison hospital. The plan they devised was that after they stole the gold they were going to hide out in the Finnish cabins of Trout Lake (Lake Nepahwin) and then make their way to southern Ontario.

On the night of the robbery, Buckley saw Hedderson and Meldrum crawl from beneath the mail cart as he was loading it and reach for the gold. Ironically, mail bags that were loaded on top of the bricks were reputed to contain a large amount of cash. The porter immediately moved to the other side of the train so that he could claim that he was nowhere near when the robbery occurred.

Two months later, authorities in Singapore reported that $92,000 in illegal gold bars had been seized from a ship that had arrived from Hong Kong, it was, according to Interpol, the largest haul of illegal gold ever made at port.

Dominion Store Gold Robbery

The Dominion Store on Riverside Drive where Jack Meldrum was arrested. Facebook/Ray Paquette

At the end of November 1952, Meldrum was arrested in the Dominion Store parking lot on Riverside Drive. Police believe that he was in the process of robbing that store when he was apprehended. He was sentenced to five years in prison which he served and then was released. Shortly after he was convicted of armed robbery again and was sentenced to 18 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. In July of 1967, he was about 48 at that time, he escaped from the Canadian Armed Forces Hospital he was in and was never heard from again.

Hedderson remained on the loose until April of 1953. By that time Hedderson was also a suspect in $215,000 gold theft from a cargo shed at the airport in Malton, Ontario (a crime which remains unsolved today) and  was wanted by the FBI on seven charges of armed robbery in the United States. He was #8 on the RCMP’s list of most wanted criminals at the time. On information provided by the Sudbury police force, Hedderson was arrested by the FBI in a Buffalo hotel room and was transferred to San Bernardino, California where he went on trial.

San Quentin Prison Sudbury Gold Robbery

The infamous San Quentin Prison in California where Harry Hedderson was imprisoned for crimes he committed in the United States.

He was first convicted for one count of armed robbery and received the maximum penalty of five years. In a second trial he was convicted again and received another five years. Hedderson tried to attack the judge when he learned that the sentences were to be served consecutively instead of concurrently as he wanted. Hedderson died while serving his sentences in San Quentin Prison in 1959 and was never tried for the gold robbery in Sudbury or other crimes he committed in Canada.

The story of the gold robbery also provided good material for small time cons who duped unsuspecting newcomers to Sudbury after the robbery. One such case involved a German immigrant who traded his $2400 car and $300 for the three gold bricks. He had hoped to return to Germany a rich man. Unfortunately the bricks were made of brass and police, after arresting the man, added those brass bricks to their growing collection.

"My luck is so bad, that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying." Ed Furgol

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