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£21,000 BULLION ROBBERY: 1935

A post from U3A member Robin Dewell written in the style of a 1930s newspaper:

”Little Harry”, Shonk and ‘This is Gold’!
The hearing of evidence against three men charged with being concerned in the theft of £21,000 worth of gold bars, gold sovereigns and gold US dollars from ‘The Strong Room’ of Imperial Airways at Croydon Aerodrome continued at Croydon Borough Police Court on Tuesday March 21st. It was described as ”a very clever and carefully thought out crime”. An early morning taxicab ride from King’s Cross to Purley Way, a wait, and then a drive back to North London with three heavy boxes, followed by a chimney set on fire by what was being burned in the grate in the lodgings of one of the accused. There was also a complaint that the landlady of the lodgings had been approached by a man ”If you take my advice you will have nothing to do with it”. The presiding magistrate then issued a stern warning against any further intimidation of witnesses.

Before a packed court the three accused who had been remanded in custody last week were:
Cecil Swanland (47) , an artist, no fixed abode;
Silvio Mazzarda (36) , of Vine-street, London, E.C., commission agent;
John O’Brien (74) , dealer, no fixed abode.
Mr. Graham Brooks again appeared to prosecute; Mr. R.C.M. Hellier defending Swanland and Mr. J. A. Davis for Mazzarda and O’Brien. Messrs. Beaumont and Son watched the case for Imperial Airways.

Croydon Divisional Det. Insp. Widdicks and officers from Scotland Yard working under the instructions of Superintendent Hedley, one of the ”Big Five’, worked on the search for the thief or thieves. Enquiries led to the discovery that on the night of the theft a taxicab was noted in Purley Way at just after 5am by Mr. G.A. King, of 33 Thorneloe-gardens, Waddon, a sandblast worker on his way to work. Four men left the cab and walked away in the direction of the Aerodrome. About twenty minutes later they returned in a small black dilapidated car and put three boxes into the taxicab, one of the men remarking to the driver ”This is gold.”

The taxicab driver Mr. G. Mansan of 32 Leyton Mansions, Hornsey, after attending an identification parade on March 12th , made a statement which was read over to him and he signed. However, when questioned he said he was a little flustered and could not remember whether it was read to him or not.

When asked if he had immediately picked out out a man, ”I’m not sure,” was the answer.

Did you pick out a man going by the name of Shonk [Mazzarda] and was he the man who drove up in a small car to your cab in Purley Way? – I don’t quite remember.

And that when the boxes had been transferred to the his car he drove away? – “I really don’t remember what I did say”. The Chairman told the witness to speak up and not mumble.

Mr Brooks then asked : You signed it after it had been read over?
If it had been read properly I would not have signed.

He also denied he had picked out O’Brien at an identification parade on March 13th.

Did you say he was one of the three men who got into your cab in Purley-way ? – I don’t remember.


Mr Brooks now said that it would appear from what had previously been stated that there was there was no one on duty at night, and he had been asked to state that Imperial Airways had two men on patrol duty. [In fact there was one man, asleep in a locked office]


Det-Sergt. Cory gave evidence of a conversation he had with Mazzarda in a public house on March 8th. Mazzarda drew witness aside and said, ”Do you know if the man they got for the gold job has ‘come it’?”. ”If he does and mentions other people, can they do them?’

Insp. Dance, of Scotland Yard, gave evidence as to the arrest of Mazzarda in a Soho cafe on March 12th. ”All right,” said Mazzarda, ”You have got your job to do. I don’t say anything now.”


Details of an alleged conversation with Swanland in prison were given by Robert Steele, now serving a sentence of hard labour in Wandsworth Prison. On Sunday morning he delivered newspapers to Swanland. On the following day he met Swanland and said, 
”That was a smart job you pulled off”.
“Yes,” said Swanland, “But I think someone has ‘shopped’ us.”
Witness said, “ Why worry if you have the stuff.”
“Oh yes,” said Swanland, “ I have got that well planted. They will never get that.”
“Then you are all right.” said witness.
Witness added that he made a statement to the police of his own free will.
Mr. Eastwood – Why?
Witness –“I thought it was my duty.”
This completed the case for the prosecution. After legal argument , The Recorder reviewed the evidence concerning Mazzarda and, on his direction, the jury discharged him.


Prison Officer R. White, who was on duty at Brixton on Monday, March 11th, said that circumstances made it impossible for Swanland and Steele to have had a conversation that morning as Steele had alleged.

The case continues

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