It was nine years ago today when Great Train Robber Ronnie Bigg’s wife Charmain died in Melbourne, Australia.
Charmian Brent was 17 when she met Biggs, then 27 and already a petty criminal, on a commuter train in 1957 – and her school headmaster father forbade her from seeing him.
His advice was well-founded. Six years later Biggs would become the most notorious figure in the 1963 raid which stole £2.6million of banknotes from a Glasgow to London mail train.
Despite insisting the first she knew of his crime was when he came home with a six-figure share of the loot, Mrs Biggs stuck by her husband.
When he fled to Australia on a false passport after breaking out of prison – stopping on the way in Paris for £40,000 of plastic surgery – she waited until he had settled and then joined him.They lived together in Perth and Melbourne for three years under false names and had a third child.
Having run a boarding house when he arrived in Australia under the name Terry King, Biggs took a job as a foreman carpenter at a Melbourne airport in the name of Cooke.
But in 1969, Interpol were tipped off and Biggs fled to Brazil.
Despite everything, Charmian remained on good terms with her husband after their 1976 divorce – triggered by him fathering a son with another woman in his new country.
If it was a love match, it was also a marriage of convenience. Once Biggs’ new lover Raimunda de Castro was pregnant, he became immune from extradition as the father of a Brazilian child.
When the robber died in December 2013 – 12 years after he finally returned to Britain and jail amid ailing health – his Brazilian-born son revealed his first wife would receive a third of his ashes.
In the robber’s typically unrepentant style, another third of the ashes were to be spread over the scene of the crime at Bridego Bridge in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire.
Charmian was allowed to stay in Australia with their children, later revealing her husband had spent all his loot, a lot of it in ‘bribes and hush money’.
After their 1976 divorce she sold her story to an Australian media group for a reported £40,000, the first of many such deals.
She was also paid an undisclosed consultancy fee for the ITV series Mrs Biggs in 2012, which chronicled her relationship with one of Britain’s most notorious criminals. The payouts sparked an outcry and left a particularly bitter taste in the mouth of the Jack Mills’ widow.
He was the train driver who stopped to investigate rail signals which Biggs’ gang had fixed, and was knocked out by an iron bar forcing him to give up work. He died seven years later from an unrelated illness..
Following an outcry over Charmian Biggs ‘cashing in’ on her husband’s crime the Daily Mail sponsored a fund to help Mills’s family, raising more than £34,000 by the time of his death.
The former Mrs Biggs insisted she was publicity-shy, and swore in an interview more than a decade ago that she would say her final public words about her ex-husband’s crime.
‘I was never that way inclined,’ she said at the time.
‘I was horrified that Ron had endangered our future happiness and the happiness of two little children by participating in it.
‘But once it had happened, I tried to do the right thing by him.’
In one of her last interviews in 2012, the former Mrs Biggs – who reverted to her maiden name of Brent – said the train robber had ‘abandoned’ her two sons to focus on his Brazilian child, Michael.
Yet she still admitted she would ‘probably do it all over again’ if she was given the chance.
And she never truly found love again in the four decades after her divorce.
‘Once you’ve been through that, you don’t lay yourself open to it again,’ she said.
‘You don’t put your fate in somebody else’s hands ever again. He was a hard act to follow.’
The last time she met up with Biggs was in Britain in 2009, the year he was controversially granted compassionate release on health grounds. He had suffered several strokes and could only communicate using a letter board.
‘He saw that I had tears in my eyes,’ she said. ‘He pointed at himself and then his little board and spelt out the words “love” and then pointed at me.
Charmain died at Melbourne’s Epworth Hospital on this day seven years ago . She is survived by two sons and four grandchildren.
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