Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind of the Great Train Robbery of 1963, has died aged 81 - just months before the 50th anniversary of the famous heist hailed as one of the most audacious crimes of the century.
Reynolds died in his sleep on Thursday morning after a period of ill-health in which he was looked after by his son, Nick.
Confirming his father's death, Mr Reynolds said: "He hadn't been well for a few days and I was looking after him. I really can't talk at the moment. I can confirm that he has passed away and he died in his sleep."
Reynolds was the main man in the gang that made off with more than £2.5 million - equivalent to £40 million today - when they held up the Royal Mail travelling post office which ran between Glasgow and London.
Family friend John Schoonraad said he always found Reynolds to be the "perfect gentleman" and a "philosophical, gentle person". He added that Reynolds had been ill for a number of days and had a "chest complaint".
Despite Reynolds' much talked-about criminal past, Mr Schoonraad said he was a changed man and no longer believed in crime. He added: "He said to me 'crime doesn't pay'. He's done his time, and he turned into a very nice man. I've always known him to be a real gentleman. He's lectured and everything. The latter part of his years have really been quite quiet."
Antiques dealer Reynolds was nicknamed Napoleon and, after the Great Train Robbery, he fled to Mexico on a false passport and was joined by his wife, Angela, and son. They later moved on to Canada but the cash from the robbery ran out and he came back to England.
Five years after the heist, in 1968, a broke Reynolds was captured in Torquay and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was released on parole in 1978 and moved, alone and penniless, into a tiny flat off London's Edgware Road. In the 1980s he was jailed for three years for dealing amphetamines.
His memoirs, written in 1995, said the Great Train Robbery proved a curse which followed him around and no-one wanted to employ him, legally or illegally. "I became an old crook living on handouts from other old crooks," he said.
Reynolds marked the 40th anniversary of the heist, in 2003, as guest of honour at a village fete in Oakley, Buckinghamshire, close to the farm where the gang hid after the crime.