Tony Gregson solved the oldest
quandary of the criminally inclined...how to steal a fortune and
disappear to enjoy prosperity, reasonable entertainment and a life that
is only slightly fugitive. He did it by stealing two gold bricks from a
bush plane in the air between a gold mine and Yellowknife, NWT, in 1954.
Together the bricks weighed 124 pounds...worth at the mint price, more
than $54,000. Gregson dealt it off in chunks sawn from the bars when he
needed cash. He took in, altogether, a bit more than the mint value.
Then at the end of three easy-spending years, he went to jail.
A few weels ago I took a bush plane to Thompson, the big nickel-mining
boom town in northern Manitoba, looking for Anthony Hart Gregson, who
was not long out of prison. He was reported to be working on a drilling
crew in Thompson. In the bunkhouses all the miners gave me the same
story...Gregson had "pulled the pin" a month before and left no
forwarding address. But the paymaster said, "He's here. If a man has
done time the boys'll always tell a stranger he's gone. If Tony isn't in
Hut 11, look in the beer parlor downtown." I found him in the beer
parlor...a stocky, clean cut man with a scar under his right eye, the
"distinguishing feature" described in posters that had been pinned up in
hundreds of police stations and post offices across Canada. A few
minutes later in my hotel room, Gregson, a big cigar in the corner of
his mouth and a bottle of beer in hand, settled down to discuss what he
called the gold-brick affair.
who decides to steal should plan it with a bit of dash, and add a little
color to our drab Canadian scene." He looked out of the hotel window at
Thompson. "This is a town that could do with some color," he said. "It
may be four hundred miles in the bush but it's still just a dull suburb,
an intellectual slum."
I asked Gregson, again, to tell me about the gold bricks, and this is
the story as I put it together from what he said, what the Mounties told
me, and other records of the crime. At fifteen, early in the war,
Gregson joined the army in Britain. After the war, in which he served
with a Scottish regiment and parachuted into Greece and later into
France, he decided to emigrate from Britain, and chose a
characteristically unconventional way to do it. He crossed to New York
as a stowaway aboard the Mauretania, crossed the border into Canada by
crawling along the girders on the underside of the bridge at Niagara
Falls, and got away with both escapades until railway police caught him
boarding a westbound freight in Toronto and called the immigration
authorities. But Gregson so impressed the immigration officers that they
withdrew their deportation order, providing he stuck for six months in
the job they found for him in a Toronto meat-packing plant.
Six months and one day later, Gregson left for Yellowknife. For three
years he prospected in the Nahanni and Mackenzie valleys, panned gold,
worked in mines and the bush, worked on a commercial fishing crew
netting on Great Slave Lake. Once he waw a gold brick tossed onto a
snowmobile at a mine site; a Metis laborer who wasn't doing anything was
ordered to run it the forty miles into town. More than once he saw gold
bricks wrapped in their canvas sacks lying unprotected on the floor of
bush planes for transport to Yellowknife. He began planning a robbery
that would add color to the drab scene. "It was no trick to get hold of
the bricks," Gregson recalled later. "But how to jump those hundreds of
miles to a big city without getting caught. That was the question." He
began by having an Edmonton seamstress sew up heavy canvas drawstring
bags to his specifications. For $25, a foundry made him a lead brick the
same size and shape as a gold brick; later he bought $30.30 worth of
lead from the caretaker of the inoperative Negus Mines at Yellowknife
and made a second lead brick. He rented a cabin on the Negus property
and stored his kit and canoe, the two lead bricks and canvas bags, and
an ink pad and toy printing set he'd bought in Edmonton. He was almost
ready. In the winter of 1953-54 he got work with Consolidated Discovery
Yellowknife Mines, fifty miles by air from Yellowknife.
On July 1, 1954, Consolidated Discovery poured its gold into two bars:
one weighing 72 pounds, the other weighing 52. That day Gregson told
James Engstrom, the mill superintendent, he was quitting and would leave
on the Saturday plane.
Max Ward, of Wardair ltd., flew the plane, with a passenger in the
co-pilot's seat and Gregson and a third passenger in the seats behind.
The men dozed as the plane droned south toward Yellowknife. The pilot
left his seat only once for a stop at a bush camp, and Gregson quickly
exchanged his lead bricks for gold ones.
Ward clambered onto the dock at yellowknife, Gregson right behind him.
"Shove out those two gold bricks will you, Tony?" asked Ward. Instead,
Gregson pushed out his Gladstone bag. Ward grabbed the bag. It clunked
onto the dock.
"Jeez, Tony, what's in there...gold bricks?" asked Ward. "Geiger,"
muttered Gregson and, picking up his kit, he walked away. Before he
disappeared he glanced back and saw the canvas-wrapped bricks lying on
the dock, the documents pinched between. A truck would take them to the
mine safe in the office of Frenchy's Transport.
Once out of sight, Gregson hurried to his canoe, tied up nearby, and
pushed off. He
had everything....gas, food, tobacco, reading material...he needed to
hide on the west side of the north arm of Great Slave Lake until the
first storm blew over; then he would find his way down the Mackenzie
River to the Liard and up to the Alaska Highway, or go down the
Mackenzie to Rat River Portage and down the Bell and Porcupine Rivers
and up the Yukon River to Circle, Alaska. Or he could go up the Hay
River. There were several routes, and any one might serve as Gregson's
answer to the 600 miles that separated Yellowknife from concealment in a
The outboard motor wouldn't start, and Gregson expected his lead-fo-gold
trick to be discovered within an hour at the mine office. He tore into
the motor, but it was an hour before it fired and Gregson headed toward
open water. By this time, since the police hadn't arrived, he assumed
the bricks had passed inspection in the mine office and were locked in
the safe for the weekend., when they'd be taken out for shipment to
So Gregson changed his plan. He went to the new town of Yellowknife,
phoned a cab driver to bring him a case of beer, and held court with
several of his friends until the beer was finished. Then he took a cab
to the dock, chartered a plane, and flew to the end of the highway at
Hay River, an hour and ten minutes by air. Gregson checked into the
hotel and went to bed, a tough day's work behind him.
The town of Hay River is on the south shore of Great Slave Lake at the
north end of the Mackenzie Highway. At noon on Sunday, Gregson bought a
ticket to Edmonton and caught the bus to the south. Three hundred and
eighty miles along the way, at Peace River, he left the bus and caught
on going west to Prince George. Next he took the train to Prince Rupert,
registered uner his own name and stayed there four days until he could
catch a steamer to Vancouver. Anthony Hart Gregson boarded the ship.
Anthony Johnson got off.
Anthony Johnson registered in a Cordova Street hotel and claimed his
first dividend. He bought a narrow-bladed hacksaw and, with radio
blaring and the water running in the bathtub to kill the sound, he sawed
off a chunk of gold. He sold it to a Chinese jeweller for a thousand
dollars. The gold sawdust he brushed into an aspirin bottle to save for
a day when he didn't have two gold bars.
This is what happened, meanwhile in Yellowknife. On Monday the office
clerk in the transport office took the bricks out of the safe for
shipment to Ottawa. The numbers on the canvas bags were 14 and 19--. But
he seemed to remember that the numbers of the documents he recorded were
different. He checked, found he was right, and got R I. Kilgour, manager
of the mine, on the telephone. He told Kilgour they'd made a mistake
with the numbers. *The following is from "Gregson's Gold,"
because the print here was barely visible. (The numbers
on the bags did not at all match those on the documents. The numbers
were those from the last shipment! The weights were wrong! And why was
the destination spelled incorrectly? They called mining engineer Norman
Byrne, brother of Consolidated Discovery Gold Mines president Jerry
Byrne, and when he arrived the bags were opened.
"Lead!" cried one man. "Lead,
eh?" echoed a second, as they found themselves staring at the two
crudely poured loaves. They stood staring at the useless cargo in front
of them, and then phoned mine manager R.J. Kilgour. He asked them to
weigh the bags. When it was discovered that they weighed 48.2 and 43.2
pounds, rather that the recorded 72 and 52 pounds that Gregson had
printed on the bags, they knew they had a crime on their hands. Max Ward
states that the bags were marked to weigh 48 pounds, and John Parker
said they were too light. The Max Ward Story, pp. 130. The Story of
Discovery Mine states that the bags were found to weigh 48.2 and 43.2
pounds instead of 72 and 52 pounds. It is probable that Gregson did not
have the exact loaf mould used for gold casting, and his lead loaves
were smaller than the gold ones, since the weight differences cannot be
accounted for by the greater density of gold over lead...approximately
The mine's consulting engineer at Yellowknife, N. W. Byrne, and Corporal
Bill Campbell of the RCMP dashed over to the office. Campbell's first
move was to see the men who had been on the plane. He had no trouble
finding all of them except Gregson, and he soon found that Gregson had
chartered a plane to Hay River on Saturday night. Campbell finally
traced Gregson to the bus at Hay River, but no one had noticed him leave
at Peace River. The search centered on Edmonton.
Then another complication arose. Gregson had drafted a letter in
Yellowknife to the mine manager Kilgour in which, in a puckish mood, he
instructed him to give any pay owing him to the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He addressed an envelope to Kilgour,
stamped it and slipped it inside another envelope, which he mailed to a
friend in the interior of British Columbia with instructions to mail the
letter to Kilgour. When it arrived five days after the theft it created
the impression that Gregson was in the B.C. interior.
By the time the plice had switched their search to the coast, Gregson...hair
cut, shaved, with a new suit and luggage and looking like any other
prosperous businessman...was on the transcontinental train heading for
Halifax. It was July 12, 1954.
"What was I thinking about? You know. I was thinking about the time we'd
made camp on the shores of the Mackenzie River about a year before I'd
had a couple of belts of whisky and I'd told the prospectors with me
that I was going to make one big steal and get clean away. Well, here I
had a stack of gold on the seat beside me and I had no reason to think
the back trail wasn't very, very cold. I was thinking of what those
prospectors would say when they heard it, because no one took me
When five days later, the train pulled into Halifax the RCMP had no idea
where Gregson was and Consolidated Discovery Yellowknife Mines had no
idea where 124 pounds of bullion had gone.
A few days later Gregson left the Lord Nelson, shifted a couple of bays
down the Nova Scotia coast to Chester, and took rooms in the Hackmatack
Inn. He decided to go into fishing and went to Lunenburg looking for a
boat. In Glace Bay, on Cape Breton Island, he found a Newfoundland
schooner-rigged jack-boat, complete with sail and auxiliary motor. It
was seventeen tons gross, fifty feet long. The owner refused to take
gold in payment, but Gregson managed to peddle ten pounds in Sydney for
$3,400 U.S. dollars. He paid $1,800 for the boat, hired a crew, and ran
it the three hundred miles around the coast to Chester. When he docked
he paid off the crew and bought them one-way tickets on the bus. He went
to his room at the Hackmatack and settled down with a book.
"I'll never forget that evening. I was just getting ready to turn in
when the landlady said there were a couple of men to see me, and two
RCMP constables came into my room. The gold was lying in my bag in the
bottom of the clothes closet, and I figured it was all up. But all they
wanted was to get some information on one of the men that had come down
the coast with me. He'd broken into a drugstore and stolen an electric
razor. They got the information they wanted and left, and I guess they
don't know until this day that they were within a couple of feet of
Gregson's gold." He carried the gold down to his boat and buried it in
Gregson didn't make any money fishing, but this wasn't known in Chester.
He was fishing for swordfish and would go out with several cases of rum.
Between the parties the crew would catch some fish. He sold his catch in
Halifax, and thus avoided any comment on the fact that his expenditures
exceeded his income.
In the meantime the police were looking for him everywhere. "I worked on
the Gregson case," recalls a veteran member of the RCMP. "I don't mind
admitting that it was one of the most frustrating I've ever tackled.
Once Gregson got out of the north there was nothing you could trace him
"There's a routine in tracking down a wanted man," he continued. "You
check his friends and relatives and sooner or later a letter arrives or
he shows. Gregson had just come to the country and most of his friends
were in the bush. During the whole period he didn't get in touch with
his few good friends.
"You watch for any man living beyond his apparent resources, but Gregson
did his high living, as we found out later, in Los Angeles, New Orleans,
Florida, Cuba, or the British West Indies. He'd drink quite a bit...he
was picked up for drunken driving as Anthony Johnson and fined fifty
dollars by the Ontario police...but he didn't do enough to look
unreasonably rich. He bought a six-year-old Ford...instead of a
Cadillac, which he could well have afforded. And he was a loner. He
didn't confide in anyone and he didn't run off at the mouth. He didn't
have any regular women. And he split with his former life. In place of
being a prospector and mucker he became a fisherman. If you want to see
a man who made a real success of blending with his background you look
at Tony Gregson."
The policeman was wrong on a couple of counts. In the first place.
Gregson did have a wench in Halifax, and another in Chester. In the
second, he did see one of his old Yellowknife friends. It happened in
the fall of 1954 when Gregson put up his boat and concentrated on
converting some of his gold to cash.
"I took the train to Vancouver and went to one of my old stomping
grounds, the bar in the Georgia Hotel. I was drinking hot rum in a kind
of skull glass....a specialty of the bar...and looked across and there
was one of my closest Yellowknife friends drinking the same thing. It
was good to see him. I had a big chunk of gold with me at the time and
he helped me get into the States."
Once across the border Gregson caught a bus for Los Angeles, where he
sold three pounds of gold in a hockshop. In New Orleans he had the gold
assayed..."it proved to be real good gold"...and then went on to Key
West for a week's holiday. At the end of the week he crossed Havana and
began looking for a market. He found it but didn't trust his customers,
so he cut the brick he had brought with him into slabs and gung them on
shoulder straps under his clothes. "I was afraid I'd get knocked off if
I took the whole chunk. I sold it in $1,200 bites until I'd sold all I
had and got about $35,000."
Word spread that Gregson was peddling gold and the Havana police picked
him up. "I gave the inspector in charge $1,000 and after five hours
questioning they let me go," Gregson claims. The police suggested he
leave Cuba and he took their advice. He crossed to Key West and took a
bus north. Soon he was back at the Hackmatack In at Chester. Early in
1955 Gregson hired a crew and went into the bush to cut pulpwood. He
took the remaining gold brick out of the hold of his boat and buried it
in the woods. When he set out for a summer's fishing he left the gold
buried in the woods. In the fall he sold his boat in Portland, Maine,
and flew to Nassau for a three-week vacation at the Windsor Hotel.
In Nassau, Gregson sat on the wrong side of the table in a crap game
and, according to his story, "lost my bundle." He used the return half
of his ticket to get back to Miami and went by pulp boat to Corner
Brook, Newfoundland, where he took a job with the Anglo-Newfoundland
Development Company and saved enough money to indulge his first love and
make his first serious mistake: he went back to the mines.
The International Nickel Company hired him in Levack, Ontario, and he
worked there for six months, and then shifted to Blind River. He bought
a car during the year; in addition, he saved $2,200.
All this time his gold was lying in the woods near Chester. Early in
1957 he went to Chester, retrieved the gold, and took a bus to Miami.
Living it up in Florida and the Caribbean, Gregson finally got down to
the last of his gold, which he sold in Cuba for $15,000. He took another
week's holiday in Cuba, and one last week in Florida, and came back to
"That was an expensive week," Gregson told me. "I spent it at the
Hialeah track and lost all my money."
"You seem to be going out of your way to underline that you lost the
money as soon as you sold the gold. Did you?"
"You've some of it hid now?"
Gregson's weakness was a preference for the mines. He drifted back to
Blind River, Ontario, and there he heard that the RCMP had been
enquiring for a Tony Gregson. The police arrived twenty-four hours after
he had gone.
By this time the RCMP had promoted Gregson to the list of ten
most-wanted criminals. His picture had been in newspapers and
periodicals. Tips flowed in and the police faithfully traced them down.
Once they thought they had him. A mucker in an Ontario mine, almost a
double for Gregson, ws picked up; he was released only when his
fingerprints didn't check. Finally the police tracked Gregson to the
Hackmatack Inn. They arrived on February 26, 1957. Gregson had left on
February 13. He had gone to Montrial and slipped unnoticed into the hold
of a ship bound for Australia. He wanted to make sure the ship was well
clear of the St. Lawrence before he was found, and he did without food
and water for four days. Then he pounded on the hatch until the bosun
let him out. When the police arrived at the Hackmatack Inn, Gregson was
on the high seas.
The shipmaster tried to put him off at Curacao in the Dutch West Indies
and again at Panama, but the local authorities would not let him
disembark. At Brisbane, Australia, Gregson jumped ship. The dock was
quickly cordoned off and after twenty minutes of freedom, he was
captured. He spent three days in jail while the ship unloaded cargo and
then he was put on board to travel to Sydney. Here he spent fourteen
days in jail while his fingerprints were run through the records of the
ICAP...the international police organization of which Canada and
Australia are both members. On the tenth day the police asked him if he
was Tony Gregson, wanted in Yellowknife.
"I admitted it right away. You might as well be sporting about it when
you've lost. But, you know, the only reason they had my prints was
because I got drunk in Yellowknife and started shooting out the lights
with a .22 and another time pinched a truck."
The final identification was made in Australia on June 14, 1957, just a
few days short of three years from the time Gregson had hoisted the gold
bricks. He was met at Father Point, Quebec, on August 14 by Corporal
Bill Campbell of the Hay River detachment of the RCMP and taken back to
"We had a kind of funny conversation when I met Bill Campbell at Father
Point. He said, 'Hi Tony. It's good to see you.' I said 'It's good to
see you,' although it really wasn't. Then Bill said, 'You've given us a
long chase and a lot of trouble,' and I said 'Give me the bit about The
Mounties Always Get Their Man Bill,' and he said, 'In the comic books
they always do. It's a little tougher on the beat.' It was as though
we'd been playing a game. Decent sort ..Bill."
The trial was set for August 19 in Yellowknife, and even here, Gregson
in one sense, did a salvage job. Terry Nugent, a lawyer from Edmonton
and now a member of parliament, was sent north as prosecutor. He quickly
detected a sneaking admiration for Gregson and his escapades among many
of the Yellowknife residents from whom a jury would have to be picked.
In addition the witnesses were scattered from Vancouver to Halifax. It
would be difficult and costly to bring them to Yellowknife. He decided
to try for a guilty plea.
Nugent met Gregson and his lawyer and indicated some of the evidence he
would bring forward. He warned Gregson that he could get a ten-year
sentence but predicted that with a guilty plea it would be only four or
five years. "I indicated more confidence in our ability to convict than
I really felt. I was worried about a jury trial," said Nugent.
Gregson had calculated the odds when he took the gold and he calculated
them again when his case came before J. H. Sissons, judge of the
Territorial Court. Anthony Hart Gregson, alias Anthony Johnson, pleaded
guilty to hoisting a couple of gold bricks that did not belong to him.
The prosecution urged leniency.
Mr. Justice Sissons sentenced Gregson to thirty months in prison. He was
sent to the penitentiary in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he was a
model prisoner until the early days of 1960, when he was released.
No prosecutions were brought against those who bought the gold. Most
were beyond the jurisdiction of the Canadian authorities and it was
impossible to get evidence against even those in Canada. It was accepted
that all the money Gregson had raised from the gold was gone. If there
was anything left at all, it was a little added color on what had always
struck Tony Gregson as an unnecessarily drab scene.