Aerial view of Discovery Mine Property on west side of Giauque Lake.

The Great Gold Heist


Bonnie Wayne McGuire

During 1980 we were exploring Canada's Northwest Territories. One of our most memorable stops was to visit the Northern Museum at Fort Smith. It had all sorts of interesting things to see, but the most fascinating was a story about the great gold bars theft in the 1950's by a man named Tony Gregson. I've often thought it would make a great movie.

Tony was a colorful character who didn't like the ordinary, humdrum way of doing things. He was easy going, seemed well educated, was athletic, handsome and popular.  He carried off the gold in 1954, eluded authorities until his arrest in 1957, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. During his freedom he had a good time spending and traveling.

Evidently, Ralph Hedland  wrote the museum's story about him in Maclean's magazine. He knew Tony had just been released from prison in 1960, so went to interview him at some mine where he was allegedly working. Those he inquired said "Tony had left to parts unknown." All the miners gave me the same story...Gregson had "pulled the pin" a month before and left no forwarding address. Later the boss said, "It wasn't true...that Tony was there, either at the chute, or the local bar; that the men felt Tony had paid his debt, and didn't cater to strangers asking questions." Finally, Hedland "found him in the beer parlor...a stocky, cleancut 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 (right), 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."

When he was fifteen Tony enlisted in the British army. Later he joined the Scottish army and traveled Europe. He didn't like doing things in a dull way, so after his army days he stowed away on a ship to America. Then he sneaked into Canada by hiding under a bridge at the border. He got caught, but the Authority in charge was fascinated by his story, so let him stay if he promised to work in the meat packing plant for a year. He complied and then moved on to Northwest Territories where he worked in Yellowknife before moving on to Consolidated Discovery Mine. It was about sixty miles to the north and only accessible by bush plane or winter Cat train. After working there a little over a year, he told the mine manager that he was moving on. This was normal for single men employed at remote mines. There wasn't anywhere to spend money, so they saved a lot in a short time. For most, the isolation became boring, and they longed for adventure. The manager was sorry Tony was leaving and told him he'd have a job waiting if he decided to return.

Discovery Mine head frame
Tony had noticed miners carelessly putting gold bullion on sleds and sending it to the bank with an Indian. This gave him an idea he began working on. He got a job with a mining company, and had a man make him two lead bricks. He stashed a boat, food, supplies and reading materials at Yellowknife. Finally, just before the weekend, he quit his job at the mine. The mine had a 72 and 52 pound gold brick ready for shipment to the Yellowknife bank that day. Tony, another man and the pilot took off in a plane. The other man and the pilot sat in front while Tony took the seat in the back. It was a tedious flight during which the two passengers slept part of the time. The pilot made a stop, and when he got out Tony switched bags. His looked just like the mines...right down to the stamp, or so it appeared. When they reached Yellowknife, and were leaving the plane, the pilot helped him unload his gear. "What've you got in here...a gold brick?" the pilot joked. "Just geiger," Tony replied. He hurried to his stashed boat...assuming it wouldn't be long before the theft would be realized. The boat motor wouldn't start. He worked on it for an hour before it finally ran. Since the police hadn't shown up, he changed his plans about holing up somewhere along the lake for the season. Instead, he headed for a city where he could get lost.
The theft wasn't discovered until Monday. A clerk noticed that the number on the bags and weight didn't match his data. He phoned the mine, and a warrant was issued to arrest Tony Gregson on sight for theft. But Tony was long gone. (I can't remember where). He'd taken a plane to some city in another province and sent a letter to a friend living in an area in the opposite direction to his location...where the authorities were searching. He instructed the friend to mail the letter inside the the mine. The letter was a request that the mine give his back pay to "The Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals." This sent police scurrying to the area postmarked on the letter.
Meanwhile, Tony bought a hacksaw that he used to saw off slices of gold he turned into cash. The shavings and dust were put in an aspirin bottle for later. Eventually he bought a fishing boat for $3,500. The captain wanted cash, rather than gold. Tony hired a crew, bought supplies and they were soon on their way. He now went by the name of Anthony Johnson. When they weren't fishing they partied. They only fished to make it appear that was how Tony earned his living, and sold their catch at various ports.
His trail grew cold with his change of profession, and because he didn't have a steady girlfriend, or visit old friends. Eventually Tony paid the crew and sold the boat. One evening two men knocked on his door. He thought they'd finally caught up with him. The gold was in the closet on the floor under some clothes. However, the men were merely checking on one of his employees concerning a minor infraction....never realizing the gold was nearby.
Tony traveled to Los Angeles, California for awhile, and then to Cuba. When he tried to sell some more gold, the authorities got wind of it and told him to leave...which he was anxious to do. He went back to Canada and returned to working in mines. By now he was number 10 on the Mounties's most wanted men's list. They put out posters with his picture. (He had a scar on his cheek.) People recognized him and reported it. The trail grew hot.

Sometimes a couple of days or 24 hours separated him from the detectives. Eventually he stowed away on a ship going to Australia. He went four days without food or water before making his presence known...making sure they were far enough away from Canada. The ship's Captain tried to put him off in different countries, but they refused to take him. In Sydney 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 who had chased him all those years. taken back to Yellowknife.

Tony asked him, "You always get your man eh?"  The officer chuckled, "Well, it's a little tougher than in the comics." A fascinated lawyer took Tony's case. The gold was gone, and Tony was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (For more of the story  read excerpts from "Advocate For The North" by Frank Wade, and Amazing Flight and Flyers.)



Saturday November 26, 2011 Tony's niece emailed me: "I came across your website when searching the web to see if there was any more information about my uncle, the colourful Tony Gregson. It was great to read your 'Great Gold Heist' story about him, and the Judge John Parker page as well. I already have the excerpt from Maclean's (?) Magazine, which has a wonderful picture of him smoking a cigar when being interviewed at a hotel, which your story mentioned.
 I have often wondered whether he ever had any children, and where they are. I know he had a wife - Doris I think her name was... We last heard from his wife in the 70s when she wrote asking for money and saying Tony was dead - my parents discovered he wasn't! In the 80s, he was living somewhere called Calder or Calter (or Culter?) Lake, north of Yellowknife, as I have a letter from him that someone gave me. But he seems to have disappeared after that. Not sure whether the Cuba stories etc are true. I think he just died a recluse in Canada, myself, probably under a pseudonym.
 It may interest you to know that Anthony had some other interesting aspects to his life. His father, Captain WH Gregson, was the last owner of England's most famous haunted house, Borley Rectory (if you search the web there are lots of stories about that). Anthony was quite young, my father Alan was a couple of years older. They experienced many strange phenomena, but unfortunately the rectory burned down while my grandfather owned it. Anthony, who didn't get on with his father, wrote a letter to a Borley historian claiming that his father had burned down the place for insurance - but I'm assured this isn't true!

Anyway - I agree with you that Anthony's life would make a great movie, and it was good to read more of his exploits on your web page." Leonie Gregson


Thursday, February 28, 2013 Michael Howdon inquired, "My name is Michael Howdon from Kent in S/E England. I stumbled across your blog about Tony Gregson when googling 'Gold Heists' for an illustration art project. It fascinated me! Such a simple heist and an enthralling story. I'm now doing my project on Tony Gregson and am going to illustrate parts of his life. I've got 'Amazing Flight and Flyers' which has part of his story in. I was wondering if you could give me some more direction... I absolutely agree, there is so much visual material to his life it would be great to see a movie made...  I'd love to be able to talk to one of his actual relatives! So far I've found him in the Ottawa Citizen from 1957; a news report on his capture in Australia. Shame about the museum, would you by chance have the name of it?"

Thanks so much Michael for your research and contributions of newspaper clips, Maclean's Magazine article and Amazing Flight and Flyers article.