Baker Street’s ‘Walkie-Talkie’ robbery was a bold $1.5m heist led by a former British soldier and inspired by The Red-Headed League, a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving a gang who tunnel into a bank vault.
The explosive, real-life robbery took place in 1971 when Anthony Gavin’s crew burrowed 40 feet underground from the basement of a rented store and blasted their way into Lloyds’ subterranean bank vault at 185 Baker Street, London (only steps from Holmes’ 221B).
Unraveling the complex Lloyds heist would pose a three-pipe problem - even for a consulting detective - but the details of the Lloyds robbery are far from clear. Initially, the UK government gagged the media from reporting the heist, then Britain’s National Archives ordered the majority of the files sealed for 100 years until 2071 - an unusual step for a crime with no obvious link to national security.
Royals & spies
The 'Case of the Missing Lloyds Robbery Files' has led to fevered speculation that the London break-in was part of a carefully orchestrated diversion to detract attention from an even bigger operation. For decades, the whispers suggested the heist was an MI5-orchestrated plot to raid Lloyds’ security deposit boxes and recover compromising photos of a Royal Family member.
The flames of conspiracy were fanned by Jason Statham’s spy flick The Bank Job (2008) and again in 2023 with the re-enactment of the Lloyds heist for a crime series hosted by none other than 007 actor Pierce Brosnan.
“Gavin’s Holmes-inspired plan isn’t simple,” Brosnan explains. “He needs to map a tunnel path to a spot precisely below the vault. He needs experts with the right know-how to dig the tunnel. He needs someone smart enough to disable a series of sophisticated alarms. What he needs is… a team.”
A highly sophisticated team at that. Lloyds Baker Street branch is the Fort Knox of London banks with a trembler alarm system to detect movement and two feet of steel-reinforced concrete separating the vault’s 1,000 security deposit boxes from robbers who’d need to spend months tunneling into the basement fortress.
Assembling the heist team
Anthony Gavin, the alleged mastermind, was no ordinary criminal though. Gavin, 38 at the time of the robbery, was a former British Army Royal Fusiliers’ soldier who was organized, resourceful, and skilled at teamwork. Putting together a crew for one of the greatest heists in history wouldn’t be difficult given Gavin’s training and contacts.
He recruited Reginald Tucker as his inside man, a ‘clean skin’ with no criminal record who could open a Lloyds bank account and rent a safety deposit box in a fake name. Tucker reportedly measured the area around the vault with his umbrella, calculating floor tiles, and mapping out the location of cabinets and furniture.
Gavin’s silent partner - Benjamin Wolfe - rented the ‘Le Sac’ store with its convenient basement. Thomas Stephen, an unemployed car salesman, brought the tools. Micky ‘Skinny’ Gervais was the electronics expert brought in to disable the vault’s tremor alarms. Coincidentally, there were roadworks nearby on the weekend of the robbery, so the vault’s floor alarms were turned off to avoid false alarms.
Bobby Mills was ‘the lookout’, the man with the Walkie-Talkie positioned outside Lloyds who kept an eye out for Scotland Yard detectives or bank staff who might drop by unexpectedly. At least one person on Gavin’s team also had experience with explosives, as blasting in an underground tunnel is a flirtation with the afterlife.
The heist was set for the weekend of September 10, 1971 so the crooks had from Friday at 5 pm to Monday at exactly 10 am when the bank’s staff opened the vault.