A man in a wig carried out a series of thefts of first-class French train passengers | France
Marseille police are trying to find more than 100 first-class train passengers from around the world who had their luggage or wallets stolen by a gang whose leader is said to be dressed in wigs.
When a woman leaving a high-speed train at Aix-en-Provence station earlier this year reported to police that her bag containing €50,000 worth of jewelery had gone missing during the journey, CCTV footage of station led to an investigation lasting several months. Police uncovered what they called an experimented operation by three robbers regularly targeting first class carriages on high-speed trains.
“They were perfectly organized,” local police chief David Brugère told a press conference in Marseille.
The men, in their 40s and 50s, from Marseille and Nice, were “skillful and fast”, he said. “They bought valid tickets to get on the train.” The men had tickets for different routes, including Paris-Nice, Paris-Marseille and Lyon-Geneva. One would dress up in a variety of wigs and women’s clothing and sit next to unsuspecting passengers. Subtly, this thief and two accomplices would take wallets, luggage left at people’s feet or bags left unattended, without arousing suspicion. They then descended to the next station.
In a small apartment near Marseille’s Saint-Charles train station, police found a stockpile of stolen property including 150 pieces of luggage, 170 wallets, hundreds of pairs of sunglasses, fountain pens, camera equipment, gadgets and expensive shoes. They also found €137,000 in small denominations of cash. Officers said they were surprised that so much stolen property was kept in one place.
The police estimate that there are at least 170 victims spread across France and abroad. The complex task has now begun to try to trace the owners of the stolen property. A victim, owner of a €70,000 watch, was found in San Francisco. His belongings were stolen on his way to the Cannes Film Festival in 2019.
Three men have been charged with robbery and face up to seven years in prison if convicted.