Man in wigs led string of thefts from French first-class train passengers

Man in wigs led string of thefts from French first-class train passengers

Police aim to reunite stolen goods including 150 pieces of luggage with owners around the world

Some of the stolen luggage on display at a police press conference in Marseille

Police in Marseille are attempting to track down more than 100 first-class train passengers from around the world who had their luggage or wallets stolen by a gang whose leader would disguise himself 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 of jewellery had disappeared during the journey, station CCTV footage led to a months-long investigation. Police discovered what they called an experienced operation by three thieves regularly targeting first-class carriages on high-speed trains.

“They were perfectly organised,” the local police chief, David Brugère, told a press conference in Marseille.

The men, in their 40s and 50s from Marseille and Nice, were “skilled and quick”, he said. “They bought valid tickets to get on the train.” The men had tickets for different routes including Paris to Nice, Paris to Marseille, and Lyon to Geneva. One would disguise himself in a variety of wigs and women’s clothing and take a seat next to unsuspecting passengers. Subtly, that thief and two accomplices would take wallets, luggage left at people’s feet or bags left unattended, without raising suspicions. They then got off at the next station.

In a small flat near Marseille’s Saint-Charles station, police found a stockpile of stolen goods 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 many of the stolen goods were held in one place.

Police believe 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 goods. One victim, the owner of a €70,000 watch, was traced to San Francisco. His belongings had been stolen when he was heading to the Cannes film festival in 2019.

Three men have been charged with robbery and could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.