I remember hearing this story years ago. It was one of those things—it sticks in the back of your mind, but when you think about it, you realize that you must have misunderstood. Surely it couldn’t be exactly as I remembered. But if my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me, and the details hadn’t been deluded over the years, it would mean that one of the most prominent young mixed martial arts fighters in the world masterminded an armed robbery in London that yielded a British record £52 million in cash.
Recently, on a drab and rainy afternoon, I finally decided to sit at the computer and follow up on my hazy rumination.
It was true. But, it had a new ending.
£52 million was $90 million in 2006. The sheer size of the haul in cash demanded that the robbers used a cube truck just to transport it.
It was February 21, 2006. A man drives home from work in Tonbridge, England when he gets pulled over by an unmarked police car. Two officers approach and inform him that something has gone terribly wrong at his work and that he needs to step out of the vehicle and follow them to their car. He obeys, but as soon as he is in the back seat, one of the officers pulls a pistol on him and tells him to stay calm. The man is Colin Dixon, and he’s the manager of a Securitas storage depot; a facility used to store cash for banks and ATMs in England.
While Colin is being driven to a remote barn in the English countryside, two different officers knock on the front door of his house where his wife and son are waiting for him to return. The officers regrettably inform them that Mr. Dixon was involved in a serious car accident and they needed to go with them to the police station. As soon as they are sat in the back of the car, they too have guns drawn on them. Given the nature of Mr. Dixon’s work, it is immediately clear to them what is happening.
In the secluded barn, one of the officers pulls the blindfold off of Mr. Dixon’s face. He is horrified to see his wife and son. The “officers” promise him that they will be safe as long as he cooperates with them. The three of them are driven to the Securitas depot where Mr. Dixon assists the men to enter the building without sounding alarms or alerting authorities.
There are 14 employees on duty and some of them are armed with pistols, but when they see the arsenal of AK-47s and shotguns that the masked men arrive with, they too quickly surrender and are bound with rope as the robbers begin to load blocks of cash the size of wheelbarrows into the van. An hour and a half later, the van nonchalantly leaves the building and disappears into the night.
The next morning, news breaks. Nobody can quite believe what they are being told—the sum of money is simply astonishing…but the disbelief is only beginning. Days later it emerges that the mastermind behind the heist is none other than “Lightning” Lee Murray.
The nickname seems a little too perfect; a strike of lighting is a perfect metaphor for the precision and efficiency with which the job was carried out.
Murray was another case of a story we’ve heard a thousand time: massive potential wasted. A man who seemed to already have the world at his feet, Murray wanted more. The son of a Moroccan father and an English mother, Murray grew up in Buttmarsh in southeast London. Murray was gang-affiliated, violent and heavily involved in drug entrepreneurship at an abnormally young age. His father was an alcoholic with a short-temper—a quite domineering man who fought with his son frequently. At some point Lee began fighting back and his neighbor said that he saw a light bulb illuminate in Lee when he finally fought back. He turned on his father on the front lawn and knocked him out cold. After extensive street fighting experience, Lee made his way into a real gym. The world of mixed martial arts awaited but his troublesome ways stayed with him, stride for stride.
In his first professional fight against Mike Tomlinson, which he won via kimura submission, everyone noticed that Murray hardly used his left hand. He later revealed that he had been involved in a bar fight the night before and that his hand was broken in two places. He went to the hospital after he had won his fight.
Murray would amass a professional record of 8-2-1 (one No Contest) that included a narrow defeat to Anderson Silva, whom many consider the greatest pound-for pound fighter in the history of the sport. He then got his shot on the biggest stage of all, the UFC. He won, defeating Jorge Rivera with a triangle choke. It was his proudest moment. Had he been able to stay out of trouble there was no measure for how high his ceiling could have been. Legendary American coach and former UFC Welterweight Champion, Pat Miletich, said that if Lee Murray had focused only on his fighting, there’s no way he wouldn’t have become a world champion, but it wasn’t to be. Murray’s visa was revoked after he nearly beat to death a driver who sideswiped his car in London.
He would get another chance in a smaller promotion in England called Cage Rage but—surprise surprise—Murray was stabbed at an English super-model’s birthday party and he couldn’t fight from the resulting injuries. It was time for Murray to focus his attention elsewhere.
Not ironically, the defining moment of Murray’s fighting career was for a fight that happened in an alleyway. After a UFC event in London where Murray was a spectator, he was involved in a fight that left him standing across from Tito Ortiz, at the time, the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Ortiz’ camp denied it, but several others confirmed what they had seen, including UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes, and Murray’s coach Pat Miletich during an interview with ESPN. They claim Murray hit Ortiz with a five-punch combo that left him on the ground before Murray kicked him in the head twice. As if we needed another reminder of his potential.
Murray started to feel the heat for the robbery and fled England. Using his Moroccan citizenship, he paid $1.5 million for a mansion in the capital city of Rabat. Soon thereafter, Murray would be arrested for cocaine possession and resisting arrest. That was the last I remember hearing of Lee Murray. As far as I knew, he was still in a Moroccan prison but would be out soon and back in his mansion.
When I finally decided to look up the story recently, the new ending to the story was for some reason, a little disheartening. He had been extradited back to England and was serving a prison term of 25 years. He didn’t get away with it.
The master of his own demise, but one thing can’t be denied: the man had ambition. In the end, Lee Murray struck like lightning, but crashed like thunder.