In Their Own Words – Family Perils
Recently in the press, there have been a lot of reports of criminals who seem to target families, and use the fact the family are all in the same position to get what they want. For some, who have been lucky enough to meet the so-called Games Players, or the man known to police as Jay Edwards, it can be a less terrifying if still traumatic experience. For others, they are not so lucky.
Tonight, on In Their Own Words, we ask those who as children found themseves part of a robbery at home to recall their experiences. Our first tale happened on a Christmas Eve in the mid 1950’s, when Ellie Markham was waiting with her mother for her father to return home. She was sixteen at the time – this is her story...
It was about two in the afternoon – I had helped Mom to get the preparations for the big Christmas Eve dinner done, and I was upstairs in my room, reading a book. I remember I was wearign a short sleeved dress – white with a blue diamond pattern – black shoes and white bobby sox. I’ve worn glasses my whole life, like my mom, and was enjoying the story when I heard her call up, asking me to come down.
When I went down the stairs, I saw Mom standing there, in her purple top and knee length grey skirt – but she wasn’t alone. There was a man standing with her, smartly dressed like Dad does when he goes to work – but he was holding Mom’s arm, and when I got to the bottom of the stairs he pointed what looked like a gun to me, and told me to sit down.
Well, I wasn’t going to argue, was I? SO I sat down, Mom sitting next to me, while he told us both to stay still while he walked behind us. I then felt him taka hold of my arms and gently pull them behind me, before he used some sort of twine to tie my wrists together.
It felt funny, having my wrists like that, but he had a gun, so I just stayed quiet while he tied Mom’s wrists behind her back as well, and then knelt in front of us, tying our ankles together as well.
He told us not to move, and not to shout out, as he went up the stairs. That’s when Mom told me he had surprised her in the kitchen – he’d come in the back door, and put his hand over her mouth before asking if anyone else was home. That was when she’s asked me to come down.
He wasn’t upstairs for very long, but when he came down I saw he had two of my chiffon scarves in his hand. He was very polite, and very apologetic as he pushed one into each of our mouths, and then walked out, leaving me and Mom to look at each other, wondering what we were going to do next.
I could see a pair of scissors on a shelf, so I managed to get to my feet and jump over, turning and holding the scissors in my hand as I shuffled back and then managed to cut Mom’s wrists free. She then cut my hands free, as well as my ankles, before I cut hers free and we took the scarves out of our mouths.
When the police came, it turned out we were just one of a few houses that man had been to. They eventually caught him some months later, and he went to jail – but you read about what some of these people do these days, and you realise how lucky we were...
The fifties are viewed by many as a time of both austerity and wealth, depending on where you were and what your background was. Lady Angelina Cholmondley was eleven years old in 1956, and was at home from boarding school for a summer vacation when she and her mother had an unexpected, if polite visitor...
Mamma and I were in the drawing room, having returned from a visit to some of her friends that morning. I had my blonde hair cut in a fashion of the time, while Mamma had hers brushed up and held in place with hairspray.
We were wearing matching outfits, as was the norm when we visited. On this occasion, they were dressed made from am off white cotton with a floral print on it. Mamma’s dress had a high collar and short sleeves, while mine had short puffed sleeves and a slight opening at the front as well as a black band around the waist. We also both had on white gloves, and white shoes with kitten heels, while our skirts went over our knees – as was right and proper for the time.
As I say, we had returned from a visit, and had rung for something to drink, but it wasn’t the maid who came into the room – in fact, it wasn’t somebody I recognised at all. It was a young woman, dressed in a black coat, a pair of sunglasses covering her eyes and a large headscarf with a horse motif covering her hair. She smiled at me as she came in, and walked over to Mamma, her heels clicking on the floor as she laid a large handbag on the floor.
“Lady Cholmondley,” she said in perfect Received Pronunciation, “I regret to inform you your maid is unavailable at the moment, and as we speak my friends are emptying your safe. I have come to ask you not to raise the alarm, and to ask you and your charming daughter to do exactly what I tell you.”
Well, Mamma was surprised to say the least, but when the woman smiled at me, she showed Mamma something in her bag, and then said “please, both of you, come and sit on the low Ottoman, back to back.”
“Do as she says, Angelina,” Mamma said as she stood up, and I followed her over. The Ottoman was long – long enough so that when I sat on it, and Mamma did as well, there was plenty of room.
“As I said, please turn so that you are sitting back to back, and hold each other’s hands.”
I looked at Mamma, who smiled and nodded as she turned so that she sat with her legs to the side, and I sat myself on the low seat, my legs stretched out in front of me as I held her hands.
Mamma gave my hand s a squeeze as the woman took two lengths of what looked like curtain cord form her bag, and used them to tie my wrist to Mamma’s on both sides.
“What is she doing, Mamma,” I asked as she took another length of cord, and knelt down, taking her ankles and tying them together, before she walked to where my feet where and tied my ankles together, side by side, with another length of cord.
“It appears she and some others are going to steal some things from us,” Mamma said as the woman took a much longer length of rope, and wrapped it round both of us, the rope holding my arms and stomach to Mamma’s, “and they don’t wish us to raise the alarm. You have to be brave for me, Angelina – and I will keep holding your hands, whatever happens.”
She gave my hand another squeeze as the woman tightened that band of rope, and then went back to the back, taking out green chiffon square and rolling it into a band.
“Open your mouth, please,” she said as she looked at me, and as I did so I felt the chiffon band as it was put into my mouth, the rest of the band going round my head as she tied the ends together at the base of my neck. It tasted of perfume and soap, and I watched as she took a large white headscarf and folded that into a band as well, before Mamma suddenly stopped talking properly.
She then watched us for a few minutes, before there was a knock on the door and she left. We had to stay there for some time, until Daddy came home and found us – the maid had been tied to a chair in the kitchen, and kept quiet as well.
These days, Dame Marjorie Bland is a Grande Dame of the ballet world. In 1962, however, she was a twelve year old girl, being taught by her mother at her dance studio – when they were inadvertent witnesses to a kidnapping...
Oh yes – I will never forget that day. Mum insisted I wore the same as her for dance practice – which in those days meant a really heavy green wool wrap around top, with footless black tights, and ballet slippers. The only difference between us – apart from twenty years – was Mum wore a white scarf as a hair band.
Anyway, we had just started to warm up when Mum’s client for her private class came in – she was a young actress who had played a bit part in some films, but had just landed a role as a dancer, and Mum had been hired to teach her some things. She looked over and waved at us as she took off her cardigan, and started to stretch out.
And that was when the three masked men walked in, pointing guns at the woman and at us as I screamed and grabbed Mum’s waist.
“Keep the kid quiet,” one of the men said as he walked over, and told us both to put our hands out in front of us. Mum kept talking to me, telling me it would be all right as he pulled some rope form his pocket, and tied her wrists tightly together in front of her, before we were made to back up to the exercise bar, and kneel on the ground, while he lifted Mum’s hands over her head and tied them to the bar.
I was next, and I tried not to cry as the ropes forced my wrists together, and then my hands were taken over my head and tied to the bar. Mum looked at me and nodded, telling me not to panic, not to cry, as the other two men started to tie the woman Mum had been hired to teach up.
Her wrists were tied together behind her back, and then her arms ted to her sides, before she was made to stand up and they pressed something over her mouth.
While this was going on, the other man had knelt beside me, and tied my ankles together, before walking round and doing the same to Mum. My arms were hurting a little, but looking at Mum, I decided I was going to be brave, and tried to get as comfortable as I could given I could not really move.
The man then walked back over, and I saw he had in his hand a wide roll of brown sticking plaster. Looking at me, he told me not to struggle or cry, before he tore a long strip off the roll and pressed it down over my mouth. The fabric pulled on my skin, and I could not talk at all, but I watched as he did the same to Mum, and she nodded to me.
The three men then picked the woman up and walked out, leaving us there, unable to move, unable to talk. Mum kept trying to talk to me, as I put my head against her chest.
It was at least an hour before the regular class started to come in – I remember Poppy Willoughby coming in with her mother, and then screaming as she saw us there, before her mother sent her to get the caretaker and she came over to take that plaster off our mouths. We told her what had happened, and then the police, and then everyone else.
They found the actress three days later, after a ransom was paid, and she came to see me and Mum, bringing us a gift and making sure we were all right. I remember that was nice of her – and how scared I was at the time...
If we move forward a few years, we find the effect of Mary Quant and other great fashion designers seen with both the older and the younger generation. One of those women was Madge Allsop, who got in touch about a day in 1967 she, her sister and her mother would never forget....
My twin sister and I were nineteen, and very much into the fashion of the time. This day we were both wearing Quant black and white check dresses with white boots – mine were knee length, while Bobbi had on shorter go-go boots with black tights. Mum – dear old mum – was wearing a grey double breasted waistcoat over a white jumper, black stretch pants and white ankle boots.
It was a black and white time in a lot of ways – and as we relaxed in the house we lived in out in the country, it was very easy to see things in terms of have and have not.
Our mistake – when the two teenagers walked into the front room, wearing denims and bandanas over their lower faces, we thought it was a joke.
And then we saw the knives they were carrying, and we knew it wasn’t a joke.
It was a man and a woman, and they did not speak softly or politely – instead they pulled Mum off her chair, and held the knife to her throat, while the boy said we had to sit down on the floor and link arms. As we did this, the young girl came over and started to tie Bobbi’s wrists together in front of me, grinning wildly as she tied the cords she used tightly round them. She then walked down and tied my wrists together in front of Bobbi, while the lad pulled Mum’s wrists behind her back and started to tie them tightly together.
We were made then to walk up to a bed room, and lie down on the bed, out faces buried in the covers as they tied our ankles together, and then our legs below our knees, before they pulled our ankles back and tied them to our wrists.
That was when the man started to.... Started to...
I’m sorry – give me a minute please.
What he did to me and Bobbi forced Mum to tell them how to open the safe, and take her jewellery, before they stuffed pairs of panties into our mouths and used pantyhose to keep them in there.
They then left us there, Bobbi and me crying as Mum tried to free herself, and it hurt... It hurt so much...
We ended the interview there – the police records and their testimonies of the time made it clear how traumatic the event was, but they showed great courage in doing what they did.
Not all of the times we heard about in the sixties involved such extreme measures. Valerie was eighteen, and on her first weekend home from university, when her tale begins...
“Are you sure you’re not too cold in that?”
I remember Mum saying that when I came in from unpacking my bag. I had on a dress with an ethnic print on it, straps over the shoulders and no arms, and flat shoes – but I wasn’t too cold.
Mum was wearing an olive green blouse and knee length yellow skirt, the top buttons of the blouse undone. She was smiling as she sat on the old brown chair, and said “so how is the course so far?”
“Hard work, but I’m enjoying it,” I said as I sat down, “how’s dad?”
“Busy at work – I’m sure he’ll be...”
She never finished that sentence, because two men walked into the room, with balaclavas pulled down over their heads, and carrying shotguns with the barrel sawn off.
We were both too shocked to say or do anything, as one of them grabbed me and pulled me over to the dining table. He told me to take two chairs into the centre of the room, and then the other man made Mum sit in one while I sat in the toher.
They then walked behind us, and from somewhere in their outfits they pulled ropes out, taking our arms behind the back of the chairs and tying our wrists tightly together before they tied them down to the chair back. The rope was thin, and it hurt when it rubbed against my wrists, but we could not stop them as one of them knelt in front of us and tied our ankles together, and then secured them to one of the front legs of the chair.
I finally found my voice, and I asked them what this was all about. That’s when they told us they were going to rob Dad’s place of work – and he was going to tell them, because...
Well, I guess you get the picture.
They reinforced that as one of the men brought our phone over from the side table, held it as he dialled a number, and then held the receiver to Mum’s head. I realised he had dialled Dad, as Mum told him two armed and masked men were holding s hostage, and he was not to call the police. She said he was to do nothing, and he would be contacted soon enough, as she started crying.
The man then yanked the phone, pulling the wire out of the wall, before they put blindfolds over both of us. As we sat there, we could hear them moving about, looking for things, but no matter how much I tried, I wasn’t able to get my hands free.
Time kind of slowed down after that, as I tried to stay calm, and talk quietly to Mum. They didn’t seem to mind us talking, if we kept it down – right up to the time when they slapped something over my mouth, which pulled at the skin and stopped me from talking. The muffled yelp of surprise told me the same thing had been done to Mum, before they turned on our record played and started to play the Free album.
By the time the record finished – they had gone. The house was in silence, and the only sound was me and Mum trying to talk to each other, until the police arrived. Dad had been forced to open the safe at work and let them empty it, but I guess we got off unhurt.
Still, it was a frightening experience...
One surprising thing we heard was back in the seventies, there were home invaders who could be said to be the precursors of Jay Edwards and others. Anne was eleven in 1975, when she and her mother came home from a party to meet a man who should not have been there...
I’d been to a friend’s birthday party, and was wearing what I guess you could call a maxi-dress – it was actually a pinafore dress, in a red and black tartan, and went right down to the floor. I had a red blouse on under it, with a round collar, and my hair was cut in the style popular then, round my face and on my shoulders.
Mum was also wearing a red blouse, this one with a high collar, and a floor length skirt in a purple, black and cream tartan. We both had black shoes on, and mum had a set of pearls hanging round her neck.
Anyway, Dad was away on business, and when we got into the house everything looked all right - but when we went into the front room, I saw a strange man standing there, dressed in black and looking in the cabinet we had there. Mum gasped, and he turned and looked at us, before he smiled and said he was sorry – he hoped he would be away before we got back.
Mum asked him what he was doing as I held her hand, and I never forgot what he said. He said he was a robber, that he had already taken Mum’s jewellery, and that he was going to have to make sure we could not raise the alarm.
Mum gripped my hand, and asked what he was going to do. That’s when he picked up a roll of silver duct tape, and told us to put our hands behind our backs. He promised it would not hurt, and that he would do it to Mum before he did it to me.
Mum said it would be all right, so I watched as he taped her wrists together behind her back, and then did the same to me. It felt funny to have then forced together like that, and it made a strange crinkled sound when I tried to move them, as the man then taped Mum’s arms to her body, and did the same to me as well.
Mum kept talking to me while he was doing this, telling me it would be all right – and he did the same thing, telling me he knew this was frightening, but it would be all right if I stayed still and waited for someone to come and find us.
Mum told him Dad was away, so he promised to make sure the police would be called. He did this as he wrapped the tape around Mum’s legs, trapping her skirt underneath, and then her ankles as the hem of her skirt came out under the silver band. We were sitting on the bed by that point, Mum watching as he did the same to me, and then helped us both to lie down with our heads on the pillows.
He said he had to make sure we kept quiet for a while, and I had to put my lips together. He then stuck some of the silver tape over my mouth, and some over Mum’s, before he took the pearls from her neck, and then left us in the room. I moved over and rested my head on Mum’s chest, rubbing on the silver band as she rubbed her cheek on my head.
He did call the police – they arrived an hour or so later, and I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t really scared either – he was nice, even fie hr did tape us up, and he left me with Mum all the time...
These were and are rare occurrences – but it does seem that through the years, children have been used to get the parents to do what intruders want. The best advice we can give if this happens to you – don’t panic, and remember family is more important than valuables.
This has been In Their Own Words – thank you for watching.