The Bank Manager's Wife
I’d like to thank everyone on the committee, and the ladies here present, for this wonderful award and for the flowers. It makes me feel welcomed and special to know that you have appreciated my presence on this group so much.
As I step down, I’ve been asked if I can share some of my experiences with you, after so many years not just of wonderful marriage, but also of supporting my husband in his work. I do want to share some things with you, both by way of encouragement but also of warning.
Yes, of warning. We are all spouses of people in important positions, and over the years I have experienced what happens when someone wants something my husband can get them, but they don’t want to work for. It is a professional hazard to them, but a personal hazard to us as well, and it is important that you know that not only can these things happen, it is possible to cope with and deal with them.
I speak, of course, of the criminal element. As the wife of a manager, and of course the wife of a man in lesser roles before that, I have suffered a bit at the hands of various gangs and robbers, but each time I have learnt a valuable lesson from them, and I want to share them with you now.
The first time I was involved in such a situation actually was when my husband was the chief teller at a branch office in London. It must have been about eight in the morning, and I’d just waved goodbye to my daughter as a friend took her off to primary school. I closed the front door, went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea and walked straight into two young men, wearing suits and ties who were waiting for me there.
I naturally asked what they wanted, but the small handguns they produced at that time told their own story. One of them very politely informed me that they were going to visit my husband’s branch later that morning to finalise a loan, but that they needed to arrange some collateral first. I remember drawing the collar of my dressing gown around myself, and asking what sort of collateral they were planning to use. “You,” was the reply as the other man produced a roll of white plaster from his pocket and held it in his gloved hand.
I admit, I was scared, and I’m sure I showed it because the young man who spoke handed me a handkerchief and told me to dry my eyes. They then took me up to the bedroom, and asked me to take off my dressing gown. They also said they had waited to make sure my daughter had gone to school – an uncommonly polite touch, as it spared her the experience.
I remember I was wearing a sleeveless short nightdress with frilled shoulders pads. The silent one gently took my hands behind my back and crossed them before taping them together. They allowed me to sit on the side of the bed, at which point they taped my ankles together before helping me to lie on my side. The final act was to place a strip of the plaster over my mouth. One was enough – unlike today, they made sticking plaster to stick, and my lips were held firmly closed.
The young man apologised as they took some Polaroid photographs of me, and then left me alone in the room. I knew one of them was still in the house – or thought I did, as I could hear the radio on downstairs. I later learnt that they in fact had left me alone and gone straight to the bank, showed my husband the photographs and forced him to hand over a substantial amount of cash.
I learnt two lessons on that first occasion – firstly, that if it if should happen to you do what they ask you to. Secondly, if you have a chance and they are going to restrain you, make sure it’s somewhere comfortable.
The second occasion came a few years later, after my husband had moved to a country branch to be the assistant manager. Again, we were luck yin that my daughter was away on the Saturday when this particular gang came visiting, because as events unfolded I am sure she would have been very badly traumatised.
I had taken up horse riding, and was driving back from the stables when I noticed a strange car parked outside the house. I thought nothing much o fit, as sometimes clients called in to see my husband when they could not get to the branch during normal hours, so I parked the car and walked in. The first thing I saw after closing the door was the barrel of a sawn-off shotgun pointing at my face. The second was a balaclava covered head shouting at me to get down.
I looked up and saw three men standing there, one pointing the gun at me while the other two asked who I was. I explained that I lived there, when one of them roughly pulled my arms behind my back and started to tie them tightly together with rough rope. I was still wearing my red riding jacket at the time, as well as a blouse, but I could feel the cord cutting into my arms and wrists even through that double layer of protection. The third one shouted at me to keep quiet, and then to the other two to “Bring her down when she’s ready.”
As this was going on, my ankles had been tied together with more rope, over my riding breeches, and then pulled back so that they were parallel with my knees. Back then, I was supple enough so that it didn’t hurt too much. If that was done now, well….
A foul tasting cloth was stuffed into my mouth, and my scarf taken off from around my neck and tied between my lips to keep it in place. I was then physically picked up and carried down to our cellar, where I was horrified to see my husband bound and gagged in a similar manner.
I turned out they had burst into the house while he was doing some painting, demanded the branch keys form him and then trussed him up and left him in the cellar. They had been about to leave when I arrived back – had I been ten minutes later, they would have gone.
The lesson? As before, don’t fight back, but more importantly for you never let them see you are afraid. I did that day, and the job was done in their eyes from that moment onwards.
I do not mean to alarm you in saying this – with one exception, I have never been placed in that situation again, and I will come to that later because it is important to know what happens when that occurs.
There have also been occasions when I have not been the only one held hostage. One is the one I mentioned earlier, while another was when I and my husband were visiting his manager for dinner.
He had just been appointed to his first branch, and the dinner party was an important part of the job description at the time. This would have been in the early eighties, and I remember I was wearing a blue silk dress with short puffed sleeves and padded shoulders.
We had just sat down to dinner when there was a ring on the doorbell. Our host apologised, and went to see who it was. A few moments later, he came back in accompanied by a group of four people.
They were a strange group – one man and three women, all dressed in grey overalls. The distinction was in the rest of their garb – the man was wearing a black stocking over his head, black gloves and flat shoes. The women were wearing full head masks, boots and gloves – but one had on brown, one olive green and one red.
The man introduced himself as Mister Black, and ordered all four of us to sit at the table with our hands on our heads. He then told one of them, called Miss Brown, to secure the men, and she took some plastic ties and bound the wrists of my husband and his manager behind their backs.
He told us that he was going to take the men with him, and warned them that if they tried anything it would be “their wives who suffered at the hands of my girls here.” He then took both of the men out of the house, leaving us in the hands of the other three.
One of them – I called her Miss Red because of her red gloves and boots – ordered me to come and kneel in front of the couch, while the other two took Delores, the wife of our host, out of the room. I stayed there, hands behind my head, listening to the protests and arguments on the upper floor, and then the silence. I wondered for some time what was causing the silence, until Miss Brown and Miss Green brought Delores back and I saw why.
Delores had her wrists tied together in front of her with a long blue scarf. She was wearing a black mid-length dress with long sleeves, and the scarf had been tightly tied over the cuffs of her sleeves so that her hands were clasped together.
That in itself did not explain the silence, but the brightly coloured Hermes scarf that covered the lower half of her jaw went some way towards that. She was a thin woman, but her cheeks were bulging, and I could see from the look in her eyes there was a lot more than just that scarf keeping her quiet.
Her arms were held to her side by a large shawl which had been rolled into a band and tied around her chest, with smaller scarves tied around it between her arms and torso. Miss Green sat her down on the couch next to me, and ordered me to stand up and put my hands behind my back.
She took my arms and folded them behind me so that my elbows rested in my hands, while at the same time Miss Brown dumped what looked like the entirety of Delores’s scarf collection on the couch beside her. There were hundreds of them – differing sizes, materials, lengths. She picked three bandanas out and handed them to Miss Green, who I could feel using them to tie my wrist to my elbows. At the same time, Miss Red took another long neck scarf and used it to tie Delores’ ankles tightly together, then a large headscarf to tie her legs together.
As another shawl was tied around my upper arms and chest, Delores had her wrist tied down with a small blue silk square to the one that held her legs together. She looked up at me as I was bound, then watched as I was sat down and Miss Red started to bind my ankles and legs.
I was aware of Miss Brown standing behind me, with a red neck scarf balled up in her hand. I looked over at Delores, who nodded in answer to my unasked question, and opened my mouth wide. The silk square was pushed in, and then a thin silk band tied between my lips to keep it in place. This was followed by a knotted bandana, and then the large Hermes scarf covering my lower jaw and mouth.
We sat there, mutely watching the three women as they sorted through the jewellery they had collected upstairs and from what we were wearing. As I have said, by this time I had learnt not to show how scared I was, but Delores seemed to be having a harder time coping with it. I nudged her to reassure her that I was with her all the way, and she relaxed a little bit after that.
Eventually, they left us in the room, and after some time Delores managed to work her hands free from her lap and pull the scarf away from her jaw. I saw that she too had been triple gagged, but at least she was able, with some effort and movement, to slowly pull the scarves away and talk normally. She then moved over to a side table, where her handbag had been tipped out, and managed to raise the alarm through her telephone.
The lesson from that occasion is to take strength in numbers, and to realise that whatever happens you are not alone. Delores is sat here with us tonight, and will tell you the truth of that. I can testify to it as well, from the one time when our daughter was unfortunate enough o be at home when a gang attacked us.
I’m sure you remember the story in the paper some years ago when people in the street below heard me calling for help, but you may not have heard the full story. Here it is, from my own experience.
Jenn was in her final year at school, and was at home studying when we got the phone call. I was in the kitchen preparing some fruit to use in pies for her college open day, and wondering what was keeping my husband when she answered the telephone.
She brought it into the kitchen, saying it was Dad and he sounded awful, so I took the handset and asked what was wrong. He sounded awful, but told me that there were two men with him and I had to do as he asked. He told Jenn and I to make our way into the main room, and for Jenn to open the glass door that opened out onto our garden.
I told Jenn to come with me, and we went into the main room. We had a large set of glass doors that looked out into our garden, and my daughter went to open them. The second she did so, a man dressed in overalls and wearing a stocking over his head came in, brandishing a handgun and ordering us to sit on the couch, with our hands on our head. I dropped the phone as Jenn came over to me, and we both did as he said while he shut the glass door and drew the curtains. By this time, Jenn had heard some of the stories of what had happened in the past, and she merely sat next to me as he picked up the phone.
“I’m in – bring him home now,” he said before turning the handset off and sitting down. “Your husband will be home soon, so we’ll just sit and wait until he comes,” he said. Well, what else could we do – we sat there, holding each other, until the front door opened and my husband came in, blindfolded and with his hands behind him, accompanied by two other masked men.
By now it had got dark, so once the blindfold had been released and his hands freed he came over and hugged us before, telling us everything would be all right if we did as they said. One of the men, obviously the leader, told us to just relax, and even asked us to phone for a takeaway meal while he explained what would happen – so long as we did not raise the alarm, or else Jenn would be hurt.
The meal came, we ate, and then one of the men took Jenn and me back into the kitchen while the other two stayed with my husband. I carried on preparing the fruit, while Jenn did some work at the kitchen table. We stayed in the clothes we had been wearing when the intruder came in – I in my blouse and trousers, Jenn in her t-shirt and skirt.
We did not find out until later what the other two had been talking to my husband about, but the one who stayed with us said nothing. When I rather sarcastically asked if he wanted to help, as I needed to use a knife, he said nothing but smiled and looked at Jenn. That was enough to stop me doing anything.
At about ten, we were taken back through and sat together while they put a film on – Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. They must have brought it with them, because we did not own a copy. Then, at about 1 am in the morning, they turned it off and we sat in silence until about four.
That was when things started to happen. All three of us were ordered to stand up, and sleep masks pulled over our eyes as blindfolds. I then felt my hands been tied together behind my back, which from the protests from Jenn must have been happening to her as well. We were then led out of the house – I recall the feel of the cold air – and made to lie down in what I later learnt was the boot of our car. We were then driven off, taken out of the car and led up some stairs before the blindfolds were removed.
We were in a room, dark except for the street light shining through a window, which had two chairs in it. Our wrists were released, but only for us to be made to sit down back to back. By us, I mean Jenn and I – my husband was nowhere to be seen. When I asked where he was, I was told to shut up or we’d never see him again.
As it was, he was in the next room, but we didn’t know that at the time. Rope was used to tie our wrists behind the back of the chair and secure them to the back, and our ankles were similarly secured to the front legs of the chairs. Thick white scarves were then tied into our mouths as gags, as the chairs were pushed together and our upper bodies lashed together. Finally, pillow cases were pulled over our heads to prevent us clearly seeing what was happening.
Jenn touched my hand, and although I could barely move them I squeezed her fingers as the hours passed. I could see through the fabric the sun coming through the windows, but the shadows of the gang still there prevented me from trying to do anything.
This, ladies, was possibly the worst few hours I have ever spent in my life. It was not just me, but our daughter that was held this time, and I was more worried for her than for me, especially once the shadows seemed to head out of the door and we were left alone.
With some effort, I managed to work the scarf out of my mouth, and as the saliva soaked cloth dropped onto my chest I asked Jenn if she was all right. She grunted once, and I started to move my head up and down to try and dislodge the pillow case.
When I eventually did so, I saw we were in a storeroom, and I could hear traffic outside. I still had my shoes on, and by rocking the chair up and down finally managed to get my bound ankles free from the leg they were tied to. That was when I managed to kick my shoe through the window, and scream for help.
Ladies, in relating these tales my intention is not to unduly frighten you to cause you distress, but to tell you that it is possible that these things will happen, and when they do your primary concern, your number one focus must be your own safety and the safety of those unfortunate enough to be in the same situation. Money, jewellery, all is replaceable, but your life and your well being are not.
Over the last few years, for example, I have been unfortunate enough to have been held hostage in my own home while the gang seek to extort money from my husband. One occasion found me without a skirt, my work coat pulled open and my underwear there for all to see, while I was roughly tied in our living room. Another found me stripped of my gardening clothes and tied to a chair in our gazebo. Over the years, I have met criminals from the unfailingly polite to the truly vicious, from the calm professional to those who panic at the slightest sound.
On all cases, they have not won, because I have managed to stay calm, I have not shown fear, I have shown them dignity in distress and calm in catastrophe, and I say to you all now; do the same if it happens to you.
I assure you, whatever happens, I have been there. Thank you again for the presentation, and please, don’t have nightmares.
As the applause continued, the scene pulled back on the assembled women while she watched.
“A stirring speech – and I see you still put the ideals into practice.”
She looked up at the young man who had interrupted her viewing of the speech when he burst into the room. He had paused it long enough to use some duct tape to tape her wrists to the back of the wooden chair, her chest to the back support and her ankles to the front legs, before gagging her with three strips over her mouth.
“Stiff upper lip,” he sneered as he ran out, carrying the small bag containing her jewellery as he did so. She sat still, calming herself and looking for a way to raise the alarm once the time had passed.
It was what she always did, even now – and what she would probably always do. Those were the risks of being the wife of a bank manager…