Here – nice and hot, as we like it.
So, I heard you had to spend some time with your grandmother last week? No, don’t say you didn’t enjoy it, I know you did. Anyway, it should always the case that you are polite to those who are older than you, wherever and whatever the circumstances.
Yes, even in my line of work, or at least my previous line of work. My parents brought me up to respect my elders, and I still do so, even if I am the same age as some of them now.
Actually, considering those who are your elders came back to me when I came across some things I picked up at my last antiques fair trip. Interesting one, that – I had to go after someone who tried to con me out of some money and get it back from them, or at least from their house.
This small-time dealer tried to sell me some snuff boxes, and claimed they were genuine silver. When I got them back to my hotel room and tested them, I found out they were silver plate, but when I went back to remonstrate with him he had done a runner.
Not fast enough for me, however – I called a few friends in the area, all of whom knew his reputation, and found his home address. So I drove round there, knocked on the door and had the pleasure of meeting his delightful wife.
She must have been in her early fifties, with greying black hair, but trying to look like someone twenty years younger. The thing is, she managed it – she was wearing one of those long sleeved white thermal tops under a dark blue lumberjack shirt with a large black check, buttoned to just below her breasts and with a wide black leather belt around her waist. She also had on tight dark grey leggings and black leather boots that pulled up the calves and came to just over the knee.
Well, I explained that I had some business to finish with her husband, but that brought a tirade of abuse that was – well, heartfelt. When she had finished, I said that I entirely agreed with her, and could I come in to discuss the situation? She agreed, we had a chat, and she saw my point of view quite clearly. So much so, she agreed to let me “rob” her to pay him back.
I suggested she have a seat on an old wooden chair in his study, while she in turn found a length of washing line and handed it to me. I made a lasso at one end, passed it over her chest and chair as she held her hands up and pulled it tightly, then wound the rope around and between her wrists to hold them together. She complemented me on my rope work as I quickly lashed her legs together above the knee, then finally her ankles and tied the tow loose ends around a leg of the chair.
As she tested what limited movement she had, I opened the safe using the combination she gave me and pocketed a few items of very expensive, and genuine 24 carat gold, jewellery. Thanking her for her cooperation, I untied a blue bandana she had tied in her hair to keep her hair in place, shook it out and rolled it into a thick band. A knot tied in the middle; she was soon quietly and effectively gagged, smiling at me as I took my leave.
You see, I would not have been able to do that without being polite and respecting her point of view as well. For one thing, I’m getting too old to do this sort of thing forcefully, and for another it always leaves a better impression. I learnt that fact very early on in my career.
This would have been around 1969, and I was just going solo when I broke into this flat in the east end of London. I was rummaging through the drawers, and had found some nice items when I heard a noise behind me and turned round as the room light was turned on.
I was about 25 at this point, and there before me was a woman in her late fifties, her hair in curlers with a net over the arrangement to hold it in place. She was wearing a quilted dressing gown and white fluffy slippers on her feet, and looked at me with a look that spoke of intrigue and some fear.
I stared back, not quite sure of what to do in this situation. At that time, I was still a little green, and unsure of the correct thing to do, so manners won out and I said “Good Evening.”
She responded in kind, and standing to one side she asked me to leave. Well, I went to walk past her, but as I went through the door I grabbed her by the arm and made her walk over to the bed, lying face down on it. I apologised profusely to her for my conduct, but explained that I had to make sure she could not raise the alarm before I made my escape. Looking around the floor, I saw a pair of nylon tights, so I picked them up and used them to tie her wrists together behind her back, making sure I kept them over the sleeves of her robe to stop cutting off her circulation.
Rolling her over onto her front, I talked to her, telling her calmly that I wasn’t going to hurt her but merely prevent her from raising the alarm. Once she got the idea that I meant that, she calmed down and asked if she could lie down properly. I helped her to do that, then took a pillowcase from her bed and ripped it into two parts. The first I used to bind her ankles together, the second to gag her by rolling it into a band and pulling it between her teeth.
I was out of that flat quicker than you can say Speedy Gonzales, I can tell you. I suppose she managed to free herself eventually, but I didn’t go near that area for quite some time.
You see, as I’ve said before for a cat burglar the idea is not to be seen, not to be caught. Yes, you know it can happen, and you treat it as an occupational hazard, but you must always show respect. That is never truer than when you are dealing with one of the older members of the population – respect is everything, and if you show respect then respect will be shown back to you. Let me give you an example.
It was 1977 – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and street parties were taking place everywhere in the country. Well, it’s an open invitation, isn’t it – so I decided before going to see my own relatives to visit a few houses along the way.
As everyone was outside, I took the back alleys and at least for the first three houses the plan worked fine – in, out, no problem. I should have realised my luck was not going to last, but I was young, and not thinking that straight, so I open the kitchen of this terraced house, walk in – and come face to face with a woman in her sixties, cutting sandwiches with a bread knife.
She stood there, in a cream coloured blouse and mid-length skirt, with her grey hair tied up in a bun, and I could see she was wondering what to do next. I decided I needed to take the lead, so I walked over to her and took the knife out of her hand, saying as I did so that I just wanted her money and she should not make a fuss. She looked at my gloved hand holding her wrist, and shook her head when I asked if anyone else was in the house.
I then asked her who the sandwiches were for, and as I suspected she said they were for a street party later, when she joined her daughter who lived down the road. I realised at that point I did not have a lot of time, so I asked her to come with me into the front room of her house, and to draw the blinds. Although I hate to use weapons, I took the knife with me more to stop her doing anything stupid than to actually use. Of course, she was not to know that, but when life gives you lemons…
As we walked down the corridor, I took a large headscarf that was hanging on a coat hook and stuffed it into my back pocket. I also assured the woman that so long as she did what I said, she would not be harmed – this seemed to calm her a little, so that when we entered the room I only needed to ask her to close the curtains.
Looking round the room, I saw a number of small boxes on the coffee table. I also saw a ball of string, so I asked her to sit down and put her hands out in front of her while I used the string to tie her wrists together. Sitting down next to her, I opened the box and was surprised to see a George Medal. I asked her if this belonged to anyone in her family, and she nodded. When I asked who, however, I got a surprise – it was hers.
She then asked me if I had served in the army, and I had to admit I hadn’t – I was too young for World War II, and the draft somehow missed me. In return, I asked her to tell me what she had won it for. It turned out she had been a teacher in a school which had been hit by a doodlebug, and she had gone back into the burning building to lead a group of children out that were trapped inside.
I have to admit, I had a tear in my eye when she had finished, and I had to apologise for what I was doing. I also thanked her – for all I know, I may have been related to one of those children. She said she understood, but also told me to get of her house before she raised the alarm. Well, that reminded me of why I was there, so I took the scarf and rolled it into a thick band, which I tied over her mouth. Not the most effective of gags, you might think, but those were the days of cotton headscarves, and it was a surprisingly effective muffler.
I then helped her to lie down on the couch, and used the ball of string to tie her ankles together, leaving her there as I took her purse and made a quick exit. The medals stayed – I had no right to them at all, no right at all.
The funniest encounter I ever had with an old dear, if I may use that term, would have been in the mid-eighties when I spent some time up in the North East of England. There’s an area of Newcastle called Fenham, a mixture of old terraced houses and flats, and one particular street had a cemetery on one side which made it very quiet and secluded. The backs of the houses also had high walls with doors in them, which were ridiculously easy to pick, as I knew when I made my way into the back alley and forced the back door of this particular house open.
It was very nicely decorated, with lots of lace and pictures of the occupant’s family, children and husband, and a large collection of porcelain figures. I had been through the bedrooms, and was admiring the figurines with such concentration I failed to notice the door to the house opening and closing, until this very polite voice asked me who I was.
I was wearing a roll neck sweater and dark trousers at the time, with a woollen hat on my head and dark glasses – a stupid disguise, perhaps, but you would be surprised how well it worked at the time. I turned round to see a grey haired woman looking at me as she stood there in a brown tweed coat, holding her handbag. She had a pair of turtle shell glasses on and a mildly amused expression on her face.
Well, you know me, honest as the day is long, so I said I had broken into her house, and had been admiring her collection of figurines. What she did next was one of those surprises you get so rarely in my line of work – she asked me if I would like a cup of tea. Well, I said yes, but also said I would have to follow her into the kitchen to make sure she didn’t raise the alarm. She nodded, and we made our way back down the narrow passageway.
She took off her coat, to reveal a white woollen sweater and blue trousers, and poured some water into the kettle to put on the stove. While the water was heating up, she asked me why I had picked her house to break into. I had to admit it was random chance – it could have been any of the houses. That was a slight lie – quite a few of the houses were occupied by students, and I’d already ruled those ones out. It seemed prudent at the time, however, to not say that. She loaded up a tray with cups, saucers and other things, and asked if I would carry it in for her. I agreed, provided she walked in front of me and did not try to run off. She laughed at that, touching her hip to indicate that might not be possible, and we made our way back to the front room.
Well, we sat for a while and we talked. It turned out she lived on her own – her husband had died earlier in the year, and she was visiting his grave when I entered the house. From outside, the sound of swallows in the tress was quite audible, as the whole street seemed to be more silent than elsewhere. She talked about her family, showing me some photos as we sat together, as well as some of her memories of the area, such as when the local convent was much more active – the reason why there were no public bars in the area.
At any rate, the sun was starting to go down when I realised that I had to leave, and very apologetically said I needed to make sure she could not raise the alarm. She laughed at that, and said she understood, but wondered if I would do her two favours. The first was to allow her to watch the television – the second was to allow her to go to the toilet first. I agreed to both, but said I had to accompany her as I did to the kitchen.
As I stood outside the door, and heard her flush the toilet, I realised as she came out that she looked slightly different. Looking through the bathroom door, I realised why – in a glass on the sink, filled with water that was slightly fizzing, was a set of dentures. She saw me looking there, and explained she didn’t want to have any problems with them if I was going to prevent her raising the alarm.
We went back to the living room, and I invited her to take a seat in a chair that I had pulled away from her dining table. As she sat down, I pulled the blinds to, and asked her to let her hands drop down to her side. Using a roll of silver duct tape, I secured her wrists to the wooden back rest of the chair, and wrapped a length around her waist for further security.
She smiled at me as I knelt down to secure her ankles together, and thanked me for the company. I, in return, thanked her for the tea, and then told her to put her lips together. Before she did that, however, she asked if I would ring her daughter and ask her to call round in a little while. I agreed to, and smoothed a length of tape over her lips. Turning the television on, I left her to her own amusement while I slipped out.
Of course I called the daughter – I didn’t want that lovely old woman to be restrained for any longer than necessary.
There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve been visiting elderly people in their homes and we have been interrupted, but usually I manage to deal with them, often with the help of the person I’m visiting. Surprised? You should not be – if you are polite but firm, you can often get your own way without resorting to threats. Let me tell you of one such occasion.
It was the outskirts of London in the late Nineties, and I had broken into this detached house only to have the bad luck to find the resident – well, in residence. She was actually a very attractive older woman, tall and graceful, wearing a white silk blouse and a black leather skirt that made her look a lot younger. Only her greying temples revealed her likely age. She had her back to me when I saw her, so I had to quietly come up behind her and hand gag her, whispering in her ear at the time not to struggle and she would be all right.
By this time I was carrying some lengths of rope with me just in case, so I made her kneel down slowly in front of a couch in the room and put her hands behind her back. As I passed the rope around her wrists, I assured her repeatedly that she would not be harmed, so long as she did what I said. She turned her head round, and asked me if I was going to do anything else to her. There was a genuine note of terror in her voice, so as I tied the ropes off I reassured her that I just wanted her money and her valuables, not her body, lovely as it was.
Well, as I helped her to stand up and turn round I got my first good look at her face. It was beautiful, her blue eyes twinkling as she looked at me and smiled. “Thank you for saying you won’t hurt me,” she said as I recall, “this isn’t the first time I’ve been robbed.”
I sat her down next to me and asked her what had happened the last time. Well, she had been one of a group of women held hostage in a bank where she had worked, and the gang had been, shall we say, less than gentle with them. That explained to me her fears, so I apologised if I had been a little rough and assured her that beyond restraining her, I would cause her no harm.
That, of course, would be the cue for the front door to open. I reached over with one arm and pulled the woman towards me, gagging her again with my other hand, as the room door opened and a younger woman walked in. She was wearing a white sundress with black polka dots over a black jumper and leggings, and had baggy black felt boots on her feet. She just had time to say “Hi Gran,” when she saw me sitting there and stopped in her tracks.
I took my hand away from her mouth, and the grandmother told her daughter to close the door and come and sit down. As she did so, she asked if this was a robbery, and I nodded in reply. “Is this like last time,” she asked her grandmother, but the old dear shook her head and said no, this time was different. I asked them their names, and the older woman said she was Diane, while her granddaughter’s name was Julie.
I told Julie that I did not mean to harm them, but I was intending to steal some of her grandmother’s belongings – nothing more that that. She visibly relaxed when she heard that, and asked what I intended to do next. Well, that was actually an interesting question – I had enough rope with me to secure one person, but two?
To buy myself some time, I took another length from my pocket, walked behind the younger girl and gently pulled her wrists behind her back. Using the rope, I bound her wrists together, taking care to keep the rope over the cuffs of her jumper. I then checked the handbags of the two women, removing their mobile phones and switching them off before putting them into my pocket. As I was doing this, the two women were chatting as if there was nobody else in the house.
Standing up, I went round to the front of the young girl and tied her ankles together, the rope constricting the felt of her boots around her lower legs. I then took a clean handkerchief from my pocket, asked her to open wide and stuffed the cloth in. Taking her grandmother by the arm, I said if she sat still nothing else would happen, and to the older woman that if she behaved herself I would not do anything else to her granddaughter. They both nodded to show they understood, so I took Granny off on a tour of the house.
In the master bedroom, I picked up a couple of things I may need to use before leaving, and then we went into the kitchen to pick up a couple of drinks and one other thing from a store cupboard. Satisfied I had everything I needed and wanted, we went back to the room, where I found her granddaughter trying to get up on her feet.
Taking the cloth out of her mouth, I asked her what she was doing. She said something like “you can’t blame me for trying,” which I accepted, and helped her to sit back down. Sitting her grandmother at one end of the couch, I moved her over to the other end, and then offered both women a drink.
Once they had slaked their thirst, the grandmother asked what I intended to do next. The young granddaughter looked at me, the same question obviously on her mind, so I showed them both what I was going to do. First, I crossed and tied the older woman’s ankles together, and then I helped them both to sit on the couch so that they were facing each other, their backs against the arms of the couch and facing each other.
Apologising, and adjusting their skirts so that their modesty was preserved, I took the length of washing line I had taken from the kitchen and cut it into four equal lengths. I doubled one section over, leant over and wrapped it around the older woman’s legs, pulling them together and cinching the rope, before securing the loose ends around the ankle bindings of her granddaughter. Repeating the process on the younger girl’s legs, the other two lengths were used to secure their arms to their chests and keep them nice and safe.
They tried to separate themselves, but realised it was not going to be possible. I then used the small scarves I had picked up to gag them, keeping them into their mouths with two long thin scarves from the woman’s cupboard. I left them there, trying to get free, while I made my getaway.
That particular tale had a sequel of sorts, when I happened by pure circumstance to meet the young girl again. I need to keep that for another time, however – the tea has got cold, and I need to brew a fresh pot. Ready for another cup?