The Cat Holds Court
Welcome back – please, sit down, take the weight off your feet, have some tea. I was just having a conversation with an old friend, and fixing up to call on her in her home at some point.
I guess that’s one of the reasons I like to do home visits for security consultations and the like – I want to meet people and help them, as opposed to my younger days, when I wanted to meet people and take their valuables. That did not mean I did not get to know them as well – take, for example, the Chelsea housewife I met in the early eighties.
It was at the height of the Sloane ranger movement, and this particular ground floor flat belonged to a scion of that movement. She was in her PR job that morning, so I decided to break in and relieve her debt burden somewhat. Entering the flat was easy enough, as I slipped into the front door as someone else came out, and then picked the lock.
What I had not figured on was the fact she was a bit more organised than your usual Hooray Henrietta, and that there was a housekeeper in residence. She was in her early thirties, and wore a mustard coloured jumper and slacks with a red apron over her front. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a pigtail, but as she looked at me I think I was more surprised than she was.
“Hi,” I said eventually across the kitchen, “I’m afraid I’m here to rob your employer. Are you going to cause me any trouble?”
She looked at me for a few moments, and then shook her head as she said “Why would I? You’re armed, aren’t you?”
Well, I wasn’t, but I smiled and said “I’m not going to deny that. Are those biscuits I smell cooking?”
She nodded as I walked into the kitchen. “Well, it would be a pity if they burned. If you promise not to raise the alarm, I’ll let you get them out of the oven and start cooling before I tie you up.”
“Thanks,” she said as I pulled the cord of the kitchen phone free from the wall, and then sat down. We had a very pleasant chat about the weather, politics, a whole range of topics as she took the biscuits out, and then poured me a cup of tea as we sat and talked some more.
Pleasant as that was, though, time was marching on, so when she eventually said “I guess you’re going to have to stop me raising the alarm, aren’t you?”
“Sadly, yes,” I said with a smile, “but I think I’ll take care of you where you are sitting. Do you have any duct tape in here?”
“Under the sink,” she said, so I found the roll of duct tape and then taped her wrists to the chair back, before I wound it around her stomach and her upper arms to hold her to the chair.
I then knelt down in front of her and taped her ankles and legs to the front legs of the chair, before I tore a strip off and held it in my gloved hands.
“Naturally,” I said quietly, “you would not tell me where her valuables or safe are?”
“Naturally, I would not mention the wardrobe in her room and the middle drawer.”
“I did not think you would – now please, purse your lips.”
As she did so, I smoothed several strips of tape over her mouth, and then left her there while I stole her employer’s valuables – but left her handbag and purse untouched.
Coming back in, I checked the tape was holding firm, and then left with a promise to call the police after a short interval – a promise I kept. After all, I always keep my promises, as you well know.
Yeah, it was a short and sweet encounter, but sometimes I have been known to gain entry to a house by other means, up to and including knocking on the front door. You would be amazed how many housewives even today are willing to trust someone who says they are there for a survey or something. Not the old cliché about a meter reading or something – but back then...
This again would have been in the early eighties, and I was walking past a row of very nice looking houses when I noticed a delivery to this one house. The woman who answered the door was wearing a white cardigan over a long cream dress that had a blue china–type pattern printed on it, and blue zipped leather boots. I could see she was taking delivery of some very nice antique furniture, and – well, something inside me said that I should see what else I could find in her house.
So I allowed her some time to collect herself, and then walked up to the front door, using the metal knocker to announce my presence. I was wearing a blue blazer over a white jumper, dark trousers, a cloth cap and dark glasses. I know, I know – very fashionable, but it was what I had on at the time.
“Yes, can I help you,” she said as she came to the door, and I saw the blue bead necklace around her neck. Her dark brown hair was cut in a bob to frame her face as she looked at me.
“Sorry to disturb you,” I said quietly, “but I’ve been doing a door to door survey in the area, and I was wondering if you would have time to answer a few questions?”
“Oh, about what?”
“Crime in the local area,” I said with a smile. “I understand if you don’t have time, but if you can spare a few minutes?”
“Crime? Of course, please come in,” she said as she held the door open, and I went in, not quite believing my luck as she closed the door behind me. “May I offer you some tea, Mister...”
“Smith,” I said, “and tea would be lovely, thank you.” She showed me into the front room, and I admired a collection of snuff boxes on her mantelpiece before she carried a tray in.
“So, Mister Smith,” she said as she poured the tea, and handed me a cup, “what questions do you have to ask?”
“Well,” I said as I sipped my tea, and said “thank you for this by the way – are you concerned about the increase in opportunistic robberies in the local area?”
“Of course I am,” she said as she sipped her tea, “after all, it’s getting to the stage where someone can just walk in off the street and steal your things.”
“Uninvited, of course?”
“Of course,” she said with a smile. “That’s why I take security very seriously.”
“I am so glad to hear it with these valuable antiques in here,” I said with a smile, “but I wonder if you think you would be duped by someone pretending to be a delivery person, or a plumber – or a survey taker?”
“Why no, I don’t think I would...” She then stopped and looked at me, putting her teacup down as she said “oh – oh dear.”
“Indeed,” I said as I reached into my pocket and drew out a roll of black electrical tape. “Please, lie face down and put your hands behind your back – I promise you, I will be gentle.”
“I guess I walked into that one, didn’t I,” she said, but she did as I asked, while I crossed and taped her wrists together behind her back, and then taped her ankles together, as well as her legs above her knees and over her skirt, as well as a band of tape around her stomach to secure her arms to her sides.
“Now,” I said as I took a clean hanky from my pocket and folded it, “open wide please.”
“Do you have to gag me?”
“I’m going to search your house – would you leave me to raise the alarm if you were me?”
Shaking her head, she allowed me to gag her, the tape covering her lips, before I found quite a lot of nice valuables and left her struggling on the couch.
I always found it easier to get entry to houses if I was able to help someone - a trick I learned very early on in about 1973. I was walking down Totting Bec when I saw this young lady struggling with the boxes she was carrying. She was wearing a brown dress with short puffed sleeves to her elbows, and knee length black patent leather boots that laced up the front.
“thanks,” she said as she smiled, her light brown hair framing her face, “you couldn’t give me a hand back to my flat could you? It’s just around the corner.”
“But of course – a gentleman never refuses the request of a damsel in distress,” I said as we walked round the corner, and she opened the door to a ground floor flat. I carried the boxes in and laid them down on a coffee table as she said “thanks – how can I reward you?”
“Well, a cold drink won’t go amiss,” I said, so we went into the kitchen and she got me a bottle of coke from the fridge, opening it before she handed it to me.
“Nice flat,” I said as I looked round, “but you need to get that fastening on the kitchen window fixed.”
“Oh,” she said as she looked at the window, with the flaking blue paint and old metal fastener, “why?”
“A cat burglar would be able to open that without any difficulty, and steal what you have.”
“Oh come on,” she said as she laughed, “and what would he do?”
“Something like this,” I said as I put the bottle down, and walked behind her, putting my hand over her mouth as I said “Hush now – just do as I say, and you won’t get hurt. Nod if you understand.”
That took her by surprise, but as she slowly nodded I said “Good – now, I need to tie you up to keep you out of the way while I look round. Have you got some washing line or some string?”
“Ruserrsss,” she said as she leaned back and looked up at me.
“Oh I am serious – you see, I am a cat burglar.”
Her eyes widened for a moment, and then said “llbqweet” as I removed my hand.
“there’s some washing line in the drawer there – are you really a cat burglar?”
“Sorry, but I am,” I said as I found the rope, and picked up a pair of scissors as well. “Now, why don’t you come into your front room and I’ll make sure you’re comfortable.”
We went into the front room, and I cut a length of cord from the line, using it to tie her wrists together in front of her as she sat on a leather couch. I then cut a second length of rope off and tied her ankles tightly together, the rope squeaking as it rubbed against the leather, and then used the rest of the rope to secure her ankles to her wrists.
“Now then,” I said as I smiled, “purse your lips for me.”
An old fashioned term, but not then, as I took a strip of sticking plaster from my pocket and stuck it over her mouth stretching from ear to ear. I then did a quick search of the flat, and walked back out again. I figured it would not take her long to get free, and then – well, I would not be in the area for a while after that anyway.
I hadn’t actually finished my apprenticeship at that point, so I was a little cocky. Actually, no – I was VERY cocky, so a couple of years later I had learned to be a bit more considerate and prepared.
This was in the autumn, in the midlands, and it was starting to grow dark as I forced the kitchen window of the smart little Barrett Box and got into the kitchen. It was nice and neat, so I left as little mess as possible as I went into the front room, and then up the open staircase to the bedrooms.
The woman of the house certainly had some nice pieces, and I soon had them safely stowed away. I was about to leave when I saw the light go on downstairs, and heard someone moving about.
Now these houses – there was no way to sneak down the stairs and get out of the door if someone was in the front room, so I had to find something I could use if I had to. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom provided what I needed, and as I tried to make my way down stairs I could see I was going to need it.
Sitting in a chair watching the television was a tall woman, thin, with her blonde hair held in a ponytail by a patterned scarf. She was wearing a grey sleeveless mini dress that had white buttons up the front, and a pair of brown sandals – and as I reached the bottom of the stairs, she looked up and saw me.
“Hello,” I said quietly, “I just stole your valuables, and I’m afraid I need to make sure you cannot raise the alarm before I get the chance to make a getaway.”
She just stared at me, as I walked over and guided her hands behind her back, using the roll of plaster I had found in the medicine cabinet to tape her wrists together behind her back.
“Oh god, you’re not joking are you,” she whispered as I taped her ankles side by side.
“No I’m not joking – I have stolen your valuables, and now I’m going to make my getaway, as soon as I make sure you find it difficult to raise the alarm.” I untied the scarf from her hair, shaking it to get any stray hairs out before I rolled it into a tight band and tied it between her lips, the scarf sitting between her teeth before I covered her lips with the brown plaster.
Now, if that had been it, I would have been fine – made my getaway, no problem. What I wasn’t expecting was for the door to open, and the exact twin of the girl I had just taped and gagged to come in. She was wearing a short sleeved cream minidress with a pink floral motif, and red sandshoes.
“Hey, Sis,” she said as she closed the door and turned round, “I was just passing and ohmygodwhotheheckareyouandwhathaveyoudonetomysister?”
“The same thing I need to do to you, my dear, so that I can make my escape with her valuables,” I said quietly. There was a wooden rocking chair on the other side of the room, so I took her by the arm and walked her over to it, not giving her a chance to object before I taped her wrists to the arms of the chair, and her ankles together.
“He really is a burglar sis,” she said as she looked over, her sister nodding as I looked in the kitchen for a moment, and came back with a white tea towel which I had folded into a band.
“Open wide,” I said as I used it to keep the twin sister quiet, and then got out of there as quietly and as quickly as I could, given the circumstances.
Even when you have planned, things can still go slightly wrong. A year or two later, which was still about the time of the Silver Jubilee, certain items I had arranged to be shipped to me from some jobs in the north to a safe house I had were delivered by accident to the wrong address – which meant I had to go and collect them.
Now, remember this was a dummy address, so I had to be prepared for anything. I had a brown leather satchel with me, containing certain items which I may have to use if there was a problem, and I held it in my gloved hand as I knocked on the door f the terraced house next door.
It was opened by a tall thin girl, and she obviously had some Indian heritage about her judging by the skin tone. She was wearing a long sleeved white blouse with a wide collar, and a purple crochet mini skirt with brown wedge shoes.
“Hello,” she said as she looked at me, her long brown hair falling over her shoulders, “can I help you?”
“Yeah,” I said quietly, “I understand a parcel was delivered to you by accident instead of to me. I was wondering if I could claim it?”
“Oh you must be Mr Jacobs,” she said as she opened the door, “please, come in. The parcel is in the front room.”
As I went in, I saw another girl there who obviously her sister. She had the same build and similar facial features, and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing a pale blue minidress with puffed short sleeves, and a pair of knee length white leather lace up boots.
“Is this it,” the first girl said as she showed me the parcel on the table. I looked at it and nodded, but then I noticed the magazine the second girl was reading.
“A detective magazine? Do you like that sort of thing?”
“I like reading the stories,” she said as he looked at me, “Nikki does as well.”
“Now Shari,” the first girl said, “Mister Jacobs does not need to know this.”
“Oh it’s all right,” I said, “what do you find most exciting about them?”
“Well – I do wonder what it would be like to be held captive like that.”
“It’s all right,” I said quietly, “look, I do some prep work for these mags. If you wanted, I could show you what it feels like?”
“You could? How?”
“Do you have any rope in the house?”
“We have some – why?”
“Well, if you’re ready to try a risk...”
“I don’t believe I’m agreeing to this,” Nikki said, but she left the room for a minute, returning with several lengths of rope. “You might as well do it to both of us – like a real burglar would.”
“All right then – please, both of you, kneel in front of the couch and put your hands behind your back.”
As they did so, I started with Shari, crossing her wrists and tying them together, before I secured her ankles together. I heard the squeak as she rubbed her legs together as I secure the wrists and ankles of Nikki.
“Now,” I said as I helped them to sit back to back, and secured their legs together below their knees, “the burglar would tie you both together with the rest of the rope, and then use scarves to gag you. Where do you keep your scarves?”
“In the hall cupboard,” Nikki said as I used the last of the rope to secure them together around their waists, and then fetched two long chiffon scarves. I used them as cleave gags for both women, and said “Is anyone home soon?”
“Nbuttffftnmmns” Shari said as she nodded and looked at me.
“All right, well when they find you, remember to tell them it was a game, but the friend got called away,” I said as I picked up my parcel. They both nodded as I left them to enjoy the feeling of entrapment, and made my way out with my parcel.
Even today, from time to time I get asked to play the part of a doorstep caller. I had a visitor to the shop – a Muslim gentlemen – who had bought some valuables, and then made an unusual request.
“I understand, Mister Jacobs,” he said as I processed his purchases, “you have a – shall we say, colourful past?”
I looked at him and said “Mostly rumour, I assure you. Why do you ask?”
“My wife – she does not believe that it is possible to be surprised by a man on the doorstep who will rob her. As a security expert, what would you suggest as a way to teach her the truth of this?”
“Testimony from others, or a visit from an expert,” I said as I handed him his receipt.
“Would you be willing to pay a visit – as an expert?”
“Are you asking what I believe you are asking Sir?”
“If you would, say at ten this Saturday morning, I would be home by eleven, and I would be grateful.”
I looked at him, and then said “if I do what you are suggesting, there must be no police – this is a private matter between you, your wife and me.”
“I agree – can you do it?”
Well, Saturday morning, ten am, and I stood outside the front door of the house in question. I was wearing a brown leather jacket, and brown trousers as well as leather gloves, and a woollen hat over my head. I knocked on the door, looked round, and then pulled the hat down, the balaclava leaving only my lips and eyes showing.
The door was opened by a young woman, her head covered in a black scarf wearing a white blouse with blue horizontal stripes, a long blue skirt with white polka dots, and black lace up shoes.
“Yes, can I Hlppuuuu,” she said as I pushed her gently back inside, holding her against the wall as I covered her mouth with my hand, her eyes wide as she looked at me.
“Not a word – do as I say and you won’t get hurt, understand?”
She nodded as she continued to stare at me, then shook her head as I asked if anyone else was in the house.
“Good – I’m going to take my hand away, and I want you to turn around and put your hands behind your back. Understand?”
She nodded again, so I took my hand away and watched as she turned round, before I held her wrists crossed behind her back and took a length of cord from my jacket pocket, which I used to secure her wrists tightly together. I then took a second length and used it to secure her arms to her sides just below her elbows.
“All right,” I said quietly, “you walk in front of me, into your front room, and sit down. Not a word, understand?”
She nodded as she walked in front of me – and I felt a little guilty for scaring her so much, but her husband wanted her to learn the lesson. In the room, she sat in a chair as I went and closed the curtains, and then knelt in front of her, taking more cord from my pocket and using it to secure her ankles tightly together, and then her legs above her knees, gathering skirts around her legs as I did so.
“Now don’t move,” I said as I went back into the hallway, and returned with a long white scarf – which I used as a detective gag over her mouth, tying it over the scarf that covered her hair to keep her quiet.
“I’m just going to look around,” I said as I stepped out, and she sat there, too scared to move until her husband let himself quietly in. He nodded to me as I slipped out - and I truly pray she learned the lesson.
It’s nice to keep in practice from time to time – more tea?