My post of 24 January 2009 about career criminal Ray “The Cat” Jones caused a flurry of interest. I got a couple of messages saying Ray was dead, and further confirmation of this in a comment added to that blog yesterday: “Ray died in 2001, just so you know.” Likewise, Neil Milkins told me: “I have made some enquiries with a nephew of Ray, Michael O’Dowd of Nantyglo. (Ray was his mother’s brother.) He said Ray died of cancer in London about 7 years ago.” To clarify my own distant relative status with the greatest cat burglar of all time, Ray’s mother was an older sister of my maternal grandfather David Callaghan (AKA Dai Callan), and my mother – Julia Callan-Thompson – was named after this particular aunt.
Moving on, Ray “The Cat” Jones appears as ‘Taffy Raymond’ in the autobiography of the old school heavy Eric Mason. After flashing up the name of Peter Scott, Mason gives an account of Jones loosing heavily in a Notting Hill spieler and then slipping out with his criminal accomplice George “Tatters” Catham to do a quick robbery. Upon their return Jones and Catham negotiated the price of a jewel with the governor of the spieler before resuming their places at the gaming table. South London gangster Mad Frankie Fraser tells a similar tale about Billy Benstead, and as a lead in to this story mentions that Tatters Chatham and Ray Jones numbered among the other leading cat-burglars who were also degenerate gamblers. As noted in my previous Jones blog, Fraser also cites the unaided escape Ray made from Pentonville as one of the greatest prison breakouts of all time; Mad Frankie says Jones broke both legs going over the wall and still managed to get away. Elsewhere, Fraser makes a passing reference to cat-burglar Raymond Jones having a brother known within the London underworld as Taffy Jones. But since Ray was lumbered with this appellation by Cockney villains, it may be that Mad Frankie is getting confused. In my experience Fraser and his ghost writer are not 100 percent reliable as sources.
Towards the end of his life, Ray garnered a certain amount of newspaper attention as a kind of aftermath to Peter “The Human Fly” Scott publishing his autobiography Gentleman Thief: Recollections of a Cat Burglar (1995). Scott had been a small time tea leaf until Ray introduced him to major league larceny and the support network that is essential to the headline grabbing criminal. Scott incensed Jones by using his book to claim sole credit for stealing movie star Sophia Loren’s jewels when she was filming at Elstree in 1960.
In the late nineteen-nineties and using a spokesman called Michael Morgan, Jones ran a campaign to get the public to demand that the police arrest him for this 1960 burglary. Jones asserted there had been a cover-up and that the authorities wouldn’t charge him with stealing Loren’s jewels because he’d paid corrupt police officers twelve thousand pounds for information that enabled him to secure the haul. It has even been claimed that because the police knew Jones had been wrongly jailed for another burglary, they decided not arrest him for this particular theft.
Ray claimed to have nicked sixty million pounds worth of goods during his life-of-crime. Like many other underworld figures, Jones and Scott seem to have constantly bigged up their own importance. That said, Jones was an ‘honest’ working-class criminal, not a middle-class slimeball like Scott, so while Ray may have on occasion bent the truth, what he had to say is considerably more reliable than the rot on offer in Gentleman Thief.
According to gangster Albert Donoghue, Loren’s valuable gems were fenced by George Mizel whose Hatton Garden jewellery repair business was a front for this type of activity; however, many London villains active back then believe that upon examination the Loren ‘treasures’ turned out to be paste copies, and not the valuable originals. The same sources add that fortunately Jones and Scott had also lifted this Italian sex siren’s smalls and they did terrific business flogging off her underwear. Peter Scott certainly enjoyed targeting female film stars and he readily admits he got a sexual thrill from riffling through their possessions and stealing their knickers; so this tale about Loren’s paste jewels and stolen underwear is credible albeit unproven. Regardless of its truth or falsity, it certainly makes a good story.
Bruce Reynolds in his Autobiography Of A Thief also applies the name Taffy Raymond to Ray The Cat and says: “Michael Black’s real name was Michael Hackett, a former Leicester boy who had originally been taken under the wing of Taffy Raymond in the early 1950s. Taffy was one of the older climbers who was good at finding up-and-comers, normally at the Billiard Hall in Windmill Street or somewhere like that, and he would ‘educate’ them and set them to work..” (Page 266)
Sources: Eric Mason – The Brutal Truth: The Inside Story Of A Gangland Legend (Mainstream, Edinburgh 2000). Bruce Reynolds – Autobiography Of A Thief (Virgin Books, London 2005). Albert Donoghue and Martin Short – The Enforcer: Secrets of my life with the Krays (John Blake Publishing, London 2001). Peter Scott – Gentleman Thief: Recollections of a Cat Burglar (Harper Collins, London 1995). Frankie Fraser with James Morton – Mad Frank: Memoirs of a Life of Crime (Warner Books, London 1995); Mad Frank And Friends (Warner Books, London 1999); Mad Frank’s Diary (Virgin Books, London 2001); Mad Frank’s London (Virgin Books, London 2002). Seven or so years ago when I last checked Ray out online there was some local south Wales newspaper coverage of him freely available on the web, and although that has subsequently disappeared, I made notes from it at the time. That said, you can still check “Who Done It?” Independent, November 8, 1998, via HighBeam Research or a copyright deposit library - this carries the strap-line: “Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones, who has spent more than 30 years in prison, now wants recognition for the Sixties theft of Sophia Loren’s jewels. Will Cohu hears his story”. Also available via the same sources is “Ray The Cat Book Bid,” Wales On Sunday, March 3, 2002. For this blog entry I also made use of notes from conversations I had with Mad Frankie Fraser and various other ‘old hands’ circa 2002.
Further details of Ray’s life and crimes – including exact dates for his birth and death – would, of course, be greatly appreciated in the comments.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!