I finally caught up with one time Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones press spokesman Michael Morgan at his Hackney flat yesterday. We spent much of the day going over Ray’s life-story, and Michael also kindly presented me with a bundle of press clippings and other material he’d photocopied for me.
Among the many impressive cuttings Michael Morgan gave me is one entitled ‘The Night I Stole Liz’s Jewels In The Gresham’ (from the Irish tabloid The Sunday World, 23 November 1997):
“One of the world’s oldest jewel thieves has spilled the beans on how he amassed a £5 million fortune by robbing top showbiz stars as revenge for his brother’s tragic death in a World War II bombing raid. And legendary burglar Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones says one of his most memorable jobs was when he broke into a Dublin hotel room and stole jewels belonging to superstar Elizabeth Taylor…
“…Ray told the Sunday World: ‘Way back in 1940 I was due to fight for the World Middleweight Championship… I was real good and I had boxed and beaten the legendary Fred(die) Mills and now I was in with a chance of a World Crown. But I was involved in a melee in London and was charged with hitting a copper. I found out later that the copper was himself a middleweight boxer. They framed me to get me out of the way. I got six years for the assault.’
“His brother, who lived in the family home in Gwent, South Wales, came to visit Ray in Pentonville prison in North London. But he was tragically killed in the first bombing of London by the Nazis at the end of 1940…. Said Ray: ‘I got on my knees in my prison cell. I vowed I would hit back at society and the judiciary for taking the things I cared most about in life away from me. When I got out, I said to myself, I would become the greatest cat burglar in the world. That was my mission in life… I would only hit rich people. They were the cream of the crop and had everything they wanted. I had been robbed of my life. I had to hit back.’ ”
My chat with Michael Morgan, other papers he gave me and one of my previous blogs about Ray The Cat, can fill in a few details here. Jones had moved to London around 1936 to further his boxing career and had settled in Maida Vale. One Sunday morning in 1937 he went for a stroll with a friend and they were stopped by the Old Bill under the notorious SUS law (this allowed the cops to stop, search -and even arrest – anyone on the suspicion they were going to commit a crime; the law was finally abolished after the Scarman enquiry highlighted the role its use played in the 1981 Brixton riots). Metropolitan police boxing champion PC Spratt told Ray he was being arrested for SUS, and when Jones protested he hadn’t done anything, this bully-boy cop grabbed Jones by the collar and punched him in the face. Ray fell back against the wall, sprang up and with a well-placed punch KOed the violent thug who was attacking him.
The knock-out blow delivered against the best fighter in the Met was a clear-cut case of self-defence, but Ray and his friend understood the necessity of being on their toes, and the cops didn’t catch up with Jones for three years. When they did, the crown used Ray’s sporting nickname of ‘Slasher Davies’ to falsely paint him as a violent thug involved in razor attacks on innocent members of the public; when in reality the moniker was derived from his punching prowess in the boxing ring. As a result, Jones did a six year stretch for an assault perpetrated not by him, but against him!
Jones insisted that he was innocent of both this and the alleged crimes (thefts of coal, shoes and a bottle of milk) that led to the spell he spent in Reform School as a boy. However, Ray was guilty of the robberies for which he was sent down at the Old Bailey in 1952, since he’d decided to hit back against the rich who were ruining society and making life a misery for poor families like his own, by stealing from aristocrats and showbiz stars. Unfortunately, despite Ray’s guilt in this instance, there were to be more fit-ups. The outline for the official biography of Ray’s life (the book was never written) includes the following: “Within eight days of leaving prison he was arrested for living on the immoral earnings of prostitution. Despite the fact that he had only been out of prison a week, and that the woman concerned was not a prostitute he was sentenced to a further 6 months. Ray says that years later the officer who had arrested him, admitted that he had been framed on directions from someone in Scotland Yard.”
Another frame-up took place in 1957, the filth used a nark to lure Jones to a London cul-de-sac in which they’d parked a a stolen car and then arrested him for the theft. This led to Ray’s famous escape from Pentonville in October 1958, when using ladders left by a work gang doing repairs to the prison, he and Johnny Rider got onto the roof and then down the walls. When Ray fell and injured himself, Rider attempted to carry him but Jones insisted his friend run on because it was important at least one of them got away; sadly Rider was recaptured very shortly afterwards. Jones managed to crawl to safety and eventually asked a couple of men, one of whom was an ex-con, for help in return for money. They drove him to a pub run by one of his cousins (one of the sons of his west London based gangster uncle Dennis ‘Dinny’ Callaghan), who gave him the keys to a flat where he could clean himself up and rest. Unfortunately the landlord was inspecting the property when Jones arrived and told him to go away, since he didn’t want someone covered in blood going into his building. Ray then directed the men aiding his escape to the home of a fence called Benny Selby, who paid them £50 and helped him clean up.
Eventually Ray found a flat to stay in, and his wife Anne who worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital For Children in Hackney Road, persuaded a doctor she knew there to attend to her husband’s injuries. Once he’d healed up, Jones went back to his chosen profession of robbing the rich. While Ray was on the run, Peter Scott approached him and said he’d been given inside information on a big job by a couple of bent coppers. Scott needed a skilled accomplice to rob Sophia Loren (who was making The Millionairess in England) of her jewels; once these had been flogged the detectives who’d put them up for the theft would be paid off with £6000.
The raid took place in May 1960, with the bumbling Scott acting as look-out and Ray breaking into Loren’s bedroom to steal the diamonds. The haul was sold to a fence for £44,000, with Scott and Jones netting nearly £19,000 each (slightly less because of expenses on top of the bung to the filth). Scott visited Jones immediately after paying off the bent coppers at a White City Stadium dog race, claiming that they’d read in the papers the stolen jewels were worth £185,000 and they wanted another £6000 for putting up the job. Ray thought Scott was trying to con him out of three grand and refused to give him any cash.
After he was recaptured in October 1960, Ray suspected that Scott may have given the cops the information that enabled them to track him down; the look-out was pissed off that Jones hadn’t coughed-up the extra money he later discovered the bent detectives had indeed demanded. Despite his suspicions on this score, when Ray decided to go public about having done the Sophia Loren job in the early 1990s, he warned Scott he was going to do so. At the time Scott begged Jones not to mention his name, and Ray respected his wishes although he harboured serious doubts about the integrity of this ‘man’.
Ray’s 2 years and 28 days on the run from Pentonville apparently earned him a place in The Guinness Book of Records. Michael Morgan also told me that Ray’s younger daughter Anne-Marie Jones was both conceived and born while he was on the lam; her older sibling Beryl was born before the 1957 fit-up. Thanks to Michael Morgan I also have yet more tales to tell about Ray The Cat, but they won’t all fit into one blog…. So the further adventures of this 20th century Robin Hood will have to wait for now! But before going, I would like to emphasise the injustice of the fit-ups Ray suffered: he claimed that 17 of the 33 years he spent in jail were for crimes of which he was innocent…
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!