Over the past year I’ve devoted a number of blogs to my first cousin once removed Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones. Having talked to various people about Ray and located assorted print references to him made after he’d retired from being the greatest cat burglar in the world, I thought it was time to dig back into the past. Old newspaper reports of Ray’s court appearances verify much of what he had to say about his life, clarify various matters, and show that more recent accounts of his famous jail break have been distorted by those retelling the tale. Doing a quick search through national newspapers, I found no reports of Ray’s boxing career, and the earliest press coverage I could locate was dated 8 March 1940. The Daily Mirror put things this way:
“Thief Celebrated With 21 Suits
“A man living on the proceeds of house breaking once had so much money that he bought 21 suits and had £50 in his pockets. And for two years his fists kept him free.
“The police stated this at the Old Bailey yesterday when Raymond Jones, 23, described as a labourer of King Edward Walk, Lambeth, London, was sentenced to two years imprisonments for causing grievous bodily harm to a constable who tried to arrest him at the Marble Arch in December 1937, and for attempted theft from a car.
“He was arrested in Lambeth last month.
“A detective said Jones admitted assaulting numerous police officers to escape arrest in the last two years and he had been living on the proceeds of house breaking.”
There was an equally biased report in The Times also of 8 March 1940:
“Caught After Two Years. Labourer’s Savage Attack On Policeman.
“After being at liberty for over two years a man who twice escaped from police in 1937, on both occasions leaving a police officer unconscious on the ground and was not recaptured until early this year at Lambeth Walk, appeared in the dock at the Central Criminal Court yesterday.
“He is Raymond Jones, 23, a labourer of King Edward Walk, and he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for causing grievous bodily harm to one of the two constables, and attempted theft from a motor-car.
“Detective Hope said the prisoner admitted assaulting several police officers in order to escape arrest in the past two years. He had been living on the proceeds of house-breaking. On one occasion he had so much money he bought 21 suits and had £50 in his pocket.
“Judge Beazley, in sentencing Jones, said he had been guilty of a savage attack.”
On the basis of these reports, the press should be in the dock, charged with spreading unctuous bullshit. As I hope I’ve made clear in my earlier blogs, Ray was not guilty, he was fitted-up. The papers, taking their cue from the Old Bill and a slimeball judge report him as being guilty of numerous assaults on cops, but he was found guilty on just one count! And in this instance, he acted in self-defence after being violently assaulted by a bully dressed in blue.
Ray’s 1952 appearance at the Old Bailey was also widely covered by the press under headlines such as Alleged Complicity In Fur Coats Theft (Times April 25 1952), £4000 Fur’s Theft, Six And A Half Year Sentence (Times 24 June 1952), and Police Kept Watch From ‘Q Van’ He Says (Daily Mirror 21 June 1952). This need not detain us, although the swiping of guests’ coats during a swanky New Year party thrown by Colonel Martin Charteris for his upper-class chums is an amusing tale; and it is also worth noting that in his evidence Ray mentioned a feud between his family and notorious 1950s gangster Billy Hill and that to defend his brother who’d been stabbed, Ray punched out the Mister Big of the London crime world. But let’s move on to Ray’s famous jail break. The Times of 18 October 1958 described it thus:
“Two Escape At Pentonville. Others Fail In Attempt.
“Five men took part in an escape attempt from Pentonville Prison last light. Three were recaptured, but two others got away. They were the first men to break out of the prison since it was reopened in 1946. A full scale search of the area was carried out.
“The men who got out of the prison were Raymond Jones, aged 42, serving 8 years preventative detention, who Scotland Yard said might be violent, and John Rider, aged 28, serving 5 years imprisonment.
“The escape was made during the period given over to evening classes. Jones and Rider found ladders being used during the repair of the prison roof, and took them to scale the 20ft wall of the prison.
“Once on top of the wall, they jumped into an alley that skirts the side of the prison and one turned left, the other right… Tracker dogs, police cars, wardens, uniformed and plain clothes police with torches toured streets around Caledonian Road.”
The Daily Mirror (18 October 1958) used Gaol Break 2 Men Hunted as its headline, and this front page story contained the following information not provided by The Times: “Two of the other three men perched on the top of the wall then dropped back into the goal yard. The third fell and was injured.” Rider enjoyed just 24 hours freedom, as The Times reported on 20 October 1958:
“John Rider aged 34, one of two men who escaped from Pentonville Prison, London, on Friday night, was recaptured on Saturday while he was asleep on a sofa in an unoccupied home at Antler Hill, Chingford, Essex.
“The search continues for the other prisoner Raymond Jones aged 42, who was serving a sentence of eight years preventative detention. Scotland Yard issued a warning he might be violent.”
The idea that Ray was potentially violent was just a cop smear designed to justify the filth’s 1940 fit-up; Ray never carried weapons, although he would defend himself with his fists if attacked. Ray also knew how to run and hide, having spent the whole of 1938 and 1939 on his toes… When he was finally recaptured The Daily Express (24 November 1960) put the story on the front page and reported it this way:
“Two-Year Escaper Caught
“Pentonville’s record escaper, Raymond Jones, was recaptured in Staines, Middlesex, last night.
He went ‘over the wall’ two years ago – the longest time a fugitive has been on the run from the jail.
“A tip-off at lunch-time sent the police to Staines. They waited six hours to seize him at a house.
“Jones, a 42 year old Welshman, was serving eight years preventative detention.”
So there you have it, plenty of contemporary documentation to confirm just why Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones is a legend! And this is also why as recently as November this year Wales On Sunday devoted yet another page to this famous criminal, the closest thing the 20th century ever produced to a new Robin Hood!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!