Read The Wicked Mr Hall Online

Authors: Roy Archibald Hall

The Wicked Mr Hall (9 page)

BOOK: The Wicked Mr Hall
12.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The police could guess where we would go, but they had no leads to follow. The trail was as cold as the water covering the getaway car. After a short walk, we caught a bus into the city. From there I made a phonecall. A jailbreak in Norfolk is no big deal in Glasgow. The friend I'd called knew nothing of Blundeston. In careful language, I told him the situation.

He picked us up in a central carpark. We then drove to his home, where he sent his wife out to buy us all new clothes. Before we put them on, we slept for fifteen or sixteen hours. The next day, my new host pressed £250 into
my hand. I made another phonecall. An old contact came round with a bent driving licence.

That afternoon I hired a car. Since the escape, we had relied on the goodwill of friends. Now it was time for us to resume work and pay our own way. It obviously wasn't a good idea for the three of us to remain together, but to separate we needed capital. I was given some information and we went to work.

There was a jeweller who lived on the outskirts of Perth, a wealthy man, with a nice, large detached house. For unknown reasons, probably tax evasion, this man was thought to keep large amounts of jewellery and cash in his home. I was assured that the job was simplicity itself and that the information was good. The three of us drove to the man's house. The owner would be at work. It was easy getting in and we searched all the downstairs rooms.

We worked from bottom to top, searching methodically as we went. So far nothing. On the top floor, a bedroom door was locked. George O'Neill, a strong man, put his boot to the lock, and the door flew open. Lying there on the bed was a woman in late middle age. The first thing that I saw, besides her face, was the phone on the bedside table. She caught my gaze: ‘I've already phoned the police.' She was very cool and, my instincts thought, truthful! As I went down the stairs, I thought, fuck! If we didn't have shitty luck, we wouldn't have any luck at all.

As I descended the last few stairs into the hallway. I saw the hazy outline of two police motorcyclists through the frosted glass of the front door. One was already approaching. He rang the bell. I took a deep breath and
through the closed door, I asked him what he wanted. He said there had been a 999 call, reporting a burglary. I laughed, and said: ‘Oh that, that was just a silly mistake. That stupid cat breaking things again.' He asked me to open the door.

‘Certainly, certainly, just let me put a bathrobe on, I've just got out of the shower.' Once out of his line of vision, I raced for the back door. George and Don were already through it and running. As I followed, one of the patrolmen appeared round the corner. He saw my face. I ran. Miraculously Don Whittaker, even with his still injured leg, managed to get away. George O'Neill had taken off up a hill. I followed. So did the two policemen. George and I had been chased along coastland by dogs, we had huddled in frozen fields, starved. We knew what capture meant. Policemen don't know punishment blocks. There was a desperation to our running that they could not match. Turning back, they talked into their radios instead. The terrain was very moorish, we crossed the brink of the hill and were out of sight.

We came upon what looked like quite an expensive hotel. Brown wooden ranch fencing surrounded the car park. Even to a hunted man, it looked picturesque. We looked around the grounds. I debated stealing a car, but then we spotted a large, luxury bungalow that stood apart from the main hotel. Casually, we strolled up to the front door and knocked. There was no answer. Within seconds we were in. We quickly searched the place and found clothes that fit. We both changed. The police description of us no longer fitted.

Looking out of the window, I noticed a bus pull into the carpark. I checked my watch. It was the top of the hour. If that bus was hourly, we could be on the next one. George found a jewel case under a pile of nylon stockings. I looked at the pieces. There was a few thousand pounds there. Staying in the bungalow was dangerous, so I suggested to George that we hide in the grounds. When the next bus came we would board, separately. As we left the bungalow, both now wearing smart, dark overcoats, I picked up a locked briefcase, purely for image. As I had hoped, two minutes past the top of the hour, a bus pulled into the drive. George and I approached the bus from different angles. We boarded separately, both buying return tickets. Old people and children can sometimes make good cover. I took the opportunity to talk to an elderly lady. It almost looked like we were together.

As the bus made its way down the winding lanes that would eventually take it to Perth, we turned a corner to see two police cars blocking the road. My enthusiasm for chatting to the old lady intensified – the less eye contact I had with the police, the better. One officer got on board and questioned the driver. Another walked slowly round the vehicle, staring at the passengers. I gave him a glance and then talked to the old lady like my life depended on it. The bus was waved on. Our, for once not shitty, luck was holding. Back in Glasgow the three of us were reunited. I sold the jewels. The Perth police had ‘made' me. The car we left outside the jeweller's house had been rented in Glasgow. The Glasgow police knew me and would be looking for me. Another bent licence, another
hired car. We moved on to Edinburgh and another safe house.

We split the jewel money three ways and went on a shopping spree for new clothes, and had some nights out. It was good to be back in the real world. It had been an exciting week. The briefcase that I had stolen from the bungalow had been opened. It belonged to Jeremy Hindley, the racehorse trainer. It contained his ‘Stud Book'.

The police were looking for us, the question was how seriously? We drove south. Not to London, as was usual, but this time to Dover. From there, we sent postcards to Blundeston. Let them think we had crossed the water into mainland Europe. George and Don wanted to destroy Hindley's ‘Stud Book', it was just one more connection to one more crime. I said: ‘No, this is a record of all his horses' pedigrees. It goes back years, he might not have another copy. Let's be sportsmen, let's send it back.' We wrote a postcard, printing a letter each, explaining who we were. We sent it to his home in Clitheroe, Lancashire. At this point, I thought George and Don would want to go their separate ways, but they seemed happy for us to continue working as a team. Personally, I thought that once the prison had the postcards Interpol would keep a vague eye out for us. For the overworked police here, we would be just another file that would go to the bottom of the pile. Turning the car round, we returned to Glasgow.

W
hen you are a known villain, ordinary people love to give you information. It’s as if they break the law by proxy. Associating with criminals seems to hold a fascination for some. They wouldn’t want to do the crime, or the time, but they like to buy you drinks, possibly because then they think you’re on their side. Perhaps it makes them feel safe.

One evening, while out drinking, a Glaswegian bookmaker whispered into my ear. He told me of another bookie, with whom he shared the same accountant. The accountant had inadvertently mentioned that this bookmaker had asked his advice about how to avoid paying tax on a sizeable sum of money. The accountant had said the easiest way was not to bank it or declare it, but if your house was secure, to keep it at home.

Although there were differences, this sounded like a rerun
of Perth. I was very wary, but I would consider it. Together with Don and George, I drove around Glasgow looking at this man’s shops. They were all shabby, corner street establishments. All in poor working-class districts. I felt doubtful about the information. Surely these shops couldn’t turn over that kind of money? We found out the man’s address and drove out to look at his house. This was very different, a large bungalow standing in its own grounds. Double garage. Quite an expensive property.

After Perth, I was in no rush to break in and start searching only to be running from the Old Bill ten minutes later. This time, we sat and watched the house for two days. It looked like a small, middle-aged woman and a short, middle-aged man, the bookie, lived there. It seemed they lived alone. We decided to go in posing as the police. We’d see whether we could make him think we were just confiscating the money.

The next morning, all of us suitably dressed, we knocked loudly on his door. His wife answered. As she half-opened the door, I pushed past telling her we were police. Looking up the stairs I saw her husband come out of their bedroom, pulling on a dressing-gown. He called down the stairs: ‘What is it?’

I answered him: ‘We’re the police, sir, we have reason to believe there is an amount of stolen currency in the house. I have a warrant and I propose to search your home.’

He walked down the stairs. He didn’t seem surprised. Placing my briefcase on a coffee table, I looked around the room. I was growing into my role as a supposed Detective Inspector. I told George and Don to start searching the
upstairs rooms. At this point his wife spoke: ‘Have you asked to see their warrant?’

George and Don stopped their ascent of the stairs in mid-stride. The shocked bookmaker realised his mistake: ‘Can I see your search warrant, Inspector?’

‘Certainly, sir.’ I opened the briefcase and pretended to look for it. George and Don were now back in the room, each of them close to the middle-aged owners. Looking up from the case, I spoke in an assuringly calm voice: ‘I’m afraid it will be impossible for you to see the warrant, sir, because I’m afraid you’re being robbed. Sorry!’

The couple looked around. They knew they were in our power. As the leader, the bookmaker threatened me: ‘You’ll never get away with this. I know every villain in Glasgow.’

I just smiled: ‘But you don’t know me, do you? And right at this moment, I’m the only one that counts.’ We tied them both up. My two accomplices started the search.

Every so often they came back to me with small wads of money – £1,000, £1,500 – but nothing near £50,000. Some jewellery boxes were found, from Edwards in Buchanan Street. I had done their window years before with Johnny Collins. I also knew that it had been robbed just a few weeks ago. I looked at the jewellery; it was not the type his wife would wear. The bookie was a ‘fence’. Although it hadn’t fulfilled its promise, it wasn’t too bad a day’s work. We’d each earned a few thousand. A few miles down the road we phoned the police and gave them the bookmaker’s address. We told them they should investigate.

For the police, this would have been just another bungled robbery attempt. I didn’t think the bookmaker would be keen to give evidence about what was taken. Back at my friend’s house we had a few drinks and relaxed.

A young woman arrived and we were introduced as three friends from London. She probably guessed our occupation. We were all invited by her to a party that night. My friend’s wife took me to one side and warned me off. The house where the party was to be held was known by police. There would be a chance of a raid. Don and I took notice. George, who fancied the girl who had invited us, insisted that he went. I said: ‘OK, but don’t take too much money with you, you might end up getting searched.’

That night, George was arrested. We got the information in the early hours of the morning. Don and I got dressed, thanked our hosts, who promised to keep us informed of what happened, and left. George O’Neill’s freedom had come to an abrupt end. I wondered whether he would be returned to Blundeston, and if he did, would he end up looking at the postcards he had helped send.

In London, I booked into the Dorchester, Don into the Cumberland. After a couple of days’ rest we moved on, this time to Cornwall. Being fugitives, we had no base. If you have no home you can go to, the natural inclination is to keep moving. We did a few tourist things, visited a couple of castles, went to Land’s End. Although we had earned a few grand during the short period since our escape, we were spending freely. I spotted a jewellers in Falmouth. Don Whittaker had never done a smash and grab before, so I took him through the routine.

We ‘hit’ this seaside jewellers in broad daylight. Don smashed, I grabbed. We were less than fifty feet away from the shop when a police car, sirens blazing, gave chase. I am not a great driver, but by driving with life-threatening abandon, I eventually managed to lose them. We decided to separate. I gave Don some funds and told him I’d meet him in London. I drove back to the hotel to pick up the few things we both had. As I entered the hallway, I heard two women guests saying, ‘Criminals! Staying here, imagine it!’

I wondered whether I had enough time to pick up our suitcases. I walked upstairs to the corridor where my room was, the door was ajar. I turned around and headed back for the staircase. I hadn’t actually started to descend when I saw the two detectives standing in the foyer. Through a window, I could see uniformed officers in the garden at the back of the hotel. There was no way out. I climbed the stairs as far as they would take me and I knocked on the first door I came to. No answer. I tried the handle and the door opened. The room was quite small. There was a woman’s personal belongings on the dresser. The only hiding place was under the bed, so that is where I went. I lay flat on the floor, my cheek against the carpet. I regulated my breathing until it was barely audible. If I could, I would wait for nightfall. I lay still, and dreaded the thought of returning to prison. I must have been there for two or three hours before I heard voices. Two girls were on the other side of the door. One said: ‘Well, I’m not sleeping in there tonight, not until I’m sure they’re not here.’ The door opened and I heard two sets of footsteps. My ears were the only sensory organ that was of
any use to me. Each sound was intensified. I heard the wardrobe door being opened, the curtains being drawn, and then the counterpane, inches from my eyes, was lifted. I expected screams, but the noise still shocked me. I hadn’t seen her face, so she must have seen my arm or hand. The screams became words as the young women ran screaming out of the room. ‘They’re here! They’re here!’ I pulled myself out from under the bed and, with my body stiff from immobility, tried to shake it into life and ran for the door. The screams of ‘They’re here’ were distant now, downstairs. I remember feeling annoyed as I ran – what did they mean ‘They! They!’ I was on my fucking own! From a first floor window, I jumped into a soft, earthy, flowerbed. I ran through the back of the gardens, over a fence and on into the night. I never saw any police.

I ended up on what must have been one of the roads out of Falmouth. I walked for hours, eventually coming upon a small village. There was a sign ‘Car for Hire’, so I knocked on the door. I told the man who answered that I had been in a road accident, another car had forced me off the road, my wife had been taken to Exeter Hospital, and I desperately needed to reach her. After agreeing a price, he agreed to drive me. I covered my muddy shoes and lower trousers with a travelling rug. It was just as well. A few miles down the road, a police unit stopped us. The officer seemed to know the driver. He gave me a cursory glance. As he did I lit a cigar. The driver was told to be on the lookout for two men, on foot, who were wanted for a jewel robbery. We drove on. We were stopped a second time, same thing. After that, I slept.

It was the middle of the night when the driver woke me. We were in the car park of Exeter Hospital. I paid him and thanked him. Then, with him still watching, I walked into the hospital. I went to a window, where I could observe him leaving. Once he’d left, so did I. I booked myself into a hotel, cleaned myself up so that I no longer resembled a man who’d spent half the night running through people’s back gardens and, in the morning, caught the first train to London. After phoning Don Whittaker to make sure he’d also made it back, I met my buyer and sold the proceeds from the Falmouth jewel raid. The fate of George O’Neill had been on both our minds. The three of us had been through a lot together. There was nothing in the papers. If we could help George, we certainly couldn’t do it from here. Although it could be risky, we decided we would try. If nothing else, we could get a third, unknown party to visit him, smuggle him money, dope, whatever would make his life a little easier. Again, we went north. If we had known what this journey held in store we would never have walked to the car.

Somebody once said: ‘The best laid plans of mice and men …’ You can plan and arrange all you want, but when random chance enters your life, it can all come to naught. The news on George O’Neill was as bad as it could be. They knew who he was, but before he could be returned to an English prison he would be prosecuted for offences that occurred in Scotland. He was to be put in a ‘line up’ on suspicion of involvement in the Perth jeweller’s break-in and the Glasgow bookmaker’s robbery. Don and I went out to buy him what we could. A non-criminal friend had
agreed to act as visitor. It is an inbuilt instinct of mine never to attract the attention of police. Unless I am fleeing from a crime, I never speed. I don’t jump lights or shout my mouth off. The police take an active enough interest in my life without me stupidly bringing myself to their attention. Driving carefully was now an ingrained habit with me and, this day travelling through Glasgow, was no exception. The first inkling that this day would be worse than the average was the sound and feel of crushed metal and shattering glass. Don and I were thrown forward as a Volkswagen Beetle full of drunken students ploughed into the back of us. The German car flipped, landing on its roof. What had been a fairly deserted street, was suddenly full of spectators.

A crowd started to gather around us. We both knew that, if we waited for the police to arrive, we might just as well give ourselves up. Various vehicles stopped to see whether they could help. Some of the students were quite badly injured. When a taxi pulled up, Don grabbed the driver and said: ‘My friend has injured his chest, I need to get him to the hospital. Will you take us?’ The cab driver nodded and we both got in. I lay back and feigned injury. In truth we were physically fine. Emotionally, we were in a panic. We had to get away from the scene as quickly as possible. I could see the hospital gates. Once through them, we’d walk into Casualty and out through some other exit, carless, pissed off, but still at liberty. The taxi driver had his indicator on, ready to turn, when the last thing in the world we wanted to happen, happened. A police patrol car cut in front of us. Two policemen approached the car. My
moans grew in intensity and frequency. I closed my eyes and acted my heart out. Don responded to the policeman’s questions: ‘Excuse me, sir, but were you involved in a car accident a few minutes ago?’

Don replied: ‘They just drove straight into the back of us! My friend has a chest injury. I must get him to the hospital.’ As if to confirm this I moaned loudly and dramatically.

The policeman continued: ‘Don’t you realise, that it is a crime to leave the scene of an accident?’

Don’s acting was easily as good as mine: ‘My friend! My friend is badly hurt, he’s crushed his chest. All I thought of was hospital!’ Whether they believed us or not didn’t matter, procedure is procedure. The police needed statements, they needed identities, proof of ownership. They needed to fill in their report sheets. Don was asked to get out of the taxi and accompany one of the officers to the station. The other would stay with me. Although the police officers didn’t know it and, although Don would not voluntarily tell them, he knew, as I did, that his liberty was at an end.

After all we had been through, climbing through the air vents at Blundeston, Don tearing his leg apart on the barbed wire fence, chased by dogs through fields, chased by the police in Falmouth, chased by the police in Perth, each time outrunning them, only for half-a-dozen pissed students, totally unaware of the consequences of their actions, to have us captured.

After initial tests at the hospital, they took me for an X-ray. I lay on the trolley waiting for the procedure to begin.
The doctor left the room, saying he would just be a minute. Outside in the corridor, the officer assigned to watch me paced up and down, looking through the glass-windowed door every few seconds. Parallel to me, less than a foot away, was an unlocked sash window. It was open just a few inches. As the officer’s head vanished from view, I put my hand under the window and raised it a few inches, it moved easily. For this I was grateful. If he noticed any change in the window, he would be in the room immediately. If the doctor returned, my chance was gone. I pushed the window up again. Now there was enough room for me to roll through and out into the gardens. I could see the tops of flowers if I lifted my head slightly. The officer’s head appeared at the glass, once more he looked at me. As his head vanished, I pulled the trolley into the window and rolled. As my body felt the hard sand and cement windowsill, my movement stopped. The flowerheads that I could see were on an embankment. I was on the first floor, not the ground. I heard the door open, peripheral vision revealed a blue police uniform. I rolled. The drop must have been fifteen feet and I landed badly, one leg under the other, my body hitting the ground flat. The only thing greater than the pain was the fear of capture. Somehow, I stood and ran. There were shouts and screams behind me. I was becoming used to that. Being chased was happening with alarming regularity. I was becoming a bit of an athlete. I got out of the hospital grounds and, after running blindly, found myself at the bottom of a block of tenement flats.

BOOK: The Wicked Mr Hall
12.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Annie's Promise by Margaret Graham
Maggie MacKeever by Lady Sweetbriar
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
Sparks in Scotland by A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms
The Grilling Season by Diane Mott Davidson
Big Easy Temptation by Shayla Black Lexi Blake