I’m a face. My breakout from Pentonville in 1958 has been praised as one of the greatest prison escapes of all time by the likes of south London gangster Mad Frankie Fraser. The details differ somewhat in the various accounts but here I’ll put the whole thing together, just in case you can’t be bothered to track down the lurid descriptions that have found their way into a slew of book and newspaper accounts.
It was a dark and wet winter evening with the London smog obscuring everything. Johnny Rider and myself were able to get onto the roof of the prison because it was being repaired and there was scaffolding going up the courtyard wall. The screws had been distracted by a disturbance I’d arranged to take place in the library class.
Johnny and myself made our way over the tiles and across to the sheer prison wall on the other side. Scaling down this almost impossible obstacle to my freedom, I smashed my right kneecap. Pain jolted through my body like an electric shock and I lost my grip on a windowsill and fell, breaking my left ankle. Rider coming down behind me clocked my mistakes and was able to make a safe descent.We then had to scale a second wall, and this time I broke my left leg as I jumped. Johnny, who was uninjured, made it safely to the ground.
Rider picked me up and tried to carry me from the prison wall to freedom, but I told him to leave me and get away. It would be better if at least one of us made a clean escape. Johnny ran, and because I couldn’t run I crawled to a house door and asked the man who opened it if he’d help me. His wife came to see who was calling, and after telling her husband I was scary, she slammed the door in my face. I then made my way to a block of flats hoping to find somewhere to hide. I took the lift as far as it would go and then made my way onto the roof.
There was a skylight and, as I was trying to prise it open, I fell headlong through the glass and knocked myself out.
I was raised back to consciousness by flashlights being pointed at me. From the conversation going on around the smashed skylight above me, I could tell I’d been found by the authorities.
“Looks like he’s dead.” The screw’s voice was emotionless.
“In that case let’s go after the other one and get the body later. No point kicking in doors and getting in a row over the damage. Since he can’t move, let’s raise the caretaker later and get him to let us in.”
I could hear movement, and when I was sure that those who’d been chasing me had left me in temporary peace, I gathered all my strength. Somehow I made my way out of the block of flats and dragged myself down the street by using my hands to pull my wrecked body along some railings. Despite being giddy with pain, I managed to get across the mainline railway tracks, then found a place to hide in a garden.When I saw a man getting into a butcher’s van close by I shouted to him, and asked if he’d help me as I’d had a bad fall. He guessed I was an escaped prisoner but I was in luck because it turned out he was an ex-con who was willing to aid me, and became keen to do so when I offered him fifty nicker for his assistance.Together we struggled to get butcher’s clothes and a dirty apron over my prison uniform; then I crawled into the back of his vehicle. It would probably have been better if I’d fallen asleep but I couldn’t relax sufficiently. We had to get through a police roadblock and their dogs went bloody mad around the van.
“What you got in there?” the old bill asked my driver.
“I’m a butcher, I’ve got meat in the back.”
“Can you open it up?”
“Happily, but only if you’ll guarantee your dogs won’t become even more crazed than they are now. If they damage my stock then you’ll have to pay for it.”
“The dogs must be able to smell the blood, I think we’ll leave it.”
I gave the butcher directions to my cousin’s pub in Paddington, told him to go in and tell my relative I’d escaped and that we needed a key for a flat. My saviour came back and drove me around the corner to a room my cousin kept in case of emergencies, but when the landlord saw the state I was in he told us to piss off out of his building. So we went back to the van and I got the ex-con to drive me to my fence Benny Selby’s place in Highgate. Once Benny had given the butcher fifty quid and got him out of the door, I told the fence to call my wife Ann, a nurse who worked nights at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hackney Road. It turned out she’d already been visited by the cops, and that was how she’d learnt I’d escaped from jail.
When Ann’s shift finished she came to see me with a doctor who she knew we could trust.They patched me up, and my wife and her doctor friend saw me through my convalescence, which took months and months. I only stayed a night at Benny Selby’s pad; the next day Ann found me a room in Hoxton where I could recuperate. I spent more than two years on the run, during which time I pulled off a series of daring jewel raids—including one against screen legend Sophia Loren when she was filming in England—before finally being recaptured, after a grass gave the fuzz a tip-off as to my whereabouts. Unluckily, Johnny Rider was nicked in Chingford the day after our breakout, so he wasn’t over the wall for nearly as long as me.
It is tales like these that made me a legend, but what I want to do is tell you the complete and true story of my life, so you can understand me as an ordinaryworking-class man who acted as he did because of extraordinary circumstances. But rather than start at the beginning, I’ll fast forward to where I am now, and then take you back to how it all began.
an excerpt from The 9 Lives of Ray the Cat Jones: A Novel by Stewart Home, from Sensitive Skin 13.
Sensitive Skin 13 available here in PDF format here for just $4.95, or get the full-color print version via Amazon and select bookstores.