Events

Jack in the box

One of the most famous and crafty prisoners of all time was surely James Grey, or ‘Jack in the box’ as he was more famously known in Victorian era Ireland and Britain.  James was a Manchester born thief who came up with a crafty plan.  He identified that the trains steaming their way around the country carried with them many rich and well heeled passengers, who would leave their considerable valuables in luggage trunks which were kept in a special carriage for the duration of the journey. 

 

 

Also travelling on the train was letters and goods being sent all over Britain and Ireland which often contained valuable items.  How could Grey get at those valuables given the secuity the train companies employed to protect both the luggage and the mail? 

 

His crafty plan was to create a specially rigged luggage trunk that had springs which allowed him to open it from the inside.  He added airholes and would climb inside with a little food and water and have his friends mail him from Liverpool all the way to Cork and Dublin, meaning a train and ferry journey.  While the journey was underway he would wait for the right time and pop out and rob the other luggage on the train, as well as any mail he identified was likely to contain valuables!  He would climb back inside his trunk and leave the whole scene completely as he found it, being careful not to illict suspicion.  Once he arrived at his destination in Cork or Dublin his accomplices would collect him on the other side, leaving the trains security completely baffled as to how the crime was committed.

Despite what must have been a cramped and difficult journey the ruse was so successful that he made a number of journeys and each time came away with profitable hauls.  On one occasion he hit the jackpot when a luggage trunk contained fine silver spoons which were worth over £2000, a lot of money in the 1860's.  Even with having to pay accomplices on both sides of the Irish sea he was able to live a good life in Manchester, renting a large house with many of the finer things.

 

It was estimated he got away with the crime for a number of years and journeys but he was eventaully found out.  Grey had befriended a homeless man and offered him a room in his house. One evening the lodger was reading about a reward for some stolen fine shawls, and those very same shawls were draped around the chair he sat on!  He reported this to the police and James Grey was arrested and sentenced to 4 years in prison.

He was sent back to Ireland and Cork in a very different box, this time to spend 4 years in Spike Island's cells.  After his release he was never heard from again, so perhaps he had enough of cramped spaces after his time at Spike.  His well thought out time made the headlines right across Britain and Ireland, and he must have endured a lot of ribbing from his fellow inmates at Spike Island Cork.