(Following are excerpts from the soon to be published memoirs of Chester Drawers, who is currently serving the first of four consecutive ninety-nine-year sentences for various crimes. Mr. Drawers plans on working with children when he gets out.)
YES I STOLE. Why not? Where I grew up, you had to steal to eat. Then you had to steal again to tip the waiters. Lots of people stole fifteen per cent, but I always stole twenty, which made me a big favourite among the help. On the way home from a heist, I'd rob some pyjamas to sleep in. Or if it was a hot night, I'd just rob some boxers. It was a way of life. I had a bad upbringing, you might say. My Dad was always on the run from the law and I never saw him out of disguise till I was twenty-two. For years, I thought he was a short, bearded man with dark glasses and a limp; actually, he was tall and dark and resembled Robert Mitchum.
He was a professional bank robber, but sixty-five was the mandatory retirement age, so he had to get out. Spent his last few pre-internet years in postal fraud, but price of stamps went up and he lost everything. Mum was wanted, too. Of course in those days it wasn't the way it is now, with Women demanding equal rights, and all. Back then, if a Woman turned to crime the only opportunities open to her were blackmail and, once in a while, arson. During to 1970's Women were used to drive getaway cars, but only during the drivers' strike. Terrible strike. It lasted eight weeks, and whenever a gang pulled a job and ran out with the money they were forced to walk or take a taxi.
I had two sisters and two brothers. Jenny married money. Not an actual human being - it was a pile of singles. My brother John got in with a gang of plagiarists. He was in the middle of signing his name to 'Times Arrow' when the bizzies surrounded the house. He got ten years.
Some rich kid from a high rolling family who signed Bulgakov's 'Master And Margerita' got off with probation. That's the law for you.
David - my youngest brother - he's been a murderer, a fence, and a loan shark. Never could find himself. Eventually he was arrested for loitering. He loitered round the Haymarket toilets for nine years, till he realised it was not the kind of crime that brought in any money. The first thing I ever stole was a loaf of bread. I was working for Sunblessed Bakery, where my job was to remove the jelly from doughnuts that had gone stale and transfer it to fresh goods. It was very exacting work, done with a rubber tube and a scalpel. If your hands shook, the jelly went on the floor and old man Sunblessed would pull your hair.
Pepe Hamstien, who we all looked up to, came in one day and said he wanted to get his hands on a loaf of bread but he absolutely refused to pay for it. He hinted that this was a chance for some smart kids to get into the rackets. I took that as a cue, and each day when I left I put one slice of brown under my coat, until after three weeks I had accumulated a whole loaf. On the way to Hamstien's office, I began to feel remorse, because even though I hated Mr Sunblessed, his wife had once let me take home two wholemeal rolls when my uncle was dying. So it was that I tried to return the bread, but I got caught while I was trying to figure out which loaf each slice belonged to. The next thing I knew, I was in Berwick borstal. Berwick was a tough joint. I escaped five times. Once I tried to sneak out in the back of the laundry van. The guards got suspicious, and one of them poked me with his stick and asked me what the hell I was doing lying around in amongst a bag of soiled vests. I looked him right in the eye and said, "I'm some shirts." I could tell he was dubious. He kept pacing back and forth and staring at me. I guess I got a little panicky. "I'm some shirts," I told him. "Some denim work shirts - blue ones." Before I could say another word, my arms and legs were cuffed and I was back in stir.
I learned nearly everything I knew about crime in Berwick: how to pick pockets, how to crack a safe, how to blow glass - all the fine points of the trade. For instance, I learned (and not even all professional criminals know this) that in the event of a shootout with the cops, the cops are always allowed the first two shots. (It's just the way it's always been done.) Then you return fire. And if a copper says, "We have the house surrounded, come out with your hands up," you don't just shoot wildly. You say, "I'd prefer not to," or "I'd rather not at this particular time." There's a right way to do these things, but today... Well, why go into all that?
For the next few years of my life I was the best damn burglar you ever saw. People talk about Raffles, but Raffles had his style and I had mine. I had lunch with Raffles' son once. Nice bloke. We ate at the Bimby's. He stole the pepper grinder. I stole the silverware and paper napkins. Then he took the vinegar bottle. I took his hat. He got my umbrella and tiepin. When we left we kidnapped the cleaner. It was quite the haul.
Ronnie Biggs, Butch and Sundance, Raffles the gentleman thief, those lot made all the headlines, but I pulled off some capers that the police never did figure out. Once, I robbed a mansion, blew the safe, and removed six grand while a couple slept in the same room. The husband woke up when the C4 went off, but when I assured him that the entire proceeds would go to the Boys' Clubs Of Cramlington and he went back to sleep. Cleverly, I left behind some fingerprints of Tony Blair who was prime minister then. Another time, at a big cocktail party, I stole a woman's diamond necklace while we were shaking hands. Used a vacuum cleaner on her - an old Henry The Hoover. Got her necklace and earrings. Later, when I opened the bag I found some false teeth there, which belonged to her too.
My most beautiful job, though, was when I broke into the British Museum. I knew that the entire floor of the Rare Gems Room was wired and the slightest pressure on it would set off an alarm. I was lowered in upside down by a rope from the skylight, so I wouldn't touch the ground. I came through neat as you please, and in a minute I was hovering over the an elaborate spread of beautiful, faultless diamonds in their display case. As I pulled out my glass cutter a little sparrow flew in through the skylight and landed on the floor. The alarm sounded and eight police cars arrived. I got seven to ten. The sparrow got twenty to life. The bird was out in six months, on probation. A year later, he was picked up in Brighton for pecking the local vicar into a state of semiconsciousness.
What advice would I give the average homeowner to protect himself against burglars? Well, the first thing is to keep a light on in the house when you go out. It must be at least a sixty-watt bulb; anything less and the burglar most likely will ransack the house out of contempt for the wattage! Another good idea is to buy a trained guard dog but even this isn't foolproof. Whenever I was about to rob a house with a dog in it, I threw in some dog food mixed with temazepam. If that didn't work, I'd grind up equal parts of chopped meat and a Coldplay record.
If it happens that you are going on your holidays and must leave your house unguarded, it's a good idea to put a cardboard cut out of yourself in the window. Any silhouette will do to be fair. I heard a Scottish man from Manchester once put a cardboard cut out of Robbie Fowler in his window and then went to Butlins for the weekend. Later, Robbie Fowler himself happened to walk by and saw the cut out, which caused him great anxiety. He attempted to strike up a conversation, and when it failed to answer for seven hours Fowler returned to Liverpool and told his friends that Mancunians were all very snobbish.
If you surprise an intruder in the act of burglarising your home, do not panic. Remember, he is as frightened as you are. One good method is to rob him. Seize the initiative and relieve the burglar of his watch and wallet. Then he can get into your bed while you make your getaway. Trapped by this defence, I once wound up living in a very comfortable semi-detached house in Jesmond Dene for six years with another man's wife and two children, and only left when I was fortunate enough to surprise another burglar, who took my place. The six years I lived with that family were very happy ones, and I often look back on them with affection, although there is also much to be said for working in the kitchens in Durham jail.