£250 Reward: The Story of the Cardiff Jewel Robbery of April 1920

One of the many unusual items to be found at Glamorgan Archives is a poster, approximately 2ft by 3ft, produced in 1920, offering a £250 reward for information leading to the arrest of …the thief or thieves… who had broken into a jewellery shop in central Cardiff [DCON/UNL/333].  Issued by the insurers, Messrs Cunningham and Gibaud, and the Chief Constable, David Williams, the poster asked anyone with information to contact the Cardiff City Police on Cardiff 3213.

Reward-Poster---web

The raid took place on the night of 27th April 1920, when thousands of pounds of jewellery was taken from T W Long, Jeweller and Diamond Merchant, of 2 St. Mary Street, Cardiff. The story of the burglary and the subsequent hunt for the culprits is told through the records of the Cardiff City Police held at the Archives. The reward poster, which was sent to police forces throughout the country, listed the items stolen. They included gem rings, gold bracelets, gold cigarette boxes, pendants and lockets. The scale of the robbery can be seen from the detail in the poster. The number of gem rings taken alone was over 170. The initial police assessment of the value of the property taken was £5000 at 1920 prices, which would be approximately half a million pounds at current prices. This figure was subsequently revised by the Insurers to £2000 but it was still a major burglary. However, public attention was captured not so much by the scale of the robbery but more by the daring approach taken by the raiders in breaking into the jewellery shop. The details are provided in the crime report filed by the Cardiff Police on 28th April 1920.

Mr Thomas William Long, Jeweller, 2 St Mary Street reported that his premises at the above address were entered sometime between 6.30pm on the 27th and 9am on the 28th instant and stolen therefrom a large quantity of Jewellery …of the value of about £5000.

The premises were examined by Chief Detective Inspector Harries, Detective Inspector Hodges, Detective Sergeants Little, Pugsley and Evans who found that entrance had been effected by climbing a wall about 25 ft high at the entrance to the Cardiff Market (Old Arcade entrance) Church Street, apparently with the aid of a knotted rope, 20 feet long, on the end of which was fastened an iron hook, then climbing on to the roof of Messrs Cross Bros premises, lowering themselves 10 feet on to the roof at the rear of Mr Long’s premises, then forcing a window on the same floor, with the aid of a jimmy and thereby gaining full access to the Shop.

The articles were taken from cases and shelves in the window. A jimmy, a pair of chamois leather gloves and electric torch were found in the shop and another jimmy of the roof of the Market.

Mr George Atkins of 18 Talygarn Street, Assistant Manager of the Central Market found the rope (referred to) hanging on the wall in the entrance to the Market at 8.30am on the 28th April 1920 also a gold ring which was returned to Mr Long.

The records set out the action taken by the police on discovering that the shop had been broken into. Officers were despatched to check city centre hotels, boarding houses and the railway station in the hope of identifying anyone staying in Cardiff, or leaving early on the morning of the 28th, who might have been involved in the robbery. The whereabouts of known criminals from the Cardiff area were examined and also men who had completed work on the shop some months ago. The police took statements from several passers-by, one of whom reported seeing …two men in the doorway, looking through the peep holes in the shutter. One of them was 50 years of age, dressed in corduroy trousers and a cap. Another report also referred to two men. …one of them appeared to turn his face from my view. He was about 5ft 8 medium build, very dark complexion and had the appearance of a Foreigner and wore a Light Rainproof Coat and Trilby Hat.

It took Mr Long and his staff over a week to compile a full list of the missing jewellery, but as the details emerged they were passed immediately to police forces throughout the country with a request that they check jewellers and pawnbrokers for the stolen goods. Police forces were also asked to provide details of known shop breakers who had gained entry is a similar manner. A surprisingly large number of names with photographs were passed to the Cardiff Police by other forces, and each name was followed up to establish their whereabouts on the night of 27th April.

It seemed that within days there had been a breakthrough. Sergeant Little, one of the officers called to the premises, reported that he had received information from an ‘informant’ some time ago that three well known shop breakers from the Birmingham area were targeting T W Long’s and planned to break in overnight by scaling a nearby roof.  Although the information had been provided some years ago the Cardiff Police asked their colleagues in Birmingham to track down the three men. In addition, the equipment left at the scene of the crime was sent to Birmingham for examination by detectives to establish whether it was similar to that used by shop breakers in that city. Correspondence in the files show how the Cardiff Police worked with the Birmingham and Lancashire Forces to track down the three men but all were eventually ruled out.

As might be anticipated, the owner of the shop wrote several letters of complaint including one, dated 7 June, to the Lord Mayor. Long clearly expected his premises to be checked by the police every hour during the night and considered the policing of the city centre as far too lax. In response, in his report to the Watch Committee, dated 14 July 1920, the Chief Constable admitted that, on the night of the 27th the plain clothes police officers who patrolled the centre had been off duty as they were due to sit a promotion examination the next day. However, while this was unfortunate, a uniformed officer, Constable Frank Biston, PC 11, had checked the premises on 3 occasions during the night but had been called away to attend to the shop of Messrs Pearse and Jenkins, Saddlers, in Quay Street which was found to be open. Williams referred to Biston as …a reliable man who has served in this district without complaint for 23 years. However, he did concede that …the failure to discover the hanging rope in the market entrance is admitted and regretted… but it …would be easily overlooked in a general inspection of the building.

It had been anticipated that, in the months that followed the robbery, items of jewellery would begin to be identified as they were sold and so generate further leads. The records show that several items similar to those listed as stolen were reported. In September, Chief Detective Harries and Mr Silver, a member of Long’s staff, travelled to Newcastle to identify 2 ‘platinum gold alberts’ passed to the police by a local jeweller. However, as with other reports, including a ring found at Barry, the items could not be conclusively identified as jewels removed on the night of April 27th.

For almost a year the crime remained unsolved and the reward unclaimed. The Cardiff City Police must have been almost ready to put the case on the back burner, until early on the morning of 11 March 1921:

…Constable Frederick Pickett, No 32 ‘A’, observed a knotted rope attached to and hanging by an iron hook from the coping over the entrance to the Central Market in the Old Arcade.  He immediately reported the matter at the Central Police Station. Almost at the same time Messrs Long’s premises – No 2 St Mary Street – were opened and it was reported that they had been entered.

It was carbon copy of the original burglary with entry gained again by climbing onto the lavatory roof of the Old Arcade public house and then traversing the market roof to break into the back of 2 St. Mary Street. The police report filed on 11 March did, however, tell us a little more this time about how the burglars, after scaling the market roof, broke into the second floor of 2 St. Mary Street and from there into the main shop:

From the flat roof a descent of about 20ft to a sloping roof was made by means of a rope secured to holes bored in the woodwork under the lead covering of the flat roof. At the side of the skylight was a window of Messrs Long’s premises. This window was secured by an ordinary catch and was easily forced by means of a jemmy giving access to a workroom on the second floor. The door of the workroom was secured by a small padlock and was similarly forced. Outside the door was a staircase leading to the first floor on which is situated a show room and lavatory. On the staircase from the first floor to the shop is a heavily padlocked steel gate which is in the full view of observation holes in the shutters. To avoid observation here the thieves broke through the floor of the lavatory to the workroom below. From here ingress to the shop was barred by another steel gate which was however not so prominent as that on the staircase. The padlock of this gate was forced by means of a specially prepared jemmy. The stolen property was taken from the window and show cases. [Crime Report, A Division, Cardiff City Police].

The burglars were well prepared and the report confirmed that they left behind:

One jemmy, one brace and bits, a steel three wheel tube cutter (American make), two hack saw blades, a knotted rope with an iron hook attached. The hook is semi-circular and roughly fashioned.

In all, £3000 worth of jewellery was stolen including …gold watches, watch bracelets, watch wristlets, alberts, signet rings, brooches, necklets, cigarette cases, cigarette boxes, links, bangle rings set with diamonds, vanity cases and one or two sets of pearl studs.  Yet again it was an audacious burglary that baffled the Cardiff Police.  Much of the action taken the year before was repeated, along with the investigation of a number of colourful sounding characters including ‘American Frank’. However, again it was to no effect. On this occasion Long reported that a clock had been moved by the robbers and there were hopes that fingerprints would provide a clue to the identity of the thieves. However, the report from the Director of Criminal Investigation at the Fingerprint Branch, New Scotland Yard confirmed that the only prints found were those of Mr Long’s staff.

There appeared to have been a breakthrough when a badly typed letter was received by the police, naming the burglar:

This is the second time he has done the same shop. If you make enquiries … he left London by the 5 train and got to Cardiff about 9 and before 9 the next day he was back in London again. Signed Ex pal of his.

On another occasion, detectives from Cardiff questioned a prisoner in Dartmoor who claimed to know the identity of the robbers. On both occasions the information was found to be false. There was a hope of progress when, in September 1921, an 18ct gold watch bracelet was identified in London and returned to Mr Long. Unfortunately the London jeweller, who had paid £7 10s for the watch, did not have a record of the seller and could only say that it was …a man age about 35/40, height 5ft 9 or 10, complexion sallow, hair and moustache dark, dress; dark clothes believed bowler hat, carrying a brief bag.

It was possibly a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted when T W Long and Co reported, in June 1921, that they had improved their security with the introduction of a grill system at the back of the premises. They had also supplied the police with a key to the side door of the shop. For their part the Cardiff Police agreed the following actions, set out in a letter to the Acting Superintendent, ‘A’ Division, from the Deputy Chief Constable on 4th June 1921:

Elaborate precautionary measures have been taken by Messrs Long and Company to protect their premises against shop breakers….The Night Plain Clothes Patrol Constable within whose patrol the premises are situated, will be handed nightly by the Officer in Charge of the Plain Clothes Patrol a key which will enable him to gain access by the side door in Church Street. This door will be always locked after entering and leaving. Upon satisfying himself that everything is in order the Plain Clothes Constable will record his visit in the book provided (sent herewith) and which will be found on a desk in the passage and left there as a record.

At that point the trail goes cold. Almost two years later, one of the last letters on the file, dated 26 March 1923, confirmed that both crimes remained unsolved. Possibly a case for Poirot or even Holmes?

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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