Often when I was writing my books on wildlife crime I was reminded, because of certain similarities or similar factors, of earlier incidents when I was involved in general policing, CID work or drug squad work. I had just completed part of a chapter in A Lone Furrow in which part of the identification of a gamekeeper suspect centred on his jacket when I remembered the following incident:
The keeper’s distinctive green jacket brings to mind a case when I was uniformed sergeant where the identification of a suspect came from a jacket. I was on night shift and in the early hours of the morning was aware of one of my officers being sent to a housebreaking in the Letham housing scheme of Perth. An elderly woman had been in bed when she was awakened by a noise and found a man standing at the bottom of her bed. The poor woman must have been terrified and screamed, at which the man fled down the stairs and out the front door of the house. It is fairly uncommon for houses to be violated when there is an occupant inside – in fact nowadays it is comparatively rare for a house to be broken into at all. (Crime trends tend to shift to those with the least risk and the best rewards, such as frauds, thefts of unattended property and car crime).
The thief in this case had firstly rummaged through the downstairs part of the house and had crammed the pockets of his jacket with cash that he had found lying around. I can only imagine that the cash had been jingling in the pockets and making a lot of noise in the eerie quiet, so much so that as he began to go up the stairs he took his jacket off and laid it about quarter way up. Worryingly, this told me that he expected the house to have a least one occupant and this knowledge didn’t unduly bother him. After his discovery, and in his panic to flee the house, he made the fatal mistake of not collecting his jacket.
Nowadays with DNA the recovery of the culprit’s jacket would be a real boon. In the mid-eighties we did not have that advantage and had to work on fingerprints, sole impressions and good detective work. As it turned out, when the jacket was brought to the police station and I saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes. Two weeks earlier, a man I knew well from many of his dishonest activities had been arrested for breach of the peace. I chatted to him as his details were being obtained at the charge bar and he went to great lengths to ensure that I admired his new grey suit, which he said was made to measure and not any of this common ‘off the peg’ stuff. I told him that his new suit was very smart, if somewhat grubby after his recent experience of lying on a damp pavement, and he went off happily to his cell.
I recognised his suit jacket right away, and thought we better visit him to tell him it was in safekeeping lest he be concerned at its loss. In best police terminology, we ‘chapped him up’ and, once into his house, began to question him as to the whereabouts of his new suit jacket. He took us to the bedroom and produced a grey jacket that bore a passing resemblance to his suit jacket, but it was definitely not the one he had so proudly showed me a couple of weeks earlier. I asked him to produce the suit trousers, which he did, and it was obvious then that the trousers were in no way related to the jacket. Not even second cousins. He stuck to his story for a while and said that he’d had to get the jacket dry cleaned after he had been arrested and that it had lost some of its colour. We were having none of it but it had been a gallant and entertaining try. He put his hands up at last and began to make the best of a bad job by lifting the carpet and allowing us to recover the elderly lady’s money from its hiding place.
I was greatly amused when, as we arrested him for theft by housebreaking, he put on his suit trousers and the grey (almost matching) jacket to come down to the police station!
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