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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Coch Bach y Bala – ‘The Welsh Houdini’

Noted Criminal’s Leap For Liberty

Jones’s activities caught the public’s imagination, and the media of the time sensationalised and publicised his activities. The following account from the North Wales Times describes his last, and most famous escape:
"John Jones … effected his escape from Ruthin Prison on Tuesday morning, in a sensational manner, and at the time of writing is still at large. He gained his liberty as the result of indomitable pluck, great astuteness, and wonderful agility … ‘Coch Bach’ is regarded by some as a hero; his performance is certainly a daring piece of work. The escape took place between four and five o’clock in the morning, before the majority of the warders entered upon their duties… The daring manner of his escape, and the quickness with which he left behind him the precincts of the prison baffled the gaol authorities and the police." North Wales Times, 4 October 1913
‘Coch Bach’ had been awaiting transfer to Stafford Gaol to serve a three year sentence for breaking and entering. On the night in question, he left his cell by tunnelling through the cell wall, and by using a rope constructed of prison bedding, climbing over the chapel and kitchen roofs, and finally escaping over the prison wall.

Jones was on the run for six days before being tracked down on the Nantclwyd Estate several miles from Ruthin. He was shot in the leg by one of his pursuers, 19 year old Reginald Jones-Bateman, son of an increasingly unpopular local landowner. John Jones was 60 years old, and died of shock and haemorrhaging due to his injury. Jones-Bateman was charged with manslaughter, though the charges were subsequently dropped.

Despite his wrongdoings, he was a popular figure and the circumstances surrounding his death were the source of much public discontent in the area. Postcards that showed a photograph of his funeral, and the location where he was shot, were mass-produced and sold. Maybe not so much as a ‘memento mori’, but as the final evidence, legitimised by the camera, that ‘Coch Bach’ was finally confined to one place.

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