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Thieves pick on wrong man in bid to grab garage’s takings
HE sat in the back seat and waited.
Surely nothing could go wrong. The hold-up had been well planned and a lookout accomplice stood nearby concealed by darkness.
Eventually he heard the approaching footsteps of the garage foreman, heavy cash box in hand, crammed with the pre-Christmas takings.
As the driver settled himself to drive the short distance from the firm’s garage to the store, he swung the first blow, confident the ten inch long, three inch wide sandbag would render the victim helpless, if not unconscious.
But the robber had not accounted for the extraordinary resilience of heroic Ernest Ramplee who fought back under the sustained barrage.
He not only turned round to grapple with his assailant but also repeatedly struck the attacker across the face, preventing him from taking out the debilitating pepper spray he intended to use on the foreman.
A second robber made a desperate attempt to grab the cash box the foreman had put between his legs but he was repulsed by a kick.
Almost doubled up in agony, the thief staggered away and was shortly joined by the robber in the back seat who had opened a door to escape.
Though dazed and bruised, Mr Ramplee drove straight to his employers, handed the cash box to a bewildered colleague and then drove to the nearest police station to report the matter.
Such was the scene outside the Edwin Jones store in the centre of Southampton as shoppers made their last minute purchases for Christmas, in 1931.
Amazingly, Mr Ramplee, who had worked for the firm for 30 years, suffered nothing worse than a grazed shin and the following morning spoke exclusively to the Echo about what the paper bizarrely hailed as his “thrilling adventure.”
His ‘adventure began when he rang the Edwin Jones store from the Houndwell Place garage to confirm he had the cash collected by van drivers on their daily round and was about to drive the 200 yards to the store.
“I took the cash out of the safe and the left the office, locking the door behind me,” he recalled. “As far as I can remember, there was no one about and it was pretty dark. I heard nothing to lead me to suppose there was anyone in the back of the car.
“I pressed the starter motor, put the car into gear and was about to drive off when I felt several crashing blows on the back of my head. They slightly dazed me. Turning round, I saw the dark form of a man. He was striking at me with something in his hand. I struck out at him with my fists and hit him several times.
“Not a word was spoken by either of us. The engine of the car was racing all the time as I had my foot on the accelerator.”
Mr. Ramplee said the accomplice intervened after opening the nearside front passenger door to grab the cash box but he retaliated with a series of kicks, one of which solidly struck him on the head. Mr Ramplee then started yelling for help and the pair ran off. He immediately drove to the timekeeper’s office and handed over the money.
Police suspected Mr Ramplee had been watched for some time.
They deduced that the thieves realised he was going to use the vehicle after seeing him drive it from the garage and leave it in the adjacent Cook Street before returning to his office to collect the cash. In the interim, one slipped inside and waited.
Despite a major police hunt, no one was arrested.
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