Let’s face it. No one really “wants” to go to gaol!
Imagine finding yourself locked up for say ten years… You have nothing but time to think about the outside world and how much you want to be in it.
For prisoners in Boggo Road Gaol nothing could be more true!
Escapes from gaol have made many wonderful Hollywood movies. But they are often stories of true life prisoner escapes from some of the most notorious prisons in the world.
Queensland’s most notorious gaol – Boggo Road – is no exception!
This weeks story is one of the prisoners that the walls failed to hold. John ‘The Bird’ Dennis.
Crime: Break and Enter (Habitual)
Term : 5 years 9 months
Harold Peckman, Harold Bickman, Jack Simpson, John William Dennis, Peckman & Co, Alfred Peckman, Pickman, Kingsbury.
Age: 24 Years
Native of: New South Wales
Height: 5ft 4 1/2Inches (164cm)
Weight : 10 Stone (63.5kg)
Hair: Dark Brown
Eyes: Dark Brown
Clothing: Last seen wearing…Blue serge suit, Grey felt hat with black band, striped cotton shirt, collar and tie and black boots.
Escaped: 30th October 1924
John Dennis, A notorious B and E man from New South Wales with an accomplice had moved to Queensland with the express purpose of ripping off the good people of Brisbane. He was convicted of seven counts of breaking and entering on the 18th of August 1924, each charge to be served concurrently. In a short four week run, they stole large quantities of valuable jewellery and personal effects, that they pawned.
During the trial John Dennis tried to convince the judge that they were poor and needed to commit the crimes to support themselves. The Judge having none of it convicted each on the seven counts and declared them both habitual criminals.
Habitual criminals were treated more strictly than other prisoners and are not to be released from gaol until they prove that they have turned a corner into a law abiding life.
After the trial, Dennis and his accomplice were transported to Boggo Road Gaol via the Black Maria (the usual mode of transport to and from the court) Where they were admitted and locked up in number two division.
Shortly after admission, the clerk, realised that an error had been made. There was no photograph on file for John Dennis. This must be amended. So it was, on the 30th of August 1924 John Dennis under escort from a warder of number two division, was taken through the visitor gate at the front of the gaol and marched across to have his photograph taken in number one division. The distance between the two divisions was only short roughly 60 meters.
The ever wily John Dennis, however, had other thoughts in mind. It was on the return journey that he made a break for it! Dashing down the gravel forecourt onto Boggo Road, and quickly mixed himself in with the crowd. The warder quickly attempted to catch him, but unfortunately tripped. John Dennis had escaped.
For the next eight months, John Dennis nicknamed “The Bird” by the press, eluded the authorities who had looked for him high and low. He hid in Red Hill, in plain sight. He had a wow of a time! He had drank in pubs, played snooker, visited the cinema and even had a romance with an usherette.
It was on a chance investigation by police that he was taken into custody as “Kingsbury”
John Dennis was returned to Boggo Road Gaol to serve out the remainder of his original sentence including the time that he was free.
It wasn’t long however, John Dennis got it into his mind again that he wanted to be free. He had cleverly constructed a ladder made of strips of calico plaited together and a rope made of blankets knotted together. He apparently had secreted a hacksaw blade into his cell. Using the blade he managed to cut through a one inch thick bar in the window of his cell, pushing it to one side squeezed his tiny frame through the 7 inch (18cm) opening he had created, and lowered himself down on his blanket rope. He had done it… or so he thought! Waiting for him at the bottom was a prison officer with a pistol pointed square at his chin.
This was the last of his “Great Escape” attempts.
John Dennis did indeed turn over that ‘new leaf’ . He was released on conditional parole on the 9th of January 1931. Having enough of Queensland, he eventually moved back to New South Wales to his family.
This Sunday, come behind the walls and gates and hear about some of the fascinating Escapes from Boggo Road Gaol. Hosted by Director Jack Sim.
This is a rare treat! Don’t miss out! Get your tickets here
Have you visited our Gaol Shop? Inside you will find loads of wonderful memorabilia. There are also a number of publications on the Gaol and its prisoners, one of them in particular is a great read Escape from Boggo Road – Volume 1 written by Director Jack Sim and Author Caroline Stevenson.