"I am attenuating my relations with Lund and company. Too much of a bad thing."
- William Burroughs
In 1959 a book was published by Secker & Warburg by the prodigious author Rupert Croft-Cooke. Entitled Smiling Damned Villian, it let screwsman, jailbird and raconteur, Paul Axel Lund unveil himself. The author met Lund in Tangier where the latter was running a bar out of reach of the British Constabulary. Croft-Cooke was no stranger to prison, having served a sentence for homosexuality, he was also a writer of detective fiction and was keen to hear Lund's criminal experiences, expanding on the newspaper clippings on the walls of his bar.
Paul Lund had been driven by an insatiable desire to cure himself of boredom. He began early. Barely out of shorts, he was turning over houses nearby to the ten-bedroom Lund family home in Moseley (2 Wake Green Road). Entering the properties by the railway embankment near Moseley station, he made off with jewellery which he fenced at the stables opposite the Bull's Head. Lund evaded capture for thieving, but his first encounter with the law was after an assault on park-keeper Isaac Miles. This happened in a place which seems to have hardly changed since the incident in 1928:
There was a private park in Moseley - may be there still for all I know. Just about typical of that place and time. Imagine the snobbery of it - only approved householders in the district and their guests allowed in. The poor bloody kids who had nowhere to play could look through the railings. The householders had keys and there were two park-keepers to see that no one not approved by the committee should get in.
Later, he was an avid reader in prison - biography, history, and his favourite author, Joseph Conrad, unsurprising perhaps for someone who had spent three years at sea before reaching adulthood. At liberty he was a creator of narrative - one robbery after another, twelve years in the army; a year of which spent in glasshouse. Not even wartime could stop Lund from schemes of thievery. Then after demobilisation came his most notorious crime in his hometown - the snatching of the Ladywood Children's Hospital wages.
It required precision planning if he was going to get away with it, and he did. The rehearsal, the familiarisation with the geography of the crime together burnt a snapshot of post-War Birmingham into Lund's mind to be recalled years later to Croft-Cooke in the safety of Tangier. And now Smiling Damned Villian provides us with his image of the City from its archive.
"It happened that the girl Mac was running around with worked in the offices at the Ladywood Hospital. She was a romantic-minded, dizzy little piece who was thrilled to think she had been taken up by a real crook with a real Jaguar. Dreamed herself up as a big gangster's moll, if you can imagine it, and only longed to be allowed to give any information she could.
"She told Mac that every Friday the hospital sent round to the bank about three hundred yards away to draw the wages. Three weeks out of four this amounted to no more than about £1,500, but on the fourth week, when they paid the monthly salaries, there was about seven thousand smackers in the kitty. All this was fetched on Friday morning by an oldish man (well, about fifty-five) who worked in the same office as this girl. He'd been doing it for years and took no precautions at all. Just went on foot with an old Gladstone bag.
William Rudge; victim of a wages snatch involving Lund in January 1946
"It sounded almost too good to be true but we watched for two or three weeks and found it was just as she said. The old boy would come out of Ladywood Hospital on Friday mornings at about twenty past ten as regular as clockwork. He'd go downhill to the bank at the corner of Ladywood Road and Broad Street, then come toddling back about twenty minutes later with the dropsy. We could watch this comfortably and without being noticed because there was a bus-stop across the road from the hospital from which you could see it all.
Five Ways, 1952. The bank is the spired building to the left of the bus.
"I was to do the snatch in the uniform of an American soldier. Birmingham was full of Yanks on leave from Lichfield and they'd done one or two minor snatches already. Mac had a brother-in-law working out at the Air Base who got me a uniform, then all I needed was a bicycle which we were to knock off on the afternoon before we did the job.
"The plan was this. There was a low stone wall along the front of the hospital and I was to sit on this while the old man went down to the bank. Then, after he had passed me coming back, I was to drop downwards on to his bag, almost like a rugger tackle without a fall. We practised this in Mac's flat and found that even when he was expecting that downward jerk he couldn't hold the bag against it, so I shouldn't have much trouble with an older man who wasn't expecting it.
"Then, with the bag in my hand, I would get on the bike which had been waiting on the kerb, run down the hill for two hundred yards, bend left and take a road leading off to the left called Duchess Road. There Mac would be waiting with a car stolen that morning. I would ditch the bike, get in the car (lying on the floor at the back) and drive with Mac to Edgbaston Park Road where Ben would be waiting with Mac's own car. There we'd leave the knocked-off car and go on our way rejoicing.
"I made the snatch and the bag came away as easy as picking an apple. The rest of it was easy. Mac counted the money and the total was £7,400 and no note higher than a quid. By twelve noon I was sitting in the Kardomah Café talking to as many people as I knew. It wouldn't exactly be an alibi but it would be the next best thing to one."
Kardomah Café, New Street
Lund's story did not end with the publication of Smiling Damned Villain. Croft-Cooke's biography of the thief is an enjoyable read in its own right, and the illumination it gives Birmingham is interesting; significant enough to warrant an entry in this blog, but there's more... so come closer.
In 1955 the American author William Burroughs moved into the Hotel Villa Muniria at 1 Calle Magallanes in the old French quarter of Tangier. One of his fellow residents was none other than Paul Lund, on the run from the police back home. The two started spending time together with Lund entertaining Burroughs with his tales of robbery and jail. Impressed, Burroughs incorporated Lund's stories into the routines he was writing for Naked Lunch. Eventually the relationship turned sour when Lund pointed the finger at Burroughs for alleged drug smuggling into France. Burroughs had moved to the Beat hotel in Paris in 1959. With the publication of Naked Lunch imminent, he received a suspended sentence. His bitterness towards Lund is captured in William S. Burroughs: Letters 1945-59.
Paul Lund died in 1966 and was buried in the Church of Saint Andrew in Tangier.