Biography of Jailbreaker Jack Sheppard Part 3

About the English jailbreaker Jack Sheppard, biography and history of the man who escaped from numerous prisons.


Jack Sheppard

This time the keepers added auxiliary confinements. Sheppard was moved to a Newgate high-security room called "the Castle." Handcuffed, he was further immobilized by cumbersome leg irons anchored to the floor. To obviate any help from the thousands of people who--attracted by Sheppard's notoriety--now flocked to see him, no one was allowed within arm's reach. The precautions were but a small inconvenience to the escape artist. He picked the handcuffs and the prison's strongest padlocks, and as darkness fell on his last night there he shinnied up the chimney. Stopped by an iron bar embedded across the flue, he painstakingly chipped out the mortar around it, went through the prison chapel, wrenched the hinges off one barred door, unlocked another, and scrambled onto the prison roof. Once outside, finding the distance to the ground too far to jump, he coolly returned to "the Castle" to get his sleeping blanket for use as a rope. The escape was further impeded by the heavy leg irons, which he had been unable to remove, but he hobbled off through the steady rain that was now falling and hid in a barn in the fields. Within a few days, by fabricating a story that he had been jailed for fathering a bastard child, Sheppard had conned a shoemaker into striking off the chains. Freed, he hurried to a tavern to listen, unrecognized, as the drinkers toasted his escape in song.

By November, 1724, Sheppard's notoriety had become almost legendary. Caught again, he now became a celebrity. Commoners and noblemen alike came to hear the prison recitals in which he boasted of his numerous crimes. On Nov. 10 he was again sentenced to death, and six days later he was hanged publicly before a large crowd.

Until the moment the rope ended his short life by a slow strangulation, Sheppard's final thoughts had been of escape. Managing to hide a small knife in his pocket, he fully intended to cut his bonds on the way to the scaffold and make a quick leap into the friendly crowd. He didn't get the chance, but curiously he had yet another scheme. Told that bleeding a corpse after putting it into a warm bed could restore it to life, Sheppard entreated his cronies to give the idea a try. Instead, they carried his remains to a pub for an all-out wake before they put the legend of Jack Sheppard to its final rest in the burial ground of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields.

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