The public address system at London's White City Stadium was blaring the strains of Hello Dolly! and the hearts of the crowd were echoing the brassy refrain, "It's so nice to have you back where you belong!" But it was no musical comedy star they were welcoming. It was the sleek, black racing greyhound Hi Joe, whose mysterious disappearance from the racing kennels of Trainer Noreen Collin in Epping, Essex 13 months ago (SI, Jan. 25, 1965) had sparked the widest, longest and most unrewarding dog hunt in British police annals. Now Hi Joe, once the top racing greyhound in all Britain, was back again, parading proudly around the track at the end of a lead held by Miss Collin and to all appearance as fit as ever.
For more than a year the search for Hi Joe had extended not only the length and breadth of the British Isles but to France as well. Trainer Collin had received over 100 phone calls, all of which appeared worth checking out but none of which produced the lost dog. As time went by, the conviction that Hi Joe had been done in grew strong. When, for a period of about four months, nothing significant was heard and the phone at Epping rang less constantly, only Noreen Collin continued to hope—feeling as she had all along that "somehow, sometime he would emerge."
The first solid justification of that optimism came about two weeks ago in the form of a telephone call to the Greyhound Express, the dog tracks' equivalent of the Daily Racing Form. The voice on the line, Irish by the sound of it, wanted to check Hi Joe's earmarks. Like all Irish-bred greyhounds, Joe had been given a distinguishing mark—in his case, the letters V H X tattooed on the inside of the left ear. This was the first of four critical phone calls. The second concerned the reward. When Hi Joe first disappeared, his owner, Victor Chandler, a prosperous bookmaker, had offered ¬£2,000 for the return of the dog. After the first phone call Noreen Collin got in touch with Chandler, who was about to go off to the Bahamas on vacation, to ask if the original reward offer still held. Chandler answered that he was now willing to give only ¬£1,000, provided the dog was in good condition. Next day when the Irishman called again, Noreen told him of the drop in reward. He hung up, saying he would have to consult a friend.
There was a lapse of two days before the third call came through. During this conversation it was agreed that the transfer of the reward should be arranged through a lawyer and that Noreen would meet the two men in a pub in Soho, called, appropriately, The Three Greyhounds. From the time of the second call, the police had been kept informed of what was happening. On the evening of the planned meeting, Detective Sergeant Peter Jarrott, who had worked on the case from the beginning, was in the pub posing as a customer. At 8 p.m. Noreen Collin arrived as specified.
February 28, 1966
"I've never had such an ordeal in my life," says that respectable lady. "I wouldn't have done it for anybody except Hi Joe. I went in and bought a whiskey and gingerale. The proprietor gave me a bit of an odd look, as you can imagine. Suddenly somebody sidled up to me. He said, 'I think you're waiting for me—sit down.' I sat down. He sat down. And another man, who'd been at the bar when I walked in, sat down on the other side."
One of the men was elderly, the other quite young. Noreen Collin believes that neither of them was implicated in the theft of Hi Joe. Certainly, the tone of the conversation seemed to bear this out. She gave them the address of the lawyer whom they would have to see to tie up the details of the reward. During the talk they told her that one of them worked for a building contractor and the other in a pub.
The next time they telephoned (from a public call box) the conversation went on so long that the operator had to butt in to ask for more money. Noreen quickly asked the operator to reverse the charge. During the call, it was agreed that they would phone her again the next day, at 10:30 in the morning, to say where the dog was being kept.
That morning 20 policemen stood ready to swoop into action when the call came through. "Everybody was keyed up, like High Noon," said Noreen Collin. Midday passed and the call never came. At 3:30 in the afternoon it was decided to cancel the operation. But, by then, two clues had come neatly together.
Noreen Collin, remember, had asked the telephone operator to reverse payment on the fourth call. Because of this, the police were able to ascertain that the two men had called from Dunstable, a town only about 30 miles away from Epping. During the conversation at The Three Greyhounds one of the men had also revealed that he worked in a pub. Putting these tips together. Detective Sergeant Jarrott systematically combed the pubs of Dunstable until he found his man, who was called Jim.
When confronted, Jim agreed to tell where Hi Joe was being kept, but only in the presence of Noreen Collin. Noreen accordingly went to Dunstable in the early evening of Wednesday. Persuaded by her that, if the reward was going to be paid, he and his associate would receive it, Jim gave the police the address of a 27-year-old automobile worker called Bartholomew Casey. The police made their way to a semidetached house in Evelyn Road and walked into a wooden garage. They called Noreen Collin in after them.
"I went in. It was dark," she said later. "I felt around, and I felt a dog. I felt his head and I started going all sort of odd." Hi Joe has a bone in his forehead that Noreen Collin would recognize anywhere. "Archie," she murmured, calling Hi Joe by his familiar nickname. "For a minute he was all fussed," Noreen said later, "then, suddenly it seemed to dawn on him. He just wanted to come up near me. Everytime I got up, he got up. Everytime I sat down, he sat down."
Three greyhound puppies were found in the garage with Hi Joe, and it was widely suggested that he might be their sire. But a greater mystery was what Hi Joe was doing in Bartholomew Casey's garage at all Casey was as uncommunicative about that as Hi Joe was about the pups. He had, in fact, disappeared. Casey's wife said she knew nothing about the dog except that he had been put in her husband's care and that she herself had fed him on bread and cheese. It did not take the police long to discover that Hi Joe had been entered in races at a greyhound stadium in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire under the name Super Black or that Casey had listed himself as Black's owner.
Bletchley is a "flapping" track, which means it is unaffiliated with the National Greyhound Racing Society, and by definition is a very small affair. When Hi Joe was stolen, the very idea of such a dog running at flapping tracks was pooh-poohed. If he were not identified by his appearance then his performance, most experts said, would give him away. But a dog's form can be tampered with and, apart from this, Hi Joe had been a bad starter ever since he had been involved in a race in which the traps twice failed to open. A flapping track with its small circuit (220 yards as compared to the 470 yards of a track like White City) would pose an extra handicap for a slow starter. It was quite possible that under such conditions Joe would run well enough to win money but not to attract attention. As Super Black, Hi Joe finished third in two races at Bletchley, but it appeared possible that he had set records—under different names—at other tracks.
Further investigation, it was generally believed, would show that Hi Joe had been kept under wraps after his dognap-ping until the general hue and cry died down. There may have been, according to one source, an attempt to dye him blue. But the distinguishing feature that had to be disguised was Hi Joe's tattoo. Even flapping tracks, lax as their inspections might be, would not overlook this. The letters V H X tattooed on Hi Joe's ear were therefore altered, not too expertly but well enough, to N B K. With this done, Hi Joe might have kept on running at flapping tracks till his racing career was over had it not been for the informers who guessed his identity.
At week's end the two informers had not yet stopped around to pick up their money. But there were no charges laid against them and there seemed little doubt that they had a right to collect. The fugitive Bartholomew Casey, on the other hand, walked into the police station in Dunstable on Sunday night and gave himself up. He was promptly charged, not with stealing a dog—which in England is only a minor offense—but with the far more serious crime of stealing a dog's coat.
What interested British bettors more than Casey's fate, however, was: How much racing does Hi Joe have left in him?
"If his racing ideas haven't been ruined by all this flapping around," said Miss Collin, "he shouldn't take long to get back into form."
Meanwhile Mi Joe was resting like a lord on a couch in the sitting room of Forest Cottage where, incidentally, the police tend to lurk whenever Noreen Collin is away racing nowadays. He is back on his old diet: honey, cornflakes, milk, steaks, rusks and vegetables. If he does not prove to be his old self, he will be retired to stud. "With the record he had before," explained Noreen Collin. "I wouldn't want to race him anymore if he is going to be mediocre." All of Britain would nod in agreement to that.