The Secret of the Great Hand Cuff Trick,




[This article originally appeared anonymously in the August 1903 issue of the Strand.]

For a man fettered with handcuffs, leg-irons, and chains to free himself in less time than it has taken, to fasten him has long been so mystifying a performance that many people have acquired the impression that it bordered on the supernatural. The secret is, however, like many of the best tricks ever invented, in reality a surprisingly simple one. In the first place, it must be remembered that handcuffs such as are used by modern policemen are constructed with spring-locks, which are fastened or released by means of a key, or some article which answers the same purpose, which pulls back the spring. Without the aid of such a key it is impossible for any human being to free him- self from the regulation handcuffs employed by the police. And herein lies the whole secret-the performer has a key, or rather several keys. All his ingenuity is exercised in concealing these bout his person, or inside the cabinet to which he retires to release himself after being, to all appearance, helplessly secured.

Fig 1.

Some of these keys are concealed in the framework of the cabinet, which is generally constructed of piping, having additional pieces which appear to be essential portions of the framework, but which in reality are only intended to hold the keys. Other keys the performer keeps disposed about his person in sundry small pockets especially made for the purpose, and so arranged that he is able to place his hand upon some one or other of them in whatever position he may be. The best places for concealment are-first, a pocket between the knees, to permit the key to be reached when the performer is fastened in a crouched position; secondly, a pocket about six inches up inside the leg of the trousers; thirdly, a key carried in the hip-pocket of the trousers, for use when pinioned with the arms behind the back; and, finally, a small pocket inside the top of the waistcoat, or wherever it may be found convenient.

Fig 2.

Let us now turn to the photographs, which have been especially taken for this article, and which render the whole proceeding very clear. In Fig. 1 the performer is fastened with six pairs of hand cuffs. In such a position it seems impossible that he can free himself; but by putting his hands over his head and down his coat-collar he has caught the end of a silk handkerchief thrust into the breast of his waistcoat, to which a key is attached.

Fig 3.

Fig. 2 shows the handkerchief and key drawn to the front; while Fig. 3 shows the key inserted in the lock.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4 shows the method employed when the position is such that it is impossible, owing to the awkwardness of the attitude, to pull the lock back. A piece of violin string is made into a loop and kept inside the cabinet. When it is impossible to draw the key, and with it the lock-spring, with the fingers, the loop is put over the key, the heel of the boot placed in the other, end of the loop, and the lock is then easily drawn back. After one, pair has been opened the others follow as a matter of course. Figs. 5 and 6 show another position, the key this time being obtained from the waistcoat.

Fig. 5 and 6

Fig 7.

Fig. 7 shows one of the most difficult positions in which it is possible to be placed. The silk handkerchief shown is just peeping from the waistcoat, and is brought out by aid of the tongue, it being possible to draw out a good silk by licking it.

Fig 8.

In Fig. 8 the performer has rolled over and obtained a good hold of the handkerchief, which, by a quick jerk of the head, he throws over his back, and eventually gets hold of it with his hands, as shown in Fig. 9.

Fig 9

If the key falls to the floor he rolls over and picks it up, the rattle of the handcuffs hiding the sound of the falling key. His next movement is to free his hands from his feet, which he does in the manner already described. The key for this position can also be obtained from the leg of the trousers.

Fig 10

Fig. 10 shows the implements of torture and the condition of the performer's wrists after an exhibition. The special keys are split with a saw about half an inch down, to allow for variation in the sizes of various locks (Fig. 11). It should be understood that an expert, when about to give a performance, inquires what position it is intended to place him in. He then causes, as an introduction. a few pairs of his own handcuffs to be placed on his wrists, and while freeing himself from these in his cabinet he arranges his keys to suit the position in which he will next be placed. Other implements besides the keys are also used: a piece of bent wire is often quite sufficient. Most experts are also conjurers, and "palm" the key, especially in the case of nude test, when they are stripped and locked up in a cell; or they make use of a concealing key, which is made telescopic, the handle being constructed to close down the side of the key, and the whole being fixed under the toes by a piece of shoemaker's wax and detached when inside the cell.

Fig 11.

Although, when the secret is explained, it seems very easy to accomplish it must be understood that it is necessary for a successful performer to possess very hard, strong wrists and abundance of finger strength and to be a man of some resource. It is to fasten him. He obtained some very small gold almost impossible for any person to fasten an expert securely unless he himself understands the secret of the method of, escape, and even then may not be successful. On one occasion a performer underwent a severe test by a person who understood the secret, and therefore did not any keys whatever, but by very ingenious method overcame the efforts of the gentleman in question to fasten him. He obtained some very small gold-filled wire and made it into the form of a wire ring, which was partly covered by a broad gold one to which the wire ring was attached. Thus prepared he underwent the test, unwrapping the wire ring when in the cabinet. Needless to state, in a very short time he was free.

Handcuffs are sometimes brought to fetter the performer with the locks plugged or otherwise tampered with. But it is the performer's own fault if he is trapped. It is a very easy matter to tamper with the locks-a few lead pellets dropped down the barrel will effectually prevent the lock from being drawn. This method has often been attempted, but not successfully.

Now that the methods have been explained and illustrated, it will be very easily perceived that there is nothing supernatural about the secret of handcuff manipulation.