By Brad Dison
In March of 1974, 26-year-old Ian Ball hatched a terrible plan. He rented a white Ford Escort under the name of John Williams, a most common name, and collected four sets of handcuffs, Valium tranquilizers, a large caliber revolver pistol, a small caliber revolver pistol, spare ammunition, and a pair of gloves. Owning firearms in England required special permits and licenses which Ian did not possess. He prepared a rambling ransom note in which he ultimately requested £2 million in £5bills. The demand specified that the money was to be delivered in 400,000 £5 bills. He demanded that the money be placed in twenty suitcases and put on a specific airplane for Switzerland. In addition to the money, he requested that Queen Elizabeth II appear on the plane in person to sign some paperwork which he deemed necessary. Ian was unaware that the Queen was in Indonesia on a State visit. Ian Ball was mentally ill.
Shortly before 8 p.m. on March 20, 1974, newlyweds Mark and his wife Anne, along with Alexander, James, and Georgina, were returning to Anne’s mother’s home from a nearby movie theater. About 200 yards from her Anne’s mother’s home, a white Ford Escort sped past them. Suddenly, the driver of the Ford Escort slammed on the brakes and swerved the car in front of them. Alexander had only a split second to respond. He slammed on the brakes and brought their car to a screeching halt just inches from the Ford Escort.
A young man with light red hair and matching beard exited the Ford Escort and walked toward their car with a pistol in each hand. It was Ian Ball. James exited the car under the assumption that something Alexander had done while driving had upset the driver of the Ford Escort. James’s plan was to try to diffuse the situation. James held his hands in front of Ian to show that he was not a threat and tried to speak with Ian. From a distance of about six feet, Ian shot James in his right shoulder. James, who had the proper licensing to possess and carry a gun, returned fire. James was right-handed and the gunshot to his right shoulder weakened his grip. His shot missed Ian. James’s weakened grip caused his automatic pistol to jam.
With James no longer a threat, Ian turned his attention to the occupants of the car. He went to the rear door on the driver’s side and tried to open it. Mark and Anne struggled to hold the door closed. Ian ordered, “Open, or I’ll shoot!” Georgina opened the rear passenger door and ran from the car. James, unable to clear his jammed pistol, jumped into the car through the door Georgina had opened. He saw Ian raise the pistol toward the window and instinctively jumped in between the gunman and Mark and Anne. Ian fired into the car. The bullet shattered the window and struck James in the hand. Ian fired another shot into the car which struck James and knocked him back out of the passenger side rear door. Alexander exited from the driving position of the car to confront Ian. Ian shot Alexander in the chest. Alexander fell back into the driver’s seat. Ian turned back to the two remaining uninjured occupants of the car, Mark and Anne.
Ian opened the rear driver’s side door, grabbed Anne’s forearm, and began pulling. Mark grabbed her wrist and pulled in the opposite direction. Ian was paying little attention to Mark. He said to Anne, “Please, come out. You’ve got to come.” Anne replied, “Not bloody likely.” Ian persisted but Anne was determined not to exit the car. During Ian’s and Mark’s tug-of-war over Anne, her dress split down the back. Rather than panicking, Anne had “a very irritating conversation” with Ian.
Police constable Michael Hills was patrolling on foot nearby and heard the screeching tires and the gunshots. He was the first officer on the scene. Assuming that the quarrel was over a traffic accident, the unarmed officer approached Ian. He touched Ian’s shoulder and Ian shot P.C. Hills in the stomach. Before collapsing onto the pavement, P.C. Hills radioed into the station that he had been shot.
The gunshots got the attention of everyone in the area. Ronald Russell, a 6’4” former boxer, was driving home from work when he saw Ian shoot P.C. Hills. He pulled his vehicle to the side of the road and walked to the scene. Meanwhile, Glenmore Martin positioned his car in front of Ian’s car to prevent him from escaping in it. Glenmore exited the car and tried to approach Ian, but Ian aimed a pistol at him. John McConnell, a journalist for the Daily Mail, approached and tried to reason with Ian. John said “Don’t be silly, old boy. Put the gun down.” Ian shot him. The journalist fell to the pavement. As Ian turned his attention back to Anne, Ronald stealthily approached Ian from behind. The former boxer punched Ian in the back of the head. Stunned, Ian lost his grip on Anne.
Anne quickly backed out of the passenger side of the car. Ian escaped Ronald’s grasp and ran around the car to get to Anne. Anne quickly jumped back into the car with Mark and shut the door. Ian struggled to open the door. He noticed that more policemen had arrived and realized his plan had failed. Anne watched as Ian nervously scanned the area for an escape route. When Anne noticed that Ian had spotted a clear route away from the scene, she yelled through the window, “Go on. Now’s your chance.” Ian ran. Policeman Peter Edmonds heard P.C. Hills’s radio call for help and arrived in time to see Ian fleeing the scene. He took chase and quickly tackled Ian in what one witness called “a splendid rugby tackle.” While searching Ian’s rented car they found the handcuffs, tranquilizers, and ransom note.
Ian eventually pled guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping charges, and received a life sentence in a mental health facility. Nine years later, Ian wrote a letter to a member of the British Parliament in which he claimed that the whole incident had been a hoax. Ian also claimed that he had been framed. Ian remains in a mental health facility.
The Queen awarded medals to the people who protected the would-be kidnap victims. James Beaton received the George Cross, the highest award for courage. P.C. Hills and Ronald Russell received the George Medal, the second-highest civilian award for bravery. P.C. Edmonds, John McConnell and Alexander Callender received the Queen’s Gallantry Medals, the third-highest civilian award for bravery. She awarded Glenmore Martin with the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. During the ceremony, as the Queen presented Ronald Russell with the George Cross medal, she said, “This medal is from the Queen of England, the thank you is from Anne’s Mother.” Anne, Princess Anne, is Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter. The Queen’s home, Buckingham Palace, was the group’s destination when Ian intervened.
1. The Guardian (London, England), March 21, 1974, p.1.
2. Social Security Administration. “Top 5 Names in Each of the Last 100 Years.” Accessed October 2, 2020. ssa.gov/oact/babynames/top5names.html.
3. Hagen, Carrie. “The Bloody Attempt to Kidnap a British Princess.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed October 2, 2020. smithsonianmag.com/history/bloody-attempt-kidnap-british-princess-180950202/.