Curse of the Mummy
Around four and a half thousand years ago the great pharaoh, Khufu’s mummified body and a fabulous collection of his most valued possessions were sealed up in the Great Pyramid at Giza. Watching its construction, Khufu must have been satisfied that such a fortress of limestone and granite would keep the grave robbers at bay for all eternity. He could never have foreseen that his tomb would end up ransacked, that his possessions would be lost forever, and that his final resting place would be in a jar in an apothecary’s shop.
Khufu’s fate shows that if the potential rewards are great enough no building can hope to keep the criminal at bay. An ingenious criminal will always find a way in to a building, however secure it may appear to be. Yet Khufu and his treasures might have remained intact if as much thought had gone into keeping the thieves in as out.
Provided that the rewards are likely to justify the effort involved today’s burglar, like his ancient Egyptian counterpart, will first identify the quickest, easiest and safest route into a building. In a third of burglaries he will get in through a rear window. Windows are often the weakest point in the house, and the back of the house offers the best protection from prying eyes.
His biggest fear is of getting caught. Every second he is in the house he runs the risk of discovery, so his escape route is his lifeline. Provided he can get his head through, the burglar can easily worm his way through any opened window, but with an angry householder snapping at his heels a small transom window will prove his Nemesis. He needs a bigger hole to scurry out of and the most suitable exit will be either the front or the back door.
With most householders now security conscious securing an escape route should be the burglar’s greatest challenge. Millions of pounds of government money has gone into making the public aware of the benefits of good quality locks on doors and windows. The Home Office recommends a five-lever mortice deadlock kitemarked to at least BS3621 on both front and back doors, along with bolts top and bottom fixed with good, strong screws and fastenings. For front doors it also recommends an automatic deadlock that can be locked from the outside. The government literature also recommends fitting laminated glass to windows and doors, and key-operated window locks.
The advice is sound. A burglar is unlikely to risk attracting attention by smashing a large pane of glass. He will be prepared, however, to smash a smaller pane of glass in a window in order to reach through to slip the latch. Window locks provide the window with multiple locking points that prevent the window being prised open or opened from the inside. Mortice locks and deadlocks make formidable obstacles for those without the keys.
Even if the determined burglar does manage to get inside a house where the householder has followed sensible crime-prevention advice he will be faced with the difficult problem of getting back out with anything larger than an ornament or two. Even if he has free run of the house while his courage holds, and can search all the cupboards, cabinets and drawers for items of value, if sensible precautions have been taken small valuables will be hidden away in a floor safe or other secure place. Larger valuables such as electrical items and furnishings are less conveniently hidden away, but however bigheaded the burglar may be he will never persuade a grandfather clock to squeeze through a small kitchen window.
Fortunately for the burglar the bolts on the inside of the door are useless once he is inside, and the best mortice lock is worthless if all he has to do is to turn the key in the lock. And as he passes your state-of-the-art computer system through the window to his mate in the garden he no doubt gives thanks to St Gates, the patron saint of windows, that an unlocked window-lock offers a similar level of security as a paper safe.
Despite government advice, in two out of ten burglaries an unlocked door or window means that the burglar does not even have to use force to get in. More alarming is that once inside, the burglar often has no trouble at all in getting back out by a door or a larger window. All too often the police attend the scene of a burglary to find that the burglar who has struggled to squeeze through a small window has simply walked out through a door. The door will often have a key in the lock, “in case there’s a fire”, or a simple latch lock that was lazily pulled to behind the busy householder. Occasionally the unwitting occupant will have even provided the burglar with a getaway vehicle in the form of a car in the drive and the keys on the kitchen table.
Non of us have the resources to build ourselves a pyramid, nor would we choose to live in the dark, suffocating confines of such a building that perfect security would require. However, all of us can ensure that the burglar leaves with nothing more than a sense of frustration simply by making it as difficult to get out of the house as it was to get inside.
Keys nesting in a basket in the kitchen attract a burglar like nestlings attract a cat, while keys impaled on hooks behind the door prove efficient traitors. Sheath keys in their locks and you stab at the very heart of your home security. Spare keys should be deposited with family or good neighbours, or should be hidden out of harm’s way along with any other small potential pickings.
The Great Pyramid’s six million tons of stone make it the most massive building ever constructed. Its purpose was to protect Khufu and his possessions and it failed. Yet our modest homes, frail in comparison, can far more successfully guard our assets if the right precautions are taken. Allow a burglar access to your house keys and your household security becomes as effective as the medicine made from Khufu’s mummy.
© R.I.Chalmers 2002