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What are the types of illegal and handmade weapons which have been made in prison?
#1 – A Shiv / Shank: Deriving from the 17th century word “chive” meaning a knife, a shiv is an improvised stabbing weapon made from literally anything; metal, wooden handles, toothbrushes, tiles or combs, with razor blades or pins embedded into the object, or it shaped into a sharp blade. They’re designed to be thin, flat and easy to make, conceal and destroy. Some prisoners have even melted boiled sweets and fashioned them into a shank, which is easy to make and tasty to destroy.
#2 - Lock Sock or a Ball Mace. Again, easy to make, prisoners can take a sock and place in it anything weighty that they have access to, perhaps a padlock or a pool ball. Separately they’re two harmless and everyday objects, but when the Lock Sock is swung, it can do serious damage to an inmate’s skull.
#3 – The Millwall Brick. Named after the North London football team whose fans were infamous for being unable to fart without fighting, a Millwall Brick is a simple cosh made from lots of layers of tightly rolled wetted and dried paper. It sounds stupid, but (given enough layers) it can be made as hard as a wooden club.
#4 - Floss Wire. Very few prisoners have access to dental floss, as (when multiple strands are wound together) it can be used to garrotte an inmate, and has been used to saw through prison bars.
#5 – Tin Can Tops: As anyone who’s ever cut their finger opening a can knows, they can be very sharp, and as prisoner’s can purchase tinned goods in the prison shop, these have been used as weapons.
Those were the standard weapons found in prison, and here’s some bizarre ones…
The Razor Whip: Discovered in a Hamburg Prison in 1996, the Razor Whip consisted of a large wooden stake onto which was attached a metre long leather strap, weighted at the end by bolts and along the strap was three razor blades. It was discovered before it was used, but it could have been lethal.
Homemade Guns: Dummy guns have been crafted in prison to fool the guards into thinking the inmate is armed, but many working guns have also been made inside. In a Canadian prison, a working .22 calibre handgun was made just using hobby-craft tools. In Folsom State Prison, one was made using a stapler. And in Germany, a double-barrelled shotgun was made from scrap metal from the prison workshop, it was loaded with ball bearings and ignited by AA batteries, matchheads and a lightbulb, and the shotgun was so effective, it blew a hole in a pane of bullet-proof glass.
The Toothbrush Crossbow: A Canadian prisoner made a full-working crossbow using 10 toothbrushes, a cigarette lighter, a ballpoint pen, a coat hanger, a pair of metal tongs, rubber gloves, string and a few screws. It was never used, but when tested, it fired steel bolts as far as 40 feet away.
A Radio Bomb. After his incarceration, serial killer Donald “Peewee” Gaskins was asked by Tony Cimo (a fellow inmate) to kill another prisoner, Rudolph Tyner who had killed Cimo’s mother and stepfather. Somehow, Gaskins got hold of some C4 explosives (as you do), he put it into a radio, gave the radio to Tyner telling him it was a walkie-talkie so the two of them could communicate with each other, when he returned to his cell, Tyner switched it on and BOOM! Tyner’s cell was repainted a new coat of red.
And according to most prisoners, the best and most effective weapon to immobilise another prisoner is the food; it’s lumpy, it’s lethal and (as a cunning disguise) it almost looks like real food.
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Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards 2018", and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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