The World Cup Heist, Scotland Yard, and a Canine Detective named ‘Pickles’

A World Cup mystery has held the world in thrall since March 1966 when the FIFA trophy was stolen from a church hall just four months before the championships in a heist worthy of The Italian Job

London’s famous Scotland Yard detectives had few clues to go on - although there were reports of a thin man in his ‘30s, with greasy hair and possibly a scar who was lurking about the church hall and trophy before it disappeared. The caper was the focus of international news and an intense police hunt.

It would take Pickles, a mixed-breed male Collie with a nose for crime, and his owner David Corbett to break the case wide open. 

Newspaper headline: World Cup Stolen - Hunt for Thin Man

The case of the missing FIFA trophy

“It is amazing really,” Corbett told FIFA in 2022. Pickles’ owner is still contacted by journalists every four years to repeat the details. “People remember the dog; they don’t remember me!”

The facts are as follows: 

With the eighth FIFA World Cup due to kick off in England in July 1966, the trophy was proudly on display at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, London, not far from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

FIFA attached conditions to loaning the trophy: the statue had to be transported by a reputable security firm; it should be held in a locked glass case guarded 24 hours a day, and; it was to be insured for no less than £30,000. While the trophy was valued at a fraction of that, it was surrounded by stamps worth £3m.

At some point between 11 am and 12:10 pm - with a church service on the floor below and the guards on a tea break - a thief (or thieves) broke in through the back door and left with the prize. Scotland Yard issued a description of a suspect that would make Agatha Christie proud: a thin male in his 30s with slicked black hair and a possible scar on the right of his face.

FA chairman Joe Mears soon received a ransom note and a threat. "Dear Joe Kno [sic] doubt you view with very much concern the loss of the World Cup... To me, it is only so much scrap gold. If I don't hear from you by Thursday or Friday at the latest I assume it's one for the POT." Rather than see the trophy melted into gold bars, Mears swung into action.

The World Cup Heist, Scotland Yard, and a Canine Detective named ‘Pickles’

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A World Cup mystery has held the world in thrall since March 1966 when the FIFA trophy was stolen from a church hall just four months before the championships in a heist worthy of The Italian Job

London’s famous Scotland Yard detectives had few clues to go on - although there were reports of a thin man in his ‘30s, with greasy hair and possibly a scar who was lurking about the church hall and trophy before it disappeared. The caper was the focus of international news and an intense police hunt.

It would take Pickles, a mixed-breed male Collie with a nose for crime, and his owner David Corbett to break the case wide open. 

Newspaper headline: World Cup Stolen - Hunt for Thin Man

The case of the missing FIFA trophy

“It is amazing really,” Corbett told FIFA in 2022. Pickles’ owner is still contacted by journalists every four years to repeat the details. “People remember the dog; they don’t remember me!”

The facts are as follows: 

With the eighth FIFA World Cup due to kick off in England in July 1966, the trophy was proudly on display at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, London, not far from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

FIFA attached conditions to loaning the trophy: the statue had to be transported by a reputable security firm; it should be held in a locked glass case guarded 24 hours a day, and; it was to be insured for no less than £30,000. While the trophy was valued at a fraction of that, it was surrounded by stamps worth £3m.

At some point between 11 am and 12:10 pm - with a church service on the floor below and the guards on a tea break - a thief (or thieves) broke in through the back door and left with the prize. Scotland Yard issued a description of a suspect that would make Agatha Christie proud: a thin male in his 30s with slicked black hair and a possible scar on the right of his face.

FA chairman Joe Mears soon received a ransom note and a threat. "Dear Joe Kno [sic] doubt you view with very much concern the loss of the World Cup... To me, it is only so much scrap gold. If I don't hear from you by Thursday or Friday at the latest I assume it's one for the POT." Rather than see the trophy melted into gold bars, Mears swung into action.

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World Cup Trophy won by England in 1966
Bobby Moore holds the World Cup trophy in 1966 after England beat West Germany 4-2


Suspect nabbed

‘Jackson’, the extortionist, wanted Mears to organize a private meeting in Battersea Park - no coppers - and if he wanted to see the trophy again he’d better bring £15,000 ($17,000) cash. Detective Inspector Len Buggy showed up instead with just £500 and a case padded out with newspapers.

The suspect, Edward Betchley, said he needed to drive around the south London park before collecting the trophy and then, spotting a police back-up vehicle, reportedly threw himself from the car only to be ‘nicked’ by police. Betchley, a suspected middleman, was sentenced to two years in jail and confirmed his loyalty in court: “Whatever my sentence is, I hope that England wins the World Cup.”

Britain’s iconic red phone box as seen in The Ipcress Files series

Pickles to the rescue


Corbett took the next step. Wondering if his brother’s new baby had arrived; he headed out to a nearby telephone box. Pickles was by his side and began sniffing around an unusual package. 

“It was wrapped in tightly-bound newspaper and string, laying against my neighbor’s car wheel,” Corbett said.

He worried it was an IRA bomb but curiosity got the better of him as Corbett tore a bit off the package and saw a plain disc: “Then I tore around and there was Brazil, Germany, Uruguay. I ran back in and said to my wife: ‘I think I’ve found the World Cup!’”

 

Pickles, the dog who found the World Cup at a press conference
Pickles at a press conference in 1966


Corbett’s wife and the police hid their excitement extremely well: “Doesn’t look very World Cup-y to me,” the Cannon Row police officer said. Corbett was now the chief suspect, the World Cup’s would-be savior now a suspected thief, as police questioned him for hours.

Jim was eventually released and, within weeks, he and PIckles were television celebrities invited to appear at grand openings. Pickles even starred as a film extra in the Spy with a Cold Nose



Corbett was awarded £5,000 and used the money to buy a house. Corbett recalls they were also invited to England’s World Cup winners’ banquet. Pickles took his celebrity status in stride, relieving himself on the five-star hotel’s elevator doors. 

The World Cup trophy held aloft
The FIFA trophy made of gold-plated silver and lapis lazuli depicts Nike, Greek goddess of victory

World Cup: mystery gangsters

No one was ever arrested and middleman Edward Betchley wasn’t a squealer.

In 2017, however, tabloid Mirror reporter Tom Petifor got a tip-off: The contact gave two clues: The culprit’s name was ‘Sidney Kew’ and he hailed from the tough ‘Walworth Road area’ in South London.

Betchley was arrested close to the Walworth area so Pettifor set out to identify Sidney Kew - aka Sidney Cugullere - who fit the description of the 30-ish man spotted leaving the exhibition after the heist.

Cugullere’s nephew, Gary, said Cugullere was now dead but had indeed stolen the Nike sculpture. At his funeral, the wreaths were made to resemble the World Cup trophy. Cugullere was actually casing the $3m in stamps but realized the trophy was easier to steal so he hid it in his jacket and walked off.

With no buyers and the ransom plot up in smoke, some suspect Cugullere struck a deal with Scotland Yard to return the trophy without charges being laid. Pickles may have been an accidental hero, but a hero nonetheless. The story didn’t end there, however. The original trophy was stolen again in 1983 in Brazil and may now be in the hands of a collector. When the Seleção won its third World Cup in 1970, the country was permanently given the newly sculpted trophy, now in the offices of its Football Confederation.

As for Pickles, he was buried in his owner's back garden in 1967. His collar is on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester.

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