By Brad Dison
It was Christmas Day in 1982. J.R. and his family and friends, which amounted to about a dozen people in all, were enjoying a wonderful and relaxing Christmas at J.R.’s home in St. James, Jamaica. The day was bright and cheerful. Due to Jamaica’s warm climate, there was no snow. The warm temperature did not hinder their festive holiday moods in the least. They thought back on previous Christmases they had spent together and looked forward to many more. As the day slowly turned into evening on the tropical island, the dozen people readied themselves for dinner. The dozen people entered the large dining room from other parts of the house through three large doors. They began taking their places at a table large enough to accommodate 20 people which took up almost all of the space in the room.” They were just about to say the blessing when something happened which would make this Christmas the most memorable of their lives.
At precisely 6:00 p.m., with everyone seated, they bowed their heads to say the blessing. At that instant, three masked young men quickly entered all three doors of the dining room. One had a knife, another had a hatchet, and the third one had a pistol. One of the masked intruders said, “Somebody’s going to die here tonight!” J.R. and the others at the table were completely shocked. Some of them screamed while others were too afraid to make a sound. One of J.R.’s friends fainted out of fright. J.R. calmly looked at the intruders. He showed no fear but followed their instructions. The intruders had them lay on their stomachs on the floor. J.R. looked at each of the other 11 people who, before 6:00 p.m., had been enjoying a wonderful Christmas together. J.R.’s wife, June, slowly moved her hands under her body to hide her jewelry, especially her wedding ring. Seconds felt like hours.
“We want a million dollars, or somebody’s going to die!” the pistol-wielding intruder yelled. J.R. raised his head, looked at the intruder’s eyes, and explained that they did not have a million dollars. “You’ve got money!” he insisted. J.R. explained that they had some money but not such a large amount. One of J.R.’s companions began screaming, “I’m going to have a heart attack! I’m going to have a heart attack!” This shook the intruders who told one of their captives to go into the kitchen and fetch a glass of water. They let J.R. and the others change into a sitting position. J.R. realized that people who intended to kill would never show this sort of compassion. J.R. studied their movements and the tones of their voices. Although they were wearing stocking masks, J.R. was able to determine that the boy with the pistol was probably in his early 20s and the other two were only teenagers. He knew they were not professionals.
J.R. felt certain that if they could remain calm, they all might survive. J.R.’s wife began to break down when one of the intruders began to forcibly remove her jewelry. The intruder with the pistol grabbed J.R.’s eleven-year-old son and put the gun to his head. “Everybody do as I say!” For the next two hours, the armed robbers led the whole group of people through each room of the house and gathered anything of value that they could carry. All the while, the gunman held the pistol to J.R.’s son’s head.
At first, the intruders were rough with their captives. Through it all, J.R. spoke softly and calmly. Rather than try to hide things of value, he pointed out the most valuable items in the home. His family and friends were more valuable to him than anything else. After two hours together, the intruders began to relax and became friendly, polite, and even chatty. They started calling J.R. “sir.” The gunman asked J.R.’s son “What do you like to do in Jamaica? Do you like to snorkel?” The gunman still held the pistol to his head. The gunman asked J.R.’s son, “Do you want to feel my gun?” For the first time, J.R. was terrified by what the gunman meant. J.R.’s son calmly replied, “No, sir. I don’t play with guns. I have a lot of respect for them. They’re very dangerous.” The gunman grinned behind his stock mask and said, “Hey, I like you man!”
Once the intruders bagged up all they could carry, one of them said, “We’re going to lock you in the cellar.” The intruders led them to the cellar, closed the door, and wedged a two-by-four across the outside of the door. J.R. and the others could hear their footsteps fading as they walked away. Before they had a chance to relax, they heard footsteps approaching the door. Although none of the captives spoke, they all wondered if the intruders were coming back to kill them so as not to leave any witnesses. Suddenly, they heard a scraping sound on the floor on the other side of the door. Someone slid a large plate of turkey under the door. “We want you people to have your Christmas dinner after all,” one of the intruders said. “We don’t want to take that away from you.” Again, they heard footsteps fading. Moments later, when J.R. decided the intruders had gone, he and his brother-in-law began ramming the large, solid door. After several tries, they finally broke the door down. J.R. calmly called the police. Within a few days, police captured each of the three intruders.
The captives credited J.R.’s calmness for saving their lives. On the rare occasions that he spoke of the armed robbery, J.R. said that for them to escape unharmed, he knew he had to remain calm. Perhaps his stint in the U.S. Air Force helped him in this situation. It was an Air Force rule that required J.R. to assume a name in place of the one his parents gave him. J.R. chose John. You and I know J.R. Cash as Johnny Cash, the Man in Black.
Source: Cash, Johnny, and Patrick Carr. Cash : The Autobiography. San Francisco, Ca, HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, p. 34-43.