Published: Jinty 24 January 1976 – 29 May 1976
Artist: Jim Baikie
Translations/reprints: None known
Lori Mills is a brilliant athlete at Fleetwood Athletic Club, her specialty being the pole vault, and she is selected for the county trials. A jealous rival, Rachel, sabotages Lori’s pole vault during training to put her out of the trials. The ensuing accident causes Lori to lose her memory. Rachel is swift to seize upon this to get Lori to leave the club. The amnesic Lori wanders the streets, trying to get help, but gets mistaken for a shoplifter. Thinking she is now a wanted fugitive, Lori runs like hell from the town and ends up taking shelter in a junkyard.
Unfortunately for Lori, the junkyard is run by the evil Ma Crabb and her daughter Stella. They are cruel and abusive, and they also work as fences for a criminal known as Fingers. When the Crabbs find Lori and see she has lost her memory, they promptly take advantage to make Lori an unpaid slave – and worse. Begging acts and criminal acts are all part of what they want out of Lori as well as making her a drudge. Ma Crabb tells Lori she’s her niece Polly, dresses her in rags, and crops her hair to make her unrecognisable from Lori’s “missing” photos. Lori is not convinced she is Polly Crabb but can’t remember the truth. Lori’s only friend is the Crabbs’ donkey Neddy, which they abuse as much as they abuse her. The Crabbs use Neddy for blackmail purposes over Lori – do what they say, or the donkey suffers. Other times they use the whip, chain her up, starve her, make her slog, and other forms of abuse.
Fingers also helps to keep Lori enslaved. For example, when Lori makes a run for it, Ma Crabb has Fingers tail her. But he’s not to bring her back – Ma Crabb’s plan is for him to make so much trouble for her that her will breaks and she will come crawling back. This works just as Ma Crabb planned, beginning with Fingers stealing a vase and putting the blame on Lori. But when Lori discovers the vase at Ma Crabb’s, she sees through the whole charade and breaks the vase over Fingers’ noggin. From then on, Lori declares war on the Crabbs and Fingers, such as foiling Fingers’ pickpocketing at a market when he tries to drag her into it though she knows she will suffer for it later.
Lori is quick to find her athletics and that she has a desire to keep in training. Her athletics becomes her weapon against the Crabbs, whether it’s to try to escape or just annoy them, particularly when they try to punish her for her defiance or break her will. In the course of the story we see Stella taking a number of hilarious falls whenever she makes a lunge for Lori but Lori is so fast and nimble she dodges them every time.
When Ma Crabb sends Lori out to sell logs, Lori meets people could be her tickets to freedom. She tells a kindly old lady about her problems, but the old lady doesn’t offer anything but sympathy. She sees a boy in training and gives him some tips, which makes her realise she must be trained. The boy belongs to a posh school, and at the school Lori is challenged to compete in a hurdling event, which she wins hands down. The headmaster is interested in her to help with coaching. But Ma Crabb does not want that headmaster sniffing around. She has Lori put the headmaster off, threatening to beat Neddy if she doesn’t.
Next, Ma Crabb forces Lori, under threat of more donkey abuse, to climb a dangerous tower as practice for a job. Lori soon finds this means being forced to help Fingers’ gang rob a jewellery store. Lori manages to snatch the jewellery back and return it to the store. Then she just runs until she collapses, and is surprised to wake up in a proper bed. It’s the lady who was kind to Lori earlier. But the Crabbs aren’t far away and hatch a cunning plan. Ma Crabb feeds the old lady lies about Lori being a thief and Fingers plants of the old lady’s jewellery on her. The old lady falls for it, and Lori is forced to leave. She soon guesses who was behind it, but she has no choice but to go back to Ma.
Lori finds Ma’s latest punishment is to sell Neddy to a knacker’s yard. To save him, she has to raise money in record time to buy him back. She succeeds, but again the Crabbs have been tailing her, guessing what she was up to. But Lori isn’t having them take Neddy back – and neither is Neddy, who knocks Stella into the canal. Lori hunts around to find him another home and finds a good one at an orphanage. Neddy is now safely out of Ma’s clutches and she has lost her source of blackmail over Lori. That’s that problem solved, but Lori soon finds she is not yet rid of the Crabbs.
As Lori returns from the orphanage, she passes a shop that seems familiar. Realising it must be linked to her past she goes in, but the shopkeeper does not recognise her. Lori realises it is because of her shorn hair and now understands why the Crabbs cut her hair off. This confirms her suspicions she is not Polly Crabb.
Lori confronts Ma over this, and says she knows what to do. She would have been wiser to have kept her mouth shut, for she has alerted the Crabbs. And if she had done some investigating in Ma’s caravan she would have found the answer – a newspaper report of the missing Lori Mills, which Ma had the whole time. Instead, Lori goes in search of a wig resembling her old hairstyle so someone might recognise her, but the Crabbs are onto her immediately. What’s more, Lori has no money to buy a wig.
Then Lori spots a silver trophy as a prize for an open athletics event. Her plan is to win the cup, sell it, and buy a wig with it. But again the Crabbs are onto it and block her from entering. Undaunted, Lori enters the competition under a blackface identity (perhaps not very PC today, but the disguise works well enough to get past Stella). She wins the event, but as the reporters take her photos, they spot the blackface starting to run from sweat. Lori she has to make a fast exit with the trophy. She manages to hide it when she gets back to the junkyard, but her disguise is still there for the Crabbs to see through. When they read the newspaper report about Lori’s win, they want to know where that cup is. They fail to find it, but Fingers later snatches it when Lori tries to sell it.
Lori follows up on her only hunch – if she was trained, she must belong to an athletics club, and the only one around is Fleetwood. She goes to Fleetwood, but the two girls she meets don’t know her. She wanders around town, which does seem familiar, and asks if anyone knows her. Nobody recognises her as Lori, a policeman nabs her for obstruction, and then Ma Crabb shows up to take her back.
But in a dream, Lori recalls the accident at Fleetwood that caused her to lose her memory. She realises the two girls may not have known her because they were new to the club. So she heads back to Fleetwood. To make herself recognisable she needs the wig. There’s no money to buy it, but a wig shop owner agrees to let her borrow one.
This time, Lori is recognised at Fleetwood, but jealous Rachel snatches the wig, exposing her cropped hair, and tries to have them believe it’s not Lori. The club coach gives Lori a chance to prove her identity – do the pole vault in the way only Lori Mills can do. Lori succeeds, and they are convinced of her identity. At this, Rachel makes herself scarce.
But Lori still does not have her memory back. Then the Crabbs catch up again with those phony claims she’s Polly Crabb, and try to drag her back. But not this time. During a struggle with the Crabbs, Lori takes a crack on the head, which restores her memory. Now the game is up and Lori is threatening to tell the police how she was treated, the Crabbs follow Rachel’s example, saying they won’t go near Lori again.
Whenever a girl loses her memory in girls’ comics, a villain out to take advantage of this is never far behind. In some cases the true identity of the amnesic girl and how she lost her memory is kept a mystery to the readers e.g. “The Double Life of Dolly Brown” aka “The Double Life of Coppelia Brown” from Mandy or “Sadie in the Sticks” from Tammy. In such cases, unravelling the mystery is part of regaining her memory and freeing herself from her abusers. However, this isn’t always the case, and it’s not the case here. We know from the outset who Lori is and how she lost her memory. And regaining her memory is the key to freeing herself from her oppressors. No matter how many times Lori tries to escape from the Crabbs, they always catch up one way or other with their false claims she’s Polly Crab, they’ve come to claim her, and she’s an out-of-control girl who is best left to them.
The only way for Lori to beat the Crabbs for good is to discover her true identity. Unlike some amnesic heroines, such as Katrina Vale from “Slave of the Swan” (Jinty), Lori has the advantage of not really falling for her abusers’ lies. From the outset, she is not convinced she is Polly Crabb, and she grows increasingly sure she isn’t. After all, Ma Crabb is not treating Lori as if she were her own niece. Ma Crabb also made the mistake of not operating in a more insidious manner to enslave Lori psychologically as well as physically, as in “Slave of the Swan” or “No Cheers for Cherry” (Jinty), and fool her so well she may not even realise what’s going on. No, it’s straight out abuse from the beginning. The harsh treatment Lori gets from the woman who is supposed to be her aunt makes her increasingly suspicious that Ma Crabb is no relation of hers. For this reason, the Crabbs can’t enslave Lori fully and have her swallowing all the lies she’s told until she doesn’t know which way to turn except to her captors.
However, though Ma Crabb doesn’t fully enslave Lori, she still has crafty ways to keep Lori under her thumb. Her secret weapon is Fingers, whom she instructs to shadow Lori when she first escapes but to play tricks on her to break her will and make her come crawling back. And it all goes like clockwork for Ma – until she slips up and leaves the vase where Lori can find it and rumble the trick. But if Lori hadn’t discovered the trick and turned into a rebel against Ma because of it, it could have enslaved her altogether. And no matter how often Lori tries to escape, the Crabbs always catch up. They already have a pretty good idea where to look from what they know about Lori, and Fingers is a very capable shadow. Their biggest weapon is using Neddy to blackmail Lori into doing what they want. For this reason, selling Neddy is ultimately a mistake for them. It not only frees Lori from the blackmail and gives her more scope to escape but eventually frees Neddy from the animal abuse as well.
Eventually, Lori’s suspicions she is not Polly Crabb are fully confirmed. But being convinced of it is one thing – proving it is another. There are many stories where protagonists have their identities stolen and are trapped in a false one, such as “The Stranger in My Shoes” from Tammy and “The Imposter!” from Bunty. It’s bad enough for these girls to prove their identities while fully knowing who they are. How the heck can Lori prove her identity when she can’t even remember it herself and Ma Crabb doing such a good job of disguising her that nobody recognises her as the missing girl, Lori Mills? Her only clues are her original hairstyle, indications she’s a trained athlete, gradual memories that begin to resurface, and everything progressively pointing to Fleetwood Athletic Club.
The abuse from the Crabbs does tend go over the top at times, such as keeping Lori dressed in that ragged dress, making her sleep on sacks, and even chaining her up. Moreover, their grotesque faces and dark, coarse appearance, which makes them so reminiscent of fairy tale witches, not only adds to the excessiveness but should also alert anyone to the sort they are straight away. You would think the Crabbs have a reputation around the town, and the police would already be suspicious of their activities and watching them closely. Yet Ma Crabb finds it so easy to fool anyone who gets too close with her lies about her “niece”.
When Lori threatens the Crabbs with the police over the way they treated her, they beg her not to, promising they’ll leave her alone, and beat a fast exit. Yes, but aside from their treatment of Lori and Neddy – which they go unpunished for – there’s still the matter of their criminal activities, and that should be reported to the police. We’re left feeling the Crabbs are yet another bunch of villains who got off too easily, and Fingers is still at large.
It is touching to read the blurb at the end of the story. Instead of telling us what’s coming next week, it closes with a final word about Lori: “Lori had courage and talent – but it was her courage that helped her in the end!” Yes, it was the courage to not only remain steadfast and determined but defiant as well, and fight back any way she could. On many occasions, the way Lori strikes back has us laugh and cheer, such as sending Stella into dirty puddles. So Lori Mills must stand as one of Jinty’s most feisty heroines.