Bouncy-Castle King Gets 11 Years for Bouncy-Castle Arson

Evidently not at all fire-resistant (image: Corry Danzler via flickr, CC 2.0)

According to The Canberra Times, by 2017 James Balcombe’s bouncy-castle business, “Awesome Party Hire,” had become the number one bouncy-castle business in Melbourne, Australia. The report raises at least two burning questions: (1) just how many bouncy-castle businesses were there in Melbourne, Australia, and (2) exactly how does one go about achieving a position of dominance in a crowded bouncy-castle industry? We get only a partial answer to the first question, but to my surprise the answer is “more than one.” The answer to the second question is much more clear: to achieve a position of dominance in a crowded bouncy-castle industry, one simply burns all competing bouncy castles to the ground.

“Burn them to the ground,” Balcombe reportedly said to three henchmen he paid to commit 11 arson attacks on competing bouncy-castle businesses in 2016 and 2017. If this meant one attack per business, then there would have been at least 12 such businesses in Melbourne at the time (11 targets plus Balcombe’s). But the report tells us Balcombe “was so set on destroying his rivals” that he told his henchmen “to return to businesses when the initial fire caused only minor damage,” and that one competitor “was targeted three times.” So let’s say there were 10 such businesses. That would have been one for every 450,000 Melbournians (or Melbournites or whatever). But as we shall see, each business may have been able to deploy more than 100 bouncy castles at a time if necessary. More importantly, it seems unlikely that most residents would have need of a bouncy castle more than once a year or so, and then only for a relatively limited period of time. So while our information is limited, it is not impossible that the bouncy-castle market in Melbourne had indeed become crowded, if not saturated.

But after Balcombe offered the henchmen $2,000 per fire, all that changed.

“Many” of the 11 arson attacks were unsuccessful, according to the report, but at least one business (A&A Jumping Castles) was “totally destroyed” by a Molotov cocktail, which caused “a huge blaze that engulfed the [bouncy-castle] factory and destroyed 110 (!) bouncy castles.” The owners were forced to close the business. So with at least one rival completely eliminated and others crippled to some extent, Balcombe had achieved his goal and was atop the inflatable heap.

But had he been too successful? Balcombe reportedly became worried that police would think so, or at least that they might possibly notice that after a mysterious string of bouncy-castle torchings, only one of the city’s bouncy-castle business had not been torched. Balcombe then did just what you would expect: he paid the same people to burn down his own business. Not only would this divert suspicion, he apparently reasoned, he could also pocket hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars in insurance money.

The self-torching happened on March 6, 2017. But the Molotov-flinging henchman was arrested just three days later. Did he flip? No! But only because that’s not what they call it in Australia, where it’s apparently known as “dobbing in.” Did he dob Balcombe in? You better believe it.

The henchman, who has since been sentenced to eight-and-a-half Australian years in prison, told police about the scheme. Balcombe was arrested, charged with 11 counts of conspiracy to commit arson, and then unwisely released on bail. After he failed to show up for a hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was eventually found living in Perth, more than 3,400 kilometers away on the other side of the continent/island/landmass. Balcombe was reportedly going by the name “Paul Johnson” and running something called a “fraudulent stamp operation,” and while that sounds awfully stupid, it couldn’t be dumber than his previous scheme. In any event, Balcombe was extradited to his home state, where he pleaded guilty and and was sentenced to 11 years.

Though Balcombe’s escape to Perth was unsuccessful, at least he didn’t try to flee to a different landmass using a jet ski, making him arguably smarter than at least one of his countrymen. See Attempt to Flee Australia on a Jet Ski Fails (90 Miles Later)” (Mar. 28, 2019).