When Frank Wilcox, a boot finisher who lived in the Old Kent Road, visited Middlesex Street market (better know to us as ‘Petticoat Lane’) he noticed a man selling something that seemed too good to be true. Now, I suspect we all know that if it ‘seems too good to be true’ it probably is, but Frank was still taken in.
Another Frank, this time Frank Lowery, was selling purses on the street. The purses were cheap but as showed a watching crowd he was giving way money with them. For a 1 shilling purse he added 3s from his pocket, for a 2s one you got 4s. It was clearly a bargain, free money – what we all dream of.
But of course it wasn’t.
Wilcox greedy handed over his shilling and took possession of a purse he thought had 3 shiny shillings in it. When he got away from the crowd he examined it and found to his disappointment it only contain 3 halfpences. He had been ‘done’.
He protested and then got a summons to bring the conman before the Guildhall magistrate.
Lowery was bold as brass (if you’ll forgive the pun) and told his worship that he would cheerfully explain how he carried out his scam. A constable handed him a purse and three shillings and Lowery took to his ‘stage’.
‘Now sir’, he began, ‘I wish you to watch me closely, so you see how I do it. Here is the purse (turning it inside out). Now you all see there is nothing in it. Hand it round’.
This provoked laughter in court.
‘Here are the three shillings, I put them in the purse and then show them, then shake them up. I next take three halfpence out of my pocket, but I do not let them see me do it; and when I open the purse again, I take out the three shillings and put in the halfpence by sleight of hand, so they do not see me do it, and then I go so-so-so-so (slapping the purse from hand to hand) and the it is done’ (more laughter).’
The magistrate was not amused. He told Lowery that he had demonstrated his guilt by his very actions and that he could hardly plead ignorance of his crime since the police found a newspaper article in his pocket describing a prosecution for just such an offence.
‘But that was me, sir’ the unrepentant fraudster exclaimed, ‘and the grand Jury threw out the bill’. He was remanded in custody for further examination.
[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, October 27, 1878]