Louis Rateau was a serial thief.
A self-declared chemist of no fixed abode he was charged at Marylebone Police Court of stealing overcoats in January 1887. His victims were all medical men: Dr Caley of Wimple Street, Dr Fosbrook of Buckingham Palace Square, and Dr Bradley of Orchard Street, Portman Square.
Rateau’s modus operandi was delightfully simple and effective. He called at the house of a doctor requesting a word with them. The servant that answered the door would take a proffered note to their masters and while the chemist waited in the hall he helped himself to each and every overcoat he could find hanging on the rack.
When the poor valet returned there was no sign of the elusive visitor.
However, while this ruse had worked well at the homes of Dr Bradley and Dr Fosbrook, Dr Caley’s servant was sharper witted. He quickly worked out what had occurred and set off in pursuit of the thief. With assistance from the police the Frenchman was soon in custody.
In court he pleaded guilty as charged and claimed he was driven to his crime out of desperation. Since he had arrived in London from France three months earlier he had had no work, and nowhere permanent to live. He had ‘dossed’ in a lodging house but now, with no money, he was sleeping rough and stealing to survive.
He must have had the appearance of respectability for the servants to let him stand indoors (or not to send him to the tradesman’s entrance) but a few more weeks of surviving in the open would have soon rendered that ruse impossible.
Louise apologised and promised to return to France if he was discharged but the magistrate had other ideas. He would give him accommodation and regular meals, but at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in prison for four months at hard labour.
[from The Morning Post, Thursday, January 27, 1887]