When Mr and Mrs Thomas French began to notice money was missing from the till they scratched their heads for an explanation. The couple ran the Chequers pub in Worship Street, Finsbury and the only other person they thought could be responsible was their young son, a child of just nine years of age.
Ada French decided to collar her boy and make him tell her the truth: had he been stealing, and if so, why? The poor lad confessed but said a woman named Bencker who lived in Fitzrovia had put him up to it. Ada resolved to find out if he was lying so set a trap for him (and his partner in crime).
Acting on the advice of the police she marked a handful of sixpence pieces and put them in the till. Soon afterwards she saw her son take coins from it and leave the pub. She followed afterwards with a police constable and tracked the lad to Windmill Street, Fitzrovia, where Louise Bencker lived.
Ada found her boy inside the 36 year-old fur sewer’s home and the policeman discovered the two marker coins in Bencker’s possession. She was arrested and brought before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court in the morning. The magistrate was horrified:
He told the prisoner
‘that anything more shocking than a woman teaching a child to rob its parents he could not conceive’,
and he sentenced Louisa to three months at hard labour.
But what exactly did Louise Bencker have on the unnamed nine year-old? What do she say or do to induce him to risk a beating at the very least, and possibly worse, by stealing from his family? And what was he doing all the way over in Fitzrovia? Sadly of course, that bit of the story we will probably never know.
[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 16, 1877]