A wary theatre man avoids the ‘dippers’ and H H Holmes is linked to London

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Distraction theft is still one of the commonest forms committed by pickpockets in London. There are frequent warnings on the underground of ‘thieves operating’ and crowded areas like Oxford Street, Camden Town and Covent Garden are happy hunting grounds for ‘dippers’. If someone stops and asks you the time, says they know you from somewhere, or points out that you’ve dropped something – maybe even just brushes against you in the street and apologies – check your pockets!

Edward Walpole was pretty clued up and had his wits about him as he strolled along Shaftesbury Avenue one morning in July 1894. The concert agent lived in Pimlico and was presumably in the West End for work. He knew the area, was no stranger and certainly no wide-eyed tourist.

Two men approached him and one of them started to talk to him. ‘We’ve met before’, he said, ‘in Chicago, at the exhibition’. Walpole had never seen the pair before in his life, and had never been to the USA. He was suspicious, and uncomfortable as one of the men had got very close to him.

He looked down and saw that the chain of his watch was hanging loose from his waistcoat pocket and the watch itself was in the other man’s hand. As soon as they realized they’d been rumbled the other man told his companion to give Walpole his watch back and began to move away.

Edward seized the thief and the two of them struggled, falling to the pavement in the process. The fracas alerted a policeman and having ascertained that a theft had been attempted he arrested the stranger. The man gave his name as Henry Saunders but he was also known to the police as Henry Reginald Mason. He was charged before Mr Hannay at Marlborough Street Police court and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.

The Chicago Exhibition that the men mentioned was the World Fair (or the ‘World’s Columbian Exposition’) that took place in 1893 and drew people from all over the globe to Illinois. Many locals profited from this influx of business but one man allegedly, exploited the event for a much darker purpose. Dr Henry Howard Holmes (or HH as he is almost always referred to) had built a hotel to accommodate gests for the fair but rumours soon circulated that several individuals, mostly women, had disappeared whilst staying there (although he never traded as a hotelier). HHH

Holmes (right) was a serial fraudster, coming money out of businesses and making false insurance claims and eventually when the going got too hot he quit Chicago. He was tracked down to the east coast where it was suspected he’d killed his business partner Benjamin Pitezel for the insurance money.  Meanwhile agents operating on behalf of companies Holmes had defrauded searched the hotel in Chicago. The property was very odd, with secret passageways, trap doors and windowless rooms.

Holmes was convicted of the murder of Pitezel and admitted killing many more (some of which were false claims, as the people concerned were still alive!). The hotel (dubbed ‘the castle by locals) was searched more thoroughly and human remains were found there. HH Holmes was executed in 1896 and remains a mysterious figure and possibly America’s first serial killer. Indeed, some people have suggested that he might have come to London to commit the Whitechapel murders, but having studied that case I think it unlikely. In fact if you want to know who I believe was ‘Jack the Ripper’ you might find my latest book interesting. Holmes, however, will form a small part of my next one.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, July 21, 1894]

The fortune teller who didn’t see it coming…

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Frederick ‘Professor’ Wilson was either a man possessed with the ability to see into the future or a charlatan; it all rather depends on your view of fortune telling. In the late 1800s fortune telling and other mystic practices (such as spiritualism) were in vogue. We’ve seen elsewhere in this blog series that Victorians, women in particular, were keen to find out what the future held and so were happy to part with money to consult a side-show gypsy or answer advertisements in the paper promising enlightenment.

Professor Wilson operated from his home in Wilton Road, Pimlico, placing ads in the newspapers to entice the curious and unwary to find out what lay ahead of them. While women often wanted to know whom they might marry and when, men were more likely to be tempted by offers of wealth or advancement.

On such, printed in The Morning Post in June 1888 read:

‘KNOW THYSELF – Your CHARACTER correctly DESCRIBED by HANDWRITING or PHOTOGRAPHY; complete description, containing 42 characteristics, six stamps and stamped addressed envelope – Professor Wilson , 30, Abingdon-road, London, W. Over 1,200 testimonials’.

In late May 1891 a ‘Mr Mallett’ answered one of Wilson’s ads and waited to see what response he got.

He described himself as a sailor who was ‘anxious to learn his prospects in life’. Wilson wrote back enclosing one page leaflets – ‘circulars’ – on character signs, an invitation to enter ‘an easy counting competition’, and series of questions that could be used to determine his astrological profile. All the flyers required a small sum of money to enter and when he had submitted payment the sailor received by return a letter that promised:

‘that prosperity and certain success were before if , and that he would rise beyond his present position in life’. The missive added that ‘it would be greatly to his advantage to go abroad and that Wednesdays and the 27th of the month were his luckiest days’.

Of course Mallett was no sailor at all, he’d acted as he had to catch Wilson out. In fact he was detective sergeant Edward Tallin of B Division, Metropolitan Police and he visited the so-called professor and arrested him for fraud. Brought before the Westminster Police court Wilson was now accused of trying to cheat Tallin, along with other members of the general public.

The fortune-teller was represented by a lawyer (J B Matthews) and denied the charges against him. Mr Matthews suggested that since the police were paid on Wednesdays his client was accurate in stating that those were his ‘luckiest’ days. This brought laughter to Mr De Rutzen’s court and perhaps some colour to the detective’s cheeks.

Undeterred however, DS Tallin said that he had uncovered an operation that involved two men and one woman and a considerable amount of fraudulent activity. He’d presented this to the Commissioner of Police and a prosecution was now ongoing. De Rutzen complied with the police request to remand Wilson but agreed to release him on his own recognizances of £20.

A week later he was back in court charged formally with ‘practising astrology’. HE again denied the charge and said he was a ‘professor of graphology and physiognomy’ and that his adverts were innocent and legitimate. His solicitor declared that he ‘had thousands of letters from people of good position testifying to his ability. His correspondents included clergymen and many ladies, and it was strange that the police could not bring forward one person to complain’.

Mr De Rutzen was not surprised and didn’t mince his words:

‘The people who write to such men as the defendant are, to say the least, weak-minded, and ashamed to let their folly be known’.

He convicted Wilson of a ‘gross imposition’ and fined him £5 or 14 days imprisonment. The fortune teller may have seen that coming because he had the money in his pocket ready, and so paid up and was discharged.

1891 saw the very last murder that was associated with the unknown serial killer dubbed ‘Jack the Ripper’ by the late Victorian press, that of Frances Coles. On June 15 Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) was published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London.

The book is available to order on Amazon here

[from The Standard, Friday, June 19, 1891; The Morning Post, Friday, June 22, 1888]

An unwanted admirer on Regent Street

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Edith Watson, a young lady who was employed as a bonnet trimmer had made a big impression on one foreign immigrant in London. Alick Korhanske was infatuated with her but what might have ended in marriage and domestic bliss actually ended up in front of a Police Court magistrate at Westminster.

It isn’t clear when Korhanske, who ran the London, Chatham and Dover Toilet Club at Victoria Station, first fell for Edith but the pair met, by accident, on Regent Street in June 1885. Edith was on her way home to Pimlico from Madame Louise’s millinery shop when Korhanske approached her.

‘I have been watching you for some time’, he said, ‘and I love you. May I pay my addresses to you?”

Edith was careful not to start up a conversation with a strange man she had never met before, especially in Regent Street where women (notably Elizabeth Cass in 1887) could easily be assumed to be prostitutes if they were unaccompanied, so she ignored him and walked on.  The 33 year-old hairdresser was not so easily rebuffed however, and he followed all the way back to Tachbrook Street.

A few nights later he turned up at her door and asked to see her. She again refused and he went away, but not far. As she walked along York Street later that evening with a female companion he grabbed her by the arm and tried to force her into a cab. Fortunately her friend helped her escape. The women set off in hurry back to Tachbrook Street but Korhanske followed after them and hit out at Edith from behind, knocking her to the pavement with his walking cane.

The next day he again accosted her in the street and this time asked her to marry him. She declined.

This state of affairs evidently continued for several months until, on the 2 March 1886, Edith was again stopped by Korhanske in the street and threatened.

‘I will kill you the first time I see you out, and myself afterwards’.

That was more than enough for Edith who took out a summons to bring him before Mr Partridge at Westminster. The hairdresser produced a number of ‘love letters’ from Edith to challenge her version of events, suggesting that his overtures had been welcomed, not rejected. They showed that she had ‘made appointments’ to see him and had signed them ‘With love, your affectionately, Alice’.

This produced a burst of laughter in the courtroom. Her name was Edith, not Alice, was she deliberately giving him a false name or even channeling the eponymous fantasy character of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel? Edith admitted writing the letters but only out of fear of him, ‘to pacify him, and for her own protection’. She had not meant a word she’d written.

Korhanske would be considered to be a stalker today, and that can be a very dangerous situation for the prey. He may simply have been another love struck suitor whose passions were unrequited, but it might also have made good on his threat to kill the object of his affection and then end his own life.

Mr Partridge decided that enough was enough and demanded he enter into recognizances of £50 to keep the peace and ‘be of good behaviour’ for six months. Otherwise he would lock him up. Let’s hope he stayed away and let the young milliner get on with her life.

[from The Standard, Friday, March 12, 1886]

A family is broken up, just in time for Christmas

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Monday’s post touched on the subject of prostitution and brothels in central London in the 1880s, suggesting that a young girl of just 14 years of age might have been drugged with alcohol as a precursor to being ‘sold’ into the sex trade. Today’s case concerns three young children who have been taken into what passed for ‘care’ in the late Victorian city, because their mother was a prostitute and they were being brought up in a brothel.

Georgina Rogers (aged 11) and her sister Agnes (10) and brother Henry (8) were brought before the magistrate at Westminster. They had come from St George’s workhouse under the watching eye of William Girling, an officer working for the Rescue and Reformation Society at Charing Cross. They had sepnt a few nights in the workhouse after they had been removed from ‘a disorderly house’ in Cumberland Street, Pimlico.

Their mother had money, so perhaps she was a successful  brothel madam or otherwise well connected. This was evident because she hired a lawyer to defend the children in court with the aim of keeping them out of institutional care. Mr E D F Rymer told the magistrate (Mr Partridge) that arrangements had been made for the trio to go and live with their grandmother at Teddington.

This might have seemed like a sensible solution. After all, as Mr Rymer explained, in his experience ‘children of the prisoners’ class were invariably corrupted by mixing with those children in these institutions’. Just what sort of class the three siblings were is hard to judge but given that their mother was living with them in  a house of ill repute I doubt they were exactly members of the aristocracy. Instead I imagine that Ms Rogers perhaps considered herself to be better through wealth than she was through birth, and so aped the behaviour (if not the morality) of the middle classes.

The Rescue Society had been created in 1853 to protect children from sexual exploitation and prostitution. It ran 10 homes across the capital and had campaigned for a rise in the age of consent. Its members were dedicated to the cause and under the terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885) saw these realized with the help of Stead’s Maiden Tribute newspaper campaign.

So it was unlikely that Mr Girling was going to be happy to allow the children back into the care of Ms Rogers or her family. Crucially Mr Partidge agreed with him, not the lawyer. He ordered that the girls be taken to a reformatory school at Chelsea but allowed the lad (who was perhaps less at risk in his eyes of being corrupted) to go to his grannie.

Was this a good outcome for the children? It is hard to say. Reformatories separated parents from children, and children from ‘bad’ environments. The sisters would have learned domestic duties and sewing, as well as being educated in basic literacy and maths. But being parted from their family would have been traumatic, but not unusual for very many poor children in the later 1800s.

[from The Standard, Saturday, 19 December, 1885]

The descendant of the Rescue Society is Fegans, a charity that supports abused children and their parents.

‘Distressing accidents and dreadful diseases’: attempts to weed out fake beggars in early Victorian London

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Just recently there was a news items which suggested we need to examine the hands of those asking for money on the streets of London and other British cities. Despite the fact that homelessness as risen by 170 per cent in the last eight years and food bank use has also increased the focus seems to be on weeding out the fake poor from the deserving ones.

I’m comfortable with the idea of prosecuting fraudsters  but I do wonder what sort society we have become when our reaction to someone sitting on a cold wet London street in the middle of winter is to ask ourselves ‘is he trying to con me out of 50p?’

Sadly this is nothing new. The early Victorians were just as concerned with the idea of fake beggars as we seem to be. This was a society which passed the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834, a piece of legislation that demonized those who asked for help and attempted to discourage benefit dependency but breaking up families and locking up paupers.

It also created the Mendicity Society (or, to give it its proper names: the Society for the Suppression of Mendicity). Formed in 1818 its aim was simple – to prevent people begging in London. It tried to move beggars along and encourage them to leave the capital if possible by giving them small amounts of charity. However, it eschewed the gift of money, preferring instead to give tickets which recipients could exchange for an investigation into their circumstances. This was presumably designed to root out the scammers, who would not want to have their case considered.

Men like William Horsford worked as mendicity officers, looking out for beggars on the streets and hauling them before the magistrates. Begging was an offence under the terms of the 1824 Vagrancy act which allowed the police and others to take people off the streets for having no visible sign of maintaining themselves. This legislation is still in operation today.

In early December 1839 Horsford was on the case of two people who he knew to be incorrigible beggars. Edward Johnson (alias Watson) and Mary Carrol were known to him and the police. Mary dressed in widow’s weeds and made herself look as desperate as possible in order to attract sympathy from passers-by; Johnson was described as a ‘miserable wretch’. Horsford spotted the pair in Pall Mall and decided to tail them, calling on a police constable to help.

He followed them through St James’ Park and then to a pub in Pimlico, called the Compasses (which had existed since the 1640s at least).  They left the pub after an hour and moved on to Sloane Sqaure where they started to knock on door. At one house, where the lady resident had a reputation for charity, Mary Carrol handed over a letter to the servant that opened the door.

The servant declined to accept it, or to give them anything so they headed for Chelsea and tried their luck at a chemist’s shop.  Horsford felt he had enough ammunition now and snuck into the shop behind them. As they tried to beg money using the letter he arrested them and confiscated the letter.

The pair appeared before Mr Burrell at Queen’s Square Police court where the letter was read out. It detailed the ‘facts’ that Mary was a ‘widow afflicted with rheumatism and divers other complaints – that she had a large family, and that her husband had been killed but a few weeks ago by a gentleman’s carriage running over him’.

It was signed by a ‘Mr Churton of Ebury Street’ who recommended the reader to assist Mary ion any way they could.  When searched Johnson was found to have a number of other letters on his person, each addressed to a different but well heeled recipient (the Bishop of London, Marquis of Londonerry, and Countess of Ripon) and each of which carried their own particular ‘sob story’ of ‘distressing accidents and dreadful diseases’.

The pair were clearly poor but Johnson at least was literate. He admitted writing the letters himself but justified by stating that Mary was a deserving case and he was only trying to help. The magistrate had no sympathy (just as the vigilantes who target ‘rogue’ beggars to day have none) and he sent them to prison for three months at hard labour. At least they would be fed and housed over winter, if not very comfortably.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 06, 1839]

for more on the work of the Mendicity Society see:

Little help (and no sympathy) for Heroes

A simple case of imposture or a glimpse into the transgender community of Victorian London?

Fishy goings on in Pimlico land two servants in prison

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For some reason the morning paper on Halloween 1857 chose to concentrate on thefts by servants and other employees. Several of the stories from the Police courts told of light-fingered employees at banks, shops, and in the homes of the wealthy.

In the 1700s Daniel Defoe had commented that servants ‘beggar you inchmeal’ meaning they stole small amounts of property on such a regular basis as to gradually impoverish the rich. He exaggerated of course but theft by servants was one of the great fear and complaints of those employing them. Given the poor remuneration given to domestic servants it is hardly surprising that some chose to steal when they got the opportunity, to say nothing of the abuse many female servants suffered at the hands of their masters and their male offspring.

On October 30 1857 Margaret Ward appeared at Westminster Police court and was remanded for further examination by the justice, Mr Paynter. She worked for a Mr Bicknell at his home in Upper Ebury Street, Pimlico and he had accused her of stealing a £5 note from his writing desk.

He had questioned her after the money was discovered missing but she denied any part in it. However the court was told that Margaret had recently bought some fine new clothes and, since she’d arrived in service with ‘very bare of clothing’ suspicions were heightened and he had dismissed her at once.

A ‘very respectable’ woman then testified that she had previously employed Miss Ward and that following her dismissal by Mr. Bicknell Margaret had turned up at her door ‘decked in finery’. She was surprised that the girl had managed to earn enough to buy such nice clothes but Margaret allegedly told her that ‘there were other ways of getting money’. A local baker also declared that Margaret had come to his shop and had changed a £5 note, the court was then shown clothing valued at that amount that the police had found in her possession.

Margaret Ward was prosecuted at the Westminster Quarter Session in November 1857. In the face of the overwhelming evidence gathered against her, the 19 year-old servant pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six weeks in the house of correction.

Joseph Tonks followed Margaret into the dock at Westminster. He was much older (52) and gave his occupation as a fishmonger. Tonks was employed by Mr Charles in Arabella Row , also in Pimlico, and was accused of stealing some of his master’s fish.

Tonks had been in Mr Charles’ service for eight years and the master fishmonger had ‘considerable confidence’ in him. He paid him £1 5sa week which was a pretty good wage in 1857. However, after fish began to go missing Mr Charles grew suspicious of his his long term employee and had him followed. Tonks was seen visiting a broker in Artillery Row on more than one occasion and on a Thursday evening he was stopped and searched. Two whitings ‘were found in his hat, and five herrings concealed about his person’.

Clearly something fishy was going on…

The broker was summoned to court and testified that Tonks had called on his to borrow some paint and a brush and wanted to buy his wife a present. The journeyman fishmonger admitted his guilt and opted to have his case dealt with by the magistrate instead of going before a jury. This probably saved him a longer prison sentence but Mr Paynter  still sent him away for six months at hard labour since the court was told that Tonks had probably been robbing his master on a regular basis for some time.

Tonks seems to have had less of a cause than Margaret to steal from his boss. He was quite well paid and trusted and well thought of. But we don’t know what else was going on in his life. All sorts of pressures can pile up and force people to desperate measures. Then again maybe he just thought it was too easy an opportunity to pass up. He’d got away with it for so long that it had probably become routine for him to pack a couple of fish in his hat for treats.

On release from prison both Tonks and Margaret Ward would have struggled to find good work without the necessary references, and that was the most serious punishment of all.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, October 31, 1857]

Skinny-dipping in the Serpentine: Two brothers end up in hot water as they try to beat the capital’s heatwave.

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I imagine that you, like me, are suffering from this prolonged bout of hot weather. The British trend to grumble whatever the weather of course; it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, rarely ‘just right’. But weather like this is causing problems, from moorland fires and potential crop shortages, to increased levels of pollution and higher mortality rates. Now perhaps, skeptics are waking up to the idea that global warming is a reality and not just scaremongering by environmentalists and climate change experts.

This year is not exceptional however, we’ve had heatwaves before. In 1976 temperatures sored to 35.9C, in 1990 they topped 37C in Cheltenham. There were similar heatwaves when the temperature reached the mid 30s: in July 1933, August 1932, July 1923 and August 1911 but this one may be one of the most sustained.

What do people do when the weather gets so hot? Well in July 1900, at the tail end of Victoria’s reign, two brothers decided to cool off by going for a swim in the Serpentine. However, their actions scandalized the public and so the pair found themselves up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court.

Reginald Ingram, a 32 year-old medical practitioner, and his brother Malcolm (25) lived at the same address in Pimlico. On Tuesday 24 July they were seen swimming in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Not only was it against the rules of Royal Park to swim or bathe in the lake at that time and place, the men were also stark naked!

Police constable 74D was called to the incident and witnessed the men running ‘about in a nude condition’. He arrested them, secured their clothes, and ferried them to the nearest police station where they were charged.

Both men pleaded guilty to swimming in the lake but said they were unaware that they’d broken the regulations, not realizing that bathing was prohibited in certain areas of the lake. Ignorance of course, is no defense in law and Mr. Denman fined the brothers 40each for their offence.

I’m a little surprised he didn’t add an extra penalty for indecency, but perhaps that is making assumptions that the late Victorians were more obsessed with decorum than they were. Regardless, their attempt to cool down by skinny dipping in a public park had landed them in hot water.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, July 25, 1900]