Monday, March 28, 2011

April 13, 1855 --- A Thief Trainer

In a case that seems to step right out of the pages of' Oliver Twist, a plain-clothes policeman is accused of managing a ring of youthful pick-pockets. For several years, Charles King had been employed by the police to mingle in crowds and keep a wary eye out for such nimble-fingered villains.  His efforts were described as "without being altogether successful." It became clear why. 

13-year old John Reeves is King's leading accuser. Brought from the Westminster House of Correction to testify, the young man describes how King recruited him as a boy of ten and took him to Hyde Park on a crowded Sunday, helpfully pointing out likely targets as they strolled the shores of the Serpentine. In a good week, Reeves estimates his take could reach £100 pounds, enough for the young man to afford his own pony.  Reeves' decision to give "Queen's evidence" is not appreciated in some circles; at an earlier arraignment, the lad had to be rescued by the police when he was set upon by "a number of the worst class of thieves who infest the locality of the Seven Dials." King, meanwhile, who maintained a jaunty demeanor throughout, is lustily cheered by the unsavory characters who crowd the pavement outside Bow Street Police Court.

Another urchin tells of working with King at the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park. A uniformed officer recalls seeing King in the company of Reeves in Hyde Park, loitering near a hollowed out tree where several discarded purses were later discovered. King's lawyer attacks the messenger, claiming that the Crown's case is based solely on the word of a "most expert and hardened young thief." Regardless, the verdict is speedy and the sentence harsh. King is sentenced to be transported for a term of 14 years.

Mr. Bodkin, the presiding magistrate, calls King's crime "an offence of the very vilest character... casting discredit upon a most useful body of men." Indeed, the case is closely watched by top officials from Scotland Yard who, while unwilling to end the practice of plain-clothes operatives, insist that in the future "none but officers of established character" will be employed.

No comments:

Post a Comment