Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 17, 1879 --- Charley Peace

Charley Peace, the so-called "Gentleman Burglar," stands in the dock at Sheffield on a murder charge.  In a dramatic courtroom confrontation, the dead man's widow, brought back from America, identified Peace as the man who killed her husband three years before. Peace is already facing life in prison for wounding a London constable who'd found him burgling a home. 

A master of the thieving trade, Peace had posed as Mr. Thompson, a violin-playing suburban gentleman of refined tastes.  "Mrs. Thompson" was any of a series of mistresses.  Short of stature, and deformed from a childhood accident, Peace was nonetheless a man of extraordinary strength, agility and daring, almost always making his burglarious entrance through an upper story window. Once he was in custody, his reputation seemed to grow.  The illustrated papers were fascinated with the "gargoyle-faced little villain." 

The attention proved his ruin when he was recognized as a man wanted for murder in the Midlands. While living in Sheffield in 1876, Peace had briefly won the affection of a married woman named Katherine Dyson.  She sought to end the affair and moved with her husband to Bannercross.  Peace turned up with a gun, sneering, "You see, I'm here to annoy you wherever you go."  Hearing his wife's screams, Arthur Dyson came out of the house and Peace shot him through the head.  During the woman's testimony, Peace began shouting, "Justice, I must have justice." 

Whilst being transferred by rail for one of his many court appearances, Peace made a break by leaping from a speeding mailtrain.  He was badly injured but survived to see his trial which ended with a guilty verdict and a death sentence.  After a last meal of "bloody rotten bacon," Charley Peace was hanged at Leeds prison.

The Times concluded, "The energy, the daring, the ingenuity of the man are neither to be denied nor despised," but any interest or sympathy in this bad man was totally unreasonable.  Let him now be treated to "wholesome neglect."

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