Littlechild’s Reminiscences

Posted: September 3, 2009 in Chief Inspector John George Littlechild
Although we have read many police memoirs from Sir Robert Anderson, Sir Melville McNaghten, Major Henry Smith, Chief Inspector Henry Moore, and others; not very much can be found on Chief Inspector John George Littlechild. Here are several accounts of his memoirs which, coincidentally, are being sold in book format at several online book outlets at the present.
When the reminiscences of Chief Inspector Littlechild were running through Cassell’s Saturday Journal, I told you (writes our London correspondent) I considered them much superior, both from a literary and professional standpoint, to the majority of vapid, re-hashed police reports recently published by ex-detectives. This impression the complete volume now lying before me confirms. The Inspector seems to be a man of education, and blessed with a sense of humour. One has naturally heard some of his stories – rather differently told – before, but others are quite fresh to us, and the whole book will – as the following extracts show – be found quite readable.
One of the most remarkable stories Mr. Littlechild tells relates to a colonial criminal enterprise, the robbery of the Kimberley (South Africa) mail, with £70,000 worth of rough diamonds, which, with great ingenuity and daring, was regularly organised in this country. The whole scheme turned upon delaying the mail by sending a ferry-boat adrift. By this simple device the mail was kept on the wrong side of the river for a whole day, and hence missed the packet boat at Port Elizabeth. The result, as the robbers foresaw, was that the precious freight was temporarily housed at the local post-office, where arrangements had already been made for plundering the safes in the night. Diamonds are not easy things to sell, and the quantity in this case was so large that extraordinary steps had to be taken by the gang. One of them was accordingly installed in an office not far from Hatton Garden in partnership with a man called, "the Boss," as diamond merchants. The pair had studied the business of diamond dealers very attentively, and here, after prudently waiting for some months, they actually succeeded in selling some portion of the booty to the very persons to whom the diamonds had been originally consigned.
a forger, gave rise to an exciting chase in two continents, with the result that this ingenious rascal was eventually laid by the heels. Besides being a confidential clerk in a mercantile firm, he had secured the position of secetary to a savings bank, where for five years he was able, under the cover of his eminently respectable appearance and habits, to cook the accounts in a systematic way. His simple but daring plan was to keep a double set of leaves for each depositor’s pass book, one of which was regulary submitted for the other when the book was substituted to the official auditor. Unluckily for him, a depositor happening to be at the bank one day when the audit was in progress asked out of mere curiousity to be told the amount of his balance. Upon this the fraudulent secretary quietly slipped away and got to the United States, where he was afterwards arrested.
The task of detecting a too-impatient lover, who had run away with a ward in Chancery, affords a rare gleam of sentimental interest. The twain had started for London, and Mr. Littlechild being consulted, it occurred to him at once that their intention was to get married. "Obviously, I said, "they cannot get married except at a Registrar’s office, by license. Now what you have to do is to inquire whether the gentleman had taken the preliminary steps at any registrar’s office." Very speedily I had drawn up for them a list of the offices to which it was probable that a stranger to London might go. When we began to name them they were not very many, and what might have seemed an interminable task became a simple matter. Each of the party took a district; and a colleague, who was the first to come upon duty that morning, was alloted to one of these districts. At ten the hunt began; before midday this officer returned with the information that a gentleman, answering to the description given. had made inquiry of a certain registrar not far from Somerset House, and fixed an appointment for the following morning, when the necesssary license would have been procured. A telegram was immediately sent to the guardian of the young lady, and he arrived in London that night. Next morning, as I am informed, for I was not present, the whole party repaired to the registrar’s office, and, by permission, secreted themselves in cupboards and odd places, there to await the arrival of the expectant couple. The run-away pair duly came wih a friend – a lady – and were about to fulfill the formalities required, when, to their surprise and amazement – for they were totally unsuspicious – a sort of unrehearsed copy of Sheridan’s screen scene took place. First to emerge from his place of concealment came the superintendent of police, and at the sight of him the bride-groom elect fell "all of a heap" into the fire-place amongst the fireirons. Then the guardian of the young lady appeared, and she shrieked and her friend fainted. The family solicitor stalked, like the proverbial skeleton, from the cupboard. And Smart – the detective from Scotland Yard – with the registrar himself in the background, completed the group."
Cases of mistaken identity occasionally occur, whence necessity for great caution: –
"People often bear an astonishing resemblance to each other, and this similarity has sometimes been sorely perplexing and misleading to the detective. It is on record in the archives of Scotland Yard that a twin brother was once arrested, but he happened to be the wrong twin, and brought an action for false imprisonment. There was, too, the case of a wooden-legged man who lived in a court – a cul de sac – and who was, one might think, easily to be identified; but when arrested he protested his innocence, saying, – "Yes, I know you want a wooden-legged man; but you see I’ve lost my right leg, and the man you want has lost his left. He lives next door to me up our court, and I saw him come home tonight. If you go to his house you’ll get him. And sure enough the right – that is to say, the left – wooden-legged man was found."
The once flourishing fraud of "raising cheques," as it was called – that is, of obtaining a genuine cheque by some manoeuvre for a small sum, and substituting a larger amount – seems to have now disappeared – thanks to the use of what are known as "fugitive colours." A man named Walters – the "King of the Cheque Raisers" – appears to have been the last great artist in the use of the chemicals which were employed for this purpose. But for Chief Inspector Littlechild’s statements it would be difficult to believe that so experienced a class as pawnbrokers have been cheated of large amounts by plausible rogues, who, having first gained their confidence by genuine transactions, have induced them to forward cheques to Scotland in return for imaginary valuable pledges to be transferred to them. But there is even a case of a solicitor who has been taken in by a still more transparent trick. This consisted in instructing him to commence proceedings against a supposed debtor, who, after parleying, finally forwarded a cheque for bill and costs, £600. The next step was to induce the solicitor to give his own cheque to the client for the amount representing the latter’s claim. In this case it was discovered too late that the client and the supposed debtor were one and the same person, and that the cheque for £600 was waste paper. Mr. Littlechild, we may here note, has no faith in the proverb that there is
There are thieves, to his knowledge, who habitually cheat confederates. Once such is suspected in the case of a famous American Bank robbery to have "weeded the swag" to the amount of nearly £10,000. In a diamond robbery effected in Paris, the same rogue defrauded his comrade by purchasing "off-colour diamonds" and substituting them for others of the first quality which were among the spoil, thereby reducing the value of his colleague’s share by one-half.
The frequent reckless defiance of chances of detection – even when these chances are heavily against the criminal – cannot fail to strike readers of this book. An ingenious and enterprising swindler named Smee furnishes numerous examples. This rogue contrived to persuade the proprietor of an estate worth £31,000 that he was about to purchase the property, and was even invited on a visit to the mansion. He returned his host’s hospitality by writing on his notepaper, headed "Bolton Grange," to a grazier in the West of England as follows: – "Dear Sir, – I have purchased this estate of Mr. B., but find that the flocks have been very much impoverished. It will be necessary to restock them, so shall be glad if you can send two hundred sheep (naming kind and price) to T—- railway station, to be delivered to my order on Tuesday next." The sheep were actually sent, turned into some grazing land near the station, and sold for £600 cash. Emboldened by the success, Smee then ordered eight hundred sheep from Scotland. These were forwarded by an uncanny Scot in like manner, though owing to the discovery of the fraud they were stopped on the way. Smee was arrested in this case easily enough. On a former occasion, however, he had given more trouble, which serves to remind Mr. Littlechild that a rogue’s habit or hobbies often afford a better clue to him than a description, which is very apt to be incorrect, and therefore worse than useless. Most persons have some habit, idiosyncrasy, or craze, and in this regard criminals do not differ from other people. One had a passion for choice cockatoos, and could rarely see one advertised for sale without going after it – a weakness which led to his discovery. Smee had a habit of taking in a certain weekly paper devoted to the tastes and pursuits of country gentlemen; and it was by inquiring about the customers of newsvendors in a neighbourhood where he was suspected of being in hiding that his arrest was utimately effected.
furnish, as will be expected, a considerable number of stories. Commenting generally on these cases, Chief Inspector Littlechild says: – "Now, I know whenever a jewel robbery occurs at a country house, there is a common notion that the thieves must have been assisted by one or more of the servants. But I desire to place on record my belief that this is entirely erroneous. A thief is not likely to lay himself open to betrayal at the hands of a domestic when it is possible to obtain all the information he requires much more readily. He has, in most cases, merely to act upon his common sense in selecting a time when the family is at dinner – a quiet meal, not a dress one, for the more homely the occasion the less probable is it that the upstairs rooms will be tenanted, or that the jewels will be in use. The thief knows, too, that valuables are not kept as a rule downstairs. In my experience I have found that in high-class houses the men-servants are a very respectable body. It is true a butler or footman may be guilty sometimes of larceny, but he rarely associates himself with the professional thief or burglar. Women servants, too, have little chance of making the acquaintance of such a man, with a view of introducing him into the houses of their masters."
The progress of science and, above all, the advent of the telegraph and the telephone, have in modern times materially changed the conditions of the never-ceasing contest between malefactors and those whose business it is to bring them to justice. Many of the tricks and devices of roguery have recorded, however, are such as old Bow Street runners were not unfamiliar with, and due note of them will be found in old books of the class of Mr. Colquhon’s curious work about metropolitan roguery. Here, as elsewhere, few tricks are probably entirely new. Only a day or two ago a judge was commenting upon the ingenuity of a rascal who, having purchased some valuable jewellery, and asked the seller to keep it carefully in a box till his customer returned with the cash, contrived after the goods were thus carefully put away to substitute another box of exactly similar appearance and weight. Mr. Littlechild’s experience, however, includes an almost identical case. In this instance a swindler known as Colonel Teviotdale had given a sham cheque for valuable diamond earrings, but the fraud was discovered in time: –
"A forgery! Well, it is fortunate that I had not despatched the jewels, and there will be no great loss," the tradesman cried. The jeweller took the parcel, unpacked it, and opened the case. No diamonds glittered in the box except those of the Derby Bright or Wallsend description. In a word, the case contained coals! The case was the exact counterpart of the one in which the jewels had been originally placed; and it was clear now that Colonel Teviotdale, when he turned to the side table to wrap the parcel up, had adroitly "rung the changes" by submitting one parcel for the other, and sealed up the coals instead of the diamonds. Unfortunately, the "bogus Colonel" had been more successful elsewhere, and had contrived to get off with a large amount of booty obtained by the same process. For some years past he had confined his offences to forgeries upon the Post Office and the theft of mail bags. It is satisfactory to know that he is now undergoing a sentence of ten years’ penal servitude."
Source: Star, Issue 5067, 28 September 1894, Page 1


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