Detective Littlechild

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Chief Inspector John George Littlechild
It happened that a certain individual was "wanted" in France on a charge of embezzlement. As in most extradition cases, the necessary documents were sent to Scotland Yard by the French police purely "on spec." It was supposed that he must have come to London, and that was all; but in the ordinary course, to be prepared for anything which might arise, a provisional warrant was obtained. The particulars supplied by the French authorities were very meagre. They gave a description of the accused, it was true, but no other means of identifying him. Curiously enough, however, although they were apparently, unable to forward a photograph of the man, they did append to the dossier, or docket, a likeness of his wife. It was the portrait of a very handsome woman.
Most important of all, as the sequel showed, the correct name of the criminal was given. It was a singular one – Francois Tascheritz. Perhaps it cannot be conceived that a man who had committed fraud under this name should have believed himself secure in a neighboring country whilst he still retained it. However, this lapse of ordinary precaution was just one of those things which mar the plans of the dangerous classes and give the police their opportunity or clue. Besides, I have noticed that though a man does not himself mind taking a false name, there always seems a reluctance on his part to ask his wife to do so too, she having had no share in his crime.
At all events, I was reading a Sunday newspaper, when my eye fell upon a police case, in which the name of Madame Tascheritz figured as the prosecutrix. She had charged her domestic servant with stealing a bottle of brandy, and the prisoner had been remanded for a week. It occured to me that it would be worth the inquiry whom this Madame Tascheritz might be. I took out the photograph of the wife of the man for whose arrest I held the warrant, and resolved to attend the Police Court when the servant girl would be before the magistrate on remand.
I soon ascertained that the prosecutrix had not put in an appearance, and, much to my vexation, no one could give me a description of her husband. The constable who had the case in hand had merely seen "Madame Tascheritz" on the night when she preferred the charge, and had taken such little notice of her that he was unable to identify the photograph. Not knowing how far the girl might be handled with safety, I obtained access to the cell in which she was awaiting her turn to take her place in the dock, and allowed her to imagine that I was a solicitor. It is by no means unusual for certain legal practitioners to pick up their clients in a similar way; and hence it was not difficult to get into conversation. I talked to her kindly about her case, and, finally, having felt my way, told her that I wanted her to assist me in my researches.
I asked the girl what Mr. Tascheritz was like, and as soon as I thought he could trust her I ventured to show her the portrait of the woman which I had in my possession.
"Oh! she exclaimed. "That’s Missus!" So here, at last, was the merest clue to work upon. Madame Tascheritz, for some reason – perhaps it was a foreboding of disaster – did not come to the Police Court. "I think I can get you off, and I shall expect you to help me," I said to the prisoner. As no prosecutor had appeared a private explanation to the magistrate sufficed, for he at once perceived that the interests of justice might be served by the immediate discharge of the girl, rather than that a further remand should be taken. So the servant was liberated.
Of course she was able to confirm the address of Madame Tascheritz given in the charge sheet; and I began to keep patient observation upon the house occupied by the Tascheritz family. They lived in good style, had three or four servants, and passed as highly respectable folk, on terms of intimacy with many professional people. I gathered that Mons. Tascheritz had some connection with the musical world, and acted as agent to operatic artistes. In the exercise of his duties in making arrangements he would frequently have to leave home suddenly on hurried journeys to the Continent and elsewhere. In fact, he travelled very much, and came home rarely – on which occasions he would remain at his West End residence for a night, and then be off again.
It was a difficult thing to "locate" him; and my task was made doubly difficult by the extraordinary fact that a friend of the Tascheritz family, who was frequently at the house, resembled the man I wanted in a remarkable degree. This circumstance rendered the whole most extremely complicated, perplexing, and even dangerous, for to have arrested the wrong would have been a fatal mistake. For a long while we watched and waited – a very tedious business at the best of times. At length I was satisfied that the right Mr. Tascheritz had come home. I had the servant placed in a favorable position to see him unobserved, and she confirmed my view by exclaiming "That is the man."
So I arrested him, and he was taken to the police station. And now comes the most singular part of the whole story. Whilst Mr. Tascheritz was being detained at the police station he sent for me to his cell. "Have I your permission to write a letter?" "Yes," I replied. "You may do so; but I must see what the letter contains." "If that is.."
"Certainly," he replied.
He then wrote – I recollect the words perfectly:
"My darling wife. Remember it is the 19th of May; I am arrested. Come and see me."
And that was all he wrote. I read these few lines, and said: "Yes; that is all right, but I don’t quite understand one part of it: "Remember it is the 19th of May"; there seems to be some mystery about that. What is the meaning of it?"
A shadow passed over the man’s face, and he answered quietly:
"She will know what it means. It is really nothing."
"But," I persisted, "there must be something in it, and I should like to know."
"It is nothing, it is nothing," he repeated in a tone as though he were trying to convince himself of the truth of the words. "It is a foolish matter – very foolish – child’s play."
My curiosity was aroused, and, as I still held to the point, the prisoner said at length: "Well, I will tell you."
Then he told this strange story; for this tale is no flight of fiction, but strictly true:
"In my part of the country," said he, "in the village where I was born, the people are very superstitious. There was an old dame – a "wise woman" in the district – to whom the parents were accustomed to take their children in order that their fortunes might be told. When quite a little boy I was carried to her cottage, and she, with many mystic ceremonies and rites, began to unravel my destiny – to tell my fortune, as you say."
"I hope she prophesied good luck?" I said.
"Not so. It is not necessary that I should repeat all the fortune-teller said. The portion which concerns me now included these words: "Be careful," said she, impressively, "be very careful on your thirtieth birthday, for evil will befall you on that day. Your thirtieth birthday will come upon a Sunday."
"Well! I queried as the man paused.
"My thirtieth birthday as a fact did fall upon a Sunday," he said, with a bitter smile. "Curious that the old woman could have seen so far ahead in the almanac, was it not?"
"And nothing else happened, I presume?"
"Pardon me. My bad fortune was frequently talked about in the family – it was never wholly forgotten. After I married I told my wife of the prophecy. This morning when I left home she begged, entreated me to remain indoors. She had a presentiment that something ominous was about to happen, but I laughed at her fears."
"And your birthday – your thirtieth birthday, that has fallen –"
"My thirtieth birthday is today – Sunday – and today I am a prisoner"; with which words he fell into a fit of despondency.
His wife came to see him – a very charming creature. She scolded him and kissed him in a breath. She told him again and again of her fears in his behalf, and she presented such a picture of distress that I couldn’t help reflecting whether, unintentionally, I had contributed to her sorrow by delaying her husband’s arrest to this fatal thirtieth anniversay of his birthday.
It was certainly very singular that I had obtained the clue, in the first instance, in such a casual way; and it was more than strange that, moved by some instinct – totally inexplicable – I delayed making the arrest until this very day. I might have taken the decisive step two or three months earlier, only I never had quite satisfied myself on the score of his identity until this fatal Sunday."
The accused was in due course charged, committed, extradited, tried, and convicted of the offence of which he was accused; but all parties seemed more dismayed by the coincidence which I had set forth than by any olther circumstances.
Yet not one of us then knew that they were perfectly right. The term of imprisonment which the convict duly served was the lightest part of his punishment. The curse fell upon him and his, root and branch. My pen falters as I approach the end. I dare not faithfully record the full measure of woe which descended upon that household and those who entered it.
When the convict emerged from gaol, perhaps with some hopes of a brighter life having expiated the past, and looking forward to a return of the happy wedded life which he had previously enjoyed, he found that the woman he had worshipped had deserted him; and had transferred her affections, as he suspected, to another man.
The once happy home was broken up. Disaster followed upon disaster. It did not fall merely upon the man; it engulfed the woman and her supposed betrayer. The retribution was complete. I dare not paint the picture. It is too awful. It is the story of three ruined lives; and the grave has closed upon their misery.
Source: Tuapeka Times, Volume XXVI, Issue 4069, 24 January 1894, Page 5


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