More Of Littlechild’s Adventures

Posted: September 15, 2009 in Chief Inspector John George Littlechild
Inspector Littlechild was bringing from America a once well-known London merchant tailor charged with considerable frauds. The prisoner’s demeanour led Littlechild to the opinion that he might be allowed full freedom aboard. The prisoner had been possessed of but little money when apprehended, and when he stood by and watched the various card games being played by the saloon passengers his eyes glistened, and he seemed strangely excited. At length the prisoner confided to a gentleman aboard, a celebrated American railway magnate, that a loan of a few pounds would certainly be paid back by the prisoner’s relations at the end of the voyage, and would alleviate the man’s natural distress of mind. The money was lent, and the prisoner eagerly plunged into the card games, not a soul refusing to play with him. During four days he won, and won fairly, a little less than £200.
In another case the detective in charge of an absconding bankrupt from Manchester lent the latter a £10 note, which towards the end of the voyage had increased to £70 odd.
Inspector Swanston tells of a noble lord of high philanthropic repute who, during a voyage, played one of the most experts forgers ever known. The swindler was a handsome and accomplished man, and his yarns greatly amused the other passengers on board the vessel that was bringing him home for trial. One of the jokes of their frequent meetings was that the swindler always passed his solemn word of honour that, even if he wanted to cheat at cards, he should not know how. In this case, as in many others, the intercourse did real good. A Liverpool merchant and magistrate saw much of the prisoner during the voyage. He had, in the presence of the detective, a private interview with him. The kindly gentleman promised that when the prisoner, who is now in penal servitude, came out, he should enter into a good situation at once.
The humanity shown by fellow passengers has redeemed many a prisoner. In the case cited above, the noble lord and many another prosperous and happy passengers at parting shook hands kindly with the prisoner, and wished him good luck. Directly after that the prisoner not only burst into passionate, but continued to cry for some time. He gave such information to the officer as saved property worth hundreds of pounds to innocent people. On trial, he pleaded guilty, eminent counsel provided by the Liverpool merchant asking for a mitigated sentence.
The bringing over of a notorious absconder often causes more suffering and anxiety to the officer than it does to the prisoner. The death of one of the best officers that Scotland Yard has ever had for years was directly attributable to what he suffered in the Argentine Republic whilst waiting for months and months till a notorious absconder was handed over to him. The second officer employed on the same job had to be permanently invalided. Both men’s nerves were deeply affected by the worries and anxieties of eternal vigilance. Whilst his prisoner sleeps soundly, the detective is often lying wide awake for hours, racked by anxieties as to whether his charge will attempt suicide or will try to escape, or is in communication with some confederate on board.
A curious experience with an absconder was that of Inspector Gillespie, of Manchester. A certain solicitor, after committing vast frauds, absconded. A year and a half passed, and he had in no way been traced. One day a young Englishman of means, and on his wedding-tour, sat down to dine at an hotel in a large Australian town. At the next table, one of a merry party, was the absconding solicitor, though much altered in appearance. The absconder had never in his life seen the young Englishman; but the latter, whose uncle was one of the persons defrauded of thousands, knew him. Inquiry showed that the absconder, under a false character altogether, was cutting a great figure in the neighbourhood. The young man quietly telegraphed Home. Inspector Gillespie went out, and under his warrant arrested the absconder, who then, and every hour of the day afterwards, denied that he was the man wanted.
This sort of denial, accompanied by threats of what the prisoner will do when his real identity is declared, is usually one of the marks of the criminal. But in this case the officer suffered desperate anxiety, for of a truth the prisoner bore but little resemblance to the photographs in the officer’s possession. But two or three nights on the liner brought a welcome relief. The prisoner muttered in his sleep continually, referred to his old offices, to people who had been defrauded, and so on. He was the right man beyond all doubt.
Here is another real-life romance. Inspector B——, of Scotland Yard, went over to America to arrest a man of handsome presence who was wanted for certain notorious bogus cheque and letter-of-credit frauds. The prisoner was a most accomplished man, speaking five or six languages, and he had lived in Paris mostly, directing swindles all over Europe. For certain powerful reasons connected with property and with confederates, B—– kept his man strictly under lock and key in one part of the great liner that was bringing the two home. On the same boat was a very celebrated theatrical company, connected with one of the most popular houses in the Strand. Many of the young ladies showed much curiosity to see the handsome prisoner – they had seen so much about him in the American papers. One day the chief officers of the liner allowed half-a-dozen of the young ladies to stroll into the office cabin where the prisoner and the detective were sitting.
One of the youngest and prettiest of the girls, a lady who has since attained some celebrity, gave a scream and fainted away when she saw the prisoner. The man was her own brother. Much older than she was, he had lived continuously abroad, but she had several times seen him when he had made flying visits to the house of their parents at Dalston. The man was deeply affected after the girl and her friends had been removed, but he would not consent to see his sister again.
Source: Otago Witness, Issue 2443, 9 January 1901, Page 63


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