adam-worth-master-criminal1 copy

Adam Worth, sometimes given the same epithet as the fictional villian who challenged Sherlock Holmes, “The Napoleon of Crime”, was a German-born criminal mastermind.

Worth was born in Germany in 1844, the first child of a poor Jewish family; his original surname is believed to have been “Werth” or “Wirtz”. When he was five years old, he and his parents moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father got a job as a tailor. Worth spent his childhood as a part of the Jewish working class. At the age of 14, he ran away from home and went to Boston. A few years later, in 1860, he moved to New York City. It was there that he had what he later called his “first and only honest job” as a clerk at a department store, which he held for only a month. In 1861, when Worth was 17, the Civil War broke out. Lying about his age, he enlisted in the Union army, partly because he wanted the adventure but also because of the $1000 bounty he was paid. He served in the 34th Light Artillery regiment of Flushing, New York and was promoted to the rank of corporal and then sergeant within months. He was put in charge of a cannon battery and led his troops in several fights against Robert E. Lee’s soldiers. In August of 1862, he was injured by shrapnel during the Second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia and was shipped to Georgetown Hospital near Washington D.C. While recovering, he learned that he had accidentally been listed as killed in action and seized the oppurtunity to leave the Army.

After being declared dead, the criminal comes of age

After being declared dead, Worth became a bounty jumper and started enlisting in various regiments under assumed names, serving in it long enough to receive his bounty. He occasionally took part in full-on combat even though he detested violence, and then deserting with the money. As a result of these activities, he was eventually pursued by the Pinkerton Agency, but slipped away from them on several occasions. Giving up his bounty jumping, Worth went to New York City, which during the post-war years was teeming with illegal prostitution, gambling, and liquor. Though neither a drinker nor a gambler, Worth worked his way up among the gangs of the underworld. He began working for other criminals as a pickpocket before establishing his own gang of pickpockets and becoming a planner and financier of heists. However, he was arrested while taking part in a cash box theft from an Adams Express wagon. He was sentenced to three years of hard labor at Sing Sing, but escaped after only a few weeks. In order to change his appearance, he grew a mustache and a pair of mutton chops.

Worth also stopped operating as a freelancer and started working for Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum, one of New York City’s most infamous fences and criminal financiers. During his time working for her, Worth strived to improve the criminal techniques of his time and to make them more effective and safer. During the later half of the 1860s, he masterminded several heists and robberies. In 1869, Worth was hired along with Max “The Baron” Shinburn to spring a robber named Piano Charley Bullard out of jail. They did so by paying off the necessary guards and digging a tunnel under the jailhouse walls. Though the collaboration was a success, Worth and Shinburn became rivals afterwards with Worth always surpassing Shinburn. However, Worth and Bullard became partners for a long time afterwards. Together, they robbed the Boylston National Bank in Boston in November of 1869 by setting up a fake health tonic shop next door and digging through the wall. When the Pinkerton Agency came down hard on the investigation and tracked the shipment of trunks from the storefront to Worth and Bullard, they left town and went to Europe. They spent the following years living under the respective aliases “Henry Judson Raymond”, a financier from the East coast, and “Charles H. Wells”, an oil magnate from Texas.

Worth and Bullard went ashore in Liverpool, England, where they met a barmaid named Kitty Flynn, whom they both wooed. Despite being told their true identities, she wound up marrying Bullard, though Worth never resented him for it. They eventually had two daughters together. While they were on their honeymoon, Worth robbed a number of pawn shops, eventually dividing the loot with the couple when they came back. Shortly afterwards, in 1871, all three moved to Paris together. With what was left of the loot from the bank heist, they bought an abandoned three-floor building near the Paris Opera House and turned into the “American Bar”, a bar and restaurant with an illegal gambling den on an upper floor. The gambling tables were constructed so they could be easily concealed and the guests could pretend to be doing something else. The place attracted several guests, honest people and criminals alike. Among the guests were employees of the Boylston National Bank, who had no idea who owned the place they patronized. The bar flourished until 1873, when one of the Pinkertons (some sources say it was the founder, Allan Pinkerton, while others say it was his son, William) came into the bar. As Worth suspected that they were on to him, he and the Bullards decided that they would have to close the bar. They did however put it to use one more time to rob a customer, a jewelry salesman, of a bag of diamonds worth thousands on closing night.

After the assets were liquidated, Worth and the Bullards moved to London, where they bought the Western Lodge, a Georgian mansion house, at Clapham Common and Worth leased an apartment in Mayfair, London’s most fashionable district. While leading a double life in the high society as “Henry J. Raymond”, Worth formed a vast criminal syndicate and ran it through trusted intermediaries. None of the people who actively took part in his operations, which mainly included robberies, armed and otherwise, and burglaries, but also larceny, safe-cracking, and swindling, knew the identity of the man behind it all and were forbidden from using violence.

At one point during this time in Worth’s career, his brother, John, sought him out in England hoping for a job and became involved in an international forgery scheme. Having received an amount of English cash, John was sent to Paris to exchange the pounds for francs. Unfortunately, he accidentally went to one of the banks he had been warned against using. When the bank discovered that the bill of exchange was fake, John was arrested and extradited to England into the custody of John Shore, one of Worth’s most persistent adversaries. However, worth was able to provide his brother with a good legal defense and get him acquitted in court and then sent him back to the States. On another occasion, four of Worth’s most trusted employees were arrested in Turkey after carelessly spending a lot of forged credit notes all over Europe. They were convicted and sentenced to seven years of hard labor in prison, but Worth was able to bribe the right officials and get them released before the Pinkerton Agency could get them extradited to the U.S.

In 1876, Worth organized one of the most notorious heists of his career, one of the few in which he personally took part. That year, a painting of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Cavendish by 18th century artist Thomas Gainsborough reemerged. After being bought at an auction by art dealer Thomas Agnew and sold for 10,000 guineas, it was put in his art gallery. Upon seeing the painting, Worth took a liking to it and hired Jack “Junka” Phillips, his bodyguard, and “Little Joe” Elliott, another of his associates, to join him in breaking into the gallery and stealing the painting. However, though he told the people who worked for him that he would sell it within a few months, he never did so. Eventually, Junka and Little Joe became impatient. So much that Junka tried to trick Worth into talking about the heist in front of an undercover policeman at a bar. Upon realizing what he was doing, Worth knocked the table on top of Phillips. He never associated with him again. Worth then gave Little Joe money he had asked for to return to the States, where he was arrested for robbing the Union Trust Company. When he was put in prison, he told the Pinkerton Agency about Worth’s activities. They notified Scotland Yard, but since Elliot had no idea where the portrait was being kept (he had hidden it in various locations in his mansion and concealed it in a custom-made briefcase when he was travelling) and both agencies were already aware that Worth was a criminal, nothing came of it.

Worth sought to regain some funds that had been lost in the Turkey incident. He and a group of followers went to Cape Town, South Africa to look into the possibility of exploiting the local diamond mining. Eventually, Worth and an accomplice, Charley King, tried to rob a horse-drawn wagon transporting uncut diamonds at gunpoint, but were fought off by the guards. King fled far away, but Worth stayed in the area. He planned another robbery, using a more sophisticated approach. Posing as a feather merchant, he befriended the postmaster of the local post office, where the diamonds were to be stored if they missed the ferry to England. While alone in the postmaster’s office, Worth made a wax impression of his key and had a copy made. When the next diamond transport was due, he beat it to the harbor and cut the express ferry loose. The diamonds were then stored in the post office. Overnight, Worth robbed the post office’s safe and stole the diamonds, valued at $500,000, and returned to London, where he used a new associate, Ned Wynert, to open up a jewelry store and sell the loot from Africa at lower prices than the competition.

Sometime in the early 1880s, Worth got married. The bride, whose name remains unknown, was the daughter of a family whose lodging house Worth had stayed at when he first came to the country. They had two children together, a son named Harry in 1888 and a daughter named Constance in 1891. In September of 1892, Worth went to Liege, Belgium, where he found out that Bullard had passed away. Impulsively, he concocted a haphazard plan to rob a money transport, aided by Johnny Curtin, an American bankrobber, and Alonzo Henne, a Dutch small-time crook. On October 5, they carried out the robbery. However, they were spotted and Worth was apprehended by the gendarmes. He was held in prison for a week, refusing to admit to any crime or even reveal his name. When the Belgian authorities circulated photos of him to European and American investigators, the NYPD and Scotland Yard caught on to him. Most shockingly, his rival and former associate Max Shinburn made contact with the police and gave a testimony of everything he knew about Worth and his crimes. His trial began on March 20, 1893, where he kept flatly denying all the accusations and claiming the botched Liege heist was a desperate act done because he needed the money. Ultimately, he was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to seven years in Leuven prison.

The time in prison was awful for Worth, not just because his   authority was taken away from him, but also because Shinburn, who was given a reduced sentence of one year in exchange for his testimony, hired people within the prison to abuse Worth whenever he could afford it. Later, Worth received word that his wife had been date-raped by Johnny Curtin, after which she had become insane and committed to an asylum. Their two children were left in the care of Worth’s brother in New York. In 1894, Marm Mandelbaum and Kitty Flynn both died of illness. In the fall of 1897, Worth was released early for good behavior. Determined to have his children grow up to have a different career than him, he robbed a diamond store in London to get enough money to go to America. After bidding his institutionalized wife goodbye, he left and visited his children. Afterwards, he visited the Pinkertons in Chicago.

Worth admitted to possessing the portrait of the Duchess and offered to return it to Thomas Agnew and give the Pinkertons the credit for finding it. If and only if, he got  immunity from prosecution and $25,000 from Agnew. All parties involved agreed to the terms since everyone would benefit from it and the painting was returned. Worth spent the rest of his life living in London with his children. He died on January 8, 1902 and was buried under the alias “Henry J. Raymond”. His son, Harry, handled his estate and funeral, paid for his and his sister’s move to the U.S. and got a job at a foundry. However, William Pinkerton, as part of a deal he made with Worth, got him a better job as a career Pinkerton agent.  I cannot help but wonder if the younger Worth prospered in the position his father’s criminal skills had purchased for him.

Many believe that Worth was the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s “Professor Moriarty,” the arch villian of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  It is an odd kind of immortality to be the inspiration of an arch fiend in one of the world’s most widely read, and now seen, crime story series. “Moriarty” most recently appeared on the television show, Sherlock, though his gender was changed, I suppose to create a more interesting and surprising character for modern viewers.  I can’t help but wonder if Worth was really as smart and dangerous as Moriarty or whether Doyle had to work hard to make him enough of a super villian to face the greatest detective of all times. But when I think of how Worth used a known stolen painting to extort money from the Pinkerton Dective Agency (the greatest of  the 19th century), I must admit that Woth did have the dash of Moriarty, himself.

For more on Victorian crime, criminals and crime literature:Alan_McKee_Crime



Posted in Sherlock Holmes, victorian crime | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What would you gamble for a better life?

Many people of the British Empire were ready to risk anything for a better future. People emigrating to India endured a three-month voyage on ships that were tossed about like corks. Then, they had to cope with conditions so foreign that many died within a few months. But the strong ones could become almost anything–kings even, rich beyond imagining. At home, in the British Isles the choices might be limited to the drudgery of becoming a house servant, a live-in teacher (governess), or maybe a miner or industrial worker working an eighty hour week for a pittance.

These were often the alternatives for second sons and workers without connections or education. For women, there were almost no choices. Become a servant, scullery maid, maid of all work, cleaner or risk everything, gambling on a life in India. There, if you were good looking, you might win big in the marriage lottery and marry a noveau riche immigrant who wouldn’t worry about who your family was or which school you went to as much as the people “at home.”

It often was an all or nothing proposition, especially for women like Jane Booth, heroine of Lucknow Shadows of Empire. She is my own fictional invention but she is based on thousands of women who played to win or lose all by “going out to India.”

In Jane Booth’s case, she seemed to win the marriage lottery: she married a hero of the Indian army who was adventurous and seemed to adore her–at first. She had a child who was intelligent, and loved her. But all this changed around the time of the 1857 war of independence, which the British called, “The Indian Mutiny.” Caught up in this  nightmare war, which was so bitter and venomous that women were abused by enemies on both sides.

Jane gave up her son and sent him back to England to live with relatives. Many families who had the resources often sent children back to England before the age of seven so they would not fall too far behind in schooling. Of course, once Jane realizes the present danger of the war, she is glad she sent her son, “home,” the only word ever used by British people in India to describe England.

Learn more here:


Posted in British Raj, Charles Dickens, Downton Abbey, the bibighar, the Indian Mutiny, The Lucknow Courtesans: Indian Queens of a Golden Age, The Memorial Well, The Music of Lucknow After the 1857 Rebellion, The Music of Lucknow after the 1857 Rebellion, The princely states of India | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The great photographic adventurers of 19th Century India


I recently attended a meeting of the Historical Photographic Society and  had the pleasure  of seeing an image by one of my favourite Victorian adventurer-photographers. Samuel Bourne dragged his heavy wooden camera and tripod across rivers, deserts, up and down mountains, anywhere there was a subject he wanted to photograph. His images are superb. Perfect exposure, beautiful composition, while side-stepping everything the Indian subcontinent could throw at him. Along with men like Sache, and John Burke who has the distinction of being the first man to photograph Afghanistan–while following an army in the midst of its slaughter. When the British charged into Afghanistan, they had no idea of the difficulties facing them. They were cut to ribbons and John Burke captured it all. He photographed the living, the dead and the dying, shrinking from nothing, all the while carrying a heavy wooden tripod and large format camera.

Along with Sache, Bourne, Felice Beato, and a handful of others, these  intrepid Raj photographers have given us a vision of British India that cannot be forgotten. In fact, I was so fascinated by them and their images that I ended up spending seven years on a novel set during the 1870s in the city of Lucknow, where one of the most important sieges of the Indian Mutiny took place.

The images mesmerized me and led me to study the era, India and early photography. Now this early technology and the sad, terrible war fought in 1857 has resulted in putting Victorian images into the form of an iBook that will soon be on the iBookstore, and will allow other people to see these poignant documents of a forgotten age in crisp sepia tones. The images become part of the story of Lucknow and the  shadows of empire that darken a young Englishman’s life. For a free sneak  preview, http://hudsonhousemysteries.com/downloads/SHADOWS_OF_EMPIRE_BY_ALAN_MCKEE.pdf:


Posted in 19th century India, 19th century photography and photographic techniques, spiritualism, spiritualistic phenomena, spirit photography, Rajphoto.com, Uncategorized, victorian India | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murder Mysteries

A realistic, vicious portrait of a killer created by Wilkie Collins

Lydia Gwilt, A realistic, vicious portrait of a killer created by Wilkie Collins. She fascinated even Charles Dickens!

Do you know who Svengali was, or Count Fosco, or Lydia Gwilt? All were famous villians of nineteenth century murder mysteries. All three raised issues about the society of the time 1860s  to 1890s.
After the discovery of “mesmerism” in the 1700s, renamed hypnotism by James Braid during the mid-19th century, it became a source of public fascination  for thousands of people who attended demonstrations of hypnosis. Long hat pins were thurst into arms or tongues or other parts of the body that the unhypnotized subject would have found intensely painful. James Esdaile, a Scottish  doctor put hypnosis or mesmerisim to good use in India where he used mesmerism as an anesthaetic for thousands of Indian natives at his surgical clinic. Yet, throughout the  19th century, hypnosis was viewed as something tinged with  the supernatural, villainous and threatening, finally reaching an apotheosis in Svengali, a Jewish mesmerist in the crime novel, Trilby, who takes control of a beautiful young Irish woman. This young woman, Trilby by name, when hypnotized, becomes an outstanding singer, but in her normal state is tone deaf. The point, one might say was that a hypnotist (assumed to be male) could take  control of a woman and “bend her to his will,” and there were real crimes committed during the century which were blamed on hypnosis. So the first villain on my must-know list is Svengali, who became almost as famous as the arch murderer, Count Dracula, in Bram Stoker’s supernatural mystery novel.
Next on my list of must-know villians is Count Fosco, created by Wilkie Collins in the most famous gothic novel of the nineteenth century, The Woman in White. Fosco is a thoroughly modern baddie. No magic or supernatural things here. First, he has no remorse or concience. As he proudly tells one of the women he would make his victims: “I, Fosco, stick at nothing.” He is a great scientist and his knowledge of chemistry makes it possible for him to take life leaving  no sign. Eventually, Fosco is defeated, but only just.
Last, and best of all is a remarkable murderer, Lydia Gwilt, again, invented by Wilkie Collins in the novel, Armadale. The thing that is remarkable about Lydia is that she is very human: repenting her worst deeds for a few moments without feeling sufficient contrition to permanently change her ways. She is beautiful and from the age of thirteen on, is a hardened killer who will readily resort to murder when she wants something. The great question throughout the book is whether she will kill the male protagonist, Allan Armadale, or not. I will not spoil the story and tell you.
Lydia Gwilt is a true to life portrait of a killer. She will kill out of vanity, gain or many other motivations. When she acts, she murders without conscience and is highly effective. It is only that she becomes emotionally entangled with a “good” man that gives her pause in her murderous career.

More deadly than Jack the Ripper? Who was the “portentous incarnation of lust and wealth” mentioned by muck raking journalist, W.T. Stead, muck raking journalist who reported on some of the worst crimes of the 19th century? Find out in my novel The Minotaur’s Children:http://hudsonhousemysteries.com/south.php

Posted in Jack the Ripper, victorian crime, Victorian forensic science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’ve Moved!

HudsonHouseMysteriesBlog has moved.

Click HERE to visit the new site location.

All Future updates will be made at the new location.

See you there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Will Downton Abbey Raise the Bar for an Appreciation of History and Historical Fiction?

The phenomenon of the immensely popular Downton Abbey is the result of one man’s life long interest in history and the lives of the upper classes in Britain. I am speaking, of course, of the tv show’s creator and main writer, Julian Fellowes, who is also a very accomplished actor, seen on such shows as Monarch of the Glen. A love and preoccupation with history is one of the most striking characteristics of British society, at least to a north American, a land where history is almost totally forgotten in the race to tomorrow.

Go into any small country town in the United Kingdom and you will  find historians, local historians, ordinary towns people who have studied the local history of there village/town.I encountered such a man in the small town of Shaftesbury, which had only two streets. He owned and operated the local food market, continuing a tradition in the village which had been in place since the middle ages. For this little village was once an important market town. People came from all over the county to buy and sell their goods.

There was no manor house like Downton Abbey in the little town, but its history made every tree, rock and right of way truly important and interesting to the people who lived there. Do you really think that Edwardian  servants, like those in Downton Abbey, were interested in their history? They  were. Not in their history but in the history of the great house  and family that they served. In the UK, history trumps money and  false progress. Only a nation like that could have produced a Downton Abbey or withstood Hitler’s terrifying onslaught during the second world war.

Will the new awareness and appreciation of these factors in British life produce a new and better crop of historical novels, screenplays and television shows? As long as their are people like Julian Fellowes who  believe that where they’ve come from is at least as important as where they are going, that the past can and should inform our actions in the present, they will. Novels that come from this viewpoint can’t fail to be of interest.

Britain’s recent failure to have a historical viewpoint in Afghanistan cost lives and money. Anyone who knows the history of Britain’s incursions into Afghanistan knows that attempts to interfere in the life of that tribal society have been an unmitigated failure for two hundred years. Tony Blair should have had Julian Fellowes at his elbow when making policy decisions.  That way, he might not have forgotten about the valuable lessons of the past.

North America throws away its history, tears it down and destroys the past, even the personal history of families. Downton Abbey teaches us to revere what makes us who we are. That’s why it’s so popular.

Three cheers for Julian Fellowes and writers like him. Let’s hope it rubs off on others.

Posted in 19th Century London, 19th century women's rights, British royalty, Downton Abbey, Edwardian history in England, the "Great Game" | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shadows of Empire

A short video by Alan McKee

To people who come to my pages from search engines and find my blog useful or interesting, I would very much appreciate a “like” from you. Thanks.

Posted in 19th century India, 19th century Lucknow, memorial to women and children at Cawnpore, the "Great Game", the bibighar, the British Raj, the Indian Mutiny, The Lucknow Courtesans: Indian Queens of a Golden Age, The Lucknow Courtesans: Indian Queens of a Golden Age, The Music of Lucknow After the 1857 Rebellion, The Music of Lucknow After the 1857 Rebellion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment