The Real-Life Criminal Who Dueled
From, "An Underground Education"
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle patterened his great deviant mastermind,
Professor Moriarty, after a real life criminal., Adam Worth, an
erudite American Jew who was operating an international network
of thieves fro London, plotting heists as far away as Constantinople
and Cape Town.
"He is the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city," says Sherlock Holmes of Moriarty. "He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sitsmotionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, he knows well every quiver of each of them."
Worth -- a la Moriarty - lived a life of exotic splendor, sometimes traveling from European port to port, from caper to caper, in his 110-foot yacht, the Shamrock, crewed by twenty and fitted out with an elegant casino. For a while, he operateda gentleman's club in Paris, the American Bar at 2 Rue Scribe, richly appointed with crystal chandeliers and impressive works of art. On the second floor, the welathiest Americans abroad dropped thousands at his faro table.
If you had met Adam Worth during his heyday in London in the 1870s, you'd have encountered a Victorian gentleman dwelling on Piccadilly Circus, a few doors down from Prime Minister Gladstone. You'd have been introduced to "Henry J. Raymond," a name he borrowed with characteristic wit from the founder of the New York Times. A superintendent of Scotland Yard, whom Worth delighted in baffling, called him "the Napoleon of Crime."
But it is one caper that cemented Worth's reputation in Victorian England. On may 6, 1876, Christie's of :London auctioned the Duchess of Devonshire - an acclaimed Thomas Gainsborough portrait of the mischievous Georgiana Spencer, whose affairs with both mena dn women had scandalized England a century earlier. The masterpiece - for connoisseurs were dazzled by her flirtatious yet almost mocking smile. her delicate hand clasping an ironic pink rosebud - attracted £10,500, then a record for a painting sold at auction.
Crowds queued up for blocks to buy tickets to view it at the second-floor gallery of the new owner, William Agnew. American millionaire Junius Morgan started negotiation to buy it for his son, the financier, J.P. Morgan, but Adam Worth concocted other plans.
Worth, elegantly dressed in a Seviile Row suit, strolled by Agnew's gallery that may 1876 with a newly arrived American "bankman," named Junka Phillips, described as "immensely stupid." Worth stood 5'5" tops, while Junka, a former wrestler who sometimes carried stubborn safes out of the bank, topped out near seven feet tall.
The unlikely pair viewed the painting, and it was then that Worth decided to steal it "A man with brains has no right ti carr firearms," he once told the famed U.S. detective William Pinkerton., And the modus operandi for this audacious crime - that wound up splattered in headlines worldwide - proved maddeningly simple. At midnight ona foggy May 25, Worth and Junka went to Agnew's; he climbed atop Junka's shoulder "and raised onhis arms like a circus performer," later recalled Worth. He pried open the window, entered and sliced the Duchess from out the frame.
Worth had planned to use the painting as a bargaining chip to free his bungling brother then being held without bail, but when Worth went to his brother's lawyer to explain the ploy, the barrister proudly reported that his brother had just been freed on a legal technicality. Worth now owned a white elephant, a stolen article too hot for even him to risk selling.
Despite a £1,000 reward, the brazen theft of the Duchess remained unsold for a quarter of a century. No one caught him, not even when Junka squeled to Scotland Yard. As legend goes, the Duchess became the diminutive dapper man's frequent travelling companion - sometimes rolled up in an umbrella case, even once in an emergency down hispants leg.
Worth a few years later voyaged by steamship to Philadelphia.
He duly paid customs on goods in the top of he false-bottomed
trunk, and later squirreled the Duchess away in a wareouse in
Broollyn, where she lay tightly rolled for years.
Adam Worth was born in 1844 to well-to-do German-Jewish parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Clever and wellread, he committed his first crie by collecting seceral times the $500 reward for enlisting in the Union Arm. A package purloined from Adam's Express delivery service landed him in Sing Sing but he quickly escaped, catching a ride on aferry for a boat headed South.
His criminal résumé is far too long to recite, but a few highlights leap out.
Worth once rented a barbershop next to a Boyleston Bank in Bonston, burrowed in and absconded with the then enormous sum of $400,000. When the Pinkertoms started closing in, he sailed off to England to start his international network.
His confederates passed the forged bank notes in Constantinople; they robbed mail trains throughout Europe. Worth was intrigued by the diamond shipments sent by regular meail from South Africa. He traveled to Cape Town, befriended the local postmaster, copied vault key and made off with $6000,000 in uncut stones. He later - through a series of fronts - sold many of them to the London jeweler to whom they were originally being shipped.
Thoughout, he lived like a potentate, with his toney London address, his stable of racehorses, his extensive art collection. Then it all suddeny crumbled when his lookout failed him during a simple mail train robbery in Liége, Belgium.
He served five years in a Belgian prison under the name "Edouard Grau," came out to discover his empire had been looted. His health was now failing; his gooey cough probably signaled tuberculousis. Nonetheless, he still orchestrated the daring Gare du Nord robbery in Paris in 1898 that netted him a million francs in jewel and notes.
Worth - still going by "Henry Jarvis Raymond," a family name he passed to his son - was flush again, and the Duchess still gathering dust in America.
In a "beau geste" worthy of his artistic temperament, this ailing man started negotiations to return the Duchess. Though a notorious Midwest gambler named Pat Sheedy, he contacted William Pinkerton in Chicago. "I think the Lady should be returned home, don't you?" he told the detective. Worth held out for more than £1,000reward and the deal broke down, but eventually they settled on terms.
Apparently - in addition to receiving money - Worth could now return to England without facing harassment or prosecution. (Perhaps some of his fortune is hidden there.)
On march 27, 1901, Morland Agnew, the dealer's son, opened a brown paper parcel in the Auditorium Hotel in Chicago. "He laid it carefully on the floor, opened th epackage and there the face of the famous painting came to light for the first time in twenty-six year," recalled William Pinkerton, who was in the room.
Agnew returned with his prize to London, and soon after sold it to J.P. Morgan for the then scrupulously undisclosed sum of $150,000. "If the truth came out, I might be regarded as a candidate for a lunatic asylum," Morgan sheepishly admitted later. The Duchess assumed a place of honor over Morgan's mantel, a jewel in his world-class collection. (In 1994, the Morgan estate sold the painting for $408,000, and the Duchess of Devonshire now hangs in Chatsworth House, the family manor of the current Duke of Devonshire.)
Commented an official Pinkerton report issued in 1903 about Adam Worth:"Of all the men the Pinkertons have known in a lifetime, this was the most remarkable criminal of them all."
Adam Worth died in London on January 7, 1902. His bumbling adversaries, the Pinkertons, claimed the criminal was penniless at his death ; however, another report - probably more accurate - states that his probated will, under the borrowed name of Henry J. Raymond of the New Yorkl Times, bequeathed to this son the then very large sum of £23,000.
And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bequeathed to us Professor Moriarty.