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The Lighter Side of My Official Life
by Sir Robert Anderson, 1910.
Full text below.


Some Scotland Yard stories - Lord justice A. L. Smith and a girl's fictions - The escapades of a girl in boy's clothes - A chance incident gives a clue to a murder case - An Indian and his landlady's daughter - A trafficking case at Holloway Prison - The Colonial Office and a Boer informant - A strange divorce case - Finding a criminal wanted by the Paris police - Finding a fugitive husband - People who think they are watched by the police - People tortured by electric currents - Lunatics and Royalty - Mr. Gladstone's escape in 1893.

PEOPLE seem to appreciate "Scotland Yard Stories"; and as my avowed object in writing these pages is to interest and amuse, I give the following narratives which illustrate certain phases of Police work, and exemplify some strange types of human nature.

A street quarrel between two young men one night in February, 1896, attracted the attention of the police constable on the beat ; and when they separated, one of them, whose action excited his suspicions, was brought to the station. There the delinquent was found to be a young woman in man's dress ; and when she appeared before a magistrate next morning, her story, which he heard in his private room, was so interesting and pathetic that, in discharging her, he directed that her case should be specially reported to me. It transpired, moreover, that she had received sympathy and pecuniary help from people in a very exalted position in London. Accordingly I sent for her. When she came to my office she was dressed neatly and with taste, in female garb, of course. She was attractive and ladylike, and rather pretty ; her voice was pleasing and her smile was charming. She sat facing me at the opposite side of my table for nearly an hour, talking over her wonderful life-story. By temperament and training I am a hopeless sceptic, but neither by word nor gesture did I betray my doubts about her narrative. Again and again I brought her round to various points in her story, and quietly cross-questioned her upon them. But her statements never varied; she never prevaricated, and a guileless child could not have answered me more promptly and simply.

The circumstances of her early life, she said, were long a mystery to her. Though the woman she supposed to be her mother was only a housekeeper, she was sent to a good school, and had occasional trips to the Continent. It was not till recent years that she discovered her real parentage. Her mother was a lady, and her father was the Lord Justice A. L. Smith. People of high degree who knew her story had been kind to her, and she had received valuable presents from them, notably some old furniture and a few valuable paintings. Among the people she named, who were personally known to me, she had much to say about Lord and Lady Rosebery ; and she was very pathetic about the mingled kindness and neglect with which her father, the Lord Justice, had treated her.

The only item in her narrative which was capable of immediate verification I found to be true, namely, her possession of the old furniture and the paintings. But still I was sceptical. I knew that my friend, Mr. J. L. Wharton, then M.P. for Durham, was on terms of brotherly intimacy with " A. L." (as he always called him) ; so to him I applied. He scouted the story ; and next day they called on me together. " I hear you have found a new daughter for me," was the Lord Justice's cheery greeting ; " I hope she's pretty." I told him she was both pretty and charming. That, he declared, was clear evidence that she was his child ; and yet there was not a word of truth in her statements.

I then pursued my inquiries, and I found that her story was fiction from first to last. Her father kept a bric-a-brac shop ; and, as she lived near by, he used her lodgings as a temporary receptacle for some of his wares, including the "valuable pictures" of which she spoke. Her schooling was such as Mr. W. E. Forster's Education Act had provided, and her trips abroad were flights of fancy. Scores of times I have seen a truthful witness break down under the sort of cross-examination which this girl bore without wincing, and without making a single slip. I have had experience of similar cases, but this was incomparably the most interesting and extraordinary I have ever known.

Young women are the strangest of creatures, and their actual doings are sometimes more improbable than anything in the pages of fiction. It is not a capital felony for a woman to wear a man's clothes, but under the Metropolitan Police Acts disorderly proceedings of this kind are risky. And this made a certain Londoner very uneasy when his daughter took to this habit. So he came to see me privately, and put me in possession of the facts. It was then only an occasional freak with the girl, but presently it became habitual ; and in changing her dress she also, changed her name and became " William."

I omit some chapters of the story, for I will not risk disclosing the identity of the family concerned ; but it ended in her going to America with another young woman-Matilda I will call her. I advised both families that if they wished their daughters to return to them they should avoid all agony-column appeals, and treat the matter in the most prosaic way. And the result justified my forecast. Two of Matilda's letters were shown to me. The first announced that Willie had proposed to her, and they were going to be married at once. The next, written a few weeks later, complained that Willie had treated her very badly. He had deserted her and gone away, and she begged for money to enable her to come home ! And in due course a similar appeal came from Willie. These are plain facts could any one venture to tell such a story in a sixpenny novel ?

The day I was called to the Bar, one of the Masters of the High Court, the father of my friend from childhood-the late Lord Justice Fitzgibbon-gave me some kindly and useful counsel. One piece of advice I never forgot ; it was to keep my eyes and ears open, and I should often find that the chance incidents and information of daily life would prove useful in practice at the Bar. The importance of this in Police work could scarcely be exaggerated. I will illustrate what I mean.

After a hurried dinner one evening, I went off to address a meeting of the Y.M.C.A. During the singing of a hymn, the chairman intimated to me that the next item on the programme was my address. But at that moment one of my Inspectors entered the hall, and I saw at a glance that it was not for ghostly counsel he had come. I told the chairman that I must go out for a few minutes ; and, followed by my Inspector, I left the hall. He had omitted to submit a report in a criminal case that morning, and his object in coming to me was to escape being brought before me next morning as a defaulter. The matter itself was insignificant-it was only a petty case of fraud. A schoolboy had called on a clergyman living near London, and had obtained a sovereign from him on, the pretence that he had lost his purse, and wanted money to enable him to reach the house of a relative in Hampshire. But the clergyman ascertained that the lad, instead of going south, had booked north by the L. & N. W. Railway.

I granted the officer the relief he sought, and returned to the hall to give my lecture. But this report gave me the first clue I had obtained to the solution of a London murder case. The fraud was committed the morning after the murder ; and I had received a letter from a girl friend in the town to which the lad had booked, in which she mentioned incidentally that he had been to see them, and that he seemed to have ,,gone dotty," as his head was full of some murder he had committed in London. After my lecture I gave the order for his arrest ; and the case happily ended in an acquittal on the ground of insanity.

There was no amusement to be got out of that case. It was sad and tragic. But Scotland Yard is looked upon as a sort of universal inquiry office, and the strangest appeals are made to the Police. About the time of the murder last mentioned, I had a visit from a woman who wanted me to prevent her daughter from marrying an Indian law student who had been living in her house as a lodger. My attendant brought me word that she would see no one but the chief; and she seemed so very respectable, and so mysterious withal, that he thought her business must be important. When I let her in, and heard her story, the very impudence of her coming to me took my fancy. She told me that everything she said to her daughter only made the girl more determined to marry the lodger; but she felt sure I could prevent it. "Who is he?" I asked ; and I found that he was a man whom I knew personally. I told her to bring her daughter to see me, stipulating that I must see the girl alone.

They came next day, and I sent the mother into my ante-room. The girl was a perky chit, and she showed at once that she had made up her mind not to be influenced by anything I said. So, after a few questions, to which she snapped back pert answers, I told her that I did not at all agree with her mother about her fiancé H e had been introduced to me by my friend Lord Blank, and I thought him a very nice fellow indeed. As I went on to say all the kind things I could of him, her hard face changed, and her eyes beamed. But as she was leaving the room I stopped her, and added in a casual way that there was one thing more I ought to say to her : of course she would not object to her husband taking a second wife when he returned home to India. She flared up at once, and talked about killing herself. But, I urged, his father was a man of wealth and high position, and he would certainly be annoyed at his son's bringing home an English Christian wife ; and he would never rest till he got him to marry some native woman of his own rank. The end of it all was that when the girl rejoined her mother she announced her intention to break off the engagement that very day.

This was merely a chance incident, and a study in human nature. But shortly afterwards I had a somewhat similar case, which illustrates the dovetailing of private with official matters in Police work. This time my visitor was my old friend Lady Blank, who came to tell me that her favourite niece had become engaged to a scamp, and she wanted my counsel and help. The scamp was a man of good family, who had held a commission in a crack regiment ; but he had been convicted of a fraud, and was then serving a sentence in Holloway Prison. And the niece was a charming girl, and such an accomplished musician that she was independent of her father. And the appeals of her people only led to her leaving home, and setting up in lodgings by herself. I promised my friend to take action if I could trust her not to let her niece know of her visit to me.

That morning I had received a private note from Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise about a case of trafficking at Holloway. They suspected some "gentleman prisoner," but the case had completely baffled them. Could I help them? I sent for one of the shrewdest of my Inspectors, and showing him Sir Evelyn's note, I gave him the girl's name and address, with directions to call upon her and tell her I was going to arrest her for the offence. "If," said I, "you find I am on a wrong tack, back out at once ; but if the shot tells, frighten her out of her life, and advise her to come to me immediately and to throw herself on my mercy."

Within a couple of hours she was seated in my room. She pleaded that she had befriended the prisoner because he had been hardly treated, and everybody was against him. Of course I was not supposed to know of her engagement, so I gave her credit for the best of motives ; but, I added, a pretty girl was not the right sort of person to befriend a man of his character-I knew a good deal about him-and the question before me was whether I could condone an offence for which she was liable to six months' hard labour ; would she promise me to hold no further communication of any kind with the prisoner? This led her tearfully to tell me of her engagement to him. I was duly shocked, and I put it to herself to decide whether, in view of this, I could possibly trust her not to repeat the offence. But I went on to say, six months' hard labour was a trifle in comparison with her fate as the wife of such a man ; and I gave her two facts about his antecedents, of which I had definite knowledge.

To make a long story short, she ended by promising to break with him, and to tell him her decision as soon as he came out of prison. No, no, she must break with him at once, and by letter. But, she pleaded, she must see him, for he had left his watch and trinkets and purse with her. This I would not hear of. I told her to think over the matter ; and, if she decided to act on my advice, to bring me the man's property and the letter I wished her to write. Twenty-four hours afterwards the property was at Scotland Yard and the letter was at the prison.

The girl's next visit, several months afterwards, was to thank me cordially for having saved her. And in the following year she again became engaged, with the full approval of her parents, and she married well and happily. Not till then did I let her know that her aunt was an old pal of mine, and that my officer's visit was " a putup job." And if the Chairman of the Prison Department should chance to read these pages, he will learn for the first time how it was that I put an end to that Holloway Prison trafficking case.

This was by no means the only instance in which a private friend gave me help that was useful to me officially. A case of the kind, which occurred during the Boer War, is worth telling. A friend brought me one day a document which he believed to be a copy of an important report prepared for the Boer Government by one of their agents. A " lady typist " whom he had formerly employed had, by his assistance, been set up in the business, and he had further befriended her by giving her work, and recommending her office. A mysterious stranger had called upon her with a document which he wanted typed immediately ; and as it was very confidential he asked to be allowed to remain in her office while it was being done. Her womanly curiosity being thus aroused, she surreptitiously took a duplicate copy ; and this she brought to my friend, who, after glancing through it, drove to Scotland Yard and handed it to me. He asked me to keep it in my hands, and not to use the information it contained in any manner that would disclose the source from which it came to me.

I saw at once that the information was of value. So I embodied it in a private letter to Lord Selborne, who was then Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office. Lord Selborne was keenly appreciative, assuring me that I had given them particulars which they had been anxious to obtain. And next day he told me that information entirely confirming what I had given him bad reached the Colonial Office from another quarter. I guessed in a moment that the " other quarter " was the original report on a copy of which my letter was based ; but, of course, I was bound to keep faith with my friend, and not to betray the typist. It became embarrassing, however, when Lord Selborne went on to say that they wished to recompense my informant. I promised to consider the matter, and to see him again. But when I conferred with my friend, he told me that he had already rewarded his protégé and he did not wish anything further to be said about it. Here was a double mystery : that I could obtain such reliable and useful news about the Boers, and this from some one who refused a reward !

Fiction palls upon any one who has a behind-the-scenes acquaintance with the facts of real life. At a luncheon-table one day the late Mr. Justice Butt began to banter me about my official work ; and I turned the tables on him by disclosing the facts of a recent divorce case, for the judge was attached to that branch of the High Court. When Douglas Jerrold's wife reminded him of her birthday, and that she was then forty, he suggested that he ought to be allowed to treat her as a banknote, and change her for two twenties. The " villain " of my story -Jones by name-was not quite so Oriental ; but having become engaged to a rich widow, he naturally wished to get rid of his wife ; and being a man of ingenuity and resource, he made use of the Divorce Court to that end. When I told my story, the judge cynically remarked that though he had a high opinion of my literary powers, he had no idea that I was such a master of fiction ; and he suggested that if I published my story in a shilling shocker I should make my reputation in that line. Next day, however, he discovered that the case to which I had referred had been tried by the President of the Court ; and he wrote to me to urge that I ought not to disclose the facts. But only good can come of telling the story now.

Jones's application for divorce was based on a written confession by his wife that she had been unfaithful to him, her paramour being his own brother George. The brother George was not altogether a myth, for Jones had had such a brother, but he had died in childhood. The wife had received a petty legacy, and she signed her " confession " unread, believing it to be an application to the Probate Court to enable her to get the money. The " decree nisi " was a matter of course, and six months afterwards it was made absolute, Jones having intercepted process upon his wife by the same artifice as before. For he had been living peacefully with her all this time ; and when he now left her in order to marry the widow, she duly saw him off at the railway terminus from which he started, and parted from him with a fond kiss. Not even in such a detail as this am I romancing ; it was a part of her statement to a Scotland Yard officer from whom she received the first intimation that she was a divorced woman. And then it was that the Police obtained knowledge of his crime. For the object of the officer's visit to her was merely to discover what had become of the man.

He had been at one time employed on some private Secret Service work, though neither the Police nor I had any knowledge of him. His method seems to have been to employ a number of satellites, setting each of them to watch the others as dangerous conspirators. Now even a trained expert finds it difficult to do watching duty without attracting notice and exciting suspicion about his own movements. And with amateurs it is impossible. Therefore the more carefully these fellows did the work assigned to them, the more sensational were their reports. And the fraud was not discovered till their paymaster disappeared, and one and another of them came to Scotland Yard to ask about him, and to seek further employment in the same line.

Jones was a proficient French scholar, and with his new wife's money he took a good house in Paris, and advertised that he would receive a few sons of gentlemen, to whom he promised a good education, " with high moral training." So particular was he about his pupils being real gentlemen, that he refused an application from the head of one of our great Oxford Street shops. His taking up this line gave me my chance, for I was determined to bring him to book. His offence was not extraditable, and as long as he remained on the other side of the Channel he was safe. But though I angled for him for some time in vain, I caught him at last, and he was convicted and sentenced.

A successful coup in Police work is sometimes only a fluke. By a mere chance I gained the firm friendship of M. Goron, who, when I first went to Scotland Yard, was head of the Sureté, or Detective Police of Paris - a friendship that was of great value to me in my official work. An important criminal had eluded him and escaped to London. The case was one of such gravity that M. Goron came over in person to enlist all the help I could afford in capturing the fugitive. He called upon me to give me the particulars, but the only particulars available afforded no clue whatever to the man's associates or movements in London. He could not tell me even by what route he had travelled from Paris. In a word, he left me absolutely nothing to work upon except a photograph of the delinquent. " You want me then to find this man among the 7,000,000 of people in London," said I with a laugh, " nothing could be easier, I'll get him for you ! "

It seemed an utterly hopeless quest ; but I gave directions that all the officers should study the photograph on the chance of their coming upon the man in the course of their ordinary duties. A couple of hours later I despatched a note to M. Goron to tell him that his man was in custody at Scotland Yard. His gratification was lost in his amazement at such a result. "But how do you do it?" he exclaimed, "we can't do that sort of thing in Paris." I confess that I was guilty of the duplicity of concealing the fact that it was a sheer fluke. Two of the C.I.D. Inspectors met the man on the Strand and recognised him as the original of the photograph.

When M. Goron next visited London he enlisted my help in a case that was quite outside the sphere of Police work. A pretty little Portuguese lady, whose husband had gone off with another woman, followed the couple to Paris, and M. Goron had interested himself on her behalf, and ascertained that they were in London. As he was coming here on official business, he brought the lady to my office, and appealed to me to find the husband. I gave him the same answer as on the previous occasion ; but in a few hours we located the fugitives in a lodging-house in Bayswater.

In this case, however, success was due to legitimate Police inquiries. On their arrival in London one piece of their luggage was missing, and the fuss they naturally made about it attracted notice to them. M. Goron's admiration of our skill was as generous and unreserved as on the previous occasion. And if I did not tell him how the man was found, my reticence was due to reluctance to hurt his feelings. Our Police are the friends of the people, and therefore the people are always ready to help us. But it is not so in Paris. Indeed I am not sure that it can be said of any other country in the world ; and the way this operates in a case like that above mentioned, is that everybody, whether railway porter, cabman, or man in the street, is generally willing to assist the Police.

If it be often difficult to find people who are wanted by the Police, it is sometimes more difficult to get rid of people who think they are wanted. Such is the pressure of life nowadays, that people are apt to " go dotty " in various ways ; and the disease often shows itself by a delusion that the victim of it is being watched by the Police. The vigilance of an all-seeing Providence is not more inexorable than that of Scotland Yard in the estimation of such a man ! He cannot look out of his window without seeing a Police agent lurking somewhere near his house. He cannot go out, day or night, but that his steps are dogged. If he takes a railway journey, a detective gets into the next compartment just as the train is starting ; and when he alights at his destination another detective is waiting for him on the station platform.

For some years after I left office, I received letters from dupes of this delusion, appealing to me to use my influence with my successor on their behalf. And my assurance that it was all a delusion sometimes brought me a sheaf of closely written pages of diary, detailing the victim's movements day after day, and the proofs of his being thus persecuted. One man stares at him, and, as he passes, another man " shuffles with his feet "-a not uncommon element in the craze. I can recall only one instance in which an official reply proved of any use. It was the case of a personal friend of mine. I told his brother to write to me about it, and in reply I expressed regret at the annoyance caused him and added that I had given the necessary orders to put an end to it, as he had been mistaken for some one else.

Judging by official correspondence, this delusion is a speciality with men. A not uncommon phase of the disease with women is the belief that they are being constantly subjected to a powerful electric current, worked by some one in a neighbouring house. If a real infliction of this kind were possible, the victims would not suffer more than do the dupes of this `delusion. I never hesitate to ridicule the fears of men who thus suppose they are shadowed by the Police, but these poor creatures excite only pity. And while it is useless to reason with them, to help them is impossible.

If folk of this sort are only to be pitied, lunatics whose delusions have reference to Royalty are a danger. And it is remarkable how often mental aberration assumes this phase. This was a frequent cause of anxiety to the authorities, and of danger to the Sovereign, during all Queen Victoria's reign. When I first came to London a lunatic of this description gave the Police no little trouble. One morning when he had announced his intention of going to Windsor, where the Queen was in residence, three officers were set to watch him. He got up steam by a couple of rounds of Hyde Park at five miles an hour, and then headed for Windsor. One of the officers broke down before they had gone many miles ; another was done before they were half way ; and the third, who stuck to his man, was invalided for a week afterwards. But by the time the lunatic reached the Castle, the exercise had so soothed him that he quietly took train back to town. This sort of thing it was that precluded charging him before a magistrate, for in this free country it is not illegal to take a twenty-mile walk at five miles an hour.

Shortly afterwards Superintendent Williamson called on him to see what he could make of him. He found the man in a state of great excitement, with a huge pulpit Bible open before him. He had just made the momentous discovery that he was the Messiah ! Williamson urged on him that it was extremely wrong to keep the discovery to himself: he ought to make it known. But how? " Come to Bow Street, and tell it to the Chief Magistrate in open Court, and it will be published in every newspaper in London." The man responded eagerly, and was ready in a moment.

"But," said Williamson, " you mustn't go without that Bible." A few minutes brought them to Bow Street in a hansom, and the poor fellow's dramatic announcement was followed, of course, by his committal to an asylum.

The public never realised what a marvellous escape Mr. Gladstone had in April, 1893, when the lunatic Townsend, with a loaded revolver in his pocket, lay in wait for him in Downing Street. A lunatic is often diverted from his purpose as easily as a child; and the man's own explanation of his failing to fire was that the Premier smiled at him when passing into No. io-a providential circumstance that, for Mr. Gladstone was not addicted to smiling. That case cost me much distress of mind. " Never keep a document," should be the first rule with a criminal. " Never destroy a document," should be an inexorable rule in Police work. But in this case I had destroyed a letter that would have proved an important piece of evidence. I always ignored threatening letters myself, and I have had my share of them ; and when one of my principal subordinates brought me a letter threatening his life, I felt so indignant and irritated at the importance he attached to it, and the fuss he made over it, that I threw it into the fire. That letter was from Townsend, and though no harm came of my act, I could not forgive myself for it.