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The Napoleon of Crime (Ben Macintyre)


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  The Boylston National Bank in Boston was a familiar sight from Worth's youth. The rich burghers of Boston believed their money was as safe as man could make it behind the grand façade of the bank, an imposing brick edifice at the corner of Boylston and Washington streets in the heart of the city. According to Sophie Lyons, Worth "made a tour of inspection of all the Boston banks and decided that the famous Boylston Bank, the biggest in the city, would suit him." Max Shinburn would later claim to have had a hand in planning the robbery, but there is no evidence his expertise was either required or requested. Indeed, Shinburn's exclusion from this "job" may have been the original source of the enmity between him and Worth. Ike Marsh, Bullard's rather dim Irish sidekick in the train-robbery caper, was brought in on the heist, which was, like all the best plans, perfectly straightforward.

Posing as William A. Judson and Co., dealers in health tonics, the partners rented the building adjacent to the bank and erected a partition across the window on which were displayed some two hundred bottles, containing, according to the labels mucilaged thereon, quantities of "Gray's Oriental Tonic." "The bottles served a double purpose," the Pinkertons reported, "that of showing his business and preventing the public looking into the place." Quite what was in Gray's Oriental Tonic has never been revealed, since not a single bottle was ever sold.

After carefully calculating the point where the shop wall adjoined the bank's steel safe, the robbers began digging. For a week, working only at night, Worth, Bullard, and Marsh piled the debris into the back of the shop, until finally the lining of the vault lay exposed.

"To cut through this was a work of more labor," The Boston Post later reported. "So very quiet was the operation that the only sound perceptible to the occupants of adjoining rooms was like that made by a person in the act of putting down a carpet with an ordinary tack hammer. The tools applied were [drill] bits or augers of about an inch in diameter, by means of which a succession of holes were drilled, opening into each other, until a piece of plate some eighteen inches by twelve had been removed. Jimmies, hammers and chisels were used as occasion required for the purpose of consummating the nefarious job." In the early hours of Sunday, November 21, 1869, Worth wriggled through the hole, lit a candle inside the bank safe, and surveyed the loot. "The treasure was contained in some twenty-five or thirty tin trunks," which Worth now handed back out to his accomplices one by one. "The trunks were pried open, their contents examined, what was valuable pocketed and what was not rejected." As dawn broke over Boston, the three thieves packed the swag into trunks labeled "Gray's Oriental Tonic," hailed a carriage to the station, and boarded the morning train to New York.

At nine o'clock on Monday morning, fully twenty-four hours later, bank officials opened the safe and were "fairly thunderstruck at the scene which met their gaze." The entire collection of safe-deposit boxes, and with them the solid reputation of the Roylston National Bank of Boston, was gone.

The Boston Post
Tuesday Morning, November 23, 1869


Yesterday morning Boston was startled. There is no discount on the word. A robbery of such magnitude as that of the Boylston National bank--amounting to from $150,000 to $200,000, in fact--which was perpetrated sometime between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, is something quite out of the ordinary run in the municipal affairs of this city, and nearly if not quite too much for ready credence. But the robbery stands indisputably a robbery; and, taken as an exploit, considered in its aspect as a job, as one artist considers the work of another, it is one of the most adroit which it has ever been the fortune or misfortune of the press to record. The almost uniformly successful manner in which this class of burglary has been carried on throughout the country during the past few months may lead to the inference that the party or parties in the present case will escape the arm of the law, although it is true that the prime originator is as well known as any criminal need to be. The infinite cleverness with which his operations have been conducted from beginning to end, indicate him to be a man of no ordinary ability, and it seems very probable that, having so far succeeded in eluding police, he may escape altogether. Should he do so, he will find himself a richer man, even, than he had perhaps anticipated . . . The name by which the criminal is known is William A. Judson.


The Boston Post, barely able to suppress its admiration, was conservative in its estimate. The Pinkertons believed that "nearly one million dollars in money and securities" had been stolen by Worth and his accomplices, a sum confirmed by Sophie Lyons. In the premises of William A. Judson and Co. police found "a dozen bushels or more of bricks and mortar," about thirty disemboweled tin trunks, and two hundred bottles of Gray's Oriental Tonic. For a week the Boylston Bank robbery was Boston's sole topic of conversation. "Everyone continues to talk about the robbery of Boylston Bank," The Boston Post reported gloomily a few days later. "But nobody--or nobody that has anything real to say--communicated anything new. On all sides it is admitted to be a very neat job, all the way from the Oriental Tonic clear through to the Bank safe."

It was indeed Worth's neatest job to date. Yet the very success of the venture, the huge amount of money involved, and the stated determination of the authorities to track down the thieves (spurred on by a reward of twenty percent of the haul) left Worth and Bullard with an obvious dilemma. To stay in New York and attempt to "work back the securities" in the traditional way was to invite trouble, since even Marm Mandelbaum would think twice about fencing such hot property. They could take the cash, abandon the securities, and head west, where the frontier states offered obscurity and where the law was, at best, partially administered. But Worth and Bullard, with their taste for expensive living and sophisticated company, were hardly the stuff of which cowboys are made, and the prospect of spending their ill-gotten gains in some dusty prairie town where they might be murdered for their money was less than appealing.

A more attractive alternative was to make for Europe, where extradition was unlikely and where wealthy Americans were welcomed with open arms and few questions were asked. Big Ike Marsh had already decided to take early retirement with his share of the loot. He returned to Ireland via Baltimore and Queenstown, and was received in Tipperary with grand ceremony, a local boy made good or, rather, bad. In the end, the Pinkertons reported, "he gambled, drank and did everything he should not have done, and eventually returned to America for more funds." Poor Ike was arrested while trying to rob another bank in Wellesborough, sentenced to twenty years' solitary confinement in eastern Pennsylvania, and ended his life "an old man, broken down in health, dependent on the charity of friends."

Worth and Bullard rightly surmised that the Pinkertons would be called in after such a large robbery. Indeed, just a week after the bank heist, the detectives had already traced the thieves and their spoil to New York, and documents in the Pinkerton archives indicate that Bullard and Worth, thanks to some loose talk in criminal circles, were the prime suspects. The news that they were wanted men rapidly reached the fugitives themselves. "Those damned detectives will get on to us in a week," Bullard warned Worth. "I don't want to be playing the Piano in Ludlow Street Jail."

Acting quickly, the pair dispatched the stolen securities to a New York lawyer, possibly either Howe or Hummel, with instructions to wait a few months and then sell back the bonds for a percentage of their face value and forward the proceeds in due course. At the time, this was an accepted method for recovering stolen property, winked at by the police, who often themselves helped to negotiate the return of the securities, to the advantage of both the owners and the thieves. "All [the robbers] need do is to make 'terms' which means give up part of their booty, and then devote their leisure hours to plan new rascalities," noted The Boston Sunday Times, one of the few organs to raise objections to this morally dubious collusion. "There must be something radically wrong in the police system of the country when such transactions of [sic] these can repeatedly take place."

Worth and Bullard then hurriedly packed the remaining cash into false-bottom trunks, bid farewell to Marm Mandelbaum, Sophie Lyons, and New York, and took the train to Philadelphia, where the S.S. Indiana, bound for England, was waiting to take them, in style, to Europe and a new life. For this they would need new names, and in high spirits in their first-class cabin the pair discussed how they would reinvent themselves. Bullard elected to call himself Charles H. Wells and adopt a new persona as a wealthy Texan businessman. Worth's choice of alias was inspired.

That year had seen the untimely and much-lamented demise, on June 18, of Henry Jarvis Raymond, the founder-editor of The New York Times. Senator, congressman, political conscience, and stalwart moral voice of the age, Raymond had succumbed to "an attack of apoplexy" at the age of forty-nine and his passing was the occasion for some of the most solemn adulation ever printed. A single obituary of the great man described him as patriotic, wise, moderate, honorable, candid, generous-hearted, hard-working, frugal, conscientious, masterly, modest, courageous, noble, consistent, principled, cultivated, distinguished, lucid, kind, just, forbearing, even-tempered, sincere, moral, lenient, vivacious, enterprising, temperate, self-possessed, clear-headed, sagacious, eloquent, staunch, sympathetic, kindly, generous, just, suave, amiable, and upright. The New York Times ended its adjective-sodden paean to its founder by declaring that Raymond was "always the true gentleman . . . in fact, we never knew a man more completely guileless or whose life and character better illustrated the virtues of a true and ingenuous manhood." The newspaper's journalistic rivals agreed. The Evening Mail noted: "He was always a gentleman . . . true to his own convictions." The Telegram called him "one of the brightest and most gentlemanly journalists the New World has ever produced," while The Evening Post also noted "he was a gentleman in his manners and language." The grave in exclusive Green-Wood Cemetery of this man of integrity, this ethical colossus, was marked with a forty-foot obelisk in honor of his achievements and virtue. "Contemporary opinion has rarely pronounced a more unanimous, more cordial or more emphatic judgment than in the case of the departed chief of The New York Times," that paper declared.

Worth, already hankering after respectability to go with his new wealth, had read these breathless accolades (few could avoid them), and the repeated references to the late Mr. Raymond's "gentlemanliness" had lodged in his mind. Appropriating the name of such a man would be a rich and satisfying irony, not least because Worth, an avid collector of underworld gossip, may have known that the great moral arbiter of the age had himself led a double life of which his readers and admirers possessed not an inkling. Officially, on the night of his death, the worthy editor had "sat with his family and some friends until 10 o'clock, when he left them to attend a political consultation; and his family saw no more of him until he was discovered, about 2:30 the next morning, lying in the hallway unconscious and apparently dying." The truth was rather more dubious, for in reality Henry Jarvis Raymond, man of virtue, had died of a sudden coronary while "paying a visit to a young actress."

Adam Worth now decided that, whether Henry J. Raymond resided in the heaven reserved for great men or in the purgatory of the adulterer, he did not need his name anymore. On the voyage to England he adopted this impressive alias (replacing Jarvis with Judson, in memory of the name he used for the Boston robbery) and kept it for the rest of his life. It was one of Worth's wittiest and least recognized thefts.

Early the next year, two wealthy Americans swaggered into the Washington Hotel in Liverpool and announced they would be occupying the best rooms in the house indefinitely, since they were on an extended business trip. The pair were dressed in the height of fashion, with frock coats, silk cravats, and canes. Two Yankee swells fresh off the boat and keen for entertainment, Mr. Henry J. Raymond, merchant banker, and Mr. Charles H. Wells, Texan businessman, headed for the hotel bar to toast their arrival in the Old World. Mr. Raymond drank to the future; Mr. Wells, as usual, drank to excess.

Behind the bar of the Washington Hotel, as it happened, their future was already waiting in the highly desirable shape of Miss Katherine Louise Flynn, a seventeen-year-old Irish colleen with thick blond hair, enticing dimples in all the right places, and a gleam in her eye that might have been mistaken for availability but was probably rather closer to raw ambition. This remarkable woman had been born into Dublin poverty and had fled her humble origins at fifteen, determined even at that early age that hers would be a very different lot. Hot-tempered, vivacious, and sharp as a tack, Kitty craved excitement and longed for travel, cultured company, and beautiful things. Specifically, she understood the value of money, and wanted lots of it.

Mercenary is an unkind word. Kitty Flynn was simply practical. The squalor and deprivation of her early years had left her with a healthy respect for the advantages of wealth and a determination to do whatever was necessary, within reason, to obtain them. In her present situation this involved enduring, and blowing back, the good-natured and flirtatious chaff of the hotel's regular drinkers. But when these same patrons overstepped the mark and were foolhardy enough to suggest that Kitty might like to consider some more intimate after-hours entertainment, they were left in no doubt, by way of a stream of vivid Irish invective, that the barmaid considered herself destined for rather greater delights than they could offer. The steamer from Dublin to Liverpool had been the first stage in Kitty's planned journey to fortune and respectability; her current job as a hotel barmaid was but a way station along the route. The arrival of Messrs. Raymond and Wells opened up new and enticing vistas. Knights in shining armor were few and far between in Liverpool, and two wealthy Americans with money to burn were clearly the next best thing.

"She was an unusually beautiful girl--a plump, dashing blond of much the same type [as the actress] Lillian Russell was years ago," recounted Sophie Lyons. She was, like all the best barmaids, buxom. Her blond hair curled into ringlets reaching to the middle of her back and were arranged in such a way that they appeared to have exploded from the back of her head. Her features were delicate, her nose snubbed, her lips full, but it was her eyes, startlingly blue and slightly distended, that tended to reduce her admirers to putty. In certain lights she looked like nothing so much as an exceptionally attractive frog--which was only appropriate, since Kitty would shortly embark on a career in which, as in the fairy tale, she would be kissed by a variety of princes, charming and otherwise. In the best surviving portrait of her (a colored version of a picture by the French photographer Felix Nadar), Kitty Flynn is wearing an expression that hovers between flirtatious and simply wicked.

That expression had an electric effect on the newest arrivals to the Washington Hotel in January 1870. It was never clear which of the two felons first lost his heart to Kitty, but that both did so, and deeply, was accepted as fact by all their contemporaries. Sophie Lyons is characteristically blunt on the matter: "Bullard and Raymond [she uses Worth's real name and his alias interchangeably] both fell madly in love with her."

For the next month Kitty was besieged by these two very different suitors--the one small, dapper, almost teetotal, and intense; the other tall, lugubrious, and, as the Pinkertons put it, "inclined to live fast and dissipate." Suddenly Kitty found herself being wined and dined on a scale that was lavish beyond her most extravagant dreams and that stretched Liverpool's resources to the limit. In spite of their amorous rivalry, the two crooks remained the closest of friends as they swept Kitty from one expensive candlelit dinner to another, as Bullard serenaded her and Worth did his best to persuade her that he, rather than his exotic partner, represented the more solid investment. "The race for her favor was a close one," records the inquisitive Lyons, "despite the fact that Bullard was an accomplished musician [and] spoke several languages fluently." Finally Kitty gave in to Piano Charley's entreaties and agreed to marry him. Yet for Worth she always reserved a place in her heart and, for that matter, her bed.

 
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Excerpted from The Napoleon of Crime by Ben Mcintyre. Copyright © 1997 by Ben Mcintyre. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Delta trade paper edition published August 1998.