Chapter 33 Miltonians on the Stalk

The institutions of any society are interrelated, even those which appear to have completely opposite goals. Gladstone himself observed: "There is often, in the course of this wayward and bewildered life, exterior opposition, and sincere and even violent condemnation, between persons and bodies who are nevertheless profoundly associated by ties and relations that they know not of."

Perhaps the most famous example of this, and one well-recognized by Victorians, was the bitter rivalry between the temperance societies and the pubs. These two institutions in fact served similar ends, and ultimately were seen to adopt the same attractions: the pubs acquired organs, hymn singing, and soft drinks, and the temperance meetings had professional entertainers and a new, raucous liveliness. By the time the temperance groups began buying pubs in order to turn them dry, the intermixture of these two hostile forces became pronounced indeed.

Victorians also witnessed another rivalry, centering around a new social institution--- the organized police force. Almost immediately, the new force began to form relationships with its avowed enemy, the criminal class. These relationships were much debated in the nineteenth century, and they continue to be debated to the present day. The similarity in methods of police and criminals, as well as the fact that many policemen were former criminals--- and the reverse--- were features not overlooked by thinkers of the day. And it was also noted by Sir James Wheatstone that there was a logical problem inherent in a law-enforcement institution, "for, should the police actually succeed in eliminating all crime, they will simultaneously succeed in eliminating themselves as a necessary adjunct to society, and no organized force or power will ever eliminate itself willingly."

In London, the Metropolitan Police, founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, was headquartered in a district known as Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard was originally, a geographical term, denoting an area of Whitehall that contained many government buildings. These buildings included the official residence of the surveyor of works to the crown, which was occupied by Inigo Jones, and later by Sir Christopher Wren. John Milton lived in Scotland Yard when he was working for Oliver Cromwell from 1649 to 1651, and it is apparently from this association that a slang reference for police, two hundred years later, was "miltonian."

When Sir Robert Peel located the new Metropolitan Police in Whitehall, the correct address, for the headquarters was No. 4 Whitehall Place, but the police station there had an entrance from Scotland Yard proper, and the press always referred to the police as Scotland Yard, until the term became synonymous with the force itself.

Scotland Yard grew rapidly in its early years; in 1829 the total force was 1,000, but a decade later it was 3,350, and by 1850 it was more than 6,000, and would increase to 10,000 by 1870. The task of the Yard was extraordinary: it was called upon to policy crime in an area of nearly seven hundred square miles, containing a population of two and a half million people.

From the beginning, the Yard adopted a posture of deference and modesty in its manner of solving crimes; the official explanations always mentioned lucky breaks of one sort or another--- an anonymous informant, a jealous mistress, a surprise encounter--- to a degree that was hard to believe. In fact, the Yard employed informers and plainclothesmen, and these agents were the subject of heated debate for the now familiar reason that many in the public feared that an agent might easily provoke a crime and then arrest the participants. Entrapment was a hot political issue of the day, and the Yard was at pains to defend itself.

In 1855, the principal figure in the Yard was Richard Mayne, "a sensible lawyer," who had done much to improve the public attitude toward the Metropolitan Police. Directly under him was Mr. Edward Harranby, and it was Harranby who oversaw the ticklish business of working with undercover agents and informers. Usually Mr. Harranby kept irregular hours; he avoided contact with the press, and from his office could be seen strange figures coming and going, often at night.

In the late afternoon of May 17th, Harranby lead a conversation with his assistant, Mr. Jonathan Sharp. Mr. Harranby reconstructed the conversation in his memoirs, Days on the Force, published in 1879. The conversation must be taken with some reservations, for in that volume Harranby was attempting to explain why he did not succeed in thwarting Pierce's robbery plans before they were carried out.

Sharp said to him, "The snakesman blew, and we have had a look at our man."

"What sort is he?" Harranby said.

"He appears a gentleman. Probably a cracksman or a swell mobsman. The snakesman says he's from Manchester, but he lives in a fine house in London."

"Does he know where?"

"He says he's been there, but he doesn't know the exact location. Somewhere in Mayfair."

"We can't go knocking on doors in Mayfair," Harranby said. "Can we assist his powers of memory?"

Sharp sighed. "Possibly."

"Bring him in. I'll have a talk with him. Do we know the intended crime?"

Sharp shook his head. "The snakesman says he doesn't know. He's afraid of being mizzled, you know, he's reluctant to blow all he knows. He says this fellow's planning a flash pull."

Harranby turned irritable. "That is of remarkably little value to me," he said. "What, exactly, is the crime? There's our question, and it begs a proper answer. Who is on this gentleman now?"

"Cramer and Benton, sir."

"They're good men. Keep them on his trail, and let's have the nose in my office, and quickly."

"I'll see to it myself, sir," the assistant said.

Harranby later wrote in his memoirs: "There are times in any professional's life when the elements requisite for the deductive process seem almost within one's grasp, and yet they elude the touch. These are the times of greatest frustration, and such was the case of the Robbery of 1855."

Chapter 34 The Nose Is Crapped

Clean Willy, very nervous, was drinking at the Hound's Tooth pub. He left there about six and headed straight for the Holy Land. He moved swiftly through the evening crowds, then ducked into an alley; he jumped a fence, slipped into a basement, crossed it, crawled through a passage into an adjoining building, climbed up the stairs, came out onto a narrow street, walked half a block, and disappeared into another house, a reeking nethersken.

Here he ascended the stairs to the second floor, climbed out onto the roof, jumped to an adjacent roof, scrambled up a drainpipe to the third floor of a lodging house, crawled in through a window, and went down the stairs to the basement.

Once in the basement, he crawled through a tunnel that brought him out on the opposite side of the street, where he came up into a narrow mews. By a side door, he entered a pub house, the Golden Arms, looked around, and exited from the front door.

He walked to the end of the street, and then turned in to the entrance of another lodging house. Immediately he knew that something was wrong; normally there were children yelling and scrambling all over the stairs, but now the entrance and stairs were deserted silent. He paused at the doorway, and was just about to turn and flee when a rope snaked out and twisted around his neck, yanking him into a dark corner.

Clean Willy had a look at Barlow, with the white scar across his forehead, as Barlow strained on the garrotting rope. Willy coughed, and struggled, but Barlow's strength was such that the little snakesman was literally lifted off the floor, his feet kicking in the air, his hands pulling at the rope.

This struggle continued for the better part of a minute, and then Clean Willy's face was blue, and his tongue protruded gray, and his eyes bulged. He urinated down his pants leg, and then his body sagged.

Barlow let him drop to the floor. He unwound the rope from his neck, removed the two five-pound notes from the snakesman's pocket, and slipped away into the street. Clean Willy's body lay huddled in a corner and did not move. Many minutes passed before the first of the children reemerged, and approached the corpse cautiously. Then the children stole the snakesman's shoes, and all his clothing, and scampered away.