Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Arrest and Destruction

His boot on Wilde's neck, Queensberry prepared to deliver the coup de grace. He told his solicitor to send the notes from the libel trial and all of the evidence his private detectives had turned up about Wilde's interest in boy prostitutes to Scotland Yard. This move left authorities with no choice but to arrest Wilde and charge him with gross indecency. Next Queensberry sent word to Wilde alerting him to what he had done. He ended the note with a threat. "I will not prevent your flight, but if you take my son with you, I will shoot you like a dog," Queensberry wrote.

Wilde's wife, Constance & son Cyril
Wilde's wife, Constance & son

Again Wilde wavered on whether he should flee the country. His wife Constance urged him to leave England, as did some of his friends. Few, if any, argued that he should stay and face the charges. But Wilde's ego was such that he couldn't bear being known as a coward and outlaw. He was deathly afraid of prison, but even more so of the disgrace that faced a gentleman who ran away from legal troubles.

At 5 p.m. the day after his libel trial had ended in disaster, Wilde learned that an arrest warrant had been issued from Bow Street. An hour and ten minutes later there was a knock at the door of his hotel room and several plainclothes officers entered.

"Will I be allowed bail?" an obviously intoxicated Wilde asked his captors.

Witnesses said Wilde's complexion was particularly ashen when he learned from police that he would probably not receive bail before the trial. Taken to Bow Street, Wilde entered a not guilty plea, bade his friends and supporters farewell and was taken into custody.

The world quickly crashed around Wilde. His name was taken down from the marquees where his two plays had been showing to packed houses and an American tour of A Woman of No Importance was cancelled. A sale of his work Salome fell through. His "friends" backed away from him and refused to help post bond, even though a magistrate had set no amount. Others who had been named in the papers as friends of Wilde fled the country lest they be charged themselves. Those who did stand by him were ostracized by London society and were evicted from apartments and expelled from clubs.

The marquess had one more opportunity to punish Wilde. He had spent 600 pounds defending himself against the libel charges and had a judgment against Wilde to pay the court costs. He demanded payment in full, forcing Wilde into bankruptcy. Some of Oscar's most prized possessions, including first editions of his own books, and artworks by his friends Whistler and Aubrey Bearsdley were seized and sold at auction to pay the bill. Oscar himself was brought into bankruptcy court in chains to answer Queensberry's charges. Once his estate was liquidated and Oscar Wilde was returned to jail to await trial, he had lost everything.