Adam Worth: The World in his Pocket
"...Her eyes, they shone like diamonds, you'd think she was queen of the land, and her hair hung over her shoulders, drawn back with a black leather band."
— Black Leather Band (Anonymous)
In the early months of 1870, two Americans named Charles H. Wells and Henry Judson Raymond, valises in hand, sauntered into the Washington Hotel in Liverpool, England. They asked for the best rooms in the inn, where they quickly changed from their traveling capes into the height of fashion, then together headed for the hotel bar. Wells was a Texas oil man, Raymond a financier from the East Coast. They ventured to the United Kingdom for a mix of business and pleasure.
Wells was, in reality, Bullard; Raymond was Worth.
While toddling around Liverpool over the next few weeks, they made it a habit to end their days in the hotel bar where they had both lost their hearts to a barmaid, one 17-year-old Kitty Flynn, an Irish colleen with thick blonde ringlets, dimples, plumpness in the right places, and silver-blue eyes as big as Erin's moon - and just as lusty. Her orbs twinkled with a restless ambition that, when focused on a man, sent him into a dither.
Katherine Louise Flynn had fled the dull chores of her family's Dublin farm at fifteen to see the world and get rich in it. Like Adam Worth had in Cambridge, she had spent her youth gawking at the rich in their carriages, the lords in their fine cutaway coats and the ladies in their swishing gowns and laced bonnets. Then, she scowl at her own palms, callused and beet-red from pushing the Flynn plow. The experience filled her with a yearning for the better life; if Adam Worth noticed in her the traits of an opportunist, he understood fully.
Both Americans wooed her with languish. It wasn't long before she learned there true identities, truths that came spilling out under the allure of her fragrance in the misty seaside moonlight. Discovering that they were really not a rich oil man and financier made no difference to her; they were rich crooks on the lam from the United States and that was all the difference. The keyword was rich, after all.
Pursuing the same girl did not hurt the two men's friendship; it became a game of Best Man Wins. Kitty enjoyed both their company and, frankly, gave herself to both. She awed at Worth's gentle soul, love for the classics and brilliance. Yet, she enjoyed Piano Charley's more grab'em and kiss'em approach, too, which emerged more fluently with each drop of the porter he loved. Their woman eventually chose the proposal of Bullard, a fellow who had spent more time than Worth chasing ladies in America and therefore knew what it took to win them. In the years to come, as the boys and Kitty remained staunch friends and partners in crime, the Irish bride was not averse to, every now and then, after the hard-drinking Bullard passed out for the night, allowing Worth's hands to creep inside her bustle. Again, that game of Best Man Wins.
While Kitty and Bullard honeymooned, Worth avoided the company of the Washington Bar, less festive without his friends, and decided to find new adventure, the kind that pumped his blood. He broke into a large pawnbroker's shop during the quietude of a cold April night in Liverpool. He made off with £25,000, dividing it with Bullard and Kitty upon their return home - a belated wedding present. Throughout the year, other pawnbrokers were robbed by night until the two gangsters and their inamorata tired of the town. They sought bigger challenges.
Paris brought promises.
Still reeling from devastating war with Russia and a series of political upheavals,which included the bloody Siege of Paris, the city police paid little attention to the arrival of the Liverpool trio in June, 1871. The counterculture movement called Le Commune (The Commune) had been crushed only a month before and the conservative government once again held power. By the time that Mr. Raymond and the Wells couple set foot on French soil, the central police force, called the Paris Surete, had tunnel vision; they focused only on tracking down and annihilating the members of the now-defunct rebel government and barely glanced at the telegrams from America and England that warned them to keep an eye out for suspicious foreigners who may have robbed a bank in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or pillaged British pawn shops.
Paris lay in shambles from its political warfare, but its ancient streets looked classical to Adam Worth. He wandered through the "City of Lights," along the River Seine, beneath the Arc de Triomphe, strolled from the spaciousness of the Champs de Elysees to the narrow cafes of Chaillot; he marveled at the ages-old and exquisite Cathedral Notre Dame, the Olympic proportions of Versailles, the ornate décor of the Place de Vosges, and he gasped at the beauty of the masterpieces in the Louvre.
With the remnants of the Boylston Bank job, Worth and Bullard (still wearing the names Raymond and Wells) bought an abandoned three-story building at Number 2, Rue Scribe, near the Paris Opera House, and turned it into one of the most attractive, and popular, social spots in town. Called the American Bar, it offered both legal and illegal entertainment for the citizens of Paris. On the second story was a spacious, posh lodging catering food and drink and private rooms where a client could host special feasts for his lady or for business partners, or celebrate weddings, anniversaries or birthdays; bartenders were imported from the United States to introduce (at least for Paris) novel drink concoctions; the chefs, however, were French gourmets. Newspapers and magazines from across America, from which guests could read the latest headlines abroad, lined kiosks and mahogany shelves in the anterooms, comfortable reading chairs provided for their browsing. Elegant light fixtures, mirrors, antiques and oil collections from Paris' featured artistes lined the gleaming paneled walls. Carpeting lay inches thick; it was bordered in fringe.
Upstairs, on the third floor, the trio presided over a lush full-scale gambling house, complete with roulette, baccarat and an open bar that operated 24 hours. Kitty (Mrs. Wells) became its popular hostess in cherubic shape, decollete gown and necklaces of opals, or emeralds, rubies or sapphires. Piano Charley, suited in tails, sat center floor at a grand piano and played a mix of classic, foreign and popular tunes. Worth merely made himself available as greeter, making it his custom to ensure Paris' (and the underworld's) jauntiest high-rollers were treated royally. Because the salon ran against French law, a central buzzer mechanism could be sounded by the Maitre'd on the second floor to warn the inhabitants above of a possible raid. If sounded, the roulette wheels and the gaming tables would fold and disappear into an elaborately designed series of hideaways inside the walls and beneath the floors. Stupefied gendarmes, upon entering, would encounter nothing more than an airy café where gentlemen and ladies congregated, glass in hand, merely to trade repartee, listen to music, waltz, play innocent card games and parade in couture fashions.
Visitors to the American Bar consisted of those inside and outside of the law. On one particular night, Worth was startled to learn that among his guests were a number of merchants from none other than the Boylston National Bank, Cambridge. They stopped the proprietor, Mr. Raymond, to introduce themselves and their wives, and to congratulate him on the most wonderful cuisine and furnishings. Worth bowed, heartily thanked them for their patronage, and chuckled as he watched them leave never knowing that they had been the principle funders of the place.
Many of the world's most charming rakes, rascals and felons crossed the threshold of the American Bar; from this assemblage, Worth oftentimes peopled his latest robberies and drew up a personal who's who of people to know for future assignments. As a whole, they represented, under Worth's captaincy, what Ben Macintyre in The Napoleon of Crime calls "one of the most efficient and disciplined gangs in history". Baron Shinburn, who had deserted the clutches of an American law, was a nightly patron; so was lady thief Sophie Lyons who liked to "bum" with Europe's elite d'corps. Other faces whom Worth had worked with in the past (welcoming them into his lair upon their appearance in the gilded confines of his club) were Eddie Guerin, an eager and amiable crook who later wrote his memoirs; Charles "Scratch" Becker, a Dutch forger so clever that he often fooled himself when trying to discern the authentic from his own reproduction; Joseph Chapman, long-faced, long-bearded and successful bank robber whose wife Lydia was one of the most beautiful women in the underworld, Russian confidence man Carlo Sesicovitch and his Gypsy mistress Alima; and "Little Joe" Elliott (alias Reilly), a handsome but scalawaggish super-burglar from America who loved one item more than jewels - English theatre comedienne Kate Castleton, to whom he was engaged.
There was one other visitor to the American Bar, in 1873, whom Worth found interesting, even intriguing, albeit a portent. His name was William Pinkerton. It was his father who had started the Pinkerton Detective Agency with President Lincoln's support during the Civil War and whose sons, William and Robert, now owned and ran it with a firm thumb. Robert was the businessman who rarely left his imperial office in the New York headquarters, sketching operational plans and accounting for every penny the agency spent. William, on the other hand, was more the "detective chief" who relished the hunt and the travel. His face was known and feared by every crook in many cities around the globe. While he did not have jurisdiction outside the shores of America, his presence nonetheless spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e, for each furtive step he took across the room seemed to cry If I know where you are, the Law knows where you are.
When he walked into the bar and took a seat at one of the booths, Worth instantly recognized him, those dark features, thick mustache, heavy eyelids. For that square jaw of his had appeared hundreds of times in the dives where Marm Mandelbaum's bunch frolicked; the meanest of them would turn ashen when William Pinkerton ambled in for no other reason than to remind them, with no more than a stare, that he existed.
Tonight, without exchanging names, Worth bought the lawman a drink and they chatted a while of light, general trivia. Each caught in the other's face the underthoughts....both amused by this (the detective more, daresay) ...Pinkerton preying....Worth prepared to duck. They talked of Paris, people they knew, and when Pinkerton left it was then, and only then, that the crook plopped back into the booth and exhaled.
Pinkerton had come to the American Bar to vex and to spook, that was obvious; it was his sign, his decree, that the Pinkertons knew about his crimes - about his desertion from the 34th New York Regiment, about his work under Mrs. Mandelbaum, about the Boylston National Bank and, probably, the tricks in Liverpool, too. What the upshot of it was was anyone's guess. Was he telling Worth to mend his ways before he was arrested for good? Or was he telling him: If I know where you are, the Law knows where you are.?
Whatever the moral of the story, it thunder-packed. The man who had just left his bar was not one to pay a social visit for socialities' sake. Within a few days after the detective's departure, the American Bar was raided, then raided several more times over the winter of '73. Evidently, Pinkerton had goaded the French Surete into action, And even though the proprietors of the gambling salon were pre-warned by the buzzer — in one case, virtually just moments before the gendarmes crashed through the front doors — they knew that their dancing days in Paris had ended. Pinkerton was known to badger badger badger; Worth knew that he would pester, pester, pester until the roof caved in. And Worth, Bullard and especially the illimitable Kitty Flynn were not partial to ceiling dust powdering their scalps.
It was now time to close the American Bar. Because of its attention from the Surete, the respectable people stayed away in droves, even more than the nervous hoodwinkers and miscreants who took to regarding the hangout as a jinx. But, before he closed the shutters for its final night, Worth, to make up for the loss in profits, used the premises of the bar itself to pull off a spur-of-the-moment but nevertheless dazzling bit of grand larceny.
"Worth decided to improve matters in his traditional way," says Ben Macintyre, "by stealing a bag of diamonds from a traveling dealer who had carelessly left them on the floor as he stood at a roulette table...Worth cashed a check for the diamond salesman and distracted him while Little Joe Elliot crept under the table and substituted a duplicate bag for the one containing the diamonds. The theft netted some £30,000 worth of gems."
When the salesman, noticing his diamonds gone, yelled sacre bleu and other phrases unrepeatable, Worth himself summoned the gendarmes and, playing the martyr to the hilt, insisted they scour the place; if they were found on his premises, he would clap himself in irons and ask for the guillotine, the dirty dog he'd be! As Macintyre points out, Worth failed to suggest they look in the bottom of a particular barrel of beer.
Closing the bar was a task in itself. With Piano Charley Bullard gone ahead to make connections in London, their next destination, Worth and Kitty oversaw the final arrangements - the liquidation of the assets — and the careful packaging of many of the accoutrements they were shipping to London, the antiques, much of the furniture and fixtures. And while the cat, Bullard, was away, the mice played, Worth and Kitty sharing their final nights in Paris in one bed.