Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adam Worth: The World in his Pocket

The Dark Years

"We're all serving a life sentence in the dungeon of self."
— Cyril Connolly

For nearly a week after his arrest, Adam Worth refused to admit to a crime or to give to the interrogating police any information about where he came, what his name was, or who his absconding accomplices had been. Investigators searched his hotel room and found business cards with the name Henry Raymond, Esq. printed on them, but that still told the police nothing. After five days of the prisoner's aggravating silence, the magistrate at the Liege High Court, Theodore de Corswarem, ordered that circulars with the suspect's photo be distributed to European and American law officers who might identify the man.

The New York Police Department responded, writing that the man-in-question resembled one Adam Worth; and Inspector Shore of Scotland Yard shot back with a report on the "suspect Adam Worth," which included the Yard's belief that he had been behind the most notorious theft of the century, the Gainsborough painting.

But, the most blistering identification came from an entity who had long sought Worth's demise, surprisingly one from within the circle of criminals, Max Shinburn. "The Baron," long jealous of his self-decreed rival and tempted by the hope that his sentence at Louvain might be decreased, stepped forth full of blab and bluster when he read about the "unknown man" being detained by the police in Liege. Having told the authorities everything he knew first-hand - about Worth's desertion from the Civil War, his associations with Marm Mandelbaum, the Boylston Bank robbery and the gambling activities at Paris' American Bar - he then related what he had heard from the late Piano Charley - from the pawnshop thefts in Liverpool to his building up of the largest forgery ring in Europe to the abduction of the Duchess of Devonshire.

Max 'The Baron' Shinburn
Max 'The Baron'
(Pinkerton's, Inc.)

Word by word, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, he talked until the court reporter's hand, taking notes, blistered. And then, after a respite, he talked some more, long into the night. He fried his nemesis and was sure to turn him over on the griddle to be sure all sides were charred. Worth, well-done, was tossed into a dark cell to await his trial, which was set for the following March, five months away.

Scotland Yard had accused him, and, surprisingly, even one of his own accused him. But, what of William Pinkerton, the man who, it was said, wanted to see Worth in irons more than any man alive? Ben Macintyre responds in The Napoleon of Crime: "The people who knew most about Adam Worth, the Pinkertons, maintained a complete silence, making no attempt to provide de Corswarem with the volumes of information they possessed on his activities...Pinkerton and Worth had met at least twice, in the American Bar in Paris and later in the Criterion Bar in London; the Eye turned a blind eye. Today, this would be considered scandalous, but then law enforcement ran on a less rigid basis. William Pinkerton upheld the law, but in a highly personalized way, and he was not above bending the rules if circumstances, or individuals, required it...Pinkerton did not give up Worth for the simple reason that he liked him, respected his talents, and knew he was in scalding-hot water."

As the date of the trial neared, Worth was fretting over his wife. He had sent Johnny Curtin to London to watch over her and the children in their time of need, but had heard nothing from any of them in months. Nor were his letters home answered. Conscious that her heart must have broken, he prayed that he could have the opportunity to help mend it when this latest difficulty was over - whenever it was over. He longed to see his family more than anyone else and, in terrible absentia, realized now how much he adored them.

Widow Terry, Kitty Flynn in the 1890s (Katherine Sanford)
Widow Terry, Kitty Flynn in
the 1890s (Katherine Sanford)

When he felt that all his friends had forgotten him, a letter arrived from America that cheered him immensely. Its author was Kitty Flynn who, since the old days, had gone legitimate. She had married a Wall Street banker of Irish and Venezuelan heritage named Juan Terry; after six happy years of marriage, Terry died on a business trip. Left a widow of leisure at a young age, she would spend her mornings alone over a sumptuous breakfast and her newspaper. She had read of her old friend's much-publicized trial and remembering his support of her, mailed him large amounts of money and promised to help pay for his defense, which she did. Her kindness was a breath of fresh air in the cramped jail cell in Liege.

The trial took place March 20, 1893, in the crowd-packed Liege Court d'Assizes. It was to be a quick, heated one-day event. The defendant pleaded guilty to the Liege hold-up, but played it off as an impromptu and rash deed enacted by a foreigner direly short of funds in a far country. However, he continued to deny his roles in the many other activities alleged, including the robbery of the Duchess of Devonshire, daring authorities to find the painting anywhere in the world. Cocky to the end, but distressed underneath, he entered the courtroom manacled, but chin high. Clean-shaven, per advice of his attorney, Jules Janson, the prisoner was, nevertheless, an embodiment of defiance. Officials had painted him in villainous blacks and Worth, by demeanor, was giving them their money's worth.

It became clear from the initial hour that Monsieur Beltjens, the court's public prosecutor, planned to make the most of Worth's blackguard image. In early questioning, he tried to trace for the ears of the jury the defendant's cascade into the seedy netherworld of crime. Worth refuted the accusations as hearsay. When the prosecutor asked him then to explain how he managed to live his lavish lifestyle, Worth winked, "I make 1,500 francs a week playing baccarat all winter and I choose the best horses at the races in the summer. Now don't you agree, monsieur, that that's more fun than working as a mechanic." The courtroom howled.

But, laughs were few as the evidence against Worth built up throughout the afternoon, evidence gathered through Shinburn's and Inspector Shore's testimony - his associations and business dealings with known and convicted criminals such as Marm Mandelbaum and Charley Bullard, his fine mansion, his expensive linens and spending sprees despite any means of visible legal employment, his overall reputation in London as a thief. Worth remained calm throughout, except at one point when Beltjens queried his relationship with Katherine Louise Flynn, the wife of a known perpetrator who had been sending him letters to prison. "Leave her out of this!" Worth demanded, then refused to answer any questions pertaining to the woman.

The last part of the prosecution's program concentrated on the robbery of the express van in Liege. On the stand, witnesses described seeing Worth cracking open a money box, then running to elude the police when espied.

By the time Monsieur Janson, the counsel for the defense, had the floor there was little he could do for his client. He was a capable lawyer, but no miracle man. Court recessed at 5 p.m. The jury deliberated. It took them a mere few minutes to arrive at a verdict: Guilty of Robbery. Sentence was passed on the spot, and that afternoon Worth was led from the courtroom by Belgian police to an awaiting patrol wagon, which would take him to the Prison de Louvain where he would spend his next seven years.

Seven years in virtual hell.

Shinburn, who quartered in a cell near him, had been given a reduced sentence because of his "aid" to the authorities and he was more conceited than ever. He had one year to go before his release and he seemed to live that year for no other purpose than to make life as miserable as possible for Adam Worth. He managed to talk fellow inmates against the new prisoner; he promised to help them when they got out if they could catch Worth alone to whelp and beat him into pulp. The guards, as bad as the men behind the bars, would take whatever money Shinburn offered just to inflict pain with a club or a broomstick or their bare knuckles.

Worth grew more despondent. Having lived all those years in luxury — and in control, in command, respected, revered, a public figure — prison life at the hands of thugs was double torture. Worth wasn't a violent man nor was he a fighter; even if he fought back — which of course he did to defend himself, but to no avail - there was no stopping the bloodthirsty clique who found sheer enjoyment in battering down a man's spirit, blow by blow. It wasn't until Shinburn left that Worth found some peace - but only from the physical abuse.

Worth in at Liege (Pinkerton's, Inc.)
Worth in at Liege
(Pinkerton's, Inc.)

The other pain, to his psyche, was excruciatingly worse. Abberations formed in his cell and crowded the imaginations of his mind, kicked at his senses and rubbed guilt all over his pores. Terrible news had come from England. His wife had been taken advantage of by Johnny Curtin; he had filled her with whisky and with laudanum to compensate for her own feelings of betrayal; he raped her, he took her money, then left her, already shunned by society, now shunned by sanity. She was found wandering the streets of London, incoherent, taken to an asylum and deposited there. Incapable of a free will. Son Harry and daughter Constance were sent to live with Adam's brother, John, in New York. At ages two and five when he was imprisoned, Worth knew that they probably wouldn't know their own farther when he was released - if they even knew he existed at all.

Eighteen-ninety-four was a bad year. Early in January, Marm Mandelbaum passed away in Canada, on the lam from the law but still a rich woman. Her death ended, for Worth, many happy memories. But, when Kitty Flynn died in March of Bright's disease, she took from him more than memories. She had been the woman he loved first, probably last, and, he realized it now, probably always. She had been his last friend on the face of the earth.

Slowly, he found the strength to accept the fact that the existence he knew was fading fast; gaslight flickered cheaply under a gaudy glare of an incandescent new world. Adam Worth sustained and remained standing despite the beatings, despite his guilt and despite the catarrh that now brought chronic headaches and violent nosebleeds. He determined to would atone and erase all the heartache he had caused; he would adopt his children back to his bosom and, while probably never wealthy again, he would be able to at least start his boy and girl on a road to an honest life that he should have taken, but hadn't.

All this would require funding, of course, and the nest egg was there for his taking, waiting patiently to be turned into a golden one. In his anguish, he had almost forgotten the Duchess of Devonshire.

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