Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adam Worth: The World in his Pocket

The Duchess Goes Home

"All art is quite useless."
— Oscar Wilde

In the fall of 1897, 53-year-old Adam Worth walked out of Louvain Prison, his release effected early for good behavior. He returned to London to host a crime. This time, not for wealth, but to cleanse himself of all other sins.

Renting a small room at Number 66 Picadilly (walking distance from his former grand bachelor apartment), he wasted no time in breaking into Smith & Company, Ltd., diamond merchants, directly across the street. It had been a neat job, police noted; the robber showed himself a man of experience in breaking difficult locks and in selection of gems. He knew what to take, £4,000 worth. Suddenly, Worth had what he needed, money for passage to America and money to finance the beginning of a great plan of retribution, if not a rousing final chapter in the saga of a master thief.

Before he left for the states, he visited hiswife in the mad house. Indeed, she was a shell of herself. She did not recognize her husband. If she made a sound at all, it was a whimper. The experience was so harrowing, says biographer Ben Macintyre, "that it caused Worth to break a lifelong habit of sobriety." Pulling himself together, he vowed ever the more to atone to her through the support of their children.

Once in America, he immediately called on his brother John, re-introduced himself to his children, Harry and Constance, hugged them, and promised to take them back with him to London, But first, he explained, he needed to look up two old friends who could help make the Worth reunion possible. If his brother and sister-in-law seemed to regard his visit with skepticism and his promise as the utterance of a senile ex-convict, they would soon learn that he was saner and more honest than ever.

The two friends he needed to visit were in America. One had been waiting a long time for his return in a New York warehouse; she was the duchess. The other was a detective who now made his central office in Chicago; his name was William Pinkerton.

Bringing the lady west, he checked in at McCoy's Hotel, tidied himself, then called on the Eye himself who, when told an Adam Worth was waiting to see him in his outer office must have paled.

"I come to thank you for what you have done," said the repentant man when Pinkerton closed the door behind them. Worth had grayed and had grown paunchier, noted the lawman, but detected that old familiar twinkle in his eyes, even behind the heartfelt and sincere speech he offered. Worth continued, choking back tears. "I understand you ignored Belgium's call for information on me, sir. With your influence you could have sent me up the river for life. You didn't, and I am forever grateful. I wish to proffer a token of gratitude."

Pinkerton cancelled all other business for the day; he and his old nemesis talked deep into the night; they reminisced the days gone by, the chase, the good years, the bad years. And they admitted they had both grown older, but wiser. Worth spoke of his family and of his dream for a second chance to be the father he never was. That led to the "token of gratitude" to which Worth had earlier referred.

He admitted to possessing the Gainsborough, which he now wanted to give back to Agnew & Sons in London. "Sir, I want you to be the man who solved the case of the missing duchess," he asserted. "The man who recovered the greatest masterpiece in the history of art."

His offer was intriguing. He would return the painting to its rightful owner if Pinkerton would: 1) act as negotiator between Agnew's in London and an intermediary of Worth's choice who would name a price; 2) suggest to Agnew's and Scotland Yard that the original perpetrator of the theft had long since died; 3) slate a place of exchange in America; and 4) promise immunity from prosecution to Worth and his intermediary.

He asked Pinkerton not to bend his principles in fulfilling this role, but, in reality, that was exactly what Pinkerton would need to do if he accepted the part in the melodrama.

Patrick Sheedy helped close the deal on the Gainsborough (Ben Macintyre)
Patrick Sheedy
helped close the deal
on the Gainsborough
(Ben Macintyre)

Pinkerton knew that Scotland Yard would never fall for the story that Adam Worth was dead; he was correct; they didn't. Nor did Agnew's. For that matter, Worth knew they wouldn't, but he banked on the assumption that all three entities - Pinkerton, the Yard and Agnew - would realize that compromises are sometimes the best paths for the betterment of mankind. It was an order of balance, tried and true. Everyone would benefit. Pinkerton would emerge a hero. Scotland Yard could close its books. Agnew's would have what was rightfully theirs. The world would have a Gainsborough. And Adam Worth's bank account would be revived. The parties silently accepted the bargain, conceding in their silence that Adam Worth had pulled off one of the greatest coups of the century.

Negotiations began. Acting as emissary between all principles was Worth's hand-picked man, Patrick Sheedy, an international gambler, sportsman and adventurer who made and broke deals across the globe; he was glib, erudite and a gentleman fist-class who knew the business of business.

Haggling done, Scotland Yard reported to Pinkerton in January, 1901, that Agnew agreed to pay the sum quoted by Sheedy — $25,000 - only if one of the art dealer's heirs had an opportunity to appraise it as the genuine article. Sheedy agreed and Pinkerton arranged for the agent, C. Moreland Agnew, to come to the Auditorium Hotel in Chicago where the deal would be transacted. On March 28, Mr. Agnew arrived, a check safely tucked away in the lining of his attaché. Pinkerton greeted him and led him to a private suite where they waited for the delivery.

Agnew's diary describes what happened next. "The few minutes we spent behind that closed door were just a trifle nerve-shattering. I can assure you, I smoked a cigar to help the time along...By and by, there came a knock at the door. 'Come in,' said Mr. Pinkerton, and the door opened on the instant. An adult messenger was standing in the doorway, carrying a brown paper roll in his arm. 'Mr. Agnew?' he queried. 'Yes," I answered, and held out my hand...I took out my knife, cut the string with which the paper was tied and there, lightly wrapped in cotton-wool, lay the long-lost Gainsborough. Two minutes sufficed to convinced me that it was the Duchess."

Adam Worth - the "adult messenger" — left the room, stuffing Agnew's check into his billfold. Descending the marble steps to the foyer, one step at a time, moving in staccato, his mind was a juxtaposition of thoughts, but moreover he was content. He had recently heard that both "Baron" Shinburn and Johnny Curtin, the two men who had played havoc with his fate, had been arrested for unrelated crimes and would probably spend the rest of their lives in prison. And he thought of the Eye, who had turned out to be a human being after all. He thought of a hundred different things, but his mind kept reverting to the day he first laid eyes on the duchess, how he had fallen madly in love with her. But, now, he mused, he didn't miss her at all. Had he merely wanted to possess her? Or was it a simple case of greed that - let's face it - paid off in the end?

He missed Kitty Flynn. And more than her, he missed his wife. Had they both succumbed as punishment for his sins? God doesn't work that way, he shook his head. Or else he would not have this chance to renew himself with his children. The one and only obsession that would carry him through to eternity.

Melting into the crowds of Chicago, strolling towards the train station, he finally had the world in his pockets.

* * * * *

Adam Worth died less than a year later, on January 8, 1902. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London, the register of his burial reading, "Henry J. Raymond, Esquire."

Before he died, he made his one final dream come true. Harry Raymond, Jr. and Constance returned with him to England, where they moved as a family into a large, commodious home at Number 2 Park Village East, Camden, London. He paid cash for the house from the profits derived from his sale of the duchess. They attended a fine school and were given what their father thought children should be given to be happy and content. More than the presents, the pets, the suits and dresses, they received his love. And they returned it. If they had known of their father's past, it was never discussed. At least, says Ben Macintyre, "they had the generosity to grant him this one last delusion and disguise."

Sherlock Holmes' arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, based on Worth, although exaggeratedly (Illustration by Sidney Paget/Strand Magazine)
Sherlock Holmes' arch-
enemy, Professor Moriarty,
based on Worth, although
exaggeratedly
(Illustration by Sidney
Paget/Strand Magazine)

Young Harry, 15 when his father passed, grew quickly into manhood. At that young age, he made arrangements for the funeral, handled all solicitations and transactions and, from the sale of the home and its furniture, bought passage for him and his 10-year-old sister back to America, then put the rest aside to live on until he procured a job in New York. Under his care, Constance remained well fed and clothed. The boy seemed to possess all of his father's best traits, ambition, independence and brilliance.

The first thing that William Pinkerton did when learning of Worth's death was to seek out the kids and help provide for their well-being. Pretending that he had just apprehended a man who owed their father $700 from a business deal years ago, sent a check in that amount to Harry and Constance. And he found Harry a job that paid much better than the four dollars a week he was making at a local foundry.

Harry Raymond, Jr., the son of Adam Worth, became a Pinkerton agent.

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