Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Peace: King of the Cat Burglars

The Fugitive

Almost immediately, Charles Peace became the most wanted man in England. The arch-criminal, however, put his mastery of disguise to work and incredibly began to enjoy the acme of his nefarious career. After bidding adieu to his wife, who was still working in their restaurant in Hull, Peace headed for the anonymity of London.

The authorities put a price of 100 on his head, offering the following description of the wanted man: "Charles Peace wanted for murder on the night of the 29th inst. He is thin and slightly built, from fifty-five to sixty years of age. Five feet four inches or five feet high; grey (nearly white) hair, beard and whiskers. He lacks use of three fingers of left hand, walks with his legs rather wide apart, speaks some-what peculiarly as though his tongue were too large for his mouth, and is a great boaster. He is a picture-frame maker. He occasionally cleans and repairs clocks and watches and sometimes deals in oleographs, engravings and pictures. He has been in penal servitude for burglary in Manchester. He has lived in Manchester, Salford, and Liverpool and Hull."

Although the police later revised his age to 46, Peace was, in fact, 44 years old. He had shaved his beard, dyed his hair, darkened his complexion with walnut oil, started wearing spectacles, and made extensive use of his unique ability to distort his facial features. "At an instant's warning, his loose, plastic features would assume another shape; out shot his lower jaw, and, as if by magic, the blood flew into his face until you might take him for a mulatto," Whibley wrote.

For the rest of 1876 and the early part of the next year, Peace was constantly on the run. "He left Hull for Doncaster, and from there travelled to London," Irving recounts. "On arriving at King's Cross he took the underground railway to Paddington, and from there a train to Bristol. At the beginning of January he left Bristol for Bath."

Even with a reward for his capture and wanted posters bearing his name and description (such as it was), Peace enjoyed taking risks, confident in his ability to escape detection. "From Bath, in the company of a sergeant of police, (Peace) travelled by way of Didcot to Oxford," Irving's account tells. During the train journey, Peace and the sergeant discussed the Dyson case. "He seemed a smart chap," said Peace later. "But not smart enough to know me."

Eventually, Katherine Dyson returned to the United States and it appeared that the murderer of Arthur Dyson would not be caught any time soon.

Peace finally landed in Nottingham, taking lodgings with a "Mrs. Adamson, a lady who received stolen goods and on occasion indicated or organised suitable opportunities for acquiring them."

Map of UK with Nottingham locator
Map of UK with Nottingham locator

Also living with Mrs. Adamson was an attractive, well-educated divorcee of about 35 years. Her name was Susan Gray Bailey, and Peace was instantly smitten.

In his cups due to an overindulgence of Irish whiskey, Peace declared his affection for Susan Bailey by promising to shoot her if she did not become his paramour. The next day, a contrite Peace when apologized to the woman, he "so melted the heart of Mrs. Bailey that she consented to become his mistress, and from that moment discarding the name of Bailey is known to history as Mrs. Thompson," Irving wrote.

For two months, "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson" stayed on holiday in Hull, renting lodgings with a local police sergeant-constable. "He was regarded as an ideal lodger, particularly as he seemed to show a genuine interest in the policeman's work," Angus Hall wrote about that period in Peace's life.

During his time as Mr. Thompson in Hull a town police had under scrutiny owing to the fact that Charlie's long-suffering wife, Hannah continued to operate a diner there Peace undertook a one-man burglary spree unprecedented in its audacity. In one night, he hit seven homes. Another time, he was surprised by the residents of the home who had returned early from dining out. He fired a shot into the ceiling, and dove out a window as the family scurried for cover.

When he was nearly collared by a passing constable, Peace decided it was time to give Hull the slip. He contacted his wife and stepson and, along with Sue Thompson, the odd quartet headed to London where Charles Peace would enjoy his greatest success as a burglar. Little did Charlie know that the greatest threat to his life and freedom would be living under the same roof with him.