Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Peace: King of the Cat Burglars

Peace in London

"His last two years were nothing less than a march of triumph," Whibley claims.  "If you remember his constant danger, you will realise the grandeur of the scheme."

Irving concurs in Peace's achievements in crime.

"In that comparatively short space of time, by the exercise of that art, to his natural gifts for which he had now added the wholesome tonic of experience, Peace passed from a poor and obscure lodging in a slum in Lambeth to the state and opulence of a comfortable suburban residence in Peckham," he wrote.

At Evelina Road, Peckham, the group set up quarters in a moderate house, where Charlie kept a pony and cart, and each evening, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, along with Mrs. Ward and her son, their lodgers, ould entertain the neighbors with musical entertainment. "With Sue at the piano, he would play favorite airs on his violin, or sing one of the sentimental ballads of the period," Hall wrote. "The evening would end early, for Mr. Thompson was known to disapprove of late nights. The Queen herself could not have disapproved of their restrained and exemplary way of life."

At about the same time "the Thompsons" arrived in London, the Peckham neighborhood was beset by a rash of spectacular burglaries.  Had the authorities itemized the stolen items from the burglaries they would have noted that in every burgled home where a musical instrument was owned, it was stolen by the thief in addition to more marketable items. None of the musical instruments ever turned up in any of London's many pawnshops. No one suspected the friendly, yet moral Mr. Thompson, with his ever-growing collection of musical instruments,

"The police never had a shadow of suspicion that Mr. Thompson of Peckham was Charles Peace of Sheffield," Irving wrote. "They knew the former only as a polite and chatty old gentleman of a scientific turn of mind, who drove his own pony and trap, and had a fondness for music and keeping pet animals."

Peace's "scientific turn of mind" actually resulted in the issuance of a patent in the names of Thompson and his neighbor, a Mr. Brion. Their invention was designed "to raise sunken vessels by the displacement of water within them by air and gases." The invention came to naught; after an audience with the First Lord of the Admiralty, the British Navy opted not to license it from them. Undeterred, Peace continued on with his experiments, among them a smoke helmet for firemen, an improved brush for washing railway carriages, and a form of hydraulic tank.

If anyone had suspected the Thompsons of being anything other than a well-to-do couple and set up a watch on their Evelina Road home (tastefully decorated in the style of the time: "a good walnut suite of furniture; a Turkey carpet, gilded mirrors, a piano, an inlaid Spanish guitar, and, by the side of an elegant table, the beaded slippers of the good master of the house," according to Irving), they would have noticed that shortly after their host bade his guests farewell, "Mr. Thompson," armed with a violin case that contained no musical instrument, would slip out to the shed where he kept his prize pony, Tommy. An observant neighbor could have seen him then open the back gate that led down an alley to a railway right-of-way, and disappear into the night, his pony's hoofs making little sound on the dirt path. Then, shortly before sunrise, the pony and master would return as they came, back safely into the yard at 5 East Terrace, Evelina Road, before the milkmen and dustmen made their early morning rounds.

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