Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Peace: King of the Cat Burglars

A Last Adventure

The good times for the Peace clan were not to last, for Charlie pushed his luck by continuing to target the same South London neighborhoods. He was so audacious in the Lambeth area that Scotland Yard attributed his burglaries to a gang of thieves. Later, moving on to Greenwich, the rash of break-ins was so expansive that the Metropolitan police assumed a second gang was at work there.

Sketch of Charles Peace
Sketch of Charles Peace

The beginning of the end for Charles Peace came in early October 1878. After a night of performing before his neighbors, Peace bade them all good night and shortly after 10:30 p.m., Peace and Tommy the pony slipped out toward St. James's Park in Blackheath where he had been casing the home of a gentleman. Unbeknownst to Charlie, it would be his last night of freedom.

A pair of police constables, William Girling and Edward Robinson, were on patrol in Blackheath when at around 2 a.m. they noticed a dim light moving about inside a home. P.C. Girling directed Robinson to cover the back end of the home while he rang the bell. As soon as Girling did so, the light inside was extinguished.

Around the side of the home, the sash of a ground floor window flew open and a small man, dressed all in black hopped out.

"Just a moment," cried Robinson, armed only with a truncheon.

Charles Peace turned and leveled his revolver at the approaching policeman. "Keep back, or by God, I'll shoot you!" he shouted, but the brave constable pressed on. Peace's first shot, as was his way, went high, but P.C. Robinson still came at him. His momentum carried him forward, tackling the much smaller burglar as two more shots rang out. The second shot tore into Robinson's arm and the last missed his ear by "a hairsbreadth." As the two men struggled, P.C. Girling came from around the front and smashed his truncheon down on Charlie's gun hand.

"Let me up," he said meekly. "I'll come quietly. I only did it to frighten him so I could get away."

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