Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Real James Bond

Seizing Opportunity

William Melville
William Melville

Reilly's new job with Scotland Yard at the close of the 19th century consisted of collecting intelligence on political exiles, immigrants, criminals and anyone else of interest to Melville. Eventually, he got to know almost everything about everyone in the area. There is no doubt that he was also paid to keep quiet about things, so he likely profited substantially from his new occupation. Even though he worked hard as an informer and pharmaceutical salesman, his profits still did not exceed the rate at which he was spending. However, his fortune changed in 1897 when he met Margaret Thomas, then 24, the young Irish wife of British clergyman, Rev. Hugh Thomas, 63.

Rev. Thomas suffered from chronic Bright's disease (a disease of the kidneys), which if left untreated, proved to be deadly, especially during the Victorian era when treatments were very primitive. Rev. Thomas took a variety of medicines to help remedy his condition, most of which Reilly personally supplied. During frequent visits to the Thomases residence, Reilly and Margaret developed a secretive relationship.

Not long into their affair, Rev. Thomas died from heart failure, leaving behind a considerable inheritance for Margaret. Cook said that the circumstances surrounding the Reverend's death were suspicious and suggested that he may have even been poisoned by arsenic (which produces similar symptoms as Bright's disease) in an elaborate scheme concocted by Reilly. If so, it was an ingenious plan that drew little if any police attention.

Moisei Ginsburg
Moisei Ginsburg

With Rev. Thomas dead, Margaret was finally free to be with her true love, Reilly. The couple married in August 1898 and afterwards briefly moved to a new house in Hyde Park, London. Within a relatively short period of time, the couple sold the house and traveled abroad. Eventually they settled in Port Arthur in Manchuria, "the headquarters of the Russian Far Eastern Fleet, where he (Reilly) worked as a partner in a timber sales company," Jeffery T. Richelson reported in the Washington Post.

Reilly also began working for his friend Moisei Ginsburg's import-export company, which traded all over the world and also provided vast supplies of materials to the Russian Pacific Fleet. Ginsburg and Reilly formed their business relationship at a particularly critical time and place in history. It was immediately prior to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War and Port Arthur was a vital trading port, which both the Japanese and Russians wanted desperately to control. There were rumors that Ginsburg and Reilly took advantage of their unique situation and played both sides of the field, trading not only materials but also information to the Russians and the Japanese. This eventually earned them the reputation as spies, although there is no substantial proof that they were ever involved in espionage for either country. Reilly made important contacts with officials on both sides that would later assist him in his new occupation with the British government.

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