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Adam Worth (1844–8 January 1902) was an American criminal. Scotland Yard detective Robert Anderson nicknamed him "the Napoleon of the criminal world", and he is commonly referred to as "the Napoleon of Crime."
Adam Worth was born into a poor Jewish family in Germany. His original surname might have been "Werth". When he was five years old, his family moved to the United States, settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts where his father became a tailor. In 1854, he ran away from home and moved first to Boston and then in 1860 to New York City. He worked as a clerk in a department store for one month.
When the American Civil War broke out, Worth was 17. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Union army. Worth served in the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery, Battery L (later designated 34th New York Battery) and was promoted to sergeant in two months. He was wounded in the Second Battle of Bull Run on 30 August 1862 and was shipped to a Georgetown Hospital in Washington DC. In the hospital, he learned he had been listed as "killed in action" and left.
Worth became a bounty jumper; enlisting into various regiments with assumed names, receiving his pay, and then deserting. When the Pinkerton Detective Agency began to track him, like many others using similar methods, he fled to New York City and went to Portsmouth.
After the war, Worth became a pickpocket in New York. In time, he founded his own gang of pickpockets, and then began to organise robberies and heists. When he was caught stealing the cash box of an Adams Express wagon, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment in Sing Sing; he soon escaped and resumed his criminal career.
Worth began to work for the prominent fence and criminal organiser Fredericka "Marm" Mandelbaum. With her help he expanded into bank and store robberies around 1866 and eventually began to plan his own heists. In 1869 he helped Mandelbaum to break out safecracker Charley Bullard from the White Plains Jail through a tunnel.
With Bullard, Worth robbed the vault of the Boylston National Bank in Boston on 20 November 1869, again through a tunnel, this time from a neighbouring shop. The bank alerted the Pinkertons who tracked the shipment of trunks Worth and Bullard had used to ship the loot to New York. Worth decided to move to Europe with Bullard.
Exploits in Europe
Bullard and Worth went first to Liverpool. Bullard had taken the identity of "Charles H. Wells", a Texas oilman. Worth was financier "Henry Judson Raymond", the name he would use for years afterwards. They began to compete for the favours of a barmaid named Kitty Flynn who eventually learned their true identities. She became Bullard's wife but did not disfavor Worth, either. In October 1870, Kitty gave birth to a daughter, Lucy Adeleine, and seven years later had another daughter named Katherine Louise. The paternity of these two girls is left up to debate. It is possible that Kitty herself did not know, but Bullard and Worth claimed each child all the same. William Pinkerton believed Adam Worth fathered both of Kitty's daughters.
When the Bullards went on their honeymoon, Worth began to rob local pawnshops. He shared the loot with Bullard and Flynn when they came back and, together, the three moved to Paris in 1871.
In Paris, the police force was still in disarray after the events of the Paris Commune. Worth and his associates founded an "American Bar", a restaurant and bar on the ground floor and a gambling den on the upper floor. Because gambling was illegal, the gambling tables were built so that they could be folded inside the walls and the floor. A buzzer would be sounded from downstairs to alert the customers before any police raid. Worth formed a new gang of associates, including some of his old comrades from New York.
When Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, visited the place in 1873, Worth recognised him. Later the Paris police raided the place numerous times and Worth and the Bullards decided to abandon the restaurant. Worth used his place for the last time to defraud a diamond dealer and the three moved to London.
London master criminal
In England, Worth and his associates bought Western Lodge at Clapham Common. He also leased an apartment in Mayfair and joined high society. He formed his own criminal network and organised major robberies and burglaries through several intermediaries. Those who worked in his schemes never knew his name. He insisted that his subordinates should not use violence.
Eventually Scotland Yard learned of his network though they were initially unable to prove anything. Inspector John Shore made Worth's capture his personal mission.
Things began to go wrong when Worth's brother John was sent to cash a forged cheque in Paris, for which he was arrested and extradited to England. Worth managed to exonerate him and get him sent back to the USA. Four of his associates were arrested in Istanbul for spreading more forged letters of credit and he had to use a considerable amount of money to buy off the judges and the police. Bullard became increasingly violent as his alcoholism worsened, and he eventually left for New York, followed soon after by Kitty.
In 1876, Worth personally stole Thomas Gainsborough's recently rediscovered painting of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, from a London gallery of Thomas Agnew & Sons with the help of two associates. He was taken with the painting and did not try to sell it. The two men who assisted in the robbery, Junka Phillips and Little Joe, grew impatient. Phillips tried to make him talk about the theft in the presence of a police informer and Worth effectively fired him. Worth gave Little Joe money to return to the USA where he tried to rob the Union Trust Company, was arrested and talked to the Pinkertons. They alerted Scotland Yard but they still could not prove anything.
Worth kept the painting with him even when he was travelling and organising new schemes and robberies. Eventually he decided to travel to South Africa where he stole $500,000 worth of uncut diamonds. Back in London, he founded Wynert & Company which sold diamonds at a lower price than the competitors.
In the 1880s Worth married a Louise Margaret Boljahn still using the name Henry Raymond and they had a son Henry and a daughter Beatrice. It is possible his wife did not know his real identity. He smuggled the painting to the USA and left it there.
Mistake and capture
In 1892 Worth decided to visit Belgium where Bullard was in jail. He had been working with Max Shinburn, Worth's rival, when police captured them both. Worth heard that Bullard had recently died.
On 5 October Worth improvised a robbery of a money delivery cart in Liège with two untried associates, one of them the American Johnny Curtin. The robbery went badly wrong and the police captured him on the spot. Two others got away.
In jail Worth refused to identify himself and the Belgian police made inquiries abroad. Both the New York Police Department and Scotland Yard identified him as Worth, although the Pinkertons did not say anything. Max Shinburn, now in jail, told the police everything he knew. In jail, Worth heard nothing about his family in London but received a letter from Kitty Flynn, who offered to finance his defence.
Worth's trial took place 20 March 1893. The prosecutor used everything he knew about Worth. Worth flatly denied that he had anything to do with various crimes, saying that the last robbery had been a stupid act he had committed out of need for money. All the other accusations, including those by British and American police, were mere hearsay. He claimed that his wealth came out of legal gambling. In the end Worth was sentenced to seven years for robbery and was sent to Leuven prison.
During his first year in jail, Shinburn hired other inmates to beat Worth up. Later Worth heard that Johnny Curtin, who was supposed to have taken care of his wife, had seduced and abandoned her. She had gone insane and been committed to an asylum. The children were in the care of his brother John in the United States.
Release and last years
Worth was released early for good behaviour in 1897. He returned to London and stole £4,000 from a diamond shop to get funds. When he visited his wife, she barely recognised him. He travelled to New York and visited his children. Then he proceeded to meet with William Pinkerton, to whom he described the events of his life in great detail. The manuscript that Pinkerton wrote after Worth left is still preserved in the archives of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Van Nuys, California.
Through Pinkerton, Worth arranged the return of the painting Duchess of Devonshire to Agnew & Sons in return for $25,000. The portrait and payment were exchanged in Chicago on 28 March 1901. Worth returned to London with his children and spent the rest of his life with them. His son took advantage of an agreement between his father and Allan Pinkerton and became a career Pinkerton detective.
Adam Worth died on 8 January 1902. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery in a mass pauper's grave under the name of "Henry J. Raymond". A small tombstone was erected to mark his resting place in 1997 by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
In popular culture
It has been widely speculated that Arthur Conan Doyle used Worth as the prototype for Sherlock Holmes' adversary, Professor Moriarty. In his "Books Alive" column in The Chicago Sunday Tribune (26 December 1943), Vincent Starrett wrote, "Worth was the original of Prof. Moriarty. This information, which isn't generally known, was revealed by Conan Doyle in conversation with Dr. Gray C. Briggs of St. Louis, Dr. Briggs once told me." Starrett was a good friend of Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs (1882—1942), a St. Louis doctor and X-ray specialist.
Adam Worth biographer Ben Macintyre also traces the inspiration for Macavity, the Mystery Cat, in T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to Doyle's rendition of Moriarty. Andrew Lloyd Webber, in turn, based his hit musical, Cats, on T.S. Eliot's work, including the character Macavity, who Demeter & Bombalurina declare, is "the Napoleon of Crime!"
- Macintyre (1997). "Chapter Two: A Fine War". p. 7.
- Nash, p. 258
- The American Magazine, p. 211
- Macintyre (1997). "Chapter Two: A Fine War". p. 6.
- Macintyre (1997). "Chapter Two: A Fine War". p. 7.
- "Jewish Amer. Society for Historic Preservation". Jewish-american-society-for-historic-preservation.org. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- Macintyre (1997). "Chapter Twenty Three: Alias Moriarty". p. 226.
- The American Magazine (1905). American Illustrated Magazine. New York: Colver Publishing House.
- Macintyre, Ben (1997). The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief. Delta. ISBN 0-385-31993-2.
- Nash, Jay Robert (2004). The Great Pictorial History of World Crime. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-928831-21-4