Tuesday, 7 April 2015

cat-burglar or level-boss

Though often subtly alluded to and perhaps the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, nineteenth century gentleman burglar turned international criminal syndicate mastermind, Adam Worth, is virtually unknown. Celebrated in his day—albeit no one knew his true identity as he hob-knobbed with Europe’s elite and discreetly ran a network of underlings who committed the actual robberies, and always without violence—the cardinal code of his organisation being never to use firearms, Worth managed to elude capture by Scotland Yard and other national police forces, as well as the sleuths of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency.  Some one ought to make a movie about this original gangster.

Worth operated at a time when associates referred to “baby-face,” gums, sister, lumpy—or by some other physical attribute in case of any eavesdroppers, and though while based in Paris, Worth was faced with none of those stakes that fostered a criminal underworld in America with Prohibition, Worth did open and run the first Bar Americain in the city, which held on its upper-storey an illicit gambling hall that could be transformed in an instant into a sedate salon peopled by figures lounging and reading newspapers through some ingenious pneumatic works that hid the gaming tables when trouble approached. There was also a sense of respect above this honour among thieves displayed by Worth’s own arch-nemesis in the personage of Allen Pinkerton, who had spearheaded the hunt for Worth for decades in the US (where he regularly chanced to visit his parents, who knew nothing about his exploits), London, Paris, Greece and Constantinople, who was relentless like Inspector Javert’s relentless chase for fugitive Jean Valjean but ultimately held the outlaw in high esteem.