An important aspect of the solving of Victorian crimes was that of witness identifications.
In an age before even fingerprinting was not a widely used means by which to identify suspects, the testimony of those who may have seen the perpetrators of crimes either in the act of committing the offence, or hurrying away from the scene of a crime, were frequently used.
The problem with witness identifications, however, is that witnesses could get it wrong, with the result that an innocent and respectable person could suddenly find themselves arrested an accused of a crime they had had nothing to do with.
Not only would they then have the horror of finding themselves being held in a police cell, or even in a prison, but they would also have to contend with the damage that being arrested might cause to their reputation.
DR FORBES WINSLOW ROBBED
One such case occurred in November, 1888, when an architect by the name of Lewis Crace, found himself accused of theft from a house.
Intriguingly, the house in question was that of Dr Forbes Winslow, who, over the next few years, would be frequently quoted in the newspapers over the Jack the Ripper case.
AN ARCHITECT ARRESTED BY MISTAKE
The story of the theft, and of the subsequent arrest of the unfortunate Mr. Crace, was reported by Reynolds’s Newspaper on Sunday, 11th November, 1888:-
“Lewis Crace, 37, an architect, of Nottingham Place, Regent’s-park, was charged at Marylebone with stealing two silver spoons, the property of Dr. Forbes Winslow, of 14, York-place, Baker-street.
HE ASKED TO SEE THE DOCTOR
The evidence was that a man went to Dr. Forbes Winslow’s house on Monday evening last and asked to see the doctor.
He was told that the doctor was out of town, but as he said that he had come about an urgent case – his mother being in a dying state – he was asked into the dining room by the servant, and he was seen by Miss Emma Winslow.
A TELEGRAM WAS SENT
The result of the interview was that Miss Winslow determined to send a telegram to the doctor, and left the room to go to one adjoining room to write it out.
The man obtained a few shillings from her, saying that in his hurry he had come out without any money, and he then left the house.
TWO SILVER SPOONS WERE MISSING
When he had gone, Miss Winslow had a doubt whether he was not an impostor, and she and the servant examined the silver on the sideboard.
Two silver spoons were missed, and information was at once given to the police, with a description of the man.
MR CRACE ARRESTED
On Thursday afternoon a constable of the C division saw Mr. Crace, who was wearing astrachan on his overcoat, and, as his general appearance tallied with the description given by Miss Winslow, he followed him, and took him to the police station on suspicion.
There Miss Winslow and her servant identified Mr. Crace from amongst seven others as the man who, they alleged, had stolen the spoons. He was thereupon charged with the stealing.
REMANDED IN CUSTODY
Mr. Cooke, having heard the case on Thursday evening, remanded the prisoner, offering to admit him to bail in two sureties of £10 each.
Mr. Crace said that he could say nothing more than that he knew nothing about the matter, as he was elsewhere at the time.
On Friday two gentlemen attended the court, and were accepted as bail, and some time afterwards Mr. Crace was liberated from Holloway Prison.
IT WAS MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Later in the afternoon, an intimation was conveyed to Mr. Cooke that a mistake had been made by the ladies, and that they had now identified another person in custody at Southwark, who bore a strong resemblance to Mr. Crace, as the thief.
Inspector Robson stated that he had found that Mr. Crace was a gentleman of high respectability.
IT HAD BEEN AN ERROR
Mr. Cooke observed that there had evidently been an error.
He was glad to hear the explanation, although it was much to be regretted that the witnesses had made the statements they did when the case was before him on Thursday evening.
Mr. Cooke called for Mr. Crace, who had been fetched to the court, and at once discharged him.”