Just like today, Victorian Britain had more than its fair share of scammers who were ever willing to cheat the unwary out of their hard earned money.
In a previous article, we took a close look at Jack the Ripper suspect Michael Ostrog, a notorious swindler whose criminal career spanned several decades in the latter half of the 19th century.
But Ostrog was not the only conman to prey upon the vulnerable of society, as can be seen in the following article, which appeared in The Illustrated Police News on Saturday, 30th September 1899:-
COMPLAINTS AGAINST A MATRIMONIAL AGENCY
A pathetic and amusing story was told to Mr. Plowden at Marylebone Police Court by a disappointed swain who had failed in his strident efforts to secure matrimonial felicity in other than the ordinary channels of wooing.
The accused was a tall, well-dressed person, giving the name of F. G. Hodges, alias Arthur Sladen Jones, thirty-seven, of independent means, residing in Talbot Road, Kensington, and the allegation against him was that he had in August last obtained £1 by false pretences from George William Clerk with intent to cheat and defraud.
Mr. Sims prosecuted for the Treasury, and Mr. Freke Palmer, solicitor, defended.
Mr. Sims said that a vast number of complaints had been received from all parts of the country in reference to the accused, but it was only proposed to go into five or six of the cases.
HIS MODUS OPERANDI
The prisoner’s modus operandi was first to arrange with newsagents to receive letters for him, and then to cause advertisements to be inserted into a weekly newspaper in most alluring terms.
Persons answering the advertisements duly received type-written letters from the World’s Matrimonial Agency, the object of which was to bring about an introduction to a lady or gentleman, as the case might be, upon the sum of £1 being paid down and another £1 if the business was completed.
People believing this to be genuine paid the money, and subsequently received from the prisoner some excuse or other – i.e., the guardian of the lady was opposed to the; marriage, and had expressed the ‘strongest. objection, and, under those circumstances, the marriage could not take place.
He would, however, try to arrange a marriage with someone else.
A YOUNG LADY WITH A PRIVATE INCOME
Conrad Jasper Lambert, a clerk in the advertisement department of the “People,” proved that the prisoner called at the office and paid for the insertion of the following advertisement, giving the name Dawson:-
“Young lady, aged twenty-four, tall, and slight figure, good-looking, and with a private income of £450 per annum, being an orphan, wishes to meet a gentleman of good sterling qualities’ of heart and mind, with a view to matrimony, who would make a good husband.” (Laughter.)
Mr. Plowden: “Is this a comic paper! (Laughter.)
Mr. Sims: “It was taken very seriously by some of the persons who saw it.”
MR SMITH ANSWERED THE ADVERT
A beardless young man, giving the name of Smith, living at West Tiverley, nears Salisbury, and describing himself as an apprentice, said that, on March 5th, he saw the following advertisement in The People:-
“Lady, twenty-three, medium height and colour, graceful figure, considered to be good-looking, in receipt of £475, per annum, is most desirable of meeting with a suitable gentleman, with a view to matrimony. Advertiser has urgent and efficient family reasons for desiring an early marriage.”
A TYPE-WRITTEN REPLY
The witness said that he received a type-written reply signed “W. T. Stead”, a name which he at once connected with the editor of the Review of Reviews .” (Laughter’.)
“Dear Sir, I am in receipt of your favour in response to my advertisement on behalf of my client P. B. in last Sunday’s “People,” and, after due consideration, I selected your letter out of the vast correspondence received, and forwarded the same to Miss Phyllis Bowden, and I have this day received her reply in which she states that she will be most pleased to make your acquaintance, and has intimated that it will give her much pleasure if I will arrange an interview for her to meet you at my office.
Please note by enclosed circular that my fee for incomes of over £200 per annum is £2, payable in advance; as I am assured that you and Miss Phyllis Bowden (should you meet) will prove congenial to each other.
I will accept £1 down and the balance in due course, making you this reduction, which please note is absolutely final.” (Laughter.)
THE MARRIAGE NEGOTIATOR
The circular referred to began as follows:-
“The Mutual Benefit Bureau and Fashionable Marriage Advertiser. The marriage negotiator for the nobility, gentry, commercial and other classes. World-wide-reputation. Established 1896. Under the patronage of the Rev. John Haines, late chaplain to her Majesty’s Forces. Sole proprietor, W. T. Stead. London office (quite. private), 5, Blenheim Crescent, North Kensington, W. Bankers, London and South-Western Bank. Solicitors, Messrs. Grey, Ellis and Ellis, Leadenhall-street. To intending clients – Success – 732 marriages completed in 1898.”
W. T. STEAD REPLIES
The witness, continuing, said that he answered the letter, and received a reply from “‘W. T. Stead” arranging an interview at an hotel in Salisbury. He sent £1, and in reply received the following letter:-
“Dear Sir, I am in receipt of your postal-order for £1, and have sent Miss Bowden your name and address, asking her for a final arrangement for an interview.
But, by the last post, I have (I am sorry to say on your behalf) received a letter from an old client with a cheque for £5 for an introduction, and as is business, I must, of course, accept his offer, unless you, as the first in the field, should care to allow me to make final arrangements, which I shall at once do, on receipt of £4, or will refund you your £1 at once if desired.
A DREADFUL BLOW
Mr: Plowden:- “That must have been a dreadful blow.” (Loud laughter.)
The witness said that he wrote asking for the return of his money, and. although he wrote again and also called, he was unable to get it.
At this point the prisoner was remanded and an application for bail was refused on a the grounds that the prisoner escaped from the police-station when he was charged, and was only caught because he innocently ran into a street which turned out to be a cull-de-sac.”