Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Affair of the Bracelet: Miss Brown and the Robbery at Radnor Place

On April 21, 1858, Constance Brown, a well-dressed woman about forty years of age, appeared at the premises of Hunt & Roskell, the eminent jewelers, announcing that she wished to look at some jewelry on behalf of Lady John Campbell, who desired to purchase jewelry for a marriage trousseau. Hunt & Roskell agreed that evening  to send two men with a quantity of jewelry to Lady Campbell's residence at 14 Radnor Place, Hyde Park.

On reaching this address one man remained outside the house while the other was admitted by a page to the drawing room.  Miss Brown, having dispatched the page on an errand, entered the drawing room, informing the shop assistant that Lady Campbell was en deshabille, but would be pleased to inspect the jewels, which were valued at 2500 pounds, in her private quarters.  At this the shop assistant demurred, but he consented to part with a bracelet worth 320 pounds (about 28,000 pounds today).

After waiting about a quarter of an hour for Miss Brown's return, he rang the bell to remind others in the house of his presence. No one answering, he tried to open the door of the drawing room and found that it was locked!

an antique  Hunt & Roskell bracelet

The assistant tried the shutters to the house, but found that they were barred and nailed. With increasing desperation he attempted to pry open the shutters, breaking a finger in the process. Then frenziedly he banged at them with his head, succeeding only in injuring himself further. Eventually the man who had stayed outside heard shouts of "Police!" from the drawing room above and the imprisoned man was extricated.  Neither Miss Brown nor Lady Campbell were found in the house. The "outside man" admitted that he earlier had seen both the page and Miss Brown leaving the house, but he had thought nothing of this.

A locked room and a stolen bracelet
Radnor Place, Hyde Park

It seems that "Miss Brown" was not the lady she purported to be.  Six days earlier, on April 15, a woman calling herself Constance Brown, of St. Leonard's-on-the-Sea, and claiming to be a friend of "Sir John and Lady Campbell," took occupancy of the house at 14 Radnor Place, Hyde Park. To the house agent she submitted as a reference the banking firm Cox and Biddulph of Charing Cross Road, who, when queried, assured the agent that Miss Brown indeed kept an account with them and was a most respectable person. Next Miss Brown hired a carriage, or brougham, and acquired a resplendently liveried page.

After returning to 14 Radnor Place from the jewelers on April 21, Miss Brown engaged in the sort of deceptive charade one finds in the pages of Golden Age mysteries:

"Miss Brown" sent the page out on a trifling errand, and upon his return she told him that in his absence Lady Campbell had arrived, and being fatigued, had gone up to bed, desiring him at the same time to bring up a cup of tea, which he would find ready in the kitchen. Upon carrying out this instruction the page was met at the bedroom door by "Miss Brown," who took the tea from him, and, with the art of the practiced ventriloquist, held an apparent conversation with an elderly lady inside the room, thus impressing the boy with a belief of some fresh arrival in the house....[Having been sent on another errand, during which time "Miss Brown" effected her theft of the bracelet] [t]he page returned shortly after the police had forced an entrance, and upon being questioned he persisted that Lady Campbell was upstairs, so thoroughly had he been deceived by the ventriloquism of his mistress.

case solved
Jack Whicher
It was almost with a pang of disappointment that I found that this ingenious lady thief met her match in Scotland Yard's great Inspector Jack Whicher (1814-1881), of Constance Kent fame.

Whicher apprehended the absconding adventuress in a second-class carriage on the Great Western Railway.  "Miss Brown"--in reality Louise Moutot-- had not only the bracelet in her possession, but a quantity of diamonds, rings and other jewelry, as well as "a man's wig, a pair of false whiskers and moustaches, and a man's travelling cap."  Additionally her dress was liberally outfitted with shoplifter's pockets.

Moutot, who formerly had managed a Parisian hotel and most recently a boarding house in Dawlish, Devonshire, had also been employed as a traveling companion by several people, including a Miss Constance Brown; and while in Miss Brown's employ had derived knowledge about Sir John and Lady Campbell that she soon put to wicked use.

Mystery writer Annie Haynes must have found living in such a house quite interesting (I am assuming the street address number had not changed in the intervening fifty years). Indeed, it seems quite likely that Haynes derived one of the criminous incidents in her mystery novel The House in Charlton Crescent (1926), to be reviewed here tomorrow, from the affair of the bracelet, Louise Moutot and Inspector Whicher.

3 comments:

  1. Color me fascinated. I have just stumbled upon your great blog -- via Martin Edwards' site -- and I promise (threaten) to return for frequent visits.

    Now, though, I must return to my reading for the afternoon and evening. You can read about it at my new crime fiction blog here --

    http://newgatemalefactors.blogspot.com/

    And I hope you will find time to visit and comment often.

    All the best from the American south where most people know quite a bit about crime.

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  2. Amazing stuff. Have you watched the recent TV adaptations based on the Whicher character? Rather good actually.

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