Saturday, May 19, 2018

Criminal Records: Crime Writers Christopher Bush and Rupert Croft-Cooke

By his own admission Christopher Bush as a young man (christened Charlie Christmas Bush, on account of his Christmas Day nativity) growing up in rural Norfolk participated in his tenant farming family's side business: poaching.  However, I had not realized until recently that CB had actually been arrested on account of this activity.  But arrested the future author was in January 1904, when he was 18 years old, along with his immediately elder brother, Ernest James Bush, 20, and Ernest Edward Hensley, 22, a woodman and neighbor who in 1917 would marry one of the Bush sisters, Hilda Elizabeth Bush.

Here are the shocking, dare I say hare-raising, details of the case:

Church of St. Andrew, Illington, Norfolk

Before Major Keppel (chairman), Mr. ANC Hemsworth, Mr. B. Morris, and Lord Bury

Ernest James Bush, Hockham, was charged by Police-sergt. Potter with taking 12 pheasants, 2 hares, and 4 rabbits at Illington on December 28th.  Police-sergeant Potter said he was at Illington, where there was a shooting party.  He met the defendants driving a horse and cart.  He asked [Ernest] Bush what he had got in the cart, and he replied, "Nothing."  Witness said he must look, and upon searching the cart he found 18 head of game (produced).  There were several nets in the cart, and the game was covered with nets. 

Charles Christmas Bush and Ernest Edward Henley were charged with aiding and abetting.  Defendants pleaded guilty.  Ernest Bush was ordered to pay penalty and costs L3/4/6, in default 21 days hard labour;the other two defendants were fined L1/10, in default 14 days' hard labour.  

Now, crime writers have landed in greater spots of trouble and notoriety than this.  One popular modern crime writer infamously was involved in a shocking real life murder.  Agatha Christie "disappeared" for over a week, transfixing the nation with the mystery of the missing mystery writer.

1894 likeness of
Arnold Allan Cecil Keppel,
8th Earl of Ablemarle, Viscount Bury
Scourge of poachers? (1858-1942)
Rupert Croft-Cooke, along with his Indian companion-secretary, was arrested in 1953, during Britain's Pink Scare in the Furious Fifties, for committing sexual assault on two sailors who had spent the weekend at Croft-Cooke's house in Ticehurst.  The sailors, who had been arrested for physical assaults committed on others (an unfortunate altercation with a road mender and an intervening policeman) after they had left Croft-Cooke's house, were informed, after the local police learned where they had spent the weekend, that their assault sentences might be mitigated if they made assault complaints against Croft-Cooke, who was 50 at the time, and his secretary, who was all of 5'4". 

The desired statements having been obtained, Croft-Cooke and his secretary, Joseph, thereupon were charged with committing assault and acts of "gross indecency" upon the two sailors.

The sailors soon recanted their claims, but the presiding judge ruled their new retractions inadmissible.  Croft-Cooke was sentenced to a prison term of nine months and Joseph to a term of three months.  (The Army also tried to have Croft-Cooke's war medals taken away for good, or bad, measure.)  Upon his release in 1954, Croft-Cooke left England with Joseph and did not return for two decades.  Ironically, almost all of Croft-Cooke's very English Carolus Deene mystery novel series, which ran from 1955 to 1974, was written in foreign locales.

One of Croft-Cooke's two sailor "accusers" was a Harold Altoft, said to have been 20 years old at the time.  There was a Harold Altoft, born on September 24, 1932 and died in 2006, at the age of 73, who would have been 20 at the time of the Croft-Cooke affair.  This Harold Altoft came from Kingston, Yorkshire, where his parents were John Harold Altoft of Kingston, Yorkshire, an iron keg and drum maker, and Ida Reed, daughter of Walter Reed, a coal heaver.  He married in the Spring of 1954, about the time, I recollect, that Croft-Cooke was completing his prison sentence.  Was is it the same "Harry"?  At this time I have no idea.  If he was it would have been wonderful to get his side of the story before his death a dozen years ago.


  1. It can't have been Arnold Allan Cecil Keppel who sentenced Christopher Bush in 1904, as he was already the 8th Earl of Albemarle then. The first Earl of Albemarle was a close friend and allegedly lover of King William III.
    Not crime novels, but the short stories of Angus Wilson and his first novels - "Hemlock and After" & "Anglo-Saxon Attitudes" - give an interesting outlook on homosexual life and attitudes to homosexuality in the UK in the early 1950s. "Mr Love and Justice" by Colin MacInnes features a policeman who regards being bribed not to arrest homosexuals as a perk of the job.

    1. I was thinking he might be Lord Bury? Don't know who Major Heppel was, but it must have been some relation, surely!

      Very interesting comments: a sad state of affairs in the Fifties in that regard (and some others)!

  2. Don't know if you've seen this.

    "The Army also tried to have Croft-Cooke's war medals taken away"
    In J.L. Carr's novel A Month in the Country someone says of a First World War officer convicted of homosexual behaviour that "His MC [a medal for bravery] would have made [his treatment in prison] worse".