In The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1, we included a number of short narratives that all revolved around acts of theft. They were adapted from the records of the Old Bailey, a criminal court in London.
The way we came to this may seem obscure. It started with the idea of collection. The magazine itself was a collection of stories, humor, and images. While assembling it, we found ourselves busy and avid collectors gathering our material from all corners of the globe. Then we started thinking about this desire to collect and how it had a dark side—the desire to possess. And this led us to think of the opposite of collection, which is loss, and so on to theft in which one side loses while the other collects.
Reading these accounts of crimes centuries old, perpetrated by and victimizing people who have long since turned to dust, we were still drawn in by powerful feelings. In many ways, the characters in these dramas are anonymous—or rather generic. They may have names, but they have no physical descriptions and little or no history beyond the deed that we hear about in the court records. Their words have been recorded by transcriptionists, twisted by the logic of the legal system, frozen on the page, and further adapted and compressed by us. And yet, we believe you will hear their voices.
Once we’d published our collection of theft stories, we found we had a few nice examples still lying around in the bottom of the drawer, and we include those here.
MARSHALL HALL HIGGINBOTTOM I am a surgeon, staying at the Midland Hotel. About 12:30 on the sixth of March, I was returning to the hotel. I passed a coffee stall at King’s Cross and a man spoke to me. The man said, “I am in a very destitute condition. I have had nothing to eat for a great many hours. Will you give me a cup of coffee?” I felt sorry for him and said, “You shall not only have a cup of coffee, but some eggs and bread and butter,” and I paid for some. Another man immediately afterwards came up and said, “I am in just the same fix.” I said, “Well, you shall have the same.” I started then for the Midland Hotel. When near the hotel, I noticed the man who had told me he was hard up following me—I turned round. He said, “You are late, the front door of the hotel is closed; you can get in by the side door. I will show you the way.” I followed a short distance down the street. I said, “I do not see any side door,” and was going to retrace my steps, when I was seized forcibly by the throat. First the hand seized me, and then the arm went round my neck, and the man in front of me struck me a violent blow with his fist on the chest and knocked me down. He took my pin and then put his arm round me—I believe I was kicked on the head. I held my watch firmly in my hand and called, “Police!” Others came up and I took them to be thieves. One said, “I am a detective.” I said, “What proof have I of that? You may be one of these fellows.” He took out a pocketbook to show me his card, when one of the men struck him a violent blow, and he fell alongside of me. I lost my diamond pin, worth 3 pounds, 15 shillings, a pencil case, my surgical instruments, and a good many other articles. I have been 10 days under my doctor. I could not swallow for two or three days, my neck was quite black, my tongue was swollen and a little cut on one side. Paroxysms of difficulty in breathing came on two or three times. I have scarcely slept.
*Adapted from the trial of John Clutton, Frederick Freeman, Joshua Smith, John Green, and John Ready for robbery with violence, March 28, 1881, ref. # t18810328-396. No part of this statement has been endorsed or approved by Gorgons Bluff Ltd.
CHARLES WANDSFORD I am a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards stationed at the Tower. This is my pin. It is worth 25 pounds. I have not seen it since I left the Tower on 16th January. I missed it about the beginning of March. The prisoner was a private in the guards and acted as my servant—he had access to the pin. I don’t know exactly when the pin was lost—it was fixed in a cravat like this which I have on, not tied but made up. I do not put it in night and morning, I leave it there. I have not the least idea how I lost it—I am not very careful in taking off my cravat at night, and very often put it on the mantel-piece—it may have fallen from the mantel-piece into the grate.
*Adapted from the trial of Edward Richard for simple larceny, April 7, 1874, ref. # t18740407-292. No part of this statement has been endorsed or approved by Gorgons Bluff Ltd.
ELIZA MULLETT I am single, and was residing at 9 Arlington Street. On February 6th, about half-past 4 o’clock, I entered an omnibus at Camberwell-gate to go to the Monument. There was nobody in the omnibus when I entered it. After a while the two prisoners came in—one sat opposite me, and the other on the same side as myself. When close to the Monument, the omnibus stopped for me to get out. I had some difficulty in passing the prisoners; one of them put an umbrella across the bus, and that detained me. The conductor said, “You will keep me here all night.” Before I got out, I saw a notice atop of the bus, “Beware of pick-pockets, both male and female.” I went to feel in my pocket as I got out, and I found my purse was gone. Seeing the notice induced me to feel in my pocket.
*Adapted from the trial of Caroline Burton and Martha Smith for stealing a purse, February 25, 1861, ref. # t18610225-251. No part of this statement has been endorsed or approved by Gorgons Bluff Ltd.