Clapham’s Napoleon of Crime

The Napoleon of Crime and the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes nemesis Moriarty lived just off Clapham Common.  

Adam Worth – Wiki Commons Public Domain

Adam Worth, originally German, grow up in American ended up fighting in their Civil War.  Wounded he reads that he has been reported killed and taking advantage of this absconds.  He reenlisted numerous times again, under various names, only to disappear again, claiming his enlistment fee each time.  

After a successful crime career in New York and Boston he flees America as the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency starts to close in on him.  Then in 1871 a brief period running a gambling den in Paris, taking advantage of the post-Commune confusion, comes to an abrupt end when William Pinkerton (president of the agency) turns up in the club and spots Worth.

Moving to London Worth and associates rent the huge Western Lodge just off Clapham Common west side.  Here in he plans and executes a range of bold robberies, forgeries and frauds.  He uses a complex network of criminals to do his work for him, without he claims the use of violence, gaining a reputation as a gentleman criminal. 

In 1876 Worth personally steals Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of the Duchess of Cavendish, worth over 10,000 guineas, from a West End art gallery. After numerous criminal adventures from Turkey to Cape Town Worth returns to London and gets married in the early 1880s. 

But his luck runs out in 1892 when a botched robbery of a transport of money results in him ending up in a Belgium prison. Worst still his photograph is circulated and everyone from Scotland Yard to the Pinkerton Agency learns of his whereabouts.  While in prison his wife is committed to an asylum and his children are sent to live with Worth’s American brother.

Eventually Worth is released.  Doing a deal with the Pinkertons he returns the picture of the Duchess, stashed many believe in the walls of the stables of Western Lodge for over a decade.  Worth lives out his days in London in, quiet retirement dying in 1902.  In a final twist of fate his son Harry is offered and takes a job with William Pinkerton’s Agency.


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