Caught At Last
by Inspector F.

THE good folks of Taunton, Somersetshire, were· thrown into a state of intense excitement on the morning of the 6th of November, 1835. An atrocious burglary, accompanied by murderous violence, had been committed early the previous night at an isolated dwelling, a few miles out of the town, called Vale Lodge, inhabited by Mrs. Searle, a widow lady of property; two women servants, Mary Carter and Anne Love, and a stout youth, Richard Ray, about seventeen years old, who groomed the pony, drove his mistress out, waited at table when there was company, and so on, comprised the inmates. The gardener did not sleep in the house; Richard Ray’s dormitory was a loft over the stable.
 
I was first made acquainted with the leading facts of the case by printed slips, always forwarded without delay, when any startling or extraordinary crime has been committed, to every police station, for the information and guidance of the officers. Ultimately, I myself was specially engaged in the investigation of the affair; but some time before then, it happening that a relative of mine, settled at Taunton, was in the habit of sending me the Courier that town, when a week old, more or less, I became acquainted with many particulars, some of which gave a sort of ghastly aspect to the abominable outrage, and in their effect went near to drive an eccentric but very respectable man into a lunatic asylum.

The widow’s late husband, Mr. Searle, was a first-rate shot at pigeon matches, not one of which was made within I know not how many miles round, but he was a competitor, in nine cases out of ten a successful one: Mr. Searle was also an enthusiastic cultivator of prize fruits and vegetables, gooseberries, cucumbers, and what not. As the chief prizes in such contests were often silver tankards, flagons, and cups, Mr. Searle, during a quarter of a century mainly devoted to such pastimes, had accumulated an extraordinary number of these articles, not one of which he would have parted with for twenty times its value. He also took great pride in displaying those glittering trophies of successful skill upon festal gatherings at Vale Lodge; and had a large, grotesquely fashioned buffet constructed in which they showed to advantage, and wherein were many yet unfilled niches, when the worthy man died suddenly of tetanus, how precisely occasioned I do not remember to have heard.

The widow took a mournful pride in strictly keeping every article to which her husband had attached value, or was in any way a memento of himself personally, in exactly the same place and condition as when he died. For this reason she listened with impatience to the wise advice of friends who remonstrated upon the indiscretion, to use a mild term, of keeping portable and easily disposed of property of such value, in a dwelling so far distant from any other, and which, since her husband’s death, was unprotected at nights by a grown man. There was also a far larger quantity of ordinary plate than one would expect to find in such an establishment, kept in the house—so that the booty to be obtained by a successful robbery was unusually large, and of the kind most coveted—gold and silver coin—by burglars.

One or two preliminary items jotted down—the sequent facts will fall into intelligible order of themselves. At the time of the burglary, Mrs. Searle was suffering from erysipelas in both legs, and could not under ordinary circumstances leave her bed, except when lifted out that it might be made. Mary Carter, cook and housekeeper, since the attack of erysipelas, had slept with her mistress every night. Carter, was about forty years old, comely for her age, and—much greater attraction to a prudent bachelor who had outlived the foolish fancies of early manhood—industrious, thrifty, and saving to such good purpose that during the twenty-four years she had been in the service of Mr. and Mrs. Searle—an excellent place, no doubt, it must have been—Mrs. Mary Carter had placed in the bank between three and four hundred pounds, and owed not a penny in the world.

This creditable state of things was known to and keenly appreciated by Mr. Amos Dyke, a respectable grocer, who had not very long started in business for himself at Taunton. He had succeeded, at the mature age of forty-three, to the business of his deceased master, whom he had faithfully served both as apprentice and assistant. The stock and goodwill of the business Amos Dyke purchased of the widow, paying for the same partly with the savings he had accumulated, and the remainder with bills at long dates—not knowing at how swift a pace time gallops with a man who rashly adds his quota to the circulating medium of his country by transferable promises to pay at a certain, inexorable date.

Many of Amos Dyke’s customers were respectable country families residing from two to perhaps twelve miles out of Taunton; and who were called upon twice per week, either by Dyke himself, his assistant, or apprentice, in a light cart, to take orders and effect deliveries. Amos Dyke himself went oftener, no doubt, than he otherwise would have gone, in order to cultivate the good will of Mrs. Mary Carter, the cook at Vale Lodge. His wooing prospered; Mrs. Mary Carter, first indirectly by hints, finally by open avowals, informed her mistress that she had decided upon changing her position in the world; meant, in short—as soon as Mrs. Searle, who was greatly grieved at parting with her, should have suited herself with another cook—to enter into the bonds of holy matrimony with Mr. Amos Dyke.

Mrs. Searle could not reasonably object, however much she might regret her old and faithful servant’s determination; but she, at the same time, strongly advised that all her hard-earned savings should be legally secured to herself. Mrs. Mary Carter was entirely of the same opinion, and Mrs. Searle’s solicitor was requested to do what was needful in the matter. Mrs. Mary Carter was quite sure Amos Dyke would not demur to such an arrangement; in fact, she almost doubted if he was aware she had saved a sixpenny piece. Amos did not court for money, not he; she was quite sure of that—quite. It appears, however, somewhat strange that, notwithstanding she was so positive of her wooer’s absolute disinterestedness, Mrs. Mary Carter should, as the sequel proved, never have said a word to him of the settlement which Mrs. Searle’s lawyer had been instructed to draw up in legal form.

It was finally settled that the wedding day should be the first day of the next year. It was then October; and Mr. Amos Dyke fumed and fidgeted at the unreasonable delay, as if he was a hot-blooded young fellow contracted to blooming seventeen. The comely cook must have been extremely flattered by the ardour of a suitor to whom, as she asserted, money was no object; but her resolution could not be shaken. The cook engaged by Mrs. Searle to supply her place could not leave the situation she then held till Christmas, and Mrs. Mary Carter was not going to put so kind a mistress to inconvenience on any account, not even to oblige Amos Dyke.

Poor Amos Dyke found himself placed by that decision in a frightful fix. One of those terrible bills, amount two hundred pounds, would fall due on the 5th for the 8th of November, and to meet it without the aid of his wife’s—that was to be—purse, was just out of the question. His was principally what is called family custom, which, though lucrative in the result, involved the giving of, upon an average, six mouths’ credit, and he should not even begin to receive his Christmas bills till the honeymoon was about half over. What was to be done? He had counted so surely upon Mary Carter’s pretty hoard, that the sudden shock of disappointment stunned him for awhile. Something it was necessary to do, for his credit, his means of life were at stake. He endeavored to raise the money by first pledging his personal security, and offering large interest to several wellknown loanmongers in Taunton. Declined. Driven to desperation, he tended as security for the accommodation a bill of sale, warrant of attorney, judgment bond—anything, with yet higher interest—repayment to be made on the 3rd of January. Only one party affected to listen to the proposal, a Mr. Jay, who subsequently gave evidence upon the subject. He finally refused to advance the money, and on the 31st of October wrote a note to that effect, directed to Mr. Dyke.

Only eight days betwixt the distracted grocer and absolute ruin, if the bill, which he knew had been discounted at one of the Taunton banks, could not be met. Pushed to extremity, he made up his mind to play his last, and as he felt very hazardous, card. The apprentice was ordered to put the mare to immediately, which mare, it is necessary to observe, grazed, when not at work, in a field a little out of the town, rented by Dyke. In the same field was his cart-shed and stable. Whilst the apprentice was gone for the horse and cart, Mr. Amos Dyke dressed himself in holiday attire. I have said he was an eccentric man, a character which he, I think, mainly, if not entirely acquired by his singularity of dress. When a lad he had greatly admired white cord knee breeches and top-boots, and though such articles had been disused by all persons except huntsmen for more than a quarter of a century, Amos Dyke (whose disposition was strongly leavened with obstinacy) stuck to his tights and tops. So dressed he mounted his chaise cart, and accompanied by the apprentice drove off to Vale Lodge.

What exactly passed between Amos Dyke and Mary Carter, having neither been published in a newspaper or deposed to in court, I cannot relate; but the result of the angry altercation was well known: Mrs. Mary Carter would not lend Amos Dyke a shilling, much less two hundred pounds, and the enraged suitor, in a double sense, rushed out of the house foaming with rage. He shook his fist at the window of the room in which the humble request had been proposed and positively refused, giving vent as he did so to foolish words expressive of the most ferocious hatred, and threats of wreaking condign vengeance upon his so lately beloved Mary; continuing all the way home, said the apprentice, John Sawyer, to grind and gnash his teeth and swear awful.

The preface done, I go on to the strictly police portion of the narrative.
 
At ten o’clock on the evening of the 5th of November, the two women servants at Vale Lodge were seated at supper in the kitchen. Richard Ray supped earlier, and was just gone off to bed, when the noise of gig or cart wheels was heard approaching the back of the house. Whatever the vehicle, it stopped at the door of the passage leading to the kitchen, through which Richard had passed to the stable loft, and which Anne Love was in the habit of locking and barring the last thing before going to bed. The women were asking each other who on earth could be calling at that time of night, when in rushed two ruffians with masks on their faces; grotesque paper masks, such as are sold at toy shops, and are in request on Guy Faux days. The women screamed, though believing for a moment that it was really some Guy Faux foolery, especially as one of the burglars wore white cord knee breeches and top-boots. Their screams were soon stopped, their doubts at an end. Both received a terrific blow on the head, inflicted by what are called life preservers, which deprived them of consciousness, and both fell as if dead upon the floor.

Richard Ray, a brave lad, heard the screams, and partly undressed as he was, hastened to ascertain the cause of such outcries, snatching up as he passed through the stable a three-pronged fork. At the door he saw Amos Dyke’s horse and cart. Passing quickly in, he was met by a man wearing a mask, and having on top-boots and white cord knee breeches. The man turned and ran back into the kitchen as if for help. Ray followed, and found himself in presence of two men, both masked. Mary Carter and Anne Love were lying motionless, apparently dead upon the floor. A struggle for mastery ensued, during which the mask of the second burglar Ray saw—not him with the tights and tops—fell off, affording the lad a distinct view of his features,—a man of fair complexion, bright light hair and whiskers. The ruffian stooped and turned round to pick up the mask, a movement which Ray improved by driving his three-pronged fork into the fellow’s posteriors. Almost at the same moment, he himself was felled to the ground by a terrific blow on the head, and he remembered nothing more for two or three hours afterwards.

And when he did awake to consciousness it was some time before he could remember where he was, or what had happened. His first idea was that it was Sunday morning, and that the ringing out of the church bells awoke him. By and by, the sight of the still motionless women on the floor awakened memory—he remembered all that had passed with shuddering terror—also, that in one of the kitchen cupboards a jar of spirits was kept. He crawled thither, took a good gulp of brandy, and greatly strengthened, rose up on his feet, lit a candle, and looked about him. As he did so, he heard, or he was dreaming, footsteps upon the stairs leading from the bedrooms to the kitchen; feeble, hesitating footsteps. Richard Ray was a bold stout lad; the brandy revived his courage, so snatching up the three-pronged fork lying on the floor, he stole softly towards the door which shut in the stair, opened it, and saw Mrs. Searle, his mistress, creeping feebly down, to ascertain what had happened. The terrified lady, on awaking at her usual time, was surprised at not finding Mary Carter by her side, and fearfully alarmed, when, after continually ringing the bell for she knew not how long, no one answered it, and no other sound could be heard in the house. (It was no doubt this ringing which helped to arouse Richard Ray, and which to his dreaming fancy was that of church bells.) Nerved by terror, Mrs. Searle, spite of erysipelas, got out of bed, wrapped herself round with a shawl, and was descending the stair, as described, when Richard Ray opened the kitchen door and discovered her. He pacified the poor lady as well as he could, assisted her back to bed, then opening the window, sprang a powerful rattle, always kept in Mrs. Searle’s bedroom, with all his might. This soon brought people to the place; a boy was sent off pony-back to Taunton for a doctor, and meanwhile Mary Carter and Anne Love, both still insensible and moaning heavily, were carried to bed.

All the silver salvers, cups, &c., as well as the ordinary plate, it was soon discovered, had been carried off, no doubt in the cart which Ray had seen at the back door. The lad did not say whose cart it was—he almost feared to do so. He would wait till questioned by a magistrate.

The surgeon bled both the women, and administered cordials. Anne Love he did not think in much danger, but of Mary Carter, though her mind seemed after a while clearer than that of her fellow sufferer, he had very little hope. The constable of the hundred and several of his assistants had arrived, and Mr. Bradley, reiterating his opinion that Mary Carter might not survive many hours, perhaps not three, not two, suggested to that functionary that it would be advisable to obtain the attendance of a magistrate, in order that the poor creature’s dying deposition, if she had any to make, should be taken in proper form. Master Constable agreed, and himself went off immediately in quest of one.

Mr. Bradley remained at Vale Lodge, and when James Flenneker, Esq., a magistrate for the county arrived, he repeated his opinion, that Mary Carter would not, so great had been the nervous shock she had sustained, completely rally, and might expire at any moment. He added that she was quite sensible, though weak as a little child. The dying woman’s deposition was then taken; a tedious business, severely tasking the magistrate’s patience,—and when he at length elicited, in faint, broken, yet coherent sentences, that Amos Dyke was one of the ruffians by whom she and Anne Love had been struck down, he could hardly believe his ears. “Amos Dyke, the grocer! Impossible! The poor woman cannot know what she is saying,” added the magistrate, addressing Mr. Bradley.
 
The surgeon believed Mrs. Carter knew perfectly well what she was saying,—extraordinary and startling to any one who knew Amos Dyke such a statement must be. “When you, sir, have taken her deposition, Mrs. Searle will acquaint you with a circumstance, which, in my humble judgment, goes far to corroborate this unfortunate woman’s assertion.”
 
“What did you say was the name of one of the burglars?” asked the magistrate again, turning to, and bending down his head to catch the feeble accents of the deponent.
 
“Dyke—Amos Dyke—to be revenged on me—wicked—wicked man!”

“Did you see his face?”
 
There was no answer, though the question was several times repeated. Mary Carter seemed to have relapsed into unconsciousness. The surgeon drew near, felt the feebly fluttering pulse, then poured a teaspoonful of cordial down her throat. It seemed to slightly recover her. The magistrate gently repeated his question.

“Amos Dyke—I tell you—Amos Dyke—Revenge—because—because—Wicked—wicked man,” the dying woman, after a pause, faintly added. Then a strong convulsion seized her—another! “Mary Carter will give no further evidence,” said Mr. Bradley. “She is gone.”
 
Mr. Flenneker was greatly shocked, but it was necessary that he should not pause in the execution of his imperative duty. He accompanied the surgeon to Mrs. Searle’s bedroom, and was informed by that lady of the serious altercation that had taken place a few days previously, caused by Mary Carter’s peremptory refusal to lend Amos Dyke two hundred pounds, which if he did not obtain by a certain day near at hand, the eighth instant, Mrs. Searle believed Carter told her, he would be utterly ruined; that being so refused he had fallen into a frenzy of rage, swearing she should bitterly repent it. This being merely hearsay—Mrs. Searle herself not having been present during the altercation between Mary Carter and Dyke—had no legal force; but when Richard Ray, brought before the magistrate, swore that the horse and cart he saw at the back door were Amos Dyke’s horse and cart, and that one of the burglars wore white cord breeches and top-boots, the magistrate could no longer resist the weight of evidence, and forthwith granted a warrant for the arrest of Amos Dyke, the presumed burglar and assassin.  

I may here remark that when talking over the foregoing details, which I have condensed from the Police Gazette and Taunton Courier, with a brother officer, a man of rare acuteness, he entirely agreed with me, that the circumstances which vanquished the skepticism of the magistrate, were just those which should have strengthened his incredulity. For it was inconceivable that a man not absolutely insane, should proceed to the execution of such a crime, not only in his own well-known cart, but dressed in a way that would cause him to be recognized by any chance passerby. To be sure, it might be, and was indeed alleged, that the night was pitch dark, and that the burglars intended to, and believed they had effectually silenced for ever all three servants; but they certainly had not taken the precaution to assure themselves of that to them all-important fact. Their having left Mrs. Searle alive and unmolested, a point suggested in Dyke’s favour by a local print, went for nothing. He must have known that that lady was confined to her bed, and may have believed, hearing no stir in her chamber, no bell rung, that she was sleeping the whole time, which was indeed the fact.

To resume my collation of the evidence as detailed in the Taunton papers.
 
By the time the warrant went, duly sealed, nine o’clock had struck, and as such news flies with often unaccountable rapidity, hundreds of persons in Taunton were eagerly discussing almost as many versions of the sad story, though all agreeing that there had been a burglary and murder committed at Vale Lodge, and that Amos Dyke was implicated, long before the constable arrived to execute the warrant.
 
“Is your master, Mr. Amos Dyke, within?” said the constable, addressing Thomas Major, John Sawyer, and Martha Dawes, the accused’s man-assistant, apprentice, and servant-of-all-work, who were standing together in the shop talking over the terrible news, and commenting thereupon, not, it may be presumed, from their glib replies to the constable, in a spirit favourable to their master.
 
“Is your master, Mr. Amos Dyke, within?”
 
“He is, and in bed, sir,” replied Thomas Major; “the very first time I have ever known him to be in bed after seven o’clock.”
 
“He slept at home last night?” said the constable, who could not bring himself to believe in Dyke’s guilt.
 
“Can’t say—can’t say. What we do know is, that we shut up shop last evening at eight o’clock—one hour before our usual time, on account of the fireworks, he said—that he had dressed himself in his best—top-boots, white cord knee breeches—and went out, taking the latchkey with him, and telling us not to sit up for him. We did not sit up for him, and can’t say what time he returned. Before six o’clock, however, it must have been, as Martha is always up at that hour.”
 
“He must have gone a precious long journey,” said the apprentice, “for I found the mare in a bath of sweat this morning, and the chaise-cart, which was washed as clean as a new pin only yesterday afternoon, covered with wet mud.”

“And the top-boots outside his door this morning, which I polished just before he went out, are in a filthy state,” joined in Martha Dawes.

I expect Amos Dyke—a man naturally, or at least by habit, of a penurious, skinflint disposition, which the harassing difficulties besetting him would naturally tend to render still more austere—was a stern, hard taskmaster.
 
Master Constable had heard enough, and requested to be shown the way to Amos Dyke’s chamber. The order was obeyed with alacrity; the whole posse mounted the stairs, and finding the door not locked, quietly entered the sleeping man’s bedroom.
 
Amos Dyke may be said to have been sleeping, inasmuch that his eyes were closed, and he was not awake; but his was no slumber of the senses which knits up the ravelled sleeve of care: he moaned uneasily, ground his teeth, from time to time flung his arms, wildly about, clearly showing, in the opinion of the lookers-on, that he was the sport of some torturing terror which murdered sleep.
 
He was roughly roused. Starting up in bed, he stared around bewilderingly, begged, whilst hardly awake, for mercy, imagining, if he could be believed, that the terrible bill had become due, that he was arrested upon it, and about to be hauled off to gaol. When thoroughly awake, and made to understand that he was a prisoner accused of burglary and murder, he fell back in his bed as if shot, without a word, and when compelled to rise and put on his clothes, remained silent, dumb, gazing first at one, then at another, as if he imagined himself to be under the spell of some inexplicable, horrible delusion—enchantment. He was still in that state when he entered the common gaol, pursued by the hootings, the execrations of an excited crowd, and was thrust into a felon’s cell.

I give the following extract verbatim from a Taunton paper. It would be impossible to shorten it:—

BEFORE THE MAYOR AND A FULL BENCH OF MAGISTRATES.

On Tuesday, Amos Dyke, who had been formally remanded, was brought up for final committal. The depositions of Mary Carter the murdered woman, of Richard Ray, Anne Love (who we are glad to hear is in a fair way of recovery), of John Sawyer, and others of less importance, were read over to him. He made no remark, and seemed to listen with a kind of fretful impatience, as if they in nothing concerned him, which may or may not have been mere acting. The reading done, he asked in his turn for permission to read a paper he held in his hand. The mayor said he and his brother magistrates were bound to hear all he had to say or read, but cautioned him, especially as through his own obstinacy he was not shielded by legal advice, and as the Bench had fu1ly determined to send the case before another tribunal, that he would act more wisely by deferring what he had to urge till he appeared before a jury of his countrymen. Still, if he persisted in reading the paper in his hand, the statements in which, he must remember, might be used against him, the magistrates would pay every attention to whatever he might have to urge. The prisoner persisted, and in a calm, monotonous voice and tone, read the following strange, if true, story.
 
“I do not dispute the truth of one particle of the evidence which has been given against me, except that of the unfortunate deceased, Mary Carter. They are all witnesses of truth, and so was she, in her own conviction; but she does not say, she could not be made to say, she saw the murderer’s face. The peculiar dress worn by the execrable villain, combined with the recollection of our unhappy quarrel, induced a strong, sincere, but incorrect and utterly unfounded conviction that I was her murderer. So much for the evidence upon which I am to be arraigned for my life, my innocent life—innocent, I mean, as regards the crimes of which I am accused. I have now to give my version of how I was occupied on that dreadful night, the night of the 5th of November. About half-past four o’clock on the afternoon of that day I went, as I seldom fail to do, to see if the mare was properly littered down and provided for the night. Returning, I was accosted by a well-dressed, middle-aged man, who said, as nearly as I remember, ‘Well met, Mr. Dyke. I was about going to your house, but I can deliver my message here.’ I asked, what message? He answered by saying he was the head clerk at Mr. Champneys, at the Willows, to whom I had applied about three weeks previously for the loan of two hundred pounds, which  request had been declined. I said that was so, and the stranger went on to say, that Mr. Champneys had reconsidered the matter, and if I would bring him that evening the securities I had offered, to the Willows—he had, I knew, given up his town office—he would hand me a cheque for the money. I, surprised and elated, asked if the morning would not do. The man, who incidentally said his name was Jenkins, answered ‘No,’ unless I could wait till Mr. Champneys returned from London, for which he would start by the night coach, which passed his house at about three in the morning. I said it was out of the question that I could wait for Mr.Champneys’ return from London, my need being pressing. The man, Jenkins, said he had so understood; and this was the reason Mr. Champneys had put himself out of the way, as it were, to send a special messenger to suggest that, if still in want of the two hundred pounds, I should call upon him at the Willows that evening, not earlier than half-past nine o’clock, as he would not be home till that hour—nor much later, as he should retire early, in order to obtain a tolerable night’s rest before the arrival of the London night coach. I promised, with a joyful heart, to be punctual, and the man went away. I can see now plainly enough how gross was the bait by which I was lured to destruction; but we all know that a drowning man will catch eagerly at straws. Every gentlemen I address is aware that the Willows is distant between six and seven miles from Taunton, and that it is led to, for a considerable part of the way, by a bridle path. Now, I have never been on horseback in my life, and had no choice but to walk. I set out at about a quarter before eight—not eight, as Thomas Major has stated. The night was not so dark when I started as it soon afterwards became, the moon, which I had not thought of, having set before nine. I reached the Willows, an out-of-the-way, solitary mansion, as everybody in Taunton knows, at, by my repeater, three minutes beyond half-past nine. I was surprised to see no lights in the house; nevertheless, I rang the gate bell loudly, again and again, refusing to believe that I had been made the dupe of a malicious hoax; and it must have been close upon ten when I desisted, and should not then have done so, but that in prowling angrily round the premises, my eye fell upon a printed bill, announcing that the house and grounds were to be let: application to be made to an agent in Taunton. It was with much difficulty I could read the bill, so dark had the night become; but I had no sooner done so, than I felt convinced Jenkins had played off an infamous hoax upon me, though with what object I could not imagine. Anger is always hasty, blind. I am constitutionally subject to fierce gusts of passion, and was boiling over with rage. I took the wrong turning, blundered about for three or four hours, and did not reach home till past three in the morning. This is all I have to say, with the addition of a solemn declaration, made in awful contemplation of the possibility—probability, I ought to say—that I shall shortly be hurled before the presence of the Almighty, that it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—so help me God!”
 
“The prisoner’s statement,” continues the Taunton paper, “was listened to in breathless silence, and when concluded, no sound or sign indicated the impression it had made, either favourable or unfavourable to the accused. The magistrates spoke together for a few minutes, and then the mayor, addressing the prisoner, said—

“We have listened to the statement you have read with attention, and if the concluding adjuration be not a blasphemous falsehood, you are a much to be pitied, unfortunate man. But assertion, however confident and, it may be, plausible, cannot be set against sworn evidence given by unbiased witnesses—the witnesses of truth, as you yourself admit; nor have you suggested any probable or possible motive that could have induced any human being to personate you, to make use of your horse and cart, returning it afterwards on the night of the plunder and burglary. No one saw you walking in the direction of the Willows—no one saw you returning thence. Therefore, without wishing to unfairly prejudge the case, the magistrates hold to the decision I before announced to you. You are fully committed for the wilful murder of Mary Carter, to the next March assizes.”

 

The Taunton case excited a good deal of discussion amongst us, but the general public, not being readers of Somersetshire newspapers or police gazettes, gave no heed to the subject. If the Times, gravelled for lack of matter during the parliamentary recess, had chanced to have lit upon the case, and devoted a leading article thereto, all England would have been discussing it immediately; but the loudest thunder of provincial journalism seldom reverberates beyond the narrow area where it bursts—rumbles—and expires.

We, I repeat—meaning by we, inspectors, superintendents, and others who meet in Scotland-yard to compare notes—vivaciously discussed the Taunton case; and opinions, as well as I remember, were pretty equally divided. One party inclined to the belief that Amos Dyke was the victim of some diabolical plot; the others, that he was a canting humbug, and a thrice sodden ass, practically, over the bargain. This was their difficult point; but how else account for his going to Vale Lodge in his own horse and cart, and wearing those absurd tights and tops. I think the believers in his innocence would have been more numerous and more confident, had he not concluded with that rubbishy, worn-out “So help me God” tag;—which dock flower of speech ever since Thurtell’s trial for the murder  of Weare, stank in the nostrils of every man connected with a criminal court.

Amos Dyke was fully committed; there was an end of the business for at least four months, as the matter would no doubt have died out of the metropolitan police mind, but for a succession of burglaries which, in one particular or another, constantly recalled to memory the Taunton case. The house of a gentleman, whose name I forget, residing in the vicinity of St. Albans, was entered just as the servants living on board wages, the family being absent, were going to bed, by two fellows wearing masks of the same kind as those used by the burglars at Vale Lodge. The servants, three women and a lad, were bound, gagged, but not otherwise ill-treated, and all the plate in the house, a large quantity, was carried off in a cart. At Walthamstow, Essex, the same game was played, still by two fellows wearing the same kind of masks; and one morning printed slips were distributed at all the police stations, describing a most audacious attempt on the part of two men in the same disguise, to possess themselves of the plate, much of which was hired, at a Mr. Bignold’s house, Forty-hill, near Enfield. Mr. and Mrs. Bignold had given a ball and supper to a numerous party of friends, all of whom, by a little after four in the morning, had left. Mr. and Mrs. Bignold and family and the servants were all in bed before five, save the porter, an out-pensioner of Chelsea Hospital, who had slept through the night on purpose that he should keep guard over the house and property whilst the rest of the servants, worn out with fatigue, snatched two or three hours’ rest. The old soldier had been about half an hour at his post, the house being still as the grave, when he fancied he heard a cart approaching over the lawn. Peeping forth he saw, in fact, that a cart was come up just close to the back of the house, and that beside it were two men in masks. The veteran had read the accounts in the papers of the burglaries I have just enumerated, and had no doubt that these were the identical ruffians for whose apprehension a reward of one hundred pounds had been offered. Having a double-barrelled pistol carefully loaded with ball, Henry Jukes believed himself in for a slice of luck, which, not to share with others, he determined not to call any one, as he might easily have done, but accomplish the capture alone. Crouching down under the corner of a projecting mantelpiece, he watched, pistol in hand, the burglars’ proceedings. They seemed to be quite familiar with the fastenings of one of the kitchen windows, which they raised in a trice, and in crept one,—the other was following, when, as ill-luck would have it, Jukes could no longer repress a cough he was troubled with. The sound caused the fellow who had entered to glance round; he saw Jukes, and with an exclamation of terror made for the window. The soldier fired in haste, with both barrels at a time,—missed, and had but just time to catch the fellow by the leg as he was vanishing through the window. Pulling him back into the room, a desperate struggle ensued, during which the fellow’s mask, being torn off disclosed the features of a middle-aged man of fair complexion, light hair and whiskers,—a face he would know again amidst a thousand. The struggle was too unequal; the aged veteran received a blow in the pit of his stomach, which doubled him up, and before one of the servants, roused by the firing of the pistol, could arrive, both the burglars were beyond pursuit, though the sound of cart wheels whirling along at furious speed was still audible.
 
A middle-aged man of fair complexion, light hair, and whiskers, the precise description given by Richard Ray of the robber he had stabbed with the three-pronged fork! We no longer doubted, at least, I did not, that those daring, ubiquitous villains were the miscreants that had murdered Mary Carter, and would, if not caught and convicted themselves, bring poor Amos Dyke to the gallows. Why or wherefore they should have personated the Taunton grocer, was, it is true, an inexplicable mystery. Still, I felt certain in my own mind that the Vale Lodge, St. Albans, Walthamstow, and Forty-Hill burglars were the self-same brace of villains. An additional reward of fifty pounds was offered by Mr. Bignold, and as we had obtained from a market-gardener whom they passed on the Enfield road at, the rate of ten miles an hour in the direction of London, a description, such as it was, of the horse and cart, bettered somewhat by the gatekeeper at Stamford-hill, we were in great hopes of running the game to earth. Jukes, when he recovered his breath from the terrific blow in his bread-basket, if I may be permitted to use an expressive vulgarism, was savage as a bear at having missed earning the one hundred pounds reward, and volunteered to patrol the streets of London day and night in company with officers in plain clothes, for the mere chance of meeting with the fellow “of fair complexion, light hair and whiskers.” Soon promising indications that we were likely to strike the right trail were hit upon, and the chase followed up with vigour and perseverance, appeared to be almost certain of success.

I was one of the most eager in the pursuit, and was so engaged on the fourth day after the attempt at Forty-hill, when, upon turning out of Bishopsgate-street into the Minories, I saw at no great distance off a tall fellow coming towards me at topping speed, pursued by a shorter stoutish man, shouting as loudly as his panting state permitted, “Stop thief!—stop thief!” I did stop thief, putting out my foot as the tall fellow was rushing past, and by that little trick bringing him down in the road with stunning violence. The pursuer came up almost immediately, thanked me, and looked about for a policeman, I being in plain clothes.
 
“Don’t you really know me, Mr. Roberts?” said I. The man stared for a moment, then recognizing me, laughed at himself for being such a blind buzzard as not to have known who I was at the first glance, and gave the tall fellow in charge.
 
“Of what do you accuse this man?” I asked, as we walked on towards Worship-street.
 
“Of robbing me of a gold watch and chain on the 4th of November last, at Douglas, in the Isle of Man. I detected him in the very act; but though I gave immediate pursuit, he soon ran himself out of sight. I am quite sure he is the man; I would pick him out of ten thousand. When I met him just now, he knew me the instant our eyes met, and set off at the speed you witnessed instantly.”
 
Mr. Roberts, it is necessary to state, was known to me as the landlord of the Magpie and Stump, in Highstreet, Whitechapel, a very respectable house of its kind, and respectably conducted. Roberts himself was not a man of prepossessing exterior; his nose, which was more than usually prominent, was twisted on one side as by a blow or other violent injury, and his cunning, restless eyes had a not very slight cast. The impression upon the whole was the reverse of agreeable; but in his case, as in many others, appearances were deceitful, he having lived with credit at the Magpie and Stump for several years.
 
At the hearing before the magistrate, at Worship-street, the prisoner, who gave the name of John Williams, made but a boggling attempt to deny the crime imputed to him. His guilt was manifest, and he was ordered to be conveyed without delay to Douglas, Isle of Man, and to be delivered into the custody of the authorities there, Mr. Roberts undertaking to accompany the officer in charge, and prefer the accusation before the Manx magistrates. Thief, officer, and landlord left London, per Liverpool, en route for Douglas, the same evening.

 

Our hopes of capturing the two burglars grew fainter and fainter, till nearly all of us lost heart. I was the most sanguine of ultimate success, and expressed myself so confidently in the matter, that the Commissioner directed me—through the Superintendent, of course—to visit Taunton, and see if any information of value could be picked up there.
 
I gladly obeyed the order, but was soon reluctantly convinced that I might as well have remained in London. Richard Ray could only repeat the deposition he had made—Anne Love, ditto; and fire would not have burnt it out of either of them, that the robber in white cords and top-boots was Amos Dyke. Ray added, that his recollection of the features of the man from whose face the mask dropped off was fresh as ever. His description of that face so exactly agreed with that of the Chelsea pensioner, that I felt more strongly convinced than ever that the Taunton and Forty-Hill robbers were the same persons. I was granted leave to see Amos Dyke privately, but I could make nothing of him. He had sunk into a state of religious despondency—had arrived, by what process of reasoning I could not comprehend, that, though innocent of the death of Mary Carter and the robbery at Vale Lodge as an unweaned babe—had arrived, I say, at the comfortable conclusion that he was predoomed, born to be hanged, and that it was consequently folly, if not worse, to attempt reversing the sentence decreed by the Eternal One. I had not patience with such intolerable, and, as it seemed to me, blasphemous cant, and left him in very bad humour, half reconciled to see him perish for a crime of which, if it could have been of any avail, I would have sworn with a safe conscience he was guiltless.
 
That unjust feeling on my part did not last long. I was loth to quit Taunton, and thereby tacitly acknowledge to my superiors that I, too, had given up all hope of unravelling the Vale Lodge mystery, if mystery were there. The next day was Sunday, and in the afternoon I took a long stroll in the fields about Taunton. When near Harry Hill’s Well, as it is called, with the water of which Stogumber ale is brewed, I was overtaken by a violent shower of rain. The nearest shelter was a cottage of a somewhat superior class, in which I sought, and was civilly granted shelter. The tenant, a hale, respectable mechanic in appearance, whose age might be sixty-five, was cosily smoking a pipe by the fire, and moistening his clay with a tankard of ale standing on the table before him, which he hospitably invited me to partake of. Casting my eyes round the room, I fairly leapt from the chair as my glance rested upon a rude but wonderfully lifelike portrait in a narrow black frame. It was the likeness, the unmistakable likeness, of Roberts, landlord of the Magpie and Stump.

“I know the original of this portrait,” said I, touching the frame with my stick, “well by sight.”
 
“Then,” said the old man, “you know by sight, and I hope you’ll never know him anyhow else, one of the biggest villains that ever walked the earth. He keeps a public-house now, I hear, somewhere in London, and flashes his money about in style.” He added, “Well, we shall see what he comes to in the end. He goes by the name of Roberts, my son, who took this picture of him by the sly, says; but his real name is Stokes, wicked Dick Stokes we used to call him. A real bad un, stock and lock, depend upon it, sir.”
 
“Is he a native of these parts?”
 
“I am sorry to say he is. However, Taunton couldn’t help that. I seed him,” added my host, with a chuckling laugh, “whipped through the town at the cart’s tail when he was only seventeen years old—that must be more than twenty years ago. In addition to which whipping,” added the old man, “he got a year’s treadmill. Served him right—too good for the young villain!”
 
“What may have been the crime he was convicted of?”
 
“Knocking down a poor old woman who was returning from market, and robbing her of seven shillings and nine pence, all she had in the world. Jane Sims was her name.”
 
“Then he richly deserved his punishment.”
 
“That is right. I mind the trial as if it was but yesterday. Ah, and he’d have got out of it, for his counsellor—such villains as he can always somehow get counsellors—so bothered the old woman that she was afraid at last to swear downright positive it was he. But the counsellor couldn’t bamboozle young Amos Dyke. No, no; Amos cooked the scoundrel’s goose nicely for him.”
 
“What do you say?” I exclaimed, springing in a manner involuntarily to my feet.
 
“Bless me, how you startle a body? What do I say? why, that if it hadn’t been for young Amos Dyke, Richard Stokes would have got clear off—everybody knows that. For my part, I never thought Amos Dyke’s life was safe after the young villain was out of gaol till he left the place, about four years, as I reckon, afterwards.”
 
“Do you mean the Amos Dyke that’s now in prison for the Vale Lodge affair?”
 
“Certainly I do. There’s no other Amos Dyke that I ever heard of. As to Amos having murdered Mary Carter and carried off the plate, I wouldn’t believe it if every man and woman in Taunton were to swear they seed him do it till they were all black in the face. No, sir; there’s some mystery about that business which I pray God will clear up in time.”
 
The rain was over; I heartily thanked the old man, bade him good-bye, and almost rushed out of the house. I wanted to be alone to arrange and weigh the thoughts thronging in my brain. Why, good heavens! the whole thing was presently clear to me as daylight. That fellow calling himself John Williams, whom Roberts, alias Stokes, chased and gave into custody for robbing him of a gold watch and chain, had one of his upper front teeth broken, as both the Chelsea pensioner and Richard Ray declared the burglar had. No whiskers, and jet black hair—cut, dyed, of course; why, what a blind dolt I must have been. The net was closing round the villains, and that pretty dodge was had recourse to in order to get “John Williams” safely away to some place where no one would dream of looking for him; perhaps, also, lest, to save himself, he might turn round upon Roberts—that is Stokes. Clever, but caught, please God, in their own trap! The diabolical scoundrel! After twenty years, to endeavour to glut his revenge by the safe assassination of Amos Dyke. Thank Goodness, his murderous design would be balked—the poisoned chalice commended to his own lips.—Huzza!
 
Something after this manner I mentally ranted on, as I strode at a rapid pace towards Vale Lodge.

“Richard Ray,” said I, after a few minutes’ conversation with Mrs. Searle—“Richard Ray, my fine lad, put two or three shirts in a bundle, then get the head of the three-prong fork you dug into the burglar’s posteriors—the prongs must have left their mark, eh?”
 
“I warrant they did.”
 
“To be sure. Well, bring the fork head—not the handle, you know—and your bundle; we have a long journey before us, and must start at once.”
 
The credentials of which I was the bearer secured me the zealous cooperation of the authorities at Douglas. John Williams was, I found, still in gaol, and had not been tried; criminal process in the island being remarkably slow; and, from something Williams had been overheard to say to his wife—or at least a woman that passed for his wife—it was supposed the prosecutor would not appear against him. The woman had, moreover, when in liquor, let fall expressions which implied that the prosecutor, Roberts, was in her husband’s power, and that if he didn’t mind what he was about, and release Williams from gaol pretty quick, he would find it out too.
 
I understood now perfectly, and proceeded at once with Ray to the prison room. At the sight of Ray, Williams turned as white as the paper upon which I am writing, gasped convulsively for breath, whilst his knees smote each other.
 
“Come along,” said the jailer: “this way; we are going to see what colour soap and hot water will bring that hair of yours too.”
 
“And whether there are any marks,” said I, “in a certain place, which the points of these prongs will fit.”
 
“Mercy—mercy!” gasped the nerveless wretch, falling on his knees. “Mercy—mercy! I confess everything.”

“Very well; make a clean breast of it. If you can enable us to convict Roberts, alias Stokes, it is quite possible—though I promise nothing, mind—that you will be admitted evidence for the Crown.”
 
“I will—I can—I will gladly do it.”
 
A desperate, resolved villain was Roberts, alias Stokes. He was busy behind the bar of the Magpie and Stump when I, with half-a-dozen brother officers, accompanied by Williams, entered the house. The moment his eye fell upon us, he staggered back, turning deathly white, as from the stroke of a dagger. Thinking all was over with him, he roused himself by a desperate effort, rushed towards the end of the bar, pulled out a drawer, snatched up a small bottle, and the next moment would have been a corpse, but that one of our fellows sprang at a leap over the counter, and struck the phial out of his hand. It was filled with prussic acid, kept in readiness to serve in such a catastrophe as had at last overtaken him.

Nearly the whole of the plate carried off from Vale Lodge, St. Alban’s, and Walthamstow, with much more besides, was found concealed in different parts of the house. Stokes had not for some time had an opportunity of safely disposing of his plunder.

Richard Stokes was hanged at Taunton, in sight of a prodigious number of spectators, not very long after the unfortunate Amos Dyke had been liberated “without a stain on his character.” He left that part of England, and I have never since heard of him. Those who knew him best, said he took the death of poor Mary Carter greatly to heart.

From Experiences of a Real Detective by Inspector F.
Edited by “Waters,” author of Recollections of a Police Officer, Leonard Harlowe, etc.
London: Ward, Lock, & Tyler, 1862. 43-74.