The Evil Genius is a once a month series discussing true villains our beloved antagonists have been based from. I’d love to read your comments on what you think of the series, your thoughts on Moriarty, or on any Sherlock Holmes novel/movie/show!
When last we left Adam Worth, the criminal mastermind behind the inspiration for Doyle’s Professor Moriarty, he had accomplished the first step of his scandalous plot. Worth was now a member of the London aristocracy, living in a stunning mansion, breeding race horses, and boasting a collection of rare books and fine art. The next step of his plan was finding a secret gang that he could trust.
It wasn’t long before Worth had created a criminal network that was seemingly headed by four men. Outside of these four men, the subordinate gang members were unaware that Worth was the true boss. Worth planned out every heist and calculated each robbery carefully, in some instances, using his yacht as a means for his gang to escape the scene of a crime.
While setting up their next big caper in Constantinople, Worth’s gang leaders were arrested for forgery. There were a few rules Adam Worth lived by, never use violence and never abandon a friend. He spent a considerable amount of money for the group’s release, paying off judges and the police. Shortly after, the gang disassembled due to some internal conflicts. Bullard, Worth’s best friend and most trusted partner in crime returned to America. Bullard’s wife, Kitty, followed him soon after, taking with her Worth’s two daughters.
But he didn’t have much time to feel the impact of losing his best friend, the love of his life, his daughters, or his gang, because it wasn’t long before his younger brother showed up on his doorstep. The young man idolized his older brother and had turned to a life of crime as well; only, he was not as talented or smart as Worth. Despite Worth’s pleas against his brother’s chosen profession, the younger Worth committed several illegal acts and was soon arrested by Scotland Yard. One particular constable had made capturing Adam Worth an obsession. He jumped at the chance to use the mastermind’s younger brother as a bargaining chip. Worth had the money to pay for his brother’s bail; his problem was that he could not find a bondsman who would post the bail. But when had anything stopped Worth from getting what he wanted?
Worth concocted a plan to steal a local bondsman’s beloved painting of Georgiana Cavendish, The Duchess of Devonshire. His idea was to steal the painting and hold it as ransom until the bondsman posted the bail for his brother’s release. Before Worth could contact the bondsman, his brother was mysteriously released. Adam Worth put his young brother on a ship the next day and sent him back to America. Worth grew quite fond of the painting and decided to retain possession of it, keeping it hidden in a secret compartment of his traveling trunk.
It was time to begin anew. Worth moved to South Africa posing as an ostrich feather salesman in order to learn the route of his next venture – diamonds. He was able to steal an estimated $500,000 worth of diamonds and sold the diamonds in London. In the 1880s he married and fathered a son and a daughter. He kept his criminal life hidden from his family.
Worth’s downfall came when he decided to break his dear friend, Bullard, from an American prison. His friend was dying and Worth believed he owed it to Bullard to break him free. By the time he made it back to America, Bullard had died. Never one to miss an opportunity, Worth put together a small gang to hold-up a courier delivery cart. During the break in, the lookouts abandoned him and he was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. While in prison, he discovered that an old associate had seduced his wife and stolen all his money. Worth’s wife was committed to an asylum and his children were sent to live with his younger brother and his wife.
In 1897, Worth was released for good behavior and sought out the famous American detective, William Pinkerton. He confessed all his crimes to Pinkerton and then left to retrieve The Duchess of Devonshire, which he had stored at a warehouse. He was able to come to an agreement with the old bondsman’s son and the son came to collect the painting from America for about $25,000. Worth snuck on to the son’s ship and made his way back to London. From there, he committed several robberies, including stealing some diamonds in order to pay off his sister in law, who had been holding his children ransom. During this time, Pinkerton and Worth remained in touch and Pinkerton wrote a manuscript on Worth’s life.
Worth retained many aliases, in fact his own children didn’t know his real name. He was a man who lived by his own moral code with an unsurpassed talent to secretly commit crime, and a loyalty to his friends and associates. Worth died on January 8, 1902, he is buried in the famous Highgate Cemetery. His tombstone reads: Henry J. Raymond.
Pinkerton took in Worth’s kids after his death, giving them all the proceeds from his manuscript about their father’s secret life. Ironically, the son of the man who would inspire one of the greatest literary villains became a Pinkerton detective.
To read the whole story, check out Ben Macintyre’s book, The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth. If you want to read more about Professor Moriarty, read Doyle’s Final Problem.
That concludes the first installment of The Evil Genius! Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!