1881: Percy Lefroy Mapleton, police sketch milestone

Add comment November 29th, 2019 Headsman

When Percy Lefroy Mapleton plunged through the gallows-trap at Lewes Prison on this date in 1881 for robbing and murdering a train passenger, he had the consolation of a minor milestone in policing history: he was the bobble-headed subject of the first published police sketch.

Mapleton (he gave his name initially as Percy Mapleton Lefroy) entered the annals of crime lore at Brighton‘s Preston Park railway station on the 27th of June, a mere five months before his execution. On that occasion, he presented himself, bloodied and bedraggled, to a ticket agent with a complaint that he’d been assaulted on the train by two unknown men.

Maybe it was the gold watch chain dangling out of his boot (the man said he’d stashed it there for safekeeping) or an unexplained couple of Hanoverian medals he possessed (the man didn’t know anything about those!), or his keen desire to ditch the investigators and return immediately to London for some business (so why take the train to Brighton in the first place?). There wasn’t quite sufficient reason to hold him, but there was ample cause to give him a minder for his ride back to London.

Apparently Sgt. George Holmes hadn’t been fully briefed on suspect escort protocol.

During their ride, police searching the rail line by which the strange bloodied man had arrived turned up the body of an elderly coin dealer named Isaac Gold, the sort of character who would have pocket watches and Hanoverian medals to steal. A telegraph sent from the nearest station arrived ahead of Mapleton’s train, reading

Man found dead this afternoon in tunnel here. Name on papers “I Gold”. He is now lying here. Reply quick.

At this point, explicit instructions to keep eagle eyes on Percy Mapleton would hardly seem to be required — yet they were indeed forthcoming. Despite what headquarters and common sense were telling him, however, Sgt. Holmes allowed the murder suspect to talk him into letting him “change clothes” unsupervised in a house. And so began a nationwide manhunt.

This manhunt would be distinguished by a police sketch of the fugitive created with the help of Mapleton’s acquaintances. London Metropolitan Police’s (then-newborn) Criminal Investigation Department appealed to the press for help and the Telegraph made history by printing the man’s profile, first time such a drawing had hit newsprint for this purpose.

Age 22, middle height, very thin, sickly appearance, scratches on throat, wounds on head, probably clean shaved, low felt hat, black coat, teeth much discoloured … He is very round shouldered, and his thin overcoat hangs in awkward folds about his spare figure. His forehead and chin are both receding. He has a slight moustache, and very small dark whiskers. His jawbones are prominent, his cheeks sunken and sallow, and his teeth fully exposed when laughing. His upper lip is thin and drawn inwards. His eyes are grey and large. His gait is singular; he is inclined to slouch and when not carrying a bag, his left hand is usually in his pocket. He generally carries a crutch stick.

The publicity blitz generated dozens of erroneous reported sightings throughout the country, but successfully put the screws to the wanted man who was hemmed into an untenable boarding house bolt-hole with an increasingly suspicious landlady and a dwindling pool of money. At last he was

apprehended on Friday evening, July 8, at 32, Smith-street, Stepney, where he took lodgings two days after his disappearance from Wallington … He went out very little, and chiefly at night … He described himself as an engraver, and as one who needed quietness. A telegram sent by Lefroy from 32, Smith-street, to his friend Seele was the cause of his arrest. It appears that the suspicions of his landlady, Mrs. Bickers, being aroused by his peculiar mode of living, she sent her daughter to the address indicated on the telegram, which ran as follows: —

From G. Clark, 32, Smith-street, Stepney, to S. Seele, at J.T. Hutchinson’s, 56, Gresham-street, London, E.C. — Please bring me my wages this evening, about eight, without fail. Flour to-morrow. Not 33.

This telegram led some unknown person, it is said, to call at Scotland-yard, and give information.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Theft

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