Little Bits of History

February 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 23, 2017

1739: Richard Palmer is unmasked. He was born in Essex, England and baptized on September 21, 1705. He was the fifth of six children in his family. His father was a butcher and innkeeper and it is sometimes told the son followed, at least at first, in his father’s footsteps. He had some rudimentary education and eventually married. He opened his own butcher shop but eventually found other ways to make a more lucrative living. He joined up with an Essex gang of deer poachers, a criminal endeavor rampant in the area. The gang had to find a way to get rid of the deer meat and having a butcher join in was a way to sell off the goods without drawing too much attention. While this worked for a while, Richard eventually left the butcher trade and took up with a more criminal lifestyle. He also changed his name at some point from Dick Turpin to Richard Palmer.

Within a few years, the makeup of the gang had changed dramatically with many of the members captured or moved away. Turpin moved on to robbery and began invading the homes of the local wealthy farmers. The gang members moved near London and began breaking and entering there. Their attacks were quite violent when homeowners would not reveal where their money was hidden. Rewards were offered for their capture, starting at £10 and working their way upwards. Many of the group were caught in this manner, but Turpin remained elusive.

With most of the gang members in custody, Turpin turned to what he is most famous for. Highway robbery became his new venture. He and some new associates attacked those moving along the highways of rural England. They were accomplished horse thieves as well as powerful riders and able to approach targets with impunity due to the legendary violence associated with Turpin’s attacks. While trying to capture Turpin, one of the posse was shot and eventually died. Turpin was charged with his murder, but stories were confusing and often contradictory.

While travelling around the country under his assumed name, he was caught and eventually sent to York Castle to await trial for more minor crimes. While there, he wrote a letter to his brother in law but when it arrived, the man refused to pay the delivery charge, stating he knew no one at York Castle. He may have truly been loath to pay or he may have been trying to distance himself from his criminal family. The letter was taken to a post office where James Smith, who had taught Turpin to write years ago, recognized the handwriting. He alerted the authorities and was taken to York Castle where he was able to identify the man held there as the man wanted for murder. He received a £200 reward (about £29,000 today). Turpin was executed, but became a legend after the fact.

Make your educational laws strict and your criminal ones can be gentle; but if you leave youth its liberty you will have to dig dungeons for ages. – Michel de Montaigne

Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on. – Robert Kennedy

Squeeze human nature into the straitjacket of criminal justice and crime will appear. – Karl Kraus

The criminal is trying to solve his immediate problems. – Naguib Mahfouz

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