It’s June 1905, the weather is fair and balmy Col Richard Trench-Gascoigne is looking forward to some good racing. Meanwhile in London he has looked up an old military acquaintance, Charles Arrow, nowadays of Scotland Yard and an inspector to boot.
“Well Charlie, I received a telegram this very morning from the butler at Parlington concerning my father the old Colonel and it seems father has been done!”
“Yes fraud, his bank, Drummond’s has contacted him to advise that his account had been taken for £900/-/-“
“Good grief that’s a considerable sum of money, what can we do?”
“First stop Drummond’s Bank, and let us quiz the manager, I do say it’s fortuitous that you and I met today, your help will be invaluable.”
“Naturally I’ll do what I can.”
At the bank in Charing Cross in the west end of London the enquiry continued.
“So you are saying you cashed a cheque drawn on Colonel Frederick Trench-Gascoigne’s account, but it was written and signed on headed cheque forms from the Naval and Military Club, 94 Piccadilly, London, supplied by Holt & Co. The club’s bankers.”
“And that seemed in order to you?”
“Well now you ask we were surprised, although we were unsure the colonel was a member, so we sent a runner to the club to get confirmation that the colonel was staying with them. When told he was not we immediately telegrammed him at his home.”
“But you”d already paid out the cash?”
“Yes, I’m afraid we had, the signature was very convincing.”
“Did the cashier get a good look at the person presenting the cheque? “
“Well, sadly it was a porter from the Langham Hotel, who had been sent on behalf of a gentleman to collect the money.”
“How was the payment made up?”
“Well they had requested, this note, with that the manager handed over a letter written on the Langham Hotel notepaper; “Dear Sir,—Please hand bearer in exchange for enclosed cheque 16 £50 notes, five £10 notes, five £5 notes, and the remainder in gold.”—(Signed) “P. F. Tate.” That is the name of the payee on the cheque.”
“Well this is all very irregular, it appears ones money is open to any fraudster who may happen into your bank.”
“I assure you sir that we take every precaution, to ensure our client’s assets are safe.”
“Really, yet you openly admit being cautious to the extent you sent out to the club a runner, but unfortunately after the payment was made. Why were you only concerned after making the payment?”
“Well sir, the colonel was a well know philanthropist, and we had paid out many cheques previously on his account.”
“Admittedly not that much, sir, but as I say the signature was very convincing.”
“To you it would seem, however I am unconvinced, what do you think, Charles?”
“In my capacity as a policeman, I think we might quickly go to the Langham and see what we can discover from their staff. We can do no more here.”
With that they left the bank at Charing Cross and headed to the Langham Hotel at the end of Regent Street, a short walk, but quicker than hailing a cab. For in the morning Hansom Cabs were plentiful, but largely occupied in other pursuits. The colonel walked briskly and Arrow struggled to keep up with him, but then the colonel had spent a good deal of time in foreign parts chasing enemies of the empire, so once in pursuit he was unstoppable. Striding straight into the Langham he immediately demanded at the reception to speak with the manager, saying; “Get the manager directly tell him Colonel Gascoigne wishes to talk to him.” His authority brought instant reaction and soon the two were brought before the manager, who looked serious as if he was about to learn something he would rather not.
“No colonel, we do no entertain rogues here at the hotel, if someone has used our good name to further their nefarious deeds, we are as outraged as yourself, accepting of course that we have not suffered any loss! But I will furnish you with all the information we have for you to catch the culprits.”
“Right”, said Arrow, “The trail is still warm, thanks to the telegraph, only yesterday one of your porters was asked to take a message from the hotel to Drummond’s Bank. The message called for the teller to hand over £900/- in various denominations and some gold, he was to give the teller a cheque from Colonel Gascoigne for this sum. The money was issued and the porter returned to the hotel, and presumably handed it over to our culprits?”
“Right sir, I’ll get the porter immediately and we can ask him what he knows about the people concerned.”
After a short while away the manager returned trailed by a rather glum looking young man, thinnish build in the uniform of a porter for the Langdon Hotel.
Arrow ensured he was the first to level a question at the man. “Ah young man it seems you are in trouble, aiding and abetting an offender, and handling money acquired by fraud, what have you to say?”
“I’m sorry sir, I was just doing my job.”
“Yes, yes they all say that, don’t they Colonel, how do we know you were not party to the plan?”
“Then the Colonel interjected, what were they like, young, old, tall, short, come on lad think!”
“Err well to be honest, old I’d say, well that is the man, he must have been late fifties or more, sir. I can”t be sure about the woman, plus she hardly spoke. Oh yes and he wore a brown trilby hat, a lighter coat, military cape style. I remember because he asked me to take them to the cloakroom when they first arrived.”
“Good, this is progress, were they staying guests?”
“No Inspector, I’ve already taken the opportunity to check that out.” Chimed the manager.
“So they came in, pretended to be doing business, asked you to fetch the money from Drummond’s took the proceeds and disappeared eh?”
“Well not quite sir, as they asked me to pick up a portmanteau from a shop enroute, said they’d ordered it and I was to pay for it out of the money obtained from the bank.”
“And you did this?” Enquired Arrow.
“Yes Sir, and they tipped me too!”
“So receiving stolen money as well, lad. Things don’t look good for you.”
“At this the porter look visibly shaken, his pallor took on a grey tinge.”
However the Colonel would have none of it, ” I say Arrow dear chap, the fellow is quite innocent I’m sure, and has been most helpful.”
“If you are sure Sir, then I’ll return to the Yard and make this an official enquiry to find the criminals.”
“Very well, Charles and we’ll meet in the morning as previously arranged at my hotel nine o’clock?”
“Yes Sir.” And with that Arrow took his leave back to the Yard, and the young porter was allowed to return to his duties.
The manger sensing that they had provided answers to the two enquirers, looked more relaxed and suggested the Colonel might like a drink in the bar.
“Indeed replied the Colonel, yes I’d like a good finger of single malt.”
“Whatever is your preference Sir, we don’t like such people coming to our hotel and ruining our reputation. Might I ask also where you are staying?”
“Claridge’s on Brook Street.”
“So not far, but do let me arrange for a cab to take there when you wish to leave.”
“Thank you, and I might add this is a fine single malt.”
The next morning Colonel “Dick” Trench-Gascoigne awaited for Inspector “Charlie” Arrow to arrive as agreed at nine. Charlie did not disappoint, he was always prompt.
“Morning Colonel, another lovely day, just right for racing?”
“Morning to you, Inspector, did you raise an offence notice for the fraud against my father?”
“Indeed Colonel, and I have some news.”
“Well an informer tipped me off to a couple who were posing as fraudsters, getting information on victims and as it were selling it on to the higher rollers, such as your man in the brown trilby!”
“I see and you think that you may be able to track them down.”
“No need as I see it Sir, for what its worth the money needs to be “melted down” so to speak. There is a term for it, slang if you like in the criminal underworld, called laundering, Sir.”
“So how does that help?”
“Well see Sir, the money in large denominations is pretty obvious and the serial numbers are known to us. If I were to offer you a fiver or a tenner, say, for a small item, I end up with lots of small change, but particularly its not traceable any more! And where would be a good place to do such a thing?”
“Well you tell me Inspector Arrow, that’s your game!”
“Tell you, no Sir…show you, yes Sir!”
“With that the coach arrived and they went on their way.”
Two hours later, in the main enclosure at Ascot, two men anonymous to the world, enjoyed the first race. Then as Arrow returned to the bookie, there before him, audacious as ever, was a man in a brown trilby hat and military great coat.
“Intuition… its what makes a good copper.” Arrow reminded himself.
With that he stepped directly before the man straight to his face and loudly proclaimed. “Hello Mr Fane, having a good day are we? You’ll remember me? Arrow… Inspector Charlie Arrow!”
“The man froze, looking deathly still, for what to him seemed an eternity. Then with the agility of a person of much younger years he bolted away. But alas right into the grip of the Colonel, who having seen off the Mahdi at the Battle of Abu Klea during the quest to free Gordon of Khartoum was not a person to mess with. Least of all when his inheritance was threatened.”
“Right” demanded Arrow as he came down on him. “Now then, Mr Fane where did you get all those fivers?” Before he had even responded the sure click of the handcuffs ended his sporting activities.
With that the three men returned to London, Fane claiming his innocence against deaf ears, the serial numbers said everything.
“You, Frederick Arthur Fane are going to a place you will not like for a serious length of time.” Noted Arrow, Fane looked defeated, how could they have been on to him so quick, the bloody trick was only run but two days before. Then as they entered the “Yard” Arrow was given a further note. It seems a second team had tried the same game at Beckett’s Bank, Park Row in Leeds, but the offenders had bolted when they thought they had been rumbled as the portmanteau had not been collected, suggesting their ruse had failed. The sum of money involved was the same at £900/-/-. The fraudsters succeeded in getting the money from the bank, which was later found and returned to the bank. Had they succeeded that would have brought the total fraud to £1,800/-/-.
Colonel “Dick” Trench-Gascoigne took his leave of Inspector “Charlie” Arrow. They’d made a good team he thought and restored some of the family pride. Old Arrow was just as loyal as when he had been a Sergeant under the Colonel during that dreadful campaign up the Nile to rescue Gordon.
On the train back to Lotherton Dick reflected on the few days, their original motivation was purely a re-union, he and Charlie, had survived the horrific battle of Abu Klea because of the mutual trust and resolve in the face of a dangerous enemy. Dick’s officer commanding at time Colonel Burnaby had been killed by a spear through his throat in the height of the battle, so those that survived carried a feeling of great empathy for each other from that dangerous episode some twenty years before.
The short leg of the journey from York to Garforth was the last of the 200 mile trip and sure enough testimony to the modern telegraph, young Louis Hawkett was waiting at the station with the old carriage. Ah, Soon be home, sighed the Colonel!
“Welcome home Sir, it is good to see you, but Mrs Gascoigne awaits in the carriage with news to give you.”
“Hello my dear, how good of you to come.”
“Alas Dick it is good and bad, good you are safely home, but early this morning we were roused by the butler from Parlington, he rode over to tell us himself, I’m afraid the old Colonel died at about five thirty this very morning. Parlington is at an end!”
God, they killed him, as if by their very hands the angst they brought on that old man has surely finished him off.
Were you to convert the £900 to the equivalent of a real wage or wealth today then based on figures from measuringworth.com at 2018 prices you would need in excess of £95,000. So the total fraud of £1,800 gives a crime value of nearly £200,000 at today’s prices. The format of the currency in the piece is pounds/shillings/pence so £900 = £900/-/- i.e. nine hundred pounds, no shillings and no pence.
The named characters in the story are real and it is based on true events, the frauds against the old colonel at Parlington did occur, but the crime was not uncovered until 1906 when Arrow interviewed a Maud Willing and her partner Edward Willing already in prison for a similar offence. Those convicted in the Gascoigne case were Frederick Arthur Fane and Phillip Montague Peach.
It is highly likely that old Colonel Gascoigne, in his ninety second year was deeply affected by the fraud and it could easily have contributed to his death, on the 12th June 1905. Although in the transcript of the trial it is assumed that the discovery of the fraud occurred after the Willings were interviewed by Inspector Charlie Arrow, it is likely, indeed I believe inevitable that Becketts Bank (later Barclays Bank) on Park Row must have contacted the old Colonel after the fraud was uncovered and the money returned to his account. The shock may well have killed him.