1725: Jonathan Wild Posed as the Chief Lawman

1725: Jonathan Wild Posed as the Chief Lawman

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 24 May 1725
  • In the 18th century London, Jonathan Wild held the position of a chief thief catcher ("Thief-Taker General"). He secretly grew richer with the help of a whole gang of thieves who worked for him.

On this day in 1725, the most famous English criminal from the 18th century – Jonathan Wild – was executed on the gallows.

His criminal career is truly astonishing, especially taking into account that he presented himself as the main guardian of the law in London, he carried out his criminal activities in secrecy.

Specifically, Jonathan Wild had a position of a chief thief catcher in London. In England that service was called “Thief-Taker General”. Just to clarify, at that time there was no state police as we know it today in the world.

Capturing thieves was the job of private persons who were granted a concession of a kind for that. When someone had something stolen, these private “thief catchers” would find the thief, arrest him and return the stolen items to the owner for a commission. The commission was their earnings.

Jonathan Wild as “Thief-Taker General” operated like this: he had a large gang of professional thieves who worked for him. They would steal something and he would wait for the owner’s publication in the newspaper about the theft.

Then he would take the stolen goods from his thieves and returned it to the owners, as if he managed to catch the culprits. Of course, the owners would pay him for returning the goods.

He would then arrest either members of rival gangs or some petty thieves as the culprits who allegedly committed the theft. Sometimes he even turned in members of his own gang when he did not found them useful anymore.

Wild had a secure system because he never sold the stolen goods, but always returned it to the owners. Also, if any of his gang members tried to cheat him and sell the goods on his own, he would simply arrest him and hand him over to the authorities. 

The system worked for years and Wild became very rich. However, he was eventually discovered and then the rage of the public was brought down on him. His public hanging on this day in London was a great spectacle with a large crowd.

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