Sarah: After our episode on the real Sherlock Holmes, we had quite a
few people write in suggesting that we cover somebody else from Arthur
Conan Doyle’s famous detective stories. So it turns out that just as
Dr. Joseph Bell helped inspire the character of Sherlock Holmes, a
master criminal named Adam Worth helped inspire the character of
Holmes’ arch rival, the Criminal Professor Moriarty. Deblina: And
although he doesn’t appear in that many Holmes stories and actually is
only mentioned in a few more, Professor Moriarty is almost a byword
for evil genius in fiction. As Holmes himself tells Watson, “The man
pervades London, and no one has heard of him. He is the Napoleon of
crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly
all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a
philosopher, and abstract thinker.” Sarah: So if you’ve been watching
the new Sherlock television series – I think you have; haven’t you,
Deblina? Deblina: Well, I saw the first season. I haven’t seen the
Sarah: Well, that’s all I’ve seen too, actually. But it does have that dramatic conclusion, and I think it’s pretty hard to shake the show’s version of a very erratic, very young professor. But even if you’re not familiar with that character, you haven’t read about him in Holmes’ stories, you haven’t seen the TV version, the life of Adam Worth will still strike a chord, I think, with most of our listeners. He created a web of crime that spanned over three continents, and he would dash between the countries on his luxury yacht.
Deblina: He robbed banks, diamond trucks and post offices all while maintaining the front of a respectable gentleman. And he never used violence, which is interesting. He stuck to a strict criminals’ code. But perhaps most strangely he fell in love with a painting, which we’re gonna get to a little bit later.
Sarah: Adam Worth did so much stuff. We’re gonna stretch this one out a little bit. But it’s first worth noting here that just as “no one had heard of Moriarty,” the same is large true today of Adam Worth.
I mean, you probably haven’t heard that name before; and most of the information on him has been collected in a biography by Ben Macintyre called “The Napoleon of Crime: the Life and Times of Adam worth Master Thief.” But during his own day – even though he’s kind of an obscure figure today – during his own day, Worth was actually a widely covered figured.
And in fact you can still find the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency’s pamphlet on Worth online through Google Scholar. It’s one of the best sources on his life because it combines his own freely given account with the Pinkerton’s decades of surveillance and research. So it’s not exactly autobiography. It’s got a little factual information in there too.
Deblina: It’s funny though. In a way Worth’s obscurity almost makes him more intriguing. It’s as though he just kind of made a splash, left his literary descendent, and then just sort of slipped away almost undetected for the next century.