1916 court: Game’s up for con man posing as army officer

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At the Borough Police Court, Walter Benson, soldier, Crowborough Camp, Sussex, was brought up on remand charged with stealing one lady’s 18-carat gold ring set with five diamonds, and other jewellery of the value of £45, the property of Grace Frost.

The case had been twice adjourned to allow of inquiries being made.

Prisoner pleaded guilty.

The chief constable related the facts, saying that on September 29th about 4pm the prisoner went to the lodging house of Miss Grace Frost, 3, Albemarle Crescent, and saw Miss Frost was not at home at the time. Prisoner asked the servant if he could pay rooms until the following Monday - this was on the Friday - and she said yes. Prisoner was shown the rooms, and he decided to stay.

Miss Frost returned home about 4.15pm and saw the prisoner. She said, “have the boys from York sent you?” The chief constable explaining that Miss Frost had had some soldiers from York staying with her before, and she thought they might have recommended prisoner to stay with her. Prisoner replied, “No”. He had certainly come from York, but on his way from Kent. He added, “I shall be staying until Monday night”. Miss Frost agreed.

Prisoner subsequently went out, and returned between six and 6.30pm, and went upstairs. He remained there for some time, and then came downstairs and went out to a place of entertainment with a lady who was staying in the house. They went together just for company. They returned at 10.30pm. Prisoner told them he was sergeant-major from the School of Musketry at Hythe, and that his name was William Stanley.

After supper Miss Frost joined this man and the lady in the sitting room. At that time Miss Frost was wearing nearly all the jewellery the subject of this charge. On the following Saturday morning the jewellery was in a small box on the dressing table in Miss Frost’s bedroom, the door of which prisoner would have to pass in going to his own bedroom.

Miss Frost went out during the morning. This the prisoner ascertained whilst in conversation with the servant. Prisoner was upstairs by himself during the morning and when Miss Frost returned at 12.45pm from her shopping she saw the prisoner coming down the stairs with his overcoat over his arm. He said: “I shall be back at four o’clock for tea.” He, thereupon left the house and this was the last they saw of him. About 3.30pm in the afternoon when Miss Frost went into her room to dress she found the jewellery gone. She suspected the prisoner and gave information to the police.

A description of the prisoner and a photograph was circulated throughout the country and on 15th October the York City Police sent him (the chief) a communication by telephone and in consequence of that the following day Miss Frost, her servant and Detective Sergeant Yeoman went to York. The prisoner was lined up with a number of other soldiers and was easily identified by Miss Frost and was brought to Scarborough.

He, the chief, was very much indebted to the York Police for the assistance they had given him in apprehending the prisoner. The prisoner refused to say anything either about himself or the jewellery, but he did subsequently give the detective inspector some information as regards the places where he had disposed of the articles - Bristol, Wolverhampton, Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester.

The prisoner was a very plausible talker, proceeded the chief, and there was no doubt this plausibility carried much influence with the pawnbrokers and jewellers with whom he had to deal. He would make anybody believe what he had to tell them.

The prisoner was not a sergeant-major but a private, but was wearing a uniform of a sergeant-major, a fact that must have impressed those with whom he dealt.

With regard to prisoner’s history, the chief said he had been under very great difficulty, for he absolutely refused to say anything about himself, with one exception, which was that he admitted he was a deserter from the 4-4 Queen’s Regiment. He (the chief) was not able to tell them a single thing in his favour.

He had told them he was born in Dublin, and that his parents were in New York. This was all wrong. Prisoner was a married man and his wife had two children, whom he had deserted.

He had, continued the chief, never served abroad. He was wearing stripes indicating that he had been three times wounded, whilst he was also in possession of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was entitled to wear none of these, nor his sergeant-major’s uniform.

The chief continued: “There is no question about the prisoner being an accomplished liar and a thief.”

Asked if had anything to say, prisoner replied: I have nothing to say at all.

The case was proved, prisoner would go to gaol for 24 weeks with hard labour.