Theft of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire – 1876

By | November 12, 2016

“The Napoleon of the criminal world”


Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Thomas Gainsborough


Adam Worth, aka Henry Judson Raymond, was born in eastern Germany in about 1844 and moved with his parents to America when he was five years old. In 1861 he joined the Union Army where he perpetrated his first known crime — he deserted from one regiment to join another to gain a financial bonus.

He even faked his own death at the second battle of Bull Run on 30 August 1862 and signed up again under a different name. After the war he moved to New York where he became a pickpocket, bank robber, forger and gambler. He was nicknamed Little Adam because of his lack of height. He worked for Fredericka Mandelbaum (search the related article). In late 1869 he moved to England with the proceeds of a $200,000 bank robbery he and his partner “Piano” Charley Bullard, a talented pianist and safe-cracker, had carried out on 20 November at the Boylston National Bank in Boston.

With Irish barmaid, Kitty Flynn, the two men built up an international criminal industry. Worth’s earnings allowed him to have an apartment in Piccadilly, a mansion in Clapham, a string of racehorses and a steam yacht.

On a foggy night in 1876 he broke into the Mayfair premises of Thomas Agnew & Sons, art dealers, and stole Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire, which had been sold on 5 May 1876 for 10,100 guineas, then the highest price ever paid for a portrait at auction. It took Worth just five minutes to get in, grab the painting and get out.

Worth stole the painting as a bargaining tool to free George Thompson, an accomplice, who had been jailed for cheque fraud. The plan came to nothing because by the time Worth had contacted the authorities Thompson had already been freed on a technicality. Mysteriously, Worth kept the painting for the next 24 years in a false-bottomed trunk.


Bond Street, London, England


Saturday 27 May 1876


On 5 October 1892 Worth was arrested in the course of a robbery and on 20 March 1893 sentenced to seven years’ hard labour in the Prison de Louvain, Liege, Belgium. Worth was released early through good behaviour.

In poor health, he arranged for the painting to be returned to Thomas Agnew & Sons in return for $25,000 on 28 March 1901 in Chicago. Worth returned to London and on 8 January 1902, died at his home at 2 Park Village East, Camden, London.


Worth was the prototype for the evil Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sir Robert Anderson of Scotland Yard nicknamed Worth “the Napoleon of the criminal world”.


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