The Birth of Detectives in the Met

As my previous post on European police suggested, many Britons equated centralized policing with government tyranny and espionage. To avoid such criticisms, when the Metropolitan Police was established in 1829 there was no detective branch.[1] The police commissioners and the Home Office felt that it would be better to make the prevention of crime the primary mandate of England’s first centralized and professional police force.[2] But one grisly murder in 1842 – the last in a series of failed police investigations – finally changed all that.

Murder of Jane Jones by Daniel Good (Penny Dreadful via London Peculiar: http://estore.eclipse.net.uk/)

Murder of Jane Jones by Daniel Good (Penny Dreadful via London Peculiar – click image for link)

In early April 1842, Daniel Good murdered his common-law wife Jane Jones. Following the murder, he dismembered the body and attempted to burn her remains. For a day or so, he seemed to have committed the perfect crime.

His fatal mistake was stealing a pair of trousers from a pawnbroker. The pawnbroker noticed the theft and sent a constable, PC Gardiner, after Good to search his home for the missing article. When the constable entered the stable where Good lived (he was a coachman in Wandsworth) he discovered what he initially thought was a pig or a goose, but turned out to be a partially scorched female torso. Once Good realized that his ruse was up, he ran out of the stable, locked the door and ran. Constable Gardiner found himself stuck in a stable with the dismembered remains of a woman and no way out.[3]

Daniel Good was at large for ten days before his recapture. During that period the Metropolitan Police frantically searched for him: they searched Jane Jones’s house, questioned his son and mother, and searched throughout his favourite haunts in London. The police were always one step behind. It transpired that Good had fled to Kent and was posing as a bricklayer. By sheer luck, a former police constable from Wandsworth recognized him after reading about the murder in the local newspaper. He reported Good’s whereabouts to the local police and shortly thereafter Good was apprehended, placed in Maidstone gaol, and escorted back to London.[4] Good was tried and convicted for murdering Jane Jones. His execution took place at Newgate on May 23, 1842.[5]

Poster announcing arrest warrant and description of Daniel Good (The National Archives, MEPO 3/45)

Poster announcing arrest warrant and description of Daniel Good (The National Archives, MEPO 3/45)

The incident was a serious embarrassment for the police. Not only had they allowed a murder suspect to escape, but Good was only recaptured thanks to the vigilance of a civilian, not a serving officer. No one seems to have given poor constable Gardiner a break either. He was, after all, only investigating a larceny when he came across the murder victim.

The press censured the police for their incompetence in criminal investigations, a criticism that the Home Office and Metropolitan Police Commissioners took to heart. Shortly after Good’s execution, a small detective force was set up within the Metropolitan Police. Consisting of two inspectors and six sergeants (several of whom had been involved in tracking Daniel Good), the new Detective Department represented the first centralized detective force in England. From 1842 until 1878 (when it was reorganized into the CID following a major corruption scandal) the Detective Department undertook investigations into murder, fraud and theft as well as investigating suspicious persons, both native and foreign.

The Met’s detectives were part of a long pedigree of detection in London, most famously associated with John Fielding’s Bow Street Officers. By the time the Metropolitan Police was founded, however, the Runners’ legacy was somewhat tarnished by a history of colluding with criminals. The Runners existed alongside the Metropolitan Police until they were disbanded in 1839, when London’s police magistrates ceased having officers of their own.

The work of the Met’s Detective Department during the Victorian period contributed to the increasingly tolerant attitude of Britons towards detective policing and paved the way for the creation of security agencies such as Special Branch in the later years of Victoria’s reign.


[1] Formal detective work had been done in England since the 1750s by the Bow Street Officers. Their disbandment in 1839 contributed to the need for a dedicated detective body within the Met. See J.M. Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) and David J. Cox, A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A History of the Bow Street Runners, 1792-1839 (Portland: Willan Publishing, 2010).

[2] Instructions to the Force (1829), iii.

[3] All information relating to Good’s escape and recapture can be found in MEPO 3/45.

[4] The Times, April 19, 1842.

[5] The Morning Chronicle, May 24, 1842.

Further Reading:

J.M. Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

David J. Cox, A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A History of the Bow Street Runners, 1792-1839 (Portland: Willan Publishing, 2010).

Rosalind Crone, Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in Nineteenth-century London (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012).

Haia Shpayer-Makov, The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

** This post is the result of independent academic work and is intended for future publication by the author. Please do not reproduce the content of this blog in print or any other media without permission of the author (reblogs excepted). Any questions or concerns can be directed to Rachael Griffin via the Feedback page

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