What Caused Colonel Gascoigne's Death? [Added January 2011]
The hot weather was relentless, but still it was only May, meanwhile Chief Inspector 'Charlie' Arrow of New Scotland Yard was engaged in an impossible quest to discover within his small cramped office a place he might escape the debilitating humid atmosphere, just a small breeze was all he wanted, to vanquish the clinging humidity. Engaged as he was, making notes on a paper pad, his pencil avoiding his grip, regularly sliding through his sweaty fingers and the paper sticking to his hand whenever it touched the surface. It was a must to complete his notes ready for tomorrow as he was to appear in court at the Old Bailey as a witness for the prosecution in the matter of the Crown versus Frederick Arthur Fane & Phillip Montague Peach, on charges of Deception & forgery.
The year was 1906 and the weather was unusually hot and humid in London, it was only a month after the disaster that had befallen San Francisco, the great earthquake beginning April 18th and resulting in a calamitous fire lasting four days. Much has been recorded of the American disaster but only the court transcript remains of the unscrupulous activities of the accused men, Fane and Peach and their co-conspiritors. So the efforts of our hero Charlie to bring to book the two villains, is well worth recording here, that is how this might be told if this were a novel, which it is not, and why you may ask is this of interest anyway?
Well the victim, although by the time of the court case, dead, was the old Colonel, Frederick Charles Trench-Gascoigne of Parlington Hall, Aberford. The defendants were accused of forging the hand of the colonel and falsely obtaining money from two of his bank accounts. Although only one withdrawal was successful; from Drummond's Bank in London and the sum may seem trifling by todays standards a mere £900, however, this at today's rate is somewhere between £69,288 and £87,438, depending on the computing method. So I will set out the details of this audacious fraud, for your amusement and interest.
Firstly, introducing the perpetrators of the fraud, they were the two defendants, both as noted above in the indictment, Frederick Fane, a 63 year old former lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade assuming the rank of Captain and Phillip Peach a 32 year old clerk. But also and crucial to the plot were Edward and Maud Willing, living as man and wife, who brought the gang together. It was they who identified the victim, Colonel F C T Gascoigne.
The policeman responsible for investigating the case was Chief Inspector Charles 'Charlie' Arrow, he was no stranger to the courts of the Old Bailey, having been involved in many cases brought at the famous law courts, first giving evidence as a police sergeant in 1891 to his position as a Chief Inspector by 1906. Council for the prosecution was a Mr Horace Avory K.C. assisted by Mr Arthur Gill. The defence for Fane was Mr R. D. Muir and Mr Leonard Kershaw, whilst Mr. Travers Humphreys and Mr. W. H. Thorne defended Peach. The case was heard before judge Sir Forrest Fulton, Knight, K.C., Recorder of the City of London.
The defendants came to the notice of the police as a result of an earlier trial of a Charles Henry Welling (alias Edward Willing), Maud Willing and Mabel Clara Hughes for "Forging and uttering an order for the payment of £150 with intent to defraud. Both Charles Henry Welling and Maud Willing pleaded guilty. The victim in this case was Arthur Foley-Winnington Ingram, Bishop of London.
The Bishop testified that he had made a cheque payable to "M Hughes", in response to a request by a person of that name saying:
"I sent it in consequence of a letter written me by Mrs. Hughes."
"I am not quite certain whether I sent it to her address, Ethelden Road, Shepherd's Bush, or Southsea; my impression is I sent it to the former - I have not got the letter in response to which I sent it."
"The cheque was paid through the Capital & Counties Bank, Southsea Branch, On August 18th, it was paid on that date by the National & Provincial". The cheque (exhibit 29 shown to the court) was for the sum of £5."
"This cheque (Exhibit 2 shown to the court), dated August 16th, signed 'A. F. London' for £150 is not signed by me, nor with my authority, or with my knowledge."
"It is on a piece of note paper, and is made payable to 'Mrs. Hooper' and endorsed 'Winifred Hooper' - I know nobody of that name - the signature resembles mine - this is a piece of tracing paper on which is 'A. F. London' - that is also how I sign my letters - I know nothing about the tracing paper."
"I received this letter dated September 8th from Holloway prison, purporting to come from Mrs. Hughes."
Continuing under cross-examination the Bishop said;
"I got that letter by post from the prison and I sent it to my solicitor she asked for £5 first to send her son to the seaside."
"I have helped her and her family before, and have sent other cheques."
"I sent this cheque, dated May 10th for £5, (Exhibit shown to the court) to her daughter to the same address at Shepherd's Bush - I sent this cheque (Exhibit 16 shown), dated June 1st for £1, to her son, R. C. Hughes."
"I sent this cheque (Exhibit 18 shown to the court), dated June 28th for £10, to Mrs. Hughes - each cheque would probably be accompanied by a note from my secretary or myself."
"I must have written myself with the cheque of August 13th; it was a Sunday - I did not post it myself; I gave the letters to be posted with others - no doubt it went on Sunday evening - I have no recollection of getting an acknowledgment."
"I was travelling about - I have seen Mrs. Hughes' husband, and I saw her son once before. I helped him first by giving him his fees at Kings' - her husband was a clergyman in my diocese, but he has not any cure now - I do not remember ever seeing Miss, Hughes; I may have."
We can see from the transcript that the Bishop was a philanthropic character, with a record of sending money in the form of a cheque to people who requested financial assistance. The defendants clearly seized upon the opportunity to forge a paper with the signature of the Bishop for a more sizeable sum, an amount which would at today's rate be around £11,500. They were probably too ambitious and new little of the habits of the Bishop, whether for example he was a careful individual and always managed his accounts regularly.
The other defendant in the case, Mabel Hughes, sought to distance herself from Welling and Willing by stating in her defence that she had reason to believe Welling had extracted the letters from her bag at some point and copied the cheques sent to her to obtain the signatures. The inference being that she was innocent of any wrongdoing. She also took the chance to deny implication in other facts which were produced in court and concluded her statement with the sentence:
"... at no time had she been charged with forgery in Colonel Gascoigne's case."
There we have it, all three defendants were found guilty and received the following sentences:
CHARLES HENRY WELLING - Seven years' penal servitude.
MAUD WILLING - Five years' penal servitude.
MABEL CLARA HUGHES - Three years' penal servitude.
Another flavour of the court room, but admittedly perhaps 10 or so years later is this image by S Van Abbé a noted etcher and illustrator [1883-1955, Details on Wikipedia here.] This picture is from an old print which was found in the West Wing of Parlington some years ago! Described as an original Dry Point, titled:
However the intrepid 'Charlie' Arrow was far from satisfied, he continued his investigations into the bigger crime of Forgery against Colonel Gascoigne and was successful in seeing his evidence used by the prosecution in the case brought before the Old Bailey on the morning of Monday 21st May 1906. Welling from his prison cell had of course attempted to mitigate his position by admitting other offences and on November 7th 1905, he made a statement in the presence of Arrow, regarding the forgery of Col Gascoigne's signature, in this statement he implicated Fane and Peach.
Willing stated that he had known of a Colonel F. C. T. Gascoigne of The Hall, Parlington, Aberford, having been told of the gentleman by a lady friend. He had made a request to the colonel for money and had been sent a cheque for 30 shillings drawn on Beckett's Bank, Leeds in April 1903, he had cashed the cheque immediately. Further Willing had spoken to Peach and continued his statement as follows:
Welling (Or alias Willing) Transcript
"I had had a conversation with Peach in January, 1905, about Colonel Gascoigne."
"I told him he was a man of wealth, and if we could only get his signature it would be all right and Peach wrote to the Colonel."
"I saw the answer, from some place in Italy, on the Riviera, asking for a reference."
"I think it was signed by his private secretary."
"I told Fane of the Colonel about May 1 or 2, 1905, and explained the difficulty of getting a cheque from him."
"I told him he was a man of great wealth."
"He said he had heard of him; so we went into the Drayton Arms and had a drink, and, after further conversation, he said,
"How about if I wrote him a letter asking for a subscription towards a soldier servant of mine, of my old regiment, the Rifle Brigade, who has fallen on evil times?"
"I said, That might fetch him."
"He wrote a draft copy, which, as far as I can remember, was:
'Dear Sir, - Pardon the liberty I am taking, but I am getting up a subscription for an old soldier servant of mine of my old regiment, the Rifle Brigade, who has fallen on evil times, and should be thankful if you could send me a trifle."
"He said, 'The less said the better.'
"He said he would write it from he Naval and Military Club, and would also write it to somebody else."
"I do not think the soldier servant existed - he mentioned no name."
"I first mentioned Peach to Fane in April about some other business."
"I told him I knew a man who had a man behind him who was a very clever forger."
"I had previously called at the Eccentric Club on Captain Fane about April 12 or 14, he had just returned from Madeira."
"We went into the Cafe Monico and had a drink, and told him about Peach and his forger."
"He said, Well, that is good."
"I told him of two other successful forgeries, and we met the next day, when he gave me some documents and on April 26 we cut up the proceeds of a forgery we had just carried out. He gave me £75, and he had £25."
"When I met him again eight or nine days after he said he had not had an answer from the Colonel, and he would write him again."
"On May 15 Peach and I, at four o'clock met Fane at the Drayton Arms, (and gave him) some money out of another forgery that had just been done. Fane had £10 for the use of a club form to effect it, otherwise he had nothing to do with that. The cheque is for £163. He said he had not heard from Colonel Gascoigne, but 24 or 48 hours after I had a telegram to, meet him, and he handed me a cheque (exhibit 18 shown to the court) and a letter. The cheque is dated, May 12, 1905, drawn on Drummond's, payable to Colonel Fane or order" for £2 2s., and signed 'F. C. T. Gascoigne'. The letter apologised for the delay; but his letter had been mislaid."
"Fane said, 'I have got a couple of forms for you,' alluding to the cheque forms."
"I telegraphed to Peach to meet me at Barnes."
"He gave me the cheque, letter, and forms."
"He said, 'If any trouble should come about this forgery we can easily concoct - or "dig up" I think his expression was - the soldier servant, and get a man to write me a letter in an illiterate hand from a lodging-house to acknowledge the receipt of the money." These are the cheque forms he brought first, crossed 'Holt and Co., Naval and Military Club, not negotiable.'
"I told him the Colonel banked at Beckett's, Leeds, and it was arranged to do it for a large amount. He said, 'The larger the better,' and suggested some £2,000 or £3,000 for each of the two cheques."
"I said it was too large, and asked, 'Who is going to pull the chestnuts out of the fire?' and suggested a sum just under £1,000 for each. We agreed on £900 on each banking account at Beckett's and Drummond's."
"I took the specimen cheque and letter to Peach that night."
"I told him we were going to forge two cheques for large amounts from the specimens. Peach was to forge them or get them forged. Peach came to me at Barnes, and I gave him the specimen cheque, the forms, and the letter."
"I said, 'Let me have the £2 2s. cheque back as soon as you can.'
"I told him we had arranged £900 for each cheque and suggested they should be cashed simultaneously in Leeds and London and that Maud should go down and cash the Leeds one and I would cash the London one."
"Those forms were open. Fane said, 'I must go to Switzerland, but as soon as you get the money wire me and come over to Schoenek, near Lucerne, and I will cash the notes for you.'
"Peach gave me back the £2 2s. cheque, I think, on May 19 or 20."
"He said, 'It is all right. My man has taken a tracing of it and has got all he wants,' and I returned the cheque to Fane and told him Peach had done all that was necessary."
"I saw him the next day and asked him if he had cashed the cheque."
"He said, 'Yes, at the Naval and Military,' and said to the steward, 'They have given me brevet rank,' referring to the cheque being drawn, 'Colonel Fane.'
"He went away on May 24."
"He gave me his dog, 'Smut,' to take care of."
"I explained the matter was out of my hands - that I was hurrying Peach on all I could and I would wire him as soon as I could."
"I wired him, 'Will be with you on Tuesday.'"
"He went to Switzerland, I think, for his health with a friend."
"Peach promised to bring over the two forged cheques on Sunday night. That is why I promised to be with Fane on Tuesday, and they were to be cashed on Monday, but he did not turn up with them till Monday, 29th, filled up, as they now are, both on forms of the Naval and Military Club."
"Maud was with us. I said, 'You two go down to Leeds, I know how to do it. About 11 o'clock send the hotel porter to buy something and let Peach follow the man. and see that he follows him properly.'
"I will stop in London and cash the other."
"They went to Leeds with the other £900 cheque. The next morning I went up to town and went to Pound's, in Regent Street, and bought a portmanteau. I said, 'I have not got any money in my pocket - give me a bill and I will send somebody to pay for it and you can receipt the bill.' I took the bill away. I think the bag was £10 10s. I then went to the Langham Hotel and wrote a note in the smoking-room on the hotel paper: 'Dear Sir, - Please hand bearer in exchange for enclosed cheque 16 £50 notes, five £10 notes, five £5 notes, and the remainder in gold." - (Signed) "P. F. Tate." That is the name of the payee on the cheque.'
"It is addressed to the cashier, Messrs. Drummond and Co. I told the coffee-room waiter to get me a messenger-boy and I gave him the note with the cheque and Pound's bill and told him to go to the bank. That is the boy. [Hinton stood forward. ]
"I went and had some refreshment and the boy was shadowed by a friend while he went to the bank and to Pound's. My friend then came to me and said, 'It's all right: It's a bigger bag than the boy himself.' The idea of the bag was to satisfy me that the money had been got, otherwise the boy would not have the bag I then got into a cab and went to Farringdon Station, where I told the boy to meet me. This is the portmanteau [produced to the court]. I did not want anything that the boy could put in his pocket. I found the boy behind the bag. He handed me an envelope containing £889 10s. being £900 less the price of the bag. I think I gave him 2s. 6d. or 5s. for himself."
"This is the ticket I signed. I put the portmanteau in the cloak-room and never took it out."
"I returned to Barnes and saw Peach and Maud, Peach was in a great state of mind. He said he had had a terrible disaster - that Maud had sent the man off - that they had been followed and he was 25 minutes in Beckett's Bank - that he then went to the shop to fetch the parcel that had been ordered, and he came away without it - Peach, thinking he had not got the money ran away and left the man walking about with £900 - that they left their luggage behind them at the station."
"My wife blamed Peach and said it was his cowardice and that he made her nervous."
"I said. 'Mine is all right - I have got mine.' That made a great difference in my plans, because if the cheque had been cashed I should probably have gone to Schoenek with the money, but I thought that, if there should be an exposure in Leeds there would be probably an exposure in London, so I sold a portion of the notes for gold at 85 per cent, on Derby Day morning, and I think it was completed the next day. I remember now that £350 in notes of the money from Drummond's I did not discount. I gave those to Peach, and said, 'This is for your friend, the forger. Let him change his own money', or 'the Hermit,' whatever I called him."
"I gave Peach £10 on Derby night, and told him to come next day and I would settle up."
"On Wednesday morning I went into the London City and Midland Bank in Barnes, and opened an account with £100 in gold and notes, and sent Fane £75 by registered letter."
"I had before received this telegram from Fane: 'Not kept promise - conclude my business not done, so must return immediately'.
"I wired him: 'Have sold one house.' That is written by Peach on a post-office form and sent from town."
"I also wrote a few lines in cypher used by Peach. This document was taken by the police when I was arrested at Worthing."
"That is the cypher."
"It conveyed to Fane that one cheque had been cashed at Drummond's, but that we had a disaster at Leeds owing to Peach, and that I would write again and let him have the balance, a third."
"On June 2 I received this telegram from Fane just before we were going to the Oaks: 'Letter not received; wire explanation and remit, or must return'."
'Take care.' I wired back, 'Sent registered letter Wednesday, addressed as above. Will inquire.'"
"That evening I received another telegram: 'Received. Writing.' These telegrams, addressed 'In running,' are in Fane's writing. I got 2,000 francs in French paper money from a friend staying with us in exchange for gold, and sent it to Fane on June 8, and told him not to send more letters or wires to my house from Schoenek, as it was not advisable, but to write to me in cypher addressed to Mrs. Collins, a newspaper shop in Hammersmith Road."
"I afterwards sent him a cutting from the 'Morning Post' of the death of Colonel Gascoigne. Maud called for letters at Mrs. Collins's."
"I answered them in cypher. They were destroyed or taken by the police. I met Fane in July on his return, and told him what occurred at Leeds, and how the money had been left behind. He was very angry and swore, and said he wished he had stayed in London, and would not have Peach in these things any more, and would try and get into direct communication with the forger himself."
"I said, 'He keeps him very close. I can't get at him. He has been always coming to see us, but has never been yet.'
"This cheque for £8, dated July 25, was found on Fane when arrested. It was signed in blank by me and filled in by my wife to give to Fane, and is on the London City and Midland Bank. We were all hard up, and he said, 'If I can't get any money I will cash the cheque at the club.' He knew there was nothing at the bank to meet it. He afterwards sent my wife £5 by telegram. It was cashed for Maud and me to go to Ireland, which we did on July 26, and cashed a cheque there for £350. It is drawn on plain paper and purports to be signed by Robert Hodgson. We arrived at eight a.m., left for Belfast at three p.m., and left Belfast at eight. Peach was to have a share in that, but did not get it."
"In August Maud, Sybil Willing, and I went to Worthing. We got this letter from Peach, 'I managed to get £9 advanced on one of the club forms in your name, post-dated August 11, so you had better write to City and Midland stopping same in case I don't raise the ready by then.' The club forms I had obtained from Fane. 'Shall do my best to get as much as I can for Kemp. Can't lose him for £50, but you need not meet cheques. I have two more which I may as well use, as I don't altogether intend getting 18 months for nothing. If I don't get the cash to repay by Friday, August 12, you will know I was obliged to hook it. Sorry to put you to inconvenience, but I don't see why I should lose my man without an effort. Going to Goodwood to-morrow,' etc."
"We received this letter, which I think is in Fane's writing, postmark, 'Paris, August 19, headed Eccentric Club, addressed to Mrs. Willing, My address from to-night, Fulbrook, Worcester Park, Surrey.'
"We also received this in Fane's writing: 'Fulbrook, Worcester Park. - This is my address. Arrived here yesterday. - Yours, F.'
"Also this: August 24. 'Dear Mrs. Willing, - Sorry you have been so bad. The American dentist companies are the best people. Now business. If the results are to go to Paris, or elsewhere abroad, and if I am to take them I must be in town the day before and see you and C. [Willing] and arrange things. When in town I shall put up at the club. No mess must be made this time. Hope Smut is well. - Yours truly, F. P.S. - Not a moment must be lost in getting over there. Four trains daily to Paris.'
"That was received shortly before my arrest, on August 30. It has nothing to do with these cheques, but with another cheque we had arranged to do under £1,000."
Thus ended the statement of Edward Willing, a damning indictment which was to bring Fane and Peach a guilty verdict, however looking beyond the simple facts presented to the court, there are one or two pointers which may allow me to draw a startling conclusion. Before considering this proposition here is the testimony of witnesses from Leeds, concerned with the Becketts Bank forgery.
Witness: John Grudge, hall porter, Great Northern Hotel, Leeds.
"On May 30 I saw two persons named Mabel Cox and Arthur Dean at the hotel, whom I identify as the prisoner Peach and Maud Willing. The lady left the hotel in the morning with her baggage, and later came back without it. She spoke to me and I sent for George Neill, the baggage porter, and she sent him with a letter. The lady followed five minutes afterwards. The porter returned with money, and from what he said I thought there was something wrong. Inspector Hanley afterwards showed me several photographs from which I picked out one of a man whom I recognised as the prisoner Peach."
Cross-examined by Mr. Thorne.
"I see hundreds of people at the hotel in a month. Inspector Hanley showed me several photos which I did not identify. He then brought me photos of three men and two females. The man I recognised had no beard."
"The next morning I learnt they had been trying to cash a forged cheque; that helped to fix it in my memory."
Witness: George Neill , porter, Great Northern Railway Hotel, Leeds.
"On May 30 the person whom I now know as Maud Willing gave me a letter and told me to take a cab, go to Beckett's Bank, and I should there get a letter with some money, and also £20 in gold, and then to a dressmaker in Briggate to get a dress, then take it with the money to the Midland station. I went to the bank, received the money, and on reaching the dressmakers found the dress was not ready. I then went to the station but did not see the lady, so returned to the hotel with the money and handed it to the hall porter. I had paid for the dress but had not got it."
Witness: Edith Cobb , 47, Briggate, Leeds, ladies tailor.
"On the morning of May 30 a Mrs. Cox, of the Great Northern Hotel, came to my shop and selected some costumes amounting to £10 12s. One had to be altered and she arranged to send and pay for and take away the goods. Porter Neill came, paid the account, and I promised to send the costumes to the hotel, which I did."
Witness: William Wilson Brigham , cashier, Beckett's Bank, Leeds.
"On May 30 I cashed cheque produced for £900 purporting to be signed by Colonel Gascoigne, and payable to Mrs. M. Cox. It was presented by a porter from the Great Northern Hotel, with a letter stating the notes and gold required. The next day the assistant manager of the hotel brought back the money and also the costumes. I then communicated with Colonel Gascoigne, and found the cheque was a forgery. I then lodged an information, and a warrant was granted against Mabel Cox."
Returning to my conclusion; both cheques were presented and paid, that is £1,800 (around £180,000 today). Only on the day following the withdrawal from the bank in Leeds was £900 returned as explained in the preceding paragraph above. After this return in the words of the witness William Wilson Brigham, cashier, Beckett's Bank, Leeds; he "... communicated with Colonel Gascoigne", probably by telegram, given the period. So from the local Aberford Post Office a runner would have been despatched with great haste to the Hall, for the immediate attention of Colonel Gascoigne. Consider the scene, an old gentleman in his ninety second year is addressed by his butler, with a sealed note, clearly urgent. The young runner no doubt having been told to wait until a decision was made over any reply to be returned to the Post Office.
Good God! cried the Colonel, "I have been defrauded of a small fortune, ...but wait, thankfully it has been returned to my bank - £900 it says here." No doubt some days later the old Colonel would have received a second shock when Drummonds Bank in London sent him notification that they had paid out £900, and that he was the victim, without recompense presumably.
Colonel Gascoigne died on the twelfth of June 12 days later, that is if the communication was sent on the 31st May 1905, at the time it was said he had died after a short illness. He had earlier in the year been in Italy and was thought in good health, despite his advanced years, so it is highly likely that this trauma would have greatly contributed to his death.
Fact is often stranger than Fiction!
The events recorded here are based on the trial transcripts from the Old Bailey, and they are true, no fiction was necessary to bolster the story!
Thanks to Lee Toone for bringing the Old Bailey information to my attention last year.
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