Adam Worth was a German-born English criminal who was nicknamed "The Napoleon of Crime" by Scotland Yard due to his short stature. He is known for organizing several criminal operations across the world, particularly in Europe and the U.S.
Worth's family moved from Germany to the United States when he was five, where he eventually joined the Union during the American Civil War. Although he was only 17 years old, he lied about his age and was recruited. Within two months, he was promoted to Sergeant. After being wounded and assumed KIA, Worth deserted the war.
Early Criminal Career
Worth became a bounty jumper, but when this practice began being tracked by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, he fled to New York City. Here, he began forming a small but organized criminal network, starting as pickpockets before expanding his operations into robberies and heists. During one of these, he was caught stealing a cash box from a wagon, and was sent to Sing Sing prison. However, he managed to escape and became a partner with fellow criminal Frederika Mandelbaum. He would assist her in bank robberies and breaking Charley Bullard out of jail via a tunnel.
Bullard and Worth robbed another bank together by tunneling from a next door building, but both fled to Europe after the Pinkertons managed to track the loot.
Both Bullard and Worth used an alias upon arriving in Liverpool, and Bullard married a barmaid. During Bullard's honeymoon, Worth robbed pawnshops and shared the money with Bullard and his wife. Together, they moved to Paris, where they started an illegal gambling ring. Taking advantage of the Paris Commune's effects on the Paris Police, they managed to keep the business until the arrival of detective William Pinkerton, the new president of the Pinkerton Detectives. After several police raids, Worth abandoned his gambling business and fled to London.
Adam Worth and his remaining associates became master criminals in London, organizing major robberies through many intermediaries. Few who joined his operations even knew his name. To maximize efficiency and to prevent drawing attention to his criminal activity, Worth insistantly discouraged use of violence in his operations. Although Scotland Yard eventually learned of Worth's new crime network, they were unable to prove anything at first.
After stealing a recently reacquired painting of Georgiana Cavendish, Worth kept the painting, dismissing two associates' advisement that he sell it. One associate, Junka Phillips, tried to persuade Worth to discuss the theft with a police informer, and was subsequently fired. The other, "Little Joe," returned to the United States, and was caught during a robbery. Although the Pinkertons got a testimony from Little Joe, and informed Scotland Yard of this, they still had inadequate proof of Worth's involvement.
Worth kept the stolen painting even after this, and expanded his operation to the then British Colony of South Africa. Here, he stole $500,000 worth of uncut diamonds. Still using an alias, Worth got married and had two children before smuggling the stolen painting into the United States.
During a trip to Belgium, Worth was caught during a robbery and arrested on the spot. Refusing to identify himself to the Belgian investigators, Scotland Yard and The New York Police Department were brought in, and both police organizations identified him as Adam Worth. A rival boss, Max Shinburn, who had recruited Adam's former associate Charley Bullard, told investigators everything he knew. Worth was eventually convicted in an 1893 trial and sent to Leuven prison.
Worth was released early in 1897 for good behavior. He died of natural causes in 1902
Worth is remembered as a notorious criminal mastermind, and was heavy inspiration for Sherlock Holmes' fictional nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. His exploits were a heavy influence in modern organized crime, which would bring forth some of recent history's most wanted men.