When the Telegraph was really a crime-sheet

A shopkeeper named Frederick Gold, who lived near Brighton, travelled up to London once a week to collect his share of the shop’s takings. On 27 June 1881, he took his £38 and returned to Brighton via London Bridge station, with a man named Percy Lefroy buying one of the few other first-class tickets (all of the others were later found to be purchased by women). As the train passed Croydon, a passenger heard ‘four explosions’, and soon after, the residents of cottages fronting the railway saw two people struggling in one of the compartments.

When the train arrived at Brighton station a man named Percy Lefroy, dishevelled, with his collar ripped off, and ‘smothered with gore’, was stopped.

He claimed that as the train entered a tunnel, the two other people in his compartment had jumped him, and he had been knocked unconscious, remaining in that condition almost until the train reached Brighton. When asked why he had a watch-chain in his shoe, he said he had put it there for safekeeping. Nothing was known against him, and he was allowed to go.

That afternoon, however, a railway worker found the body of Mr Gold lying near the line, shot, and with knife wounds; a collar, not his, was found lying nearby, as was a hat and umbrella, which were his, and another hat, in a different size. And his watch was missing.

By the time all of this had been discovered, the only other first-class railway passenger, Lefroy, had vanished from his cousin’s in Croydon. The search for him intensified as it was discovered he had redeemed a pistol from the pawnshop that same day.

The Telegraph published his photograph, and a landladyin Stepney recognized him as her new lodger, who claimed to be an engineer from LIverpool. She notified the police, and Lefroy was arrested.

His trial told a very routine story: he was poor, he was planning to rob someone, and unforunately for him (and for Mr Gold), Gold put up a fight, and was killed. Lefroy was convicted, and in the short-term found fame in cartoons and comic songs. Greyhounds were named for him, as was ‘a black gelding, a good wheeler…a very fine goer’.

In the long run, however, Lefroy has come down to posterity as the first-ever criminal caught through the publication of a ‘wanted’ photograph.

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