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Title: The Hatton Garden Crime
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202421h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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The Hatton Garden Crime
by
Arthur Gask



Published in The Mail, Adelaide, S.A., Saturday 17 March, 1945.


For many years Reuben Leyden had been one of the best-known diamond dealers in Hatton Garden and it was said that, almost fabulous sums of money had at times, in the course of a few minutes, changed hands in his modest suite of rooms. Of a shrewd and intellectual countenance, he was a rather frail-looking small man of slight physique. He had a peculiar melodious voice, with just the trace of Dutch accent in his speech. His office staff consisted of three girl clerks and a burly pugilistic attendant. This latter was always well within call.

One morning two new clients called at Leyden's place of business. Both men were about middle age.

One was tall and aristocratic looking, smartly, and even foppishly dressed, and sporting a large monocle. The other, of much heavier build, was well-dressed, too, his right arm, however, with the hand swathed in a thick bandage, was carried in a sling.

"I want to see Mr. Leyden," drawled the tall man to the pugilistic attendant who had come forward. "I'm Sir Francis Bessington," and he handed over his visiting card. The attendant looked questioningly at the second man. "Major von Swartz," snapped the latter in gutteral tones. "We are friends."

The card was taken into the inner office, and, a few seconds later, the two visitors were ushered into Reuben Leyden, who was seated behind a big table desk. The attendant followed them, and, after pushing to the door, but not closing it, seated himself down at a small desk in a corner of the room, and began busying himself with some papers. He had an automatic pistol in his pocket. Leyden never took any chances with strangers.

Acknowledging the dealer's good morning with a curt nod, Sir Francis produced a fair-sized diamond from some cotton-wool in a small box and handed it across the desk.

"I want to know what you'll match this stone for," he said.

Leyden motioned them both to chairs, and proceeded to examine the diamond under a powerful magnifying glass. "It is a goot stone," he remarked presently, "quite a goot stone."

"Of course it is," snapped the men with the bandaged hand, "and I know something about diamonds, as I lived in Johannesburg for a couple of years." He added rudely, "I've come here with my friend to make sure he pays no extortionate price."

Leyden smiled. "No one pays me an extortionate price," he said gently. "I'm quite a fair dealer," and pulling a glass case containing some fine scales before him, he proceeded to weigh the diamond carefully. "Yes, I can match it," he said, and rising from his chair, he passed out of sight into a small inner room leading out of his office.

Returning very quickly with a small cardboard box in his hand, from some tissue paper he spilled about a dozen glittering stones on to a small square of black velvet, which he had taken from a drawer in the desk. After some consideration, he picked out one and placed it side by side with the one Sir Francis had brought with him. "It will cost you £110," he said. "As I told you, yours is a goot stone, but mine is even a little better."

"Too much," snapped the German. "You must take off £20." He turned to Sir Francis and spoke rapidly in his own tongue. "The price is quite reasonable, but we must beat him down. I'll do all the arguing because you are always such a fool in making a bargain."

"Ja, ja," nodded Sir Francis.

He could not have continued the conversation further in German as 'Ja' and 'Nein' were the only words he knew.

Von Swartz turned back to the dealer. "Yes, we offer you £90."

The dealer shook his head. "But I cannot sell at that price. You are getting goot value at £110, the best of values."

"Let's have your magnifying glass," said the German. "It's a bit awkward for me with this poisoned hand." He examined the stone carefully, and then asked, "Been all your life in diamonds, I suppose?"

"All my life," nodded the dealer. "And my family, for four generations, have been all cutters or dealers." He spoke proudly. "It was my father who cut the great Cullinan diamond for His Majesty King Edward VII. He was more than two years on the work."

Von Swartz looked more amiable, and finally it was agreed to pay the sum asked.

The two then took their leave, with the intimation that they might be returning in a day or two for some more stones, as Sr Francis was intending to make up a necklace. The attendant was asked to call a taxi, and given half a crown as a tip.

Driving away, the German, speaking now in much less gutteral tones, asked rather anxiously. "Well, do you think you can do it, Matt?"

"Sure, after a little practice at home," grinned the other, and he added in a good imitation of the dealer's voice, "It is a goot stone, and I cannot sell for less." He laughed. "But do you think he understood what you said in German?"

"Of course he did," replied von Swartz. "I tell you I know for certain he lived for some time in Stuttgart and that his wife's a German."

He nodded. "What I said then would convince him we were just ordinary buyers."

The following day the two returned again, and with the attendant a witness of the transaction, bought another diamond, this time paying £130 for a slightly bigger one.

They seemed much more friendly now, and as if they no longer thought they were going to be cheated. "And some time within the next month or so," drawled the man who was passing himself off as Sir Francis Bessington, "I may be bringing you the necklace for which I am wanting these new stones." He sighed heavily. "The ladies are deuced expensive, particularly the extra pretty ones."

Out in the street again, the man who had called himself von Swartz said confidently, "Now, next time I shall be very surprised if the old devil keeps that ugly brute of an attendant in the room. Jews are naturally secretive, and he won't like the man seeing too much of what business he is doing and guessing at the big profits he must be making."

He shook his head vexatiously. "Still, until he is cleared out we can't do a thing."

Two days later they were back in the dealer's office, and they cursed deeply when the attendant prepared to take up his accustomed seat. However, Leyden made a slight adjustment to the position of the ink well upon his desk, and, that being an arranged signal, to the great relief of the two visitors, the man at once proceeded to leave the room. Still, he only pulled the door to and did not quite close it.

Very soon quite a good assortment of diamonds were spread out upon the dealer's little square of black velvet, and he was pointing out their beauty and value. The German had moved up closer to the desk table to get a better view.

Then, suddenly, von Swartz's injured hand slipped from its bandage and, quick as the strike of a snake, had shot out over the desk and gripped the dealer fiercely by the throat. The latter had not had the very fraction of a second's warning, and he uttered no cry and made no sound as the German threw himself over the desk and lifted him bodily out of his chair. The strange thing, however, was that it seemed the dealer was still talking, and even in slightly louder tones than before.

"But they are goot stones," came his melodious voice, "and the best that money can buy."

With the Jew black in the face, and now quite unconscious, von Swartz laid him noiselessly upon the floor and, slipping on a pair of gloves, darted into the little inner room where the precious stones were always kept.

"But you must really knock off £100, Mr. Leyden," came the slow, drawling voice of Sir Francis, "and then we'll call it a deal." And the voice of the dealer answered back that he could not possibly reduce his price.

Then for some minutes an imaginary conversation was carried on, with the rumble of the voices clearly audible in the adjoining room.

The dual speaker had nerves of steel, and his voice never trembled, but for all that, his face had blanched a horrid sickly colour, and his forehead was pricked out in little beads of sweat. Success or failure was now balanced on the razor's edge, and everything depended upon what happened in the next few minutes.

There—uncovered for all to see—was the dreadful face of the throttled dealer, while a bare 10 yards away, and with an unclosed door between sat the all unconscious office staff.

Another caller arriving to see the dealer, a message for him on the phone, and dammit! It would mean death on the scaffold for them both! That fool, Bert, had such a heavy hand, and it was any odds the Jew was dead!

The German reappeared at last, patting his pockets significantly, and his voice was now heard in the brief conversation which ensued.

It seemed a bargain was quickly struck and the money passed over. Leyden was heard bidding his customers good-bye, and von Swartz came smilingly into the outer office. Sir Francis, however, lingered for half a minute or so at the open door of the dealer's room, laughingly chiding Leyden for having extorted so much good money for a few paltry stones.

Then came the critical moment as Sir Francis pulled to Leyden's door, and the two companions prepared to leave the building. As once before, the attendant was asked to call a taxi, and it happened a disengaged one was found close by. Another half-crown tip was passed over, and the attendant stood on the pavement watching them drive away.

A quarter of an hour passed, and then one of the girls went in to her employer to inquire if she could now go out for her lunch. What she saw when she entered the room, however, quite took away all desire for food.

* * * *

One morning some three weeks later the Chief Commissioner of Police was talking to one of the head detective-inspectors of Scotland Yard.

The latter seemed in a very despondent mood. "And as far as I can see, sir," he said, "there seems little hope now of picking up any clue. Beyond that the murderers must have been in close touch with Sir Francis Bessington, as evidenced by their making use of one of his stolen visiting cards the very morning after he had left Southampton for the United States we have found out practically nothing. We have uncovered no trace of any foreigner he knew whose description would answer to that of the supposed Major von Swartz, and the identity of the other killer is equally as unknown. Yes, we are completely at a dead end."

"It's unfortunate," sighed the Commissioner, "as the newspapers are so very vicious and clamouring for our blood."

Now it happened that at that very moment when this disconsolate conversion was taking place at Scotland Yard two men had just arrived at Euston to catch the Scotch express. They had booked for Glasgow and looked just ordinary men, tourists it might have been, off upon a holiday. One was tall and slim, and the other of much stouter build.

Just from force of habit, perhaps, they glanced round quickly, as they entered a first-class carriage.

No one appeared to be interested in them, and no one, apparently, gave them a second thought.

Taking two corner seats opposite each other by the window, it seemed they were going to have the compartment to themselves, but a minute or two before the train started an elderly and rather distinguished-looking old gentleman with white hair entered hurriedly and took possession of a corner seat on the corridor side.

He was followed immediately by another man, obviously his servant and probably his butler, in ordinary clothes. This latter placed a small suitcase upon the rack, handed his master a small handbag and a rug, and mouthed rather than asked if he could do anything more.

The old gentleman shook his head and, taking a magazine out of his bag, at once proceeded to read. Whereupon his servant turned to the other two occupants of the carriage and said most respectfully:

"My master is stone deaf, gentlemen, and could not hear if a gun were fired off right under his ear. So, if anyone comes to see his ticket will you very kindly explain to the collector that he must nudge him to attract his attention."

The two men said smilingly that they would.

The train started upon its long journey without anyone else coming into the carriage and the two companions, evidently in high spirits and thinking it a good joke, began to chip the deaf old gentleman.

They called him 'Old Snoozer,' and asked him where he'd left his best girl. Then they addressed him by names which were by no means polite, suggesting that his parentage, at any rate upon his mother's side, was a matter he would no doubt like to forget. They remarked, too, that he looked 'a hardened old whats-er-name,' and shook with merriment at their own wit.

Getting tired of their play at last, they left him alone and talked between themselves.

The old gentleman read on for some time, and then, probably for a change of occupation, put down his magazine and, taking a pad out of his bag, proceeded to write.

The whole time he never once lifted his eyes or took the very slightest notice of the two men. At Crewe the inspector came to examine the tickets, and it seemed that the old gentleman was not only deaf, but also very stupid, as for a long time he could not remember where he had put his ticket.

At last, however the inspector found it for him among the muddled-up papers in his bag. The old gentleman then handed over a tip with a pleasant word of thanks.

Later on more passengers entered the compartment, but nothing out of the ordinary happened until Carlisle was reached, and then, before even the train had been brought to a standstill, a police inspector had swung himself on board and, followed by three men in plainclothes, had hurried along the corridor straight to the compartment containing the old gentleman.

Taking no notice of him, however, he pushed his way in straight up to the two men who had also come on the train at Euston. "I want a word with you two gentlemen," he said sharply, "so will you please come to the stationmaster's office with me at once."

The men gasped in consternation, and then the right hand of the shorter of them darted back to his hip-pocket, but the inspector threw himself upon him and jerked out the hand again which was now seen to be clutching to an automatic. A fierce but brief struggle ensued before the man was secured and carried out.

His companion, as white as death, gave no trouble, and was taken out, too. It was all over very quickly, and, in a few minutes the journey northwards was resumed in the usual way.

The evening of the following day the Chief Commissioner of Police left Scotland Yard in an obviously most cheerful frame of mind.

"Yes, my dear," he said to his wife after dinner, "of course it was a most wonderful piece of luck."

"Though all the credit of their arrests will come to us, every bit of it belongs to old Lord Barnstable."

"But what on earth had it to do with him?" asked his wife.

"Everything," laughed the Commissioner, "for it was he who landed them high and dry into our net. It was like this:

"It appears that when upon a train journey the old boy has a perfect horror of being drawn into boring conversations with other travellers, and so, when his man had fixed him up in a seat he has orders to tell anyone else in the carriage that his master is stone deaf, and will they very kindly explain that to any ticket collector who comes round."

"This happened yesterday, when his lordship took his seat in the Scotch Express. His man told the tale to two men, the only other passengers in the carriage. Then when the train had started upon its journey, these men, as a vulgar sort of joke, began abusing his lordship and calling him all sorts of unpleasant names, quite sure, of course, that he wouldn't hear a word.

"Presently, the joke beginning to wear a bit thin, they took to discussing their own affairs, and his lordship pricked up his ears when they began talking about the Hatton Garden murder. In a few minutes he was quite certain the crime had been their work, and that they were then actually carrying the diamonds on them. They even mentioned the name of the fence in Glasgow they were taking them to."

"But how could they have been so stupid!" exclaimed his wife.

The Commissioner laughed. "We learnt later they had shared a large bottle of champagne at the refreshment buffet at Euston before getting on the train, and it was that, no doubt, which was making them so lively. At any rate, to go on with the story, his lordship stopped reading and started writing letters. He wrote three as a blind.

"Then when the ticket inspectors came round at the Crewe, His Lordship pretended to be very muddled and unable to find his ticket, and it ended in the inspector helping him to go through the bag.

"There—right on the top of some papers—the man saw an envelope addressed to the stationmaster at Crewe and marked in big letters, 'Urgent—very urgent. Deliver instantly.'

"Fortunately, in bending over the bag, the inspector had had his back turned to the two men at the other end of the carriage, and in consequence they did not see him pick up the envelope. Within five minutes the stationmaster was phoning us at the Yard. Lord Barnstable's word was good enough for us, and we got ready to arrest the men at Carlisle."

He chuckled. "And now, as His Lordship refuses to allow the part he played to become known, as I say, we shall get all the credit, and the public may never learn how we were helped."

"But who were the men?" asked his wife.

"One was a fourth-rate provincial actor, and the other whom we believe to have been the actual killer because of his strength, was the cloakroom attendant at the Ormonde, Sir Francis Bessington's favourite club."

The Commissioner frowned. "Ah, but for one little false step at that club we should have been right on the bullseye, and perhaps have uncovered the wretches ourselves.

"Our mistake there was that we looked for a German who would have known Sir Francis was going to America, instead of trying to find a man who SPOKE German. This cloakroom fellow had been a prisoner in Germany for nearly four years during the last war, and spoke the language almost like a native."

His face cleared. "Never mind, all's well that ends well, and I may even get a knighthood out of this, with any luck."


THE END

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