For Mystery Lovers: The Real Professor Moriarty, by Bruce Rosen


We have a real treat today for you mystery and history lovers: an exploration of one of the most famous fictional villains, Professor Moriarty.  He’s the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, and bad boy of stage and screen, most recently rendered in the film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

It’s particularly appropriate that Victorian scholar and retired professor Bruce Rosen is the one to out the real Professor Moriarty: one professor taking on another, so to speak.  Although retired, Dr. Rosen is an Honorary Research Associate in the School of History and Classics at the University of Tasmania, has multiple blogs, and travels extensively.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to post a portion of his post here.  Thank you!


The Real Professor Moriarty

Professor Moriarty
In January of 1902, a little less than a year after the death of Queen Victoria or, as she was properly titled and styled, “Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India,” Henry J. Raymond was buried in a mass paupers’ grave in Highgate Cemetery. Although buried as Raymond, his real name was Adam Worth, and just as Victoria sits in the background of so many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, so too, we find Adam Worth, better known to the world as Professor Moriarty.


There is some evidence to suggest that Doyle modelled his arch-villain on the German-American who, in the mid-1870s, moved to London where he set up a criminal network. True or not, there is no doubt that Sir Robert Anderson referred to Worth as “the Napoleon of the criminal world”.  Had this nickname come from the sensational press, it would, in all probability, be wise to discount it.  But Robert Anderson was, possibly, the most famous policeman of his day. Anderson was a spy-master and a chief of detectives at Scotland Yard, having been appointed, in 1888, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner in charge of the CID. Coming from him, the title “Napoleon of the criminal world” was no small accolade.

Adam Worth was born in Germany but raised in the United States.  He began his criminal career during the American Civil War when he became a “bounty jumper,” joining a New York regiment to gain the enlistment bounty of $1,000 offered before deserting and enlisting in another regiment.  According to Ben Macintyre, Worth’s biographer,  he developed the technique to new heights “by faking his own death at the second battle of Bull Run before re-enlisting under an assumed name.”

Adam Worth

Following the war, Worth turned to crime.  Here he was quite successful. The detective William Pinkerton described Worth in a posthumous pamphlet (Adam Worth, alias ‘Little Adam’, 1904)  “As in everything else that he undertook, he very rapidly went to the front among the crooks, starting first as a pickpocket, and later on associating with an expert gang of bank sneaks.”  Pinkerton went on to note that  “he became an active participant, and still later furnished not only the money but the brains and plans with which to do the work.” However, after breaking into a Boston bank from an ajoining shop and stealing cash and securities valued at around $200,000 from its safe, and with the Pinkerton in hot pursuit, he, and his partner,fled to England.

After several short interludes in Liverpool and Paris, Worth, having now adopted the name Henry J. Raymond, settled in London living in a lavish style which included running a string of racehorses and sailing in his steam yacht. According to Pinkerton, his home

became the meeting place of leading thieves of America and Europe. … the rendezvous for noted crooks all over the world, .. a clearing house or “receiver” for most of the big robberies perpetrated in Europe. In the latter 70’s, and all during the 80’s, one big robbery followed another; the fine “Italian hand” of Adam Worth could be traced, but not proven, to almost every one of them.

Sherlock Holmes, described Professor Moriarty in similar, albeit somewhat more fanciful, terms.  He was, for the great detective “the greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld…”

Worth’s greatest crime, and one which Holmes could hardly have failed to admire for its sheer audacity, was the theft of Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, which he painted in the mid-1780s. The portrait itself has a fascinating history, having disappeared for many years before surfacing in the 1830s in private hands.  After passing through several hands, it was purchased in 1876 for the then unheard of price of 10,000 guineas. The new owner, art dealer William Agnew put it on display in his gallery from where it was stolen by Worth and some of his henchmen on the night of Thursday, the 25th of May 1876.

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire


So why steal this particular painting?  What happened to it?  For the rest of the story, and what happened to Adam Worth (did Pinkerton ever catch him?), go to Bruce’s post at: Victorian History.  While you’re over there, show him some comment love!  Thanks again, Bruce, for a fascinating account.


Are you familiar with “the Napoleon of Crime”?  Who is your favorite fictional villain?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,



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7 thoughts on “For Mystery Lovers: The Real Professor Moriarty, by Bruce Rosen”

  1. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – Oh, now this is really interesting! Thanks for sharing it. Moriarty is of course one of the most famous villains in crime, and I can see why. Reading this gives me a whole new perspective on the character, too. It’s interesting to think about “the bad guys.” One wants them to be just as interesting as the “good guys” are, or the story isn’t nearly as good, in my opinion.

  2. Catie RhodesCatie Rhodes

    My husband is the Sherlock Holmes fan in our house. I saw the movie and liked it fine, but it didn’t inspire me to want to try (again) to read Sherlock Holmes mysteries. This post accomplished what the movie did not. I’ve dug out my husband’s volumes of Sherlock Holmes with the vow that I’m going to give them another day in Catie Court.

  3. Roger ScraffordRoger Scrafford

    It’s great to have access to the Pinkerton document. Many thanks. For those who can’t get enough of Adam Worth, the Ben Macintyre book ‘The Napoleon of Crime’ credits the Pinkerton book, makes great use of it, and offers even more information and illustrations.

  4. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    My favorite fictional villain is from James Patterson’s Alex Cross series – Kyle Craig. Ooo, he taunts Alex like no other…he was even an FBI agent before he was finally locked away. Do you read that series? Easy, fun reads.


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