7 September 2018
‘Prisoner admitted to him that he went to those places to commit felonies, but unless he (the Inspector) took him there and showed him the houses, he could not say whether he had committed the offences (laughter). Inspector Hoyle said the prisoner, when charged with this offence, said “Tell me where the house is?” Witness described it and the prisoner replied “Oh yes! I remember it. I shall plead guilty.” Prisoner applied to have the newspapers and a shave while he was awaiting trial. “Appearances,” he added “go a long way in these matters.” (Western Times, 1915)
Arthur Mason was wanted by Exeter Police for several cases of housebreaking and robbery
‘During the past 18 months there have been several cases of housebreaking in the City and in November last a finger print was left on a box at one of the houses entered. It was discovered that the fingerprint was that of a travelling thief named Arthur Mason. I circulated informations bearing his photograph, offering £5 reward for information leading to his arrest.’
So wrote Arthur Nicholson, Chief Constable of Exeter City Police in June of 1915, in a quarterly report to the Watch Committee. The Police Gazette goes on to describe Arthur Mason as ‘thickly built’ and ‘powerful’ before outlining his method of operation;
‘A persistent afternoon housebreaker who “works” alone: ascertained by observation or by knocking at the front doors that good class houses were left temporarily unattended, effected entry by bodily forcing the front doors; stole money, jewellery, clothing etc., and in some cases forced the gas meters and stole the contents.’
After committing several robberies around central Exeter, Mason was eventually identified by his fingerprints; left on a box at a crime scene, they were sent to the Finger Print Department at Scotland Yard where they were confirmed as belonging to Arthur Mason. He was recognised and apprehended on 8th November 1915 by Detective Sergeant Hill and the local newspaper reports of his hearings and trial make for an interesting and amusing read.
Born around 1869 in Birmingham, Arthur repeatedly gave his occupation as ‘baker’, despite spending much of his life in prisons around the country. Operating under several aliases including George Webb, George Felt or Arthur Mills, he was an itinerant thief who reportedly had ‘no objection to being detained in custody’. He was sentenced to twenty-one months imprisonment with hard labour for his Exeter robberies. The last record we can ascribe definitely to him is his intended release from prison in May of 1933, where he was imprisoned for fifteen months on another housebreaking charge. Now aged in his sixties, it would seem that he truly did live a life of crime.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 1915. Housebreaking: Charge at Exeter. 11th October. P.3C. Available from: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000511/19151011/006/0003 [Accessed 02/11/2017]
Western Times, 1915. Twenty-One Months for Housebreaking. 30th October. P. 2C. Available from: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000265/19151030/004/0002 [Accessed 02/11/2017]
Western Times, 1915. Expert at Exeter: Captured for Housebreaking Exploits: Fingerprints. 16th October. P.3B. Available from: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000265/19151016/020/0003 [Accessed on 02/11/2017]
National Archvies https://search.findmypast.co.uk/record?id=tna%2fccc%2fmepo6%2f045%2f00136&parentid=tna%2fccc%2f2b%2fmepo6%2f00781806
Police Gazette, 1918. 170: Arthur Mason aliases George Webb, George Felt, and Arthur Mills. 17th May. P.6. Available from: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000209/19180517/030/0006 [Accessed on 07/12/2017]