The Bidwell Brothers
How "Local Boys" Bilked the Bank of England
If the Bidwell family’s candy business on Monroe Avenue during the days when Grand Rapids was little more than a village hadn’t failed. . .
If two of the Bidwell brothers hadn’t strayed from the straight and narrow path on which they were raised. . .
And if George Bidwell, oldest of the brothers, and two of his pals had been content with a $5 million cleanup in a gigantic forgery operation . . .
It is quite possible the quartet might have gotten away with one of the greatest frauds in history.
This in a nutshell is the fantastic story of the victimizing of the famed Bank of England through a conspiracy so bizarre its eventual discovery shocked the financial world and set the London Stock Exchange in a tizzy.
The plot was made possible because "The Old Lady in Threadneedle Street" believed its century-old precautions against such a crime were fool-proof and because the bank’s officials were amazingly lax in one major detail.
* * *
But let’s take a peep into the background of the Bidwell brothers.
Of English descent, their religious-minded parents were married in New York state, where George was born, in 1832. The family migrated to various cities, including Lanesville (Hudson) Mich., Buffalo, Adrian and Toledo. That stop was made in 1845. George, then 15, was called upon to support the family of six, his father being in failing health.
The lad set up a street stall selling "periodicals and apples, trashy novels and candy, lemonade and pocket knives, small beer and steel watch chains, etc."
George told his own story in a 560-page book he wrote after imprisonment in England for the crime against the Bank of England. He titled it ‘Forging His Chains" and took frequent occasion to warn all youth who might read it that "crime does not pay." A sample sermon: "To young men I proclaim - watch yourselves; prove worthy of a trust; be pure-minded; act with wisdom; be true to manhood; true to your heritage; faithful to honor and your country, thoroughly honest in every fibre of your being, and you will attain the true aim of your life - happiness."
His father’s career was a series of unsuccessful business ventures until 1849 when, as George relates it: "I had by this time picked up some knowledge of candy making and we heard there was a good opening for the business in Grand Rapids." The Bidwells had a horse and wagon and George and his Dad left Toledo for Grand Rapids in December of that year. As he described the trip; "The country was deeply covered with snow and the roads were but little traveled, and only by sleighs, the track being too narrow for our wagon. It was hard dragging for 150 miles."
"However, we arrived in Grand Rapids a day or two before Christmas, rented a small shop and by working day and night we made up a stock of sugar toys. We had brought with us a small stove and the moulds in which to cast the toys. On Christmas day we had sold quite a quantity, which left us with a profit of $30. quite a little fortune. Our next step was to sell the horse and wagon for $150.
"We then rented a larger store ( on the site of what later was Friedman’s Dry Goods Store) on Monroe Avenue near old Waterloo St. (Market Ave,)." In five years from their humble start, he continued, "we were doing a large business in confectionery, fancy goods and jewelry. The business devolved on me alone, my father deferring everything to me because of his belief in my superior judgment in business matters."
He write on: "All others with whom I came in contact seemed to place a like confidence in me, and I began to consider myself capable of conducting a much larger business enterprise. It may be that this conceit and overestimation of my abilities puffed me up considerably. It needed but a little imagination to picture to myself a near future in which I should become a rich merchant.
"Up to our arrival at Grand Rapids in 1849 every enterprise of my father’s had resulted disastrously. Now that I was at the helm, everything certainly prospered; home comforts increased; better educational advantages for the younger brothers and sisters were enjoyed.
"I was highly respected by those members of the community whose good opinion was worth having; all of whom had unbounded confidence in my integrity and business capacity. I was observant, anxious for improvement, quick to grasp at new ideas, and to take what was in them that might aid me to reach the El Dorado of which I had dreamed since when, in my ninth year, I began to sell applies and candy in a basket."
* * *
Bidwell was only 16 years old at the time about which he was writing, but he relates that he looked older and at 18 sported a beard and mustache. He and his father began to operate wagons to supply dealers within a radius of one hundred miles from Grand Rapids and thus began their downfall. The wear and tear of bad roads on horses and wagons was "appalling." Expenses mounted and it wasn’t long until he discovered that "our assets scarcely equaled our indebtedness."
Acting on what he says turned out to be bad advice, he made an assignment to his creditors. Legal and other expenses swallowed everything up, leaving him with a bill of $250 for unpaid fees.
"That bill," he wrote, "remains unpaid and the affairs has unquestionably affected my whole life. Ever afterwards when trying to get into business, I was haunted by the idea that some claim would be brought forward before I would be able to pay it. At the time of the assignment I had given up some valuable real estate, my own private property, also my gold watch and chain,, to pay firm debts . . . yet there are some persons who, doubtless, believe I acted dishonestly. I look back to this assignment as the direct starting point of all my misfortunes."
* * *
George Bidwell, then 21, left Grand Rapids for New York City in 1855 and in the years immediately following worked mostly for mercantile firms as salesman and collector. He avers he was "strictly temperate and not addicted to any of the vices so common in large cities," yet found the going rough trying to support himself and members of his family who were left nearly destitute in Grand Rapids.
After various, including a successful invention of a steam kettle but a disastrous attempt to start a factory in Toronto, Bidwell, in his journeying from one city to another, made the acquaintance in Baltimore of a suave individual named Frank Kibbe. The latter turned out to be a merchandise swindler. Almost before Bidwell realized the seriousness of the offense, he writes, he found himself an accomplice in Kibbe’s various illegal dealings. This, he says, was his first misstep and his first venturing into the realm of the dishonest. He devotes some space to salving his conscience:
"It is dishonest for a man to obtain goods on credit when he has a doubt of his ability to pay for them; and still worse if he purchases with no intention to pay. But the first is done every day by firms that are in a shaky condition, with the hope that they may tide over their difficulties. The second class is also a frequent occurrence, where firms know that they are going to fail and expect to make a settlement with their creditors, say twenty cents on the dollar. In regard to those loose merchants who deliver their goods to strangers without references, they deserve a lesson in ‘how to do business’ and the loss of a few hundred dollars is a fair price to pay for their schooling."
"Of course," he conceded in retrospect, "this was false reasoning on my part, but it shows how prone men are to argue in a way that makes the conclusion coincide with the desire."
Here Bidwell learned another lesson: there is no honor among thieves. Kibbe, the city slicker, rooked the former Grand Rapids boy out of $20,000 of his ill-earned cash and left him just where he started.
Bidwell later became associated with another individual in a get-rich-quick scheme that ended in his arrest at Evansville, Ind., on a warrant that returned him to a cell in Wheeling. There he did a stretch of several months in jail. He escaped after once setting the structure afire in a fit of pique over punishment meted out for disobedience of the institution’s rules.
Bidwell gained his first insight into the art of forgery in 1867 when a shady gent he calls "Hilton" introduced him to a "Mr. Wilkes," who, in turn made him acquainted with one Walter Sheridan in New York. He was made a party to a complicated conspiracy which, however, failed and Bidwell wrote: "I had no more to do with forgers or forgery until years later when I met George Engles."
By this time, he admits, his conscience had become so calloused he "experienced no great repugnance at making the acquaintance of a man whom I was informed lived by forgery. I saw him for the first time a few months before we went to England." Engles, he writes, was known as "The Terror of Wall Street." due to his forgery operations in the financial district. He accompanied Bidwell to Europe, but returned shortly, alone.
Bidwell next introduces the reader to George McDonald, who was to play an important role as a member of the gang abroad. McDonald, he writes, was Boston-born and Harvard education, coming from a family of wealth. He left home after a disagreement with a stern father, and, by coincidence, found himself associated with Bidwell’s former pal, Kibbe, whom he calls "The Rogue." That association cost McDonald a stay in The Tombs, in New York City.
Bidwell at this point brings into his narrative his younger brother, Austin, who also became a member of the quartet abroad. Austin Bidwell arrived in England April 18, 1872, with George Bidwell, Engles and McDonald. Planning an immediate trip to Ireland with McDonald and having some two thousand pounds English money in his possession, he decided to leave 1,200 pounds with the Western Branch of the Bank of England, where George had an account. He had decided from the start to operate under the name of "F.A. Warren."
George Bidwell soon left for Rio de Janeiro, planning to voyage around the coast to San Francisco and return to New York by rail. However, the pickings were slim in South America and he returned to England on Sept. 1. Returning shortly to the continent, he relates, he bilked bankers at Bordeaux, Marseilles and Lyons out of $50,000 in what he proudly calls "perhaps as brilliant a ‘solo’ operation as has been recorded in the annals of crime - viewed from the forger’s standpoint."
He sounded one sad note concerning that trip. He found out he couldn’t "beat the Dutch." He visited Amsterdam where, he said, "the cautions Hollanders would have nothing to do with strangers at any price, no matter how plausible the pretext." "Holland,:" he stated, "was a most unfruitful field for all class of swindlers."
* * *
Next, George Bidwell decided to pay a visit to Frankfort-on-the-Main with the hope of "finding some way to make the Rothschilds contribute a small part of the wealth accumulated at the original starting place of that remarkable family." He was ready to leave Amsterdam for Frankfort when he received a dispatch from McDonald, in London, reading: "Have made a great discovery. Come immediately."
Bidwell insists he had no inkling as to what the "great discovery" was, as no such thing as a plot against the Bank of England existed up to that time (Nov. 2, 1872). However, the "discovery" was to become the turning point in the lives of the four and to result in the $5,000,000 conspiracy.
Among bills of exchange George Bidwell had purchased in Amsterdam on speculation was one on Baring Brothers, of London. When things didn’t go right, he sold most of these bills and sent the one on Baring Brothers to McDonald. When Bidwell returned to London, he says, McDonald poured out the details of his "great discovery" in this fashion:
"As soon as I received that bill on Baring’s I went there to collect the money. Instead of paying the amount by check or gold or notes, as I expected, the cashier stamped on the face: ‘Pay at the London and Western Bank’ and endorsed it. Upon taking it there it was cashed without a question. It occurred to me immediately that if we were to get some blank bills of exchange we could make as many as we liked by imitating the original, and draw the money from the bank with the same ease that I did for the genuine bill."
Wrote George Bidwell:
"McDonald had no sooner informed me of the particulars regarding his ‘great discovery’ than it flashed through my mind: ‘Here is the opportunity to use the long-neglected Bank of England account.’ I reasoned that as the bank had paid the Baring bill to McDonald without verifying the signature, it must be the custom in England to transfer bills of exchange from hand to hand without sending them to the acceptors to be initialed. If this was true it followed that the banks discounted papers without making any inquiry as to the genuineness of the signatures, relying entirely on the character of the customer who offered the paper for discount.
‘Here was an opening, indeed! When this proved to be a fact, all I had to do was to start a manufactory for making imitation bills and deposit them in the Bank of England for discount through the medium of the ‘Warren’ account.
"This reasoning appeared to be sound: still I could not believe it to be among the possibilities that any bank, especially an institution like the Bank of England, should do business in that manner.
"I explained my plan of using the ‘Warren’ account in the Bank of England that had been lying so long comparatively useless. Without delay the bulk of money was placed in ‘Warren’s’ hands to deposit in the account so that in case we finally concluded to attempt the execution of the fraud, the large balance would show well on the bank books." Bidwell then cabled an individual he calls "E. Noyes H - (Noyes") to come over from New York on the first steamer.
George’s idea was to have "Warren" introduce Noyes to the bank as his clerk and let him open an account by means of which the fraud could be carried on, leaving his brother Austin entirely disconnected with it, save in having introduced Noyes.
On Dec. 2, 1873, Austin Bidwell opened an account at the Continental Bank under the name of C.J. Horton, depositing 1,300 pounds in bank notes. The next day he had a "Warren" clerk deposited to "Horton’s" account, and the operation was repeated, varied with the checking out of small sums from day to day in order to give the affair an air of genuine business.
"I also purchased several bills of exchange and had ’Warren’ take them to the bank manager, Mr. Francis, for discount. Upon returning from the bank he said there would be no risk in taking 50,000 pounds in false bills and bringing away the gold, thus ending the whole matter at a stroke. But this appearing to me a hazardous undertaking, I adhered to the slower plan, though, as the sequel shows, such a coup might have been successful. The backs of the endorsements of the various firms through whose hands they had passed. These endorsements were copies in fac-simile so that the false bills in contemplation should have all the characteristics of the originals."
Bidwell explains the use of bills of exchange in London as follows:
"For example, a manufacturer of silk in Lyons sells goods to the amount of $5,000 to a responsible merchant on six months’ credit. The merchant gives his note or bill for the whole, or, as is usual, several of five hundred of a thousand dollars each, to the order of himself, or the manufacturer, payable at (say) Rothschilds’ in London. He is careful to see that his balance is sufficient or to arrange with the Rothschilds to accept and pay them when due. The manufacturer endorsing pays them out, or puts them in the bank for discount. The bank in turn, also endorsing, sells them to a customer who has bills to meet in London. After endorsing, he likewise remits them to his correspondents, who pay his bills with the proceeds of their discount or sale - first, however, sending them to be accepted by the Rothschilds, from which time they are known as ‘acceptance.’
"It may be easily seen how I was enabled to plan and execute this mammoth fraud, when I state that the Bank of England cashed acceptance such as I have described without sending them to the Rothschilds to see whether their signature or acceptance was genuine. The last seven words give the clue to the entire mystery.
"While in Germany I had purchased every variety of ink on sale at the stationers, so that in case of need I could have not only and written document so imitated, but also written with like ink. I had also, out of curiosity purchased a great variety of blank bills of exchange, printed in French, German, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Arabic. I also continued sending remittances to my broker in Amsterdam, Mr. Pinto, requesting him to send me several bills on London. These, together with some already in my possession, gave me the opportunity of getting a great number of endorsements, stamps and signatures of leading firms on the Continent, and in London."
* * *
Sardonically, George Bidwell went to the printing and stationery establishment of Sir Sidney Waterflow, then Lord Mayor of London. Later he and his cronies were under examination by Sir Sidney at the Mansion House. Bidwell left an order for two books of blank drafts or bills of exchange and picked them up a few days later. He next made a list of all the wood engravers in London and spent three days driving about in a cab, selecting five out of the fifty he had contacted to do the work. He explains he judged the five to possess "simple, unsuspicious natures." The result was, he said, that he made no mistake in his elections as the work was quickly done and no suspicions as to its real object were aroused.
After Noyes arrived in London, Bidwell, in answer to his inquiries, informed the latter that he was "speculating on the Merchants’ exchange and expected to wind up his operations shortly."
"I told him he must ask no more questions, but follow my directions implicitly and promptly; that I should not even let him know where the rest of us lodged, after the first of January. I further informed him that he was to act as clerk for ‘Horton,’ and though our operation were a little irregular, that he should be taken care of, kept out of danger, and be well paid for his services; and impressing it on his mind to obey orders like a soldier, I left him." Noyes, he added, was to be paid about five per cent of the proceeds of their operations.
Bidwell believed that in planning what he admits was a "gigantic fraud," every point could be so completely covered that even his name would never be known, "for otherwise I should have been hunted through the world. Without this apparent certainty I should have abandoned the idea."
* * *
The master-mind of the quartet resolved that his brother Austin should not take the risk of remaining in England, so that in case the plot resulted disastrously, he at least would be in safety.
About January 1, 1873, Austin Bidwell left for Paris and was injured in a railroad wreck. Nevertheless, he married in Paris a young lady with whom he had become acquainted in London. He readily agreed with his older brother to stay out of England and planned a honeymoon tour of Spain, to be followed by a visit to Havana, and later return to America.
Bidwell declares that after two months preparation for his master crime he still was so doubtful as to the possibility that the Bank of England would not discover the fraud with the first batch of bills of exchange, "that I had fully prepared only what represented 4,250 pounds.
"I had preserved the endorsement blocks used in their manufacture so that in case we were not disappointed, and the bank really discounted them, we could rush up a large number in a few days. It was exactly this doubt which had prevented the accumulation of a sufficient quantity of false bills; for despite the fair look of the thing, it was difficult to believe otherwise than that the bank had what looked like a vulnerable point guarded in some way that had escaped my scrutiny. Besides, I had the ‘Warren’ account with the Bank of England, and the ‘Horton’ account at the Continental Bank. With these simple means I now proposed to enter the bomb-proof vaults of the greatest financial fortress of which history gives account.
"My brother was safely out of England. All was prepared for the trial test. ‘Will the false bills go through? Will the argus eyes of the renowned Bank of England detect the imposture at the first glance?’ These and similar questions agitated my mind at this juncture. To settle the question, I took the 4,250 pounds in false bills and went to Birmingham. There I engaged a room at the Queen’s Hotel and on paper brought with me I wrote in ‘Warren’s’ name, imitating his handwriting, to Mr. Francis, Manager of the Western Branch of the Bank of England, the following: (Dated Jan,. 21, 1873): I hand you herewith, as per enclosed memorandum, bills for discount, the proceeds of which please place to my credit on receipt.
"On the previous day all the money except about one hundred pounds had been drawn out of the London banks, so that in case of a discovery that would be only additional loss - the previous preparations having cost about as much more. We had also prepared everything for an immediate flight in case it should prove a failure.
"I waited in Birmingham until the next day, in order to hear from Mr. Francis, or otherwise get a clue as to the fate of the false bills. In case the forgery had been discovered, he would doubtless reply to the letter all the same, and simultaneously put the Birmingham police on the scent, or send a detective from London to watch at the post office and arrest the person who called for the letter.
"Suppose I should be thus arrested? Mr. Francis could not recognize me as otherwise connected with his customer, ‘Warren,’ he never having seen me; but I should have been asked some awkward questions, and why I had called for ‘Warren’s’ letters. That I might have even a lame excuse ready, I wrote a note as follows to the postmaster: "Please deliver any letters for me to the bearer and oblige," He signed the note "F.A. Warren."
Calling at the post office and seeing no sign that it was specially watched, he handed in the order and was given a letter. He hurried to catch the London train, opened the letter and read a note from Mr. Francis, stating he had received 4,250 pounds in bills for discount "and proceeds of same have been passed to your credit as requested.
On arrival in London, Bidwell gave Noyes ‘Warren’ checks for 4,000 pounds which he deposited in the Continental Bank to ‘Horton’s’ credit. He next filled in and signed ‘Horton, checks for about 3,000 pounds with which Noyes purchased United States bonds from Jay Cooke, McCulloch & Co., at their banking house in Lombard Street - the Wall Street of London.
"This completed the operation," he wrote on, "and as soon as we could prepare more false bills we were ready for another of exactly the same kind, only on a larger scale - and thus we kept repeating until discovery.
"Thinking that the purchase of such large sums of United States bonds from day to day might attract attention, I devised another plan, viz.: The forged bills being sent from Birmingham by mail, discounted and placed to ‘Warren’s’ credit at the Bank of England, the amount immediately transferred to the ‘Horton’ account at the Continental Bank by means of ‘Warren’ checks - I had Noyes reduce the latter account by drawing out Bank of England notes.
"These were taken to the bank and exchanged for gold, which was delivered in sealed bags of 1,000 pounds each, and immediately carried back and exchanged for noted by another person. The object of this double exchange was to break the connection, it being obligatory that a list of the numbers of all notes paid out, and to whom, must be preserved by bankers and dealers. Even when passed from hand to hand, the person who pays out a note must endorse on the back of it his or her name and address, and this notwithstanding that they were made payable "to bearer" exactly like "greenbacks." And indeed the disposal of so much gold without attracting notice was one of my chief anxieties - in fact, I found there was such a thing as having too much of that useful metal.
"The reader may realize this fact when I state that while the ‘business’ was in operation our ‘income’ was at times more than $50,000 per day."
* * *
On February 27, writes Bidwell, " my associate (McDonald) and myself had a consultation as to whether we should stop with what we had, or put in one more batch of bills. It was finally decided to put in another, and the very last lot. In thus taking the pitcher once too often to the well, too little account was taken of two all-important points - neglect of business and the possibility of accidents, the latter, of course, usually arising out of the former.
"Early the next day I posted in Birmingham to the Bank more than $100.000 in false bills, congratulating myself that the affair was so nearly finished, and that the next day I should be off for America. When these bills were mailed the balance in both banks had been reduced to less than a thousand pounds.
"Remaining in Birmingham, early the next morning I sent a cabman to the post office with and order for letters addressed to ‘Warren’ and kept a watch on him to see if he was followed from the office. After satisfying myself that he was not being ‘shadowed’ I got from him the letter, which was from Mr. Francis, stating that the bills had been received, discounted and the proceeds placed to the credit of the ‘Warren’ account.
"The letter in question satisfied me that our false bills had gone through the mill, and would be laid away in the vault of the bank to be forgotten until they should become due two months later; and thus it would have been, but for an unforeseen occurrence. . .I hurried to the station, and taking a train arrived in London by the time the banks were open for business. In order to be certain that all was right before sending Noyes into the Continental Bank, I gave him a check for a small amount, which he sent in by a commissioner for collection, with order to bring the money to him at the Cannon Street Hotel. I took care to be in the bank when he arrived, that might see what passed.
"The check was paid without demur, and he left the bank, I keeping him in view until he had passed the public house where Noyes was waiting for me. I hastened in and told him to go and get the money from the commissioner, which he did, then come to meet me at Garraway’s, our usual place of rendezvous." (Garraway’s, immortalized in Dickens’ "Pickwick Papers," was the haunt of Dean Swift and other celebrities).
Now comes Bidwell’s own account of the bursting of their $5,000,000 bubble.
* * *
"It appears that when the last lot of bills arrived from Birmingham they were handed by the manager, as usual, to a clerk whose duty it was to look over and enter them in the books. In running them over, he threw out two on which the date of the acceptance had not been put. Supposing this to have been an oversight of the acceptors, no notice was taken of the irregularity beyond laying the bills aside, that the supposed neglect might be rectified.
Accordingly, on the first of March 1873, the bills were sent to B.W. Blydenstein, the supposed acceptor, and were at once declared to be forgeries. Instant measures were taken to arrest the perpetrators. This occurred just after we had sent the commissioner with a ‘Horton’ check.
Upon meeting Noyes at Garraway’s I gave him ‘Warren’ checks for $75,000, with which he purchased United States bonds from Messers Jay Cooke & Co. I also gave him about $30,000 in ‘Warren’ checks to deposit to the credit of the ‘Horton’ account. After having accomplished that business, it only remained for him to withdraw the money from the ‘Horton’ account, which would finish and we would be ready to leave the country with our booty.
"A quarter of an hour would end my anxieties!
"It had been my intention to send a commissioner to draw the money, so that in the apparently impossible case of a discovery Noyes would be safe from arrest. Should there be a premature ‘tumble’ and we became aware of it in time, we could easily get him out of the country - he being the only one who was known to the bankers. But having just visited Jay Cooke & Co. and the Continental Bank, je justly felt certain that all was right, and thought it would be best and quite safe, for him to go and do the business in person instead of sending a commissioner.
"We had previously sent commissioners for large sums of bands, etc.; but in such cases they had acted only as messengers, not knowing the value of the packages they carried. The checks we had sent by them were for small sums, and now to send one to draw $30,000 might cause inquiry at the Continental Bank. For these reasons I concluded to let Noyes have his own way.
"Had I known what was at that moment passing not a stone’s throw from where we sat in Garraway’s, my thoughts would have been of quite a different nature. After the discovery the telegraph was set to work and detectives procured from the Bow Street police station, which was but a short distance from where we sat discussing our next and last move - the last indeed!
"They went to the Continental, ‘Horton’s’ bank, and waited to meet Noyes as he came in about 1 p.m. to draw the money. He was arrested and taken to Bow Street station, the party passing close by me on the way. Of course, neither Noyes nor I took any notice of each other. As I had foreseen and provided for this possible contingency, the occurrence did not alarm me, for I knew that if all my precautions had been lived up to, no harm beyond temporary inconvenience could come to Noyes, and not the slightest clue be obtained to connect McDonald or myself with the fraud. Austin, the only one known to the bankers, was, I supposed safe in the United States: therefore, as I felt secure that no information would be got out of Noyes, all we had to do was to lie quietly in London until the furor of excitement was a little cooled, and then to make our way out of the country at our leisure."
But the best laid plans of mice and men - and rats -
* * *
As soon as Noyes was arrested George Bidwell went to McDonald’s rooms. As he was about to put all the waste papers in the fire McDonald said he had to some letters to write and asked Bidwell to leave a piece of blotting paper. Wrote Bidwell:
"I selected a piece that appeared not to have been used and laid it aside for him - a fatal concession. I was less particular in the clearance because when I represented to him the danger of an American moving from his lodgings at such a juncture, he agreed to remain quietly there. Then, judge to my astonishment later in the day when he said to me at Garraway’s: ‘Well, I’ve got all of my things out of that place, anyway.’ It was too late to repair so false a step, and he assured me that he had not left a scrap of paper behind.
"Subsequent events showed that his landlady saw in a newspaper an account of the forgery and arrest of Noyes, a nd coupling it with her lodger’s precipitate flight - he having previously given no notice of his intention to leave - her suspicions were aroused; she went directly to the rooms and gathered up every loose bit of paper she could find, among which the only thing that proved of special value was the piece of blotting paper, and sent word to the police station.
"McDonald paid the penalty of this thoughtless act as this piece of blotter proved to be the principal, if not the only direct link, which connected him with the forgery
I had occasion to part from McDonald for an hour and on my return at about 6 p.m.
found a note written by him, stating that he had just time to catch the last evening train for Dover. He really went to Liverpool, but becoming suspicious, doubled on the police, ran to Chester, from there crossed the country by way of Tauton to Southampton, crossed to Harve, from which place he managed to get on board the SS Thuringia, and sailed for New York.
* * *
Scotland Yard, not moving fast enough in the case, the American detective firm of the Pinkertons, also was engaged. Eventually all were rounded up, McDonald being arrested as he landed in New York, George Bidwell taken in Scotland after a merry chase through Ireland, and Austin Bidwell captured in Havana.
George Bidwell and McDonald did their best to save Noyes and Austin Bidwell, but, nevertheless, all four were convicted and given life sentences. The severity of the sentences in a case wherein property only was involved attracted much sympathy. Pleas in their behalf were made by James Russell Lowell, James G. Blaine, Mark Twain - even the then President of the United States - Grover Cleveland, wrote the British government a letter concerning the case.
Nevertheless they were allowed to languish in Newgate, Pentonville, Millbank, Dartmoor, and Dartmouth prisons, suffering the kind of hardships which was the lot of prisoners in that day. George Bidwell, ill of health, was first to be released, getting his freedom July 18, 1887, after serving nearly 15 years. The others followed shortly.
* * *
George Bidwell closed his voluminous book with these kindly words, written from his home, "The Elms," East Hartford, Conn.:
"Somehow, I feel that when these closing words of mine are being read, I shall be permitted to regard each reader as a friend. To such I say in parting: "Come and see me at my pleasant home amid the elms - wife, children, grandchildren clustering around me (His wife and family having remained loyal to him to the end). John Howard Payne could never have appreciated ‘Home Sweet Home’ as I do now.
"Good-bye, dear readers - and in the language of Tiny Tim - ‘God bless us
every one !’"
In 1899 the brothers Bidwell died - paupers - within two days of each other - in Butte, Mont.
Created: 26 June 2009