Victorian London - Crime - Blackmail and Extortion - extortion in the street


Sir, - Would you, through the medium of your columns, put the timid on their guard against a horrid system of extortion, carried on at dusk by a gang of wretches who infest the passage leading from St. Martin's Church to Bear and Orange streets, Leicester-square? The plan adopted is as follows:-
    A smartly dressed, well-looking boy comes up to you, and asks some frivolous question as to the time of closing the National Gallery. He manages to keep you in conversation for some seconds, and walks on by your side as far into the obscurity as may be. On a sudden a man comes up, and asks, "What are you doing with my son?" On this, the boy affects to cry, and hints that the gentlemen got into conversation with him for a grossly immoral purpose. The man then says, "There, you hear what he says; now the only way to get out of it is to give the boy a sovereign, or to the police you go."
    Now, Sir, a nervous man is so thrown off his guard by this threatened imputation, that he submits to this or any other infamous demand.
    Surely, Sir, the police must be remiss in their duty not to scare away a gang of monsters who loiter at dusk near what are meant to be "public conveniences," but which have become "public nuisances."
    The foregoing, Sir, happened to me the other night, and if you would insert the same, others might profit by my experience and loss.
    I remain, Sir, &c.,
        A VICTIM

letter in The Times, December 11, 1849