This is the last of my short-series of blog posts on the subject of the senior detectives based at Scotland Yard in mid-Victorian London. The series ends with one of the most charismatic yet puzzling characters: Nathaniel Druscovich.
Nathaniel Druscovich was born in the early 1840s in St Georges in the East, a parish in the Tower Hamlets area of London. His father, Matthew, was a carpenter, from Moldavia, and Nathaniel spent some of his youth in the Eastern European areas of Moldavia and Wallachia (which later united to create the state of Romania). After his return to England, he decided to join the London Metropolitan Police and spent a short period in C Division (St James) as a uniformed Constable. By October 1863, aged 22, he had shown sufficient promise to be appointed to the Sergeant position in the Scotland Yard Detective Department that had been vacated by the promotion of Richard Tanner to Inspector.
Because of Druscovich’s overseas experience, he was fluent in several languages, albeit not in English, and his appointment caused a flutter in the Scotland Yard dovecote. Speaking in 1877 with the benefit of some hindsight, Druscovich’s senior colleague, James Thomson commented on the appointment:
“My individual opinion is that it is unwise to let foreigners have anything to do with our police. They think a great deal of themselves, they take too much upon themselves and they get into difficulties. I was strongly opposed to Druscovich coming to Scotland Yard and I advised them at the time not to have him….I thought there was a good deal of the foreigner in him, because when he first came to Scotland Yard….his English was almost broken English” (The National Archives, Crown Copyright; Document 45/9442/66692 Minutes of Evidence paragraphs 542-3)
Despite Thomson’s critical perspective, Druscovich’s ‘foreignness’ became one of his principal assets to the Detective Department. During the re-emergence of Irish Republicanism between 1865 and 1868 (the ‘Fenian Conspiracy’), Druscovich’s linguistic skills were used in covert monitoring operations in Paris, of Fenians who were using the French capital as a bolt-hole in 1867. Druscovich, and his fellow Scotland Yard colleague Detective Sergeant John Mulvany, were extensively used in this role, supplemented by occasional visits by Chief-Inspector Williamson. However, it seems that their surveillance was soon spotted by the Fenians in Paris, including one of the ex-American Civil War mercenaries, Octave Fariola, who had attached himself to the Fenian cause. As early as January 1867 Fariola, commented that “the English detectives were soon on the scent” (‘The Chieftain‘ p. 85). Possibly the fact that the detectives appear to have stayed in the Hotel d’Angleterre was a bit of a give-away, despite Druscovich’s fluent French!? [As covert operations were new to the Scotland Yard force at this time it is perhaps unsurprising that mistakes were made.]
Druscovich did not spend all his time in Paris, finding time in the spring of 1867 to marry Elvina le Capelain (from St Helier, Jersey) at St James’, Westminster. By 1871 the couple lived in Vincent Square, Westminster, later moving to Lambeth. They had no children.
Like all the Scotland Yard detectives, Druscovich was expected to be involved in helping to police horse-racing events at the leading racetracks such as Epsom, Sandown, Ascot and Goodwood. This could be a rough-and-tumble business, and would have brought him in contact with members of the illegal-betting fraternity. However, there were plenty of other investigations that drew on his language skills. London was already a multi-cultural community and, in 1868, when there was an outbreak of burglaries at properties owned by the rich and famous, it was natural to team Sergeant Druscovich up with Inspector George Clarke, when it was realised that the villains were predominantly from continental Europe. Both men were applauded and rewarded for their successful investigations. In May 1869, at the age of 27 he was promoted to Inspector. In October 1870 he reached the rank of Chief Inspector and was clearly acknowledged as a rising star in the Department. By comparison, George Clarke was 51 years old before he became a Chief Inspector.
In 1869-70, Druscovich was involved in inquiries on ‘baby-farming’ and infanticide (again, alongside Clarke). This appears not to have been the best use of his skills and his case-notes display some frustration with the difficulty of gaining sufficient evidence for prosecution in this area of criminal activity. However, there was plenty more for him to do. He played a very significant role in dealing with cases involving foreign nationals. Thus, he was frequently commended in Police Orders for his work on extradition, and also received complimentary comments and financial rewards for his work on suppressing illegal foreign lotteries and frauds (The National Archives; MEPO 7). In addition, he was a leading figure in at least two murder cases involving foreigners; arresting Marguerite Dixblanc in 1872 for the murder of Marie Riel; a case that led to a guilty verdict and death sentence at Dixblanc’s Old Bailey trial. Druscovich’s work was acknowledged by a financial reward. In 1876, he worked with his boss, Superintendent Williamson, on the mutiny and murder that had occurred on the British-registered sailing ship Lennie, which led to the arrest, trial, conviction and hanging, for murder on the high seas, of four of the crew, Matteo Cargalis (‘French Peter’), Giovanni Cacaris (‘Joe the Cook’), Pascales Caludis (‘Big Harry’) and George Kaida (‘Lips’).
Later that year, it was logical that Williamson should give Druscovich the responsibility for investigating another case with foreign links. This was a turf fraud case initiated in London by two clever fraudsters, Harry Benson and William Kurr. The object of the fraudsters was to lure naive French punters, unfamiliar with the UK horse-racing scene, into believing that there was such a thing as a ‘sure bet’. As a consequence, one lady, the Comtesse de Goncourt took a while to realise that the £10,000 that she had invested in the scheme (about £400,000 in today’s money), was likely to have gone for good. However, once she realised her mistake, and being a determined soul, she soon had her legal representatives banging on the door of the Scotland Yard Detective Department.
Although George Clarke was the acknowledged Scotland Yard expert on betting crime, he was busy with two other important cases. In addition, much of the correspondence relating to the case was written in French; hence the natural choice to lead the investigations was Nathaniel Druscovich. Starting in September 1876, it took until the end of December to run down the Turf Fraud gang. But Druscovich was not directly responsible for any of the arrests. Ironically it was George Clarke who made the first arrest, of a minor member of the gang in November. Alerted by a ‘wanted’ poster issued by Williamson, it was Dutch Police who arrested Benson and two other gang members in Rotterdam in December. Kurr’s arrest in London was made under Williamson’s direction in late December, at a time when Druscovich had been sent to Rotterdam to arrange for the extradition of Benson and his colleagues.
There were signs at the time that Druscovich was getting ‘edgy’ during the investigations. A Scotland Yard colleague reported that, in late November, Druscovich had sworn “Damn the turf swindle! I wish I had never heard anything of it” (‘The Chieftain‘ p. 211). At Christmas, having been told by Williamson to remain in Rotterdam, Druscovich granted himself some leave and returned to the UK; an action that incurred the displeasure of Williamson (who promptly sent him back to Rotterdam), and a censure from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Edmund Henderson. Later, Druscovich received a caution for irregular conduct in June 1877, when he was judged to have been at fault in ‘failing to differentiate clearly between charges made and legally proved’ when giving evidence at a magistrate’s court. One imagines that his mind was on other things, but he had started to blot his copybook.
By early 1877, evidence had emerged that two of Druscovich’s senior colleagues, Chief Inspector William Palmer and Inspector John Meiklejohn had corruptly co-operated with William Kurr and Harry Benson to prevent their arrest. Some pieces of evidence had also started to emerge that Druscovich had sought to protect Meiklejohn by ignoring the increasing evidence of Meiklejohn’s collusion with Benson and Kurr; in the process delaying or potentially preventing the arrest of the Turf Fraud gang. Nonetheless, the arrest of Druscovich and his two colleagues on corruption charges on 12th July 1877, caused a public sensation, as did the subsequent Bow Street Magistrate’s hearing and Old Bailey trial.
So, how did the outstandingly promising young detective find himself in this position? Ultimately, the case made against Druscovich was that he had fallen under the influence of Kurr in April 1876 when he had needed money to meet a debt that he had incurred on his brother’s behalf and, at Meiklejohn’s recommendation, had accepted a £60 loan from Kurr (c. £2400 in today’s money). As a consequence, the prosecution concluded that, from the day he was given responsibility for the turf fraud investigation, Druscovich had conducted his investigations in a manner that had given the fraudsters every opportunity to evade arrest, receiving from the fraudsters some additional money and jewellery (that had been found in his house) in the process. The Old Bailey jury found him guilty of perverting justice, though recommended mercy, a view which was not shared by the Judge who sentenced Druscovich and his convicted colleagues, Meiklejohn and Palmer, to the maximum term permitted for the offence: two years hard labour.
When he was released from prison, Druscovich returned to his wife Elvina at their house at 64 South Lambeth Road and established himself as a private inquiry agent; one of his jobs involved investigations into bribery in the Oxford parliamentary constituency in the May 1880 election. He did not survive long, dying in December 1881 at the age of 39 from tuberculosis, which he had probably acquired while in prison. Pensionless after his conviction, he left £448 7 shillings in his Will; enough money, it would seem, to have found other ways of covering his brother’s debt of £60 in 1877?
Most of the information relayed in this blog post, particularly the Great Turf Fraud and the Trial of the Detectives is covered in more detail in my recent book ‘The Chieftain‘. I have also found “The Great Detective Case; A Study in Victorian Police Corruption” (2000, by Richard F Stewart) to be a very readable account though I do not share all its conclusions!
[My research on the cases that Druscovich investigated during his Scotland Yard career is incomplete, and a more focused study of newspaper archives, and MEPO (Metropolitan Police) and HO (Home Office) records within the National Archives, would be timely and, I think, productive. His distinctive surname should ease the task, though it is not surprising that it is not always spelt or transcribed accurately (the worst example I’ve encountered being one transcription of ‘Druscovich’ as “Densccoirche”!).]