1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wild, Jonathan
|←Wilbye, John||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28
|See also Jonathan Wild on Wikipedia, and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.|
WILD, JONATHAN (c. 1682-1725), English criminal, was born about 1682 at Wolverhampton, where his father was a wig-maker. After being apprenticed to a local buckle-maker, he went to London to learn his trade, and, getting into debt, was imprisoned for several years. The acquaintance of many criminals which he made in prison he turned to account after his release by setting up as a receiver of stolen goods. Wild shrewdly realized that it was safer, and in most cases more profitable, to dispose of such property by returning it to its legitimate owners than to sell it, with the attendant risks, in the open market, and he thus built up an immense business, posing as a recoverer of stolen goods, the thieves receiving a commission on the price paid for recovery. A special act of parliament was passed by which receivers of stolen property were made accessories to the theft, but Wild's professed “lost property office” had little difficulty in evading the new law, and became so prosperous that two branch offices were opened. From profiting by robberies in which he had no share, Wild naturally came to arrange robberies himself, and he devised and controlled a huge organization, which plundered London and its approaches wholesale. Such thieves as refused to work with him received short shrift. The notorious Jack Sheppard, wearied of Wild's exactions, at last refused to deal with him, whereupon Wild secured his arrest, and himself arrested Sheppard's confederate, “Blueskin.” In return for Wild's services in tracking down such thieves as he did not himself control, the authorities for some time tolerated the offences of his numerous agents, each a specialist in a particular kind of robbery, and so themselves strengthened his position. If an arrest were made, Wild had a plentiful supply of false evidence at hand to establish his agents' alibi, and he did not hesitate to obtain the conviction, by similar means, of such thieves as refused to recognize his authority. Such stolen property as could not be returned to the owners with profit was taken abroad in a sloop purchased for this work. At last either the authorities became more strict or Wild less cautious. He was arrested, tried at the Old Bailey, and after being acquitted on a charge of stealing lace, found guilty of taking a reward for restoring it to the owner without informing the police. He was hanged at Tyburn on the 24th of May 1725.