Born in 1705
Died on 7th of April 1739
The life of Dick Turpin was a short and inglorious one, a progression from one vulgar crime to another with murders along the way. But in death somehow he became a legend, his ghost rivalling that of Charles II for most places haunted in England.
Turpin was probably born at the Bluebell Inn in Hempstead, Essex, on September 21 1705. His entrance to crime was via his father, a publican who bought stock from smugglers.
After being apprenticed to a butcher with little success Turpin nevertheless set up on his own in Whitechapel, reducing his costs by stealing the beasts he butchered. Caught in the act he fled, abandoning his wife, never to return to the path of legality.
Having robbed his old smuggling acquaintances on the coast he fled again to Epping Forest, joining the Gregory Gang, a group of about 20 outlaws who robbed travellers, poached, and attacked the houses of the well-off, often threatening and probably using torture to obtain hidden valuables.
When the gang was tracked down to a pub in Westminster Turpin cheated the constables by leaping from a window to escape, but most of the gang were taken and executed – not though his friend Thomas Hadfield.
Turpin fell in with gentleman highwayman Tom King, often called Captain King, who acted with calculated gallantry. When King was arrested fetching a horse stabled by Turpin after he stole it Turpin shot him in error while effecting a rescue; King as he died gave details of Turpin’s hideouts, forcing the desperate robber to flee north. In Lincolnshire Turpin set himself up as horse dealer John Palmer, working also in Yorkshire, again stealing his stock. Drunk one night he killed a game-cock and was arrested. He wrote from York prison to his brother-in-law for an alibi, but the letter fell into the hands of the village postmaster who had taught him to write, John Smith, who recognized the writing. Smith journeyed to York to identify Turpin and collected a reward of £200.
On April 7 1739after chatting at length to the crowd awaiting his execution Turpin was hanged – by his old mate Thomas Hadfield - and passed into legend. His supposed hell-for-leather ride to York from London on Black Bess was, however, the feat of a much earlier thief, Swift Nick Nevison.
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