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Wild, Jonathan

Wild, Jonathan (c.1682–1725). Thief-taker and anti-hero. Trained as a buckle-maker, Wild's imprisonment for debt brought him into contact with the underworld, then into handling stolen property. He circumvented the 1707 Act which made fences accessories by deliberately planning robberies from identifiable victims, from whom he could then claim reward money on return of their property. Ostensibly an instrument of justice by apprehending criminals whose conviction would be rewarded, he simultaneously organized his own thieves into allotted gangs, supporting but controlling them by ‘bringing them to justice’ if he chose. His activities prompted a statute whereby receiving a reward for returning deliberately stolen goods was an offence comparable to the felony (1718), but the self-delusion that his public services outweighed his own crimes eventually ended at Tyburn.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Wild, Jonathan

Jonathan Wild, 1683–1725, English criminal. He maintained a highly organized gang of thieves in London and long escaped punishment by posing as an instrument of justice and helping the authorities catch other criminals independent of, or rebellious to, his control. He planned robberies and then secured rewards for helping owners recover "lost" property. His thriving business required warehouses, branch offices, artisans to make alterations, and a vessel for trade with the Continent. He was finally convicted (1725) of receiving a reward for returning some stolen lace and was hanged at Tyburn. Literary accounts of Wild's career, such as those of Fielding and Defoe, are partly fictional.

See W. R. Irwin, The Making of Jonathan Wild (1941); G. Howson, Thief-Taker General (1970).

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