Jonathan Wild

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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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