‘He was said to have committed over a thousand burglaries, all over London’
From 1918 until 1937, a series of burglaries in various parts of London became known as the work of ‘Flannelfoot’, a nickname given to the criminal by newspapers, because he wore socks or other material over his shoes to reduce any noise when he was entering people’s houses.
Flannelfoot was very careful not to leave finger marks. He worked entirely alone and did not associate with any known receivers or other thieves. He also took care to vary his travel arrangements to outer suburbs and housing estates by using a bicycle, trams or trains. He often committed his crimes on Friday nights when pay packets would be more likely to be available and entered houses by forcing rear windows or by picking locks. His skill to avoid detection and capture by the Met Police was the subject of media sensationalism for years. Whilst the Met knew his identity and his address, they lacked proof to make an arrest.
By 1936, police were also dealing with several other burglars who imitated Flannelfoot’s methods, but detectives had received information about a 48-year-old man, Harry Edward Vicars who had been convicted of burglary in 1911, and was living in Royal Crescent, Holland Park. Vicars was always neatly dressed, quietly spoken, and had something of a military bearing.
Harry’s unique method of burglary caused his notoriety. He would use rags or cloth taken from the houses he burgled and use them to muffle his footsteps. He would also steal and later discard a bicycle as part of his getaway. The rags were also discarded. Upon finding these items, police could attribute the crime to Flannelfoot with confidence. Harry would also open windows by drilling a single hole close to the latch. This was yet another clue that the burglar was Flannelfoot.
In October 1937, Detective Superintendent Thompson organised a special squad. After several observations had failed, Vicars was followed by a police surveillance team to Eastcote and arrested after he’d broken into a house. He was found in possession of keys, pliers and other housebreaking implements.
He was sentenced at Middlesex Sessions Court on 2 December 1937, receiving five years’ penal servitude for housebreaking. After his release, he died in 1942. He was said to have committed over a thousand burglaries, all over London.
In 1953, the story of Flannelfoot was made into a film, directed by Maclean Rogers, starring Ronald Howard, Mary Germaine and Jack Watling. It was made at Walton Studios.
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