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Susannah Stapleton talks about the life of Edwardian detective Maud West who would unmask blackmailers, adulterers and torture robberies in a new book

Plotted in the dark, noisy depths of a London nightclub, detective Maud West tried to accuse a woman accused of blackmailing the youngest son of a famous family who claimed to have been infected by him & # 39; .

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But when the detective tried to gain the trust of her target, she was rejected. & # 39; Apparently, & # 39; Maud wrote, & # 39; she didn't care about women's society. & # 39;

So, after rummaging through her box of disguises at home, she returned to the room dressed as a man with seemingly unlimited wealth. The woman quickly joined her as a potential new victim.

Maud played along. & # 39; After drinking a lot, I kissed her, & # 39; she confessed. & # 39; Being a detective has a dark side. & # 39;

Susannah Stapleton talks about the life of Edwardian detective Maud West who would unmask blackmailers, adulterers and torture robberies in a new book

Susannah Stapleton talks about the life of Edwardian detective Maud West who would unmask blackmailers, adulterers and torture robberies in a new book

The bizarre episode ended with Maud going back to the woman's flat, closing her wig and picking up the evidence against her client. & # 39; The last image I had of her, & # 39; she remembered, & # 39; was that of a depressed person sitting on the bed, her furious looks in a nice contrast to the & # 39; vamping & # 39; (flirting) that I should have undergone in the taxi. & # 39;

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As I discovered during my investigation into The Aventures Of Maud West, Lady Detective, this all happened in the Edwardian era, when Maud wrote openly about her bold tactics in magazine and newspaper articles, seemingly unaware of the shame it may have caused her husband and father of her six children, Harry Elliott. Armed with a revolver and a selection of ingenious disguises, she successfully unmasked blackmailers, caught adulterers and treacherous jewel thieves – a true female Sherlock Holmes.

But who was this unusual woman and how did she start a life of crime solving?

The daughter of a house servant in Deptford, South London, was an independent young woman who ran away from home in 1899, at the age of 20, to marry her darling, Harry.

When Maud's uncle, a lawyer, offered to pay her to help him solve a robbery by posing as a maid, she did not hesitate.

It was certainly an unusual request, but she jumped out – out of a sense of adventure, and because her husband wasn't feeling well and they needed the money.

It was the start of a lucrative and exciting double life.

Summer garden parties, when the guests were outside, meant that houses were an easy target for thieves. Maud was employed every year to attend these events with a dozen assistants dressed as maids, serving tea and keeping a finger on the pulse.

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Things of the heart also kept Maud busy. Gathering evidence of adultery for divorce cases brought her across Europe. & # 39; In the shadow of a woman & # 39 ;, she said in 1915, & # 39; I had to travel to Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Ostend and back to London in the same week. & # 39;

Maud (photographed in disguise) pointed her gun to the temple of a scammer who once unexpectedly appeared in her office

Maud (photographed in disguise) pointed her gun to the temple of a scammer who once unexpectedly appeared in her office

Maud (photographed in disguise) pointed her gun to the temple of a scammer who once unexpectedly appeared in her office

In one of her cases, the concerned parents of a woman engaged to an army officer asked her to investigate his background. Their fears proved justified, with Maud's asking him to reveal that he is one of the biggest black guards I have ever encountered in my career, and I have indeed experienced some bad ones.

Not only had the officer left his regiment in disgrace, and he turned to blackmail and scam, he had been married before, to the governor. He had already taken her money and left her.

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The scammer himself made an unexpected appearance at Maud's office one evening. She knew immediately that he meant problems and discreetly approached her revolver.

She wrote: & # 39; How dare you get into my private office like this? & # 39;

& # 39; I just came to tell you, & # 39; he said, & # 39; that it is not safe for someone – especially a girl – to hang out and ask someone like me. & # 39;

& # 39; I have discovered enough about you, & # 39; I said, & to stop any chance that you could marry Miss. & # 39; His face turned white; he raised his fist and took a quick step towards me, and then I brought the revolver scorelessly at his temple, and he stopped.

I never doubted the efficiency of a small but very useful revolver, or a certain dress ornament with a small but hateful stiletto – Maud West

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& # 39; You are a hellish coward! & # 39; I said. I was so angry that I could almost have shot him.

She wrote in later years: & I never doubted the efficiency of a small but very useful revolver, or a certain dress ornament with a small but hateful stiletto.

& # 39; Furthermore, I have always worn a bracelet with two detachable beads consisting of a soluble anesthetic. With this I could immediately waste the drink of a too embarrassing freer. On one occasion I thought it was only necessary to lose one of my bangle beads. & # 39;

However, her disguise was often minimal. & # 39; In general, I start as myself, because very few people in error suspect that a middle-aged woman is on their way. & # 39; Even in her younger days, she admitted that most of my success as a detective is due to the fact that I don't look like a & # 39 ;.

Either way, gung-ho Maud's accounts, such incidents were potentially very dangerous, with physical attacks – or the threat thereof – as a part of the work. & # 39; To be shot at in the street, something you need to be prepared for, & she said in 1926.

Maud (photo) finished her successful career until the end of World War II and died in her home in East Sussex in 1964
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Maud (photo) finished her successful career until the end of World War II and died in her home in East Sussex in 1964

Maud (photo) finished her successful career until the end of World War II and died in her home in East Sussex in 1964

She was once attacked with a hat pin by a furious female crook. & # 39; And hat pins are dangerous weapons in the hands of an angry woman, & # 39; Maud remarked.

When everything else failed, she seems to have acquired a considerable right-hand corner for herself. & # 39; I once hit a man – and no less than a few yards from Bond Street &, she admitted.

But was it perhaps the case that not all her stories were entirely true? Was this why Harry was so optimistic about the whole thing? Were some of her articles simply exaggerations of real cases to protect the privacy of her customers?

The truth will never be known, although it may be important for her social circle to be known as co-writer of crimes, Dorothy L. Sayers, the creator of amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

The outbreak of the Second World War ended her hugely successful career. Maud was almost 60 at the time and Harry had urged her to retire for a while. She left her office, stopped advertising her services, dissolved her staff, and went back to Mrs. Elliott. The lady was gone.

From that moment on, according to surviving relatives, no reference was made to Maud's alter ego – so much so that some of them were surprised to hear about her double life.

She died in March 1964 of a heart attack at her home in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. And so one of the pioneers of the 20th century passed by: a woman who was far ahead of her time.

During a time when female voices were rarely heard, she had not only enjoyed a rich and satisfying career, and played an active role in public life, but raised a large family, including a seventh child, her younger sister Nellie.

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Do you have it all? Maud West was there decades before the expression was even invented.

The Adventures Of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton is published by Picador £ 20. © Susannah Stapleton. To order a copy for £ 16, call 0844 571 0640. P&P free. Offer valid until 27 June 2019.

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