by Ray Setterfield
December 3, 1937 — They called him Flannelfoot – a burglar who preyed on houses in London but whose notoriety spread to the United States. The Milwaukee Journal published a report under the heading, How Flannelfoot Plagued London for Twenty Years, and on this day the Chicago Tribune published this account of his court appearance:
“London’s ghost in galoshes, the elusive Flannelfoot, was under sentence yesterday to serve five years in prison for a career of house looting that has mortified Scotland Yard through the reigns of three kings. Only for a two month period last summer have the harassed inspectors of Scotland Yard had any degree of rest.
“And even today, in the hour of their triumph, they were given pause by the lawyer for the defence, who declared feelingly: ‘It would be dangerous for anyone to assume, on what we have heard in this court, that the person known to the public as Flannelfoot is appearing today.’
“But the detectives were cheered a bit when the court clerk read the list of items found in the possession of the prisoner, Henry Williams.
‘Forty-seven keys, two table knives and a screwdriver,’ the clerk intoned impressively. ‘A piece of wire, two torches and a pair of pliers. A metal grip, two safety pins and a pair of galoshes. A pocket knife and a pair of gloves.’
“The smartly dressed grey moustached prisoner smiled deprecatingly and asked to see the list of crimes charged up to Flannelfoot. From the dossier he selected 34 burglary notations and pleaded guilty to them along with the six already charged to him.
“Flannelfoot was so-named because he would pull on flannel socks over his galoshes. Frequently he would spoof the police by telephone, but he neither hurt nor frightened anyone. He never carried a weapon.”
His real name was Harry Edward Vickers but he sometimes called himself Henry Williams – the name under which he was arrested and charged. Born in London in 1888, Vickers went on to become a war hero, wounded while fighting in France as a rifleman during the First World War.
He was awarded the Silver War Badge along with the Victory Medal and the British War Medal – then went on to earn a living as a butcher.
By 1921, Vickers had become a criminal, breaking into houses and stealing various items, usually insignificant and of little value. In September of that year a newspaper reported that he had raided the home of a well-known singer and stolen the man’s false teeth! He also took socks which he wore over his boots, and gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.
The following year Vickers broke into another house and took cash but left a child's money box unopened despite moving it. No socks this time, but Vickers padded his feet with napkins. This practice of softening his footfall with any available material led to the Press naming him Flannelfoot.
As the years went by more and more homes were raided and Vickers began to taunt the police. In June 1936 a newspaper reported that Flannelfoot had phoned officers saying: "I am going away for a spell, so you needn't worry until I return. I will let you know.”
In September, under the headline, “Flannelfoot’s Return. Elusive Burglar Who Went on Holiday”, the newspaper reported that there had been a new spate of three break-ins.
Vickers was never caught in the act of burglary but after suspicious officers followed him home the incriminating items listed in court were discovered.
At his trial there was clearly some sympathy for the pleasant 49-year-old army veteran. As the prosecuting lawyer Christmas Humphreys put it: “Obviously he has been acting as a professional cash burglar for a great many years, but he has never used violence, he has never caused undue damage, and he has never so much as frightened a single individual.”
Vickers died after his release in December, 1942, aged 54.
Published: November 7, 2021
Updated: November 12, 2021
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