The latest subject of my ‘detective’ investigations is Chief Inspector Walter Dew, who served in the Metropolitan Police for 30 years. He had a fascinating career and is most remembered for his sensational capture of murderer Dr Crippen.
Walter Dew was born on 17 April 1863 in the town of Far Cotton, Northampton. His father was a railway guard, and Walter was one of 11 children. At the age of 10, he moved to London with his family. Walter was clearly interested in crime from a young age and was dismissed from his first job, as a junior clerk in a solicitor’s office, for bunking off to attend a trial at the Old Bailey. After a stint working with his father on the railways, Walter joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable, in 1882.
Walter was stationed at Paddington Green, where he was soon detailed for ‘plain-clothes duty’. He investigated a wide range of crimes, including fraud, theft, forgery, sheep rustling, blackmail and murder. Dedicated to his job in detecting crime, young Walter regularly studied the list of ‘Wanted Persons’, circulated to police stations, in case he came across any of the felons whilst walking his beat. His exceptional memory and powers of observation soon led to his arrest of a woman wanted for a number of thefts in the city, whom he recognised from the list. He identified another thief by his peculiarly-shaped hat.
Determined to capture those who broke the law on his patch, Walter Dew developed effective investigative strategies, such as surveillance, tracking bank notes, house-to-house inquiries and interviewing witnesses. Like many Victorian detectives, he also employed disguises. Once he looked so convincing as a rag-and-bone man that, whilst struggling with a prisoner, a servant-girl threw a pail of dirty water over him.
After just 5 years on the beat, PC Dew was transferred to the CID, and was transferred to H Division (Whitechapel), where he investigated the murders attributed to ‘Jack the Ripper’. On promotion to inspector in 1898, he moved first to Scotland Yard, and then took charge of T Division (Hammersmith). In 1906, he was promoted to chief inspector. At the height of his career, Dew caught Dr Crippen, wanted for the murder of his wife Cora, in an exciting transatlantic chase.
In December 1910, at the age of 47, Walter Dew retired from the police force and began work as a private detective from his home in Wandsworth. By this time, he had been married to Kate Morris for 24 years. They had six children, one of whom had died in infancy. Later, the Dews moved to Worthing and, in 1915, their son Stanley was killed in action in France.
Chief Inspector Dew published his memoirs in 1938, in which he described ‘a life of thrills and adventure’ during his three decades in the force. He died on 16 December 1947.
I will be studying Walter Dew’s career in more detail and will keep you updated with new information. In the meantime, if you’re interested in 19th century policing, do join my Facebook group, The Victorian Detectives’ Club – all welcome!