Fewer women thieves in city than 10 years ago (1913)

From The Star Weekly, July 5, 1913

Lillie_Williams_1901_suspicionNot long ago, a woman was caught red-handed in the act of shoplifting in Toronto under rather pathetic circumstances.

Years ago, she had been accustomed to steal continuously from stores. In fact she belonged to a family which subsisted to a great extent by stealing.Then she had married a decent respectable young fellow and, for his sake, turned over a new leaf and forsaken her thieving practices.

In due course a baby arrived and the young mother wanted prettier things for the baby than the father’s weekly wage warranted her in buying. So she stole them, and was caught with the goods. “It’s no good,” she said despairingly to the detective who caught her. “I tried my best to resist the temptation but the sight of pretty baby things was too much for me. I’d just got to have them, that’s all.”

It seems to be a fact that there are women whom the mere sight of pretty things affects to their downfall, as it did this poor creature. The question naturally arises: are women who have once been addicted to stealing more difficult to retrieve from their evil courses tham are men?

Perhaps They Are

The Star Weekly put this question to Inspector Kennedy, chief of the detective department, and the inspector felt some hesitation in replying: “In most directions,” he said, “I should say that women are morally, at least, as strong as men. But, in regard to stealing, a good many instances have come under my notice of women who, having been caught at it once, have returned to it again. It may be that a woman finds it difficult to resist taking something which attracts her eye.

“Or again, it may be that it is the case with which a thing can be stolen — particularly from a store — which appeals to her. In some cases it is very difficult to assign any reason for theft by a woman. I know of instances of women of mature age and hitherto unblemished records, certainly becoming seized with a passion for stealing articles that are often of small intrinsic value. On the whole, I am disposed to think that if a woman has given way to stealing once, she is able to do it again.”

It All Depends

“It depends on circumstances and depends on the woman,” replied the head detective at a big department store in the city to whom The Star Weekly put the same question. “If a woman steals and gets away with it, she is liable to go on stealing until she is caught. But, once she is caught, it is my experience that as a rule, she quits. That is, if she was otherwise a respectable woman. I have known women of good position — wives of ministers among others — whom I have detected stealing, and have cautioned instead of prosecuted.

“You cannot imagine how the shame of being found out has affected them. They have gone into hysterics, and have been literally at their wits’ end through fear. I am sure such a shock as that has cured many of them of any inclination to steal. In fact, I know it has. For I have had a pretty strict watch kept on some of them afterwards, and I’m sure that they have given up stealing. Of course, if the woman is otherwise of bad character, or a drunkard or what-not, she is likely to return again to theft, for she will cease to dread exposure. But there are far fewer women who systematically steal — almost live by thieving, you might say — than there were some ten or twelve years ago in Toronto.

Caught and Penitent

“A few days ago I caught a woman who had been noticed in our store at all hours — in the early morning, in the forenoon, and in the afternoon right up to closing time. This had gone on for several days, and I was confident that she was taking things. And so she was, both from our store and from another, as it turned out when we caught her. And what sort of things do you think she was taking?

“Nothing of any great value — collar fasteners, a few oddments of ribbon, worth three or four cents each, a pair of hose priced at fifteen cents, and so on. It was not worth while prosecuting her. She got a good fright and so I let her go. No, taking it by and large, I cannot say that I think women these are less curable than men. Women, beyond all doubt, dread exposure more than men, and exposure is a large part of the penalty people have to pay for the commission of crime.” ♦

Photograph shows Lillie Williams, Toronto 1901, from  Arresting Images: Mug shots from the OPP Museum,  Helen McClung Gallery, Ontario Archives.