On Saturday evening, 3 December 1864, about nine o’clock in the evening, the bill-broker, money exchanger, and bullion merchant, Baum, Sons and Co. was locked up and closed until Monday morning. Baum, Sons and Co. was located at 58 Lombard Street in London, and Mr. Peter Frederick Baum had been in business some 40 years. The business was a partnership between Baum, his three sons — Joseph, Godfried, and Noa — and his oldest son Adolphus. In addition, a clerk, a porter, and a young boy worked there.
Baum, Sons and Co. was housed in a building that had a cellar and was several stories high. The upper stories of the building were let out to various firms, and Baum’s business occupied the ground floor and the cellar, where a strong room from brick was built. The strong room had double doors, formidable locks, and a safe, which was three or four feet square. Moreover, at night, all the securities were locked inside the safe.
The building was well protected. The street door, which was common to the whole building, opened into a passage. In the passage, on the right hand side was a door that lead to the Baum’s premises. When that door was properly closed, it could not be opened from the outside. Baum, Sons and Co. also had a watch dog that had run of the building and could access all the passageways and staircases. In addition, at night the building was left in the care of a highly respected elderly housekeeper who lived on the uppermost floor. She was the widow of a police sergeant and her niece and her niece’s husband also lived there and were considered trustworthy.
Adolphus Baum closed up the business on Saturday night. At the time, Baum, Sons and Co. was holding “62 1/2 Spanish and one Isabella doubloons, 378 1/2 eagles [American], 48 1/2 guineas, 7 louis d’or, 244 1/2 Napoleons, 7 oz. of sterling gold, 4 oz. of ancient gold, and 2 oz. of melting gold. Of notes they had 71l. Irish, 48l. Scotch, 2,678f. French, 120 Belgian, 2,647 thalers; 1, 802 Russian rubles, 1.745 florins, Dutch; 750 florins, German; 225 Austrian; two 5l. notes of the Leeds Banking Company; 365l. in Australian notes, 495 rupee notes, 99 Canadian dollar notes, 37 American, 1l. Nova Scotia, 100 Spanish dollar notes, 5l. in Guernsey notes, and six Baden bonds of 35 florins.” Additionally, in the strong room there were numerous certificates, 57 gold and 37 silver watches, many foreign coins, and many bills of exchange.
On Monday, the 5th of December, at about nine o’clock in the morning, Mr. Baum, Sr., opened the premises. Shortly, afterwards he went to the strong-room, accompanied by the porter carrying a lit candle. When he went to use his key, he discovered the escutcheon had been torn off, the lock had been tampered with, and a hole about 18 inches square had been cut through the solid brickwork. He then discovered someone had entered the strong room: “The iron safe was open, three of the locks of the inner door of the room had been wrenched off, empty cash-boxes were strewn about, [papers hastily discarded,] and the place was in disorder in other respects.”
The safe had also been broken into and was empty. The door had been removed from it hinges, but how it had been broken into seemed inexplicable. “Four formidable crowbars were lying about [and] there was no mark visible about the door to show that any of them had been used in prising it open, nor were there any indications of recent use on the crowbars themselves.” Moreover, not only had the door been removed but also a “formidable lock inside of it had been broken in pieces, and the wards scattered about.”
It was also a mystery as to how the thieves gained access to the premises. The street door could not be unlocked from the outside and at night it was “secured by bolts and crossbars on the inside, there being no lock either on the outside or inside.” In addition, anyone leaving the premises after it had been locked for the “night might remove the crossbars and bolts inside the street door, but … [they] could not fasten the door … and a passing policeman would probably soon find that it was open as he went his round.” To prevent discovery the thieves secured the door with “a spring latch inside the door, and on closing the door behind them as they passed out it fastened itself on the inner side, and so presented afterwards as an appearance from the outside of being secure.”
When an investigation was conducted Baum, Sons and Co. estimated their losses to be between £23,000 and £25,000. They also reported their watch dog was roaming at large and that it had a leash or strap loosely attached around its neck. (Police suspected the leash had been used to restrain the dog during the robbery.) In addition, something sticky was found on the dog’s muzzle “as if something had been placed over it to stifle the noise of its barking.” There was also only one set of keys to the strong room, and those keys Adolphus had given to one of his brothers the same evening he locked up. The brother in turn gave them to their father that same night.
When the housekeeper, her niece, and nephew-in-law were questioned it was learned that the niece and her husband had gone to the theatre Saturday evening while the widowed housekeeper remained at home. The three reported that they had used the passageways on Saturday and Sunday and that the saw and heard nothing unusual. Furthermore, the three also claimed they were not disturbed on Saturday or Sunday and that the dog did not bark — which was somewhat uncommon as it reportedly barked at the slightest noise — but they did not think it strange.
Detectives stayed late looking for clues, and the matter was placed in the able hands of “Mr. Hamilton, the chief of the city detective force, who with his officers [was] using every vigilance to trace out the parties implicated.” Despite the best efforts of detectives and Mr. Hamilton, the case was never solved. Fourteen years later, in 1878, the Baum robbery was listed in a newspaper report as one among the “great bank robberies” of the 1800s that remained unsolved, which gives this story a rather unsatisfying end. However, the newspaper also noted, “we shall find that is possible for a resolute and determined thief, who will plan a robbery and give his mind to it, to secure by a single operation a fortune…and the only wonder is that robberies so vast [are] not to be more frequent.”
- Baum, Peter Frederick, on Cemetery Scribes
- “Extraordinary Robbery of Bullion and Securities,” in Westmorland Gazette, 10 December 1864
- “Great Bank Robberies,” in Western Mail, 26 April 1878
- “Great Robbery in the City,” in Kentish Chronicle, 10 December 1864
- “The Robbery of Bullion,” in Dublin Evening Mail, 7 December 1864