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Leach's Detective Bureau: A Family Affair
One was a former detective-sergeant at Scotland Yard; one was the son with a flair for publicity. Welcome to Leach's Detective Bureau!
The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley: Charles Leach started a ‘black list’ of criminals who might be ‘working’ there
Throughout their history, there have been instances of fathers and sons both working as private detectives. In some cases, they worked independently - the father teaching the son, and the son then striking out on his own - but in others, they worked together. In the latter category, in the 1930s, were Charles and Ronald Leach.
Charles Edward Leach was a typical private detective - a former detective sergeant in W Division, he had joined the Met in 1901, and retired in March 1930. On gaining his police pension, he immediately established his own detective agency. Charles was a lifelong Londoner, born in Westminster in March 1881. The 1911 census shows him living in the Kings Cross area with his wife of four years, Constance, and their young son Ronald Charles, who was born in Clerkenwell.
On retiring, the Leaches relocated south of the river, to the Streatham. Son Ronald married Lily Hillman in 1937, by which time, he was already working for his father; in 1939, he gave his occupation as 'private detective (travelling)', which suggests that he was sent out on commissions around the country, whereas his father was based more at the office, which was at Victoria Street in London. Charles Leach also employed other detectives both in the office and elsewhere (see next week's article for a tale of one of the detectives he must have regretted employing).
One of Ronald's other jobs was to promote his father's agency. He did so by touring branches of the Rotary Club - he was a member of one in London - to give talks about being a private detective. He aimed to dispel the myths that had grown up around the industry, largely thanks to the movies and detective novels. In October 1936, Ronald gave a talk at the Dundee Rotary Club (he had a local connection, as his mother, Constance, was from Dundee). According to a write-up in the Dundee Courier, Ronald said:
'the private detective must be a man of experience, alert and of vast patience. In making inquiries not only must he be a diplomat and possess some attributes of forensic ability, but he must know where to go and of whom to make his inquiries in such a way that the information was obtained discreetly and did not get back to the object of the inquiry.'
Three years later, Ronald visited the Bristol Rotary Club, where he told his audience that:
'A typical private detective is neither an anaemic-looking individual who wanders about playing a violin, nor a burly man in a bowler hat who goes round hotel corridors, snooping through key-holes...in practice (whatever it might be in novels or films), it was hard-wearying, temper-sapping work solving mysteries.'
The Leaches clearly played up to the fact that detectives were popular characters on screen and in books, and thus they were in demand at Rotary Clubs across the British Isles; but they also wanted to distance themselves from this, making clear that they were professionals who worked hard to solve cases. They saw themselves as very different to the fictional sleuths with their tics and oddities: they were ordinary men who simply did a job that others saw as exciting. However, they knew the value of fictional detectives in enabling them to promote their own business, and it was a successful strategy: at these Rotary talks, the local press would be invited, and they would get potential business leads AND a story in the papers that was invaluable as advertising.
It also helped that Charles Leach had been a police detective involved in some interesting cases. In September 1927, for example, PC George Gutteridge was murdered at Stapleford Abbots in Essex. He was found placed sitting at the side of a quiet road, having been shot through both eyes. Months went by without anyone being arrested for the murder, despite much 'tedious routine work' by the police. As the Western Daily Press pointed out, though, in February 1928, Charles been the officer who had arrested Frederick Guy Browne, one of two suspects, for the murder of PC Gutteridge. Browne, together with William Kennedy, were later convicted and executed. Another success was also listed:
'[he] started the black list of confidence men and card sharpers, etc, at the time of the Wembley Exhibition [the British Empire Exhibition of 1924-1925]. This was revived for the Jubilee [George V's silver jubilee of 1935] and Coronation [of George VI, on 12 May 1937].'
(What the glowing article did not mention was that during the First World War, Detective Sergeant Charles Leach had been charged (but later acquitted) with conspiring to solicit and accept bribes from pickpockets. The case failed because the witnesses were deemed to be 'men of appalling character'.)
Now, as a private detective, the Leaches were keen to show how they were at the forefront of technology and its use in catching criminals - in fact, they were better than Charles Leach's former employer:
'Mr Leach said that his firm preceded the official police in the use of microphones and cine-cameras in the detection and conviction of criminals.'
These were common boasts of private detectives: they would frequently show-off their credentials as experienced police detectives (ones who had been pensioned would stress this fact, as it meant they had had a long career in the police, were stable and honest and also had a wide range of expertise). They would also highlight the skills they had and how they were more 'modern' than the police. In the 1930s, it was the Leaches boasting about how they had used film cameras and microphones earlier than the police, but in the 19th century, their forebears were boasting about their use of telegraphy and other 'modern methods' of detection.
Although Leach's Detective Bureau was operational throughout the 1930s, there is no reference to it after that, so perhaps Ronald's publicity attempts eventually dried up - or the war simply put an end to their business. Both father and son appear to have died within a few years of each other in the 1960s.
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