RICHARD OAKEY, JOHN LEVEY, AND MATTHEW FLOOD
Executed at Tyburn, on the 23rd of February, 1723, for robbery
At this time London and its environs were infested with desperate gangs of villains, of which a felon of the name of Blake was the Macheath; and in which character he was known as Captain Blueskin. In a few pages we shall give the particulars of this depredator; who, on the present occasion, owed his escape alone to his baseness in impeaching his associates in villainy.
Oakey, Levey, and Flood, three of this gang, were of the meanest origin, the first being apprenticed to a tailor, from whom he soon ran away. The other two were miserable, ignorant, yet most dangerous wretches, and from childhood were pickpockets. With such as these Oakey associated himself, and for some time procured a miserable subsistence by picking of pockets; and lie afterwards proceeded to the practice of cutting off the pockets of women. In order to do this effectually, one of them used to trip up the women's heels, while the other cut off the pocket: and they generally got out of the reach of detection before the party robbed could recover her legs.
Many of Oakey's associates belonged to Jonathan Wild's gang, who caused several of them to be executed, when he could make no further advantage of them. Having thus lost many of his old acquaintance, he became connected with a woman of the town, who taught him the following singular method of robbery: in their excursions through the streets the woman went a little before Oakey, and when she observed a lady walking near where a coach was turning, she used to catch her in her arms, crying, 'Take care, Madam, you will be run over!' and in the interim Oakey was certain to cut off her pocket. But this way of life did not last long, for this abandoned woman died soon after, in consequence of some bruises she received from a man whom she had ill-treated; and, on her death, Oakey followed the practice of snatching off pockets without a partner, and became one of the most dexterous in his profession.
Not long after this, he became acquainted with several housebreakers, who persuaded him to follow their course of life, as more profitable than stealing of pockets. In the first attempt they were successful; but the second, in which two others were concerned with him, was the breaking open a shop in the Borough, from whence they stole a quantity of calimancoes; for which offence Oakey was apprehended; on which he impeached his accomplices, one of whom was hanged, and the other transported, on Ins evidence.
Deterred from the thoughts of housebreaking by this adventure, he returned for a while to his old employment, and then became acquainted wit h a man called Will the Sailor, when their plan of robbery was this: Will, who wore a sword, used to affront persons in the streets, and provoke them till they stripped to fight with him, and then Oakey used to decamp with their clothes.
However, these associates in iniquity soon quarrelled, and parted; and Oakey, who by this time was an accomplished thief, entered into Jonathan Wild's gang, among whom were John Levey, Matthew Flood, and Blueskin. These men were for some time the terror of travellers near London. Among other atrocious robberies, they stopped a coach between Camberwell and London, in which were five men and a woman.
The men said they would deliver their money, but begged they would not search, as the lady was with child. Blueskin, holding a hat, received the money the passengers put into it, which appeared to be a considerable sum, but, on examination, it was found to be chiefly halfpence. The gang suspected that Blueskin had defrauded them, as it was not the first time he had cheated his fellow thieves: but they were greatly mortified that they had neglected to search the coach, when they afterwards learned there were three hundred pounds in it.
Some time after this Oakey, Levey, Flood, and Blueskin stopped Colonel Cope and Mr Young, in a carriage, on their return from Hampstead, and robbed them of their watches, rings, and money. Information of this robbery was sent to Jonathan Wild, who caused the parties to be apprehended; and Blueskin being admitted an evidence, they were tried, convicted, sentenced, and ordered for execution.
After conviction, their behaviour was exceedingly proper for persons in their calamitous situation. Oakey said that what gave him more concern than all his other offences was, the burning a will that he found with some money and rings in a pocket which he had cut from a lady's side; a circumstance which proved highly detrimental to the owner.