Arthur Vicars was an English heraldic expert who has gone down in history as the man who had the Irish Crown jewels stolen from under his nose. He was cleared of any involvement in the theft but he never recovered his reputation. He was shot dead during the Irish War of Independence by the IRA who alleged that he was an informer.
Vicars was born on 27 July 1862 at Leamington Spa in England but had relatives in Ireland to whom he was closely attached. After finishing his education at Oxford University, he moved to Ireland where he began developing his expertise in genealogy and heraldry.
He became Registrar of the Order of St Patrick, which gave him custody of the Irish Crown Jewels at Dublin Castle.
It was a highly prestigious position but it was to lead to his downfall and disgrace. On 6 July 1907, he opened the safe in his office in the castle to find that the jewels he was employed to guard, had been stolen.
They were worth more than £30,000 and were due to be displayed at the Irish International Exhibition by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Vicars had last seen the jewels a month previously when he was showing them off to a visitor to his office.
A massive police investigation was launched, with Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arriving in Ireland to lead the operation. Vicars publicly blamed his assistant for the theft, but Kane dismissed the accusation. Vicars was eventually found guilty of negligence and incompetence and forced to resign from his position.
There were various theories as to the whereabouts of the jewels put forward by both the public and the press. Members of the inner circle of the Dublin authorities were accused of taking part in a homosexual orgy, and the true thief couldn’t be identified without publicly revealing the after-hours activity taking place inside the Castle.
Another theory was that the Irish Republican Brotherhood had stolen the jewels and smuggled them to America to be sold to raise money for their preparation for an uprising against British rule.
Vicars, who held the only key to the safe, was known to enjoy a drink or two during his lonely night shifts guarding the jewels. It was alleged that he once woke up in the early hours to find himself wearing the jewels. Whether this was just a prank by one of his colleagues, a practice run for the real thief, or even happened at all, was never confirmed.
In 1912, five years after the jewels went missing, the Daily Mail printed a story that Vicars had allowed his mistress to copy the safe key, and that she had fled to Paris with the jewels. Vicars sued the newspaper for libel and they conceded that the story was complete fiction. Vicars received £5,000 in damages.
Vicars was shot dead by the IRA on 14 April 1921. They left a placard around his neck accusing him of being an informer for the British. His body was taken back to England and he was buried at Leckhampton in Gloucestershire.
It is now more than a hundred years since the jewels were discovered missing. The crime was never solved, no one was found guilty of the theft and the jewels were never found.
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