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Crime Poems: Richard Wilson’s Burglary

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Late Sunday night on August 14, 2011, four burglars entered a Big Ed’s Restaurant in South Brunswick, NJ. Their cars parked outside the restaurant drew the attention of the police, and when the officers arrived they discovered an open door that led to the basement of the building. When they started to investigate, three of the burglars attempted to run away. Two of the men were captured, including a man named Richard Wilson, but one of them remained at large.

After the police secured the two suspects, they returned to the restaurant to survey the area. They found a considerable amount of copper piping that the burglars had cut out from the building and had piled up in preparation to load into their vehicles. As the officers continued to investigate the scene, they began to hear loud snoring noises coming from the top of a large refrigeration unit. When they looked up, they discovered another burglar from the group, who had fallen asleep after he went into hiding when the police first arrived.

(You can read the full story and see a picture of Richard Wilson and the other two suspects on the television affiliate website, New York NBC:

Almost three hundred years before Richard Wilson and his snoring companion broke into the Big Ed’s Restaurant, another Richard Wilson was caught committing burglary in Boston. While news of Richard Wilson’s burglary in New Jersey was reported on many websites–and his story may have even been broadcast on local television stations–only a few newspapers carried brief reports about the burglary committed by Boston’s Richard Wilson.

From these accounts, all that we know about the earlier Wilson and his burglary is that he was Irish and that he tried to steal “sundry Goods from Abiel Walley, Esq.” sometime in or around August, 1732. The Superiour Court sentenced him to death for his crime that month, and he was executed at Boston Neck on October 19, 1732.

The American Weekly Mercury reported that Wilson behaved penitently at the gallows. Before his execution, Wilson also confessed his guilt, and “advis’d the Spectators to take Warning by his untimely Death, and particularly cautioned against evil Company, and the Sins of prophane Swearing and Drunkenness, which had led him on to commit the Sin for which he was to die.” And finally, he “beg’d his Wife and Children might not be abus’d, for they were innocent.”

But along with these few reports, news of Wilson’s burglary and subsequent execution also appeared in one more media source: a poem in broadside form that was “Printed and Sold at the Heart and Crown in Cornhill” (a location that is now occupied by City Hall Plaza in Boston). The poem does not fill in much more of the details of Richard Wilson’s burglary, but at the time it did help to disseminate news of his crime and punishment.

Detail from "The Wages of Sin" (American Memory, Library of Congress)

The Wages of Sin;
Robbery justly Rewarded:
Occasioned by the untimely Death of
Richard Wilson,
Who was Executed on Boston Neck, for Burglary,
On Thursday the 19th of October, 1732.

THis Day from Goal must Wilson be
conveyed in a Cart,
By Guards unto the Gallows-Tree,
to die as his Desert.

For being wicked overmuch,
there for a wicked Crime,
Must take his fatal Lot with such
as die before their Time.

No human Pardon he can get,
by Intercession made;
But flee he must unto the Pit,
and by no Man be stay’d.

The fatal sad and woful Case,
this awful Sight reveals,
Of one whom Vengeance in his Chase
hath taken by the Heels.

Here is a Caution in the Sight,
to wicked Thieves, and they
Who break and rob the House by Night,
which they have mark’d by Day.

We see the Fall of one that cast
his Lot in by Decree,
With those that wait the Twilight past,
that so no Eye may see.

That wicked Action which he thought
by Night would be conceal’d,
By Providence is strangely brought
thus far to be reveal’d.

By which we see apparantly,
there is no Places sure,
Where Workers of Iniquity
can hide themselves secure.

There is no Man by human Wit,
can keep his Sin conceal’d
When he that made him thinks it fit
the same should be reveal’d.

He that gets Wealth in wicked Ways,
and slights the Righteous Rule,
Doth leave them here amidst his Days,
and dies at last a Fool.

Here we may see what Men for Stealth
and Robbing must endure;
And what the Gain of ill got Wealth
will in the End procure.

Here is a Caution high and low,
for Warning here you have,
From one whose Feet are now brought to
the Borders of the Grave.

He does bewail his mis-spent Life,
and for his Sins doth grieve,
Which is an hopeful Sign that he
a Pardon will receive.

He says, since he forsook his God,
God has forsaken him,
And left him to this wicked Crime,
that has his Ruine been.

He calls his Drunkenness a Sin,
with his neglect of Prayer,
The leading Crimes have brought him in
to this untimely Snare.

All you that practice cursed Theft,
take Warning great and small,
Lest you go on, and so are left
to such untimely fall.

Repent of all your Errors past,
and eye the Stroke of Fate,
Lest you thus come to Shame at last,
and mourn when ’tis too late.

Remember what the Scripture saith,
a little honest Wealth,
Is better far than mighty Store
of Riches got by Stealth.

This Warning soundeth in our Ear,
this Sentence loud and Shrill,
O Congregation, hear and fear,
and do no more so ill


"The Wages of Sin" (American Memory, Library of Congress)


American Weekly Mercury, Thursday, November 2, 1732, issue 670, p. 4. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.

“Boston, Aug. 21.” Weekly Rehearsal, August 21, 1732, issue 48, p. 2. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.

“Boston, Aug. 31.” Boston News-Letter, Thursday, August 31, 1732, issue 1492, p. 2. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.

“Snoring Burglar Tips Off Cops to Hiding Spot.” Website: NBC New York ( Accessed on March 26, 2012.

The Wages of Sin; Or, Robbery Justly Rewarded: A Poem; Occasioned by the Untimely Death of Richard Wilson. Boston: Printed and Sold at the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, [1732]. Database: American Memory, Library of Congress:

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