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Trapping a Burglar

A Connecticut Storekeeper Digs a Pit Beneath His Cash-Drawer and Rigs a Trap Over It.

Norwich, Conn., January 16th.—An amusing case was tried last week in the Superior Court of this county. George Avery is a country grocer, and his store in the quiet village of Groton has almost as various a stock of goods as was crowded into the ark. He is tall and lean, and prosaic and methodical in disposition. He never smiles. No one ever accuses him of humor or shrewdness. At intervals of several years his store has been entered by thieves at night and small sums of money have been stolen from his till. Two or three months ago he lost quite a sum of money and some valuable goods in this way. Mr. Avery said nothing; but he took a spade and went down into his cellar and began to dig a hole directly beneath his money-drawer. At odd times for several days thereafter, when trade was dull and the male gossips had fallen asleep on the cracker-barrels upstairs, Mr. Avery toiled at his excavations. When he had finished his work with the shovel he had a pit four feet square and eight feet deep. From the top of the hole to the floor of the grocery was a distance of about ten feet. Mr. Avery next purchased some of the smoothest-matched yellow pine boards in the market, and with them made a seamless shaft, reaching from the floor of the grocery to the bottom of the pit. He next out a square hole in the floor under the till and rigged in a trap, similar to those used on gallows frames, directly opening into his eighteen-foot shaft. He invented a reflex action spring that, after the descent of the trap, would carry the door back into position, where it would be held by a snap catch. Mr. Avery was now ready for his next burglar. He arranged his trap during the day so that neither he nor his clerk would fall into the bowels of the earth, but invariably left it baited when he shut up store for the night. He waited several weeks with no result.
On the night of January 2nd Henry Johnson and a partner, wandering rascals from New York, decided to enter Mr. Avery’s store for pillage. The getting in was a simple process. They quietly knocked in a pane of glass and Johnson entered. He trod safely across the store and passed behind the counter. He approached the till. He placed his hand on the drawer knob and took a step forward. Instantly the trap shot downward with a rattle and bang, and Mr. Johnson went down straight as a plumb into the chasm. His descent was so sudden and rapid that he hadn’t time to utter a cry to his companion. The latter heard the noise of the trap as it struck against the side of the shaft, and at once made off. The trap, as soon as it had disposed of its victim rose swiftly and noiselessly into its place, and the automatic hasp fastened it.

Mr. Johnson speaking to a reporter concerning his downfall said: “I thought I was going down to the bottom of the earth. I was surprised. l struck all in a heap, It was total darkness. I picked myself up after a while, and found that I was lame, but no bones were broken. I then began to think of some means of getting out. I thought I was in the cellar, and felt around, My hand struck against the side of the pit. I found there was a smooth surface all around me. As high up as I could jump it was solid as steel. I kicked against the sides, but it was no use. I cussed the demolition hole. Then I thought I might dig under the boards, and I went to work with a will, but after digging for half an hour with my hands and piling up a mound of earth behind me nearly as high as my head, the piled-up earth, began to run back into the hole. I gave up the task as hopeless, and waited for developments. I was now anxious to be caught. Any way to get out of that blasted pit, which was blacker than midnight.”

At an early hour on January 3d Mr. Avery came down to his store, opened it, and at once saw that burglars had paid it a visit and that the trap had been sprung. Mr. Avery went about his morning duties with his usual composure, sweeping out the store and setting things to rights. He did not go to the shaft to see whether the burglar had escaped. He had perfect confidence in the trap. After an hour or two, and after returning to his home and eating breakfast, he called the neighbors into the store and told them about his trap. He added that he had good reason for believing that there was a burglar in it. All went to the mouth of the shaft, and Mr. Avery raised the lid. The party peered down, and dimly descried Mr. Johnson, begrimed with soil, sitting complacently on the dirt pile at the bottom. He looked up at the gathering and called out:
“When are ye goin’ ter let me outer this cussed trap?”

Mr. Avery replied that there was no hurry. A Constable was called in, ropes were prepared, and after a quarter of an hour Mr. Johnson was drawn up and landed on the grocery floor. He made no effort to escape. He was taken to New London and lodged in the County Jail. He pleaded guilty to a charge of burglary in the Superior Court, and on Tuesday last was sentenced to two years in State Prison. His companion, whose name is unknown, has not been captured. Mr. Johnson is still lame from the effects of the fall.—N.Y. Sun, January 18th.

(Picked up by the Daily Evening Bulletin of San Francisco, Friday, January 26, 1883; pg. 8). Transcribed by E.F. Gray