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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Doreen Smith (part 3)

We must now turn our attention back to the Countess, the former Doreen Lucy Smith who had gone from authoress to publisher to fraudster in only a few years. When she and her husband were arrested in Bristol on 20 August, they were separately charged and while Barry Shafto Leopold Ferdinand Casimir Herbertus de la Feld as he was known, although he was most likely born Francis Roach-Jackson, was sent to Cornwall, Doreen found herself before the magistrates at West London Police Court answering her own charges.

After appearing in court on Tuesday, 31 August 1937, and with the case adjourned for a week, she was present at her husband's court case the following day and he even consulted her when a question arose about a handwritten obituary notice that had been found announcing the deaths of Barry and Doreen de la Feld in a motor accident. When pressed, and after he had spoken to his wife, Barry admitted that it was she who had written the note, although he had not the slightest idea why she had written it.

That they were trying to dispose of their De la Feld aliases was clear. Shortly before being arrested, the two were in Dublin in order to be remarried. "My wife wanted to drop our title and use an ordinary English name. He gave the name of Beaumont to the registrar in Dublin, and asked him to marry them at once."

Did you tell the registrar the reason your wife wanted to change her name was that she would inherit a legacy if she used the name of Beaumont, asked the prosecution. "Yes," said Roach-Jackson before asking, "Was there any harm in that?"

After seeing her husband sentenced to a month's imprisonment, Doreen faced her own trial at West London where she was found guilty of two cases of cheque fraud on Harrods and of obtaining £6 by false pretences from Mr. James Henry Collins, a provision merchant. One of the cheques that were returned marked "Account closed" was for three return tickets to Jersey. 

Appearing as Doreen de la Feld, she pleaded guilty to the three charges and asked for another similar offence committed at Bath to be taken into consideration.

In Jersey, she had obtained a passport in the name of Theodora Craster (given in the newspapers as Custa), having given a false statement to the Governor of Jersey, who had decided not to take any further action after withdrawing the passport.

She was sentenced to three months imprisonment on each of the three charges, the first two to be consecutive.

Doreen Lucy Smith had been educated at Clifton High School and, at the age of 16, began training as a music teacher. She became a convert to Catholicism in around 1927. In 1933 she had entered a convent as a Carmelite novice but remained there for only four months. On leaving, she had started her a publishing business in Bloomsbury Square, but, after two years was forced to put it into liquidation. Later she started another publishing business in New Oxford Street, and that had been wound up in June 1937 after amassing quite a number of outstanding debts.

On her release, and registered as Dorothy Roach-Jackson, she was living at 112 Denbigh Street, Westminster S.W.1, with her husband, now styling himself Francis Bentick Roach-Jackson, and her mother-in-law, Adelaide Roach-Jackson. It was whilst in Denbigh Street that she found herself arrested and brought before Westminster Magistrates on charges of stealing books and obtaining goods by false pretences from a West End store. She pleaded guilty to five charges and asked for 30 others to be taken into consideration. She was sentenced for a second time to six months imprisonment.

Since her marriage, Doreen Roach-Jackson had been living on the proceeds of crime, posing as the wife of a parson, as a baroness and as a countess. She was a very plausible woman and induced people to put faith in her, said Detective-Sergeant O'Sullivan, who had received notification from Ireland that she was wanted for fraud on an allegation of issuing worthless cheques.

The Electoral Roll gives possible later addresses as 30 Gloucester Street, Westminster S.W.1 [1939, living with Stella Maud Smith] and 42 Kingston Ave, Feltham [fl. 1945].

It seems likely that, following the publicity of her rapid downfall in the late 1930s, Doreen had been unable to pick up the threads of her career. Perhaps it is the sharp decline in her career that is the most fascinating aspect of this story. Her interest in religion seems genuine: her earliest published novels were written for Burns, Oates & Co., a prominent Catholic publishing house; she travelled to Genoa (and possibly to Rome) in 1932 and attempted to enter a convent in 1933.

A slim hardcover book, St. Philip Neri by Doreen Lucy Smith, was published by Sands in 1945, a tribute to the life of Philip Romolo Neri, a 16th century Italian priest, known as the Apostle of Rome, who founded the Congregation of the Oratory. Sands & Co. was another religious publisher who had earlier published Doreen's novel The Gates Are Open.

From this we might conclude that Doreen retained her Catholic faith and continued to write. I have found no further trace of her in the UK and it is possible that she moved abroad soon after the war. The only later trace—and I cannot say for certain that it is "our" Doreen—is a "Sea Arrival Card" for a Doreen Lucy Smith who arrived aboard the S.S. Braemar Castle on 17 December 1960. Apart from revealing that she resides in Southern Rhodesia, the card has no other information.

Postscript: There are two books for young girls that caught my eye when I was researching the above. The first is Dorothy Smith's Those Greylands Girls (Nelson, 1944), which the Encyclopaedica of Girls' School Stories describes as a "charming story of an orphanage/school and the girls who inhabit it," and Jenny at Durrington Grange by Doreen Smith (Pickering & Inglis, 1973). Could these be by Doreen Lucy Smith? Let's not forget that she was listed in the 1938 Electoral Roll as Dorothy Roach-Jackson, so linking her to the first book is not a big stretch of the imagination. If she was to have written the latter, she would have been in her early seventies when it was published.

1 comment:

cynbook said...

I read somewhere that they were missionaries to Africa, and that led me to your much more informative writings. Thank you for this fascinating bit of history.