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This was, in many ways, the golden age of crime. Lis was born in the Pale of Settlement, in what is now Poland.

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His last name, in Polish, means fox, although he quickly abandoned it for dozens of aliases. Young Joseph, he suggests, developed a hatred of female immorality and female sexual organs, reinforced by the harsh teachings of the Old Testament. The little town of Kielce was too small for Lis.

He made his way to London, where, Mr. To find it convincing, readers must believe that Lis was deeply influenced by the Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 23, and its warning to the whores of Egypt that their noses and ears would be cut off. He set up as a pimp, dabbled in burglary and theft and sold information to the police.


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View all New York Times newsletters. When not cooling his heels in prison, Lis did show a remarkable talent for landing on his feet and setting up a brothel in no time.

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In Johannesburg, a wide-open city that attracted prostitutes and wheeler-dealers from all over the globe, he hit the ground running, creating a major white slavery ring soon after his arrival in Lis, whose grandiosity Mr. It was a life of boom and bust. The lows were very low — by he was contemplating selling cigarettes on commission — but the highs could be giddy. Not long after serving time in a Johannesburg prison, he was offered a princely salary to help detectives in Kimberley set up illicit diamond-buying sting operations. And so it went, with barely a pause for breath, from South Africa to South America and back to Europe, until the dogged Mr.

Who was he?

By this time, you suspect that the would-be master criminal is, in fact, just as Mr. Tell us what you think.


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Please upgrade your browser. See next articles. Newsletter Sign Up Continue reading the main story Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box. Invalid email address. Unknown to modern memory, James Thompson Bain led such an extraordinary life that it is strange he is now forgotten.

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Born into poverty in Scotland, he educated himself in the radical philosophies of William Morris and Thomas Carlyle. He fought for the British against the Zulus in and for the Boers against the British in JT Bain was a pioneer of socialist ideas in South Africa. He played a leading part in the great Rand strike of His deportation along with eight other strike leaders in rocked the governments of South Africa and Britain and for a while he was the sensation of London.

Then in the last year of his life, he held the fate of Johannesburg, and perhaps South Africa, in his hands …. He takes an unknown person from the throng of history and turns him into a person of real interest.

The Fox And The Flies: The World Of Joseph Silver, Racketeer And Psychopath

What is more, with meticulous research and a light and sympathetic pen, he casts his drama with a fascinating parade of colourful characters from Irish revolutionaries to Indian pacifists. Charles van Onselen is an acclaimed biographer who has been honoured with visiting fellowships at Cambridge, Oxford and Yale. A graduate of Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and St. He has published extensively in leading historical journals in America, England and France.

Van Onselen, Charles 1944–

A Fellow of the Royal Society S. Jonathan Hyslop grew up in Johannesburg, took degrees at the Universities of Oxford, Birmingham and the Witwatersrand, and has spent time in living in the Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Historian claims to ID Jack the Ripper

He is a long-standing member of the committee of the Wits History Workshop. Print this article. Email this article. Please register or log in to comment.