Had a Hampshire landlady become so overworked that neurosis drove her to drink and compulsive crime? It was the defence put forward when Mary Perkins, 48, came before Hampshire Assizes in 1917. However, the suggestion the combination had led her to becoming a kleptomaniac was firmly rejected by the prosecution who alleged there was a distinct pattern to her deviousness.

“This case is a serious one, not only because of the value of the jewellery stolen,” Simon Harris alleged. “But also because the defendant had for some time carried on systematic robbery and successfully succeeded on one occasion in diverting suspicion by casting it on other people, so different people were suspected and she escaped discovery.”

Perkins had pleaded guilty to three charges of stealing jewellery, cash and a watch, their combined value running into hundreds of pounds, from guests at the Montagu Arms, Beaulieu.

Returning from a day visit to Bournemouth, Lillian Hill discovered jewellery she had locked in a dressing case was missing. She complained to Perkins who feigned distress at her loss and hinted other people who had driven to the hotel had been in her room.

When Lt. Charles Buck told her tie-pins and other items had disappeared, she dismissed it as a figment of his imagination and he had never brought them with him. He had been billeted there prior to joining the Royal Air Corps, with whom he was serving when killed on a photographic mission over Belgium, aged 22, a few months later.

Bournemouth Echo: Montagu Arms.

Perkins, however, brought about her own downfall in extraordinary circumstances. When Superintendent Jones, head of the New Forest police force, came to the hostelry to investigate the two mysteries, she feared he had come to interview another guest, Ethel Smith, over the loss of jewellery and cash.

Perkins craftily laid the blame elsewhere because she immediately claimed her own diamond pendant had been stolen but within minutes was observed going to shrubbery in the garden where she had concealed not only Smith’s property but also some of those of the two other guests and her own pendant.

Charged with theft, she took her place in the dock on November 14 when Jones told the court that through a search warrant, other missing items had been retrieved from either the defendant or her daughter.

Perkins had moved into the pub in 1911 and suspicion had once been cast on her as a thief when a maid’s money vanished.

Bournemouth Echo: Bournemouth, circa 1910.

In mitigation, Mr Emanuel said that after separating from her husband because of his cruelty, she had lived with landlord Henry Foakes for 20 years and had been a hard-working and industrious woman.

“These peculiarities commenced at a time when she was neurotic through overworking, for which she has been attended for three or four years. Dr Purvis will tell that it is not extraordinary for a woman overworking and taking to alcohol to develop kleptomania. She has made nothing out of what she has done as she merely looked at the items from time to time. She was not in need of money and some of the things found in the garden came from information given to the police.”

Emanuel said since her arrest, Perkins had been confined to the prison infirmary where she still suffered from the same “neurotic temperament” and suggested the best remedy was for her to be properly looked after in the future.

Despite hearing from Dr Purvis and two other medical practitioners, the judge, Lord Coleridge, rejected the call for mercy and jailed her for 10 months on each, the sentences to run concurrently.