Skinning, A Victorian Crime

Well dressed target

Hold tight to your waistcoat, young Harry

Skinning was the crime of enticing or abducting a youngster away in order to strip it of its clothes.  This crime of desperation was a lot more frequent in the winter, with the need for warm garments,  than in summer. A stout wool coat or real shoes must have been a powerful temptation to the parents of shivering little ones with only some rags to their name.

Women were better at luring small, well-dressed children to some isolated corner where they could be stripped of boots and coat and other clothes.  Elderly women found themselves suited to the crime.  The child was often terrorized into silence while the thief made off with the booty.

Professional “skinners” could strike with lightning swiftness, leaving a child frozen with fright and practically naked while its mother or nurse, too slow to miss the child, frantically searched.  The purloined clothes were turned over for a profit on the street or taken to the pawn shop for a good handful of coin.  When practitioners were caught, there was sometimes a troop of children and their outraged parents at the trial, indignantly pointing out the guilty party.

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