ask Sue-Belinda

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

I LOVE re­ceiv­ing your letters and emails and this week I am in­debted to Dot and Alec for their lovely let­ter and funny story.

Dot and Alec have been vis­it­ing their fam­ily down south and had par­tic­u­larly en­joyed time with the grand­chil­dren, one of whom was the fam­ily prankster … much like his grandad. Alec ad­mit­ted to all man­ner of fun and mis­chief and Dot was charged with bring­ing him into line with ad­mo­ni­tions to stop be­ing a smart Alec. One morn­ing, four- year- old grand­son Jeremy de­cided to wake Grandad with an ice cube down his py­jama col­lar and it was Grandad’s turn to call him a smart Alec. Jeremy was now very con­fused … surely he meant a smart Jeremy?

So thank you Dot and Alec for in­quir­ing about the ori­gin of this old and cu­ri­ous ex­pres­sion.

We need to travel back in time to the 1840s in New York City where a petty crim­i­nal named Alec Hoag was mak­ing a very com­fort­able liv­ing man­ag­ing pros­ti­tutes. Rather than risk los­ing his favourite to another man­ager, he mar­ried Melinda and they be­gan a new scam. Now work­ing as a twop­er­son team, they added pick­pock­et­ing to the crime of so­lic­it­ing. Melinda would lure a cus­tomer into a dark al­ley and while dis­tract­ing him, she’d pick his pock­ets and hand the pro­ceeds to Alec. He would then raise a ruckus and the client would run away to avoid dis­cov­ery be­fore he had a chance to re­alise his be­long­ings had been stolen.

This ac­tiv­ity soon gained the at­ten­tion of the law so the scam was mod­i­fied. It was known as a panel scam. Melinda would lure a client back to her small apart­ment. She would as­sist him to lay his clothes care­fully ( so they would not be rum­pled) over a chair against the pan­elled wall at the head of the bed. Once she and her client were “oth­er­wise en­gaged”, Alec would open a panel from the hid­ing space be­hind and steal the wal­let, watch and other items. Alec would then exit the apart­ment and be­gin to bang on the door claim­ing ( truth­fully for a change) that he was Melinda’s hus­band.

The po­lice were soon ad­vised of this scam and rather than cart­ing Melinda and Alec off to jail, the ar­rest­ing of­fi­cers de­cided they wanted “in” on the ac­tion and be­gan tak­ing bribes to pro­tect the racket. Even­tu­ally, Alec and Melinda grew tired of giv­ing so much of “their” money to these crooked po­lice and be­gan hold­ing back money, claim­ing busi­ness was fall­ing off. The two po­lice­men in­volved in­ves­ti­gated and found it was not so and ar­rested them both, tak­ing care to en­sure no ev­i­dence led back to their bribe tak­ing. Alec had sim­ply be­come too smart for his own good and, there­after, the crooked po­lice would warn other petty crim­i­nals not to be like “smart Alec” and to pay their dues if they wanted to evade jail.

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