Description: Richard (Dick) Turpin (bap. 1705 – 7 April 1739) was an English highwayman whose exploits were romanticised following his execution in York for horse theft. Turpin might have followed his father's profession as a butcher early in life, but by the early 1730s he had joined a gang of deer thieves, and later became a poacher, burglar, horse thief, and murderer. He is best known today for his fictional overnight ride from London to York on his steed Black Bess, a story that was made famous by the Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth almost 100 years after Turpin's death.
Turpin became involved in the crime for which he is most remembered—highway robbery—following the arrest of the other members of his gang in 1735. He then disappeared from public view towards the end of that year, only to resurface in 1737 with two new accomplices, one of whom he may have accidentally shot and killed. Turpin fled from the scene and shortly afterwards killed a man who attempted his capture, before later that year moving to Yorkshire and assuming the alias of John Palmer. While he was staying at an inn, local magistrates became suspicious of "Palmer" and his lifestyle, and made enquiries as to how he funded his lifestyle. Suspected of being a horse thief, "Palmer" was imprisoned in York Castle, to be tried at the next assizes. Turpin's true identity was revealed by a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law from his prison cell, which was apprehended by the authorities. On 22 March 1739 Turpin was found guilty on two charges of horse theft and sentenced to death; he was executed on 7 April 1739.
Although generally considered to be a notorious but otherwise unremarkable criminal, Turpin has become the subject of legend since his execution, romanticised as dashing and heroic in English ballads and popular theatre of the 18th and 19th centuries, and in film and television of the 20th century.