Wild, Jonathan,1683–1725, English criminal. He maintained a highly organized gang of thieves in London and long escaped punishment by posing as an instrument of justice and helping the authorities catch other criminals independent of, or rebellious to, his control. He planned robberies and then secured rewards for helping owners recover "lost" property. His thriving business required warehouses, branch offices, artisans to make alterations, and a vessel for trade with the Continent. He was finally convicted (1725) of receiving a reward for returning some stolen lace and was hanged at Tyburn. Literary accounts of Wild's career, such as those of Fielding and Defoe, are partly fictional.
See W. R. Irwin, The Making of Jonathan Wild (1941); G. Howson, Thief-Taker General (1970).
ambitious knave, schemer, and robber, whose “greatness” is satirized. [Br. Lit.: Fielding Jonathan Wild the Great in Magill II, 516]