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Metropolitan Digest / LOS ANGELES COUNTY NEWS IN BRIEF

After 2 Hung Juries, 'Lord Peter the Cheater' Admits to Art Theft

January 29, 1994|BOB POOL

A Long Beach sports shop clerk who once jolted Great Britain by posing as an English lord surprised a Los Angeles judge Friday who was considering dismissing an art theft charge against him.

Charles Crutcher Jr.--dubbed "Lord Peter the Cheater" by British tabloids--confessed.

His unexpected guilty plea to illegally taking a stolen 17th-Century painting out of the United States came after two federal juries failed in recent weeks to convict him.

His move surprised his lawyers. Even Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer questioned him to find out if he really wanted to admit to the crime.

During the two trials, Crutcher had contended that his late father, a former South Gate High School teacher, gave him the 350-year-old painting by Flemish master David Teniers the Younger titled "A Peasant Filling His Pipe." But when Crutcher shipped the painting to a London gallery last year in hopes of selling it for $150,000, art experts discovered that it had been stolen from another London shop in 1987.

FBI agents worked with investigators from Scotland Yard to track down Crutcher in October at a Belmont Shore sports store where he worked as a $6-an-hour clerk. Co-workers knew him as Charles de Crevecoeur.

But British authorities knew him as Lord Peter Charles de Vere Beauclerk, a con man who jilted a string of women and twice fled from police custody. His first escape came at his apartment after Crutcher allegedly knocked out a detective. Later, he bolted from police who cornered him in a pub and escaped by driving a car through a hedgerow.

His escapades earned Crutcher the nickname "Lord Peter the Cheater" in British tabloids. Several of his jilted girlfriends testified against him at his two trials. His record of escapes prompted authorities to hold him without bail. Those three months in custody will be applied to the sentence scheduled to be imposed Feb. 28, said one of Crutcher's lawyers, Neison Marks.

Marks said prosecutor Ronald Chang proposed a plea bargain calling for a one-year maximum sentence in exchange for Crutcher's admission.

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