#149 John Williams

John Williams (Abt. 1852-1887), aka John Williamson — Pickpocket, Shoplifter, Fence

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-five years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. Jeweler. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, about 140 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a light brown mustache.

RECORD. Johnny Williams is a very clever New York pickpocket and shoplifter. He is also well known in every Important city in the United States. He is an associate of Poodle Murphy (134), Tim Oats (136), Nibbs (137), Big Dick Morris (141), Pretty Jimmie (143), Boston (144), Jersey Jimmie (145), Joe Gorman (146), and all the clever people. He is credited with purchasing almost everything that the New York thieves steal. Since his return from State prison he has been traveling around the country with a gang of pickpockets, and although arrested several times, he manages to keep out of State prison. He is now keeping a jewelry store on Sixth Avenue, New York City.

He was arrested in New York City on April 1, 1876, in company of John Meyers, charged with stealing a roll of cloth from the store of Albert Schichts, No. 88 Greenwich Street, New York City. Meyers and Williams both pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to five years each in State prison, by Judge Gildersleeve, on June 5, 1876. There were three other cases against these people, at this time, which were not prosecuted. Williams’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1876.

The one specific conviction that Inspector Byrnes associates with John Williams was committed under the name John Williamson, although in the Sing Sing entry record, John offered his mother’s name, Ann Williams.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

Given these bare facts, nothing more can be discovered about this man. Upon his death at an early age, he received a dismissive obituary:


Even his death provided little clue to his origins; no entries have been found for him in New York death records or burial records.

#198 John Pettengill

John J. Pettingill (Abt. 1835-1886), aka John Anderson, Joe Pettengill, James Pettingill, William Pettingill, James Gray, Little Pettingill, Boston Pett, Edward Perkins — Thief, Forger, Counterfeiter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in the United States. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Blue eyes, very weak; light hair, Light complexion. Thick lower lip, broad, high forehead. Has India ink marks on left arm and back of left hand. Small scar on back of neck from a boil.

RECORD. Pettengill is an old New York thief. He is what may be called a general thief, as he can turn his hand to almost anything — burglary, boarding-house work, handling forged paper or bonds, counterfeiting, etc. He has been arrested in almost every State from Maine to California, and has spent considerable of his life in State prison. He is well known in all the cities, and is considered more of a tool than a principal.

He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on June 24, 1875, and sentenced to two years in Cherry Hill prison. Since then he has served terms in Sing Sing prison, New York, and other places. He was finally arrested in the ferry house in Hoboken, N.J., on April 18, 1885, in company of Theodore Krewolf, charged with passing a number of counterfeit ten-dollar bills, of the series of 1875, on several shopkeepers in Hoboken. He was sentenced to six years in Trenton State prison for this offense, on July 22, 1885. His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1875.

Byrnes describes Pettingill as “an old New York thief,” but Pettingill was a Boston native through and through, earning the nickname “Boston Pett.” His prime years as a criminal took place a generation before most of Byrnes’s crooks’. In 1860 he was arrested for robbing $3000 worth of silks from a Manchester, New Hampshire store; and at the same time held for a store robbery in Boston. Even as this juncture, Pettingill was described as a “well-known Boston thief.”

Collection of Shayne Davidson

In 1865, Pettingill was caught trying to pass counterfeit $50 bills at a Springfield, Massachusetts bank. He was arrested and taken to a station house, but while his Bertillon measurements were being taken, ran out the door. He was later recaptured and held on a $4000 bail bond; the money was put up, and Pettingill disappeared, forfeiting the bond. In 1866, Pettengill was rumored to have been in Dan Noble’s gang when it committed the Lord Bond robbery, netting a million and a half dollars [however, the crooks who committed the Lord Bond job have never been conclusively identified.] He was finally recaptured in 1868, and was sent to prison.

In 1875, Pettingill  passed a forged check at a Philadelphia bank. He was tracked to New York, arrested, and sent back to Philadelphia, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years at Eastern State Penitentiary (not two years at Cherry Hill, as Byrnes indicated).

Upon his release, he was next discovered in 1878 in Washington, D. C., where he robbed Chief Naval Constructor Isaiah Hanscome of $48,000 in bonds and cash. This job was pulled off in partnership with two notorious Philadelphia criminals, Pete Burns and Jimmy Logue. Pettingill was jailed for over a year while he was tried, convicted, and held on appeal, but finally, in July 1879, his appeals were denied and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Pettengill was next apprehended, four months after his release, in New York in 1882, trying to pass a forged check in company with two other noted forgers, Andy Roberts and William Bartlett. Curiously, neither Byrnes nor New York newspapers offered details of any prosecutions resulting from these arrests, which suggests that the case against them was dismissed.

Boston Pett’s last misadventure came in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June of 1885, when he and a partner are caught trying to pass counterfeit $10 bills at a series of stores in New Jersey. Pettingill was sentenced to six years of hard labor at the State Prison in Trenton. His constitution could not endure the conditions there; he died in January 1886.



#134 Terrence Murphy

Henry Murphy (Abt. 1849-19??), aka Poodle Murphy, Henry Robinson, Henry Brady, Henry Williams, James Williams — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in Albany, N.Y. Married. Slim build. Height, five feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Hair, auburn, slightly mixed with gray ; blue eyes, light complexion. Can grow a full red beard quickly.

RECORD. “Poodle Murphy” is the most notorious and successful pickpocket in America. He is well known in every city in the United States as the leader of a Bowery (New York) gang of pickpockets. He is an associate of James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), Dick Morris, alias Big Dick (141), Charley Allen, Aleck Evans, alias Aleck the Milkman (160), Johnny Williams (149), Joe Gorman (146), Jim Casey (91), Nigger Baker (195), Tom Burns (148), and others.

Murphy and Charley Woods were arrested in New York City on July 20, 1881, and delivered to the police authorities of Philadelphia, charged with robbing ex-Secretary of the Navy Robeson of a watch, on a railroad car in that city. After several days had been set for the trial, and as many adjournments obtained, the Secretary became tired and abandoned the case, and the thieves were once more given their liberty on September 30, 1881.

Murphy is without doubt the smartest pickpocket in America. He is the man who does the work, while his confederates annoy the victim and attract his attention. This is what is called “stalling.” He has been arrested in every large city in the Union, but never sent to a State prison before.

He was arrested in Philadelphia on January 16, 1885, in company of James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), another notorious pickpocket, charged with robbing one Shadrach Raleigh, of Delaware, of $526 in money and $3,300 in notes, etc., on a Columbia Avenue car in that city, on December 24, 1884. For this he was sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, on March 16, 1885. There were four other charges against him at the time, but they were not tried. Pretty Jimmie, his partner, was also sent to the penitentiary for two years and six months the same day. Poodle’s picture is an excellent one, although somewhat drawn. It was taken in January, 1885.

“Poodle” Murphy’s name (and aliases) started appearing in New York arrest reports rather suddenly, starting in 1876; and he very quickly became the acknowledged leader of the most adept gang of pickpockets in the country, known as the Bowery gang. Skills such as Poodle had are not gained overnight, so it is likely that he had come to New York from another city; and perhaps had just been released from prison.


The first name “Terrence” did not appear in print until 1882. From 1876-1882, Murphy used the aliases Henry Murphy, Thomas Murphy, Henry Brady, and Henry Robinson. He gained the nickname “Poodle” early in these years, due to the fact that he sported large mutton-chop sideburns. That facial hair saved him on one occasion; while awaiting a hearing, in his cell he took a dinner knife and cut off his facial hair, scarring his cheeks with the dull blade. The ploy worked; his victim was unable to identify him.

As his face became known in New York, Poodle ranged to other cities, such as Newark, Philadelphia, and Boston. While his partners jostled their target, Poodle was the one with the quick fingers that made the grab. Their favorites locales were street-cars; elevated rail stations; and outside the entrances to banks.

By the late 1880s, Poodle and his gang were so well-known in New York that they found it hard to operate as pickpockets, and turned to  the “Green Goods” confidence game. It must have been a bit of a downfall for Poodle, who had been viewed as the king of pickpockets, to realize that his skills had little value in the green goods scam. He was a minor figure in those operations, he was never viewed as a good “steerer.” Still, like others participating in that racket, he made good money.

Poodle tried to diversify by investing in an honest business–a cafe/saloon in a busy lower Manhattan office building, the Electrical Exchange. However, he chose another ex-con as his partner, who took advantage of Murphy’s reluctance to sign his name to a loan agreement. Poodle lost his entire savings, about $7000, on the venture. For once, he was the victim.

In the late 1890s, Poodle returned to picking pockets, and was arrested on suspicion several times, but usually soon released. His luck rand out in 1904 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania,  where he was caught stealing from two men. New York detectives came to Pennsylvania to testify about his previous record; he was quickly convicted and sentenced to six years at Eastern State Penitentiary. By 1907, a friend of his indicated that Poodle has lost all his teeth in prison.

In 1914, one “Henry Murphy” was arrested in Boston with another 76-year-old pickpocket (a resident of Boston’s home for ex-convicts). They were described as the oldest pickpockets ever taken in Boston.




#125 Tillie Pheiffer

Tillie (Abt. 1850-????), aka Kate/Catherine Collins, Tillie Miller, Maria Pfeiffer, etc. — Hotel thief, house thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in France. Servant, Married. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 128 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Mole on the right side of the nose under the eye.

RECORD. Tillie Pheiffer, or Martin, is a notorious house and hotel sneak thief. She sometimes hires out as a servant and robs her employers; but her specialty is to enter a hotel or flat, and wander up through the house until she finds a room door open, when she enters and secures whatever is handy and decamps. She is known in New York City, Brooklyn, Paterson, N.J., and Baltimore, Md., where she also served a term in prison. She is said to have kept a road-house near Paterson, N.J., some years ago.

Tillie was arrested in New York City a few years ago, endeavoring to rob the Berkeley Flats, on the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, but subsequently released on habeas corpus proceedings in 1879.

She was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., disposing of a stolen watch in a pawnbroker’s shop. When arrested, she drew a revolver and attempted to shoot the officer. For this she was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary there.

She was arrested again in New York City on June 15, 1881, taken to police headquarters and searched. There was found upon her person four pocket-books, which contained money and jewelry. In one of them there was $10 in money, a gold hairpin and earrings, and the address of Miss Jennie Yeamans, of East Ninth Street, New York City, who testified that her rooms had been entered by a sneak thief during her absence, and the property stolen. Two other parties appeared against her and testified that she had robbed them also. Tillie pleaded guilty in this case, and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on June 23, 1881, by Judge Cowing.

She was arrested again in New York City on June 19, 1882, for entering the apartments of Annie E. Tool, No. 151 Avenue B, and stealing a gold watch and chain and a pair of diamond earrings valued at $300. For this she was sentenced to eighteen months in the penitentiary on June 26, 1882, by Judge Gildersleeve. Her picture is a fair one, taken in June, 1882.

Inspector Byrnes offers many clues to this female criminal in his entry, which requires much unpacking. Byrnes’s references to a jailing in Maryland;Tillie’s operating a road-house in Paterson, N.J.; and the robbery in the Berkeley Flats apartments have no traceable sources. That is regrettable, because the remaining facts–as presented by Byrnes–offer little insight on Tillie’s background and fate.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

The March, 1878 Brooklyn arrest referred to by Byrnes was made on a woman using the name Maria Pfeifer/Pfeiffer. While being captured, she pulled a gun and attempted to shoot Detective David H. Corwin. After appearing in court and hearing her sentence (three and a half years in the penitentiary), Maria broke down; she later tried to poison herself with laudanum. At the time of her arrest, a man appeared claiming to be her husband, and explained that he was a “Nevada speculator” who had only been in the city for four months, and that he never suspected his wife was committing these crimes. However, Mr. Pfeiffer never reappeared at her later trial.

In June 1881, while attempting to rob the hotel room of actress Jennie Yeamans, Tillie was captured under the name Kate/Catherine Collins, alias Pheiffer. She was described as an old-time thief, who had been previously jailed not only in Brooklyn, but also in New York.

Finally, the June 1882 arrest in the apartment of Mrs. Toale (not Tool), took place under the name she offered as “Tilly Miller.” In this instance, there was no mention of the name Pfeifer or Collins. In fact, none of these three incidents (1878, 1881 and 1882) mentioned the names Byrnes suggested, “Tillie Pheiffer”; or the name under Byrnes’s photograph of her, “Tilly Martin.”

It so happens that “Tilly Miller” was the name of a notorious female shoplifter and thief, best known as a partner of Black Lena Kleinschmidt, and also wife of hotel thief and shoplifter Billy Miller (who was profiled by Byrnes). Given these relationships alone, it is a minor mystery why Byrnes did not include an entry for “Tilly Miller.”

Was Maria Pfeiffer/Kate Collins the same woman as the infamous Tilly Miller?

#142 James Anderson

James Cassidy (18??–????), aka James Anderson, Big Jim Cassidy, Jimmie the Kid — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Tailor. Medium build. Height, 6 feet. Weight, about 180 pounds. Hair black, turning gray; gray eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a sandy mustache.

RECORD. “Jimmie the Kid” is a clever old New York thief. He has been traveling through the country for a number of years, and is well known in all the principal cities East and West. He is a great big rough fellow, and will get the money at any cost.

He was arrested several times in New York, but never with a clear case against him until April 10, 1876, when he was arrested for robbing George W. Mantel, on one of the horse-cars, for which he was convicted, and sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing prison, on June 16, 1876, by Recorder Hackett, in the Court of General Sessions, New York His time expired on December 16, 1882. His picture is an excellent one, taken in January, 1876.

One Saturday night in January 1888, pickpockets William Rodgers, alias Ryan, and James Cassidy, alias Jimmie the Kid, walked into Nooney’s saloon at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue in Lower Manhattan to quench their thirst. While at the bar, they encountered James “Jersey Jimmy” Johnson, another pickpocket of the same generation. All the men were over forty years in age; Jimmie the Kid Cassidy may have been well over fifty, since the ages given on his prison records varied from birth years of 1830 to 1843.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

Rodgers had a beef with Jersey Jimmy. He accused Johnson of being a “squealer,” a police informant, who had ratted him out. The previous day, Friday, Rodgers had been arrested and had been given  the “third degree” over his knowledge of a recent robbery, but was ultimately discharged. Rodgers spotted Johnson at a table and heated words were exchanged, and then Jersey Jimmy’s hand, holding a knife, punched Rodgers’s chest. More shoving occurred, and the blade was seen to swipe Rodgers in the stomach and across his hands. Cassidy and other bystanders separated the two men, and Cassidy assisted Rodgers out the door. Jimmie Cassidy took Rodgers to a doctor, who did his best to bandage the wounds, and then took Rodgers back to the apartment he shared with his wife.

Inspector Byrnes heard about the fracas and sent detectives to Cassidy’s apartment, where they found Rodgers sleeping. They took both Rodgers and Cassidy to the Central Station, where a police doctor took a look at Rodgers and immediately sent him to Bellevue hospital. Rodgers was listed in critical condition, but flatly refused to press any charges against Johnson. Inspector Byrnes had Johnson and Cassidy dragged into court all the same, since Cassidy was willing to testify about the stabbing. The judge took Johnson and Cassidy over to Bellevue, where Rodgers once again denied that Johnson had been his assailant.

A year later, in 1889, Jimmie the Kid Cassidy was arrested for larceny, and sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing. He emerged in May 1898, with time reduced.

Four months later, in September 1898, Cassidy walked into a saloon and encountered Charles Robinson, alias Henry Carter, an ex-convict he knew from Sing Sing. By one account, Cassidy and Robinson had an ongoing dispute left over from prison; by another account, the two shared drinks, but then disagreed over who was paying. Robinson just turned his back and started to walk out of the saloon. Jimmie the Kid pulled out a revolver and shot him in the back.

On his way to the hospital, Robinson identified his attacker. Cassidy was arrested at his home. “Yes, I shot the man,” Cassidy told police, “but I didn’t think he would peach on me.”

Cassidy was convicted of manslaughter. Because of his age and the fact that his victim was an ex-convict, Judge Goff gave him a comparatively light sentence, twelve years. However, because Cassidy had been released on a reduced sentence earlier, he would also owe the reduced time on top of the twelve years, making a sentence that totaled over fifteen years. Since Cassidy was already between 68 and 55 years old in 1898, he was virtually assured of living out his last years behind bars.





#108 James Lee

James Lee [Kohln/Kohlen/Kölhen] (Abt. 1841-1904), aka B. Sharp, August Ortman, C. M. Tingle, Charles H. Ray, Frank Bell, David Cartwright, Morris Fleckenger – Custom House Officer Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. No trade. Single. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 3/4 inches. Weight, 175 pounds. Hair sandy, eyes gray, sandy complexion, reddish-brown mustache. Has a naval coat-of-arms, anchor and eagle, in India ink, on right arm.
RECORD. James Lee was evidently in the government employ, so well is he posted in custom-house matters.
He was arrested in New York City on April 23, 1882, charged by Mrs. C. F. Chillas, of Livingston Place, with defrauding her and thirty others out of $9.98. Lee claimed to be a custom-house collector, and would collect this amount and give the parties an order on the custom-house stores for a package which he claimed was consigned to them from Europe. In this case Lee was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison on May 5, 1882, by Judge Gildersleeve. His sentence expired on May 5, 1884.
He was arrested again in Baltimore, Md., on September 17, 1884, charged with swindling eight persons in that city under similar circumstances. In several instances Lee sat at the piano and played “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” while the ladies left the parlor to procure the money for him. He was again sentenced to three years in State prison on October 15, 1884. His sentence will expire April 14, 1887. Lee’s picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1882.
Lee is first found in New York City in 1871, as a cited example of a rare species, a Tammany Hall Republican. Tammany Hall was the Democratic political machine that dominated New York City politics, but Lee was given a patronage job as a Custom House officer. Items in the New York Times suggest that he resigned from the Custom House to become a “henchman” of Police Commissioner Henry Smith. After Smith left his position as head of the police, reports began to surface about a swindler misusing the badge of a custom house officer: he would accost travelers disembarking from a ship with their baggage and demand that their baggage be surrendered to be taken away to be reinspected; and would inform the owners that they could call at the Custom House to retrieve their belongings. Of course, the baggage was never seen again.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

By 1879, he swept through Brooklyn, going to targeted homes and informing the residents that packages from overseas were being held at the Custom House for them, but that duty taxes were owed. He often received about $10 per victim from this ruse. In 1881, he used his badge to impress a Brooklyn Customs officer coming from work; Lee claimed he was a ranking Customs House Inspector from Washington, D.C., and that many officers in Brooklyn would soon be laid off. Over drinks in a bar, Lee would suggest that he could use his influence to save the jobs; and incidentally, he needed a temporary small loan of $10. Lee was arrested and spent two years in the Kings County Penitentiary.
In August 1881, Lee flashed his badge at the New York residence of Surgeon-General William Hammond, with urgent news that First Lady Garfield insisted he come at once to Washington to take over care of the mortally wounded President. While breathlessly delivering this news to Hammond in the doctor’s study, Lee asked the doctor for a glass of bromide. Apparently, Lee’s plan was to steal valuables from the study while Hammond retrieved the glass, but Hammond never left Lee alone in the study.
In addition to using his Custom House badge, Lee’s other trick was to go to a new city and claim that he was a writer from a leading New York newspaper, and would appreciate if local theater managers and rail ticket offices could “accommodate” his needs for gratis services.
Back in New York in 1882, Lee went back to bullying residents in their homes over unclaimed packages from the Continent. This time, he was arrested by Byrnes and his detectives, after first giving aliases of “B. Sharp” and “Frank Bell.” Byrnes discovered that he had bilked as many as twenty people with the fake bills of laden between mid-1881 and April, 1882. James Lee was sent to Sing Sing to serve two and a half years, commuted to May, 1884.
As Byrnes indicates, upon his release, Lee went to Baltimore and played the same game, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment in Maryland. Once he regained his freedom in 1887, he moved to Milwaukee and added a new twist to his game; now he used bogus telegrams to inform people that packages awaited them. In September, 1887 he was caught at this practice and sentenced to 18 months in Milwaukee’s House of Corrections.
Undaunted, Lee merely slipped down to Chicago after his confinement in Milwaukee ended. He victimized many well-to-do residents there with his routine, which cleverly included approached newly-married rich women, suggesting a gift of vases was being sent to them from Europe. Thinking it to be another wedding gift, the women would gladly pay the duties on the receipt Lee handed them. Lee was arrested, but later released after his victims failed to positively identify him.
Lee next went to Cincinnati, Ohio, and posed as August Ortman. After playing his con on many people, he was finally capture. Interviewed, he gave this account: “I served in the Eighty-Seventh, New York, in the Twenty-Fifth, New York, and in the Fourth, New Hampshire. I was in the Union army for four years and was made a sergeant. For sixteen years I lived the life of a sailor. I was a custom house inspector in New York under the late ex-President Arthur for three years and nine months.”
Inspector Byrnes cited the above in his 1895 edition, but it’s likely a fabric of lies. Lee spent only a few months in 1871 as a Customs House inspector, not years–and not during President Arthur’s tenure. He could not have served in the Civil War and have spent sixteen years as a sailor–he had been thieving continuously since 1871.
Moreover, his name was not Ortman. When sent to Sing Sing in 1882, he listed a family contact: a brother-in-law, Louis Bickel of Alton, Illinois. Bickel’s wife was Mary, nee Maria Norberta Kohln, according to her son’s birth record. A baptism record from Germany exists for a female with the same birth date from the same village, with the name Maria Josepha Kölhen. In both cases, these records may have been transcribed in error or based on phonetic spellings; but the family name was likely Kohln/Kohlen/Kölhen (which perhaps was Byrnes source for saying one of Lee’s aliases was “Coleman,” an alias that never appeared in print.)
After serving time in Ohio, Lee gravitated back to Chicago, keeping his last alias, August Ortman. He left the world with a mystery as his legacy:
Lee’s murder was never solved.

#105 Solomon Stern

Solomon Stern (1854-19??), aka Samuel Stern, Saul Stern, William Stern, William Stearns, William Stone, Isaac J. Stern– Bogus check swindler

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Jew. Born in United States. Single. Book- keeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, sallow complexion.
RECORD. Solomon Stern is the son of very respectable parents. He was arrested in New York City on June 29, 1883, charged with obtaining large quantities of jewelry, etc., from merchants by means of bogus checks.
The story of Stern’s downfall is interesting. In the spring of 1882 he became attached to a woman in an up-town resort in New York City. He was then a salesman in his father’s store, and resided at home. His salary was small, his father being a strict disciplinarian and an unbeliever in the fashionable follies of young men. Young Stern had little spending money, and in order to gratify his inamorata began stealing from his father. He purchased diamonds for her and paid her board at a seaside hotel. Her tastes were very expensive, and her demands on Stern for money very frequent. He began going every Sunday morning to his father’s store, and always went away with a roll of costly woolen cloth. An inventory of stock was taken, and the father discovered that he was being systematically robbed. More than $5,000 worth of woolens had been stolen. Mr. Stern soon found that his son was the thief, and discharged him. He also turned him out of his home. When this occurred the young man had become a confirmed drinker. Stern was still infatuated with the woman, and was determined to get money to supply her demands. He endeavored to borrow from his acquaintances, but without avail. Then he went to his mother, but she discarded him, and his paternal uncle also gave him the cold shoulder.
It was then he resolved upon a career of crime. He wrote his mother’s name to a check of $650 which he gave in payment for some diamonds to C. W. Schumann, of No. 24 John Street, New York City, on September 24, 1882. The check was on the Germania Bank. He sold the diamonds, and with his companion went to Baltimore, where he stayed until all his money was spent. When the woman wanted more he returned.
On December 16, 1882, he obtained a sealskin sacque with a $250 worthless check from Henry Propach, a furrier, at No. 819 Broadway, New York, and three days later a precious stone worth $525 from A. R. Picare, a jeweler, of Fifteenth Street, New York, whom he paid in similar fashion. When the police got on his track he went out of town again. He didn’t return to New York until January 6, 1883, when he swindled Joseph Michal, of No. 150 Ewen Street, Brooklyn, out of $800 by giving a worthless check in payment for jewelry. There were four complaints against Stern. He pleaded guilty to one of them, and was sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Gildersleeve, on August 3, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. His sentence will expire on March 3, 1887. His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1883.
In recounting the crimes of Solomon Stern, Inspector Byrnes presents a human story of character shortcomings, in which a wayward youth is lured into crime to satisfy the wants his demanding mistress. While it’s possible that the gist of this story may true, its plausibility recedes when considering facts of which Byrnes was unaware: Solomon Stern had been presenting bogus checks starting–at the least–in 1878. He had been arrested in both Hartford, Connecticut and Buffalo, New York; and had been sentenced in 1878 to three years in the Connecticut State Prison.
Given these facts, it seems more likely that Solomon Stern’s compulsion to lay down bad checks had other causes, such as a gambling addiction. There’s no evidence that he had any training from professional check forgers. Indeed, his efforts seemed pretty clumsy, did little to hide his identity, and were fairly sure to result in his capture.
In November 1878, Solomon went to Hartford, Connecticut, for the alleged purpose of representing his father’s clothing firm as a salesman. He was introduced to several businessmen there, and returned a week later to resume his activities. He went to one of his new contacts, a jeweler, and showed him a check written out to his father’s firm from one of their clients, and explained that he needed this check cashed there in Hartford in order to conclude a separate business deal. His new friend obliged, and Stern took part of the payment in cash, part in diamonds, and part in a new check for the remainder. After Stern left, the jeweler’s suspicions were aroused, and he investigated. Stern was tracked down, arrested, and jailed. In December 1878 he was sentenced to three years in the State prison for fraud.
Collection of Shayne Davidson
Stern learned little from that experience. After his release from Connecticut, he returned to employment in New York, and made the acquaintance of a tailor hailing from Buffalo, New York. In November, 1881, Stern went to Buffalo and looked up this tailor. He went to his store and ordered a fine suit, to be delivered to his New York address, paid with a forged check. The tailor’s bank required him to verify the check, and the fraud was uncovered. Buffalo authorities believed that Stern had been active in other cities, such as Chicago, under the aliases William Stern, William Stearns, William Stone, and Isaac J. Stern, Jr. Since the check that was forged was on a New York City bank, a New York City detective was sent to Buffalo to take him back to face charges.
It appears that those charges were dropped, and young Solomon was free to continue his exploits, which pickup up with Byrnes’s recitation of his crimes in 1882-1883. Byrnes, writing in 1886, indicated that Stern had been sent to Sing Sing on a five-year sentence and would be released in 1887.
Alas, upon his release, Solomon went straight back to swindling. He took $2000 worth of jewelry from a store in New York using a bad check, and then went to Baltimore to try to exchange some of the stones. He was captured in that city and returned to New York, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Sing Sing beginning in January 1888.
Stern was released in October 1894. Now finally, Solomon Stern appears to have quelled his demons. He married Rachael Block in 1897, and re-entered the specialty clothing business. After the death of his wife (after 1915), Solomon lived with his younger brother Jacob, and they continued together in the necktie business.

#91 James Casey

James Casey (Abt. 1837-????), aka Big Jim Casey, James Mason — Pickpocket, Bunco and Green goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single, No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Black hair, dark eyes, dark complexion ; generally wears a full black beard, turning gray.

RECORD. Big Jim Casey is a well known Bowery (New York) pickpocket and “stall” for pickpockets. He was formerly an associate of Poodle Murphy (134), Pretty Jimmie (143), Big Dick Morris (141), and all the first-class men. Of late years he cannot be relied on, and the clever ones give him the go-by, as he is fond of drink. Lately he has turned his hand to banco business, and generally handles the bag of cloth samples. He is now working with Pete Lake (93) and Ed Parmelee, two notorious banco steerers.

Casey was arrested at Clifton, Canada, with a gang of American pick-pockets, during the Marquis of Lome’s celebration, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He has served time in Sing Sing prison, and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and is well known in all the Eastern cities as Big Jim Casey.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 26, 1884, in company of Poodle Murphy (134), Tom Burns, alias Combo (148), Joe Gorman (146), and Nigger Baker (195), charged with sneaking a package of Elevated Railroad tickets, valued at $75, from a safe in the station at Houston Street and the Bowery, New York. For this offense he was sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on February 26, 1884. (See record of No. 134.) His picture is a fair one.

Big Jim Casey was another long-time Bowery pickpocket that transitioned to the main confidence games of his era: the Green Goods game and the Bunco game. He partnered at various times with all the luminaries mentioned by Byrnes in his entry on Casey. Casey was a bit older than most within this community, and many years of drinking took their toll, limiting his abilities by the 1890s.

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It was a minor mystery to Inspector Byrnes how a declining pickpocket and lower-level con man like Casey could afford the best legal representation, on the several occasions where Casey was arrested. Byrnes stumbled upon the answer not long before he left as police Superintendent in 1895:


Big Jim Casey, as one of the founders of the trust, benefited most as his skills declined.

There are many ways to define an organized crime organization. The formation of a mutual aid agreement is surely one of them. Note also: “a membership of two hundred men” coincides with the number of profiles in Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America. Clearly Byrnes believed that there was a definable limit to the number of career criminals in the country, and that it numbered in the hundreds–not dozens, and not thousands.

#71 Daniel Hunt

Daniel E. Hunt (1847-????), aka George/Henry/James Carter, Samuel D. Mason, Edward McCarthy, David Henderson, James A. Cochran  — Highwayman, Pickpocket, Sneak thief, Shoplifter, Wagon thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Medium build. Ship-joiner by trade. Born in United States. Single. Dark brown mustache. Height, 5 feet 8 or 9 inches. Weight, about 160 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion.

RECORD. Dan Hunt is a very nervy and clever pickpocket, sneak and shoplifter. He will also drive away a loaded truck. He is pretty well known in New York and most Eastern cities, and works with the best people.

He was arrested in New York City on March 25, 1878, and delivered to the police authorities of Brooklyn, N.Y., in company of William Bartlett, charged with robbing the cashier of the Planet Mills, in South Brooklyn. The cashier was knocked down and robbed of $3,500 on March 25, 1878, while within a block of the mills, by three men, who, after the robbery, which was committed in broad daylight, jumped into a wagon and escaped. He had drawn the money from a New York bank, and was returning with it to the mills for the purpose of paying off the hands. He was accompanied by a watchman, but the attack was so sudden that both men were knocked down before either could offer any resistance.

Hunt and Bartlett were arrested on suspicion, brought to trial in Brooklyn, and both found guilty on June 29, 1878. The testimony was so contradictory that Judge Moore, who presided at the trial, had strong doubts as to the guilt of the prisoners. He therefore did not sentence them, but remanded them back to Raymond Street jail, pending a motion for a new trial made by their lawyer. A new trial was granted, and as the District Attorney had no additional evidence to offer, they were discharged by Judge Moore on June 28, 1879, over a year after their arrest.

Hunt was arrested again in New York City under the name of Mason, and sentenced to two years and six months in State prison on January 22, 1880, by Judge Cowing, for grand larceny. Hunt’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1871.

Inspector Byrnes indicates that Daniel Hunt was a ship-joiner by vocation; that was a trade he learned from his father, George Wesley Hunt. Hunt’s crimes began small: in 1868, he was caught forging an order for brass door knobs. He graduated to picking pockets, using the aliases of George W. Martin and Henry Carter when caught in 1877.

Dan Hunt’s criminal career moved to a higher level early in 1878, when he was arrested following a daring robbery of a cashier transporting payroll cash from a bank to the Planet Mills, a Brooklyn yarn manufacturer. Over $3000 was taken by a gang of men who jumped from a wagon and accosted the cashier and his companion on a sidewalk. A group of suspects was rounded up, and Hunt (still using George W. Martin as his alias) was recognized.

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However, as Byrnes notes, at the trial of the men, witnesses gave contradictory testimony, and were not positive in their identification. There were rumors that New York City detectives had provided the group of suspects to Brooklyn police–knowing that they were not the true culprits–in order to protect the real thieves. Because of poor evidence, Hunt was eventually cleared.

In 1880, Hunt snatched a wallet of a man leaving a New York City bank. He was arrested under the name Samuel D. Mason, alias Edward McCarthy. He was convicted and sent to Sing Sing for two and a half years.

From Sing Sing, Hunt fell in with a gang of thieves who made their headquarters in Windsor, Ontario, robbing towns and cities along the Grand Trunk railroad, operating from Detroit to Buffalo. In Windsor, they lived in houses rented by Tom Bigelow. In April 1893, that gang was engaged by Windsor and Sandwich constables in a vicious knife fight, in which several officers were stabbed. In April 1884, several of the gang members robbed a drug store in Buffalo, and fled across the border to Ontario. They were arrested there, but refused to return to Buffalo. Instead, they were arrested for previous crimes in Ontario. Hunt was sent to the provincial prison on a sentence of five years.

Upon his release, Hunt returned to Windsor and took up with the remnants of Tom Bigelow’s gang, now headed by Louise Jourdan (Bigelow)’s new paramour, James Maguire. In 1890, Hunt was arrested in Detroit on suspicion, but was later released. That same year he was rumored to have been involved in a Northwestern Pennsylvania bank robbery that netted $10,000, but was never publicized. Eventually, this gang was broken up, and Maguire fled to Australia. Hunt migrated back eastward, where he teamed up with a young burglar from Philadelphia, Henry Vining. Together they went to the Boston area and committed a string of robberies. They were captured in Brighton, outside of Boston, in October, 1892 and arrested on suspicion. Hunt gave the name of James A. Cochran. Hunt was sentenced to a year in jail, but young Vining was released, as he was dying of consumption.

In 1895, Inspector Byrnes’s updated edition of his book stated that Dan Hunt remained in the Boston area after his release from jail in 1894. Byrnes says that he took up the vocation of a bookseller.

Hunt’s resume does not suggest he was the bookish type.


#146 Joseph Gorman

Joseph Patrick Gorman (1849-1903), aka Joe Gorman — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. Carpenter. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 130 pounds. Sandy hair, blue eyes, small nose, thin face, light complexion. Has letter “J.” in India ink on left fore-arm; dot of ink on left hand.

RECORD. Joe Gorman is a very clever pickpocket. He generally does the work. He is well known in all the large cities of the Union, and is as likely to be found, with two or three other clever men, in Maine or California, as he is in New York, working the cars, fairs, conventions, or any crowded place. He comes of a family that is criminally inclined, as he has two brothers, Tom, a sneak and till-tapper, and John, a clever general thief. Joe was born in New York, and makes it his home. Although arrested several times of late years he has escaped State prison. He is one of the smartest pickpockets in America, and a man well worth knowing. He was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment in Auburn prison, from New York City, several years ago, for highway robbery, and was pardoned after serving six years. Gorman’s picture is a very good one, taken in September, 1885.

The full litany of Joe Gorman’s crimes is insignificant compared to the manner in which he lived his last fifteen or so years. He moved away from New York City to a corner of Coney Island, taking advantage of the protection offered to criminals by the corrupt kingpin of that resort, John Y. McKane. For several years Gorman was a special officer of the local police force, charged with spotting his former comrades and turning them away from the resort town.

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Gorman’s life in Coney Island was immortalized by writer James Lauren Ford in an essay for Metropolitan Magazine, published in 1905. The title was “The Old ‘Crooks’ Colony of Coney Island,” and it may be the most beautiful piece of prose written about any of the Professional Criminals of America:

“Out on a desolate waste of sand, coarse grass and stunted trees, within sound of the ocean’s roar, and less than a quarter of a mile from the heart of that most boisterous and picturesque of watering places, Coney Island, there stands a weather-beaten cabin to which a kind of sentimental interest still attaches itself.

“For many years the Hermitage, as the old cabin was called, was the home of one Joe Gorman, famous in his day as a pickpocket, and of his wife, Mollie, the expert shoplifter. The pair had come down to Coney Island on the same wave of immigration that followed the late John Y. McKane’s offer of hospitality to such crooks as were willing to regard his domain as a place of residence rather than a field for the exercise of their professional skill.

“It was this invitation, coupled with the promise to get Joe employment on the detective force, that led the Gorman family to settle in a community that has always possessed a peculiar charm for New York ‘oldtimers’ of all sorts, and especially for those unfortunates who have foundered on the rocks of crime or dissipation or ill luck. And, having set up their household gods in the Hermitage, the Gormans soon made themselves the center of a society that was interesting and agreeable and, although broken down rather than opulent, not unlike in a moral sense that which the emigres from various metropolitan positions of trust have established in Montreal.

“For nearly half a century this old time colony of more or less incapacitated crooks, gamblers, prize-fighters and suspicious characters have found a haven of rest just beyond the merry-go-rounds, dancing pavilions and hot corn pops of this bizarre city by the sea. During all these years their proudest boast has been that not one of their number has ever been carried to the Potter’s Field. At all times and under all circumstances, Coney Island has buried its own dead, and the passing of each veteran is almost invariably followed by the passing of a hat among the survivors for the purchase of a sepulcher. On such occasions the contributions range from a ten dollar note tossed in by the well-to-do saloon keeper or racing man down to a dime or nickel offered by the human wreck who knows that his own turn is not far off; and when old Joe Gorman died there were flowers on the coffin lid and a few sincere tears as well, for Joe had been for nearly a quarter of a century a popular and noteworthy figure in the Island’s sin-stained colony.

“Long before the arrival of the Gormans, Coney Island had figured in the criminal history of New York. It was from its western shore that the murderer Sharkey, who escaped from the Tombs in woman’s clothes, embarked on the coasting vessel that bore him to Cuba. It was from the same beach that Tweed, who had lain hidden in Mike Norton’s old hotel for weeks after his escape from his Fifth Avenue house, was carried away one dark night and put aboard a sailing vessel bound for Porto Rico; and it is a matter of record that although scores of Coney Islanders were fully aware of Tweed’s presence on the island, not one of them betrayed him, for the great robber was a man entirely after their own hearts.

“These and many other stories of by gone days were staple topics of conversation whenever half a dozen kindred spirits, grown old and gray and poor in the paths of sin, were gathered together in Gorman’s little bar to talk over old times. To these the Hermitage was a convenient place of rendezvous, for very few of them cared to test their lungs or throw rings around canes, while scarcely one but had already been photographed-and that, too, at the cost of the city and not in a bathing suit. It was much pleasanter for these old-timers to fore gather on winter days and sit by the stove listening to the moaning of the wind across the marshes while they harked back to the days when crib-cracking was a learned profession and its votaries men of note, honored in bar-rooms and pointed out to strangers as they walked proudly down Broadway.

“It was whispered from time to time during the years that they passed within the walls of the Hermitage that neither Gorman nor his wife had entirely dissolved all connection with the vicarious profession which they adorned in their separate ways, but they had the virtue of charity, and it was they who came to the front when Kate Leary was about to be sent to the Almshouse and offered her a shelter for her remaining days.

“Kate Leary, known to the police and the members of her own profession, as ‘Red’ Kate, the shoplifter, had been in her day the nine days’ talk and heroine of New York, and was entitled, according to the philosophy of the Gormans, to a better ending than that of a common pauper. The devoted wife of ‘Red’ Leary, one of the most daring and skilful burglars of his time, she determined when he was shut up in Ludlow Street jail, that she would rescue him with her own hands. With this end in view she leased a tenement abutting on his cell and set about the task of digging through the two walls of brick and mortar that separated them. All day long she worked with her own hands and a rod of finely-tempered steel which she took from her husband’s collection of professional instruments; at night she carried out great bags filled with bits of mortar and broken brick, and threw them into lonely ash barrels. At length, after weeks of labor on her part, the morning came when ‘Red’ Leary failed to answer to the breakfast call. His cell was empty and the jagged hole through which he had been pulled was a mute witness as to the manner of his escape. By nightfall the town literally rang with ‘Red’ Kate Leary’s fame.

“But hers was not a profitable kind of renown, and when, many years afterwards, she came down to Coney Island on the same wave that brought Gorman and the rest of his fraternity, she found it a hard matter to make both ends meet. For a time she kept a little bar-room called the ‘Red Light,’ but at last ill health, ill fortune and a failing mind left her penniless, and it was only the charity of the Gormans that saved her from death in the workhouse and burial in the Potter’s Field.

“So at the last it was the Gormans who took her to their little cabin on the marsh, not fifty yards away from the spot where poor old Jennie Worrall, in her day one of New York’s favorite actresses, fell down in a drunken sleep, set fire to the dry grass with the stump of her cigarette and was burned to death. Here, in the Hermitage, the two wayworn sinners cared for the feeble, demented old woman, and here one blustering night, with the ocean wind sweeping cold and strong and damp across the marshes and round their lonely home, this one-time heroine breathed her last. Let us hope that in the book of the recording angel the deed has been entered to the credit of the two gray and grizzled law-breakers…

“…Mollie Gorman died many seasons past, and Joe, the old pickpocket, followed her two years ago, cared for by the charity of those who knew his history. He was greatly beloved by the children of the Island where his last years were spent. When he died the old-timers, remembering what he and Molly had done for Red Kate, the shoplifter, gave him a regular funeral that would have delighted his heart could he have seen it. They turned out, too, in full force for the ceremony and their children and grandchildren to whom he had been kind, strewed flowers on his last resting place and gave to his final passing a touch of homely tenderness that many a better and richer man might envy.”