#70 Edward Lyons

Edward Lyons (Abt. 1839-1906?), aka Ned Lyons, Alexander Cummings — Sneak thief, pickpocket, bank robber, green goods operator

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Stout build. Height, about 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 180 pounds. Hair inclined to be sandy. Wears it long, covering the ears, one of which (the left one) has the top off. Wears a very heavy reddish mustache. Bald on front of head, forming a high forehead.

RECORD. Ned Lyons was born in Manchester, England, in 1839; came to America in 1850. His father had hard work to make both ends meet and look after his children, and in consequence young Ned had things pretty much his own way. They lived in West Nineteenth Street, New York City, a neighborhood calculated to develop whatever latent powers Ned possessed. The civil war, with its attractions in the shape of bounties, etc., proved a bonanza while it lasted, and after that Ned loomed up more prominently under the tuition of Jimmy Hope (20). He was afterwards a partner of Hope’s, and was arrested several times, but never convicted.

In 1869 Lyons, Hope, Bliss, Shinborn, and others, robbed the Ocean Bank, of New York, of money and bonds amounting to over a million of dollars. The bank was situated on the corner of Fulton and Greenwich streets. A basement directly underneath was hired, ostensibly as an exchange. To this office tools were carried, and a partition erected, between which the burglars worked day and night, when opportunity served, cutting up through the stone floor of the bank, and gaining an entrance on Saturday night, after the janitor had left. To tear open the vaults was a task requiring time; but they operated so well, that on Monday morning the iron front door of the bank was found unlocked, the vault literally torn to pieces, and the floor strewn with the debris of tools, mortar, stone, bricks, bonds, and gold coin — the bonds being left behind as worthless, and the gold coin as too heavy.

A few years before this robbery Lyons married a young Jewess, named Sophie Elkins, alias Levy (128), protegee of Mrs. Mandlebaum. Her mania for stealing was so strong that when in Ned’s company in public she plied her vocation unknown to him, and would surprise him with watches, etc., which she had stolen. Ned expostulated, pleaded with, and threatened her, but without avail; and after the birth of her first child, George (who, by the way, has just finished his second term for burglary in the State Reformatory at Elmira, N.Y.), Ned purchased a farm on Long Island, and furnished a house with everything a woman could wish for, thinking her maternal instinct would restrain her monomania; yet within six months she returned to New York, placed her child out to nurse, and began her operations again, finally being detected and sentenced to Blackwell’s Island.

Early in the winter of 1870 Lyons, in connection with Jimmy Hope, George Bliss, Ira Kingsland, and a well known Trojan, rifled the safe of the Waterford (N.Y.) Bank, securing $150,000. Lyons, Kingsland and Bliss were arrested, and sentenced to Sing Sing prison. Hope was shortly after arrested for a bank robbery in Wyoming County, and sentenced to five years in State prison at Auburn, N.Y., on November 28, 1870. He escaped from there in January, 1873.

Lyons escaped from Sing Sing in a wagon on December 4, 1872. About two weeks after Ned’s escape (December 19, 1872), he, in company of another person, drove up in the night-time to the female prison that was then on the hill at Sing Sing. One of them, under pretense of bringing a basket of fruit to a sick prisoner, rang the bell; whereupon, by a pre-concerted arrangement, Sophie, his wife, who had been sent there on October 9, 1871, for five years, rushed out, jumped into the carriage, and was driven away.

They both went to Canada, where Ned robbed the safe of a pawnbroker, securing $20,000 in money and diamonds, and returned to New York, where their four children had been left — the eldest at school, the younger ones in an orphanage.

About this time (September, 1874) the bank at Wellsboro, Pa., was robbed. Lyons was strongly suspected of complicity, with George Mason and others, in this robbery. Although Sophie and Ned were escaped convicts, they succeeded in evading arrest for a long time.

Both of them were finally arrested at the Suffolk County (L.I.) Fair, at Riverhead, in the first week in October, 1876, detected in the act of picking pockets. Two weeks later he was tried in the Court of Sessions of Suffolk County, L.I., found guilty, and sentenced to three years and seven months in State prison, by Judge Barnard.

Sophie was discharged, re-arrested on October 29, 1876, by a detective, and returned to Sing Sing prison to finish out her time. Lyons had on his person when arrested at Riverhead $13,000 of good railroad bonds.

In 1869 Lyons had a street fight with the notorious Jimmy Haggerty, of Philadelphia (who was afterwards killed by Reddy the Blacksmith, in Eagan’s saloon, corner Houston Street and Broadway). During the melee Haggerty succeeded in biting off the greater portion of Lyons’ left ear.

On October 24, 1880, shortly after Ned’s release from prison, in a drunken altercation, he was shot at the Star and Garter saloon on Sixth Avenue, New York City, by Hamilton Brock, better known as “Ham Brock,” a Boston sporting man. Brock fired two shots, one striking Lyons in the jaw and the other in the body. Lyons was arrested again on July 31, 1881, in the act of breaking into the store of J. B. Johnson, at South Windham, Conn. He pleaded guilty in the Windam County Superior Court, on September 14, 1881, and was sentenced to three years in State prison at Wethersfield, Conn. At the time of his arrest in this case he was badly shot. That he is now alive, after having a hole put through his body, besides a ball in the back, embedded nine inches, seems almost a miracle.

Upon the expiration of Ned’s sentence in Connecticut, in April, 1884, he was rearrested, and taken to Springfield, Mass., to answer to an indictment charging him with a burglary at Palmer, Mass., on the night of July 27, 1881. Four days before he was shot at South Windham, Lyons, with two companions, entered the post-office and drug store of G. L. Hitchcock, and carried away the contents of the money-drawer and a quantity of gold pens, etc. They also took a safe out of the store, carried it a short distance out of the village, broke it open, and took some things valued at $350 from it. In this case Lyons was sentenced to three years in State prison on May 29, 1884. His picture was taken while he was asleep at the hospital in Connecticut, in 1881.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

After Lyons’ release from the Massachusetts State Prison, he went West and was arrested at Kent, 0., on June 10, 1887, in company of Shang Campbell (see No. 107) and Ned Lyman (see No. 102), two other well-known eastern thieves, charged with robbing a passenger on a railway train near Kent, Portage Co., 0., on June 10, 1887. Lyons and Lyman were sentenced to five years imprisonment in the penitentiary at Columbus, 0., on September 4, I887. Shang Campbell gave bail and forfeited it. Since Lyons’ release he has been engaged in the “green goods” business, making his head quarters near Perth Amboy, N.J.

Nearly all of Ned Lyon’s criminal career took place within the epic melodrama that had at its center his one-time wife, Sophie Lyons. Her story, involving not only Ned, but her other erstwhile husbands: Maury Harris, Jim Brady and Billy Burke; not to mention other notable friends and lovers, involves a huge swath of American criminal history. She more than a notable member of the underworld community, she was one of its foremost chroniclers.

Sophie never honestly told her own story, and her criminal reminiscences were only infrequently based on her own recollections, and otherwise relied on other sources (like Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America), and a large dose of fabrication. A full, accurate, well-researched biography of Sophie’s life has never been published, but it may not be long before one appears.

Because any long-overdue study of Sophie Lyons will cover the major events of Ned’s criminal career–and Byrnes mentions most of them–put those aside and consider two parts of Ned’s life that are likely to defy definitive research: his origins and his death. According to different reports, Ned was born in America, Ireland, England, or Scotland; and grew up in New York City or Boston. Fortunately, starting in 1856, Lyons left a long trail of shoplifting and pickpocketing arrests in Boston–which also point back to Lowell, Massachusetts, where a few articles believe Lyons was raised. He was often caught with a pal named Michael Sullivan. The 1850 census shows a boy Edward Lyons, 11,  living in Lowell with his mother Bridget. Born were listed as having been born in Ireland.

By 1858, Lyons was moving between Boston and New York to avoid arrests, and had already served more than one term in Boston’s House of Corrections. When the Civil War broke out, he set aside his career as a pickpocket to join the more lucrative venture of army recruitment bounty fraud, joining other thieves who congregated at Robert “Whitey Bob” White’s saloon at 104 Prince Street. There Lyons was mentored by the likes of Tom Bigelow, Dan Barron, and Dan Noble. It was during this period–the end of 1864 and into 1865–that Lyons met Sophie, who had just given up on her short marriage to pickpocket Morris Harris.

Skipping ahead to Lyons’s sad final years, in October 1904 he was spotted by detectives on a street in Buffalo, New York and arrested on suspicion. He said he had been living in Buffalo for the past six months. They held him until they sent out a notice to the Pinkerton agency and to major metropolitan police departments asking if he was currently wanted; but he was not, so he was released.

In January 1906, Lyons was arrested in Toronto, Ontario under the alias Alexander Cummings. He was accused by James Tierney of Brooklyn of working a “green goods” con, in which Lyons was well-versed. Ned had run a successful green goods operation out of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in the mid 1890s, until its operations were exposed by New York’s Lexow Committee on corruption.

Once Toronto authorities had captured Lyons, Mr. Tierney came from Brooklyn to identify him as he languished in jail. When Tierney was shown into his cell, Lyons smiled, extended his hand, and said, “Shake with me.”

“Never. I could see you die in jail,” hissed Tierney, drawing back. “You know the turn you did me. I am only a poor man, drawing $14 a week, but I would go to the ends of the earth to see you punished.”

Lyons himself was likely poorer than his victim. His clothes were shabby; his hair was now snow white. He suffered the lingering effects of bullets left in his body, and years of wear from confinement in State prisons. Despite Tierney’s testimony, no evidence existed to convict Lyons, so he was discharged and told to leave the province in February 1906.

Less than a year later, in January 1907, a short notice in one paper mentioned that Lyons had passed away the previous year in New York’s Bellevue hospital and had been buried in a potter’s field. However, no death record has surfaced that can prove that.

#156 Thomas Matthews

Thomas Matthews (Abt. 1837-????), aka Tommy Matthews, James Turner, Thomas Morgan, Joseph Morton, Thomas Williams — Burglar, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION, Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Cooper by trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 133 pounds. Hair gray, eyes gray, nose a little flat, ruddy complexion. Generally wears a full, dark beard and mustache, turning very gray.

RECORD. Tommy Matthews is an old and expert thief. He has been on the road for at least twenty years, and has served terms in a dozen prisons throughout the United States. He is known in all the large cities from Maine to Colorado, and although getting old, is quite clever yet. He generally associates with the best local talent, and is a very careful worker of late, preferring to lose a “trick” than to take any chances of going to State prison.

Matthews was arrested in New York City, on January 11, 1879, in company of Tim Oats (136), charged with robbing a man named Michael Jobin of $200, on a Third Avenue horse-car. Both were committed in $5,000 bail for trial. They pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to two years each in the penitentiary on February 6, 1879, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions. In this case he gave the name of James Moran.

Matthews was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Morgan, for picking pockets. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, on October 29, 1885, by Recorder Smyth. (See records of Nos. 136, 161.) Matthews’ picture is a pretty good one, taken in January, 1879.

Inspector Byrnes characterized Tommy Mathews primarily as a pickpocket, but he had a more versatile criminal career, dating back to the 1850s. He was sent to Sing Sing three times and to Blackwell’s Island at least four times. Byrnes and the Sing Sing registrars believed his real name to be Thomas Matthews/Mathews, but on one occasion his listed his parents as William and Mary Morton.

His first known offense was in December 1857, under the name Thomas Williams, when he was convicted of stealing watches from a New York City jeweler. His 1862 he was arrested twice in “Dad” Cunningham’s gambling room on Broadway; he was assisting the faro games as a cuekeeper. He was convicted of an offense in 1862 under the name he gave on these occasions–James Turner–but it is unclear what the charge against him was.

In August 1867 he was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island for six months for an attempted burglary. In 1868 he was sent back for another two and a half years for burglary.

In 1875, he was arrested once again under the name James Turner along with two others, all captured while in the middle of burglarizing a warehouse of cashmeres, satin, and velvet. They were released on bail and did not reappear for their trial, but were rearrested several months later. This time, he was sent to Sing Sing for four years. He was described as an old member of Wes Allen‘s gang.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

As Byrnes mentions, Tommy was caught in 1879 working as a pickpocket with Tim Oates. Upon arrest, Tommy used the alias James Moran while Oates used Timothy Clark. They both got two years at Blackwell’s.

In 1881, under the alias Joseph Morton, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing for another burglary.

He had only been out a small while before being caught picking pockets at Coney Island with Roaring Bill Wright. He was sent back to Sing Sing in October 1885 under the name Thomas Morgan.

In 1890 he was picked up in Brooklyn for carrying burglar’s tools and sent to King’s County Penitentiary for four and a half years.

Finally, in 1896, Tommy suffered the same fate as many Bowery pickpockets: he was arrested in New Jersey for being a member of a “green goods” operation based in Brooklyn.


#112 Charles Smyth

Alias David Howard (Abt. 1843-????), aka Smythe, Richard Roe — Bogus Express Company operator, Green Goods Operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, fair complexion. Wears glasses, and a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. “Doc” Smyth is a well-known Bowery, New York, confidence and sawdust man. He generally works with Charley Johnson and Freddie Reeves, and is an old offender. He is also well known in a number of other cities, having been arrested several times, and is considered a clever man at his business.

He was arrested in New York City on December 1, 1885, charged with using the United States mails in flooding the Western States with circulars offering “Green goods, in samples of $1, $2, $5 and $10,” to farmers and others, assuring them of a safe and rapid fortune by dealing in the stuff, which was understood to be counterfeit money. The “Doctor” pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Judge Benedict, of the United States Court, in New York City, on December 17, 1885. Smyth’s picture is a very good one, taken in March, 1878.

Perhaps it is little surprise that one of Byrnes’s criminals about whom the least can be discovered may have been one of the most clever. “Smyth” was the alias this man was known by to his ad hoc partner in the December 1885 green goods operation, but in earlier years he had gone by the name David Howard. The green goods (bogus counterfeit money) circulars he mailed out en masse used dozens of other aliases (usually including the first name William), and dozens of New York mail drop addresses.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

His first known operation, though ingenious, was a bust. In February 1874 David Howard and two partners set up a fake express company, “Roger’s Express,” complete with an impressive storefront, signs, a delivery van, and several horses, on a busy Lower Manhattan commercial street. They then presented fake orders to local merchants for goods to be delivered to Brooklyn and Queens. However, a few suspicious storekeepers alerted police, and the gang was arrested before they could start to collect the goods. If not interrupted, the operation would have reaped thousands of dollars in goods within just a few days.

In March 1876, again using the name David Howard, this man was caught operating one of the first known “green goods” operations. From the late 1870s through the early 1880s, the more common name given to this confidence game was the “sawdust game,” owing to the fact that the victim ended up with a satchel of worthless paper or sawdust instead of high-quality counterfeit bills. Howard’s 1876 operation was treated as a novelty by the New York press–in fact one newspaper, the New York Herald, in an editorial wondered if such an operation was more of a public service than a crime: “Instead of being sent to State Prison, the government ought to pay Howard to continue in the business,” since the long-term result would be to discourage anyone from thinking about buying counterfeit money.

That benign attitude quickly changed as dozens of green goods operations sprang up over the next three decades, resulting in complaints that poured in from all over the country where the circulars were distributed.

Howard likely reaped a small fortune running green goods operations between 1877 and late 1885. When arrested in December, he only offered the name “Richard Roe.” However, his partner named him as David Smith/Smyth/Smythe, and it under that name that he was convicted. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison; his fate after his release is unknown.


#92 Charles Mason

Charles Henry Marion (Abt. 1840-19??), aka Boston Charley, Charles Mason, Charles Marsh, Charles Merrion/Marrion, Charles Mortis/Martis, Charles Whiteman, Charles Lloyd — Swindler, Bunco Steerer, Pickpocket, Political Fixer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Heavy build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark-brown hair, turning gray; brown eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a heavy, reddish-brown mustache; rather fine features. A very active man for his size.

RECORD. “Boston” Charley’s principal occupation is “banco.” He has been in several jails in the East and West, and has traveled from Maine to California working various schemes. In New York he worked with Jimmie Wilson (143) and Shang Campbell (107), picking pockets; also, with Jack Strauss, on the sneak.

He worked in the winter of 1876 in Boston, Mass., with Charlie Love, alias Graves, alias Scanlon, and was in the scheme to rob a man named Miller out of $1,200 by the banco game. Charley fell into the hands of the police, and Love escaped. He was afterwards implicated in a robbery in the Adams House, where Mrs. Warner, of St. Paul, Minn., lost considerable property.

He then left Boston, and remained away until 1881. During the interval he is credited with having served five years in Joliet prison. Mason was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison on December 20, 1881, by Recorder Smyth, for robbing one John H. Lambkin, of Cork, Ireland, out of $1,139, at banco. His time expired, allowing full commutation, on May 19, 1885. Mason’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

Boston Charley volunteered to the Sing Sing registrars that he was born in Boston about 1840, and that his real name was Charles H. Marion–information confirmed in city directories from San Francisco and Butte, Montana. However, Charley’s family and early years have not yet been traced. The earliest mentions of him come from the early 1870s, when he was rumored to have been an assistant to William “Canada Bill” Jones, the greatest three-card monte player in history.

Canada Bill plied his trade on Kansas and Missouri passenger trains, and one of the things that Boston Charley learned from him was that that a con man could offer bribes to receive a level of protection from authorities. Canada Bill paid conductors to look the other way; and once (famously) tried to offer a railroad’s management a “license” fee to operate freely on their trains. This was the start of Boston Charley’s political education.

Canada Bill ran into a series of arrests in 1875, which was about the same time that Boston Charley opted to head further west to San Francisco with a gang of bunco steerers. They successfully set up shop, but Charley was arrested twice between September and November, 1875.

As Byrnes indicates, Charley returned to Boston and tried running a bunco operation there, but had no influence to prevent being shut down, and was forced to flee. He returned to San Francisco and formed a new bunco gang with Jack Dowd and Doc Boone. Though they had paid bribes to police officials, the gang was arrested several times, and eventually realized that others on the police force were acting on behalf of a rival gang of bunco artists. This was Charley’s next lesson in politics.

He married a woman in San Francisco named Hazel, but after he was indicted once more, he and Hazel fled to Panama. There, he deserted his bride after less than a year of marriage.

Charley then headed eat to New York City and picked pockets and ran con swindles with Charles Allen, Jimmie Wilson, and Shang Campbell. He was arrested in December 1881 and sentenced to 4 and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Charles Mason. While he was in jail, Hazel got a divorce.

Charley returned to San Francisco when he got out of Sing Sing, but did not tarry long there. By 1887, he decided to head somewhere where other gangs and corrupt officials had not yet taken control; he wound up in Butte, Montana.

In Butte, Charley posed as Col. Charles Lloyd and ran a dance hall/gambling joint. His gambling den featured his customized faro tables (rigged to cheat). He also ran faro games at the local race track that were exposed as crooked. Still, he eluded any penalties for three years, mainly because he was a political kingmaker.

In 1890, Charley Marion returned to New York, and made a woeful attempt to reform. producing what may be the funniest incident involving any professional criminal:

“Charles H. Marion plays the accordion with much religious fervor and muscular energy in a Salvation Army band. He played with such vigor and he sang so loud at the barracks, No. 10 Horatio street, on Sunday night that Lieut. David L. Bossey, of the army, tried to restrain him. Marion, however, played and sang even while the preaching was going on, so Bossey had him arrested. ‘He almost breaks my heart,’ complained Lieut. Bossey in the Jefferson Market Court yesterday. ‘He insists on singing the wrong verses.’

“‘That’s serious,’ said the Justice. ‘Ten dollars fine.’ Marion was locked up. An hour later, someone paid the fine for him.”

Charley’s efforts to reform ran against his character. A fellow mission worker invited Charley and another man over to his place for a drink, and when he went out to get more beer, came back to discover that Charley and the other man had pilfered valuables from his house.

Charley drifted back to Butte and returned to running his dance hall and sponsoring politicians. In 1895 he convinced a couple of local young men to try to pass a forged check in Chicago. When that brought him unwanted attention from the Pinkertons, he came back east to Washington, D. C. and tried a similar scam, selling bogus mining stocks to a Butte mine. When detectives closed in, he left for New York City.

While cooling off in New York, Charley and old con man Ike Vail were arrested for running a swindle in Hoboken. Realizing it was time to flee again, Charley went to Detroit, was run out of town, and then went south to Kansas City, Missouri. There he impersonated a Treasury officer and confiscated alleged counterfeit bills from victims, threatening them with prosecution. He was captured and sentenced to three years in the Missouri State Prison.

After serving his time, Charley returned to Butte and picked up his former life there. By now, all the local newspapers in Montana had run stories giving his history, so his character was no secret. Still, was was able to remain a force in Butte politics.

From 1901 until his demise–date unknown–he kept his name out of the papers.






#117 Margaret Brown

Margaret Brown (18??-????), aka Old Mother Hubbard, Elizabeth Haskins, Mrs. Arthur Young, Eliza Burnham, Eliza Burns, Julia Burnham, Margaret Burnham, Margaret Hutchinson, Jane Hutchinson, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Housekeeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Gray hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a long cloak when stealing.

RECORD. Margaret Brown, which is her right name, has been a thief for fifty years. She makes a specialty of opening hand-bags, removing the pocket-book, and closing them again.

She was arrested in Chicago, III, and sentenced to three years in Joliet prison, where, in an attempt to escape, she fell, and was nearly killed. She was discharged from Joliet in 1878, and after that operated in St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other cities.

She was arrested in Boston, Mass., on March 24, 1883, in R. H. White’s dry goods store, for stealing a hand-bag, which was found on her person ; for this offense she served six months in the House of Correction there.

She was arrested in New York City on March 26, 1884, for stealing a pocket-book from a Mrs. H. S. Dennison, of Brooklyn, N. Y., in Macy’s store on Fourteenth Street ; for this she was sentenced to three months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 2, 1884.

On the expiration of this sentence on July 2, 1884, she was arrested again on a requisition from Boston, Mass., charged with the larceny of a satchel containing $260 in money from a store there. She was taken to Boston, and sentenced to two years in the House of Correction in the latter part of July. She was subsequently transferred to Deer Island, on account of her old age and infirmities. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1883.

Confirmation of Margaret Brown as “Old Mother Hubbard’s” real name remains lacking, and does her age. She once maintained her maiden name was Elizabeth Haskins. One source gives her birth year as 1818; another has her twenty years younger. Inspector Byrnes split the difference and gave her assumed birth year as 1828, birthplace Ireland.

       Collection of Shayne Davidson

A habitual shoplifter named Margaret Brown was active in New York City in 1859, and was sent to Blackwell’s Island for five months. In 1865, Margaret Brown was sent to state prison for a five year term for grand larceny.

Most accounts of Margaret’s career start with her being sentenced to Joliet Prison in Illinois sometime in the 1870s–accounts differ as to whether she entered in 1870, 1875, or 1877. Regardless, it seems that she was nearly killed during an escape attempt (the athleticism required for this attempt might argue for her birth date being closer to 1838 than 1818):

Nothing was heard from her until the sequence of events that Byrnes refers to: a jailing in Boston in 1883, followed by three months at New York’s Blackwell’s Island in 1884; and an immediate return to Boston to serve two years in the house of corrections. She was said to have been traveling with a gang led by another infamous shoplifter, Mollie Hoey.

In 1886 she was arrested in Brooklyn and sent to the county penitentiary for one year. She was caught in Brooklyn again in 1890. Another gap in Margaret’s record exists between 1890 and June, 1893, when she was arrested in Detroit. Accounts from this period forward indicate she was now married to a man named Young; but his first name was cited at different times as being William, Albert, or Arthur. Margaret was released in Detroit, and she and Young descended upon the Chicago World’s Fair, which attracted every pickpocket in the nation.

Margaret’s favorite trick was to visit waiting areas in rail stations or department stores and sit next to other women shoppers who had placed their bags on the bench. Margaret would sit down next to them with her arms swathed in a large fur stole. She would casually fling her stole over her neighbor’s bags, then work her hand underneath it to extract items from the shopping bag or pocketbook.

From Chicago (after a little trouble with police), she and Young headed to Toledo, where she was arrested. A judge there believed her to be insane, and had her confined to an asylum. With the help of a lawyer and her husband, Toledo sent her back to her alleged residence, Cleveland, where she was eventually released.

Margaret wasted little time leaving Cleveland on another foray, and was arrested in both Buffalo and Rochester in late 1894, but released in both instances

Nothing was ever published that indicated her demise.


#46 Frank Auburn

John Francis Aborn (1857-1932), aka Frank Aborn/Auburn/Auborn, John F. Austin — Seducer, Hotel thief, Theater ticket swindler, Process Server

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Medium build. Single. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. No trade. Has busts of boy and girl, and two hearts with words “You and me” on them, in India ink, on right fore-arm.

RECORD. Auburn is quite a clever boarding-house thief, but does not confine himself to that work entirely. He is well known in New York and Boston.

He was arrested in New York City on November 1, 1883, for petty larceny from a boarding-house, and convicted and sentenced to five days in the Tombs prison on November 28, 1883, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions. His light sentence was the result of the intercession of some good people, and on account of its being his first appearance in court.

He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., on April 28, 1884, in company of Joseph W. Harris, alias Wm. J. Johnson, for picking pockets in the churches of that city. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years in Concord prison on May 16, 1884. His time will expire in November, 1887. Auburn’s picture is a good one, taken in 1884.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

He is said to be the son of a wealthy widow who lives in the vicinity of New York. He earned some fame as a process server by putting on a district messenger’s uniform and serving a summons on the late Jay Gould, in 1891.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 18, 1893, charged with forgery. He plead guilty to petty larceny, and was sent to the penitentiary on February 7, 1893, by Judge Cowing, Court of General Sessions, under name of John F. Auburn.

Sentenced again to one year penitentiary on July 5, 1894, for forgery, from the Court of General Sessions, New York City, under the name of Frank Auburn.

John F. “Frank” Aborn was a much more fascinating character than Inspector Byrnes conveys, owing not only to actions that took place after Byrnes published his 1886 edition, but also to pre-1886 incidents that Byrnes failed to mention. Aborn’s parents were respectable, but not rich. His father George was a seaman, and the family lived in Sag Harbor, Long Island, a whaling port.

Frank left home at age 20 and went to Philadelphia, gaining employment with a cigar manufacturer. He was said to spend all his earnings on fashionable clothing; and was flirtatious with young women to an extreme. His hometown newspaper in Sag Harbor printed an announcement in April 1879 to the effect that he had married Sadie M. Brown in Philadelphia. The marriage, if it existed, was either quickly annulled or dissolved.

Frank rebounded quickly, wooing another young woman before being beaten up by her betrothed; he was put under bonds (a restraining order) to stay away from her.

Back in New York city by April 1880 (a year after his marriage to Sadie Brown), Frank met 16-year-old Bertha Potigney-Meurisse, the daughter of a flower importer, at a church fair. She had just left a boarding school, and was dazzled by Frank’s attentions. He convinced her to elope; the pair showed up at a church and were interviewed by a veteran minister, who sent the young woman home and then visited her family the next day. Her father was outraged. Though Frank was forbidden to communicate with Bertha, the two found a way to exchange letters, in which they addressed each other as “husband” and “wife.” Alarmed, her father took Frank to court and once again he was placed under a restraining order.

Frank began moving from one Manhattan boarding house to another, often leaving his bill unpaid. He made friends with the scion of a wealthy family, Mason P. Helmbold, who had just returned from Europe. The two young men started to make a habit of ordering goods without paying for them, arranging for their delivery to their soon-to-be-abandoned boarding house. Helmbold was caught and persecuted, but blamed Frank Aborn for corrupting him. [It should be noted that Helmbold went on to have a long career as a forger.]

Frank traveled to Boston, where he continued his new habit of cheating boarding houses by not paying his bill. Once caught, he was sentenced to nine months in Boston’s House of Corrections.

In November 1883 Frank was back in New York and was caught stealing valuables from a fellow-boarder’s room. Several character witnesses came forth on his behalf, and he was given a slap on the wrist: five days in the Tombs, the city jail. The court was unaware of his Boston hijinks.

Frank next returned to Boston, and tried his hand at picking pockets, working the crowd at a church funeral service with other seasoned pickpockets. Apprehended again, he was sentenced to four years in the Concord, Massachusetts prison.

After his release in 1887, Frank returned to New York. He presented a bogus check, which resulted in a short sentence at the Elmira Reformatory. Considering that Frank was now thirty years old and an ex-convict, this was a pittance of a punishment; the court was obviously unaware of his record in Massachusetts.

After the reformatory doors were opened for his exit, Frank opted to stay in Elmira and take a job in a clothing store. He claimed to be a Yale graduate and a Boston newspaper correspondent who was sent to Elmira to cover the New York State Fair; and he sought a temporary job to fill his spare time. While in Elmira, Frank found a new focus for one of his trademark romantic onslaughts, Miss Catherine Dee. They were married in October 1888 and moved back to New York.

Frank had acquired a new means of gaining cash: conning theatergoers and theater employees for free tickets and passes, and then reselling them. One complaint was lodged against him in September 1889, but he was given nothing more than a reprimand. However, when he continued the practice, he was arrested once more in January 1890. These arrests did not go unnoticed in his wife’s home town of Elmira. There, the newspaper branded him a scoundrel; and moreover accused him of physically abusing his new bride before their honeymoon period was hardly begun. The Elmira opera house also recalled his habit of cadging passes.

It was later in 1890 that Frank Aborn stumbled onto a vocation in which his talent for sneakiness, deception, lying, and disguise transformed him into something akin to a hero. He became a process server, i.e. a messenger tasked with putting a court order directly into the hands of a defendant in a lawsuit.

Frank quickly gained renown for his cleverness in tracking down his elusive targets. None was more difficult than robber-baron Jay Gould, but Frank Aborn was up to the task:

Newspapers around the country started running stories about the famous and infamous public figures that Aborn was able to confront with papers: one of the four nearly identical Rich sisters, who lived together; Cornelius Vanderbilt’s attorney, Chauncey Depew; Police Commissioner Charles MacLean; the trustees of the Standard Oil Trust, including William Rockefeller, actress Lillian Russell, etc. Aborn found himself sought out by New York’s leading law firms.

However, his worst habits had not died out. In January 1893, and again in July 1894 he was caught trying to obtain free passes at different theaters, and was jailed in each instance. While he was in jail between 1894 and 1895, his mother passed away. Upon his release, Aborn showed up in Sag Harbor and had the local paper print an item to the effect that he had been in South America when his mother had died.

The next year, 1896, Aborn’s wife Catherine passed away. These two deaths seem to have sobered Frank’s impulses. He resumed his career as a sought-after process server and collection agent.

Frank remarried in 1898, and over the next decade had six daughters. He served process papers on behalf of many lawyers and city departments, including the New York Police Department. He was put on the payroll of the City Tenement Commission, and spent his last decade as a deputy commissioner.





#133 Patrick Martin

Patrick McCabe (Abt. 1858-????), aka Frank Hilton, Joseph Martin, Joseph Marsh, Michael McCabe — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Single. Laborer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 148 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, sandy complexion.

RECORD. Paddy Martin, or English Paddy, is an English thief. He has been traveling through the country with a gang of Bowery (New York) pickpockets, and is considered a pretty clever man.

He was arrested in New York City on June 19, 1885, in company of another pickpocket, named Frank Mitchell, for an attempt to pick a man’s pocket on Bowling Green, near the Battery, New York. Both of them were sentenced to one month in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, by Justice Duffy, on June 20, 1885.

Paddy was arrested again in Jersey City, N.J., on December 12, 1885, in the act of robbing a Mrs. Margaret Peters, of Montgomery Street, Jersey City, on a Pennsylvania ferry-boat. He tried to make her believe that he mistook her for his wife, and offered her ten dollars to release him. She rejected his overtures, and held on to him until a policeman arrived. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three years and six months in Trenton State prison on December 14, 1885, under the name of Frank Hilton. His picture is an excellent one, taken in June, 1885.

Byrnes lists two arrests for this criminal, but the names he offers are at variance with the names or aliases reported by newspapers in each of these cases. The June 1885 arrest in the company of Frank Mitchell was under the alias of Joseph Martin or Joseph Marsh, depending on whether you were reading the New York Herald or the New York Times.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

After being caught in December 1885, the suspect offered the name Frank Hilton. Four newspapers indicated that the man was Patrick McCabe, a well-known pickpocket. One newspaper later changed that to Michael McCabe.

In neither arrest did the courts of newspapers use the name that Byrnes offered: Patrick Martin; or the nickname “English Paddy.”

Byrnes indicates the man was born in Ireland but was English. Several newspapers suggested that Patrick McCabe had come from Chicago, but had been in New York City and associating with Bowery pickpockets for a time.

Though not well-known in New York or elsewhere under any of these aliases, there is little doubt that McCabe was experienced. He knew what to do when arrested: 1) contact his girlfriend, and through her, 2) contact his partners; 3) gather legal defense funds from the New York City underworld; and 4) approach the victim with a bribe to drop charges. McCabe was arrested in Jersey City, New Jersey; from the jail there, he had to get word to his girlfriend by sending a letter out with a prisoner that was being released. However, that prison took the letter directly to the jail-keeper, so McCabe’s strategy was revealed. He told his girlfriend, Mamie reed, to contact his partners: Joe Welling, Jerry Williams, and Joe Morton. All of these appeared to be obscure nicknames, lending credence to the idea that they had come from outside New York. He also instructed her to contact “all the mob on the Bowery” to have them each contribute $5 to his defense. Finally, he told her to approach the woman whose purse he had attempted to steal, and to tell her a sob-story about having children to feed with no income. If necessary, she was to bribe the woman with a seal fur stole, a gold watch, and $10.

The intercept of the letter spoiled McCabe’s plan, even though the pickpocket victim did indeed write a letter to the judge pleading mercy for McCabe.He was sent to State prison for three years.

In 1889, a pickpocket named Michael McCabe, 35, said to be from Chicago, was arrested in Philadelphia. Possibly, this was the same man.

#42 Edward A. Condit

Edward Augustus Condit (1848 – 1931), aka Robert S. Corning, Edward A. Cranston, W. S. Carson, Sterling, Cornell — Forger, Passer of Bad Checks

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-one years old in 1886. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 167 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, long pointed nose, sallow complexion. Has a scar on right side of neck. Small dark mole on left cheek. Prominent eyebrows.

RECORD. Edward A. Condit, a swindler who had a peculiar method of dealing in worthless checks, was arrested in New York City on March 2, 1883. Condit’s manner of doing business was to inquire by letter the terms upon which a broker would deal in a stock, and then ordering him to buy or sell, giving as margin a check on the Orange (N.J.) Savings Bank. Condit had only a small amount on deposit in that bank, but owing to the time required for the passage of the check through the Clearing-house, and other delaying causes, several days elapsed before its worthless character was exposed, and he was enabled to reap the benefit of the fluctuations in the price of the stock within the time required to collect the check. If the stock moved to his advantage, he contrived to meet or intercept the check, and take the benefit. If the transaction went against him, he allowed the check to go to protest, so that the broker was the loser.

Condit has a pleasing address, and is apparently a man of some education. He gave a short history of his life after confessing his operations. He said that he inherited a small fortune in 1869, which in the course of the next two years he increased to $100,000. He began to speculate in Wall Street in 1872. At first he was successful, but after the “panic” he began to lose, and by 1876 he was a beggar.

Then it was that he attempted to retrieve his losses by the mode described above. When arrested on March 2, 1883, he was committed for trial by Judge Cowing, but was turned over to the Jersey City police authorities in October, 1884. On December 1, 1884, he made a nearly successful attempt to escape from the Hudson County Jail, on Jersey City Heights, where he was confined awaiting trial for swindling several storekeepers in Jersey City by worthless checks. He was convicted on December 24, 1884, and sentenced, January 23, 1885, to four years in State prison at Trenton, N.J., where he was taken on June 28, 1885. Condit’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

Edward A. Condit came from a privileged family, and was gifted with many head-starts in life: family wealth, goods looks, athletic ability, intelligence, and a fine education. His schooling ended with a degree from Princeton. While attending college, Condit was a fine first baseman for the Nassau Club of Princeton, one of the country’s best amateur teams (in the years 1862-1866, just before the first professional clubs). He graduated college prepared to make his own fortune–and he was ready to cut corners to do so.


Condit began his career was a Wall Street speculator after inheriting a substantial amount of money in 1869. One of his first ventures was the Enterprise Slate Company of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. In 1870, Condit and partner H. W. H Fitzgerald were sued by a third partner, Henry Kern, for breach of promise. Condit and Fitzgerald were in court a year later on charges of forging a check; it is unclear whether this was related to the slate company venture or a different incident. Condit defended the charge by arguing that there was no forgery, merely the issuance of a check from an account that temporarily had insufficient funds.

In 1876, Condit made a desperate attempt to manipulate stock prices by sending a fake telegram to Wall Street announcing the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt (who did pass away a year later). Condit’s deception was exposed, but he escaped punishment.

By 1883, Condit had refined his trick of purchasing margins from brokers with worthless checks, and then reaping the profits and quickly covering the checks; or, if the investment didn’t work out, allow the checks to be protested. This worked until he tried the same trick on storekeepers in New Jersey, who brought a civil suit against Condit. Confined to a Jersey City jail, Condit made a foolish attempt to escape. He was eventually sentence to four years in the New jersey State Prison.

In 1891, Condit traveled to Holyoke, Massachusetts and attempted to cash four checks under the name Robert S. Corning. He was arrested and released on bail, which he defaulted. He was captured again in Madison, Wisconsin in December 1892 under the name W. A. Carson. This time he was sentenced to three years of hard labor at the Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun. He was caught once more in Chicago in October 1898 under the name W. A. Cornell, but was released on his own recognizance.

Condit unwisely returned to Massachusetts and was soon identified as a forger and swindler, and was sentenced to ten-fifteen years in State Prison under the name Edward A. Cranston.

Condit’s last travail occurred in Tiffin, Ohio, in October 1919. His long-suffering wife Addie had passed away a few months earlier. Now an old man, Condit was worn down by the struggle:


After his release from Ohio, Condit returned to Newark, New Jersey to live with his daughter. He died there in 1931 at age 82.

#104 Charles Ward

Charles W. Hall (Abt. 1833-19??), aka Charles E. Stewart, Charles E. Ward, Charles Vallen, J. C. Massie, William Edwards, William Hall. E. C. Stewart, Charles D. Stewart, etc. — Swindler, Check forger, Hotel Thief, Sneak Thief

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States. Book-keeper. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 159 pounds. Brown hair, mixed with gray, wears it long; blue eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a full, heavy gray beard and mustache. Dresses well, and has an extraordinary gift of the gab.

RECORD. Charley Ward, whose right name is Charles Vallum, is one of the most noted confidence operators in America. He enjoys the distinction of being the only man in his line who can play the confidence game successfully on women. His principal forte, though, is collecting subscriptions for homes and asylums.

He was arrested in New York City on April 6, 1877, for collecting money for the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City without authority. For this he was sentenced to five years in State prison, on April 12, 1877, by Judge Sutherland. He was pardoned by Governor Cornell in 1880.

He was arrested again in New York City on August 4, 1881, for collecting considerable money, without authority, in aid of the “Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind,” of New York City, and appropriating it to his own use. In this case, owing to the efforts of a loving wife, he escaped with eighteen months’ imprisonment in State prison, on September 7, 1881, being sentenced by Judge Cowing. Ward’s picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1877.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Ward was arrested at Cincinnati, 0., in August, 1889, charged with having stabbed a woman that he was boarding with. For this offense he was sentenced to four years in the penitentiary at Columbus, 0. He was discharged from there on April 15, 1892.

Arrested again at Rochester, N. Y., on July 26, 1894, for the larceny of a satchel from the N.Y. Cen. & H.R.R. Depot. For this offense he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the Munroe Co., N.Y., Penitentiary, by Judge Chas. B. Ernst, on July 27, 1894, under name of Wm. Edwards.

He was arrested again at Niagara Falls, N.Y., under the name of Wm. Hall, alias, E. C. Stewart, on November 28, 1894, charged with passing a worthless check on the proprietor of the Prospect House; he refused to prosecute him. He was, however, sentenced to twenty-five days imprisonment in the Niagara County Jail at Lockport, N.Y., for the larceny of a satchel from the New York Central Railroad Depot, by Judge Piper, on November 30, 1894.

Arrested again on January 31, 1895, at Dunkirk, N.Y., under the name of Wm. E. Miller, charged with defrauding the Hotel Gratiot out of a hotel bill. He sold his overcoat, settled his bill, and was discharged.

Ward was arrested again at Philadelphia, Pa., on October 28, 1895, for the larceny of an overcoat containing valuable papers from a guest of the Waldorf Hotel, New York City. He was brought back to New York, and was sentenced to three years and three months on this charge, on November I5, 1895, by Recorder Goff.

While detained by police in Cincinnati in May of 1889, the criminal popularly known as Charles Ward spoke with a reporter and offered a confession of his criminal career. He claimed to be sixty-three years old, though other records indicate he was only fifty-six. Still, by appearance he looked like a man living his final years. Neither Ward nor the reporter could have predicted that Ward’s confession was a bit premature, for many arrests and jailings were still to come.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

“My life has a tinge of romance in it,” said Ward, as he chatted with the reporter last evening. “It’s no matter what my right name is. But one man knows, and he is my brother, a prosperous merchant in a South American country.

“Years ago I went wrong. What led me to a life of crookedness I can’t say, for I believe I was cut out for something better than a thief. Some dozen years ago I landed in St. Louis with a mob of crooks. We put up at the Lindell Hotel, but our headquarters we made at a well-known house of ill-fame. We were flush, and spent our money like princes for two weeks. Then a big trick was turned, and we scattered. My share was $4,000. At the house mentioned I became infatuated with a girl named Doris Meyer. She told me her story. When scarcely seventeen years old she had been brought to this country by her aunt, a Madame Schimmel, who then kept a den of infamy at 537 Race street in Cincinnati.

“This innocent, pretty girl’s honor was deliberately sold by her aunt to the highest bidder. Subsequently Doris married a captain in the army name Bookwood. The husband went wrong, and was dismissed from the army in disgrace. He was no better than the relative who had ruined the girl, for he forced his wife to return to a life of infamy, and lived on the proceeds of her shame.

“It was then I met her. I pitied Doris, and loved her as man ever loved woman. Well, I took her with me to Chicago. She did not know I was a crook, for I led her to think I was a gambler. Leaving her in Chicago, I went east; in Buffalo I ‘fell.’ I telegraphed Doris, and she came on. It was a bad case. Grover Cleveland was my lawyer, and although we made a vigorous fight, I went up for five years. Doris went to work,and, after I had spent half my term at Auburn, she secured my pardon.

“I found that Doris had become a city missionary in New York. The graduate of a St. Louis den had become an angel of mercy. Well, I married her in Brooklyn. Through her influence I secured work as a collector for a charitable institution. I received only $12 a week, but it was honest, and I felt better than when I had thousands I had stolen. Frequently  have turned over at then end of a week as much as $2000. That shows how easy it is to get money from the rich, and it was this fact that accomplished my final ruin.

“I was given a prominent position under the society, and my annual income was between $4000 and $7000. I seemed to have a peculiar faculty for the work. Through my own exertions the contributions had increased nearly $50,000. My besetting sin has been drink. I began to squander my money for wine, and, forgetful of my faithful Doris, I became infatuated with a shameless woman. In the mean time, my wife and I had made a trip to Europe. I had a comfortable bank account, and nobody was better thought of. But the climax came. I remained away from the office for an entire week. I was permitted to resign.

“My money went fast in dissipation, until I awoke one morning and realized that I hadn’t a dollar in the world. Then the idea seized me that I would work the collection racket. My success astonished me. Soon thousands of dollars were pouring in on me…and so it went on for weeks. I had returned to my old life and was again the associate of thieves and one of them.

“One day I called on wealthy Miss Catherine Wolf…I represented myself as from a prominent institution and left my book. Unfortunately for me Miss Wolf was on friendly terms with the president of the concern, and when he called the next day she broached the subject and showed the book. When I called three days after recovering from a spree a servant handed me the book with the ends of several bills sticking ut. The next instant a detective laid his hand on my shoulder and I was a prisoner. This time I also got five years for forgery.

“My wife again went to work and finally, after I had served nearly three years at Sing Sing, she secured my pardon from Governor Robinson. New York was now closed to me; I was too well known. I went to Baltimore with several crooks. One night while playing billiards we were pinched. Some gilly had been robbed. He identified all of us, though on my word we were innocent. Again I went to the Penitentiary, and again my wife began to intercede for me. She was finally successful, but before the doors opened, I received a letter announcing the death of my devoted Doris. She had caught cold while at her missionary work, and death had quickly followed.

“I began to drink, and, within a week, was again pinched.I had attempted a little crooked business at a hotel wand was caught. Again I went up. Doris’s death made me desperate and despondent. I cared for nothing. A year ago last February I was released from the Maryland Penitentiary.”

It appears that Ward was being very honest in his account: he did marry Doris Meyer, who had been married to a Charles Bookwood. Ward was pardoned out of Auburn Prison in 1874, after entering it as Charles W. Hall in March 1872. He was also pardoned from Sing Sing in October 1879 after entering as William H. Hall in April, 1877. Doris Ward roomed for many years at the Bible House, the mission of the American Bible Society.

Ward went to Cincinnati in 1879 to seek out Madame Schimmel, who was running a sketchy boarding house under the name Helene Krolage. They got along together at first–and in fact helped her con another woman in town that was her enemy. However, by July, Ward confronted her about her ruination of 17-year-old Doris, and became enraged. He tried to stab her with a penknife; she survived, but Ward was arrested and convicted of assault, sending him to the Ohio State Penitentiary for five years.

Upon his release, Ward wandered through upstate New York, committing small robberies of coats, satchels, etc. from train depots and hotels.  In Niagara Falls, when an officer attempted to arrest him in his hotel room, he tried to put a gun to his own head and commit suicide. Later that same year, 1895, he was arrested in Philadelphia for a hotel robbery he had committed in New York and sent back there. This episode earned him another three year sentence in Sing Sing as Charles Vallen.

Again regaining his freedom, he joined a gang of forgers led by an interesting figure, former timber magnate, lawyer, and State Senator, Alonzo James Whiteman.

The last reference to Ward dates to 1906, when he was arrested by a Manhattan hotel detective for stealing into someone else’s room.

In his last decades, Ward was often confused by amateur sleuths for another criminal in Byrnes’s book, the horse-trainer and sometime-forger Lewis Martin. They were similar in appearance when both were wearing long, gray beards.

#27 Frank Buck

Charles Taylor (Abt. 1843–????), aka George Rush, Frank Bailey, Frank Buck, Buck/Bucky/Buckey Taylor — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in Philadelphia, Pa. Married. Engineer. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Light hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Three India ink dots on left hand, one on right hand. Bald on front of head. Generally wears a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. “Buck” is a very clever bank sneak. He has been working with Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace (25), since 1881. He has also worked with Langdon W. Moore, alias Charley Adams (22), Johnny Price and other notorious bank sneaks.

“Buck” was arrested in June, 1881, at Philadelphia, Pa., with Horace Hovan (25), for the larceny of $10,950 in securities from a broker’s office in that city. He was convicted of burglary and sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia with Hovan, on July 2, 1881. His time dated back to June 6, 1881. Hovan was pardoned.

Buck served his time, and afterwards joined Hovan in Washington, D.C., in May, 1884. They both traveled around the country and were arrested coming out of a bank in Boston on June 18, 1884, and their pictures taken for the Rogues’ Gallery.

Buck and Hovan went to Europe in the spring of 1885, and Buck returned alone the same fall, Horace having been arrested there and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for the larceny of a package of money from a bank safe. Buck’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Since 1885 he has spent a good deal of the time in Europe. Buck, Porter, johnny Curtain and other fly American thieves have been engineered in Europe by Adam Worth (215), the American ex-thief, still under indictment in Boston for the famous Boylston bank robbery. Worth is a receiver of stolen goods in London, whose place is the rendezvous of all American thieves when they go to that city. He was formerly a bank burglar in this country, and has made a fortune out of his business.

Frank Buck, alias Bailey, alias Allen, etc., and Billy O’Brien, alias Porter, was arrested at London, Eng., on June 21, 1888, on an extradition warrant charging them with burglarizing a jewelry store on the Marionplatz, in Munchen, Germany, on April 29, 1888. It was alleged that property of the value of £50,000 was stolen.

Billy Porter was discharged from custody in London, on September 27, 1888. He proved that he was born on an English vessel, was an English subject, and therefore not extraditable. Buck was sentenced in this case to ten years imprisonment, and ten years loss of civil rights and police surveillance, by the Judge of the Circuit Court of Munchen, Bavaria, on September 22, 1889. He was delivered to the German authorities by England on October 10, 1888, and was in prison there until his trial in September, 1889.

Tracing Frank Buck’s origins takes one down a plausible, but by no means conclusive, path. On the other hand, tracing his fate from the point where he was imprisoned in Germany leads to an enormous red herring. That false trail can be blamed on certain law authorities and/or newspaper writers on the East Coast of America jumping to a conclusion based on one alias that was used by two different men, one of whom was Frank Buck: the alias was “Buck Taylor”.

In 1901, an employee of the Selby Smelter works in Contra Costa County, California, by the name of Jack Winters tunneled beneath the company’s office, removed a portion of brick floor, and drilled through the bottom of the office safe. Inside the safe were the latest finished products of the smelter: bars of gold bullion. Winters got away with $280,000 in gold–the largest gold robbery in California. Initially, authorities believed a whole gang of professional safe burglars was involved. Evidence led detectives to believe that it had been an inside job, and the trail led to Winters. When he was arrested, local authorities announced his capture, and sent out a bulletin listing Winters known aliases, one of which was “Buck Taylor.”

Newspapers in Boston were the first to print headlines claiming that Buck Taylor, aka Frank Buck, the famous burglar pal of Horace Hovan and Billy Porter, had almost pulled off a huge gold heist single-highhandedly. No one had heard of Frank Buck since he was thrown in a German prison in 1888, so it was possible that he had gone to California upon his release, gotten a job at the smelter, and then robbed it. Newspapers in New York and elsewhere in the northeast reprinted the story.

However, they overlooked the discrepancy in the men’s ages: Jack Winters was in his mid-thirties; Frank Buck, in 1901, would have been nearly sixty. The false story never would have been printed had they compared Frank Buck’s picture in Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America (left, taken in 1884) with a picture of Jack Winters (right taken in 1901):


The truth is that no credible word about Frank Buck’s fate was ever published after he entered the German prison in 1889.

What of his origins? Byrnes states that Frank Buck came from Philadelphia; and the first arrest that Byrnes cites is from June, 1881, when he and Horace Hovan were nabbed for stealing bonds from a securities broker in Philadelphia. On this occasion, Buck gave the alias “George Rush,” but was recognized as an old Philadelphia burglar, “Bucky Taylor.” The Philadelphia Inquirer of June 4, 1881, recalled, “Taylor is the man who committed the $17,000 silk robbery at Benson’s and served a time for the offense.”

The robbery that the Inquirer was referring to took place in September, 1870 at the Besson & Son’s store in Philadelphia. Soon after the robbery, three men were arrested. One was the most notorious thief and gang leader in Philadelphia, Jimmy Logue. The other two men were named as Buck Taylor and Bill Price. Various newspaper accounts also offered Taylor’s name as Charles Taylor; and, indeed, that was the name he was imprisoned under at Eastern State Penitentiary for this crime.

This was not Charles Taylor’s first brush with crime. Philadelphia newspapers between 1865 and 1870 printed numerous items where Taylor was arrested for picking pockets and other forms of thievery.

However, there were several young men named Charles Taylor living in Philadelphia in the 1860s; so there the trail ends.