#4 William Vosburg

William H. Vosburgh (1827-1904) alias “Foxy” “Old Bill” — Bank thief, burglar, confidence man

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Can read and write. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Hair, dark, mixed with gray. Gray eyes. Light complexion. Generally has a smooth-shaven face.

RECORD. Vosburg is one of the oldest and most expert bank sneaks and “stalls” in America, and has spent the best portion of his life in State prisons. He was formerly one of Dan Noble’s gang, and was concerned with him in the Lord bond robbery in March, 1886, and the larceny of a tin box containing a large amount of bonds from the office of the Royal Insurance Company in Wall Street, New York, several years ago. Vosburg was arrested in New York City on April 2, 1877, fo”” the Gracie King robbery, at the corner of William and Pine streets. He had just returned from serving five years in Sing Sing prison. In this case he was discharged. On April 20, 1877, he was again arrested in New York City, and sent to Boston, Mass., for the larceny of $8,000 in bonds from a man in that city. He obtained a writ in New York, but was finally sent to Boston, where they failed to convict him. On June 10, 1878, he was arrested in New York City, charged with grand larceny. On this complaint he was tried, found guilty, and sen- tenced to fifteen months in the penitentiary, by Recorder Hackett, on December 28, 1878. He did not serve his full time, for on May 3, 1879, ^e was again arrested in New York City, with one John O’Brien, alias Dempsey, for an attempt at burglary at 406 Sixth Avenue. In this case he was admitted to bail in $1,000 by the District Attorney, on May 17, 1879. The case never was tried, for on September 23, 1879, he was again arrested, with Jimmy Brown, at Brewster’s Station, New York, on the Harlem Railroad, for burglary of the post-office and bank. For this he was tried, convicted, and sen- tenced to four years in State prison at Sing Sing, on February ig, 1880, under the name of William Pond, by Judge Wright, at Carmel, New York. Brown never was tried. After his release he claimed to be playing cards for a living, when in fact he was running around the country “stalling” for thieves. He was arrested in Washington, D. C, on March 4, 1885, at President Cleveland’s inauguration, for picking pockets. Through the influence of some friends this case never went to trial. He then started through the country with Johnny Jourdan (83), Philly Phearson (5), and Johnny Car- roll, alias The Kid (192). On April i, 1885, the party tried to rob a man in a bank at Rochester, N. Y., but failed. They followed him to a hotel, and while he was in the water-closet handled him roughly and took a pocket-book from him, but not the book with the money in it. Phearson and Carroll escaped, and Vosburg and Jourdan were arrested, and sentenced to two years and six months each for assault in the second degree, by Judge John S. Morgan, on June 15, 1885, at Rochester, N. Y. Vosburg’s picture is a good one, taken in March, 1885.

No less an authority than the New York Times labeled Bill Vosburgh (often spelled Vosburg, as Byrnes did) “the Father of Modern Criminals.” Typically, Byrnes recitation of Vosburgh’s career begins in 1877, but he was active close to thirty years earlier. He was a bank sneak, but also a pickpocket, burglar, and con-artist.

Byrnes did not reveal any of Vosburgh’s fascinating family connections. Vosburgh was born in Albany New York to a prominent family; it was said his grandfather fought in the Revolution; his father in the War of 1812, and that his uncle was Albany’s Postmaster. These figures were never named, but an educated guess is that his uncle was Isaac W. Vosburgh, son of William Vosburgh and Mary McDonald.

More interesting are Old Bill’s in-laws. He married Mary Ann Sturge, the daughter of an old English pickpocket and thief, Bill Sturge. Mary Ann had a sister, Rebecca “Becky” Sturge, who married twice. Her first marriage was to Daniel “Dad” Cunningham, a small, short-tempered fighter and gambler. A year after Cunningham died, Becky remarried to Langdon W. Moore, aka Charley Adams, one of the most famous bank robbers of the nineteenth century.

Vosburgh was also mentioned as being a brother-in-law to bank thief Preston Hovan (brother of Horace Hovan). However, it has not yet been discovered how they were related–or whether these sources just confused Preston Hovan with Langdon Moore.

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One of Bill Vosburgh’s daughters (Emma or Rebecca) married sneak thief Harry Russell, who ran in the same gang of 1890s post office thieves with George Carson and Joe Killoran.

In the late 1890s, Vosburgh enjoyed regaling reporters with the exploits of his criminal career, noting the crimes that were now too old to prosecute; ones for which he had been acquitted; and ones that sent him to prison–but avoiding mention of the successful crimes that might still incriminate him, such as his tutelage of pickpocket George Appo (subject of Timothy Gilfoyle’s book, A Pickpocket’s Tale )

He told a story of becoming a criminal after taking a packet of money he was entrusted to deliver and losing it at an Albany gambling resort; in desperation he sought help from a known thief, Flemming, who used Vosburgh to help rob a grocery store owner. They then partnered to rob “every grocery store in Albany.”

However, Vosburgh never told reporters about his more infamous adventures with Flemming–robbing the family vault of the Van Rensselaer family for silver buried with the corpses.

See Paula Lemire’s account, “The Night In Question Was Dark and Slightly Stormy.

Vosburgh then went with his new pals to New Orleans, and once there began to specialize in robbing the staterooms of Mississippi riverboats [there was good reason why Herman Melville set his novel The Confidence Man on a riverboat–they were magnets for thieves.]

By 1857, Vosburgh’s name appeared in the National Police Gazette as a known criminal. In the early 1860s he was said to be a member of Dan Noble’s gang of bank sneak thieves. He was implicated in 1866’s infamous Rufus Lord bond robbery (in Byrnes’s book, the year of this is incorrectly given as 1886), but never arrested; the same year he was also implicated in the robbery of the Royal Insurance Company on Wall Street; both of these heists were said to be directed by Dan Noble.

In 1873, Vosburgh was caught trying to rob a diamond broker of Springfield, Massachusetts. He was convicted and sent to prison, then released in early 1877. In April of that year he was arrested for stealing bonds from Gracie King, but was discharged for lack of evidence. A few days later he was arrested in Boston for stealing $8000 in bonds, but was tried and acquitted.

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He was again arrested in New York for Grand Larceny in June, 1878; and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Vosburgh spent the years 1880-1884 in Sing Sing under the name William Pond for the robbery of the post office and bank at Brewster’s Station, New York.

A few months after his release, he was caught as a pickpocket in the crowd during Grover Cleveland’s inauguration in March, 1885. He was released, but was discovered the next month in Rochester, New York, attempting to rob a man leaving a bank. At that time he was touring with Johnny Jourdan, Philly Pearson, and Johnny “The Kid” Carroll. Vosburgh was convicted and served a term in Rochester until 1888.

From 1888-1895, Vosburgh tutored pickpockets and acted as a “steerer” for con-artists running the “green goods” scam, in which yokels visiting the city were convinced to buy a large stack of counterfeit bills, thinking they could multiply their investment ten-fold.

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In November, 1895, Bill was picked up for fleecing a Nebraska farming visiting New York out of $500 in a “green goods” scam. However, he made a deal with the city District Attorney Goff to testify in a case against the New York City Sheriff, Tamsen, alleging that Tamsen mismanaged his jail. Vosburgh took the stand and told several amusing stories about visiting his son-in-law, Harry Russell, in Tamsen’s jail and bringing him 3 revolvers and a bottle of whiskey. Russell and two of his post-office robbery gang accomplices escaped from the jail. Many newspapers criticized Goff for accepting Vosburgh’s questionable testimony.

Vosburgh died in April, 1904. Some accounts said he was buried in Bronx’s Greenwood cemetery; others in Brooklyn’s Woodlawn; neither cemetery has him listed in their online burials database.

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#3 George Carson

George Carson (1855-19??) – Bank sneak thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-one years old in 1886. Born in United States. Clerk. Can read and write. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Hair,brown. Eyes, hazel. Complexion, florid. Dot of India ink on right hand. Blonde color mustache.
RECORD. Carson is a very clever bank sneak, an associate of Rufe Minor (1), Horace Hovan (25), Johnny Carroll (192), Cruise Cummisky, and other first-class men. He was arrested at Petersburg, Va., on March 23, 1878, in company of Rufe Minor, Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace, and Charlotte Dougherty (Horace’s wife), charged with the larceny of $200,000 in bonds and securities from the office of James H. Young, No. 49 Nassau Street, New York City. They were all brought to New York, and subsequently dis- charged. Carson was arrested in New York City on November 15, 1880, for robbing the Middletown Bank of Connecticut, on July 27, 1880, of $8,500 in money and $56,000 in bonds. Johnny Jourdan, Horace Hovan and Rufe Minor were also arrested for this robbery, Carson was tried in Connecticut, proved an alibi, and the jury failed to agree, and he was discharged on April 26, 1881. He then traveled around the country with Charley Cummisky, alias Cruise, and was picked up in several cities, but was never con-victed. He was again arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on August 2, 1883, with Billy Flynn (now in jail in Europe), and committed to the penitentiary for vagrancy. He was dis- charged on a writ by the Supreme Court on September 11, 1883. Carson and Flynn were seen in the vicinity of Raymond Street Jail on the night of July 31, 1883, when Big Jim Burns, the Brooklyn Post-office robber, escaped. This celebrated criminal has been concerned in several other large robberies, and has been arrested in almost every city in the United States and Canada. He is now at liberty, but may be looked for at any moment. Carson’s picture is a very good one, taken in 1885.

Professional Criminals of America (1886) devotes less than a full page to George Carson, but was written barely halfway into his criminal career. The Pinkertons had a more extensive file on Carson than Byrnes did. According to William A. Pinkerton, Carson first surfaced in Chicago in 1868 with a gang of New York thieves including Joe Butts, Bill Vosburg, Joe Barron, and Tim O’Brien. Pinkerton mentions that Carson was then a “young, rosy-cheeked lad” who was nicknamed “Little George.” If Byrnes’ birth year of 1855 is correct, Carson would have only been 13 at the time. They lifted $25,000 in bonds from a bank on Monroe Street and were later taken into custody, but were later released after the bonds were returned.

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According to Pinkerton, Carson returned to the Chicago area in the early 1870s with Chauncey Johnson, Tom Mulligan, and others. They  stayed in the area about a year.

In the late 1870s, Carson teamed up with Horace Hovan and Rufus Minor. They were arrested together in March 1878 for the robbery of bonds from the office of James Young on Wall Street. This was the first crime that Byrnes noted in his profile.

On January 2, 1879, the Government Printing Office was robbed of $10,000 by James Burns and George Carson, with Minor suspected of having played a part. Immediately after the crime, Minor, Carson, Burns, and Horace Hovan went to Charleston, South Carolina, where Hovan was caught stealing $20,000 from the First National Bank. The other three escaped and went to New York, but Carson and Burns were arrested in June for the GPO robbery. Byrnes does not mention this; perhaps because the charges didn’t stick.

Minor, Carson, Hovan, and Johnny Jourdan stole a tin box containing over $60,000 from a Middletown, Connecticut bank on July 27, 1880. All were arrested by November, but tellers could only identify Jourdan. Minor and Carson were discharged.

Carson then traveled through the country and into Canada with Charles Comiskey, Alonzo Henn, and Walter Sheridan. Comiskey and Carson were caught in a Montreal robbery and sentenced to seven years at the penitentiary at St. Vincent de Paul.

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After regaining his freedom around 1894-95,  Carson joined a gang that specialized in robbing post offices. Among this gang were Joseph Killoran, Harry Russell, Charles Allen, Sid Yennie, and Patsy Flannigan.

Carson and Yennie were arrested in January 1896 for the robbery of the Springfield, Illinois post office. Both were convicted and sentenced to five years. Carson spent his entire stretch at the Illinois State Penitentiary-Menard (Chester), while Yennie was trnsferred to Ohio. Both were released in 1900.

After being free just three months, Carson was seen across the street during the robbery of a bank in Evanston, Illinois. He was released on bail and fled. Two years later, in September, 1902, he was captured after the robbery of a Metropolitan Life Insurance office in Jackson, Michigan. The office cashier was tied up, and Carson and his accomplices tried to break into the safe; this was a departure from Carson’s usual “sneak thief” tactics, which were rendered obsolete by increased security techniques.

Carson was sentenced to seven years in the Michigan State Prison. One report suggests he was arrested in Cincinnati in 1909, but that represents the last that anyone ever heard of George Carson.

Unfortunately, Carson’s antecedents have not been traced, nor has his marriage.

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#1 Rufus Minor

Rufus A. Minor (1838 – 1911?), aka Rufe Pine, Little Rufe, Charles Rogers — Bank thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, round face, dark complexion. Very bald. Has a clerical appearance at times. Can grow a heavy beard (dark brown) in a short time ; generally wears it when committing crime, and removes it shortly after. Has a dot of India ink on the back of left hand.

RECORD. Rufe Minor, alias Pine, is no doubt one of the smartest bank sneaks in America. His associates are Georgie Carson (3), Horace Hovan (25), Johnny Jourdan (83), Billy Burke, alias ” Billy The Kid” (162), Johnny Carroll, alias “The Kid” (192), Emanuel Marks, alias Minnie Marks (187), Big Rice (12), Mollie Matches (11), Billy Flynn, Big Jim Burns (165), Charley Cummisky, George Howard, alias Killoran and other clever men. He is a very gentlemanly and intelligent man, and is known in a number of the principal cities. He is no doubt one of the best generals in his line; he comes of a good family, and it is a pity he is a thief. Minor was arrested on March 23, 1878, at Petersburg, Va., in company of George Carson, Horace Hovan, and Charlotte Dougherty (Horace’s wife), charged with the larceny of $200,000, in bonds and securities, from the office of James H. Young, No. 49 Nassau Street, New York City, on January 2, 1878. They were all brought north, on a requisition, but no case was made out against them, and they were discharged. He was arrested again in New York City on November 14, 1880, with Johnny Jourdan and Georgie Carson, charged with the larceny of a tin box containing $8,500 in money and $56,000 in bonds from the vault of the Middletown Savings Bank, at Middle- town, Conn., on July 27, 1880. Horace Hovan, who was previously arrested in this case, was taken to Connecticut. Minor, who was not identified, was held in New York City, charged with being the party who stole $28,000 in bonds from a safe in the office of Merritt Trimbal, in the Coal and Iron Exchange Building on Courtlandt Street, New York, on October 15, 1879. The bonds were found in possession of the Third National Bank of New York City, having been hypothecated by a noto- rious bond negotiator and insurance agent. No case was made out against Minor, and he was discharged. Rufe Minor and Billy Burke are credited with obtaining $17,000 from the Commercial National Bank of Cleveland, O., in the fall of 1881. Burke was arrested in this case in Buffalo, N. Y., but Minor escaped. Minor was no doubt the principal man in the following robberies : the First National Bank, of De- troit, Mich., $3,200; the Middletown National Bank of Connecticut, $73,500; Bank of Cohoes, N. Y. (attempt), $100,000; Brooklyn (N. Y.) Post-office robbery, $3,000; Providence (R. I.) Gas Company robbery, $4,000 ; Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company’s vaults, at Philadelphia, Pa., $71,000; Rufus Rose Insurance Agent’s safe, at Albany, N. Y., $3,800; the Safe Deposit vaults on State Street, Boston, Mass, $25,000; the Bank of Baltimore, Md. (bonds), $12,000. Minor was also credited with sneaking $114,000 in bonds from the Erie County (N. Y.) Savings Bank, on April 30, 1882. The bonds were returned to the bank by a well known Baltimore lawyer, who received $25,000 for them. He was arrested again in New York City on June 25, 1883, and delivered to Marshal Frey, of Baltimore, for the larceny of $12,000 in bonds from the Bank of Baltimore, on September 25, 1882. For this he was tried and acquitted by a jury on November i, 1883. Minor and Johnny Price were arrested in Boston, Mass., on February i, 1884, and given one hour to leave the city. He was arrested again in New York City on June 28, 1884, for the authorities of Augusta, Ga. Minor, Price and Billy Coleman sneaked a package containing $2,700 in money from a bank safe in Augusta, Ga. Billy Coleman and Price were arrested two days afterward, tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years each in State prison, on May 7, 1884. Minor was taken to Augusta and discharged, as he could not be identified as the third party in the robbery. He was arrested again in New York City on January 12, 1886, charged with the larceny of $130 from the pocket of one Samuel Henze, in the office of the “Evening Journal,” in Jersey City, N. J. He gave the name of William Jackson, and was taken to New Jersey by requisition on January 17, 1886. In this case he was tried in the Hudson County (N. J.) Court, and acquitted on April 21 1886. Minor’s defense was an alibi. See records of Nos. 9, 25, and 83. Rufe Minor’s picture is an excellent one.

 

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Rufus A. Minor was born in New York in 1838 to Noble Green Minor (1796-1859) and Hannah Johnson. When Rufus was 8, his father married a second time to Harriet Johnson in 1846. Harriet filed for divorce in 1847, but apparently later reconciled. The Minor family was an old, established family of Massachusetts and Connecticut (Woodbury), arriving in the early 1600s. Noble Green Minor inherited wealth, and had several properties in New York City.

In the late 1850s, Noble Minor suffered from fits of insanity, and in 1859 committed suicide with a razor at his home–in front of his daughter. This left Rufus A. Minor, at age 21, in a home led by a step-mother and cohabited by younger step-siblings. He soon struck struck out on his own, though what skills he possessed are unknown.

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Rufus started traveling soon after his father’s death–a suspicious indicator that his criminal career was already in swing. In February 1860, he registered at a Philadelphia hotel under his own name; in 1865, a hotel in Boston; in  September 1871, a hotel in Cleveland. No records indicating service during the Civil War have surfaced. The 1870 census listed him living in New York with wife Mary, occupation: clerk. It was the last census he would appear on; and the last documentation of his spouse, though Byrnes indicated that Minor was still married in 1886.

Chief Byrnes begins his list of Minor’s crimes with the January 1878 theft of $500,000 in bonds from a Wall Street banker, James Young. However, even by 1871, Minor was well-known to authorities as a bank thief, or, more, accurately, a bank “sneak thief.” This type of thievery did not include the use of r threat of violence (armed robbery); nor did it involve illegal entry and breaking into a safe or vault. Instead, bank sneak thieves took advantage of the fact that all financial transactions took place with paper–paper which had to be physically carried from one place to another. These thieves used distraction, misdirection, and agility to purloin bank notes, packets of bonds and securities, etc. off of desks, out of tills, out of pockets, etc. They were a more refined type of pickpocket.

In December 1871, Minor and another criminal and gang leader, Dutch Heinrichs (real name Henry D. Neuman) were told by police to leave a Wall Street bank. They had been recognized as “notorious sneak thieves.” Minor was described as Heinrich’s “patron,” meaning that Minor was directing their attempted operations.

One unconfirmed account indicated that Minor was arrested and convicted of a robbery in Toronto in 1875, and spent two years in a Canadian prison.

No other extended prison sentences for Minor have ever been confirmed. He was often arrested, but inevitably was soon released for lack of evidence or acquitted based on weak eyewitness testimony. Minor used his bland, forgettable facial features and ability to grow a heavy beard or mustache to his advantage–committing crimes while hirsute, then immediately shaving.

Sometimes, his involvement in a crime was merely a rumor, such as his role in the September 1877 robbery of $200,000 from the First National Bank of Cortland, New York. The thieves, in this case, negotiated with an officer of the bank the return of the majority of the funds (bank notes and bonds), minus a percentage they kept for themselves.

At any rate, nothing firm is known about Minor’s activities until the January 1878 Young robbery referred to by Chief Byrnes. Minor, George Carson, Horace Hovan, and Hovan’s wife, Charlotte Dougherty, were arrested in Petersburg, Virginia and sent to New York to face charges. Minor was being led to the city detention center, the Tombs, and requested one last drink in a bar. He ditched his guard and escaped; it hardly mattered, for charges were dropped against the others for lack of evidence.

On January 2, 1879, the Government Printing Office was robbed of $10,000 by James Burns and George Carson, with Minor suspected of having played a part. Immediately after the crime, Minor, Carson, Burns, and Horace Hovan went to Charleston, South Carolina, where Hovan was caught stealing $20,000 from the First National Bank. The other three escaped and went to New York, but Carson and Burns were arrested in June for the GPO robbery.

On October 15, 1879, $28,000 was stolen from Merritt Trimbal’s office in New York City’s Coal and Iron Exchange Building. Minor was suspected; Trimbal saw Minor in a courtroom a year later, but could not positively identify him as the thief who was in his office.

Though some described Minor’s techniques as scientific, he was known to consult with fortune-tellers before embarking on any jobs.

Minor, Carson, Hovan, and Johnny Joudan stole a tin box containing over $60,000 from a Middletown, Connecticut bank on July 27, 1880. All were arrested by November, but tellers could only identify Jourdan. Minor was discharged.

Byrnes profile runs through a litany of other robberies between 1881 and 1886, none resulting in any jail time for Minor.

After Byrnes book was published, in December, 1886, a New York storekeeper was looking through his copy and saw Rufus Minor walk into his store. He was caught shoplisting a $25 overcoat and identified by Chief Byrnes himself.

In late 1887, Carson and Minor were arrested in Chicago and sent to Boston to answer for the robbery of the till at to Roxbury Gaslight Company. One mention suggests that Sophie Lyons, an infamous female gangster, helped distract the office clerks. Carson and Minor were released on bail and never appeared for their trial. Minor was said to have gone to Europe for a few months.

Minor was caught again in Milwaukee in July 1888, stealing money from a desk in the offices of the Northwestern National Insuance Company. Working with him were two other men, but this time it was Minor who was the only man captured. His bail was set at a low $500, and he disappeared.

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Minor’s career after 1888 is only a subject of rumor, with sometimes conflicting claims. An 1895 New York Sun article, responding to a supposed sighting of Minor in New York, said that he was currently in jail in “an inland city in Europe.” In 1903, Joseph Killoran, another bank thief, was arrested in New York, and while chatting with detectives, volunteered the information that Minor had died in Paris while Killoran was recently visiting there.

However, in 1907, William “Billy the Kid” Burke, a bank robber who was then husband to Sophie Lyons, was arrested in Philadelphia after returning from England. Burke and Lyons were said to have made plans to steal from a bank runner at the United States Sub Treasury in Philadelphia; but the Philadelphia Inquirer claimed that the plan had been hatched at Minor’s house in England.

By 1913, other criminals spoke of Minor in the past tense. It is likely he died in England sometime between 1907 and 1912.

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