#110 Edward Gearing

Edward Henry Garing (1848-1923), aka Edward Gearing, Eddie Goodie (Goodrich, Goode, Goody), Henry Miller — Butcher-cart thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 65 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, fair complexion. Has a goddess of liberty in India ink on left fore-arm, anchor and clasped hands on right fore-arm, and a heart on right hand. Bald in front of head. Generally wears a red mustache and whiskers, which he dyes black occasionally.

RECORD. Eddie Goodie, or Gearing, which is his right name, was the originator of butcher-cart work, in company of Steve Boyle and Big Frank McCoy (89), several years ago. He has been connected with nearly every robbery of that character which has taken place in New York City and vicinity for the last twenty years. He is one of the smartest thieves in America, a man of wonderful audacity and resources. He is so cunning and clever that he has always managed to slip out of the meshes of the law, while others not so crafty or culpable have slipped in. He was arrested in New York City on February 13, 1870, in company of a man who has since reformed, for stealing a case of silk valued at $17,000 from a Custom-house truck. The party arrested with Goodie was sent to prison for five years, he assuming all the blame and swearing that Goodie had nothing to do with the robbery.

In 1874 Goodie and Mike Hurley, alias Pugsie Hurley (88), robbed a butter merchant in Brooklyn, N.Y. They were let out on bail, which ended it. In 1875 Goodie, Billy Williams, Big John Tracy, and John McKewan robbed William B. Golden, a book-keeper, of $5,000, while he was on his way to pay off the hands of the Badger Iron Works Company, in New York City. The book-keeper left the Dry Dock Bank, then in East Tenth Street, New York, taking a horse-car. Two men entered after him, and seated themselves by his side. Another man, who was on horseback, followed the car. At Fourteenth Street and Avenue D the two men grabbed the money bag and threw it to the man on horseback, who was Goodie, and they all escaped. In 1876 the book-keeper of the Standard Oil Works left their main office, in Pearl Street, New York City, with $8,000 in money, to pay off the hands in Greenpoint. He was followed from New York by Goodie and two other men, who assaulted and robbed him. He was also implicated in robbing the cashier of the Planet Flour Mills, in Brooklyn, N.Y., of $3,500, in March, 1878. Goodie was the driver of the wagon used in the Northampton, Mass., bank robbery in January, 1876, and was an associate of Red Leary, George Bliss, Bob Dunlap, and several other expert bank robbers.

He was also connected with the Manhattan Bank robbery in New York City, in October, 1878. In the latter part of 1880, Goodie and Willie Farrell (109) robbed a man of $2,200 near the Bank of the Metropolis, New York. They escaped by driving away in a butcher-cart. It was Goodie who drove the butcher-cart when Ruppert’s collector was robbed of $9,600 in money, in East Forty-second Street, New York, in July, 1881. Goodie was the man that was described as wearing a big brown mustache, who jumped over the fence in Jersey City, N.J., on July 18, 1883, when Cashier Smith, of the National Bank of Orange, N.J., was assaulted and an attempt made to rob him of $10,000 in money. Pete Emmerson, alias Banjo Pete (90), Ned Farrell, and John Nugent, the other parties in this robbery, were arrested at the time, and are now in State prison. Goodie was arrested in New York City on February 7, 1884, charged, in connection with William Farrell (109) and James Titterington, with assaulting with a piece of lead pipe and robbing one Luther Church of $2,300, on December 31, 1883. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to twenty years in State prison on February 21, 1884, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. Goodie’s picture is a good one, taken in February, 1884.


“Butcher-cart thieves” used one-horse wagons popular with butchers and other delivery services to accost bank messengers and other delivery men on the street and make quick getaways. Eddie Garing was among the best in this type of crime–Byrnes credits him with originating the technique–but Byrnes leaves out a critical piece of information. [Note that Byrnes and many newspapers used the spelling “Gearing”, but the family preferred “Garing.”]

Brynes lists Eddie Garing’s first crime as an 1870 robbery of a case of silk from a Custom-house truck, and mentions that he committed this crime “in the company of a man who has since reformed.” That man, whom Byrnes refused to name, was George Washington Garing, Edward Garing’s older brother. In fact, this brother, also known as “Wash Goodrich,” “Wash Goody,” “William Miller,” and “George Sloan” appears to have been the originator of the cart robbery technique; and he was arrested and convicted more times than his younger brother.

Edward Gearing. Illustration by David Birkey http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

Byrnes profiled the younger brother only–which demonstrates Byrnes’ peculiar ethical sense. Byrnes, at least in this instance, appeared sensitive to the idea that reformed former convicts should not be outed in public. Moreover, Byrnes’ courtesy was–unfortunately–misplaced. In 1888 (two years after Byrnes published his book) Wash Garing was arrested for stealing a horse and wagon; and was suspected of robbing a feed-store safe along with Herman Palmer.

Meanwhile, Eddie Garing followed in his brother’s footsteps for 14 years (between 1870 and 1884) without being convicted. For many of those years he was a leader, along with James Titterington and Willie Farrell, of the Mackerelville gang, the terror of the East Side. The luck of Garing and Titterington ran out after they assaulted and nearly killed a man named Luther Church with a lead pipe during one robbery in 1884. For this crime, Eddie was sent to Sing Sing for a twenty year sentence. With time reduced he was released in 1896.

If Eddie then resumed his criminal career, he was equally lucky in escaping punishment in his late career as he was in his earlier career. He lived in Queens as a house-painter for the rest of his life, dying at age 75, with no further arrests or jail stays on his record.

Byrnes realized that it was possible for repeat offenders to reform; but in the case of Wash Garing, he miscalculated the man’s resolve. There is no formula to predict how many arrests or years in prison will move a criminal to reform–or whether that experience just encourages a return to crime. Both Garing brothers lived out their last years in freedom, so on their own terms they each decided to live a straight life.


#77 Gustave Kindt

Gustave François Kindt (1835-1910), aka Isidore Marechal, French Gus, Frenchy — Thief, Toolmaker, Inventor

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Stout build. Born in Belgium, Widower. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Brown hair, keen gray eyes, fresh rosy face, dark complexion. High forehead. Generally wears a gray silky mustache and imperial. He is a square, muscular man. Speaks English fluently. Dresses like a well-to-do mechanic. Has a scar on his left jaw.

RECORD. Kindt, or “Frenchy,” is a celebrated criminal. He came to this country when very young. He is a skillful mechanic, and is credited with being able to fit a key as well, if not better, than any man in America. He also manufactures tools and hires them out to professional burglars on a percentage. In January, 1869, he was sent to Sing Sing prison for ten years for robbing the watch-case manufactory of Wheeler & Parsons, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was employed. On February 5, 1871, he escaped from Sing Sing by cutting through the bars of his cell with saws, which friends had managed to convey to him. On October 17, 1872, he was arrested for robbing a jewelry store in Hackensack, N.J., and sent back to Sing Sing prison. He devoted his time to the invention of a lever lock, by which a single key could unlock all or part of the cell doors at once, and offered the lock, which he completed in 1874, to the prison authorities on condition that he should receive his freedom. The proposition was laid before Governor Tilden, who rejected it. “Frenchy” escaped again in 1875, and went to Canada, where he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for robbing a pawnbroker in Montreal. Thirty- seven diamonds, which he had shipped to his daughter in New York, were recovered. After serving out his time in Montreal, where he introduced his lock, he went to St. Albans, Vt., where he was arrested as an escaped convict on February 3, 1880. While on his way back to Sing Sing prison, in custody of an officer of Sing Sing prison, when near Troy, N.Y., on February 4, he made a dash for liberty. He leaped out of the car and ran across the fields. The officer followed and fired one shot. French Gus staggered, put his left hand to his cheek, but kept on. He fired again, and the burglar, flinging his arms in the air, fell headlong to the earth. He had been hit in the cheek and the back of the head. He was carried back to the train, and reached Sing Sing in a dying condition. He recovered, however, and on February 21, 1884, he was discharged, having finally expiated the crime of 1869. Immediately upon his discharge he was arrested and taken to Hackensack, N.J., to be tried for robbing a jewelry store there in 1872, an indictment having been found during his confinement in Sing Sing. There was not evidence enough to convict him, and he was released, after two months’ confinement. Kindt was next arrested in New York City, on May 23, 1885, charged with burglarizing the safe of Smith & Co., No. 45 Park Place, on April 27, 1885, where he obtained one $5,000 and one $1,750 bond, two watches, and $80 in money. He was also charged with robbing the store of G. B. Horton & Co., No. 59 Frankfort Street, of $234 in money and some postage stamps. The detectives searched the rooms of his daughter. Rose Kindt, in East Eleventh Street, New York City, and there found a complete and beautifully made set of burglars’ tools. In a sofa which they tore apart were sectional jimmies of the most improved pattern ; under the carpet were saws and small tools of every variety ; concealed elsewhere in the rooms were drags, drills, wrenches, crucibles for melting gold and silver, fuses, skeleton keys, wax, impressions of keys, etc. They also found what had been stolen from Smith & Co., and Horton & Co., with the exception of the money. When Kindt was confronted with his daughter, who had been arrested but was subsequently released, he confessed to all, and also charged Frank McCoy, alias “Big Frank” (89), with trying to obtain his services to rob the Butchers and Drovers’ Bank of New York City. Kindt pleaded guilty to two charges of burglary, and was sentenced to six years in State prison on June 4, 1885, by Judge Barrett, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, New York City. Kindt’s picture is an excellent one, taken in May, 1885.

Gustave F. Kindt was an expert machinist and a master of prison escapes, perhaps the most intelligent criminal in Chief Byrnes’s rogue’s gallery. Kindt’s first confirmed presence was in Brooklyn, in 1867. He placed an ad in the New York Herald, looking for any information on his brothers Joseph and Charles–apparently they emigrated separately. Kindt described his original country as Belgium (but, when posing as Frenchman Isidore Marechal, claimed to be from Lille, France.) He was said to have been trained as a watchmaker.


In 1867, he joined a jewelry-making company in Brooklyn, working in their metal shop. Years later, the Cincinnati Enquirer recounted how Kindt robbed his workplace:


Kindt tried to implicate a co-worker–Jeannot–in the crime; this despite the fact that the Jeannot family had housed Kindt and his wife, and had helped him try to find his brothers.

For this crime, Kindt was sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing. In Sing Sing, he was able to craft a tiny saw, parts of which he secreted in one of his own molars that he had pulled out and hollowed. In February 1871, he sawed through three door locks and escaped from the prison and headed to New Jersey. Within six days, he found a new job at a Hackensack NJ jewelry manufacturer. He was hired, given a raise, and reconnected with his wife. While still working his job, he and his wife opened a lager hall across from his workplace. However, temptation beckoned, and Kindt open the safe of his employer and took $8000. The owner called in local police, who were stumped; they called in New York detectives, one of whom had worked on the similar Brooklyn case. Kindt was collared and reinstalled in Sing Sing to serve out his earlier sentence.

In November 1875, Kindt escaped from Sing Sing a second time–the only man ever to do so. This time, he was aided by a corrupt guard, who allowed Kindt to hide in a prison workshop instead of being returned to his cell. From the workshop, Kindt was able to get off the prison grounds, and made his way north to Canada. There, he used his French language skills to assume the alias of Isidore Marechal. About a year later, in November 1876, Kindt picked the lock of a pawnshop, opened the safe with a duplicate key he had made, and took about $20,000 in jewelry, watches, silverware, and bank notes. He melted down the metals into bricks, and sent an accomplice to New York to sell the precious stones. However, a suspicious cleaning lady tipped off authorities, and evidence was found in Kindt’s rooms. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the Provincial Prison for three years.

Upon his release in 1879, he robbed a Montreal store of $4000 worth of silks. After fencing the goods, he headed back across the border into Vermont, shedding the “Isidore Marechal” alias and becoming “Gus Kent.” The silks were traced back to Kindt through a woman he had been intimate with in Montreal; she told Montreal detectives that he could be found in St. Albans, Vermont. They contacted the sheriff of St. Albans, who found that Kindt had been working in a machine shop there for six weeks. He was arrested; in his rooms they found a new set of safe-cracking tools that indicated he was about to commit another robbery. A message was sent to Sing Sing that an officer should come to retrieve Kindt and take him back to that prison.

An officer arrived to take possession of Kindt, and they boarded a train heading south to Troy, New York, where they needed to switch trains. They were delayed in Troy for several hours, and as they waited in the station, Kindt attacked the officer and tried to make a dash for freedom. They wrestled for several minutes, and finally the officer was able to pull out his revolver and shoot Kindt. The bullet glanced his head, causing a serious wound. He was bandaged and placed on the train the next day, but when he arrived at Sing Sing, there were doubts he would survive.

Imprisoned in Sing Sing once more, Kindt used his time productively. During his earlier stay at Sing Sing, he had observed that the workshop and exercise periods wasted much time with the unlocking and locking of individual cell doors. He had drawn a diagram for a mechanism that would allow one guard to lock or unlock a whole row of cells at one time. He offered his invention to the warden in exchange for a commuted sentence. The request had gone up to Governor Tilden in 1875 and had been turned down. Now, once again confined to Sing Sing, Kindt obtained a US patent for his invention. Kindt was later able to sell the rights to prisons in Great Britain.


Kindt was in and out of prison two more times (in 1885 and 1892), and was arrested again in 1900, but escaped conviction. His final years were spent in Philadelphia, where the city directories listed him as “inventor” or “mechanic.” He was known to be a manufacturer of burglar and safe-cracker tools. He obtained a second patent for an improvement to his cell-block locking mechanism  in 1898. He died in Philadelphia in 1910, age 75.







#54 Albert Cropsey

Albert J. Cropsey (1852-1934) aka Alfred Cropsey, William Crosby — Hotel and boarding-house thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-three years old in 1886. Medium build. Born in United States. Light complexion. Not married. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Light hair and mustache when worn. Has letters “A. C.” in India ink on right fore-arm ; also letters “A. C.” and “A.,” bracelet, anchor and dots on left hand.

RECORD. Cropsey is a very clever hotel and boarding-house thief, and is a man well worth knowing. He was arrested in New York City on May l0, 1878, for robbing a safe in Stanwix Hall, a hotel in Albany, N. Y., and delivered to the Albany police authorities. He was convicted there and sentenced to five years in the Albany, N.Y., Penitentiary on June 29, 1878, by Judge Van Alstyne. He was arrested again in New York City on November 4, 1883, and sent to Passaic, N.J., where he was charged with stealing $300 worth of silverware from a Mr. Lara Smith. In this case he was tried, but the jury failed to convict him and he was discharged. He is known in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and several other cities in the United States. Cropsey’s picture was taken in 1878.

Albert J. Cropsey’s criminal career followed a depressingly familiar trajectory: between ages twenty to forty-four, he was sent to prison four times for burglarizing boarding houses, hotels, and stores–his sentences totaled fourteen years. Moreover, those represent just the jailings that are known; there may have been more under unidentified aliases.

Albert was born to Jasper and Caroline Cropsey, living in Manhattan’s Ninth Ward. Despite the proximity of place and time, Albert’s father Jasper was not the famous landscape painter of the same name.

Albert was first jailed in 1872 under the name William Crosby for Grand Larceny, and sentenced to Sing Sing for a period of two years and six months. He was sent back to Sing Sing in 1875 for burglary, for the same length of time. In 1878, he and an accomplice stole money from the safe of the Stanwix Hall hotel in Albany, earning him a sentence of five years in the Albany jail.

Albert was out by 1883, when he was arrested for stealing silverware from a boarding house in Passaic, New Jersey. His method was to check in to boarding-houses as a resident, observe where the valuables were kept and the habits of the staff, and then make off with whatever he could fence. In this case, he was discharged for lack of evidence.

However, he was caught again in New York in April, 1890, and recognized by Chief Byrnes. This time, he had cajoled two young English immigrants to do the stealing of silk bolts, which he received in order to sell. For this crime he was sent to Sing Sing for four years.


…and then Albert J. Cropsey changed his life.

When the Spanish-American war fervor reached its peak, Albert J. Cropsey enlisted as a 46-year-old private. after the war, he was hired at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a painter. In 1903 he married Jane (Jennie) Winn, and in 1907 they had a daughter, named Caroline after Albert’s mother.

Albert J. Cropsey and his family lived peacefully in Brooklyn for the next three decades, until his death in 1934 at age 82.


#5 Phillip Phearson

Philip Pearson (1832-Aft. 1907), aka “Philly” Phearson, Dr. White, Charles Bushnell–Bank sneak thief, Abortionist

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-four years old in 1886. Height, 5 feet 5 1/2 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Hair mixed gray. Eyes, blue. Complexion, sallow. Ink marks: Eagle wreath, American flag, square and compass, an Odd Fellow’s link, also “J. Peck,” with face of woman underneath the name, all the above on left fore-arm; star and bracelet on left wrist; star between thumb and forefinger of left hand; figure of woman on right fore-arm; above the elbow is a heart, with “J. P.” in it; shield and bracelet with letters “W. D.” on same arm.

RECORD. Phearson, or Peck (which is his right name), is one of the oldest and smartest sneak thieves in this country. He has obtained a good deal of money in his time, for which he has done considerable service in State prisons. He comes from a respectable Quaker family of Philadelphia.

Phearson, Chas. Everhardt, alias Marsh Market Jake (38), and George Williams, alias Woodward (194,) were arrested in Montreal, Canada, in 1876, for sneaking a package containing $800 in money from a safe in that city. Williams gave bail and jumped it, and Phearson and Everhardt stood trial, and were sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

On June 16, 1879, shortly after his release in Canada, he was arrested in New York City for the larceny of a $1,000 4-per-cent bond from a clerk of Kountze Brothers, bankers, in the general Post-office building. To this offense he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three years and six months in State prison, on June 26, 1879, under the name of George W. Clark.

Phearson was again arrested in New York City in October, 1885, for the larceny of $85, on the till-tapping game. He claimed to be a health officer, and while he had the proprietor of the store in the yard, his accomplice carried away the drawer. For this offense he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Cowing on November 5, 1885, under the name of Daniel Kennedy. Phearson’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1885.

Phillip Phearson. Illus. by David Birkey http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

Thomas Byrnes lists several facts about the bank sneak thief known as Philly Phearson, many of which seem to be untrue (or at least suspicious). Byrnes cites his birth year as 1832, which matches an exact date of March 12, 1832 that appeared in one of his arrest records. However, Byrnes also says that Phearson came from a good Quaker family, and that his real name was Peck. Phearson (who was usually named in newspapers and prison records as Pearson/Pierson/Peerson, without the “h”) had many tattoos on his body, one of which was a heart with the the letters “J. Peck” and a figure of a woman with the initials J.P. He had other tattoos that bore symbols of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Tattoos and Odd Fellows membership do not jive with a Quaker background; and having a woman named “J. Peck” in his past does not mean that was his given name–but perhaps Byrnes had other sources for his assertions.

The major crimes that Pearson was known to have been involved in include:

  • In early 1873, with associates Horace Hovan and Johnny Price, Pearson hit banks in Berks County and Dauphin County, Pennsylvania using their bank sneak techniques.
  • According to Byrnes, Pearson was with Charles Everhardt (aka Marsh Market Jake) and George Williams in 1876 when a safe containing $800 was robbed in Montreal, Quebec. Byrnes states that Pearson was sentenced to a term of three years and six months, but he obviously was released early, since he definitely resurfaced in New York in 1878.
  • In June, 1878, Pearson was caught stealing in New York. He did not give up the names of his partners, but did inform police where their next planned robberies were to occur. For this cooperation, his sentence was commuted by the New York State Senate to one year, and further reduced by good behavior and a promise to stay out of New York.
  • A year later, in June 1879, Pearson was caught robbing a $1000 bond from Kountze Bankers. He was sent back to Sing Sing under the name Geo. W. Clarke to serve 3 years and six months.

Nothing more is heard of him until 1884, when there are conflicting reports: Byrnes states that he was in a gang with Old Bill Vosburgh and Kid Carroll, touring the western states to do bank sneak thieving. However, another source says that he was in prison in Toronto.

An even more stark example of conflicting reports occurs in late 1885. Byrnes says that Pearson was arrested in October, 1885 and sent to Sing Sing for five years under the name Daniel Kennedy. However, a Philadelphia paper says that he was arrested in that city in December, 1885, in the company of Marsh Market Jake.

In his 1895 revision, Byrnes states that Pearson was arrested again in February 1888 for stalling a shop owner while the cash till was robbed. However, the newspaper accounts and prison records say that the man arrested was 73-year-old William Pearson, a long-time felon known as “Funeral” Pearson. Philly Pearson, in contrast, was 56 in 1888–he appeared old, but not 73. So Byrnes, it seems, had the wrong information.

Byrnes, writing in 1895, concluded, “He is a pretty old man now, and has outlived his usefulness as a thief.” In these words, Byrnes was correct–Pearson stopped thieving…and became something much worse.

Using his scholarly appearance and assuring banter, Pearson set himself up in Philadelphia as an abortionist–deemed a “malpractitioner” in the parlance of the times. There is no evidence that he had any medical training. In 1904, one woman he operated on (as “Dr. Clarke”) was later hospitalized near death, and another–Ada Greenover–died from peritonitis after Pearson worked on her. He should have been prosecuted for murder, but was instead lightly slapped with the charge of practicing without a license.

The legal cases against him were no deterrent. A few months later, his butchery caused the death of a black child and the near-death of the mother. The Philadelphia Coroner believed that Pearson was running an abortion syndicate responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of three other women.

With attention on him, Pearson curtailed surgical operations and instead began selling abortion nostrums through the mail. Whether the mixtures he sold were harmless placebos or toxic poisons is not known, but his use of the mails under the name “Charles Bushnell” finally provided the leverage to shut him down.


The “sympathies of the jury” might have been better spent on the women he maimed and killed.

#152 Abraham Greenthal / #153 Harris Greenthal

Abraham Greenthal (1822-1889), aka General Greenthal, Abraham Leslauer, Abraham Meyers; and Hirsch Harris (1824-1886), aka Herman Brown, Harris Greenthal, Herman Harris, Harris Meyer — Pickpockets

From Byrnes’s text on Abraham Greenthal:

DESCRIPTION. Sixty years old in 1886. Jew, born in Poland. Calls himself a German. Widower. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 185 pounds. Dark hair, turning quite gray. Prominent nose-lines ; mole near one of them. Beard, when grown, is a sandy gray. Generally has a smooth face.

RECORD. “General” Greenthal is known all over the United States as the leader of the “Sheeny mob.” He is acknowledged to be one of the most expert pickpockets in America. His home is in the Tenth Ward in New York City, and he has been a thief and receiver of stolen goods for the last thirty years. He has served time in several prisons and penitentiaries, but has generally obtained his release before his sentence expired. He is a clever thief, and will fight when forced to. The “General” was arrested in Rochester, N.Y., on March 1, 1877, in company of his brother, Harris, and Samuel Casper, his son-in-law, for robbing a man (see record of No. 153), and sentenced on April 19, 1877, to twenty years in Auburn, N.Y., State prison. He was pardoned in the spring of 1884 by Governor Cleveland.

He was arrested again in Brooklyn, N.Y., on December 30, 1885, in company of Bendick Gaetz, alias “The Cockroach,” for robbing Robert B. Dibble, of Williamsburg, N.Y., of a pocket-book containing $795 in money, on a cross-town horse-car in that city. The “General” pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the second degree, on March 23, 1886, and was sentenced to five years in Crow Hill prison by Judge Moore, in the Brooklyn Court of Sessions. The “General” is an old friend of Mrs. Mandelbaum, who is now in Canada. Greenthal’s picture is a splendid one, taken in March, 1877.

From Byrnes’ text on Harris Greenthal:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-eight years old in 1886. Jew, born in Poland. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Brown curly hair, turning quite gray ; brown and gray whiskers, high forehead.

RECORD. Harris Greenthal, a brother of the “General” (152), is also an old New York thief and member of the “Sheeny gang” of pickpockets, who have been traveling through the country robbing people for a number of years. He resides in New York City, and is well known in all the principal cities in the United States and Canada. Harris Greenthal, alias Brown, the “General,” alias Meyers, and Samuel Casper, the “General’s” son-in-law, were arrested in Rochester, N.Y., on March 1, 1877, charged with robbing William Jinkson of $1,190 in money, at the Central Railroad depot. Jinkson was a farmer who sold his farm in Massachusetts, and with the proceeds had started West. The “Sheeny gang” had seen him showing his money in Albany, N.Y., and had followed him from that city. At the Central depot in Rochester they told him he would have to change cars. One of the trio took his valise, and the entire party entered another car. In jostling through the crowd the “General” relieved Jinkson of his pocket-book containing the money, which was in bills. They escaped, but were arrested about an hour afterwards. They were indicted, tried, and convicted. The “General,” alias Meyers, was sentenced on April 19, 1877, to twenty years at hard labor in Auburn, N.Y., State prison. Harris Greenthal, alias Brown, received a sentence of eighteen years, and Casper fifteen years. Harris and Casper were pardoned by Governor Cleveland in December, 1884, the “General” having been pardoned some months before. (See record of No. 84.) Harris’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1877.

Several of the personages profiled in Byrnes’ Professional Criminals of America have been written about extensively, either through autobiographies, biographies, or essays: Sophie Lyons, Langdon Moore, Jim Brady, George W. Wilkes, etc. The blog entries composing this project are too abbreviated to match the historical details that exist in those studies. This inadequacy was never more evident than in the case of Abraham “General” Greenthal, the leader of the so-called “Sheeny Mob” (“sheeny” being a derogatory term for Jews, especially emigrant German Jews.)

                           Hirsch Harris

Greenthal’s entire criminal career, genealogy, and Prussian-Jewish origins have been documented by Edward David Luft in an essay of astounding scholarship, “Stop Thief! : The true story of Abraham Greenthal, king of the pickpockets in 19th century New York City, as revealed from contemporary sources.”  Luft’s essay is all the more impressive given the elusive clues available: Greenthal was an adopted alias, and was often misspelled in newspaper accounts: Grenthal, Gruenthal, Green, etc.; and it was sometimes dropped by Abraham and his family in favor of “Meyers/Myers” or variant spellings of an earlier established family name: Leslauer (found as “Leslan” “Leslau” “Leslie,” etc. in some newspaper records)

                 Abraham Greenthal

Greenthal and his gang of associates were pickpockets, sneak thieves, and fences. How extensive their network was is unknown, but the core of it consisted of Abraham, his wife, their daughters, and their husbands; and his brother Hirsch’s family. A leading figure of the gang, in addition to Abraham, was Hirsch’s daughter Augusta Harris, who acted as the main fence, or receiver, during the 1870s.

Little more can be added to Luft’s study of “General” Greenthal, but Luft mentions his brother, Hirsch Harris, very briefly. A few records exist for this man: his prison intake and discharge papers; the 1870 census, and the 1880 census. Unfortunately, after 1884, traces of his family disappear.

He was called “Hirsch Harris” by newspapers more frequently than any other name; but he was sent to Auburn prison in 1877 under the name Herman Brown. In the 1870 census, his name was transcribed (in an obvious error) as “Hanna Harris.” In 1880, he was listed as “Hermon Harris” (although he was actually still in Auburn at that point.) The family consisted of four girls: Augusta, Amalia, Hattie, and Lille; and a boy, Moses. Moses and Amalia were not listed with the family in 1880. Amalia was old enough to be out on her own, but perhaps Moses met an early death.

Augusta was described in several articles as the leader of the Greenthal mob’s fence operation, mentioned in the same breath with Marm Mandelbaum (whom one article suggests pushed Augusta out of business using her political connections). Augusta was married in the early 1870s to Charles “French Charley” Perle, a pickpocket and thief. However, the two had a falling out, and a newspapers suggested they were divorced (“out of the courts”) in 1876.

Newspapers also referred to a daughter Mary/Mollie, who may have been the same person listed in the 1870 census as Amalia. Mary/Mollie was said to have been the fiance of burglar Johnny McAlpine. Their romance would have been interrupted by McAlpine’s being sentenced to 20 years in Sing Sing in 1873.

Chief Byrnes, in his 1995 revised edition, suggests that Hirsch Harris died “within a few months” as his brother, in 1889; however, an earlier article on the conviction of Abraham in 1886 states that Hirsch (under the name Harris Meyer) died on March 31, 1886.

#25 Horace Hovan

Horace Hovan (1852-192?), aka “Little Horace” — bank sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Medium build. Born in Richmond, Va. Very genteel appearance. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Dresses well. Married to Charlotte Dougherty. Fair complexion. A fine, elegant-looking man. Generally wears a full brown beard.

RECORD. Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace, has associated with all the best bank sneaks in the country.

In 1870 Horace, in company of a man that has reformed and is living honestly, and Big Ed. Rice (12), stole $20,000 from a vault in a Halifax (N.S.) bank. Hovan and this party were arrested, but Rice escaped with the money. The prisoners were afterwards released, as the money was returned to the bank.

Horace was convicted under the name of W. W. Fisher, alias Morgan, for a bank sneak job in Pittsburg, Pa., and sentenced to two years and eleven months in the Western Penitentiary, at Alleghany City, on November 22, 1878. He was arrested on March 23, 1878, at Petersburgh, Va., with Rufe Minor, George Carson, and Charlotte Dougherty (Hovan’s wife). See remarks of picture No. 1.

Arrested again March 31, 1879, at Charleston, S.C., for the larceny of $20,000 in bonds from a safe in the First National Bank in that city. He dropped them on the floor of the bank when detected and feigned sickness, and was sent to the hospital, from which place he made his escape.

Arrested again October 16, 1880, in New York City, for the Middletown (Conn.) Bank robbery. See records of pictures Nos. 1 and 3. In this case he was discharged, as the property stolen was returned. Arrested again in June, 1881, at Philadelphia, Pa., with Frank Buck, alias Bucky Taylor (27), for the larceny of $10,950 in securities from a broker’s safe in that city. He was convicted of burglary, and sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa., on July 2, 1881, his time to date back to June 6, 1881. He was pardoned out October 30, 1883, on condition that he would go to Washington, D. C, and testify against some officials who were on trial. He agreed to do so if the Washington authorities would have the case against him in Charleston, S.C., settled, which they did. He then gave his testimony, which was not credited by the jury. He remained in jail in Washington until May 10, 1884, when he was discharged.

Hovan and Buck Taylor were arrested again on June 18, 1884, in Boston, Mass., their pictures taken, and then escorted to a train and shipped out of town. Hovan is a very clever and tricky sneak thief. One of his tricks was to prove an alibi when arrested.

He has a brother, Robert Hovan (see picture No. 179), now (1886) serving a five years’ sentence in Sing Sing prison, who is a good counterpart. The voices and the manners of the two men are so nearly alike, that when they are dressed in the same manner it is hard to distinguish one from the other. Horace has often relied on this. He would register with his wife at a prominent hotel, and make the acquaintance of the guests. About an hour before visiting a bank or an office Horace would have his brother show up at the hotel, order a carriage, drive out with his (Horace’s) wife in the park, and return several hours later. Horace, in the interval, would slip off and do his work. If he was arrested any time afterwards, he would show that he was out riding at the time of the robbery.

Horace Hovan is without doubt one of the smartest bank sneaks in the world. Latest accounts, the fall of 1885, say that he was arrested in Europe and sentenced to three years in prison for the larceny of a package of bank notes from a safe. His partner, Frank Buck, made his escape and returned to America. His picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

While there may be no “born criminals,” Horace Hovan did take up thieving at an early age. He was raised in Richmond, Virginia to Irish parents: John F. Hovan and Harriet B. Rowe. 1864 was a momentous year for the Hovans; John F. Hovan disappeared, perhaps into the maws of the Civil War; Harriet gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter, Gennet; and Horace Hovan, aged 12, was arrested for pick-pocketing.

Hovan was the scourge of Richmond for the next seven years, being arrested for: stealing soap; beating a black man; pick-pocketing; and robbing store tills. In 1868, at age 16, he jumped bail and fled the city. He and his two brothers stayed in Philadelphia for a while, but migrated back to Richmond in 1870. There, he married a local girl, Martha Abrams. By 1871, Horace had graduated to breaking and entering houses. Just days after his mother passed away, he was caught and held on $2500 bail–and likely jailed. Horace and Martha’s son, Horace Jr., was born in 1872, but died less than a year later. A daughter, Cellela, was born in 1873. Horace, by this time, was on the road working with other thieves, and sent back money to his wife who was living in Baltimore.


In early 1873, Hovan and three partners (two of whom were John Price and Philly Pearson) stole from banks in Berks County, Pennsylvania and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their method was “sneak thieving”–today known as “snatching,” i.e. a quick motion to grab objects and run away with them. In banks, this was done as bank customers placed bills on a counter; or as cashiers counted out money; or as distracted bank workers left papers unattended. Horace (unlike his brother Preston) never carried weapons, and never struggled when caught.

The gang moved westward, and in late March broke into the Pittsburgh Safe Deposit and Trust Company, where they hit the mother lode. Hovan walked out with $50,000 in railroad bonds. The gang immediately went to New York City, where Hovan–posing as a “curbstone broker” (a broker who makes trades on the street)–tried to negotiate the bonds for cash. He was arrested and taken to stand trial at Pittsburgh under the name Charles G. Hampton. Hovan was jailed from late April to late October awaiting his trial. Johnny Jourdan appeared to testify on Hovan’s behalf, offering an alibi that Hovan had been in New York–but the jury discounted that. Hovan was sentenced to two years and eleven months in Western (Pa.) Penitentiary.

Upon his release in 1876, Hovan partnered with “Big Ed” Rice and Bill “Snatchem” Henderson to rob the Bank of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Cleverly, they took advantage of an existing diversion–a circus parade:


The three were stopped and detained, but were later released. Chief Byrnes incorrectly dates this robbery to the year 1870 (when Hovan was still in Richmond); many other sources repeated this error. The 1876 crime was the first bank robbery in the history of Halifax.

Hovan may have spent 1877 at home with his wife–she passed away in April, 1877. His remaining daughter, Cellela, died a year later, in 1878, at age 5. Hovan returned to New York and began relations with a new woman, Charlotte Newman Dougherty. She was the wife of Daniel F. “Big Doc” Dougherty, a bank robber who was sent to prison in 1868 for a fifteen year term.

Charlotte Dougherty, Hovan, Rufus Minor and George Carson teamed up to steal over $250,000 in bonds from James Young, a Wall Street broker. They fled south, but were caught two months later in Petersburg, Virginia; some bonds in a tin box were found in Rufe Minor’s room. The quartet was brought back to New York, but all were released for lack of evidence.

Hovan returned south to Charleston, South Carolina, and was apprehended while taking $20,000 from a bank; he feigned illness, was taken to a hospital, and escaped.

He teamed up again with Minor, Carson, and Johnny Jourdan to steal 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.

Byrnes summarizes Hovan’s next years succinctly:

“Arrested again in June, 1881, at Philadelphia, Pa., with Frank Buck, alias Bucky Taylor (27), for the larceny of $10,950 in securities from a broker’s safe in that city. He was convicted of burglary, and sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa., on July 2, 1881, his time to date back to June 6, 1881. He was pardoned out October 30, 1883, on condition that he would go to Washington, D. C, and testify against some officials who were on trial. He agreed to do so if the Washington authorities would have the case against him in Charleston, S. C, settled, which they did. He then gave his testimony, which was not credited by the jury. He remained in jail in Washington until May 10, 1884, when he was discharged.”

Regaining his freedom, Hovan returned to New York and formally married Charlotte Newman Dougherty (though her husband Big Doc was still alive). In 1885 he traveled to England with Charlotte and Frank Buck. He was caught stealing bank notes there and was thrown into an English prison for three years. After serving his term, he returned to North America via Canada. He was caught stealing from a bank in Montreal, but was released on bail, and fled to the United States. A month later, in December 1888, he and Walter Sheridan attempted to rob the People’s Savings Bank in Denver, Colorado. They were caught, made bail, and fled.

Horace returned to Europe with his brother Preston in 1889. He and Preston had very similar looks, so one of their tricks was to have Preston publicly escort Charlotte around in hotels, at the same time that Horace was stealing from banks. Later, Horace could claim that he had been with his wife, a fact verified by many impeccable witnesses. In 1890, Horace and another American thief, Billy Porter, were arrested in Toulouse, France for burglary, but both only served a few months in jail.

Horace and Charlotte lived quietly in England for the next few years, but in 1895 he was arrested in Frankfort, Germany. Charlotte died in England sometime during this period. From Germany, Hovan’s activities are unknown–it may be he was imprisoned there for several years. He returned to the United States in bad health sometime after 1900. Upon meeting detective Robert Pinkerton, he begged for help in finding an honest job. Pinkerton helped set him up as an elevator operator–a job he held for at least six or seven years. He was exposed by William Pinkerton in a newspaper article, bragging about his brother’s role in Hovan’s reform; this may have brought Hovan unwanted scrutiny.

In 1913, newspaper reports claimed Hovan and his old partner Big Ed Rice were caught stealing from a bank cashier in Munich, Germany. Horace would have been 63, and Rice was older, 72. However, in 1923 an article appeared saying that Hovan was still in the elevator business, and was now a manager–and had been reformed for twenty years.

After that 1923 mention, Hovan’s name in public records disappears. He would have been about 70 years old in 1923.

#83 John Jourdan

Johnny Jourdan (1850-1893), aka Jonathan Jamison, Henry Osgood, Jonathan E. Brown — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Light brown hair, dark eyes, dark complexion, long slim nose, pock-marked. Cross in India ink on left fore-arm; number “6” on back of one arm; wreath, with the word “Love” in it, on left arm.

RECORD Johnny Jourdan is a professional safe-blower and sneak thief, and has worked with the best safemen and sneaks in America, and has quite a reputation for getting out of toils when arrested. He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary in August, 1874, under the name of Jonathan Jamison. He was again arrested in New York City in November, 1880, and confined in the Tombs prison, charged with robbing the Middletown Bank, of Connecticut, in July, 1880, where the gang, Rufe Minor, George Carson and Horace Hovan, obtained some $48,000 in money and bonds. Jourdan played sick, and was transferred from the prison to Bellevue Hospital, from which place he escaped on Thursday, April 14, 1881.

In the fall of 1884 Jourdan made up a party consisting of Philly Phearson (5), Johnny Carroll, “The Kid” (192), and Old Bill Vosburg (4). They traveled around the country, and did considerable bank sneaking. They tried to rob a man in a bank at Rochester, N.Y., but failed. They followed him from the bank to a hotel, and while he was in the water-closet they took a pocket-book from him, but not the one with the money in it. Phearson and Carroll escaped. Jourdan and Vosburg were arrested and sentenced to two years and six months for assault in the second degree, by Judge John S. Morgan, on June 15, 1885. Jourdan gave the name of Henry Osgood. He is well known in all the principal cities in America, and is considered one of the cleverest men in America in his line. His picture is a very good one, taken in 1877.

Although Johnny Jourdan and his sisters Margaret (Maggie) and Josephine were said to have come from a good family, all three were well immersed in the New York City criminal underground. As yet, the parents have not been identified. One sister, Josephine Jourdan, married Francis “Frank” J. Houghtaling, a clerk for the Jefferson Market Police Court (where Johnny once said he worked as a janitor). This was a Tammany Hall patronage position, used to collect bribes. Houghtaling was exposed, and forced out of his position.

The other sister, “Maggie” Jourdan, became an infamous figure in New York City after aiding in the escape of William J. Sharkey, a burglar, gambler, and minor Tammany Hall politician. Sharkey killed a man over a gambling debt and was held in the Tombs, the city detention center, during his trial. Maggie and another woman sneaked in some women’s clothing to him, which he donned and exited the jail using one of the women’s passes. At the time, it was called the most daring jailbreak in America. Sharkey fled to Cuba where Maggie joined him; but after he mistreated her, she returned to New York.

Maggie later married a famous Irish-American music hall singer, William J. “Billy” Scanlan. After his death in 1898, she married Scanlan’s agent, the wealthy New York City impresario, Augustus Pitou. Maggie Pitou lived out her life as a member of New York City’s elite, dying in 1938.


Her brother Johnny, alas, had a much worse and shorter life. As a teen, he was arrested as a New York pickpocket. In 1871, he stole $2000 in stamps from a Bridgeport, Connecticut post office; two years later he was tracked down and arrested for this crime, but escaped conviction. He migrated to Philadelphia and was quickly arrested for burglary, under the alias Jonathan Jamison. For that crime, in 1874 he was sentenced to five years in Eastern State Penitentiary. He was recommended for a pardon in 1876, but it was refused; it was granted a year later, in 1877 (per a note in his 1885 Sing Sing record).

After his release, in 1880 he teamed up with Rufus Minor, George Carson, and Horace Hovan to rob a bank in Middletown, Connecticut. He was caught and convicted in 1881, but after being transferred from jail to Bellevue Hospital to have malaria treatment, he escaped from the guards and went on the run.

Jourdan’s whereabouts between his escape in April 1881 and 1884 are unknown. Byrnes states that in 1884 Jourdan joined Bill Vosburgh, Philly Pearson, and Johnny “The Kid” Carroll to roam the eastern states as bank sneak thieves. Jourdan and Vosburgh were caught trying to steal from a man outside a Rochester, New York bank in April 1885. Johnny Jourdan was sent to Auburn prison and later transferred to Sing Sing to serve a two and a half year sentence.

Once again, he disappeared after his release from Sing Sing. Writing in his 1895 revised edition, Byrnes says that Jourdan died in England in the fall of 1893, with $10,000-$12,000 on his body. A few years later, a different source said that he had died penniless in a Southhampton, England hotel, year unknown.

[Note: A complication in researching the career of Johnny Jourdan, criminal, is the prominence of a New York police officer (Captain, later Superintendent) named John Jordan, who died in 1870; and that the spellings Jourdan/Jordan were often used interchangeably.]


#131 Louise Jourdan

Louisa Farley (184?-19??), aka Little Louisa, Louisa Jourdan, Louisa Bigelow — pickpocket, moll

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, about 135 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, dark complexion, round face. Is lady-like in manner and appearance. Wears good clothes.

RECORD. Louise Jourdan, alias Little Louise, is an expert female thief, well known in New York, Chicago, and all the principal cities in the United States as the wife of Big Tom Biglow, the burglar. She was born in England. Her father once kept a public-house in Manchester, England. She served a term in an English prison for larceny. Upon her release she went to Brazil as a companion of a wealthy Spanish lady. While in that country she stole all her mistress’s diamonds, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to receive forty lashes at the whipping-post, and was condemned to have the lower part of her right ear cut off. She wears her hair over her ears to cover this deformity. Louise afterwards appeared in New York City as the mistress of Billy Darrigan, a New York pickpocket. She was arrested for shoplifting at A. T. Stewart’s dry goods store, and sent to Blackwell’s Island.

After her release she operated in Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities. She was married several times after leaving Darrigan; first to Tom McCormack, the bank burglar, who killed Jim Casey in New York, some years ago, while disputing over the proceeds of a robbery. After him, she took up with Aleck Purple, an Eighth Ward, New York, pickpocket; then with Dan Kelly, who was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in State prison for a masked burglary, with Patsey Conroy and others. After that she lived with a well-known New York sporting man, and finally married Big Tom Bigelow, and has been working the country with him since. She has been in several State prisons and penitentiaries in America, and is considered one of the smartest female pickpockets in this country. Louise Jourdan was arrested again in Cincinnati, Ohio, under the name of Mary Johnson, on May 19, 1886, in company of Sarah Johnson, a tall, blonde woman, charged with picking the pocket of a woman named Kate Thompson of $90, in one of the horse-cars. They both gave bail in $1,000, and at last accounts the case had not been disposed of. Her picture is an excellent one.

Chief Byrnes’ profile of Louisa prefers the last name Jourdan, but she adopted that name in the late 1860s, when she was the companion of sneak thief Johnny Jourdan. A few facts are known about her origins, but there is (as yet) no definitive proof of her real name. Though she traveled with many different men, her only documented marriage was to the bare-knuckle champion prizefighter, Young Barney Aaron. On that Chicago marriage application, she gave her last name as Farley–a name which is not in any of her arrest records or newspaper mentions as an alias. This might lend credence to “Farley” being her true name.

In her younger years, she was described as being very attractive, and dressed stylishly. In her later years, she cultivated comparisons to the elderly Queen Victoria–and may have assumed that as a style.


According to several reports, Louisa was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England–sometime between 1842 and 1844. Byrnes indicates that she was 42 in 1886; however, an earlier article from 1878 said that she was then 36. There are apocryphal tales of her early years in England: she began stealing at 10; married a burglar at an early age and was imprisoned; after her release, she became a maid to a wealthy Brazilian woman. In Brazil, she stole the woman’s diamonds and was caught; her punishment included “ear-cropping,” i.e. the cutting off of the lower part of her right ear–a mark that police detectives in the United States delighted in discovering, knowing who they had captured. [Note that ear-cropping was not a standard form of punishment in Brazil, so that story is suspicious.]

She arrived in the United States in the mid-1860s. An 1867 Philadelphia newspaper indicates that she was already recognized by police as a professional pickpocket. However, as Byrnes’ profile suggests, what distinguishes Louisa’s career is her talent for hooking up with bad men. Starting in the mid-1860s, she was associated with:

  • William “Billy” Derrigan/Darrigan (#180 in Byrne’s book), a New York pickpocket known to have mistreated another woman in his life.
  • Tom McCormick, a bank robber
  • William J. Sharkey, an infamous burglar, pickpocket, and gang leader who committed murder in 1872 and escaped from jail with the assistance of Johnny Jourdan’s sister, Maggie Jourdan. Sharkey fled to Cuba, abused Maggie (who fled back to the US), and was never heard from again.
  • Aleck Purple, a colorfully-named New York pickpocket
  • Dan Kelly, aka “Dan the Rioter,” a masked house burglar.
  • Patsey Conroy, another masked burglar.
  • Johnny Jourdan, the bank sneak thief often seen with Rufus Minor and George Carver.

After Johnny Jourdan was sent to prison in the early 1870s, Louisa migrated to Chicago and married the English bare-knuckle prizefighter, Barret “Barney” Aaron. Claiming abuse, she divorced him in 1878. She quickly rebounded by becoming the common-law wife of Big Tom Bigelow, a bank thief. She lived a comparatively quiet life with Bigelow in Windsor, Ontario, until his death in New Orleans in 1886.

Louisa’s final known paramour was a villain of many names, known in the east mainly as James Maguire. Maguire tried to possess Louisa’s properties in Windsor, and was said to have abused her. However, it was an assault on a man that sent Maguire, aka Frank West, to a prison in Canada. He escaped, fled to Australia, and for several years committed robberies under the name George Walter/William Russell aka W. G. Burton.

Louisa made a habit of combing the crowds at World’s Fair exhibitions as a pickpocket. She was arrested a final time in 1899 on suspicion, but was released, claiming that she had retired from crime sixteen years earlier.

#97 Col. Alexander C. Branscom

Alexander C. Branscom(e)  (1841-1923?), aka Bethel C. Alexander  — Swindler and forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in Virginia. Medium build. Single. Claims to be a book publisher. Height, 6 feet. Weight, 178 pounds. Medium brown hair, dark gray eyes, ruddy complexion. Good education; converses well. Right arm off at the elbow.

RECORD. Col. Branscom is an expert forger and swindler. He was sentenced to three years and six months in State prison in August, 1880, in New York City, for forging Florida bonds. His expertness with the pen is a marvel, in view of his being obliged to write with his left hand, his right arm having been cut off at the elbow. His correspondence while conducting his swindling operations, large as it has been, was entirely written by himself, and does equal credit to his powers of invention and to his skillful penmanship. Not a detail calculated to convey confidence was lacking in any of his transactions.

He was arrested again in New York City on November 2, 1884. During August of that year he made several contracts with business men in New York to publish and advertise in an official guide to the New Orleans Exposition; and a highly decorated pamphlet, “The Diversified Industries of the South.” He contracted with Conroy Brothers, paper dealers, of No. 33 Beekman Street, New York City, on August 14, 1884, for $7,000 worth of white paper for his publications, and gave them a note for $7,000, purported to be endorsed by Colonel Edward Richardson, the millionaire president of the Mississippi Mills, at Wesson, Miss., and at that time president of the World’s Exposition at New Orleans. Branscom uttered about $40,000 worth of similar notes in New York, and when arrested he confessed that he had forged endorsements to $52,000 more, and had intended to issue about $110,000 worth in all. If he had succeeded, he said, he would have carried his publications through and cleared $50,000. In addition to the money collected by the notes, Branscom also got orders for $6,000 worth of advertisements in the blank space of his two books, and he planned to collect $30,000 more from the same source. His cash collected from all sources in this transaction enabled him to deposit $14,000 in the Shoe and Leather Bank of New York, but two-thirds of this amount he subsequently drew out. Branscom was convicted of the forgery of one note for $7,000, and was sentenced to ten years in State prison in the Court of General Sessions, New York, on March 14, 1885, by Recorder Smyth. Branscom’s picture is a good one, taken in November, 1884.

Chief Byrnes described Branscom as an expert forger and swindler, though in Branscom’s own mind, he was merely an honest businessman forced by the stress of being under-capitalized to take the shortcut of forging documents, with every intent to make his contractors and investors whole again once the profits were realized. However, Branscom made this error on at three least separate occasions, which implies it was more of a strategy than a result of misfortune. Chief Byrnes notes that his forging talents were all the more impressive because he only had the use of one arm, having lost his right arm in the Civil War. Branscom was likely born left-handed, so it is surprising that he was able to so capably imitate the handwriting of right-handers.


In 1883, after recently emerging from Sing Sing and full of confidence that he would never have to resort to crime again (he did), Branscom gave the New York Herald the following account of his career, which appears to be fairly accurate:

“I was born in Greenville, Grayson County, Virginia, thirty-nine years ago. My grandfather served in the War of 1812, his father served through the Revolution and my father was an officer in the Confederate army. When I was seventeen years old I also went into the Confederate service as a private in Colonel Jubal A. Early’s regiment, the Twenty-Fourth Virginia Infantry. I went to Manassas in 1861 and passed through some of the worst battles in which Pickett’s division was engaged. After the Battle of Gettysburg I was commissioned a Captain and assigned to duty with the Twenty-First Virginia Cavalry. I served under Generals John S. Williams, William E. Jones, Simon B. Buckner, and James Longstreet in the departments of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.
     “In a fight near the village of Piedmont, June 5, 1864, my right arm was carried away by a cannon ball. I received other wounds during the war–one from a shell in the right leg that disables me very much at times. After the war I went into the grain business without capital, but I soon had ample credit. A foolish love affair led me almost to suicide. I made out powers-of-attorney for the settlement of my business, but reconsidered my purpose of self-destruction and fled to Mexico. I passed to Central and South America, making more than my expenses in various forms of commission. I transposed by name and was known as Mr. Alexander. I came back to the United States, and when the railroad to Arkansas was completed, I went into the cotton factorage business in St. Louis.
     “A [financial] panic struck me some pretty hard blows and the banks would not lend money upon cotton to arrive. Up to this time I had been morally but not legally, guilty of wrongdoing. I now gave duplicate and worthless cotton warehouse receipts and soon had a bank credit. In time this was discovered, and one small bank began criminal proceedings against me. I was imprisoned five months. The banks got to fighting amongst themselves and really kept me from trial for nearly three years. When I was tried I was convicted, but business men came to my assistance, and I was pardoned before sentence was passed upon me.
     “I tried to rise again on an honorable foundation, but I had none. Friends offered to assist me and I undertook to build a factory. That failed, and in utter desperation I attempted suicide in an old coal shaft beyond the suburbs of the city. I took a deadly drug, but it did not kill me. I obtained some money from a relative, made some more from commission sales, and went to Florida as an advance agent for a colony. I was chloroformed and robbed in a boarding house in Jacksonville.
     “A year later I was in a promising fruit packing and shipping business. I conceived the idea of controlling the Florida orange crop and wanted money to do it. I came on to New York and borrowed money on worthless Florida securities. If these transactions were discovered before I could return the money, I expect to go to prison. they were discovered and I assumed the role of my own prosecutor. I spent twenty-six months in Sing Sing and only left there a few days ago. I went into confinement under the impression that I deserved it and that it would do me good.”

Much of what Branscom said is accurate. His war service is verified, though he left as a Captain, not with the honorary “Colonel” title that Byrnes used. Although the incident that caused him to leave Virginia has not surfaced, it is true that he appeared in St. Louis as a businessman named Bethel C. Alexander. The forgeries of receipts he made there were big headlines, and the case did drag on as long as he indicated (from 1874-1877).

While in Sing Sing between 1880 and 1883, Branscon wrote a fictionalized account of his life, and had it published as: Mystic romances of the blue and the grey: masks of war, commerce and society. Pictures of real life scenes enacted in this age, rarely surpassed in the wildest dreams of fictitious romance

His prose is over-embellished, and the hero, Nathan Cloud (i.e. Branscom), is a Byronic adventurer tossed about by fate.

A year after the publication of his novel, Branscom was back at his old tricks: he dreamed up a scheme to publish a guidebook and a picture book to the 1884 New Orleans World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. To pay for the printing costs, he forged the name of the Exposition’s president on notes that would become due after four months–by which time Branscom hoped to have reaped the profits. Branscom decided to run this scheme in New York, where he already had one conviction for forgery.

He was caught again, and this time was sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing. Four years were taken off his term, and he was released in 1891. He returned to the fruit shipping business, and in the late 1890s was found in San Diego, California, running a lemon shipping business. He promoted a process of steaming unripe lemons to preserve them during shipping, but it appears to have had mixed results.

Family sources indicate he returned to Florida and passed away in the early 1920s, but he had disappeared from all news accounts long before that date.






#32 William E. Brockway

William E. Brockway (1822-1920), aka E. W. “Bill” Spencer, “Long Bill”–Counterfeiter

Link to Byrnes’ entry on #32 William E. Brockway

William E. Brockway. Illustration by David Birkey http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

William E. Brockway was the most prominent American counterfeiter of the 19th century, noted for the length of his career and his use of new printing technologies. His criminal exploits and connections could fill a book, but to get a flavor, check out his mentions in:

http://numismatics.org/kings-of-counterfeiting/ (American Numismatics Society)

Three Years with Counterfeiters, Smugglers, and Boodle Carriers: With Accurate Portraits of Prominent Members of the Detective Force in the Secret Service. Boston: Jackson, Dale & Co., 1875

A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States 1st edition by Mihm, Stephen (2007)

Brockway would likely be more famous, were it not for the presence during much of his lifetime of another active forger, Charles O. Brockway (the two were not closely related). Charles O. Brockway displayed little honor among thieves, and for a time was on the payroll of the United States Secret Service helping to arrest other counterfeiters. Many newspapers and police got the two Brockways mixed up, and attached Charles O.’s sins to William E.

William E. Brockway hailed from Saybrook, Connecticut; but his parentage is unknown. In later years, he claimed that he was born as William E. Spencer, and had been orphaned and taken in by a Brockway family. However, at the time he claimed this, he was attempting to maintain a family in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn under the name Edward W. Spencer, and many assumed that he was just attempting to explain why he was using that alias. When Brockway died in 1920, he was buried in a New Haven, Connecticut graveyard that contained both Brockways and Spencers, but his gravestone says Brockway.

One report suggests that as a young man, Brockway worked in the New Haven painting studio of Samuel F. B. Morse, who attended Yale. In 1843, at age 21, Brockway married Louisa H. Olmsted, a cousin of the landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. In 1846, they had a son, William E. Brockway, Jr. However the boy died a year later, in 1847. The child’s death coincides with the onset of Brockway’s first known criminal activity. Another child, daughter Louisa Brockway, was born between 1847 and 1849.

In the late 1840s, Brockway was apprenticed to a New Haven printer, whose customers included Banks seeking to manufacture their own notes–paper currency, at that time, was produced by individual banks, not the Federal government. Brockway was encouraged by his employer to attended classes at Yale conducted by America’s first professor of science, Benjamin Silliman. From Silliman, Brockway learned the magic of voltaic batteries and the process of electroplating. He realized that he did not need to steal the bank’s engraved plates to make copies of them–all he had to do was get an impression of the plate, using a thin sheet of copper foil. From that impression, he could reproduce the plates exactly.

Brockway used this method to start counterfeiting between 1847 and 1848. However, it did not take long after the high-quality notes were circulated for suspicion to fall on him. He was captured in Hudson, New York in 1849 after being identified by some of the agents he recruited to pass the money. Louisa, his wife, came to Hudson to try to extract him, but was herself caught with counterfeit notes.

Brockway spent the first five years of the 1850s in prison, and upon his emergence, remarried. What had happened to Louisa is not known. His new wife was Frances D. Mayne, born in Ireland.

Between 1856 and 1866, Brockway and Frances (Fannie) had three children: Frances J., born in 1856; William E., born in 1860; and Caroline, born in 1866. Sometime before 1865, they moved to Canarsie, Brooklyn, where the Brockways assumed the name Spencer. Brockway is found in census records from 1865 through the 1880s as “Edward W. Spencer, broker.” The son, William E. Spencer, grew up to be a respected physician.

Meanwhile, Brockway’s daughter from his first marriage–Louisa Brockway–was sent to Europe for her schooling. While there, she met a Belgian businessman, Frederick Schafer-Lafond, and became his wife. They had two children: Frederick Jr., born in 1866; and Gertrude, born between 1870 and 1872. Louisa’s husband Frederick died in the early 1880s. Louisa then took up with a Russian merchant named Wilhelm E. Jetzkewitz. He took Louisa and her children to Riga, Latvia. However, he went broke sometime around 1883, and Louisa left him (perhaps after bearing him a child).

Louisa came back to the United States in 1884, and while in New York was romanced by a publicity agent/reporter named Edward Campbell Allison. Allison was little more than a small-time huckster, which Louisa realized after a few years, and divorced him.

Her daughter Gertrude Schafer-Lafond, while still a teen of 15-17, married Charles P. Wootton of Boonton, New Jersey–the Woottons were an old, wealthy family of Boonton. She bore Charles Wootton two children: a daughter, Lorna L Wootton; and Harlan Spencer Wootton.

What’s interesting about this is that Brockway’s great-grandson, Harlan Wootton, was given the middle name “Spencer,” though Spencer was the name Brockway used with his second wife, not his first wife from who Harlan descended. So this is evidence that perhaps Brockway had told the truth–he was a Spencer.

When William E. Brockway was arrested again for counterfeiting in 1895, the newspapers mention that his granddaughter, Gertrude Wootton, was by his side in the courtroom.


The infamy of the Brockway name ruined the marriage of Gertrude and Charles P. Wootton. They divorced, and she remarried the ex-patriate British artist Reginald Bathurst Birch, illustrator of the novel Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Brockway died in 1920 at age 98, having outlived all his fellow criminals and the authorities that tracked them.