Thomas W. Lendrum (1847-1904), aka Dr. David C. “Doc” Bliss
Above: Thomas W. Lendrum, Doc Bliss, by David Birkey. http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration
Chief Thomas Byrnes did not devote more than four paragraphs to petty thief Doctor Bliss, but still managed to give Bliss more credit than he deserved for his fabricated background. Bliss may have attended a medical college, but there’s no evidence that he ever practiced medicine, as Byrnes claimed. Byrnes also states that Bliss “at one time held a prominent government position.” Byrnes also may not have been aware that “Bliss” was just an alias.
According to Allan Pinkerton II, Bliss’s real name was Thomas W. Landrum (with an “a”), though Pinkerton also repeated the stories that Bliss had graduated Cincinnati’s College of Medicine, served in the Confederate army, and came from a prominent Southern family.
In truth, Bliss’s real name was Thomas Warren Lendrum of Covington, Kentucky, son of John Buckner Lendrum. J. B. Lendrum held the office of city clerk of Covington for many years, and in 1869 pulled some strings to get his son Thomas a job as a night clerk in the Louisville post office. This was the “prominent government position” and the “prominent Southern family.”
Thomas W. Lendrum never practiced medicine outside prison walls; it would be generous to concede that he may have attended medical school in Cincinnati, but no evidence of that has yet surfaced.
His criminal career almost never happened. In 1868, at age 21, he was ice skating on the Licking River and fell through, nearly drowning. He sank several times before being pulled to safety by other skaters.
His position as post office night clerk allowed him the opportunity to purloin letters and keep whatever he found inside the envelopes. It did not take long for authorities in the post office system to notice a problem in Louisville. Lendrum was watched, and was arrested in 1871 with eleven letters in his coat; he also had $1,100 in the bank; several gold watches; and a reported mistress. This was accomplished on an annual salary of $900. He was convicted for this larceny, but was pardoned early.
Lendrum had adopted the name “David C. Bliss” by 1880. [It is interesting to note this date, because a year later, in 1881, everyone in the country knew of a “Dr. Bliss”–Dr. Willard Bliss, the Army doctor who kept President Garfield alive for three months following his assassination shooting. So Lendrum, to his credit, can not be accused of capitalizing on that unfortunate fame.]
In 1880, Lendrum and an accomplice, Matthew Lane, were caught returning to New York from Boston with a satchel of stolen silverware. That earned him a two year prison sentence.
Most of Lendrum’s crimes were too small to merit notice in newspapers, but in 1883, he went into a New York publisher’s office and extracted $35,000 in securities from a safe. Once again, he was sent to Sing Sing for two years. By one account, his medical school experience earned him the job of prison medical orderly.
In late 1892, Lendrum was arrested with 16 others in a New York “fence” establishment, where thieves brought stolen goods to dispose of. While stuck in the city detention center, the Tombs, for the month of December, Lendrum magnanimously sent a letter and a donation to the New York World’s Christmas Tree fund for hungry poor children.
Arrested with Lendrum, on that occasion, were two women, Sarah Elsie Byrne and Lillian Stevens. It was reported that Bliss (Lendrum) had been living with Byrne for some time. A year later, Lendrum and Lillian Stevens were arrested for shoplifting a sable fur from a store in Boston; and months later, for stealing hair tresses from a wig-maker in New York.
In 1900, Lendrum was picked up in St. Louis for shoplifting an overcoat. He was found to be wearing a coat with many secret pockets, and a vest with reversible sides that could change color with a simple re-buttoning. A few months later, he was arrested again in Chicago.
By 1903, Bliss was 57 years old. He was arrested in Baltimore for stealing a satchel belong to a messenger for a Baltimore Bank. Six months later, he passed away while in the Baltimore City jail. Just before his death, he made an offer the leave his meager fortune to the Volunteers of America, a charitable group. However, the will stating that wish was not witnessed properly, so Lendrum’s last attempt at goodness fell short. They did not want his money anyway.