#40 Charles R. Titus

Charles R. Titus (1843-?) aka James M Thompson, C. A. Wilson, Fred Titus — Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in United States. Slim build. Dark complexion. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Black hair, brown eyes. Wears a full black beard. Married. A fine, genteel appearing man. Well known in most of the Eastern cities and in Canada.

RECORD. “Doc” Titus was arrested in New York City on November 26, 1878, in connection with one Lester Beach (17), for having obtained $70 from Morris Steinhart, No. 65 Hudson Street, New York City, on a bogus certified check on the Bank of New York. Beach when arrested stated that he obtained the check from Titus. Titus is a very clever forger, and has been mixed up in several transactions in paper. He is a warm friend of Charles B. Orvis, of Buffalo, New York and Erie bond fame.

Titus was arrested again in New York City on September 11, 1879, with one Samuel J. Hoyt, a real estate and insurance broker, charged with having in their possession a forged check on the Bank of America for $100,000, with intent to utter the same. It was drawn to the order of John B. Baker, trustee, dated September 11, 1879, and purported to have been signed by J. B. Colgate & Co., a banking firm on Wall Street. It appears that one J. B. Baker was introduced to the accused by Charles B. Orvis. He, as alleged, was informed that the check was genuine, and that some of the employes of Colgate & Co. were implicated in its procurement. Titus, it was claimed, handed the check to Hoyt, who handed it to Baker, and requested him to buy four per cent United States bonds for it. Baker, who it appears was in the employ of Colgate & Co., took the check to them, and they pronounced it a forgery. The arrest followed, and Titus and Hoyt were committed in $10,000 bail for trial. Hoyt pleaded guilty to the charge on January 30, 1880, and was used by the authorities as a witness against Titus, who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years in State prison on January 31, 1880, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions at New York City. Titus’ picture is an excellent one, taken in 1880.

The real name of this criminal is unknown, though he used the name James M. Thompson over a number of years; and also the last name Titus. His exploits were much more curious than the two instances of forgery that Chief Byrnes cites. A further mystery lies in the fact that Thompson/Titus had been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a three year/six month stretch at Sing Sing in April, 1883. Therefore he was in prison at the time that Byrnes wrote and published Professional Criminals of America. One would think that Byrnes would like to take credit for that, but he never mentions it.


Thompson/Titus first came to public attention in 1877, when he turned State’s evidence in a case against a forging operation led by Nelson A. Gesner and the premier forger in America, James B. Crosse (then using the alias Charles J. Sprague). Thompson claimed that he had been hired by Crosse to pass forged checks in New York; but that Crosse failed to press him into service, and also failed to provide a promised retainer. In retribution, Thompson/Titus decided to offer testimony against Crosse and Gesner. Ultimately, his testimony was judged as insufficient, and prosecutors instead tried to turn Gesner and Crosse against one another.

Unfazed by that experience, Thompson/Titus decided to embark on his own forging operation, using as his dupe a middle-aged painter from Brooklyn, Lester Beach. Beach passed a half-dozen forged checks of between $100-$200 around New York, all provided to him by Thompson/Titus. Beach was apprehended, but Thompson/Titus was set free for lack of evidence.

About five months later, in early 1880, Thompson/Titus was caught with an accomplice, Samuel J. Hoyt, trying to pass a $100,000 check drawn on the Bank of America to a banking firm on Wall Street. This time, the tables were turned and in exchange for a light sentence, Hoyt gave evidence against Thompson/Titus. He was sent to Sing Sing for a two year sentence, emerging in 1882.

A year later, In April 1883, Thompson (now using the middle initial “W.”) and a new accomplice, Frederick Morris aka Robert Ray, were arrested in New York for passing small checks under $100. This event sent Thompson/Titus back to Sing Sing for another three and a half years. When he emerged, he found his mug on display in Byrnes’s new book.

In the late summer of 1887, Thompson/Titus was suspected of committing a burglary in Lowell, Massachusetts. A detective there traced him to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he was also suspected of some petty thievery. Police in Wheeling confronted him, but he escaped via train to Pittsburgh. From there he was traced to Montreal, Quebec. There, Canadian authorities arrested him as Fred Titus aka C. H. Brown, a man wanted for forgeries in Ridgetown, Ontario. It was reported that he had wife, Sarah McDougal in Ridgetown; and another in Mayville, Michigan; and also in Chicago and/or New Jersey.

To date (May 2018), that is where the trail of Thompson/Titus ends. It is unknown if he was prosecuted and jailed for the Ridgetown crimes (forgery or bigamy); there is no mention that he was returned to Lowell to face charges there, so likely he remained in Canada.


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