Charles Titus (#40)

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

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 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 (February 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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