#17 Lester Beach

Lester Beach (1825-1882) — Presenter of forged checks

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-nine years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Painter. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 166 pounds. Gray hair, brown eyes, light complexion. Heavy nose lines and wrinkles under the eyes. Hair thin on top of head. Generally wears a brown and gray mustache.

RECORD. Lester Beach is a well known forger, having been arrested several times. He is an associate of Charles R. Titus, alias Doctor Thompson (44), another professional forger, who attempted to pass a forged check for $100,000, drawn on J. B. Colgate & Co., brokers, of No. 47 Wall Street, New York City, in 1869. Beach was arrested in New York City on November 26, 1878, in company of Titus, charged with having obtained $70 from Morris Steinhart, of No. 67 Hudson Street, New York City, on a bogus certified check on the Bank of New York. He stated when arrested that he was furnished the check by a man named Browning, who was to meet him and receive the proceeds. This man proved to be Dr. Titus. Additional complaints were made against Beach by R. J. Clay, of No. 176 Broadway, and G. F. Morse, of No. 174 South Fifth Avenue, New York City. Mr. Clay stated that Beach obtained $30 from him on a certified check on the Newark City, N. J., National Bank, which proved to be a forgery. Mr. Morse stated that he had given Beach $99 on a certified check for $100 on the Merchants’ Bank of Brooklyn, N. Y., which also proved worthless. Beach was tried and convicted of forgery in the Steinhart case, and sentenced to three years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, N. Y., on December 18, 1879, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions, in New York City. See record of No. 40. Beach’s picture is an excellent one, taken in November, 1876.

Lester Beach, contrary to Chief Byrnes’s portrayal, was not a professional thief, and should not have been included in his book of habitual criminals. Byrnes also says that Beach was a forger and had been arrested several times. This is incorrect; Beach was a dupe recruited by a forger–Charles R. Titus aka Joseph M. Thompson–to present the forged checks at banks. Beach did so several times over the course of a few days in New York City in November, 1878. He had never been arrested previously.

Lester Beach Portrait
Lester Beach. Illustration by David Birkey  http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

At that time, Beach was a 59-year-old unemployed house painter living in Brooklyn with a wife and six children. In 1871, he was an officer of  a Brooklyn Sons of Temperance organization, a private fraternal society that demanded sobriety and good character from its invited members.

By 1874, Beach was in dire financial straits. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported:

“Officers Horan and Colgan of the Second Precinct took to the station house last evening a truckload of household furniture, consisting of beds and bedding, stoves, oil paintings, books, a sewing machine, and various other articles which had been standing on the sidewalk in front of premises No. 60 Middagh Street, since the morning of Tuesday. The offices learned that the property was that of Lester Beach, a painter, who had been ejected from the premises for non-payment of rent. He had been out of work for some time, and having no funds could not stow his furniture away after being dispossessed. His wife and children are in the country, being cared for by friends. The police retain possession of the goods.”


Life was not kinder to Beach over the next four years. In late 1878, a man giving his name as “Browning” approached Beach with a proposition: if Beach would take several checks into banks and cash them, he could share some of the proceeds. Beach likely guessed that what he was doing was illegal, but decided he had to take the risk.

After passing four checks, Beach was caught. On his testimony, “Browning” (Charles R. Titus/Joseph M. Thompson) was also arrested, but released for lack of evidence.

Lester Beach was sentenced in December 1878 to three years and six months in Sing Sing–a harsh penalty. He was released in 1882–and died shortly after his release.

While Chief Thomas Byrnes thought Lester Beach merited inclusion as professional criminal, Byrnes failed to arrest all the gambling den operators, brothel managers, protection racket gangs, after-hours dance hall operators, corrupt police captains, and others whom it was his duty to enforce the law. The profile of Beach is a monument to Byrnes’s misguided concept of justice.

A lesser criticism is the sloppy editing of the Beach entry: Beach was arrested once, not several times; Titus’s profile is #40, not 44; Titus attempted to pass the check on Colgate in 1879, not 1869; Beach was sentenced in December 1878, not 1879; his Rogue’s Gallery picture was taken in November 1878, not 1876.



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