Lester Beach (#17)

Lester Beach (1825-1882)

Lester Beach, contrary to Chief Byrnes’ portrayal, was not a professional thief, and should not have been included in his book of habitual criminals. Bynres 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’ misguided concept of justice.

A lesser criticism is the sloppiness 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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