August Palmer (#63) / Herman Palmer (#189)

August Palmer (1858-19??) and Herman Palmer (1851-19??), burglars and safe-crackers

Chief Thomas Byrnes created separate entries for the Palmer brothers, but their activities were often related, and both were dedicated burglars who spent most of their adult years in prison. When Byrnes wrote of them in 1886, they were barely a third into their criminal careers–but afterwards, they changed little in their methods and the inevitable arrests that came with those techniques.

Little is known of their origins. Byrnes said both were born in the United States, of German heritage. However, they appear in no census ledgers; only in Sing Sing admission records. Their mother’s name was noted as Josephine Palmer, but the father is unknown.


August, seven years the junior of Herman, was the first to be attract police attention, in 1876 at age 22. Perhaps the best way to show the full sequence of events might be a timeline with these points:

  • 1876 March — August arrested while stealing from a silk merchant. Sent to Sing Sing for eighteen months.
  • 1878 July — Less than a year after his release, August is sent back to Sing Sing (under the alias William Johnson) for two years and six months.
  • 1879 December-1880 June — Released early, August Palmer burgles a silk merchant in December, a pawnshop in April, and in June is caught trying to rob the safe of another pawnbroker. His residence is searched, and pawn tickets are found linking him to the earlier crimes. He is sent to Sing sing for five years.
  • 1881 February — Herman is arrested for suspicion that he had a role in the April 1880 pawnshop robbery, but is released for lack of evidence.
  • 1884 July — Herman is arrested and convicted for stealing $800 of silverware. A man to whom he sold some of the goods, named Hoefner, testifies against Herman. Herman is sent to Sing Sing for four years.
  • 1884 August — Released a year early from his five year stretch, August Palmer tracks down Hoefner and beats him to a pulp. He is sent to Sing sing for three years for assault.
  • 1887 August — Herman is released one year early after serving three years.
  • 1887 October — August Palmer, recently release after serving his sentence for assault, is caught during a burglary and sentence to Sing Sing for five years.
  • 1888 and 1889 — Herman Palmer arrested and released; then arrested, tried and acquitted of a string of burglaries.
  • 1891 May — August Palmer released a year early.
  • 1892 March — Herman Palmer alias George Smith; and August Palmer, alias Charles Smith, arrested trying to open the safebox at a butcher shop. Both are sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing.
  • 1898 September — Herman Palmer released from prison, with 3 years 6 months taken off his term.
  • 1901 October — August Palmer arrested in Ottawa, Ontario and sent to prison for seven years
  • 1902 February — Herman Palmer arrested on suspicion of robbery of a restaurant safe.
  • 1909 December — August Palmer and an accomplice arrested in Springfield, Massachusetts for burglary. In January, 1910 he is sentence to an 8 year term in the Massachusetts State Prison. Herman is mentioned as currently serving a five-year term in Sing Sing.

Mercifully, that is where the record of the Palmer Brothers ends. If they emerged from prison alive, they chose not to conduct business under their given names; and likely were no longer recognizable to any active police detectives.

Theirs was a sad history, made interesting only by their kinship. Whatever forces shaped them had the same effect on both.

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