#63 August Palmer / # 189 Herman Palmer

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

From Byrnes’s text on August Palmer:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Stout build. German, born in United States. Married. Cigar-maker. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Light hair, gray eyes, round full face, fair complexion.

RECORD. August Palmer is a brother of Herman Palmer (189), both desperate New York burglars. They, in connection with Robert Clifford, Peter Wilson (deceased), and John Anderson, alias Little Andy, all expert burglars, succeeded in doing considerable work in and around New York before their capture. The Palmer brothers are expert safe burglars. August Palmer and Peter Wilson (who was shot and killed at Chester, Pa., while committing a burglary on May 2, 1884) were arrested in New York City on June 8, 1880, for an attempt to rob the safe at the pawnbroker establishment of Patrick Ganley, in Division Street, in which there was at the time $15,000 worth of jewelry, etc. Wilson was bailed out, and escaped conviction for lack of evidence. Palmer, at the time of his arrest, lived with his wife, Mary Steele, in Seventy-sixth Street, near Third Avenue, New York. The detectives searched his rooms, and concealed behind a mirror they found three pawn-tickets, which represented an amethyst ring, a gold watch and chain, and a pair of opera glasses, which, when redeemed, were at once identified as part of the property stolen from Meyer’s pawn-shop, No. 528 Second Avenue, which was burglarized on the night of April 30, 1880. The safe was torn open, and its contents of jewelry, etc., valued at $6,000, carried away by August Palmer and associates. August was tried in the Court of General Sessions for the Meyer burglary, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison on June 28, 1880.

At the time that August’s home was searched and the pawn-tickets found, there was also found two pieces of silk dress goods, that were stolen from Mannassa L. Goldman’s dry-goods store on Canal Street, New York. The store was entered by burglars on Christmas-day, 1879. August’s wife claimed the silk, and she was sent to the penitentiary for having stolen goods In her possession. Palmer was arrested again in New York City for assaulting a party who gave evidence against his brother Herman, and sentenced to three years for assault In the second degree, on September 19, 1884. His sentence will expire, if well behaved, on January 14, 1887. Palmer’s picture is a good one, taken in 1880.

From Byrnes’s text on Herman Palmer:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. German, born in New York. Single. Shoemaker and carpenter. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 167 pounds. Light hair, small gray eyes, light complexion, thick lips. German appearance. Hair inclined to be curly. A good, stout lump of a man. Has plenty of nerve.

RECORD. Herman Palmer is a brother of August Palmer (63), both of whom are well known in all the Eastern cities, especially in Philadelphia and New York, where they made a specialty of blowing open pawnbrokers’ safes. They are both expert safe burglars, and have a quick and noiseless method of opening a safe in a very short time. Herman has served terms previously in Sing Sing prison and on Blackwell’s Island, N.Y. He was arrested in New York City on February 17, 1881, charged with robbing a safe in Meyer’s pawnshop, at No. 528 Second Avenue, on the night of April 30, 1880, of $6,000 worth of watches and jewelry. His brother August was arrested in this case, tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison at Sing Sing, N.Y., on June 28, 1880. Herman was discharged in this case, as there was no evidence against him. He was arrested again in New York City on July 19, 1884, charged with burglarizing a hardware store at No. l011 Third Avenue, on July 17, where he obtained $800 worth of silverware. For this he was convicted of receiving stolen goods, and was. sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison on August 12, 1884. Ferdinand H. Hoefner, who had bought $200 worth of the stolen property from Herman, and who was used as a witness against him on the trial, was assaulted and terribly beaten by August Palmer, Herman’s brother. For this August was sentenced to three years in State prison, for assault in the third degree, on September 19, 1884, Herman’s sentence will expire on August 12, 1887. His picture is an excellent one, taken in February, 1881.

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.

Herman Palmer

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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