#131 Louise Jourdan

Louisa Farley (184?-19??), aka Little Louisa, Louisa Jourdan, Louisa Bigelow — pickpocket, moll

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, about 135 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, dark complexion, round face. Is lady-like in manner and appearance. Wears good clothes.

RECORD. Louise Jourdan, alias Little Louise, is an expert female thief, well known in New York, Chicago, and all the principal cities in the United States as the wife of Big Tom Biglow, the burglar. She was born in England. Her father once kept a public-house in Manchester, England. She served a term in an English prison for larceny. Upon her release she went to Brazil as a companion of a wealthy Spanish lady. While in that country she stole all her mistress’s diamonds, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to receive forty lashes at the whipping-post, and was condemned to have the lower part of her right ear cut off. She wears her hair over her ears to cover this deformity. Louise afterwards appeared in New York City as the mistress of Billy Darrigan, a New York pickpocket. She was arrested for shoplifting at A. T. Stewart’s dry goods store, and sent to Blackwell’s Island.

After her release she operated in Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities. She was married several times after leaving Darrigan; first to Tom McCormack, the bank burglar, who killed Jim Casey in New York, some years ago, while disputing over the proceeds of a robbery. After him, she took up with Aleck Purple, an Eighth Ward, New York, pickpocket; then with Dan Kelly, who was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in State prison for a masked burglary, with Patsey Conroy and others. After that she lived with a well-known New York sporting man, and finally married Big Tom Bigelow, and has been working the country with him since. She has been in several State prisons and penitentiaries in America, and is considered one of the smartest female pickpockets in this country. Louise Jourdan was arrested again in Cincinnati, Ohio, under the name of Mary Johnson, on May 19, 1886, in company of Sarah Johnson, a tall, blonde woman, charged with picking the pocket of a woman named Kate Thompson of $90, in one of the horse-cars. They both gave bail in $1,000, and at last accounts the case had not been disposed of. Her picture is an excellent one.

Chief Byrnes’ profile of Louisa prefers the last name Jourdan, but she adopted that name in the late 1860s, when she was the companion of sneak thief Johnny Jourdan. A few facts are known about her origins, but there is (as yet) no definitive proof of her real name. Though she traveled with many different men, her only documented marriage was to the bare-knuckle champion prizefighter, Young Barney Aaron. On that Chicago marriage application, she gave her last name as Farley–a name which is not in any of her arrest records or newspaper mentions as an alias. This might lend credence to “Farley” being her true name.

In her younger years, she was described as being very attractive, and dressed stylishly. In her later years, she cultivated comparisons to the elderly Queen Victoria–and may have assumed that as a style.

Capture4

According to several reports, Louisa was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England–sometime between 1842 and 1844. Byrnes indicates that she was 42 in 1886; however, an earlier article from 1878 said that she was then 36. There are apocryphal tales of her early years in England: she began stealing at 10; married a burglar at an early age and was imprisoned; after her release, she became a maid to a wealthy Brazilian woman. In Brazil, she stole the woman’s diamonds and was caught; her punishment included “ear-cropping,” i.e. the cutting off of the lower part of her right ear–a mark that police detectives in the United States delighted in discovering, knowing who they had captured. [Note that ear-cropping was not a standard form of punishment in Brazil, so that story is suspicious.]

She arrived in the United States in the mid-1860s. An 1867 Philadelphia newspaper indicates that she was already recognized by police as a professional pickpocket. However, as Byrnes’ profile suggests, what distinguishes Louisa’s career is her talent for hooking up with bad men. Starting in the mid-1860s, she was associated with:

  • William “Billy” Derrigan/Darrigan (#180 in Byrne’s book), a New York pickpocket known to have mistreated another woman in his life.
  • Tom McCormick, a bank robber
  • William J. Sharkey, an infamous burglar, pickpocket, and gang leader who committed murder in 1872 and escaped from jail with the assistance of Johnny Jourdan’s sister, Maggie Jourdan. Sharkey fled to Cuba, abused Maggie (who fled back to the US), and was never heard from again.
  • Aleck Purple, a colorfully-named New York pickpocket
  • Dan Kelly, aka “Dan the Rioter,” a masked house burglar.
  • Patsey Conroy, another masked burglar.
  • Johnny Jourdan, the bank sneak thief often seen with Rufus Minor and George Carver.

After Johnny Jourdan was sent to prison in the early 1870s, Louisa migrated to Chicago and married the English bare-knuckle prizefighter, Barret “Barney” Aaron. Claiming abuse, she divorced him in 1878. She quickly rebounded by becoming the common-law wife of Big Tom Bigelow, a bank thief. She lived a comparatively quiet life with Bigelow in Windsor, Ontario, until his death in New Orleans in 1886.

Louisa’s final known paramour was a villain of many names, known in the east mainly as James Maguire. Maguire tried to possess Louisa’s properties in Windsor, and was said to have abused her. However, it was an assault on a man that sent Maguire, aka Frank West, to a prison in Canada. He escaped, fled to Australia, and for several years committed robberies under the name George Walter/William Russell aka W. G. Burton.

Louisa made a habit of combing the crowds at World’s Fair exhibitions as a pickpocket. She was arrested a final time in 1899 on suspicion, but was released, claiming that she had retired from crime sixteen years earlier.

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