Louisa Farley (184?-19??), aka Little Louisa, Louisa Jourdan, Louisa Bigelow — pickpocket, moll
Chief Byrne’s 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.
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 187os, Louisa migrated to Chicago and married the English bare-knuckle jewish prizefighter, Barret “Barney” Aaron. Claiming abuse, they divorced 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.