#83 John Jourdan

Johnny Jourdan (1850-1893), aka Jonathan Jamison, Henry Osgood, Jonathan E. Brown — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Light brown hair, dark eyes, dark complexion, long slim nose, pock-marked. Cross in India ink on left fore-arm; number “6” on back of one arm; wreath, with the word “Love” in it, on left arm.

RECORD Johnny Jourdan is a professional safe-blower and sneak thief, and has worked with the best safemen and sneaks in America, and has quite a reputation for getting out of toils when arrested. He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary in August, 1874, under the name of Jonathan Jamison. He was again arrested in New York City in November, 1880, and confined in the Tombs prison, charged with robbing the Middletown Bank, of Connecticut, in July, 1880, where the gang, Rufe Minor, George Carson and Horace Hovan, obtained some $48,000 in money and bonds. Jourdan played sick, and was transferred from the prison to Bellevue Hospital, from which place he escaped on Thursday, April 14, 1881.

In the fall of 1884 Jourdan made up a party consisting of Philly Phearson (5), Johnny Carroll, “The Kid” (192), and Old Bill Vosburg (4). They traveled around the country, and did considerable bank sneaking. They tried to rob a man in a bank at Rochester, N.Y., but failed. They followed him from the bank to a hotel, and while he was in the water-closet they took a pocket-book from him, but not the one with the money in it. Phearson and Carroll escaped. Jourdan and Vosburg were arrested and sentenced to two years and six months for assault in the second degree, by Judge John S. Morgan, on June 15, 1885. Jourdan gave the name of Henry Osgood. He is well known in all the principal cities in America, and is considered one of the cleverest men in America in his line. His picture is a very good one, taken in 1877.

Although Johnny Jourdan and his sisters Margaret (Maggie) and Josephine were said to have come from a good family, all three were well immersed in the New York City criminal underground. As yet, the parents have not been identified. One sister, Josephine Jourdan, married Francis “Frank” J. Houghtaling, a clerk for the Jefferson Market Police Court (where Johnny once said he worked as a janitor). This was a Tammany Hall patronage position, used to collect bribes. Houghtaling was exposed, and forced out of his position.

The other sister, “Maggie” Jourdan, became an infamous figure in New York City after aiding in the escape of William J. Sharkey, a burglar, gambler, and minor Tammany Hall politician. Sharkey killed a man over a gambling debt and was held in the Tombs, the city detention center, during his trial. Maggie and another woman sneaked in some women’s clothing to him, which he donned and exited the jail using one of the women’s passes. At the time, it was called the most daring jailbreak in America. Sharkey fled to Cuba where Maggie joined him; but after he mistreated her, she returned to New York.

Maggie later married a famous Irish-American music hall singer, William J. “Billy” Scanlan. After his death in 1898, she married Scanlan’s agent, the wealthy New York City impresario, Augustus Pitou. Maggie Pitou lived out her life as a member of New York City’s elite, dying in 1938.


Her brother Johnny, alas, had a much worse and shorter life. As a teen, he was arrested as a New York pickpocket. In 1871, he stole $2000 in stamps from a Bridgeport, Connecticut post office; two years later he was tracked down and arrested for this crime, but escaped conviction. He migrated to Philadelphia and was quickly arrested for burglary, under the alias Jonathan Jamison. For that crime, in 1874 he was sentenced to five years in Eastern State Penitentiary. He was recommended for a pardon in 1876, but it was refused; it was granted a year later, in 1877 (per a note in his 1885 Sing Sing record).

After his release, in 1880 he teamed up with Rufus Minor, George Carson, and Horace Hovan to rob a bank in Middletown, Connecticut. He was caught and convicted in 1881, but after being transferred from jail to Bellevue Hospital to have malaria treatment, he escaped from the guards and went on the run.

Jourdan’s whereabouts between his escape in April 1881 and 1884 are unknown. Byrnes states that in 1884 Jourdan joined Bill Vosburgh, Philly Pearson, and Johnny “The Kid” Carroll to roam the eastern states as bank sneak thieves. Jourdan and Vosburgh were caught trying to steal from a man outside a Rochester, New York bank in April 1885. Johnny Jourdan was sent to Auburn prison and later transferred to Sing Sing to serve a two and a half year sentence.

Once again, he disappeared after his release from Sing Sing. Writing in his 1895 revised edition, Byrnes says that Jourdan died in England in the fall of 1893, with $10,000-$12,000 on his body. A few years later, a different source said that he had died penniless in a Southhampton, England hotel, year unknown.

[Note: A complication in researching the career of Johnny Jourdan, criminal, is the prominence of a New York police officer (Captain, later Superintendent) named John Jordan, who died in 1870; and that the spellings Jourdan/Jordan were often used interchangeably.]


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