Johnny Jourdan (#83)

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

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 Phearson, 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.]


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