#152 Abraham Greenthal / #153 Harris Greenthal

Abraham Greenthal (1822-1889), aka General Greenthal, Abraham Leslauer, Abraham Meyers; and Hirsch Harris (1824-1886), aka Herman Brown, Harris Greenthal, Herman Harris, Harris Meyer — Pickpockets

From Byrnes’ text on Abraham Greenthal:

DESCRIPTION. Sixty years old in 1886. Jew, born in Poland. Calls himself a German. Widower. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 185 pounds. Dark hair, turning quite gray. Prominent nose-lines ; mole near one of them. Beard, when grown, is a sandy gray. Generally has a smooth face.

RECORD. “General” Greenthal is known all over the United States as the leader of the “Sheeny mob.” He is acknowledged to be one of the most expert pickpockets in America. His home is in the Tenth Ward in New York City, and he has been a thief and receiver of stolen goods for the last thirty years. He has served time in several prisons and penitentiaries, but has generally obtained his release before his sentence expired. He is a clever thief, and will fight when forced to. The “General” was arrested in Rochester, N.Y., on March 1, 1877, in company of his brother, Harris, and Samuel Casper, his son-in-law, for robbing a man (see record of No. 153), and sentenced on April 19, 1877, to twenty years in Auburn, N.Y., State prison. He was pardoned in the spring of 1884 by Governor Cleveland.

He was arrested again in Brooklyn, N.Y., on December 30, 1885, in company of Bendick Gaetz, alias “The Cockroach,” for robbing Robert B. Dibble, of Williamsburg, N.Y., of a pocket-book containing $795 in money, on a cross-town horse-car in that city. The “General” pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the second degree, on March 23, 1886, and was sentenced to five years in Crow Hill prison by Judge Moore, in the Brooklyn Court of Sessions. The “General” is an old friend of Mrs. Mandelbaum, who is now in Canada. Greenthal’s picture is a splendid one, taken in March, 1877.

From Byrnes’ text on Harris Greenthal:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-eight years old in 1886. Jew, born in Poland. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Brown curly hair, turning quite gray ; brown and gray whiskers, high forehead.

RECORD. Harris Greenthal, a brother of the “General” (152), is also an old New York thief and member of the “Sheeny gang” of pickpockets, who have been traveling through the country robbing people for a number of years. He resides in New York City, and is well known in all the principal cities in the United States and Canada. Harris Greenthal, alias Brown, the “General,” alias Meyers, and Samuel Casper, the “General’s” son-in-law, were arrested in Rochester, N.Y., on March 1, 1877, charged with robbing William Jinkson of $1,190 in money, at the Central Railroad depot. Jinkson was a farmer who sold his farm in Massachusetts, and with the proceeds had started West. The “Sheeny gang” had seen him showing his money in Albany, N.Y., and had followed him from that city. At the Central depot in Rochester they told him he would have to change cars. One of the trio took his valise, and the entire party entered another car. In jostling through the crowd the “General” relieved Jinkson of his pocket-book containing the money, which was in bills. They escaped, but were arrested about an hour afterwards. They were indicted, tried, and convicted. The “General,” alias Meyers, was sentenced on April 19, 1877, to twenty years at hard labor in Auburn, N.Y., State prison. Harris Greenthal, alias Brown, received a sentence of eighteen years, and Casper fifteen years. Harris and Casper were pardoned by Governor Cleveland in December, 1884, the “General” having been pardoned some months before. (See record of No. 84.) Harris’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1877.

Several of the personages profiled in Byrnes’ Professional Criminals of America have been written about extensively, either through autobiographies, biographies, or essays: Sophie Lyons, Langdon Moore, Jim Brady, George W. Wilkes, etc. The blog entries composing this project are too abbreviated to match the historical details that exist in those studies. This inadequacy was never more evident than in the case of Abraham “General” Greenthal, the leader of the so-called “Sheeny Mob” (“sheeny” being a derogatory term for Jews, especially emigrant German Jews.)

Greenthal’s entire criminal career, genealogy, and Prussian-Jewish origins have been documented by Edward David Luft in an essay of astounding scholarship, “Stop Thief! : The true story of Abraham Greenthal, king of the pickpockets in 19th century New York City, as revealed from contemporary sources.”  Luft’s essay is all the more impressive given the elusive clues available: Greenthal was an adopted alias, and was often misspelled in newspaper accounts: Grenthal, Gruenthal, Green, etc.; and it was sometimes dropped by Abraham and his family in favor of “Meyers/Myers” or variant spellings of an earlier established family name: Leslauer (found as “Leslan” “Leslau” “Leslie,” etc. in some newspaper records)

Greenthal and his gang of associates were pickpockets, sneak thieves, and fences. How extensive their network was is unknown, but the core of it consisted of Abraham, his wife, their daughters, and their husbands; and his brother Hirsch’s family. A leading figure of the gang, in addition to Abraham, was Hirsch’s daughter Augusta Harris, who acted as the main fence, or receiver, during the 1870s.

 

Little more can be added to Luft’s study of “General” Greenthal, but Luft mentions his brother, Hirsch Harris, very briefly. A few records exist for this man: his prison intake and discharge papers; the 1870 census, and the 1880 census. Unfortunately, after 1884, traces of his family disappear.

He was called “Hirsch Harris” by newspapers more frequently than any other name; but he was sent to Auburn prison in 1877 under the name Herman Brown. In the 1870 census, his name was transcribed (in an obvious error) as “Hanna Harris.” In 1880, he was listed as “Hermon Harris” (although he was actually still in Auburn at that point.) The family consisted of four girls: Augusta, Amalia, Hattie, and Lille; and a boy, Moses. Moses and Amalia were not listed with the family in 1880. Amalia was old enough to be out on her own, but perhaps Moses met an early death.

Augusta was described in several articles as the leader of the Greenthal mob’s fence operation, mentioned in the same breath with Marm Mandelbaum (whom one article suggests pushed Augusta out of business using her political connections). Augusta was married in the early 1870s to Charles “French Charley” Perle, a pickpocket and thief. However, the two had a falling out, and a newspapers suggested they were divorced (“out of the courts”) in 1876.

Newspapers also referred to a daughter Mary/Mollie, who may have been the same person listed in the 1870 census as Amalia. Mary/Mollie was said to have been the fiance of burglar Johnny McAlpine. Their romance would have been interrupted by McAlpine’s being sentenced to 20 years in Sing Sing in 1873.

Chief Byrnes, in his 1995 revised edition, suggests that Hirsch Harris died “within a few months” as his brother, in 1889; however, an earlier article on the conviction of Abraham in 1886 states that Hirsch (under the name Harris Meyer) died on March 31, 1886.

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