Abraham Greenthal (#152) and Hirsch Harris (#153)

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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