#5 Phillip Phearson

Philip Pearson (1832-Aft. 1907), aka “Philly” Phearson, Dr. White, Charles Bushnell–Bank sneak thief, Abortionist

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-four years old in 1886. Height, 5 feet 5 1/2 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Hair mixed gray. Eyes, blue. Complexion, sallow. Ink marks: Eagle wreath, American flag, square and compass, an Odd Fellow’s link, also “J. Peck,” with face of woman underneath the name, all the above on left fore-arm; star and bracelet on left wrist; star between thumb and forefinger of left hand; figure of woman on right fore-arm; above the elbow is a heart, with “J. P.” in it; shield and bracelet with letters “W. D.” on same arm.

RECORD. Phearson, or Peck (which is his right name), is one of the oldest and smartest sneak thieves in this country. He has obtained a good deal of money in his time, for which he has done considerable service in State prisons. He comes from a respectable Quaker family of Philadelphia.

Phearson, Chas. Everhardt, alias Marsh Market Jake (38), and George Williams, alias Woodward (194,) were arrested in Montreal, Canada, in 1876, for sneaking a package containing $800 in money from a safe in that city. Williams gave bail and jumped it, and Phearson and Everhardt stood trial, and were sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

On June 16, 1879, shortly after his release in Canada, he was arrested in New York City for the larceny of a $1,000 4-per-cent bond from a clerk of Kountze Brothers, bankers, in the general Post-office building. To this offense he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three years and six months in State prison, on June 26, 1879, under the name of George W. Clark.

Phearson was again arrested in New York City in October, 1885, for the larceny of $85, on the till-tapping game. He claimed to be a health officer, and while he had the proprietor of the store in the yard, his accomplice carried away the drawer. For this offense he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Cowing on November 5, 1885, under the name of Daniel Kennedy. Phearson’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1885.

Phillip Phearson. Illus. by David Birkey http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

Thomas Byrnes lists several facts about the bank sneak thief known as Philly Phearson, many of which seem to be untrue (or at least suspicious). Byrnes cites his birth year as 1832, which matches an exact date of March 12, 1832 that appeared in one of his arrest records. However, Byrnes also says that Phearson came from a good Quaker family, and that his real name was Peck. Phearson (who was usually named in newspapers and prison records as Pearson/Pierson/Peerson, without the “h”) had many tattoos on his body, one of which was a heart with the the letters “J. Peck” and a figure of a woman with the initials J.P. He had other tattoos that bore symbols of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Tattoos and Odd Fellows membership do not jive with a Quaker background; and having a woman named “J. Peck” in his past does not mean that was his given name–but perhaps Byrnes had other sources for his assertions.

The major crimes that Pearson was known to have been involved in include:

  • In early 1873, with associates Horace Hovan and Johnny Price, Pearson hit banks in Berks County and Dauphin County, Pennsylvania using their bank sneak techniques.
  • According to Byrnes, Pearson was with Charles Everhardt (aka Marsh Market Jake) and George Williams in 1876 when a safe containing $800 was robbed in Montreal, Quebec. Byrnes states that Pearson was sentenced to a term of three years and six months, but he obviously was released early, since he definitely resurfaced in New York in 1878.
  • In June, 1878, Pearson was caught stealing in New York. He did not give up the names of his partners, but did inform police where their next planned robberies were to occur. For this cooperation, his sentence was commuted by the New York State Senate to one year, and further reduced by good behavior and a promise to stay out of New York.
  • A year later, in June 1879, Pearson was caught robbing a $1000 bond from Kountze Bankers. He was sent back to Sing Sing under the name Geo. W. Clarke to serve 3 years and six months.

Nothing more is heard of him until 1884, when there are conflicting reports: Byrnes states that he was in a gang with Old Bill Vosburgh and Kid Carroll, touring the western states to do bank sneak thieving. However, another source says that he was in prison in Toronto.

An even more stark example of conflicting reports occurs in late 1885. Byrnes says that Pearson was arrested in October, 1885 and sent to Sing Sing for five years under the name Daniel Kennedy. However, a Philadelphia paper says that he was arrested in that city in December, 1885, in the company of Marsh Market Jake.

In his 1895 revision, Byrnes states that Pearson was arrested again in February 1888 for stalling a shop owner while the cash till was robbed. However, the newspaper accounts and prison records say that the man arrested was 73-year-old William Pearson, a long-time felon known as “Funeral” Pearson. Philly Pearson, in contrast, was 56 in 1888–he appeared old, but not 73. So Byrnes, it seems, had the wrong information.

Byrnes, writing in 1895, concluded, “He is a pretty old man now, and has outlived his usefulness as a thief.” In these words, Byrnes was correct–Pearson stopped thieving…and became something much worse.

Using his scholarly appearance and assuring banter, Pearson set himself up in Philadelphia as an abortionist–deemed a “malpractitioner” in the parlance of the times. There is no evidence that he had any medical training. In 1904, one woman he operated on (as “Dr. Clarke”) was later hospitalized near death, and another–Ada Greenover–died from peritonitis after Pearson worked on her. He should have been prosecuted for murder, but was instead lightly slapped with the charge of practicing without a license.

The legal cases against him were no deterrent. A few months later, his butchery caused the death of a black child and the near-death of the mother. The Philadelphia Coroner believed that Pearson was running an abortion syndicate responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of three other women.

With attention on him, Pearson curtailed surgical operations and instead began selling abortion nostrums through the mail. Whether the mixtures he sold were harmless placebos or toxic poisons is not known, but his use of the mails under the name “Charles Bushnell” finally provided the leverage to shut him down.


The “sympathies of the jury” might have been better spent on the women he maimed and killed.

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