#114 George N. Elwood

George B. Hibbard (1843-1893), aka George Elwood/Ellwood, George A. Moore, Gentleman George — Masked house burglar

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Chicago, Ill. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Hair dyed black, eyes dark- blue, complexion sallow. Has small scar on back of head, left side.

RECORD. Elwood/Wilson is a daring and murderous Western thief. Nothing much is known of him in the Eastern country. He was arrested in New York City on August 24, 1885, in company of Joe Wilson, alias Whalen (65), charged with a series of masked burglaries in several of the Western States. When Elwood’s and Wilson’s rooms, at No. 220 Forsyth Street, New York City, were searched, after the capture of the cracksmen, among the articles seized was a Masonic ring, marked “Edison W. Baumgarten, June 25, 1884.” The ring was traced to Ohio, and on August 25, 1885, in response to some inquiries made by telegraph, the Chief of Police of New York City received the following reply from the Chief of Police of Toledo: “Hold Elwood and Wilson. Charge, grand larceny and burglary and shooting officer with intent to kill. Will send requisition papers immediately.” Subsequent correspondence on the same subject stated that the men were also wanted for a robbery which they had committed at Detroit.

The crime for which the Toledo authorities requested the detention of the prisoners was committed on August 13, 1885. On that night, it was alleged, they broke into a house, and being discovered in the act of plundering the place, fired several shots at the servants. An alarm was raised, and a policeman who started in pursuit of the fugitives was shot in the breast and dangerously wounded. The men then came on to New York. They had been there only a few days before they were under surveillance, and while they were being watched the detectives became aware of the plans they were hatching for a series of burglaries which they contemplated committing in Saratoga. When they were about to start on that trip the detectives arrested them. All through the West, Elwood is known as a daring and desperate burglar, and it is said that some two years ago he murdered two of his associates. Elwood and Wilson were on August 25 arraigned at the Jefferson Market Court in New York City, and at the request of their captors they were committed until the arrival of the Toledo authorities with the requisition papers. They were both delivered to the police authorities of Toledo, Ohio, on August 29, 1885, and taken there for trial. Elwood and Wilson were the parties who robbed the residences of Messrs. Oakes and Merriam in St. Paul, Minn., in August, 1885. Merriam’s diamond scarf-pin was found in their possession, and a pawn ticket taken at Detroit for his diamond collar-button was also found upon them. A requisition was taken out at St. Paul to intercept the prisoners at Toledo, where they were being taken for the robbery of Mr. Baumgarten’s residence and the murder of a policeman. The intention was to take them to St. Paul in case they could not be held for the Toledo crimes. The trial of George A. Elwood, one of the notorious burglars, closed at Toledo, Ohio, on December 12, 1885, with a verdict of guilty. The defense offered no evidence, but argued that Elwood had not been sufficiently identified. A motion for a new trial was made, which was overruled. Elwood said he believed he would get the full extent of the law.

He and his partner, Joseph Wilson, are the original gentlemanly burglars who emptied the houses and filled the newspapers of Cleveland, Detroit, St. Paul, Milwaukee and St. Louis, until their doings in Toledo led to their apprehension in New York. These men are well known thieves, and considerable excitement was caused among the fraternity at the time they were arrested and were about to be taken back to the West. Their methods employed to transfer the possessions of others to their pockets were so peculiarly bold that the whole West was startled by their exploits. Detroit in particular suffered from them, mainly because the police were nonplused by the audacity of their performances. They invariably awakened the parties they intended to rob, and compelled them to comply with their wishes at the points of their revolvers. Oftentimes they would repair to the dining-room with the owner of the premises and indulge in a feast before their departure. Besides doing this, at a residence in Cleveland, they compelled the victim to sign a check for $100 and made him promise not to dishonor it. While leaving a Detroit residence early one morning they met the gentleman of the house returning from out of the city, and not at all taken aback by the encounter, they robbed him on the porch, and then sent him into the house to see what they had left. These eccentricities caused their fame to spread far and wide, and the “gentlemanly burglar” was patterned after in many localities. But there were few equals, and none superior. For coolness and daring Elwood and Wilson stood in the front rank of masked burglars. Elwood was found guilty on December 19, 1885, and was sentenced to ten years in the Ohio penitentiary. In the case of Wilson there was a disagreement of the jury. A second trial resulted in his conviction. (See record of No. 65.)

Before Wilson associated with the desperado Elwood he operated for months alone in Brooklyn, N.Y. House robbery was his line of business, and silverware his plunder. He committed a series of mysterious robberies, and although an active search was made for the “silver king,” he succeeded in avoiding arrest. His repeated successes stimulated other thieves, who began operating in Brooklyn. One of the latter was caught, and it was then believed that the cunning “silver king” had been at last trapped. Such was not the case, for Wilson had set out for the Western country. Elwood’s picture was taken in August, 1885.

Throughout his criminal career, “Gentleman George” never revealed his real identity, with the intention of shielding his family’s reputation. However, while imprisoned for the final time, his wife wrote a letter to him that was intercepted by authorities and published in several New England newspapers. The details in the letter revealed “Gentleman George” to be George B. Hibbard of Detroit, Michigan. His respectable, embarrassed family hoped no one would notice these newspaper articles. He died in 1893 in a Rhode Island prison as George Ellwood. Three years later, George B. Hibbard was officially declared dead in Michigan. The family’s story was that he had been long institutionalized in an Eastern Michigan asylum, and had died there.

The truth was much darker. “Gentleman George,” after losing several appeals of his conviction–and facing more than twenty more years remaining on his Rhode Island sentence–attempted a jailbreak by overpowering a guard. He was shot dead while swinging a hammer at the prison guard’s head.

By all appearances, Hibbard was an honest family man during the 1870s and early 1880s, working as a traveling windmill salesman and living with his in-laws in Adrian, Michigan. Years later, rumors surfaced that he had led a long life of crime, and had deceived his wife all during their marriage. One specific allegation said that he was not a salesman, but a “bunco steerer,” a con-man; and that he had joined a gang led by James Fitzgerald in Denver. However, there is no record of any brushes with the law prior to 1885 (also, some confusion might have arisen between Hibbard and other bad characters named George Ellwood.) Sometime in 1883, he met and decided to team up with burglar Joe Whalen (alias Joe Wilson). Why Hibbard turned to burglary is not known, but he and Whalen proved to be an effective team.

The pair of burglars spent the summer of 1885 breaking into houses in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago. From their base in Detroit, they then decided to hit a house in Toledo, where Hibbard, empowered by his mask, made one of his trademark, chilling visits:


Hibbard and Wilson were picked up by detectives in New York on suspicion, and items from this Toledo robbery were found in their possession. It was in New York that Hibbard first used the alias Ellwood, which stuck with him. They were escorted back to Ohio, where they were tried for the Toledo and Cleveland robberies. Hibbard received a sentence a long sentence, and entered the State Prison in 1885. More than halfway through his stretch, he broke free:


Six months later, Hibbard migrated to New England. He burglarized homes in Providence, Rhode Island; then he attempted a house robbery in Norwich, Connecticut, but was shot by the owner in his left breast and left shoulder. Hibbard fled the scene, and though seriously wounded, got on a train to Worcester, Massachusetts. He broke into a couple of houses there, but was later found collapsed in a doorway. Prosecutors agreed the strongest case against him could be made in Providence, so he was sent there to await trial.

It took over a year to convict Hibbard, after his first trial was thrown out on mishandled evidence. At his separate sentencing session, he was accorded the chance to address the court before the sentence was announced. Hibbard stood and began reading from a text said to be forty pages long. He spoke for nearly an hour, condemning the whole process that had brought him to this point: he accused the judges he had faced in Rhode Island of being incapable of fairness; he accused the officers who arrested him of stealing his money, thereby denying his access to good counsel; he stated that the prosecutors had paid witnesses to perjure themselves; he referred to the jury that convicted him as little more than $134 worth of dirt and water, and that they had decided their verdict before they heard any evidence.

Hibbard concluded his tirade with an elaborate, hearty curse:

“My curse upon you all for driving me to the very verge of hell, and may the time come, whether in heaven or hell, upon this miserable earth, when you will likewise curse and I can demonstrate to you my hatred, and how much I loathe, hate, and despise you all. Now look upon your work and see if I am fit to live. Oh, that I had the strength of a thousand Samsons, that I could crush, tear, and rend you all like mad dogs. Now do the most agreeable duty of your life and sentence the man you have hounded into a fiend and a demon. Do your dirty work accordingly.”

Given his nickname, perhaps someone had expected him to be polite.

After a shocked pause, Hibbard’s attorney begged the court to ignore Hibbard’s desperate speech, and be merciful. The judge rebuked Hibbard for being a coward dulled by crime, and sentenced him to twenty-five years hard labor. Six months later, Hibbard made his attempt to escape that resulted in his death.


#201 Thomas McCormack

Thomas Joseph McCormick (1844-1897), aka Tom McCormack — Bank Robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1883. Born in United States. Married. Machinist. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Hair black, turning gray ; dark gray eyes, very dark complexion. Looks like a Spaniard. Generally wears a full black whisker and mustache. Dresses well, and is a great wine drinker.

RECORD. Thomas McCormack has had a checkered career and is a desperate man. He was associated from time to time with all the first-class bank burglars, and was implicated in many important bank robberies. Several years ago he shot and killed Big John Casey, another burglar, over a quarrel on the division of the moneys stolen from the Kensington Savings Bank in Philadelphia, which they and others had robbed on February 4, 1871, of a large amount of money. The bank referred to was robbed by McCormack, Casey, Dobbs, Brady, Burns, alias Combo, and three others. One of them during the day went to the president and represented having been sent by the Chief of Police to tell him that information had been received that either that night or the one following the bank was to be robbed. That he must not impart this information to any one, but that the Chief would send three or four policemen in uniform that afternoon, who were to be locked in the bank, and that the president could leave a porter with them. This programme was followed out, and two watchmen were left. When night set in they sent one of the watchmen out for beer, and during his absence bound and gagged the other and tied him up in a back room. On the return of the other they served him the same way, and then proceeded to rob the bank. They secured between $80,000 and $100,000.

McCormack was arrested in New Haven, Conn., by Marshal Hamilton, on Sunday evening, December 9, 1882, for breaking open and robbing a safe in Walpole, N. H., on the night of December 8, 1882. When arrested in New Haven he gave the name James Crandell. He was taken to Keene, N. H., on December 21, 1882, and upon an examination he was committed to await the action of the Grand Jury. He was indicted on April 1, 1883. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in State prison on April 12, 1883. Sam Perris, alias Worcester Sam, was with McCormack in this robbery, but escaped after a desperate fight with the officers, who only succeeded in holding McCormack.

Chief Byrnes made at least one mistake in introducing the record of Tom McCormick, i.e. the notion that McCormick shot “Big John” Casey during a dispute over the spoils of the robbery of the Kensington Savings Bank of Philadelphia that took place in February, 1871. The fatal shots exchanged by McCormick and Casey actually took place in New York in August, 1870, six months prior to the Kensington Bank robbery.

In this instance and in other places in the text of Professional Criminals of America, Byrnes confuses facts of two separate Philadelphia bank robberies: the April 6, 1869 robbery of the Beneficial Savings Fund Bank; and the February, 1871 robbery of the Kensington Savings Bank. The perpetrators of both robberies were never conclusively identified, but most sources agree that a core group of men were behind both robberies: Frank McCoy, Jimmy Hope, and Joe Howard aka Joseph Killoran. [Though Hope’s name was often invoked in regard to these two jobs, he was lodged in Auburn prison when the Kensington robbery occurred; and–according to columnist Louis Megargee–denied involvement in the Beneficial Savings job, though he helped to recover the money. See #20 James Hope entry.]

Beyond those names, a plethora of other criminals have been cited as involved with one or the other of these crimes: Albany Jim Brady, John Kerrigan aka Johnny Dobbs; “Worcester Sam” Perris, John “Clutch” Donohue, Ike Marsh, Thomas Burns, Big John Casey, Curly Harris, Tom McCormick and John “Brockie George” Adams.

So while it is possible that McCormick and Casey argued over their shares of the Beneficial Savings robbery, the New York Herald suspected a more traditional explanation:


The woman, if there truly was one behind the dispute, might have been Louisa Farley, who was said to be involved with McCormick at around this time.

McCormick was born in Troy, New York in 1844, and went to school to learn the trade of machinist. He became a skilled professional, which brought him to the attention of criminals who required his skills to penetrate vaults.

There is abundant evidence that McCormick was often involved in bank robberies with the most skilled thieves of that era. When McCormick shot John Casey, he was accompanied by veteran robbers Joe Howard (aka Joseph Killoran) and Henry Kelly (aka Charles Gleason.) In November, 1873, McCormick joined Frank McCoy, Jimmy Hope, Jim Brady, and George Bliss in an attempt to rob the First National Bank of Wilmington by holding the bank’s cashier hostage. They were captured before the attempt was made, and quickly tried and found guilty. They were sent to prison, but also suffered a public whipping as part of their sentence. Several of the gang, including McCormick, were able to escape.

In 1882, McCormick was arrested as one of the robbers of a Walpole, New Hampshire store safe. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to eight years at the New Hampshire State Prison.

Upon his release in the late 1880s, McCormick resolved to give up crime. However, trouble still found him; in 1890 he was accused of stabbing a thief/pickpocket named Alonzo Henn, aka Dutch Alonzo, on the street in front of his brother’s saloon. McCormick was reported to have opened his own saloon in the 1890s, as well as playing the horses and bookmaking, and was said to generously give money away as quickly as he earned it. His obituary reported that he dissuaded many young men from a life of crime. He died a poor man in 1897–but a reformed one.

#204 Louis Brown

Louis Wolff (Abt. 1826-????), aka French Louis, Louis Brown, Daniel Brown, John Krill, Louis Wolfrain, etc. — Burglar, Fixer (locksmith)

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-nine years old in 1886. Born in France. Married. Machinist. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Gray hair, very thin ; hazel eyes, fair complexion. Large nose. Thin face. Small mole near right eye. Wife’s name, Annie L. Wolf.

RECORD. Brown, or French Louie, the name he is best known by, is one of the most expert burglars in America. His particular line is the manufacture of burglars’ tools and making false keys from impressions in wax. He seldom takes a hand in a burglary, unless it is a large one. He generally paves the way for the operations of confederates, and works from 6 a. m. to 8 a. m. in the morning, when his operations can generally be carried on with impunity, as any person seeing him at that hour would fancy that he was simply opening the store for the day’s business. French Louie has spent at least twenty years in State prison in America, two-thirds of it in Sing Sing prison. New York. Louie was arrested in New York City on July 15, 1877, in the act of committing a burglary at Nos. 27 and 29 White Street. He was convicted and sentenced to three years and three months in State prison at Sing Sing, N. Y., on August 16, 1877. He escaped from Sing Sing on July 16, 1878, and was re-arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on February 18, 1879, he returned to Sing Sing prison to serve out his unexpired time. He was arrested again in New York City, on August 27, 1881, for tampering with the padlock on the store of E. H. Gato & Co., No. 52 Beaver Street. There was $50,000 worth of imported cigars in the store at the time. Louie pleaded guilty of an attempt at burglary, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison, on September 12, 1881, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. His time expired on October 12, 1883. French Louie was arrested again, under the name of John Yole, in Hoboken, N. J., on March 18, 1886, and sentenced to ninety days under the Disorderly Act. He had some tools and keys in his possession when arrested. His case was referred to the Grand Jury, which body failed to indict him. Brown’s picture is an excellent one, taken in Philadelphia, Pa.

Chief Byrnes never indicated that the real name of “French Louie” was Louis Wolff, though he knew his wife’s name as “Annie L. Wolf.” Byrnes, as per usual, begins criminal records in the late 1870s, but “French Louis” (used much more often than “Louie”) was active much earlier–dating back to the 1850s. His paper trail of newspaper clippings dates back to 1867, when he was arrested in New York for vagrancy and (allegedly) asked to be sent to the workhouse.


Wolff is difficult to track for a couple of reasons: 1) his nickname, “French Louis,” was used at different times and places by many criminals, some of whom were active during the same period that Wolff was at work; 2) in a city full of German immigrants, “Louis Wolff” and “Anna Wolff” were common names–no census records have been positively matched with the burglar; 3) and finally, Wolff had a talent for dropping a new alias each time he was arrested:

  • “John Woolford” in 1867, New York (vagrancy)
  • “John Walton alias Louis Wolfrain” in 1868, Boston (burglarizing a furrier)
  • “Louis Wolfert” in 1876, New York (stealing silk samples)
  • “J. Daniel Brown alias James Walker” in 1877, New York (stealing fine linens). Sent to Sing Sing as “Daniel Brown.”
  • “James Welsh” in 1878, Philadelphia (sent to Eastern State Penitentiary)
  • “David Brown” in 1879, Philadelphia (recognized as escapee from Sing Sing and recaptured)
  • “John Krill” in 1881, New York (attempted burglary). Sent to Sing Sing under this name
  • “John Yole” in 1886, Hoboken, New Jersey (possessing burglary tools)

As elusive as French Louis was, the most illuminating information about him comes not from law records, newspapers, or genealogy sources.  Instead, there exist a long passage of  anecdotes picked up in prison about him by the famous Bank of England forger, George Bidwell. In 1891, Bidwell published his memoirs, titled Forging His Own Chains: The Wonderful Life Story of George Bidwell.  Wolff appears in Chapter LI as the burglar, “Luelo”:

In the year 1856 an independent detective came to two young men then engaged in the jewelry business, as above described, and informed them that within a few weeks a jeweler was to arrive in New York from Germany, bringing with him a rich stock of watches, diamonds, and other jewelry, and that the store on the first floor of No. 181 Broadway had already been rented for him, as he intended doing a wholesale business.

The first thing was to plan how to get possession of his whole stock at one stroke after his arrival. There was another room for rent in the rear, and connected by a door with the premises rented for the German. That room must be secured immediately, but how to do this was a puzzler, for neither of the two confederates could act in the matter, because they were too well known to the police. It was, therefore, necessary to obtain a man of good address to do that part of the business.

These two young rogues were called Luelo and Bruno. Luelo went to Philadelphia to a buyer of stolen goods named Strauss, and upon learning from Luelo the object of his visit, he, in two hours’ time, brought and introduced to Luelo a man called Evans, who had every appearance of being an honest business man, but who was in reality a crook, though not known to the New York police as such. Luelo told Evans, in the presence of the buyer, that they were to go to New Orleans on a good paying job, and would be gone perhaps three months, he to pay all expenses in case no money should be made. This deception was used for the double purpose of throwing the buyer off from the actual job in hand, and to avoid paying the usual percentage of the proceeds of the robbery; also to avoid the risk of being betrayed or blackmailed by him.

Luelo and Evans then left for New York. On the way the former informed the latter as to the true nature of the job in contemplation. Evans was delighted at the prospect, and said he was glad to get into the company of such large operators in other people’s property, having himself been doing a picayune business for some months just to keep from starving. He appeared to think that at last he had struck a vein of good luck, but Luelo said : “No, you are mistaken; you are not to know us too well. After the job is finished, and you have received your share, you are to go back to Philadelphia, and we are again strangers. Besides, you are not to let old ‘Sheeney Strauss’ know anything.”

Evans agreed to these terms, and upon his arrival in New York began operations by calling on the real estate agent, who demanded reference, also one quarter’s rent in advance. It was easy enough to pay the quarter’s rent, but as to the reference, that was for a party of “dead-beats” a difficult thing to accomplish. However, Evans, being a man who had his wits about him, accepted the terms, and told the agent that he would take the place, call the next day, and settle the matter to the agent’s satisfaction. He then took his leave without the remotest idea as to how he could fulfill his promise. The thing must be done, and after some cogitations he was furnished with §200.

Going to the house of “Henn & Co.” in Liberty Street, he purchased all the old unsalable stock of tobacco which was left on their hands. This amounted to $1,500.00, and they were very pleased to get hold of a customer who would pay cash for their damaged goods. Evans informed the firm that he was from California, and was about opening business at No. 181 Broadway. “I have purchased these goods,” said he, “to sell to peddlers, but shall soon require a large quantity of your better qualities. My name is Evans, and as I am a stranger, here is $200 on account. Please have the goods ready for delivery when I send for them.”

Taking a receipt for the $200 and the invoice, Evans departed, but as he reached the door turned, and, coming back hastily, said: “By the way, I am in trouble about the place I have rented. I supposed that the rent in advance would be quite sufficient, but the agent also requires reference. Of course, had I known such to be the custom here, I should have come prepared with the best recommendations, but I shall have to write to San Francisco, which will delay the opening of my business. Can you advise me of any better plan?”

“Oh, do not trouble yourself,” was replied. “We shall feel it a pleasure, as well as a duty, to assist you out of your dilemma.” Writing a few words, he handed a card to Evans, and said: “Hand this card to the agent, and it will save the time of writing to San Francisco.” Evans took the card, went direct to the agent with it, and found nothing more was required, the agent being personally acquainted with Messrs. Henn & Co. Evans then paid a quarter’s rent, received the key, and departed. In order to make a show of business, some empty boxes were sent in, and a carpenter set at work putting up shelves, drawers, etc. Within ten days the German jeweler arrived, passed his goods through the custom-house, and took possession of the adjoining room, with two large trunks filled with jewelry, containing his whole stock in trade. They arrived too late in the afternoon to be unpacked and put away in the safe.

Everything had been arranged to convey this safe into Evans’s room, where it had been the intention to pry or blow it open, the tools being all ready, and little fear that the noise of exploding powder would be heard in that busy part of Broadway. Late in the afternoon Luelo, Bruno, and Evans locked themselves in their office. At the usual hour the janitor knocked at every door, then closed the building, and went home. The trio of robbers then burst open the door leading to the German’s office, when what was their astonishment at the sight of the two trunks still packed, just as they came from the custom-house. This unexpected discovery simplified their plan, as all they had to do was to engage a cart for the next morning early. Accordingly, they were on hand, got the trunks on a cart before the janitor came, and took them to the Jersey ferry, where they were deposited, the cartman dismissed, another cart engaged to take them to another place, and this operation was repeated several times; so that any attempt to trace them by the police would be frustrated.

Upon getting them to a place of safety they were opened, and found to be lined with zinc, and air tight, to preserve the valuable contents from injury during the voyage. The tops of the trunks were filled with diamond jewelry, watches set in diamonds, and underneath were solid gold rings and chains. For eight days there was nothing about it in the papers; then appeared an offer of a reward of $10,000, and the goods stated to be valued, according to the custom-house invoices, at $150,000. The whole lot was sold to two receivers for $80,000, the detective who planned the job being paid $10,000, although it was not the custom to pay them in such cases but 10 per cent of the proceeds, unless they rendered active assistance in executing the plan, in which case only were they entitled to a full share.

Evans was well content with his share ($20,000), and was hurried off to Philadelphia, thankful and hoping for another of the same kind. The two friends had $25,000 each, and this was all squandered within six months; for, says a German proverb: “Wie gewonnen, so geronnen” (easy come, easy go). Their ill-gotten gains being used up, the two pseudo friends quarreled and parted, Bruno becoming “dishonest,” having turned informer, or stool-pigeon for the police; so that none of the tribe of “cross-men” would have anything to do with him. This is another illustration of what I have elsewhere stated — that all persons acting dishonestly have, step by step, reasoned themselves into a state of mind which permits them to take part in any crime against property, and that it is quite right for them to do so. In the estimation of his fellow thief, Bruno was honest so long as he only robbed the outside public — dishonest when he turned to assist the police.

Several years later Luelo — whom I may as well state was a French-German Alsatian named Louis Wolfe — met a crook called the General, and asked him where he was going so fast. “Come along, Luelo,” said the “General,” “for I am in a hurry to get some things. My family is on board, and we are off for Brazil this afternoon.” Luelo accompanied him to bid him farewell, and when near the ship, seeing a ragged looking fellow on board, said, “General, I think I know that fellow. Who is he?” “O, that is your old pal, Bruno. I did not wish to tell you that he was so badly off. He begged me to take him along, and he is to work his passage.” “Well, you are taking your ‘hoodoo’ (bad luck) with you,” said Luelo. As Luelo came on board Bruno turned away, but Leulo called to him to face about. “Shame made the rascal change color,” said Leulo to the writer. “This is your reward from the ‘fly cops’ (detectives),” said he, “for your treachery to your pals ; but I pity you, as you were once a square man, and it is the best thing you can do to leave the country.”

Handing him $50, Luelo turned to take leave of the others and departed. Eight months later the General and his family returned to New York in poverty, a revolution having broken out in Brazil. Bruno had enlisted in the Brazilian army, and disappeared from view, doubtless dying a miserable death by violence. Thus ended another of the great army of “dead-beats,” who, after living a butterfly life, alternating between abject poverty and reveling in luxury on their ill-gotten gains, varied by longer or shorter terms of imprisonment, invariably end their lives in want and wretchedness.

The detective, never having had so large a sum before, began to gamble to increase it, was finally expelled from the police force, emigrated to California, and soon after was sent to prison for the term of ten years on the charge of highway robbery.

In one of these years of the golden time Luelo found him self at the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans. Every winter this hotel was filled with planters and their families, and it was the place where many marriages among them were celebrated. A Spanish jeweler by the name of Lopez occupied a room, in which he kept a large stock of diamonds, etc., and found his customers among the guests. Upon investigation, Luelo ascertained that Lopez took his supper at the Spanish Club, depositing the key of the specially padlocked door at the office. The door being within sight of the office, he must devise some other way of entering the room. It could have been done by going in on pretense of pur chase, and knock the jeweler down with a sandbag, but Luelo was not the man for such brutal work. Strange traits of human nature! Nearly all thieves have conscientious scruples of some kind.

Luelo found that the hotel rested on a basement of stone arches. His plan was at once formed. As his room was next to that of Lopez, he cut a slit in the carpet, bored a hole in the floor with an extension bit, crept through and found him self in the hollow which ran along above the pillars which supported the arches. Creeping along about ten feet, and lying on his back, he bored a hole as before, slit the carpet, crept up through, and found himself under the bed. He now hastened to the bureau, opened the drawers, selecting the most valuable articles, which he put into a pillow case. With a jimmy, he then turned to the trunk, and while in the act of breaking it open he heard the padlock being taken from the door.

He instantly seized the pillow-case, and swiftly, but deliberately, walked into the bedroom. Pushing the bag down, he quickly followed, the slit in the carpet closing after him, so that any one searching the room would not notice the opening. Creeping hastily along the passage, he ascended into his own room, emptied the contents of the case on the bed, hurried on his clothes; then, opening the cases, he filled his pockets with diamond jewelry. Passing out, he locked his own room, took the key, and when passing the next room saw the padlock was not on the door, but all was quiet. Leaving the key at the office, he went out, took a carriage to Lake Ponchartrain, and the boat for Mobile at 11 p. m.; then, going from place to place, he was fortunate enough to reach Cincinnati in safety.

Here he wrote a note to a buyer of stolen goods, who came and paid $55,000 for the whole booty. The following week Luelo was on board a steamer bound for Bremen, and in a few days was with his relations at the old homestead on the Rhine. He presented his father with $5,000, each of his four brothers with $2,000, leaving himself $41,000. Soon tiring of the quiet country life, at the end of four weeks he left, traveled through Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy, arriving in New York eleven months later with $12,000, which soon disappeared at the gaming table of John Morrissey.

The purchaser of the goods informed Luelo that there had never appeared in the papers anything about the robbery, and he inferred that the hotel paid half the loss rather than that the affair should become public. Not a strange trait of human nature, but still a singular fact, that Luelo was always grieving over what he might have had out of that trunk if Lopez had only kept away a few minutes longer.

In disposing of the jewelry, Luelo had kept back a valuable diamond ring, taking it out of the setting, and sewing it in his vest as a button. While in Paris he had three paste rings made which were exact imitations, and could not be distinguished from the original by the naked eye. Arriving in New York, he stopped at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. In a few days he told the proprietor that he was out of money, and desired a loan of $2,500 on his ring until he could get funds from home. After sending the ring to a dealer to ascertain its genuineness, he readily advanced the required sum, which Luelo duly paid, receiving back his ring. Two days later he again applied for the same sum, which, on receiving, he handed over as security one of the paste rings, telling the landlord that he could not pay him under ten days. He then went to the Metropolitan Hotel, and repeated the operation with one of the bogus rings, after which he proceeded to Montreal, where he obtained $3,000 on the third paste ring.

He afterwards invested the genuine stone in a faro bank, the proprietor allowing him $5000 for it. Of course, this sum was all gambled away in a few hours. Where are the hundreds of thousands that Luelo stole? “O, gold is only glimmer,” says the song. Where is Luelo? In State prison, where all law breakers go first or last, leaving their families, if they have any, in poverty. Luelo, who is known as French Louis and Louis Brown, was sentenced in 1867 to eight years in the Charlestown, Mass., State prison. He always asserted that he did not commit the burglary with which he was charged, and was finally, by the active exertions of his wife, pardoned in 1871.

Strange! bad men nearly always get good wives. His was a beautiful and good woman, who adhered to him through all. While serving a sentence at Sing Sing prison he escaped in July, 1878, and nine months later was recaptured and returned to his old quarters. Not long after the expiration of his term he was again apprehended and sent back to Sing Sing. He is now 63 years of age, and has passed at least 25 of that in prison. His talents, had they always been honestly employed, would have saved him those years of deprivation and degradation, and doubtless would have placed him in circumstances which would have enabled him to live continuously in as great luxury as during the intervals when he was out of prison.



#44 Charles Hylebert

John W. Heil (1849-1904), aka Charles Hylebert, Red Heil, Cincinnati Red, etc. — Hotel thief



From Byrnes’ text:

Thirty-six years old in 1886. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 153 pounds. Red hair and whiskers, when grown; florid complexion. Butcher by trade. He is a great hand for disguising himself. His red beard grows very rapidly, and he could appear from time to time in cockney style, with long flowing side-whiskers, or with simple mustache, or with smooth face, as he might choose. He is quite genteel looking.

Red Hyle, or Cincinnati Red, is one of the most celebrated hotel thieves in this country. He was born and raised in Cincinnati, and when a boy learned the butcher’s trade. He was called Red Hyle, on account of his red hair and florid face. He has been a professional thief for fifteen years. For many years this clever thief has robbed hotels all over the United States. He made Cincinnati his home, and his wife and children reside there now.

Hyle seldom works with a partner, preferring to work alone since he and William Carter, alias Three-Fingered Jack, were arrested and sentenced to the Georgia penitentiary for five years, in 1880, for a hotel robbery in Atlanta. Joe Parish (84) was implicated in this robbery, but returned the property and was discharged. Parish was subsequently sent to an Illinois penitentiary for robbing a bank. Hyle was released from the Georgia prison, and was next heard from in Washington, D.C., on March 6,1885, where he was arrested on suspicion of committing several hotel robberies there during the inauguration week. He was charged with stealing a watch and chain, value $65, from the room of one S. M. Briggs, in the St. James Hotel, and was committed in default of $3,000 bail for a further hearing. This case was not tried, as Hyle was arrested on the cars at Indianapolis, Ind., for grand larceny, stealing a valuable watch and chain from A. P. Miller, of New York, at the Circle House, in Indianapolis, on June 17, 1885. He was found guilty after a strongly contested trial, and sentenced to four years in the Northern State prison at Michigan City, on July 18, 1885.

Red Hyle generally managed to keep on the right side of the detectives while in Cincinnati, on the ground that he was not stealing anything in that city. He gave the officers considerable information about other thieves. There is no doubt that many a professional thief in this country will be glad to hear that Red Hyle, after dodging the Northern penitentiaries for so many years, has at last been sent to State prison. Hyle’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1885.

One might guess that a man with a distinctive name–suggested by Chief Byrnes as “Hylebert”–with family and long residence in a major city would be easy to identify, but such was not the case. There were no “Hyleberts” in Cincinnati circa 1880s, and only a few of that name in the entire country. Moreover, other names were employed by this thief long before the “Hylebert” spelling was attached to him. Even his nickname, Red Heil, was variously spelled as Hyle, Heyl, Hiel, or Hile.


His actual name was John William Heil, son of Frederick and Mary Heil of Cincinnati, Ohio. As a youth he earned the nickname of “Red Heil,” due to his red hair, and was well-known around town. John first documented brush with the law came in 1877 when he was 27, when he was suspected of stealing watches with an older partner, Henry Kessler of the Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball club:


By 1800, when Heil was 30, he was already known as a skilled hotel thief, as indicated in the following clipping concerning the thefts in Atlanta, Georgia, that Byrnes correctly indicates resulted in a five-year sentence:


Heil was freed from the Georgia prison system by early 1885, when he (along with other thieves and pickpockets) descended upon Grover Cleveland’s Inauguration festivities in Washington, DC. In exchange for producing the goods stolen from a hotel room, Heil was allowed to leave town. The Washington newspapers had transcribed the alias Heil offered as “Charles Hallbert” and “Charles Heller.” This seems to be the origin of the name “Hylebert” used by Byrnes.


As Byrnes indicates, Heil made his route back from the east coast, but was caught stealing a watch in a railroad car in Indianapolis. He was sentenced to a four-year term in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. Upon his release in 1889–having just spent nine of the past ten years in prison–Heil faced rumors that his wife had a male friend:


Heil returned to the city the next day, and wrote a note to the papers denying that he was angry with his wife.

Red escaped conviction during the years between 1889 and 1904, though he was arrested and tried many times: in Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Louisville, and New York. Speaking from his temporary confinement in New York City in 1903, Red Heil philosophically compared himself to a Wall Street financier: “I use my brains, just as the trust manipulators do. I don’t waste time organizing and incorporating companies. I get it in a hurry and save the victims a lot of trouble in separating themselves from their coin. They don’t have to worry and fret. They know that I’ve got it.”

In November 1904, Heil was found unconscious in a rooming house in Chicago. The stove in his room was leaking gas. The coroner declared that he died from accidental asphyxiation. With admirable restraint, the Cincinnati Enquirer noted: “The deceased was well-known here and left a highly respected family.”




#126 Mary Busby / #135 Harry Busby

Mary Wilson (Abt. 1841-???), aka Mary Busby, Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Mitchell, etc.    / Henry Busby (Abt. 1837-????), aka Harry Busby, Henry Williams, George Fisk — Pickpockets, shoplifters

From Byrnes’ text on Mary Busby:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Stout build. Height,5 feet. Weight, 221 pounds. Dark brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion.
RECORD. Mary Busby is a clever pickpocket and shoplifter, and is well known in all the large cities. Harry Busby, alias Broken-nose Busby (135), her husband, is an old New York pickpocket and “stall.” She was arrested in New York City for shoplifting on October 25, 1882, under the name of Mary Johnson, and sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on October 30, 1882, by Judge Ford. Arrested again in Boston, Mass., on May 3, 1883, for larceny of $40 worth of silk garments from Jourdan & Marsh’s dry goods store. For this she was sentenced to one year in the House of Correction on May 18, 1883. After her discharge in Boston, she went to New York City, and was arrested for the larceny of a bonnet from Rothschild’s millinery establishment on West Fourteenth Street. For this she was sentenced to five months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on May 20, 1884. This time she gave the name of Mary Mitchell.
Mary Busby had previously served two years on Blackwell’s Island, and two years in the House of Correction in Boston, Mass. She was again sentenced to fourteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary on September 14, 1885, for picking pockets in Wannemaker’s store in Philadelphia, Pa. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in October, 1882.

From Byrnes’ text on Harry Busby:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in London, England. Married. Housepainter. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Hair black, mixed with gray; brown eyes, round face, ruddy complexion. Marks on face and neck from skin disease. Short, pug nose. Has quite an English accent. 
RECORD. Busby is a well known Eastern pickpocket, and husband of Mary Busby (126), one of the cleverest women in America in her line. He is known in all the principal cities in the United States and in Montreal, Canada. He was arrested in New York City and sentenced to two years and six months in Sing Sing prison, under the name of Henry Williams, on May 19, 1873, for an attempt at grand larceny, by Judge Sutherland.
He was arrested again in New York, on January 26, 1877, in company of John Anderson, another pickpocket, charged with robbing one Wm. Smyth of a pocket-book on a Fourth Avenue car, on January 22. They were discharged, as the complainant failed to identify them. Harry was arrested in Washington Market, New York, with Mary Kelly, as
suspicious characters, on March 27, 1886, and discharged by a Police Justice. Busby’s picture is an excellent one, taken in Philadelphia, Pa., where he has also served a term in the penitentiary.

The pair of Mary and Harry Busby lasted longer in the minds of law enforcement officials and court reporters than in actuality. According to Mary, they separated as a couple in the mid 1880s. Born in England, both came to the United States in the early 1870s.

Harry was caught shoplifting a Japanese vase from a New York auction house in November, 1886 and sent to prison for a short term. In September, 1887 he was caught pilfering in Hudson County, New Jersey and sentenced to a stiff sentence of four and a half years. He was released in 1892, but in September of that year was caught in a raid of a fence establishment in New York City. Forced to leave New York, he headed west. He was sent to the Chicago House of Correction for 60 days in March, 1894. Moving up Lake Michigan, he was similarly sent to the Milwaukee House of Correction in September, 1895 for 90 days. In March of 1896, he was convicted in Chicago of larceny for picking the pocket of a church-goer. Apparently, Harry had shifted from shoplifting to picking pockets, especially at funeral services.


Writing in 1895, Byrnes indicates that Harry had become a heavy drinker. Nothing is heard of him after 1896.

For her part, Mary was sent to Sing Sing for a four year sentence in 1887 under the name Elizabeth Johnson. After a short period of freedom, she spent another 18 months in the Connecticut State Prison. Escaping a conviction after an 1894 arrest, she was convicted a year later to serve another four and a half years at Sing Sing. There, she developed a bad case of rheumatism. In 1899 she was caught shoplifting again in Newark, New Jersey and was again jailed. In 1902, she was caught in a Pittsburgh department store with pockets full of 17 yards of ribbon and 13 pairs of gloves.

Mary was uncharacteristically quiet between 1902 and December, 1908, where she was picked up in a department store on Sixth Avenue in New York. My Mary’s account, she had been living straight for many years until she saw the Christmas displays at a New York department store:


Conveniently, Mary had prepared for her fall from grace by wearing her specially-tailored garments with the billowing internal pockets.

#7 Edward Dinkelman

Edward Dinkelman (1843-19??), aka Eddie Miller, William Hunter, William B. Bowman — Shoplifter, Store Thief, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-one years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Height, 5 feet 4 inches. Stout build. Dark hair, dark eyes, round face, dark complexion. Dresses well, and is very quick in his movements. Weight, about 150 pounds.

RECORD. Eddie Miller, the name by which he is best known, is a celebrated New York shoplifter. He generally works with his wife, Anna B. Miller. He is also a clever sneak, and occasionally turns his hand to hotel work. He was in prison in Chicago, Syracuse, and Canada, and is known in all the principal cities of America. Miller was arrested in New York City on March 23, 1880, for the larceny of three gold chains, valued at $100, from a jewelry store at 25 Maiden Lane. For this offense he pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, New York, and was sentenced to two years in State prison on April 16, 1880, under the name of William Hunter. After his conviction and sentence he asked to be allowed to visit his home, on Sixth Avenue, for the purpose of getting some clothes and giving his wife some instructions in relation to his affairs. An officer of the court was sent with him, and while the officer was speaking to Miller’s wife, Miller sprang through an open doorway, cleared a flight of stairs in a few jumps, reached the street, and escaped. He was afterwards arrested in Chicago, Ill., and returned to New York to serve his sentence. Miller was arrested again in New York City for grand larceny, and sentenced to ten years in State prison, on May 16, 1884, under the name of William Bowman. His time will expire on September 16, 1890. Miller’s picture is a very good one.

Like many professional pickpockets and shoplifters, Edward Dinkelman lived a transient existence, making it difficult to trace his origins and connections. In all of his Sing Sing records, he indicated a birth year of 1843 and birthplace as Germany. He also identified his religion as Protestant, in contrast to one Kansas City Chief of Police, who judged his looks and accent to be Jewish.

Edward Dinkleman Pickpocket Portrait
Edward Dinkelman. Illustration  by David Birkey  http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

No confirmed incidents involving Dinkelman in the U.S. predate 1880, but Byrnes indicates he had previously been jailed in Canada, and a Sing Sing entry notes that this occurred in 1874-1875. He was also said to have made a foreign tour as a thief, hitting London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna–but which year or years that trip took place is not known. As Byrnes notes, he was first arrested in New York in 1880 for stealing gold chains from a Maiden Lane jeweler; but was wanted in Boston for stealing silk from a store there several months earlier. He was sent to Sing Sing for two years, and was released in 1882, whereupon he was immediately rearrested and taken to Boston to face charges there, but the result was without serious consequences.

During the early 1880s, Dinkelman was abetted by a wife, Anna B. Miller; but sometime in the mid-1880s they stopped working together, and Dinkelman teamed up with other noted female pickpockets, such as Mag Williams and Jane “Jenny” Wildey. Dinkelman and Williams operated in Kansas City in the early part of 1883, prompting the Chief of Police to send out a warning to Nashville, Tennessee, that the pair might be headed there.

Typically, they would shoplift items by secreting them into special pockets inside their coats or skirts. They would then collect all their gleanings, put them in a trunk, and send them to their fence in a different city. Inevitably, if their lodgings were found and searched, loot would be found–which explains their frequent change of lodgings and use of a dizzying number of aliases.

By 1884, Dinkelman was back in New York, and in April was caught shoplifting goods from a cloakmaker. This earned him a second stay in Sing Sing, this time with a sentence of ten years. With time reduced, he was set free in 1890. Two years later, he was picked by New York detective. No stolen goods were found on him, but he was wearing his specially-tailored shoplifting overcoat. This was a crime in itself, similar to possessing burglar’s tools. For this, Dinkelman was sent away for five months.


In his 1895 edition, Chief Byrnes noted that Dinkelman was said to be living with and working with an infamous old female pickpocket, Mary Busby (who had separated from her pickpocket husband, Henry Busby, many years earlier). Just months after Byrnes mentioned that, Dinkelman and Mary Busby were arrested for stealing a coat; the police later found a trunkful of stolen goods in their residence. Eddie was sentenced to another four years and six months at Sing Sing.

Eddie was picked up by Philadelphia police in November, 1899, for trying to sell a stolen woman’s fur cloak on the street. His career from that point forward is not known.


#6 Thomas Leary

Thomas Lewis (Abt. 1855-19??), aka Thomas Leary, Kid Leary, George R. Briggs, Leonard Graham, Walter H. Kimball — Sneak thief, Bank robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty years old in 1886. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Dark red hair. Eyes, bluish gray. Complexion, light. Born in New Orleans. Weight, 120 pounds. Married.

RECORD. “Kid” Leary, alias George R. Briggs, was arrested in New York City on October 24, 1877, in company of Langdon W. Moore, alias Charley Adams, charged with being implicated in the robbery of the Cambridge National Bank of Cambridge, Mass., September 26, 1877, when bonds and securities amounting to $50,000 were stolen. He was not returned to Massachusetts in this case, for lack of identification, but was held in New York for the larceny of a trunk containing gold and silver jewelry. The facts were that on May 12, 1877, the firm of Ailing Brothers & Co., of Worcester, Mass., shipped a trunk containing $9,000 worth of jewelry from Worcester to Hartford, Conn., to their agent, who discovered that the checks had been changed and the trunk stolen. It was traced from Hartford to a New York hotel, and from there to Baltimore, Md., where it was found empty. Leary was identified as the party who received the trunk at the hotel and shipped it to Baltimore. A portion of the contents was found in the house where Leary was arrested, in New York City. His case was set down for trial on November 8, 1877, but was adjourned until November 20, 1877, when he was convicted and sentenced to five years in State prison for the offense. See record of No. 26.

Leary was again arrested in Baltimore, Md., on October 3, 1881, charged with robbing the South Baltimore Permanent Mutual Loan and Savings Association. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in State prison on October 21, 1881, under the name of Walter H. Kimball. Allowing him his full commutation time, he was discharged on December 21, 1885. His picture is a good one, taken some eight years ago. He has filled out more now.

Thomas Lewis was not an especially daring or successful thief. As is the case with several other profiles of Inspector Byrnes, newspaper clippings and the Sing Sing intake records reveal more about Lewis’s beginnings than the chief detective. Lewis was first arrested under a name that Byrnes only mentioned in his 1895 edition –Thomas Lewis–despite the fact that Sing Sing records indicate this was his intake name two times, in 1874 and again in 1893. Moreover, his 1874 arrest for Grand Larceny also indicated that he was from Boston (not New Orleans, at Byrnes indicates) and that his parents were Thomas and Mary Lewis of 11 Newton Street in Boston. His crime in 1874 was in stealing $1200 from a ticket agent of the LIRR.

About a year after his release from Sing Sing, in October of 1877, Lewis was arrested as “George Briggs” by New York detectives for the robbery of the Cambridge National Bank of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lewis was rounded up at his residence along with his girlfriend and notorious bank thief Langdon Moore and his wife Rebecca. However, no evidence was found, and the quartet was released.

A month later, in November, 1877, Lewis was arrested again for stealing a trunk with $10,000 worth of jewelry from a salesman by arranging for the trunk to be diverted at a railroad depot. Lewis, using the alias George R. Briggs, was identified as the man who requested the trunk to be sent to an address in Baltimore. Later, one of the bracelets in the trunk was found in possession of Lewis’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Hill. Lewis was convicted of this crime and sent to Sing Sing for a term of five years.

With time reduced,  Lewis was free by 1881. Lacking experienced companions, Lewis rashly decided to commit an armed robbery of a Baltimore bank in October, 1881. Lewis pointed a revolver at a cashier while another man went behind the counter, beat the cashier, and swept $252 into a denim bag. Lewis was nabbed coming out of the bank by a patrolman. He was sent to a Maryland prison for five years under the name Walter H. Kimball. With time reduced, he was free again in December, 1885.

In early 1890, the Pinkertons believed that Leary was roaming the country with George Bell and Rufe Minor.

Over the next years, Lewis was either a very good thief or simply inactive. He was not heard from again until 1893, when he was arrested for concealing a kit of burglar’s tools–possession of which was a felony. He was sentenced to another five years at Sing Sing under his name, Thomas Lewis. Back on the streets of New York in 1899, Lewis was arrested on suspicion on June 29, 1899–but there was no evidence that could be found against him, so he was cut loose.

A year later he was captured as “Leonard Graham,” for attempting to crack a safe belonging to H. Reinhardt, Son, and Co., New York dry goods dealers. During his trial, Lewis behaved with the fatalistic noblesse oblige of a veteran criminal. He refused to name his accomplice: “The other fellow simply helped me. I got him into it. It wouldn’t be fair to tell on him. You’ve got me dead and I’ll take the consequences.” Lewis also apologized and shook hands with his accusers from the Reinhardt office, and helpfully informed them that one of the dynamite charges in the safe had not gone off, and was likely still lodged inside. For his gentility, Lewis was allowed to enter prison under the name Thomas J. Leary as a first-time offender, which assured his release before 1903.

Perhaps seeking different luck, Lewis went west. He was arrested in Waukesha, Wisconsin in February, 1903, for his involvement in the robbery of the Eagle Bank. He gave his name as Thomas McKay; it was weeks before photographs came from New York that confirmed to authorities that they had Thomas Lewis, aka the notorious bank robber Kid Leary. However, all they could convict him on was a charge of horse-stealing, so Lewis only did a year in at the Wisconsin State Prison in Waupun. Upon walking out, Lewis migrated to Chicago, where detectives jumped him while he was sleeping in his boarding house room. He was later released with no charges.

Perhaps Lewis’s better instincts finally prevailed; he was never heard from again.

#11 John Larney

John Larney (1836?-19??), aka Mollie or Molly Matches, et al. — Pickpocket, Bank Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes. Wears a No. 7 shoe, and generally wears a full dark beard. He has two upper teeth out on right side; also a small India-ink mark between thumb and forefinger of left hand. Straight nose. Part of an anchor on one arm.

RECORD. “Mollie Matches,” or John Larney, which is his right name, although a talented thief, was always an outspoken one. He makes his home in Cleveland, O.; wears fine clothes, which is his weakness; seldom indulges in liquor, never to excess; he has an aversion to tobacco. When he settled down in Cleveland, in 1875, he said he was going to live honestly if the police would let him. For some reason or another he failed to do so. The great fault with Mollie was the freedom with which he talked of his affairs, to which failing he ultimately owed his downfall.

The act that made Larney notorious and gave him his alias was on the occasion of a large celebration in New York City, when he was a boy. He disguised himself as a match girl, and, basket in hand, mingled with the crowds in the streets. Being slight in form and having delicate features, the boy had no difficulty in carrying out the deception. His day’s work, it is said, netted him over $2,000, and the nickname of “Mollie Matches.” During the war Mollie attained great eminence as a bounty jumper. He says that he enlisted in ninety-three Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York regiments.

Being of a frugal disposition, and having an eye to comfort in his old age, he invested in property in Toronto and Silver Creek, Canada, which he still holds under the name of John Dolan. Later he bought real estate in Cleveland, O. Mollie Matches has become pretty well known all over the United States. At the age of thirty-three years he had served eleven years in various reformatories and penal institutions, and was still indebted twelve years’ time to others from which he had escaped. He still owes six years to a Massachusetts State prison where he was sentenced to for seven years. He staid there just nine months; he had the freedom of the jail-yard on account of his eyesight failing him; he finally recovered his liberty and eyesight both.

About seven years after his escape he was again sent to the same prison, which was in Salem, and served a sixteen months’ sentence without being recognized. The adventures through which this man passed are wonderful. He is believed to have realized by his tricks about $150,000, a large portion of which he has paid out lately to lawyers. Mollie was convicted at Galesburg, Ill., for robbing the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank of that city, and was sentenced to ten years in State prison at Joliet, Ill., on July 17, 1882. At a trial in Cleveland, O., on January 14, 1885, the above bank obtained a judgment of $12,000 against Mollie. An associate of his, Eddie Guerin, testified on this trial as follows:

“After I had concluded that the Galesburg Bank was an easy one to work, I sent for ‘Mollie Matches’ and two others. They agreed with me. One of them went to a neighboring town and hired a horse and wagon containing a large dry goods box. We hitched the team near the bank about noon. ‘Mollie’ watched the president and treasurer go out of the bank, and immediately entered it and went to the cashier and proceeded to buy a New York draft, with small silver, making much noise. Another man stood near by holding up a paper that screened the third man, who sneaked in and took $9,600 off the desk alongside the cashier, while Mollie was arguing with him about the draft. Mollie admitted to the cashier that he had made a mistake as to the amount of money he had with him, and gathering up what he had, said he would go for some more.”

Once outside, the ‘look-out,’ the sneak and Mollie (the ‘stall’) jumped into the wagon, and were driven by the fourth man to the railroad depot, and all escaped.

It was months afterwards that Mollie was arrested in Cincinnati, O., on December 21, 1881, and taken back to Galesburg for trial. His picture is a fair one, although a copy.

John Larney, known better as “Molly Matches,” was perhaps the most well-known American pickpocket of the nineteenth century. Chief Byrnes’ account of his career is basically correct, but four years earlier, in 1882, the Cleveland Leader published its own biographical account of Larney’s origins that is richer in detail (and likely more accurate):


John Larney/Mollie Matches. Illustration by David Birkey http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

Following the Civil War (in which he admirably enlisted–by his count–93 times in order to receive the bounties), Larney settled in Cleveland, Ohio, and bought some property under the name John Dolan. He married a Cleveland woman, Mary Sullivan, in August 1866. He opened a saloon, but most of his income came from long-distance pickpocket tours. He knew every technique of working crowds, train stations, seaside resorts, fairs, passenger steamers…anyplace people jostled together. Often, Larney directed a team that worked in conjunction with one another: one creating a distraction, one stalling the victim with a bump or misdirection, another dipping into pockets or purses, and another cruising quickly past to take the purloined property from the “dip.” But in a pinch, Larney could work alone.

Chief Byrnes points out that Larney was a versatile criminal, as witnessed by his involvement in a robbery by sneak thieves of a bank in Galesburg, Illinois in July, 1879. The gang included Jimmy “Nosy Jones” Carroll (aka “Red-Headed Jimmy”), Patrick”Paddy” Guerin, and Billy Burke (a husband of Sophie Lyons). With the spoils, Larney bought property in Canada under the name “John Dolan,” and while there also decided to acquire a second wife, Catharine Flight.

During the period around 1879-1880, there’s an anecdote about Larney that demonstrates one of his talents:


Examples of the different looks of Molly Matches can be found in Grannan’s pocket guide to criminals:

Larney was tracked down for the Galesburg robbery in 1881–which precipitated his divorce from Mary Sullivan–and in 1882 was sent to Joliet on a ten-year sentence. With time reduced, he was freed in the fall of 1888.

He returned briefly to Cleveland before embarking on a pickpocket tour of Ontario with his friend Joe Dubuque. He was arrested in Toronto, but turned loose for lack of evidence. He returned to Ohio, only to be nabbed for plying his skills in Ashtabula County in mid-1889. That slip sent Larney to the Ohio State Penitentiary from 1889 to 1892.

After this release from prison, Larney returned to Ontario; in Toronto he was arrested for fleecing an English gentleman–not by picking his pockets–but by running a con game. Escaping a serious sentence, Larney invaded Vermont and was caught picking pockets in Burlington, Vermont, in 1894. This resulted in a prison term of four years.

Upon his release in 1898, Larney went back to Canada and was arrested for picking pockets; but while detained, officials there realized that the old bigamy charge against Larney had never been resolved, so he was sent to St.-Vincent-de-Paul Penitentiary on a seven-year sentence, which with reduced time allowed him freedom by 1904.

Molly Matches was now about sixty-eight years old; ten years earlier, authorities thought that he was too old to pick pockets. Nonetheless, Larney teamed up with an even older criminal, known by the aliases “W. H. Bankhard,” “Joseph Brown,” and “W. H. Brown,” and “William Phillips.” [None of these names match notorious criminals; could it have been the infamous Chicago pickpocket, Cabbage Ryan? Or Joe Dubuque?] They also recruited some younger accomplices, and set out on a pickpockets’ tour. They were arrested together in York, Pennsylvania; but were soon released.

The old pickpockets then traveled across the country to Southern California, with the object of hitting fairs, funerals, and passengers trains going up the Pacific coast. Starting around Christmas, 1904, along with two young assistants they were responsible for a string of reported robberies on passengers on trains and at streetcar depots between San Diego and Los Angeles. They were briefly detained, but on release hit the crowds at the funeral of Jane Lathrop Stanford.

The gang passed through San Francisco on their way to Portland, where the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition was underway. Police now had matched the descriptions of the Los Angeles detainees and knew that Larney was leading the gang. Alerts appeared in papers in San Francisco, San Jose, Portland, and Tacoma. By the time the four men arrived in Tacoma, detectives were ready for them. They were arrested on suspicion, and the news was blared on page one:


Larney took the setback in stride, and appeared jaunty and healthy when posed for his picture, sporting a white goatee and a captain’s hat:


Larney, with or without his companions, left Tacoma and was back east by August, 1905. He was picked up by Philadelphia detectives who had chased him to Somers Point, near Atlantic City, New Jersey. That was his final known misadventure.

#202 Charles Williamson

Charles H. Perrin (Abt. 1844-191?), aka Charles Stevens, Charles J. Williamson, Charles P. Hall, Charles Cherwood, George A. Vincent, etc.   — Burglar, forger, swindler

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #202 Charles Williamson

Chief Inspector Byrnes named Perrin as “Charles Williamson, alias Perrine” and described him as “one of the most extraordinary criminals this country has ever produced.” “Extraordinary” may have been the right word, but should not be equated with “successful” or “skilled.” Most of Perrin’s adult life was spent behind bars, and his main talent was sheer brazenness.

Perrin was born to Solon and Jane Perrin of Fort Covington, New York, just a few miles from the St. Lawrence River on the Little Salmon River. The Perrins were respectable people in the community; by one account Solon served as a physician, and by another he acted as Sheriff. Charles was mentioned as being noted at school for his “careless and daredevil performances.” His father Solon became ill in the mid 1850s, and died when Charles was thirteen. Charles was taken in by his uncle, Henry J. Perrin, who found work for him in the printing shop of the Franklin Gazette, located in Fort Covington.

Charles, at age 18, joined the Union Army when the Civil War broke out, though little is known of his service record. At the close of the war, he returned to New York City, where he found employment as a printer foreman in the stationers/publishers shop of Scott & Porter on Fulton Street. One night in January, 1866, one of the proprietors, Mr. Porter, from the street saw someone entering the locked storefront with a key–no one was supposed to be there. Porter summoned the police, and after a search they found Perrin inside, trying to hide himself under pieces of coal in the coal bin. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years at Sing Sing State Prison.

Byrnes cites an 1869 warehouse robbery on Howard Street as one of Perrin’s crimes, committed under the alias of Stevens, but the crime occurred on January 24th a mile away at 12 Dey St., at the location of Hugh McKay, silk importers. Perrin was arrested and convicted under the name Charles Stevens, and given a sentence of 4 years six months at Sing Sing. [Note that Sing Sing’s intake registers for these months of late 1868-early 1869 do not exist, so the evidence is only found in newspaper accounts.] After his release in mid 1873–having made many criminal contacts while behind bars–Perrin moved on to the realm of forgeries–not as the “penman,” but as a self-assured front man whose job it was to gain the trust of suspicious financial bankers and trade fraudulent stock bonds.

In mid-1873, Perrin joined with a half dozen other criminal luminaries in a giant conspiracy to flood Wall Street with forged railroad company bonds. The ringleaders of this endeavor were  longtime criminals Andrew L. “Andy” Roberts and Valentine “Frank” Gleason, an engraver who was born into a family of counterfeiters. Joining the ring were Spencer “Spence” Pettis, an ambitious but weaselly forger; Walter Sheridan (#8), one of the most successful thieves and forgers of the 19th century; and Steve Raymond (#55), an English forger. Two others provided support in the form of references and introductions: shady broker Charles B. Orvis and a wealthy New York dental surgeon with many unsavory associations, Dr. Alvah Blaisdell (misspelled by Byrnes as “Blaisell”).

Perrin escaped from capture of the ring members with his share: between $80,000-$100,000. He then likely headed to England with Steve Raymond. However, he impetuously decided to come back to New York in 1875 and posed as Charles Farnham, an investment banker looking to enter a partnership with a legitimate brokerage firm. He was taken in by Rollins Brothers, bankers. While there he tried to insert forged bonds into the company’s transactions, but was discovered before much damage could be done. He was arrested and kept locked up in the Tombs, the city detention center, until his trial in October, 1876. He was hit with forty-eight indictments dating back to the 1873 railroad bond forgeries, so the sentence passed on him was stiff: ten years, plus another five. He was sent back to Sing Sing that month.

Sing Sing had a justly deserved reputation for holes in its security, which did not take long for Perrin to exploit. In 1904, a former prisoner, known only as “Number 1500,” recalled “Charley” Perrin, aka Williamson:

“Although he was a bold and merciless crook, he was an exceedingly well-educated man, and he could think harder and longer than any one else I ever met in prison. His mind must have had magnificent training from some competent person, for he could quickly acquire knowledge and retain it in its original accuracy apparently for an indefinite time. His mental equipment was peculiar in that it exhibited a remarkable power in every task to which he applied it, except in the development of a criminal project. In this line, his own chosen life, he had no more ability than an idiot. He often explained to me plans for some stupendous rascality that were so foolish as to lead me to doubt his sanity. Certainly nature never intended him for a rogue. He had, however, succeeded in one great criminal undertaking and obtained a large sum of money, the credit of which enterprise he unjustly claimed from his more capable associates…

“…It was on a warm June night of the next year [1877] that Williamson took his departure. He was employed in the bakery, then situated on the river front, and his occupation demanded his labor in the evening after the other inmates had been locked in their cells. The darkness of night had just fallen when the bakery was discovered to be on fire. In the excitement of extinguishing the flames Williamson’s flight was not for a time discovered. He had eluded the guards and run along the river front northward to the railway station. There he entered the Hudson and swam to its channel, a mile and a half away. He remained in the water until nearly midnight when he hailed the captain of a passing boat bound for New York. He impressed the master of the vessel with his sincerity in offering a liberal reward for his aid and in due time was landed in the city. The promise of substantial pay was faithfully redeemed and in a few weeks Williamson was safe in England. There he found friends who, like himself, had fled their country for their own and their country’s good and engaged with them in a scheme to rob a great London bank.”

Byrnes’ summary of Perrin’s time in England are correct; he fell in with some other American forgers, tried to pass altered checks against the Central Bank of London, Southwark branch, and was captured. Perrin was sentenced to ten years at Newgate Prison under the name Charles Cherwood. There, he demonstrated some of his “stupendous rascality” by suggesting he be employed by British authorities:



Instead, British prosecutors suggested to Perrin that his sentence could be reduced simply by informing against his accomplices in England: Dan Noble, John “Clutch” Donohue, and Joe Chapman. Perrin complied, and was released in 1883 after serving half of his sentence.

Perrin returned to the United States via Canada, came to New York briefly, and headed west, to St. Louis. There he was caught on February 28, 1884 attempting to pass an altered check at the St. Louis National Bank. He gave his name as “George A. Vincent,” but papers found on him included letters and clippings indicating that he was a seasoned forger. His identity was confirmed by New York detectives, but proceedings against him in St. Louis continued. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in the Missouri State Prison at Jefferson City.

Perrin was released from Jefferson City in August, 1892, having had two years reduced from his sentence. Waiting for him at the prison gate were officers from New York, who arrested him and took him back to Sing Sing to serve out the fifteen year sentence that he had so rudely declined to endure earlier. He was later transferred from Sing Sing to Clinton State Penitentiary in Dannemora, New York.

Perrin was finally released from Clinton on February 20, 1902. He was now 57-58 years old, and had spent 31 of his previous 36 years of adult life behind bars. However, he was still a man of surprises. From Dannemora, Perrin got on a train south to Troy, New York, where he met a woman with whom he had been corresponding through the mail while in prison. They got married that same night. Her given name was Mary Ann Smith, a former farm girl from a modest family of Cazenovia, New York–but she was not without a fascinating history of her own.

Mary Ann was born around 1862, and in her late teens migrated to New York City and took a job in a cigarette factory. According to one story, a picture was taken of the factory girls, and Mary Ann’s attractiveness created a stir. However, by another story, she followed a brother, an actor, to the city; and she worked at A. T. Stewart’s, one of the first department stores; and later as a waitress in a coffee house. She came home to Cazenovia in the summers to escape the heat of the city.

Around the winter of 1883-1884, she met Jacob H. Vanderbilt, a widower son of Captain J. H. Vanderbilt of Staten Island, and a nephew of magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the world. Later, during divorce proceedings, Jacob Jr. would claim that he met Mary Ann while she using the alias “Violet Smith,” and that she worked in a “house of ill-fame” and in alliance with a bunco steerer (a recruiter for rigged gambling operations). Upon their meeting, Jacob Jr. became enthralled with Mary Ann, and even came to visit in Cazenovia in the summers of 1884 and 1885, where he would arrange rendezvous with her. Jacob realized his family would never approve of her, but secretly married her anyway in April of 1886–they both used assumed names. Vanderbilt installed her in an apartment in Manhattan, but word soon leaked out to his father.

Jacob Sr. told him the marriage was unacceptable, that he had to get rid of her or else he would be disinherited. Jacob Jr. relented, and told Mary Ann they would have to separate, and that she would be given $1000. Mary Ann hired an attorney instead, and what had been a private matter became a very public scandal, with public sentiment on Mary Ann’s side. They eventually settled out of court, with Mary Ann getting a substantial yearly allowance. Jacob Jr. was banished by the family to Seattle, where he took over as a bank president and remarried.

Mary Ann stayed at her Manhattan apartment, occasionally running into her Vanderbilt relatives, much to their embarrassment. It was there that she entered into a correspondence with prisoner “Charles P. Hall,”  (the name Perrin now sported.) After the two met and married in Troy, they returned to Manhattan, where Perrin enjoyed a bit of the good life thanks to the gratuity of the Vanderbilts.

Mary Ann, still known to the public as “Mrs. Jacob Vanderbilt,” further tweaked her former in-laws by opening a tea room/smoking room catering to women on fashionable Fifth Avenue. In 1903, the idea of women smoking in public–especially at a high society address–was heartily criticized.


Meanwhile, the urge to pursue his own schemes overtook Perrin’s judgment (as it always had in the past). Perrin started to make regular visits to New Brunswick, New Jersey, in order to convince people there to invest in an electric water filtration plant:


While the water filtration scam was percolating, Perrin also joined a cabal of corrupt New York real estate agents and lawyers in their efforts to run fire insurance frauds. Perrin had his new wife, under the name “Emily O. Hall” buy a house in Dutchess County, New York. Two days after they (supposedly) moved in, the place burned to the ground. Hall was arrested and accused of arson, but in order to have the charges dropped, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and name his co-conspirators. Needless to say, the publicity about the arson made its way to New Brunswick, killing any last hopes Perrin had of scamming investors there.

Both Charles H. Perrin and Mary Ann Smith disappeared from the public record after 1904. It could be that Mary Ann was mortified to learn that Perrin had returned to his criminal ways; or it could be that they vanished into new, different aliases together, and surfaced somewhere unexpected with new plans, scams, and scandals–yet to be uncovered by researchers.











#68 John Love

John Edward Love (1844-1914), aka Johnny Love, Jack Love, James Long, John Lynch, James D. Wells — Burglar, Bank Robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States. Medium build. Plane-maker by trade. Married. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 140 pounds. Sandy-brown hair, gray eyes, florid complexion. Generally wears reddish-brown mustache. Has figures “33” in India ink on left leg, also letters “J. L.” on each arm.

RECORD. Love, alias James D. Wells, is a clever store and bank burglar. He has had considerable luck in escaping punishment considering his long career of crime. He is a desperate man and will shoot on the first opportunity, and is well known in most of the Eastern States as a leader of a desperate gang of burglars. He was implicated with Langdon W. Moore, alias Charley Adams (22), and George Mason, alias Gordon (24), for the robbery of the Warren Savings Bank and the Post-office in Charlestown, Mass., on December 4, 1879. Mason, on whose testimony Adams was convicted, refused to testify in any manner against Love, and he was not indicted. Mason was afterwards sentenced to three years in the House of Correction, and Moore, or Adams, received sixteen years.

Love was traveling around the country with Johnny Dobbs and his gang, and was the fifth man that escaped from an officer at Lawrence, Mass., on March 3, 1884, when the rest of them were arrested. He and others were concerned in the robbery of the post-office in Gloucester, Mass., in March, 1884, also the post-office in Concord, N.H., and several other robberies in New England. Love was formerly the partner of “Jack” Welsh, alias “John the Mick,” who killed “Jack” Irving, and who in turn was killed by Wm. O’Brien, alias “Billy Porter” (74), Irving’s partner, in a saloon on Sixth Avenue, New York City, on October 20, 1883. John Love, alias “James D. Wells;” Charles Lowery, alias ” William Harris,” alias “Hill,” of Canada; George Havill, alias “Harry Thorn,” alias “Joseph Cook (15), of Chicago, Ill. ; Frank McCrann, alias “Wm. McPhearson,” alias “Big Frank,” and Mike Blake, alias “Mike Kerwin,” alias “Barney Oats,” alias “Little Mickey,” of Pittsburg, Pa., were arrested near Elmira, N.Y., on February 14, 1885, for the robbery of the Osceola, Pa., Bank on the night of February 13, 1885. The bank vault was built of solid masonry two feet thick, but the concussion of the dynamite cartridge used was so great that the neighbors heard the explosion and notified the proprietors of the bank, who in turn notified a constable. The latter gathered a posse and pursued the burglars, who had escaped in a sleigh. They drove at such a furious rate that their team soon gave out. At that moment, a farmer came from his stable with a fresh horse and sleigh, which the robbers appropriated without ceremony and continued their flight. When within four miles of Elmira, N.Y., the gang was cornered, having been traced by their tracks in the snow. Lowery, a most desperate fellow, fired two shots at Constable Blanchard, one of them slightly wounding him in the arm. The marshal, joined by others, gave chase to the burglars across Mount Zoar, and a running fire was kept up. The pursuers were joined by other officers from Elmira, and when near that city two of the desperadoes were captured. One of them, Mike Blake, alias Kerwin, was shot through the wrist; John Love, alias Wells, Frank McCrann, alias McPhearson, and George Havill, alias Harry Thorn, alias Cook, the other members of the gang, were chased until evening, when they were captured and placed in jail at Elmira, N.Y. The robbery was small, amounting to about $1,500, of which $500 was in silver and was nearly all dropped by the burglars in their flight. Charles Lowery, alias Wm. Harris, alias Hill, is without doubt one of the most desperate criminals in America. After his arrest, he was also charged with the murder of the town marshal of Shelby, Ohio; and a $6,000 burglary at Gait, Ont.; also a $10,000 jewelry robbery in Montreal, Canada. While Lowery and another burglar named Andrews were in a bank cashier’s house at Belleville, Ont., they were surprised and captured. Lowery, a short time before that, had killed a hackman. In this case he escaped his just deserts through numerous appeals and the diplomacy of his wife, who lived in Toronto, Canada. He was convicted in the Osceola Bank case, and sentenced to ten years in State prison on April 9, 1885. Love was sentenced to nine years and eleven months, Havill to nine years and nine months, Frank McCrann to nine years and seven months, and Mike Blake to nine years and six months, in the same case and on the same day (April 9, 1885). Love’s picture resembles him very much, taken in July, 1882.

Thomas Byrne’s recitation of John Love’s record is accurate from 1879 forward, including the litany of infamous criminals whom Love accompanied on those jobs:

  • The robbery of the Post Office and the Warren Savings Bank in Charlestown, MA on December 4, 1879 with Langdon Moore (#22) and George Mason (#24).
  • The capture of the “Johnny Dobbs Gang” (Dobbs was John Kerrigan, #64) in Lawrence, Massachusetts on March 3, 1884, following a string of post office robberies in Massachusetts towns and in Concord, New Hampshire.
  • The capture of Love and four other nationally-known criminals in Elmira, New York, following the robbery of an Osceola, Pennsylvania bank on February 14, 1885. Two of the others involved were Charles Lowery and George Havill (#15). In Byrnes’s 1886 edition, Love’s portrait caption indicates that “Lowrey” was one of Love’s aliases, but that is not repeated in Byrne’s profile of Love, nor in any newspaper accounts; perhaps it was referencing the different man, Charles Lowery?

The chase of the Osceola bank robbers was even more thrilling than Byrne’s account. The February 14, 1885 edition of the Buffalo Commercial reprinted an account from Elmira:


Curiously, Byrnes omits mention of all of Love’s New York convictions:

  • in 1869 he was arrested under the name James Long for burglary, and sent to Sing Sing on a five year sentence
  • in 1875, he was arrested as John Lynch for burglary, and again sent to Sing Sing for one year
  • In 1882, he was arrested with Michael Kurtz for robbery of an Italian bank in New York, but was released for lack of evidence.

In his 1895 updated edition, Byrnes indicates that Love had reformed. Indeed, in 1892, New York’s Governor issued a restitution to Love of all his citizenship rights, setting aside his 1869 and 1875 convictions–an action that Love must have requested, indicating how much it meant to him. He spent his last two decades as a bookkeeper, living in the Bronx with his wife and two sons. Love, who came from a good family, left his sons a small fortune in a trust account, not to be available to them until they were thirty years old–Love apparently wanted to make sure his sons learned an honest trade.