#35 Robert S. Ballard

R. S. Ballard (Abt. 1835-1895?), aka Robert S. Bullard, William C. Russell, Henry C. Maltby, etc. — check forger, bigamist

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Physician. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 137 pounds. Dark hair mixed with gray, blue eyes, dark complexion. Has a wart on left side of his nose.

RECORD. Ballard, alias Harvey C. Bullard, alias W. C. Russell, alias Henry C. Maltby, was arrested in New York City on March 31, 1883, for swindling Ferdinand P. Earle, of Earle’s Hotel, out of $150 by means of a worthless check. He was also charged with bigamy and swindling. He was at one time a practicing physician, and connected with one of the New York hospitals. He was also wanted at the time of his arrest for swindling by the use of bogus checks and other devices, in New York City, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Providence, R.I., Baltimore, Md., Atlantic City, N.J., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa.

In 1881 he married a Miss Amelia Black, at Poughkeepsie, and deserted her a few days afterward. In November, 1882, he married Miss Annie Van Houten in Baltimore, and brought her to New York, where he deserted her at Earle’s Hotel, after swindling the proprietor. At the time of his arrest, in his valise was found hundreds of bogus checks and drafts, signed R. S. Ballard, Riggs & Co., R. S. Riggs, W. C. Riggs & Co., for sums ranging from $500 to $6,000, all bearing recent dates; and also a large number of check and bank books. One of the latter showed an alleged deposit of $15,900 in the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York. Another exhibited a credit of $10,600 on a Tarrytown, N.Y., bank, and the third represented a deposit of $14,594 in the Western International Bank of Baltimore, Md. He had checks of banks in nearly every prominent city in America. The Bankers’ and Brokers’ Association offered a reward of $1,000 for his arrest under the name of W. C. Russell. Ballard pleaded guilty on May 2, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City, and was sentenced to five years in State prison by Recorder Smyth. His sentence expires, allowing him full commutation, on December 1, 1886. His picture is an excellent one, taken in 1883.

There are many men and women in Chief Byrnes’ book that defy research and remain ciphers, but few are more mysterious and erratic than R. S. Ballard (the earliest name under which he can be traced). Byrnes arrested him and sent him to Sing Sing for three years in 1883; and probably gave him the “third degree,” but no details he offered about his early life can be verified, except that he was born around 1835 in Ireland (he was said to have a strong north Irish accent). Byrnes states that he was at one time a practicing physician connected with a New York hospital, but this seems doubtful–see clipping below.

The earliest trace of Ballard is from the 1880 census, where “R. S. Ballard” (already 45 years old, born in Ireland) was working near Morristown, New Jersey as an attendant at the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum. An 1883 article from the New York Times has Ballard giving his true name as William C. Russell:


However, this version omits his tenure as an asylum attendant in New Jersey, and contains no facts that have been verified, other than that 1881 marked the year he turned to crime.


In mid-1881, Ballard moved from Morristown, New Jersey, to Newburgh, New York, and took up residence in a boarding house run by a Mrs. Brock. He paid his rent on time, but did not appear to be employed. Letters found in his room indicate that he applied for a job at the Hudson River State Hospital (asylum) in Poughkeepsie. He paid great attention to Mrs. Brock’s 28-year-old daughter, Amelia Brock, and proposed to her. She accepted, and they made plans to buy a larger boarding house. To fund this purchase, Ballard started to float forged checks; and when the realization came that they would be verified, he disappeared.

Over the next couple of months he popped up sporting forged checks in Hartford, Boston, and Providence. By early December he was in Baltimore, where he was introduced to bankers by an acquaintance and was allowed to float a couple of $100 checks, which were declared fraudulent a few days later. On a train from Baltimore, Ballard met a young traveling saleswoman from New York, Annie Marie Wall Van Houten. She had been abandoned by her husband about two years earlier. The two immediately connected, promptly decided to get married, and lodged together at the Earle Hotel in Manhattan. While enjoying their honeymoon, Ballard deposited forged checks into two banks, and then withdrew some of those funds and disappeared. Annie Marie also tried to access those funds and was detained by police.

A few months later, Chief Byrnes and his detectives caught up with Ballard, and he was sent to Sing Sing. He served three years and was released in 1886, drifted to Philadelphia, floated more bad checks, and was sent to jail again.

The more interesting story, it appears, is that of Annie Marie Wall Van Houten. Deserted by two husbands (and, perhaps, no less a bigamist than Ballard was), Annie eventually found employment as a detective for Wilkinson’s Detective Agency in New York, managed by a former NYPD and Pinkerton detective. In 1897 she married the boss, but the pairing ended three years later in public fashion:


Annie lived the rest of her life (she died in 1938) without any further husbands, perhaps tiring of the institution of marriage. Who would not want to sit and trade a few stories with Annie?


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