R. S. Ballard (#35)

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

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 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 fond 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 paitring ended three years later in public fashion:


Annie lived the rest of her life (died 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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