#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.

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