#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.

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