#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.”




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