George B. Hibbard (1843-1893), aka George Elwood/Ellwood, George A. Moore, Gentleman George — Masked house burglar
Throughout his criminal career, “Gentleman George” never revealed his real identity, with the intention of shielding his family’s reputation. However, while imprisoned for the final time, his wife wrote a letter to him that was intercepted by authorities and published in several New England newspapers. The details in the letter revealed “Gentleman George” to be George B. Hibbard of Detroit, Michigan. His respectable, embarrassed family hoped no one would notice these newspaper articles. He died in 1893 in a Rhode Island prison as George Ellwood. Three years later, George B. Hibbert was officially declared dead in Michigan. The family’s story was that he had been long institutionalized in an Eastern Michigan asylum, and had died there.
The truth was much darker. “Gentleman George,” after losing several appeals of his conviction–and facing more than twenty more years remaining on his Rhode Island sentence–attempted a jailbreak by overpowering a guard. He was shot dead while swinging a hammer at the prison guard’s head.
By all appearances, Hibbard was an honest family man during the 1870s and early 1880s, working as a traveling windmill salesman and living with his in-laws in Adrian, Michigan. Years later, rumors surfaced that he had led a long life of crime, and had deceived his wife all during their marriage. However, there is no evidence of any brushes with the law prior to 1885 (also, some confusion might have arisen between Hibbard and other bad characters named George Ellwood.) Sometime in 1885, he met and decided to team up with a notorious New York-based house burglar, Joe Whalen (alias Joe Wilson). Why Hibbard turned to burglary is not known, but he and Whalen proved to be an effective team.
The pair of burglars spent the summer of 1885 breaking into houses in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago. From their base in Detroit, they then decided to hit a house in Toledo, where Hibbard, empowered by his mask, made one of his trademark, chilling visits:
Hibbard and Wilson were picked up by detectives in New York on suspicion, and items from this Toledo robbery were found in their possession. It was in New York stat Hibbard first used the alias Ellwood, which stuck with him. They were escorted back to Ohio, where they were tried for the Toledo and Cleveland robberies. Hibbard received a sentence a long sentence, and entered the State Prison in 1885. More than halfway through his stretch, he broke free:
Six months later, Hibbard migrated to New England. He burglarized homes in Providence, Rhode Island; then he attempted a house robbery in Norwich, Connecticut, but was shot by the owner in his left breast and left shoulder. Hibbard fled the scene, and though seriously wounded, got on a train to Worcester, Massachusetts. He broke into a couple of houses there, but was later found collapsed in a doorway. Prosecutors agreed the strongest case against him could be made in Providence, so he was sent there to await trial.
It took over a year to convict Hibbard, after his first trial was thrown out on mishandled evidence. At his separate sentencing session, he was accorded the chance to address the court before the sentence was announced. Hibbard stood and began reading from a text said to be forty pages long. He spoke for nearly an hour, condemning the whole process that had brought him to this point: he accused the judges he had faced in Rhode Island of being incapable of fairness; he accused the officers who arrested him of stealing his money, thereby denying his access to good counsel; he stated that the prosecutors had paid witnesses to perjure themselves; he referred to the jury that convicted him as little more than $134 worth of dirt and water, and that they had decided their verdict before they heard any evidence.
Hibbard concluded his tirade with an elaborate, hearty curse:
“My curse upon you all for driving me to the very verge of hell, and may the time come, whether in heaven or hell, upon this miserable earth, when you will likewise curse and I can demonstrate to you my hatred, and how much I loathe, hate, and despise you all. Now look upon your work and see if I am fit to live. Oh, that I had the strength of a thousand Samsons, that I could crush, tear, and rend you all like mad dogs. Now do the most agreeable duty of your life and sentence the man you have hounded into a fiend and a demon. Do your dirty work accordingly.”
Perhaps someone had expected him to be polite.
After a shocked pause, Hibbard’s attorney begged the court to ignore Hibbard’s desperate speech, and be merciful. The judge rebuked Hibbard for being a coward dulled by crime, and sentenced him to twenty-five years hard labor. Six months later, Hibbard made his attempt to escape that resulted in his death.