#114 George N. Elwood

George B. Hibbard (1843-1893), aka George Elwood/Ellwood, George A. Moore, Gentleman George — Masked house burglar

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Chicago, Ill. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Hair dyed black, eyes dark- blue, complexion sallow. Has small scar on back of head, left side.

RECORD. Elwood/Wilson is a daring and murderous Western thief. Nothing much is known of him in the Eastern country. He was arrested in New York City on August 24, 1885, in company of Joe Wilson, alias Whalen (65), charged with a series of masked burglaries in several of the Western States. When Elwood’s and Wilson’s rooms, at No. 220 Forsyth Street, New York City, were searched, after the capture of the cracksmen, among the articles seized was a Masonic ring, marked “Edison W. Baumgarten, June 25, 1884.” The ring was traced to Ohio, and on August 25, 1885, in response to some inquiries made by telegraph, the Chief of Police of New York City received the following reply from the Chief of Police of Toledo: “Hold Elwood and Wilson. Charge, grand larceny and burglary and shooting officer with intent to kill. Will send requisition papers immediately.” Subsequent correspondence on the same subject stated that the men were also wanted for a robbery which they had committed at Detroit.

The crime for which the Toledo authorities requested the detention of the prisoners was committed on August 13, 1885. On that night, it was alleged, they broke into a house, and being discovered in the act of plundering the place, fired several shots at the servants. An alarm was raised, and a policeman who started in pursuit of the fugitives was shot in the breast and dangerously wounded. The men then came on to New York. They had been there only a few days before they were under surveillance, and while they were being watched the detectives became aware of the plans they were hatching for a series of burglaries which they contemplated committing in Saratoga. When they were about to start on that trip the detectives arrested them. All through the West, Elwood is known as a daring and desperate burglar, and it is said that some two years ago he murdered two of his associates. Elwood and Wilson were on August 25 arraigned at the Jefferson Market Court in New York City, and at the request of their captors they were committed until the arrival of the Toledo authorities with the requisition papers. They were both delivered to the police authorities of Toledo, Ohio, on August 29, 1885, and taken there for trial. Elwood and Wilson were the parties who robbed the residences of Messrs. Oakes and Merriam in St. Paul, Minn., in August, 1885. Merriam’s diamond scarf-pin was found in their possession, and a pawn ticket taken at Detroit for his diamond collar-button was also found upon them. A requisition was taken out at St. Paul to intercept the prisoners at Toledo, where they were being taken for the robbery of Mr. Baumgarten’s residence and the murder of a policeman. The intention was to take them to St. Paul in case they could not be held for the Toledo crimes. The trial of George A. Elwood, one of the notorious burglars, closed at Toledo, Ohio, on December 12, 1885, with a verdict of guilty. The defense offered no evidence, but argued that Elwood had not been sufficiently identified. A motion for a new trial was made, which was overruled. Elwood said he believed he would get the full extent of the law.

He and his partner, Joseph Wilson, are the original gentlemanly burglars who emptied the houses and filled the newspapers of Cleveland, Detroit, St. Paul, Milwaukee and St. Louis, until their doings in Toledo led to their apprehension in New York. These men are well known thieves, and considerable excitement was caused among the fraternity at the time they were arrested and were about to be taken back to the West. Their methods employed to transfer the possessions of others to their pockets were so peculiarly bold that the whole West was startled by their exploits. Detroit in particular suffered from them, mainly because the police were nonplused by the audacity of their performances. They invariably awakened the parties they intended to rob, and compelled them to comply with their wishes at the points of their revolvers. Oftentimes they would repair to the dining-room with the owner of the premises and indulge in a feast before their departure. Besides doing this, at a residence in Cleveland, they compelled the victim to sign a check for $100 and made him promise not to dishonor it. While leaving a Detroit residence early one morning they met the gentleman of the house returning from out of the city, and not at all taken aback by the encounter, they robbed him on the porch, and then sent him into the house to see what they had left. These eccentricities caused their fame to spread far and wide, and the “gentlemanly burglar” was patterned after in many localities. But there were few equals, and none superior. For coolness and daring Elwood and Wilson stood in the front rank of masked burglars. Elwood was found guilty on December 19, 1885, and was sentenced to ten years in the Ohio penitentiary. In the case of Wilson there was a disagreement of the jury. A second trial resulted in his conviction. (See record of No. 65.)

Before Wilson associated with the desperado Elwood he operated for months alone in Brooklyn, N.Y. House robbery was his line of business, and silverware his plunder. He committed a series of mysterious robberies, and although an active search was made for the “silver king,” he succeeded in avoiding arrest. His repeated successes stimulated other thieves, who began operating in Brooklyn. One of the latter was caught, and it was then believed that the cunning “silver king” had been at last trapped. Such was not the case, for Wilson had set out for the Western country. Elwood’s picture was taken in August, 1885.

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. Hibbard 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. One specific allegation said that he was not a salesman, but a “bunco steerer,” a con-man; and that he had joined a gang led by James Fitzgerald in Denver. However, there is no record 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 1883, he met and decided to team up with 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:

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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 that 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:

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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.”

Given his nickname, 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.

 

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