James R. Titterington (1855-1890), aka Titters — Burglar, Gang Leader, Butcher Cart Thief
From Byrnes’ text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty years old in 1886. Born in New York. A driver. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, sallow complexion. Has letters “J. T.” in India ink on right arm. Stutters when talking.
RECORD. “Titter,” the name he is best known by, was born in New York City. He branched out as a sneak thief, from that to a burglar, and then a highwayman. He has served time in Sing Sing prison, and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York, for larceny and burglary. He was arrested in Philadelphia on January 15, 1884, and brought to New York City in connection with Willie Farrell (109) and Eddie Goodie (no), for robbing one Luther Church of $2,300, on December 31, 1883, as Mr. Church was descending the steps of the Elevated Railroad station at 111th Street and Second Avenue, New York. Titterington and Farrell were on the stairway, and as soon as he passed down by them they followed, and Farrell hit him with a piece of lead pipe about eighteen inches long and knocked him down. Titter snatched the bundle of money and both jumped into a butcher-cart and were driven away by Goodie. Titter made a confession after his arrest, and was made the principal witness against Goodie, who was convicted. Farrell pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. Titterington also pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to seven years and six months in State prison on March 14, 1884. His picture is an excellent one, taken in December, 1876.
In addition to Byrnes’ profile, an excellent article on Titterington appeared years after his 1890 death, in the May 20, 1900 edition of the New York Sun. The writer places Titterington, William Farrell, and Edward Garing (aka Goodie) in the context of the dreadful East Side tenement neighborhood known as Mackerelville and the gang culture in which they became leaders:
Exploits of a Bold Gang: Mackerelville History Recalled By a Woman’s Death:
James Titterington, A Desperate Criminal, But Son of Worthy Parents–The Butcher Cart Robberies Committed by Him, Eddie Goodie, and Willie Farrell. Passing of a Notorious Gang Once Notorious in This City.
One doesn’t have to be a very old New Yorker to remember the exploits of the young ruffians known as the Mackerelville gang, who used to terrorize the East Side of the city in the vicinity of Thirteenth Street and Avenue B. The Mackerelville gang was one of the worst that ever infected the city. Its members were young toughs who held up and robbed people left and right, and only too often used their pistols when they were resisted. They were feared by citizens all over the city, for they did not always make their stamping-ground at the corner mentioned the scene of their operations. As the police records of this city will show, the young men of the Mackerelville gang operated wherever they saw a promising field, and so bold were they in their crimes that they came to be feared by the police as well as by ordinary citizens. There was nothing, from holding up a man at the muzzle of a pistol to actually garotting him, that the young Mackerelvilles, as they were called, would not do if they thought there was any profit in it.
The gang is now but a memory in this city, although to some people alive today, that memory is a vivid one. It has passed out of sight with all the other gangs which once infested New York, and even the old policemen on the force can recall but few of the exploits of its members or remember what became of them. The truth of the matter is that the Mackerelville gang passed away, as did all the other famous old gangs of the metropolis, because so many of its members were sent to prison for long terms or died on the gallows, that there wasn’t enough spirit left in those who escaped the clutches of the law to keep the crowd going. The passing away on the gallows of Danny Lyons for the murder of Beezy Garrity, and the fate of his notorious pal Danny Driscoll, left but a spiritless fragment of the old Whyo gang in this city. So with the Mackerville gang, the long terms in prison given to James Titterington, Eddie goodie and the others who were its leading lights, took the backbone from it, and it died a natural death.
New York had a reminder of the old Mackerelville gang last week when from a little hall bedroom on the top floor of a Second avenue tenement house, the body of an old woman was taken and removed to the Morgue, from where it was afterwards buried in the public cemetery. This old woman was Mrs. Isabella Titterington, the mother of James Titterington, the organizer and always the leader of the gang. There was another son, Joseph, and he was as big a scoundrel as his brother, but he never attained the same prominence because he was a drunkard and consequently not in the confidence of the leader of the gang, or conspicuous in any of the big crimes that made the gang famous. Mrs. Titterington was 70 years of age when she died of gradual starvation, for she is known to have been in want. Mrs. Titterington was herself a remarkable woman. She brought into the world one of the most accomplished and murderous scoundrels that ever lived, and another son who was addicted to every vice known, yet she herself was a Christian woman, and with her husband always refused to share in the fruits of her boys’ crimes. When the boys were rolling in wealth–and there was a time when James Titterington was doing that–she and her husband were actually in want, but not one bit of relief would they accept from their children.
Old man Titterington was a veteran of the Civil War and as proud and honest an old soldier as ever lived. He did all he could with the limited means at his command to give his children educations, but they were both naturally bad, and no influence in the world could have swerved them from the path in life that they chose. James Titterington’s first conviction broke his father’s heart, and although the old man lived for a while after that he finally died from nothing the the world but grief over the sines of his first born. Mrs. Titterington lived on, earning her own living and that of her other son, Joseph, who had developed into a drunkard and was unable to do anything in the shape of work. Despite her age, Mrs. Titterington went out to work every day. Last April her son Joseph went to Bellevue Hospital with delerium tremens. He developed pneumonia and died there. Mrs. Titterington sank rapidly after his death, and finally died as stated.
In forming the gang, James Titterington, then a very young man, had the able assistance of that notorious thief and bank robber, Eddie Goodie. This worthy had associated with thieves from the time he was a boy, and so great was the esteem in which he was held by crooks that at the time of the Northhampton bank robbery, he was entrusted with the delicate job of driving the wagon in which the thieves escaped with their plunder. This was in June 1876, and up to the time he joined Titterington, he had not lost any opportunities to improve himself in his chosen profession. It would take columns of the Sun to tell of the many crimes committed by the Mackerelville gang under the leadership of Titterington, who was known everywhere as “Titters,” Eddie Goodie and Willie Farrell. Many of the gang who worked under these men found their way to prison early in their career, but the three leaders operated for years successfully, and credited to them in the police records are some of the most remarkable crimes of the century. Among these, one of the most interesting was the robbery of Charles Messerschmidt, an assistant bookkeeper in the employ of Jacob Ruppert, the brewer. For boldness this crime has never been equaled in this city and the most remarkable thing about it was that all three of the men engaged made good their escape and it wasn’t for a long time afterward when other crimes had been fixed upon their shoulders that it was known that they had any part in the affair.
The three men who did the job were “Titters,” Goodie, and Farrell. It was about this time that the ever-active brain of Goodie had conceived the notion of using a wagon for escape after bold street robberies. The thing had been done many times successfully and the robbers who adopted this means of getting away were known as butcher cart thieves. The name came from the fact that in most cases of the kind, butcher carts were used. Goodie’s skill had driven the Northhampton bank thieves to safety, and no one knows how many other successes were due to his brain and his skill as a driver. It was he and “Titters” who planned the robbery of Messerschmidt and carried it out in broad daylight in one of the most frequented parts of the city.
Messerschmidt was a pale-faced young man, who wore glasses,and deservedly enjoyed the confidence of his employer, Mr. Ruppert. It was one of his duties to take the money turned in by the regular collectors to the bank, and one bright morning in July, 1881, he started out in his buggy from the brewery at Ninety-second street and Third avenue for the Germania Bank at the Bowery and Rivington street. With him in the buggy was a boy named Gustave Aengle, who went along as a sort of assistant when Messerschmidt had large sums of money to carry. Under the seat of the buggy was $9600 in bills, while in a bag under the lap robe was about $1000 in silver. Everything went along nicely until the buggy, which was going along slowly, drawn by a large grey horse, reached Forty-Eighth street. Then a wagon which had been kept about twenty yards away up to this time, but had been following along steadily just the same, began to draw closer. There was nothing strange about this wagon, and it wasn’t remarkable that it should be going along the street at that time of day. It was drawn by a big bay horse, driven by a large man who sat on a high seat. Behind him in the wagon, which was an ordinary peddler’s wagon with a regular license number, were two other men. One of these men wore a handkerchief over the lower part of his face, but he concealed this from the view of passers-by by keeping his hands up to his mouth as though suffering from a toothache. The other man was in the bottom of the wagon, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. This man was Farrell, a desperate little crook, who was always ready for any game. The man with the handkerchief was “Titters,” while the driver was Goodie. What they were after was the money which they knew Messerschmidt had under the seat of that buggy, and this is the way they went about getting it in the middle of the day with people passing to and fro, the street full of vehicles like their own and a policeman on duty a block away.
As the buggy approached Forty-seventh street the wagon drew up alongside, and the bay began to shove the grey over toward the gutter. It really looked as though Goodie had lost control of his horse, and that was what Messerschmidt thought. So he shouted advice to the driver, and at the same time tried to pull himself out of the tangle. It was useless effort, however. The bay continued to crowd the grey, until finally the wagon was right alongside the buggy. Then something that quite surprised the bookkeeper happened. Quick as a flash, the man with the handkerchief around his face jumped into the buggy. At the same time the driver of the wagon sprang out on his own horse’s back, and reaching over grabbed the grey by the bridle and threw him back on his haunches. Then he clambered back on his wagon and jumped to the buggy, where the man with the mask was playfully wiggling a big revolver under the nose of Messerschmidt and advising him to fork over in a hurry, as there was no time to spare. Messerschmidt was game, however. He not only declined to fork over, but he reached for his own gun and might have got it and done some damage, but for the fact that “Titters” hit him a blow with the butt end of the revolver and knocked him down. The boy Aengle had meanwhile been thrown out of the buggy and told to stay where he was unless he wanted to be shot dead. When “Titters” knocked his man down, Farrell sprang into the buggy, and throwing the blankets right and left succeeded in getting at the hidden money. Like a flash he gave a signal, and Goodie and “Titters” both sprang back into the wagon. “Titters” grabbed the bag of silver as he went, but it was so heavy that it fell out of his hand into the bottom of the buggy, and he didn’t stop to recover it. Goodie whipped up the big bay, and before Messerschmidt could get his wind again the wagon with the thieves was a half block away.
It didn’t take so long for all this to happen as it takes to tell it. The thieves had their work all planned and they did it so systematically that few people on the street were aware that a crime was being committed. Messerschmidt set up a great outcry as the thieves rode away, and then began to laugh as it dawned on him how utterly impossible it was for the thieves to get away in their heavy wagon so long as he had a light buggy and a good horse to pursue them with. He didn’t know what kind of men he was dealing with, though. As he grabbed up the reins, he hit his horse with the whip and the animal darted forward. The driver tried to pull him in and almost fell backward out of the buggy. The thieves, anticipating pursuit, had cut the reins and the horse was now running away. Messerschmidt was still game, however, and jumping from the buggy ran after the fast-disappearing wagon. As he approached it, three shots were fired in rapid succession by one of the thieves. It was impossible to tell which man fired the shots, as Farrell and “Titters” were lying in the bottom of the wagon. It was one of these men, however, who fired these shots. Messerschmidt dropped to the sidewalk to avoid any more shots, and as he did so, Goodie drove the wagon around a corner and disappeared. That was the last seen of the thieves by the bookkeeper. When re renewed the chase, the wagon was lost in a crowd of vehicles and, as he was near-sighted and had lost his glasses in the scuffle, he was unable to pick it out.
The bold robbery created a tremendous sensation in the city and for weeks the police made every effort to find the men who had done the job. Messerschmidt remembered the license number on the wagon, but when the wagon entitled to this number was found, it was not the vehicle that had been used by the thieves. And so the three men escaped with their plunder, although for weeks police and amateur detectives, spurred on by the promises of rewards, ransacked every corner of the city in an effort to get some clue to the men who had done this bold job.
Another big piece of work done by these three leaders of the Mackerelville gang was the assault and robbery of Luther Church on Dec. 31, 1883. This was an almost equally bold crime, and in many ways resembled the robbery of Messerschmidt. Mr. Church was the superintendent for George Dwight and Company, soda water manufacturers, at First avenue and 112th street. He had been downtown on the day mentioned to get money to pay off the hands at the soda water works and at about noon got off an elevated train at Second avenue and 111th street. He had in his pocket $2,300 dollars in cash. As he went down the stairs he passed a man in a jumper who was sweeping the stairs. He thought it was the porter and spoke pleasantly to him as he passed and the man grumbled something back at him. As soon as Mr. Luther’s back was turned the man in the jumper dropped his broom, and hauling a piece of lead pipe out of his pocket, crept up behind Mr. Luther and struck him a heavy blow on the back of the head with it. At the same time another man at the foot of the stairs ran up, and he and the man in the jumper worked over the unconscious Luther until they found where he had his money. As soon as they got the cash they ran down the street and jumped into the butcher’s cart that was standing near the curb about ten yards away. The driver of this cart whipped up his horse, and before anybody who witnessed the affair thought to stop them the thieves were out of sight. The driver was Goodie, the man who used the lead pipe on Mr. Church was “Titters,” and the other man was Farrell.
Unfortunately for the time thieves they had played their game once too often. They had been under suspicion for several similar crimes, and two women, who witnessed the assault of Mr. Luther, gave such accurate descriptions of the thieves that there was no doubt in the minds of the police as to who the guilty men were. Orders were issued at once to arrest them on sight. The three got the tip in time and fled from the city. In less than three weeks, however, all three were in the toils. Goodie ventured back to the city thinking that the affair had blown over, and was arrested by a Central office detective; and on Jan. 15, 1884 “titters” and Farrell were arrested in Philadelphia. “Titters” lost his nerve when he was arraigned for trial, and agreed to turn State’s evidence. His offer was accepted and on his testimony Goodie was sent to Sing Sing for twenty years. Farrell was sent to the same institution for fifteen years, and he himself got seven years and six months, This practically broke up the Mackerelville gang. For about a year the other members continued to hold up citizens who ventured in their neighborhood, but there was an end to the big bold robberies after the three leaders were sent away. What has become of Goodie and Farrell is not generally known, but “Titters” died shortly after being released from prison.
Several points in both the Byrnes and the Sun article require correction. Titterington’s father, Richard, never lived to be disappointed in any of his children–he was killed at Gettysburg serving in Company G of New York’s 82nd Infantry. James had been born on the 24th of February, 1855 in Burlington, New Jersey. He had a younger brother, Joseph, and a younger sister, Anna. Another son, the oldest, Richard, born in 1852, died as a child; there are also references to a son, John–but this might have been the same person as Richard. Both James and his brother Joseph had heavy stutters.
Mackerelville was a tenement section of the East Side of old New York which matched the infamous Five Points in crowding, poverty, crime, and lack of sanitation.
James R. Titterington was first sent to Sing Sing in 1875 at age twenty for attempted burglary. After he came out, he discovered his little sister, Annie, at age 16 had left home to go live in a boarding house. Annie complained that her mother was abusive, but the mother–Isabelle–and son James were convinced that she was hanging out with bad characters in saloons. James broke down the door of her boarding room and told her she had to go home, but Annie refused. James drew a knife on her and threatened her, but other residents called the police. He was arrested and sent to the City prison, and Annie was sent to the Magdalene Asylum, a workhouse for “fallen women.” All records of her from that point vanish.
“Titters” was back in Sing Sing in 1879 for attempted burglary. He enjoyed a couple of years of freedom from 1881-1884, during which time he committed the Messerschmidt robbery and then the assault on Luther Church. Accounts differ on whether Willie Farrell or Titterington used the lead pipe on Church’s head.
Titterington, after testifying against his partners, was released from Sing Sing in 1889. He went to Philadelphia, where he was arrested for stealing an overcoat. He was sent to the county jail, where he died in April, 1890. Ten years later, his alcoholic brother died, followed shortly by mother Isabelle Titterington, a woman who had endured an enormous amount of pain in her life.