Joseph Ottenburg (#69)

Joseph Ottenburg (Abt. 1858-19??), aka Joseph Newman, Joseph Clark, Joseph Stearn, etc. — House burglar

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York City. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 125 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a light-brown mustache.

RECORD. Joe Otterburg is a very clever house sneak, that being his principal business. He will stand watching when you go to arrest him, as he generally uses a pistol. He is an associate of Hoggie Real (67), and is well known in several Eastern States. He was arrested in New York City and sentenced to four years in State prison on October 6, 1870, under the name of James Oats, by Recorder Hackett, for a sneak robbery. Otterburg was convicted for having burglars’ tools in his possession at White Plains, N. Y., on September 19, 1875, and was discharged from the penitentiary at Albany on July 15, 1877, after serving two years there, under the name of Joseph Osborne.

He was arraigned for trial in the Kings County Court of Brooklyn, N. Y., on May II, 1878, for robbing the residence of Mrs. Adolphus Nathan, of No. 117 Adelphi Street, that city, on January 25, 1875, of $450 worth of property. In this case he was tried and acquitted on May 31, 1878. Christopher Spencer, who was in this robbery with Otterburg, was afterwards sentenced to the Albany (N. Y.) Penitentiary for five years for breaking jail and assaulting his keeper at White Plains jail, Westchester County, N. Y. Otterburg was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in State prison by Judge Gildersleeve, on April 24, 1883, for robbing a house in Harlem in company of Joseph Real (67). His time expired on April 23, 1886. His picture is a good one, notwithstanding his eyes are closed, taken in April, 1883.

Chief Byrnes begins his profile of Joseph Ottenburg by misspelling his name (although it was variously spelled Ottenburgh, Ottenberg…but never “Otter–“) and by mistakenly confusing him with a different prisoner, James Oates, arrested in 1870. In 1870, Joseph Ottenburg was still a boy of 11 or so, living in the Boys Reformatory in New York City. His parentage is unknown, but he did have a sister and an aunt living in New York City.

Byrnes is correct about Ottenburg’s 1875 conviction, and his May 1878 acquittal. However, a few months later in October 1878, Ottenburg was caught burgling and was sentenced to two years in Sing Sing–an episode missing in Byrnes’ account. After a couple of years of freedom, he was arrested again in 1883 and returned to Sing Sing under the name Joseph Stern.


Upon release from Sing Sing in 1886, Ottenburg changed scenery and moved to Chicago, where he met and wed an Irish girl, Bridget Higgins Fitzgerald. Their first child, a daughter, Mabel Ottenburg, was born in Chicago in 1887. However, the next year, 1888, Joseph Ottenberg was caught in Chicago with burglar’s tools and swag in his rooms, along with crucibles for melting down silver and gold (the safer way to dispose of metal wares if they are not to be sent to a fence far away). This evidence sent Ottenburg to Joliet prison for several years.

He returned to Chicago after his release from Joliet and sired a son, Herbert, in 1894; and a daughter, Ruth, in August of 1897. He had no known brushes with the law after Joliet; but can not be said to have gained much righteousness: he abandoned his family and moved back to New York City, enlisting in a volunteer militia during the Spanish-American War. He was 42 years old at that point, and was assigned duties as a nurse in Army hospitals. He became sick himself and was invalided out after the War ceased.

Daughter Mabel, at 13, was likely old enough to become a servant; but Bridget was forced to place Herbert and Ruth in an orphanage, the Chicago Home for the Friendless.

Ottenburg’s three children all survived their traumatic childhood, and grew into adulthood. Mabel and Ruth both married, and Herbert lived with his sister Mabel and her family. However, all trace of their father is lost after 1899.

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