#194 Charles Woodward

George Williams (Abt. 1836-19??), aka “The Diamond Swallower,” Charles Woodward, Charles Woodard, Charles B. Anderson, Robert Alfred Wright, Edward Morton, etc. — Jewel thief, Pennyweight (i.e. shoplifter working in tandem with a partner), hotel thief

From Chief Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Jew, born in America. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Dark hair, turning gray ; dark eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a black mustache.

RECORD. Woodward, alias Williams, is one of the most notorious sneak thieves and shoplifters there is in America. He is known all over the United States and Canada as the “Palmer House Robber.” This thief was arrested in New York some years ago for the larceny of a diamond from a jewelry store. When detected he had the stone in his mouth, and swallowed it.

He has served terms in State prison in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Canada, and is considered a very smart thief. He was arrested in Chicago, Ill., and sentenced to one year in Joliet prison on January 31, 1879, for the larceny of a trunk containing $15,000 worth of jewelry samples from a salesman in the Palmer House. The jewelry was recovered. Another well known sneak thief was also arrested in this case, and sentenced to five years in Joliet prison on February i, 1879. Since then, it is claimed, he has reformed, and I therefore omit his name.

Woodward, alias Williams, was arrested again in Philadelphia, on April 16, 1880, in company of William Hillburn, alias Marsh Market Jake (38), and Billy Morgan (72), for the larceny of $2,200 in bank bills from a man named Henry Ruddy. The trio were tried, convicted and sentenced to eighteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary on April 26, 1880. Woodward was arrested again at Rochester, N.Y., under the name of Charles B. Anderson, alias Charles B. Henderson, and sentenced on September 18, 1883, to two years in the Monroe County (N. Y.) Penitentiary, for grand larceny in the second degree; tried again the same day, convicted, and sentenced on another complaint of grand larceny in the second degree to two years more, making four years in all, by Judge Rouley, Judge of Monroe County, N.Y. His sentence will expire, allowing him full commutation, on September 18, 1886. His picture is a fair one, taken in April, 1880.

Chief Byrnes’s profile of this criminal names him as “Charles Woodward, alias Williams,” but elsewhere in his 1886 text he refers to him as Charles Williams or George Williams, alias Woodward. Detectives for the American Bankers Association believed his real name was George W. Williams. At the very least, this is the name other criminals knew him by.

“Woodward” was not even a true alias. When arrested in Chicago in 1878 for the Palmer House robbery, he offered the name “Charles Woodard.” It was under that name (without the second w) that he was registered at Joliet Prison in February, 1879. His partner in that episode, whom Byrnes was reluctant to name, was William “Billy” Henderson, aka “Snatchem,” a veteran sneak thief. Williams testified against Henderson, resulting in a one-year sentence–while Henderson was given five years. The Joliet register also indicates that Williams described himself as a Baptist, not a Jew.  If the mistake was Byrnes’s, it had an unfortunate result: Woodward was offered as an example of a degenerate race in the anti-Semitic screed The American Jew: An Exposé of His Career, 1888.

Although Byrnes first lists Williams’ 1878 arrest for the Palmer House robbery, he was already a well-known member of the New York thieving community. Elsewhere in Byrnes’s book (but not in the main profile), George Williams is cited for his involvement in an 1876 crime that predates the Palmer House robbery: in 1876, Williams teamed with Charles Everhardt (Marsh Market Jake) and Philip Pearson to rob a safe in Montreal. Williams was arrested, but jumped bail.

Byrnes never explains how Williams obtained his nickname, “The Diamond Swallower.” That dates back to an 1875 arrest:


But, as Byrnes notes, it was the 1878 Palmer House robbery that made Williams infamous. Upon his release from Joliet, Williams immediately fell in with another gang led by Everhardt, aka Marsh Market Jake. Everhardt, Billy Morgan, Little Al Wilson, and Williams were arrested in Philadelphia in April, 1880, for the robbery of a liquor store safe. They all received a sentence of eighteen months at Eastern State Penitentiary.

In September 1883, Williams was arrested after stealing two diamond rings in Syracuse, New York and other items from jewelry stores in Rochester, New York. Although it was suspected that others were involved, Williams (under the alias Charles B. Anderson) was the only one captured and punished. He spent the next three years in the Monroe County (NY) Penitentiary.

In October 1887, Williams was caught with an accomplice shoplifting expensive silk from a St. Louis store. He was convicted and imprisoned in the Jefferson City penitentiary until October, 1889.

By 1890, Williams was hitting jewelry stores in London, England, accompanied by two young women meant to serve as distractions to the clerks: Ella Roberts, aka Frances Irving, Birdie Renand; and Dollie Reynolds, aka Alice Coady. Roberts had a string of thieving boyfriends: Mickey Moriarty, Julius Heyman, and Billy Burke; while Dollie was the consort of “Dutch” Alonzo Henn. Williams spent the next four years in an English prison under the alias Robert Alfred Wright , returning to the United States in 1894.

A year later, in 1895, he was caught in Bruges, Belgium attempting a sneak-thief robbery of a bank, along with partners Harry Russell and Hughie Burns. In April, 1896, he was sentenced to five years in a Belgian prison. Released early, Williams then teamed up with John Harkins, a thief from Pittsburgh, and attempted to rob stones from a jeweler in Leipzig, Germany.

This appears to be his last imprisonment, though American detectives writing in 1910 described him as still being alive (presumably back in America), at which point he would have been nearly 75 years old. In 1913, reformed thief Sophie Lyons wrote of him as “Charles Woodward,” though in her criminal years she surely would have known him as George Williams.






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