#13 William Ogle

William J. Ogle (1854-1889), aka Billy Ogle, Frank Somers — Burglar, forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Born in New York. Medium build. Married. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 148 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, fair complexion. Wears sandy mustache and sometimes side whiskers.

RECORD. Billy Ogle is a good general thief. He fell in with Charles Vanderpool, alias Brockway, some years ago, and worked with him up to the Providence job in August, 1880. He does not confine himself to any particular kind of work. He is a handy burglar, good sneak, and first-class second-story man.

Ogle was arrested in Chicago with Charles Vanderpool, alias Brockway, in 1879, for forgery on the First National Bank of that city. Brockway was bailed in $10,000, in consequence of some information he gave to the authorities, and the case never was tried. Ogle was also finally discharged. He was arrested shortly after, in 1879, in Orange, N.J., for an attempt at burglary, and on a second trial he luckily escaped with six months’ imprisonment.

Ogle was again arrested in New York City and convicted for uttering a forged check for $2,490, drawn on the Phoenix Bank of New York, purported to be signed by Purss & Young, brokers, of Wall Street, New York City. He was sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Cowing, on June 14, 1880. His counsel appealed the case, and Judge Donohue, of the Supreme Court, granted him a new trial, and he was released on $2,500 bail in July, 1880. Andy Gilligan and Charles Farren, alias the “Big Duke,” were also arrested in connection with this forgery. While out on bail in this case, Ogle was again arrested in Providence, R.I., on August 16, 1880, with Charles O. Brockway and Joe Cook, alias Havill, a Chicago sneak, in an attempt to pass two checks, one on the Fourth National Bank for $1,327, and the other, of $1,264, on the old National Bank of that city. He was convicted for this offense, and sentenced to three years in State prison on October 2, 1880, under the name of Frank Somers.

His time expired in August, 1883. He was arrested again in the spring of 1884 for a “second-story job,” with John Tracy, alias Big Tracy. They robbed the residence of John W. Pangborn, on Belmont Avenue, Jersey City Heights, of diamonds and jewelry valued at $1,500. He was convicted for this offense on June 26, 1884. His counsel obtained a new trial for him in July, 1884, upon which he was tried and acquitted. Big Tracy was also discharged, and they both went West.

In the fall of 1885 Ogle was arrested in Tennessee, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary for house work. He shortly afterwards made his escape from a gang while working out on a railroad, and is now at large. Ogle’s picture is a good one, taken in 1880.

William J. Ogle was one of (allegedly) twenty-one children fathered by Dr. Ralph Ogle, an Irish veterinarian who emigrated to New York. Several of those offspring likely did not survive childhood; and those that did came from two separate mothers. Dr. Ogle became one of New York’s leading horse surgeons; and enjoyed driving and racing horses of his own. His sons grew up in the world of the horse racing “fancy,”  Tammany ward politics, corner saloons–and criminals. Thomas, the sole son from Ralph’s first marriage, grew up to be a horseman and successful veterinarian like his father. However, the boys from the second marriage were a different story.

William J.Ogle, or “Billy,” was born in 1854, and was the next oldest brother of the clan to make it to adulthood. He was the first to run afoul of the law in 1879 as Byrnes indicates, both for a burglary in New Jersey and in Chicago for passing forged checks (supplied to him by Charles O. Brockway). Though he escaped conviction in both cases, he still chose to work with Brockway, passing checks in New York and later in 1880 with George B. Havill in Providence, Rhode Island. He was imprisoned for three years in that state, and returned to New York on his release in 1883.

In 1884, Billy and John Tracy were arrested for a house burglary in Jersey City, N.J.; once again, with the best lawyers his father could afford (the ubiquitous Howe & Hummel), Billy Ogle escaped prison. Byrnes indicates that John Tracy was arrested for the New Jersey burglaries with Ogle; but other sources say it was James “Big Kentuck” Williams. At any rate, Billy and John Tracy then went out west, and were caught during a burglary in Tennessee. Both Billy Ogle and Tracy were put on a chain gang and later escaped.


Even before Billy went west, his two younger brothers, Sam and George, were steeped in trouble of their own. In late 1882, the two brothers were entrusted with $100 meant to be delivered to a Twelfth Ward alderman, but instead stopped off at their favorite watering holes and started spending freely. Another loyal Tammany man in the bar questioned their honesty, and spat beer in George’s face. In the next moment, the man had a surgical scalpel poking through his heart. “You’ve killed me,” he muttered, and fell to the floor, dead.

Witnesses first claimed that it was Sam who used the weapon (which was never found), and he was arrested, but ultimately released once the witnesses were asked to verify their stories. Focus then shifted to George, who was tipped off and fled to Montana (or Texas, according to different reports). George returned in 1885 and was arrested for the murder. At his trial, his brother Sam was called as a witness, and tried to implicate himself–but the prosecution would not permit him to do so. Instead, brother George was found guilty of murder and sentenced to Sing Sing for life. Dr. Ralph Ogle had spent $19,000 trying to get him off.

Dr. Ogle thought he had $1000 left in the bank after that. But he received a notice that his account was overdrawn, and upon investigation, bank detectives found that his account had been emptied by a checked forged by his youngest son, Ralph “Harry” Ogle. There was little his father could do–the lad was arrested and sent to Sing Sing, joining his brother George. Within weeks, son Samuel succumbed to illness, and passed away at age 29.

Billy Ogle, the fugitive from the chain gang, reappeared at his parents house sometime between Samuel’s death in 1887 and 1889. However, disease struck him, too, and he died in 1889 at age 34. Dr. Ralph Ogle worked hard to make enough money to grease the wheels and got his son George pardoned from his life sentence in 1898. In 1887, the New York Sun ran an article on Dr. Ogle’s woes. It didn’t even mention Billy Ogle:




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