John H. Hope (1856-1930), aka John Watson, John Warren — Pardoned for bank robbery
Johnny Hope, the son of Jimmy “Old Man” Hope, was not a professional criminal, and may have been framed through the efforts of Chief Byrnes in order to exert pressure on his father. In early 1877, at age 21, John–who was raised with his family in Philadelphia under the name Watson–was arrested under that name for stealing a watch. He was sentenced lightly as a first offender. The arrest likely upset his father, who wanted his two sons to attend college.
In October 1878, Jimmy “Old Man” Hope led one of the most spectacular back robberies in 19th century: the robbery of $3,000,000 in cash and bonds from the Manhattan Savings Bank. Old Man Hope was, at that time, a fugitive from New York State, having escaped from Auburn prison in 1873. Chief Byrnes not only suspected that Hope was the mastermind of the Manhattan Savings Bank job, but also of a bank robbery in Dexter, Maine, that resulted in the death of a cashier. [It was later shown that James Hope was not directly involved in the Dexter job, although he may have helped plan it.]
For several months following the Manhattan robbery, the only leads that Chief Byrnes had led to the bank employees who provided assistance to the principal thieves. Those professional thieves were: Jimmy Hope, Eddie Garing, Johnnie Dobbs, Banjo Pete Emerson, Sam Perris, and Abe Coakley. The robbery had been planned by George Leslie, prior to his murder. However, although Byrnes learned the identity of the principals, he had little evidence against them–and he did not know where Jimmy Hope was hiding.
Byrnes was able to obtain the testimony from several witnesses that a man resembling John Hope had been situated on the street outside as a lookout while the Manhattan Savings Bank was being robbed. Having failed to locate and convict the principals, Byrnes arrested John Hope. John’s series of legal proceedings lasted two years, from 1879 to 1881, concluding with his conviction and sentencing to a twenty year sentence in Sing Sing. Whether John was involved as a lookout or not, the harsh sentence was clearly meant to flush out his father Jimmy, and to encourage the return of the stolen bonds.
Philadelphia columnist Louis Megargee, who was on familiar terms either with Old Man Hope’s longtime lawyer or with Hope himself, explained the animosity that existed between the father, Jimmy “Old Man” Hope, and Chief Byrnes in one of his classic columns:
From Knoxville, Tenn., comes a newspaper clipping that tells of the death of Patrick Dolan, who is handed down to typographical history as having arrested Jimmy Hope for the robbery in October, 1878, of more than one million dollars in cash and negotiable securities from the Manhattan Savings Institution, in New York City; a felony for which his son, John Hope, served nine years in prison, though not being concerned in it, in order to serve the personal purpose of a crook Superintendent of Police known as Thomas J. Byrnes; a crime for which he was pardoned by Governor Hill; a crime the usufruct of which has not been disclosed until this day.
Newspapers have referred to Johnny Hope as having been released after conviction for the Manhattan Institution robbery from the New York State Penitentiary through “commutation for good behavior.” This is absolutely untrue. He was sent to prison by a man who knew that he was innocent, and he was released from that incarceration by the admission to the Governor of New York by that man that he was satisfied of the boy’s innocence of the crime for which he had suffered a felon’s doom. The man who did this deed was Thomas Brynes. The man to whom he made the admission was David B. Hill, then Governor of the Empire Commonwealth.
Young Hope was pardoned—there was no commutation for good behavior—there was an absolute disavowal on the part of the Commonwealth that he had been guilty of crime. These are stern, unrelenting facts. Young Hope is a Philadelphia boy. His father was one of the most accomplished criminals in the history of the world—he is now out of that line of business, but young Hope never committed a crime.
Now let us go back to the robbery of the Manhattan Savings Institution. James Hope, the father of John, was the head of that combination of clever cracksmen who succeeded by a quiet midnight raid in becoming the possessors of valuables amounting to $2,740,700. Thomas Byrnes, then a captain of police, did much to discover the identity of the robbers, and for that work and on his confidently-made promises of the recovery of the stolen property, he was subsequently elevated to the position of Inspector of Police.
But he could not at that time find Jimmy Hope, and never to this day has he or any one else discovered the whereabouts of the missing fortune. With the hope, however, of making good the promise of his ability, Byrnes arrested John Hope, knowing, as he has since publicly admitted, that he was innocent of the crime, but in the expectation that the imprisonment of the boy would bring from the father an admission of guilt and a revelation as to the hiding place of the valuables. Byrnes at that time was all-powerful, even in the courts of law, and John Hope was sentenced to an imprisonment in the Sing Sing Penitentiary for twenty years. He was released about sixteen years ago, after having been in durance vile for nine years and eight months. But how did he escape from his penal condition?
Here again are facts: His father had been in prison in San Quentin, which is a penal establishment in California. After legal release from there, he was coming East. He voluntarily threw himself into the arms of two of Byrnes’ detectives, who did not know him, and went into voluntary imprisonment in the city of New York to answer for the Manhattan Savings Institution robbery. There was an attempt to subject him to what was then known as “Byrnes’ Fifth Degree,” a sort of mental thumb screw. But Hope, the burglar, was a bigger man than Byrnes, the detective, and the former said to the latter—and the writer knows what he is talking about—”Whether or not I know where the missing securities of the Manhattan Bank are is a matter we will not now discuss. You know my boy John is innocent. Put him upon the street a free man and withdraw your calumny against other members of my family, and I may talk to you. Until that is done it is idle to converse with me. You have no threat which can change my purpose, for remember that prisons have no longer any terrors for me.”
What was the result? Byrnes went before Governor Hill and openly stated that a mistake had been made in the conviction of the boy who had been immured in a felon’s cell for nearly ten years, and upon that representation the young man, whom it was admitted had been guilty of no offense against the law, was released; free, clean, innocent; not escaping through any commutation.
You may naturally ask why James Hope should have voluntarily thrown himself in the way of the New York detectives if he was guilty of the Manhattan Institution robbery. Of course, it was not done unthinkingly. Hope is a man of rare ability, and he knew exactly what he was doing. Inspector Byrnes had never laid eyes upon this remarkable criminal until after his voluntary surrender.
There is a remarkable incident connected with this statement which the narrator had from the lips of the late Charles W. Brooke, who was the elder Hope’s attorney from the time he saved him from an undeserved hanging in front of the Union Army, near Alexandria, in 1863, until the day of the famous lawyer’s death. During the excitement following the robbery of the bank, Byrnes, then a captain of police, in public interviews spoke freely of his knowledge of Hope, who, he said, could not escape him, and told the most marvelous but cruel tales about the members of his family.
During the excitement following the great robbery and when scores of detectives surrounded the offices of Mr. Brooke, who was known as Hope’s attorney, that famous robber, disguised as a laborer, walked coolly between them and into his lawyer’s office. He left there with his counsellor in the dusk of the evening and openly walked up Broadway. At the corner of Canal street he saw Captain Byrnes on the other side of the street, and saying to his companion, “That fellow says he knows me; let us see if he does,” walked across Broadway.
Byrnes was smoking. Hope drew a cigar from his pocket and stepping up to the chief of his pursuers, said, as he looked him in the eyes, “Will you be kind enough to give me a light?” The captain of police filliped the ashes from his weed and extended it to the burglar. Hope slowly lighted his cigar, thanked the police official and recrossed the street to the side of Mr. Brooke, who was trembling with apprehension. As they continued their walk up Broadway, the robber said to the lawyer, “That fellow says he knows me. You have seen how true that is. But I can tell you one thing; he was never nearer death in his life than he was a moment ago. I have never carried a weapon when engaged in a robbery, but I have one with me now, and if Byrnes had recognized me, I would have shot him dead as a fit reward for the lies he has told about the members of my family, who, no matter what I may be, are all honest people, and Byrnes knows it.”
But why did he surrender himself returning from California? Well, he knew that on account of the death of some witnesses, and on account of the absolute lack of knowledge on the part of the police regarding the real inside history of the great bank crime, he could not be convicted for that offense, and he was really desirous of settling some unpaid scores of imprisonment in New York State in order that he might quietly settle down and enjoy his declining years with his family. The officers, however, to whom he surrendered were on their way to California with a writ of extradition from New York State.
When placed on trial, however, the prisoner was discharged. He was immediately rearrested on an extradition from the State of Delaware, where he had broken jail. By this act bad faith had been practiced. Delaware did not want him back in New Castle Jail. When there, he was always a white elephant on the hands of the prison authorities. It is a well known fact that economical Delaware prefers that prisoners should escape if they will only remain without her boundaries; she thus avoids the cost of their support and the expense of repairing broken walls and locks. Then why did she send for Hope? Ah, there is where Mr. Byrnes’ fine Italian hand appeared. He had pledged himself to the return of the Manhattan securities, and he believed, whether lightly or not, Hope to be the only man who knew their whereabouts.
When the burglar was brought for the first time in his presence, he attempted to frighten his prisoner. Hope laughed at him, and bluntly told him that he was dealing with a smarter man than himself. The conversation lasted two hours, and Byrnes at its conclusion frankly admitted that he had met the greatest criminal of the age, and one possessing a character which he did not suppose existed in fiction or reality. After that, the screws were twisted. Hope was started back towards Delaware, simply in the expectation that he would throw up his hands in despair and tell where the missing securities could be found. But he did no such thing.
Counsellor Brooke, however, had a writ of habeas corpus promptly issued, and he made a novel legal plea before Governor Hill, completely upsetting the Delaware programme, and as a result it was legally determined that Hope should be given time to return to California, whence he was summoned on extradition. He was given forty-eight hours to leave the jurisdiction of New York City, and promptly went to Canada.
This was a dreadful blow to the ambition of Thomas Byrnes. Hope subsequently returned to the Metropolis, and was judicially freed from all responsibility for the Manhattan robbery. He is still living in retirement in that city, and his son is prosperously engaged there in business. The vast fortune craftily purloined nearly twenty-seven years ago from the Manhattan Savings Institution has never been returned.
After John Hope was pardoned, he resumed his livelihood as a liquor dealer in New York City. He had no further run-ins with the law, with the exception of being cited for failure to display an excise certificate properly. He was with his father when Old Man Hope died in 1905. Several reports (currently cited by Wikipedia) suggested that Johnny died a year after his father, but in fact, John Hope lived until 1930.