#21 John Clare

John G. Clare (1845-1896), aka John Gilmore, George Price, George J. Bedford — Thief, Murderer (Acquitted)

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Photographer by trade. Single. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Black hair, dark hazel eyes, dark complexion. Wears black side whiskers and mustache. Has a slight scar on left arm near elbow.

RECORD. Clare is a clever and desperate bank burglar, and was at one time an associate or Ike Marsh’s and his brother, and was with them in several bank robberies. He is credited with being able to make a good set of tools. He was arrested in Baltimore, Md., on November 4, 1865, charged with the murder of Henry B. Grove on October 17, 1865. On January 29, 1866, his trial commenced in Baltimore City, but was changed upon application of his counsel to Townstown, Baltimore County, on January 30, 1866. His trial occupied from December 13 to 20, 1866, when the jury rendered a verdict of murder in the first degree. A motion for a new trial was denied, and on January 14, 1867, he was sentenced to be hanged. The Court of Appeals granted him a new trial, and he was tried again on March 29, 1870, and acquitted.

On June 27, 1874, an attempt was made to rob the safe of the New York County Bank, corner Fourteenth Street and Eighth Avenue, New York City. Clare, under the name of Gilmore, hired a basement next door to the bank, and had a steam engine at work boring out the back of the safe, which they reached by removing the brick walls of both houses. At the time of the raid by the police, William Morgan, alias Bunker, James Simpson, and Charles Sanborn were arrested, convicted, and sent to State prison. Clare, or Gilmore, made his escape, but was captured on March 27, 1876, twenty-one months afterward, in New York City, tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years and six months in State prison by Judge Sutherland, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. Clare’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1876.

There is no shortage of interesting aspects to the career of John G. Clare. As Byrnes indicates, Clare was arrested and tried for murder when he was barely twenty years old. Reading through accounts of his arrest and first trial (in which he was convicted), it is hard to see how he ever could have been acquitted: he had worked for the victim, a photographer; he had access to the key to the storefront; a bloody footprint matching his shoe was found at the scene; a pawnshop owner identified Clare as the man who had pawned the dead man’s watch; a gun was found under Clare’s bed with one recently-fired chamber, matching the caliber of the bullet found in the victim’s head. Moreover, Clare was caught in lies about both the gun, the watch, and the time and reason he left Baltimore immediately after the killing.


Fortunately for Clare, his family (parents Thomas Isaac Clare and Elizabeth Jane Brown) secured an exceptional team of Baltimore lawyers to mount his defense: R. J. Gittings, Orville Horwitz, Archibald Sterling, Jr., and the lead attorney: Milton Whitney. First they had the venue changed to Baltimore County. After Clare was found guilty and sentenced to hang, they appealed the validity of the indictment–and won that appeal, nullifying the first trial. This process took over three years. Clare was indicted and tried a second time, but by then, several of the critical witnesses were no longer around, and the testimony they had provided earlier was now inadmissible. Clare’s family offered an alibi (of sorts), all saying they had seen Clare at home before they went to church and after they returned, seemingly not leaving enough time for him to have committed the crime. With a less capable defense team (or better prosecutors), John Clare surely would have hanged. He was acquitted on March 29, 1870–having spent nearly five years in prison.

Clare kept a low profile for four years, establishing residence in New York under the name J. J. Gilmore. In the spring of 1874, he purchased a run-down restaurant/saloon next door to the New York County Bank. Clare’s three accomplices were caught using a steam-powered drill to break through the building walls and attack the bank’s vault. Clare escaped, but was captured nearly two years later and sent to Sing Sing. Was the restaurant nothing more than a sham front? A week before the bank burglars were caught, Clare advertised for a cook:


Following his release from Sing Sing, Clare teamed up with another burglar, “Jack Reynolds,” for a thieving-tour through the upper Midwest. In Marshalltown, Iowa, they were confronted by Sheriff George McCord. Clare meekly surrendered, which distracted McCord, and allowed Reynolds time to draw a gun and shoot McCord. Both thieves fled, splitting up, but were soon captured. The Sheriff survived his wounds, but both Reynolds and Clare (under the name George Bedford) were sentenced in January, 1885 to twenty-two year stays at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Anamosa. When Clare was processed as a prisoner, he refused to divulge anything: birthplace, religion, occupation, education, habits, etc.

His sentence was commuted in May, 1892, but during the years between 1885 and 1892, “George J. Bedford” applied for and was granted four United States patents, for : a railroad seat adjustable foot rest; a pickpocket-proof mail pouch; a freight-car lock; and a “burglar-proof” door lock.


Allegedly, it was in recognition of Clare’s contributions as an inventor that the Governor of Iowa commuted his sentence after six years.

From Iowa, Clare returned to New York and within a matter of weeks was picked up by police, having in his possession burglar tools and dynamite. Although no specific crimes could be pinned on him, in November, 1892 he was sent to Sing Sing once again for possession of those implements. He was sentenced to five years, but was released in 1896.

In August 1896, Clare and three accomplices attempted to burgle the grocery store of Walker Adams and Son in Bedford, Westchester County, New York. The owner, Walker Adams, and his son William heard them from their residence and grabbed guns to confront the robbers. Walker adams approached the rear of the building, surprised one of the burglars, who drew a gun and shot Adams dead. The son, William Adams, exchanged fire with three other burglars and wounded all of them.  One of these was John Clare, whom the other burglars called “Charles Jenkins.” Clare fled the scene. The two others shot by Adams were captured: “John Jenkins” and “Peter James” (aka Edward Jacques). John Jenkins died from his injuries. Peter James escaped from jail.

John Clare, though wounded, made his way from Westchester County to Brooklyn, where he checked into a hospital. There, his condition worsened due to kidney failure, which doctors informed him was due to Bright’s Disease. Though they interrogated him and told him he was dying, Clare refused to divulge any details of his history, or to accept a visit from a priest or minister. He died in the hospital on August 24, 1896.

In his last known dwelling, police found a large collection of bicycle parts–about $1500 worth–an enormous amount for that time. Clare was 51 when he died. No one knows what plans he had for the bicycle parts.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s