#66 Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly (Abt. 1858 – 18??), aka Tommy Kelly, Blink Kelly, Blinky Kelly, Thomas Jourdan — Burglar, safe-breaker

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York. Waiter. Single. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 134 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Right eye out.
RECORD. Kelly is a young New York burglar, and is credited with being able to handle a safe with some of the older ones. He was born and brought up in the Seventh Ward of New York City, and is a member of Patsey Carroll’s gang. He was sentenced to two years in State prison on April 13, 1879, for grand larceny in New York City; again, on December 23, 1880, for two years and six months for grand larceny under the name of Thos. Jourdan, just ten days after his release on the first sentence.
He was arrested again in New York City on August 21, 1883, in company of Patsey Carroll, John Talbot, alias the Hatter, Clarkey Carpenter (now dead), and Wm. Landendorf, “Dutch Harmon’s” brother, at Martin Reeve’s saloon, No. 38 Forsyth Street, New York City, a resort for thieves, charged with burglarizing the premises of Geo. Tarler & Co., manufacturing jewelers, at No. 7 Burling Slip. The premises were entered on the night of August 20, 1883, and jewelry, plated ware, etc., carried away valued at $1,379. Patsey Carroll and John Talbot pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree in this case and were sentenced to four years in State prison on October 22, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. Kelly was discharged.
Kelly’s picture is a good one, taken in 1883.

There is little surprising in Chief Byrnes’ entry for Blink Kelly, a young New York gang member who was coached by his peers in the skills of burglary. Byrnes states that Kelly was brought up in the Seventh Ward; but by 1881, when he was 23, he was called by newspapers “the Terror of the Fourteenth Ward.”


Blink Kelly was an example of one of the young toughs often recruited by political factions to suppress voters or to vote multiple times. Kelly did not seem to adhere to any one faction: in 1876, he supported boxer-politician John Morrissey, who had split from Tammany Hall to lead a different Democratic faction, Irving Hall. Later, in the 1880s, Kelly took payments to vote Republican.
Kelly’s family antecedents have not been traced; nor is it known when and where he died, though one paper indicated in 1896 that he had already expired.
Just when one thinks there is little more to say about the violent, short, felonious life of Blink Kelly, the world of gilded-age New York City finds a way to surprise you.
Theater-goers of this era loved campy melodramas supported by clever stage effects. For the new fall season of 1888, New York producer Thomas M. Davis planned to import a successful British melodrama written by Tom Craven, called The Stowaway. As the New York World later noted, “The success of the play is mainly due to its effective mounting, and its intense realism. The plot is the old conventional one, introducing an erring, but repentant old man; his son, whom he mourns as dead, but who is alive, leading a Bohemian life; a faithless villain; his faithful wife; a good young heiress; three or four toughs; a funny little girl in boy’s clothing, who plays successively a ragged newsboy, a bellboy, and a cabin-boy; a howling swell; and the stowaway, whose business it is to turn up just in time to thwart the villain at every stage of the game.”
Producer Davis had an idea how one part of the play could be improved for New York audiences to sensational effect: in a scene where burglars break open a safe, Davis thought it would generate buzz if he hired two ex-convicts to break open a real safe onstage at every performance, using real flash-powder. The criminals he found were Mike Kurtz and Blink Kelly.
The Stowaway opened at Niblo’s Garden theater in October, 1888, and was an immediate success. How did Chief Byrnes and the NYPD react to the burglary scene?18881016newyorkeveningworld
The Stowaway went on to run for many years, becoming a staple of American theater of the late 19th century. How long Blink Kelly lasted in his role is not known; but in later productions other former criminals took the same role.

#159 Augustus Gregory

August F. H. J. Schwannecke (1864-1890), aka August Gregory, Gus Gregory, Edward Kennedy — Hotel Thief

Link to Byrnes’ entry for #159 Augustus Gregory

Chief Byrnes devoted quite a bit of space to hotel thief August Gregory, doubtless because the NYPD detective bureau was under enormous pressure to stop Gregory’s one-man crime wave in the fall of 1884. Their hunt was successful, and Byrnes saw  Gregory sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing (the youngest man ever sent to Sing Sing, up to that time). In his 1895 edition, noted that Gregory had died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1890.

Byrnes failed, however, to give any telling of the huge melodrama of Gregory’s brief life. During Gregory’s sentencing to Sing Sing, Judge-Recorder Smyth remarked “You have a mother, young man, and I sympathize very deeply with her in having such a son.” Had Smyth been fully aware of the mother’s history, he might have had more sympathy for Gregory. In fact, he might have blamed her for her son’s sins.

In 1870, when August Schwannecke was just five years old, his parents’ private affairs made headlines:

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Young August was in the middle of this tumult. He had gone with his father to visit Germany in the middle of 1869, only to return to find that his mother had divorced his father and married another man–and was now divorcing that man. Little August likely understood none of this. Custody of August was awarded to his mother.

Yet this was just the beginning of the romantic entanglements of Amelia Schwannecke-Ross. She successfully divorced brewer Ross, and then married a man known only as “a wealthy Swiss” man who died shortly after their nuptials. One account suggests she then married a fourth time, only to end that marriage with a divorce. Finally, in the late 1870s, Amelia married an English railroad engineer, William Henry Gregory, a widower with his own son about the same age as August. The patchwork family settled down to live in San Francisco.

By 1882, the marriage bonds of the Gregorys frayed. Amelia took $4800 in cash and her 17-year-old son August and headed east. Mother and son stopped at a Denver hotel, where August decided to assert his independence. He crept into his mother’s room and took the sack of money, then headed north to Wyoming. His mother reported the robbery to Denver police. August, meanwhile, committed some burglary in Cheyenne before being apprehended and taken back to Denver. Eventually, his mother decided to drop charges. They returned to California, where August faced additional charges of burglary. The District Attorney dropped these charges, suggesting that perhaps they had been brought by his estranged step-father, W. H. Gregory.

Early the next year, in 1883, August was caught stealing again in Denver, and was sentenced to the Colorado State Prison. He was pardoned after a year and then joined his mother, who had finally withdrawn from the Gregory marriage and had returned to New York. In the fall of 1884, August began his crime spree, which ended with his ten-year sentence to Sing Sing.

 

August was a small, thin young man, lacking a strong constitution. After several years in Sing Sing, he contracted “consumption,” a term that usually signified tuberculosis. Meanwhile, his biological father, Herman Schwannecke, was also reaching his final years, after accumulating a fortune valued at between $10,000 and $100,000.

Amelia heard about Herman’s failing health, and knew that it created a dilemma. She knew that Herman would leave nothing to her in his will, but would likely name his son August as his heir. But since August was a convict, under law he could not inherit any wealth. Amelia had to retrieve August from jail so that he could benefit from Herman’s will.

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August Schwannecke was too ill to entertain any thoughts about inheriting a fortune. He died just a week after his release from Sing Sing.

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Amelia’s contest of Herman Schwannecke’s will was set aside. She got nothing.

 

 

 

#173 David Mooney

David Mooney (1852-1913), aka James H. Brady, John H. Hill, Little Dave — House thief, Murderer

Link to Byrnes’s profile of #173 David Mooney

Judging by the space Byrnes devotes to his profile of David Mooney, he was obviously fascinated by the excuses a man would make when accused of murder. Byrnes reprints a lengthy interview that a newspaper reporter elicited from a newly-arrested Mooney, in which Mooney issues denials of involvement in the death of his thieving partner, Edmond “Frenchie” Lavoiye. It was an ill-advised interview, and Mooney made several assertions that were later contradicted.

Byrnes added his own twist after quoting this interview: the fact that Mooney later confessed to the murder, which supposedly was caused by an argument over a pair of diamond earrings that Lavoiye intended to gift to a woman. Perhaps Byrnes’s intended to make a point that a criminals were often experts at dissembling. However, in Mooney’s case, his confession and sentence to life in prison did not end the debate over his guilt.

 

During his trial, the jury heard that the alleged suicide note left by Lavoiye showed similarity to Mooney’s handwriting, though Mooney claimed he was barely literate. Lavoiye’s pistol had been found in the hand of his disabled arm, causing the prosecution to assert that Mooney must have placed it there. Also, the prosecution called medical experts as witnesses who stated that Lavoiye’s wounds could not have been self-inflicted. As the case mounted against him, Mooney was advised to confess to a lesser charge of manslaughter–claiming self-defense–that would earn him a lighter sentence–perhaps seven years. Instead, he was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life behind bars.

He was sent to the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown in late summer, 1881. For the next twenty-six years, the world heard no news about Dave Mooney. Then, in 1907, a long feature article appeared in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper entitled “Tale of Forty Thieves as Told by the Forty-First.” It took a nostalgic look at the famous professional criminals of the 1870s and 1880s, with updates on their fates; the intention was to show that most met bad ends. The article contained a strong defense of David Mooney’s character:

“It was always ‘Dave ‘Mooney’s boast that outside of the business he was a gentleman. Mooney may be classed as the ‘king of the porch climbers.’ One of his greatest feats was the robbery of the Drexel mansion, in Philadelphia, of jewels and other valuables worth about $200,000. Mooney got away with the booty, but a boy he had used as a ‘lookout’ was arrested on suspicion. Mooney entered into negotiations and by an arrangement made through a lawyer returned every penny of his spoils to the family in return for the boys’ liberty.

“There is another little romance connected with Mooney’s ‘finish.’ Of course, it does not turn out well. One of the man’s redeeming traits was a love of children. He was married, but childless, and from an institution adopted a deaf and dumb girl, who was reared in comfort and in absolute ignorance of her foster father’s vocation.

“‘Frenchy’, known to be a pal of Mooney, was found dead in a room in Boston several years later, and Mooney was suspected. ‘Frenchy’ had been shot to death. A reward of $500 was offered for his capture, and Mooney, with his wife and foster daughter, went to Albany to lie low for a time. He was innocent of the crime, his friends have always said, but he knew his record would convict him in any court.

“Allowed to play in the open air, the girl one day in a store saw a picture of her father in a newspaper, with the information that the police would pay $500 for his capture. For some inexplicable reason she went to the police and afterward led them to Mooney’s hiding place. He was arrested, taken to Boston, and is today a ‘lifer’ in Charlestown. What became of the girl is not known.”

Two weeks later, in late January 1907, “The Forty-First” was back with another long column, this one dedicated entirely to presenting the case for Mooney’s innocence.

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The publication of these articles in 1907 earned David Mooney some supporters, foremost among them Bernard Keenan, a city official in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Keenan lobbied the pardon board on Mooney’s behalf. It was pointed out that Mooney had been promised a much lighter sentence in return for confessing to manslaughter, but had been in prison for thirty years.

Finally, in February of 1912, Governor Foss of Massachusetts pardoned Mooney after thirty-two years of confinement. His wife and adopted child had died while he was in prison. Upon his re-entry into society, Mooney was asked what had changed most since he had been jailed. He answered without hesitation, that what dazed him were women’s hobble skirts: the skin-tight, full-length skirts that barely allowed the wearer to move her feet a few inches.

“They are the funniest things I have ever seen,” Mooney said.

Mooney, at age 61, got a job as a night watchman at a theater in Pawtucket. He was found dead from natural causes in the theater’s bathroom stall less than a year later, in 1913. His Pawtucket friends raised the money for his funeral and burial.

 

 

 

#101 John Cannon

John Cannon (abt. 1844-19??), aka Jack Cannon, Old Jack, Old Pistols, John H. Davis, John Bartlett, J. B. Collins, Bernard G. Stewart, etc. — Sneak thief, hotel thief, forger

Link to Chief Byrnes’ entry for #101 John Cannon

Byrnes’ entry on Jack Cannon is one of his most curious profiles, notably for its length. Cannon was a sufficiently interesting criminal to merit extra attention, but the text Byrnes chose to include was a patchwork: an account of Cannon’s resistance to getting his photograph taken; witness testimony from one of his recent trials; and physical descriptions of Cannon’s recent partners. In other words, much of what Byrnes relates does not particularly help to flesh out Cannon’s career; and stands in contrast to all the other short, pithy profiles in his book. One guess as to why this entry is so atypical is that the New Orleans police asked Byrnes to include all these details, as they expected more trouble in the future from Cannon’s gang. The simpler explanation is that Byrnes knew (from Cannon’s role in the Manhattan Savings Bank robbery aftermath) that he was a significant criminal figure–but one with a slim New York City record that he could reference.

 

Cannon’s record was long in duration (perhaps starting in the 1850s) and varied (jewelry store sneak thief, hotel thief, negotiator of stolen bonds, passer of forged checks, riverboat thief, safecracker, etc.). He was also active in many states in the nation. In several cases, it is known that he had once been imprisoned in certain jails, but the crime and alias under which he was convicted under remain unidentified. He worked with several of the most notable criminals of his age, and took a part in several famous crimes. Yet Cannon did not seem to possess unusual skills or  deep cunning. The quality that gained the admiration of his peers was his willingness to fight arrest–with a pistol or knife, if necessary.

Cannon’s real name has not been verified, but an 1886 New Orleans Times Picayune article claimed that his real last name was Hannon; that he was raised (if not born) in New Orleans and attended St. Joseph’s parochial school (started in late 1850s). Byrnes gives his birth year as about 1839, but Cannon himself indicated it was about 1845–which matches better with the founding of the school he was said to have attended.

Cannon was said to have committed minor crimes while still a young man in New Orleans, but first came to attention for activities on Mississippi riverboats. He robbed staterooms as a sneak thief; and also ran small con games on greenhorns–for example, taking $30 in cash in exchange for a counterfeit $100 bill. Cannon, late in his career, said that he spent the Civil War in the 54th Illinois regiment of Union volunteers; but this is a highly suspicious claim, since the Times Picayune article lists several crimes attributed to him from 1861-1865.

In 1866, with partner Johnny Reagan, Cannon was caught after robbing the store of a New Orleans broker, Mr. Marchand. He was captured in Memphis, but escaped before he could be convicted. In April, 1867, Cannon and an experienced jewel thief, John Watson, broke into the New Orleans store of J. Lilienthal and took $80,000 in jewelry and valuables, most of which was soon recovered. Cannon was captured and gave the name J. H. Davis. He later escaped from jail, along with four other men, but was caught again. He was released on bail in August, 1867 and disappeared.

In November 1867, it is alleged that Cannon took part in the robbery of a safe belonging to the Southern Express Company in Jackson, Tennessee, led by his partner, Johnny Reagan. From late 1867 to 1876 there is a long gap in Cannon’s traceable career, although references exist to long prison sentences in Joliet, Illinois; Massachusetts; and Missouri.

In 1877, Cannon was picked up by New York detectives who interrogated him over his role in a series of forged bonds and checks that had been wreaking havoc on Wall Street. Authorities at first suspected that one huge conspiracy of forgers was at work, but it later became apparent that there were two different groups: one led by Walter Sheridan and the other by Charles Sprague, an alias of the forger genius, James B. Crosse. The two gangs likely knew one another, and may have even shared use of the lowest men on the rungs, the ones who presented the phony documents to cashiers. Jack Cannon and Charles “Doc” Titus were among the latter.

When questioned, Cannon accused Sprague/Crosse of being the mastermind of all the forgeries (as did Titus), though in Cannon’s case he likely did more work for Sheridan’s gang. As detectives delved deeper into the forgery cases, they realized that Cannon’s admissions were worthless as evidence, and he was cut loose.

Cannon resurfaced two years later, in 1879, trying to negotiate sale of some of the $3,000,000 in bonds stolen from the Manhattan Savings Institution by Jimmy Hope and his gang. [Johnny Dobbs was also captured trying to sell some of these bonds.] It is unlikely that Cannon was directly involved in the heist, and came in to help dispose of the bonds.

 

In 1879, Cannon was arrested for a robbery in Newark, New Jersey, and sentenced to three years in the State Prison at Trenton.

In 1882, Cannon was arrested for robberies at the Lochiel hotel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was arrested by detectives in Philadelphia, but only after exchanging pistol fire with them. He was given a sentence of ten years in Eastern State Penitentiary, but with a very generous commutation, was released after little more than a year.

From there, Cannon raided a hotel in Jacksonville, Florida; and then moved on to his hometown of New Orleans. There, he was arrested in 1886 for taking part in the theft of $5000 in diamonds from Effie Hankins. He was also suspected of hotel thefts at the Gregg House and Hotel Royal in 1885. However, it turned out that the Hankins diamonds were recovered after the police received tips about other men that had been involved and left town; therefore Cannon was eventually released.

Cannon was next arrested following robberies in September 1888 at the Egg Harbor, New Jersey, Fair. After several weeks in a Philadelphia jail, he was released for lack of evidence. He was less lucky later in 1889, when he was picked up in Philadelphia and sent to Springfield, Massachusetts to face charges of a hotel robbery there. This time, he was found guilty and given five years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

Free once more in 1895, Cannon came to rest in Detroit, Michigan. He was arrested there for possession of burglar’s tools, and–because of his history–sentenced to ten years at the Michigan State Prison in Jackson. In 1897, Cannon (who was well into his fifties) escaped from the State Prison, only to be recaptured a few days later.

Once he was released from Jackson, Cannon went to Scranton, Pennsylvania and lived under the name Bernard G. Stewart. In 1906, was was arrested in New York City after entering the room of another hotel guest. He was found to have a knife in his pocket. With this arrest, Cannon finally felt obliged to explain himself to a newspaper reporter. He sensed that this might be his last gasp of freedom:

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Cannon was never heard from after this.

 

 

 

#139 Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas Fitzgerald (Abt 1834-????), aka Big Tom Phair, John Phair, Thomas Sweeny – Pickpocket

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Carpenter. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, about 200 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a sandy chin whisker and mustache.

RECORD. “Big Tom Phair,” the name he is best known by, is a clever thief, and generally works with his wife, Bridget Fitzgerald, an old Irish pickpocket, or some other woman, and can be found in the vicinity of funerals, ferry-boats, or churches. They are mean thieves, generally robbing poor women.

Fitzgerald and his wife, and Mary Connors, were arrested in New York City on May 1, 1873, charged with robbing a woman named Sophie Smith, on Broadway, of a pocket-book containing a quantity of checks and her husband’s pension papers from the United States Government. Tom pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison, on May 26, 1873. Bridget, his wife, was discharged. Mary Connors also pleaded guilty to an attempt at grand larceny, and was sentenced to one year and nine months in State prison, the same day, by Judge Sutherland.

Fitzgerald and his wife were arrested again under the names of Tom and Sarah Thayer, on a Staten Island ferry-boat, at the Battery, New York, which was conveying the friends of the Garner family to Staten Island to attend the funeral of Wm. F. Garner. Mrs. Fitzgerald was again discharged. Tom was held under the Habitual Criminal Act, and sentenced to ninety days in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on July 27, 1876. He was afterwards discharged on habeas corpus proceedings. He has been very lucky of late years. Although arrested several times, he manages to keep out of jail. His picture is a very good one, taken in November, 1875.

Very little can be said to expand on Chief Byrnes’ entry on Thomas Fitzgerald, alias Phair. His true given name remains unverified. Fitzgerald’s supposed wife, Bridget Fitzgerald (alias Sarah Phair), appears to have been active as a pickpocket much longer than Thomas, working into the 1890s. They were both said to have been born in Ireland. Like many pickpockets, their transient lifestyle and lack of family connections makes them nearly impossible to track.

 

The Fitzgeralds did have one known family relationship, to a pair of pickpockets profiled in Byrnes’s 1895 edition of Professional Criminals of America: Patrick Breen and his wife, Agnes (alias Sally alias Sarah alias Honora Mahoney). Mrs. Breen was cited as being the sister of Bridget Fitzgerald. The Breens were most active in the 1890s; whereas the Fitzgeralds were mentioned more in the 1870s. However, the real names and background of the Breens are as much a cipher as the Fitzgeralds.

The Fitzgeralds and the Breens were pickpockets who specialized in targeting those attending church and at funerals. Because their victims were often poor, this class of pickpocket was looked down upon by the rest of the criminal fraternity.

#181 Peter Lamb

Peter Reinhart (Abt. 1839-After 1897), aka Peter Rinehart, Peter Lamb, Henry Miner, John Miller, John Willet, John Fredericks, Dutch Pete — Burglar, Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. German, born in United States. Married. An auctioneer. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 210 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a light brown mustache.

RECORD. “Dutch Pete,” or Peter Rinehart, which is his right name, is a very clever shoplifter and burglar. He is well known in New York, Boston, Chicago, and several of the other large cities. He has served three terms in Sing Sing prison, N.Y. Pete was arrested in New York City on December 4, 1879, in company of John Cass, alias Big Cass, another notorious burglar, charged with committing a burglary at No. 329 Canal Street, New York, a Russia leather establishment. He was also charged with another burglary, committed at No. 73 Grand Street, New York City, where the burglars carried away $2,000 worth of silks. For the latter offense he was sentenced to three years in Sing Sing prison, on December 18, 1879, by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions.

Lamb was arrested again in New York City, in December, 1882, for the larceny of some penknives (a sneak job) from a safe in a store on Broadway, near Duane Street, New York. For this he was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison (his third term), for grand larceny in the second degree, on January 3, 1883, by Judge Gildersleeve, under the name of John Willet. His sentence expired on January 3, 1886. Lamb’s picture is a good one, taken in April, 1879.

Byrnes noted the real name of “Dutch Pete” as Peter Rinehart; while a Sing Sing registry asserts the last name as Reinhart. One of those registers also indicates that he was a nephew of a German tap room operator, Nicholas Schoen; but even with this information, the family connection and heritage of Reinhart remain elusive. All three of his Sing Sing registers indicate that he was born in New York; and that he was a brush maker and peddler, not an auctioneer.

He was a burglar and thief of ordinary talents, which is to say that he was often captured and rarely scored big hauls. His first visit to Sing Sing was in June, 1872, under the name Henry Miner. Dutch Pete was caught sneaking money from a store backroom while his confederate–a famous thief named Chauncey Johnson–distracted the store owner. He was sentence to a term of five years.

While there, Pete was assigned to hard labor in the prison quarry, but another former-prisoner later revealed that Pete and a select few others could get away without work:

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Pete’s second trip to Sing Sing occurred in December 1879, under the name John Miller. The offense details are as Byrnes describes (see above.) Pete and Big Cass were caught as they cased the outside of the leather shop. A detective snuck up behind them, and heard Cass ask Pete, “Is it all right?,” meaning was it safe to break in. Pete was heard to reply, “All clear, Butty.” The detective then interrupted their operation.

Pete was arrested in February 1882 with a confederate, charged with separating a fool from his money. His partner plied the victim, Alfred Bowie, with drinks, and then steered him toward a brothel. Pete stood at the door of the brothel, pretending to be the proprietor. Pete’s partner advised Bowie to hand over his money and valuables for safekeeping to Pete, so that they would not be stolen upstairs. Bowie did so, and then walked upstairs. Meanwhile, Pete and his partner ran off with the valuables. Pete appears to have escaped lightly for this offense.

He was caught later that same year, in December, stealing knives from a safe, as Byrnes described above. This adventure earned a third tour of Sing Sing.

 

In April 1892, under the name John Fredericks, Pete was convicted of petit larceny, and spent a brief term at the city prison on Blackwell’s Island.

Pete spent his last years living under the name Peter Lamb. He swore that he had reformed, and was given a job in New York’s Sanitation Department as a street sweeper. No one could say that he didn’t know brushes, but his performance of his duties was lacking. At some point, his bosses fired him, but Captain Stephen O’Brien of the NYPD Detective Bureau stepped in and got his his job back–it was better to have a lazy street sweeper than an active thief on the streets.

 

 

 

#64 Michael Kerrigan

John Kerrigan (Abt. 1843-1892), aka Michael Kerrigan, Johnny Dobbs, Henry Hall, John Rodgers, J. C. Rice — River thief, bank robber

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #64 Michael Kerrigan

Best known by his street name, “Johnny Dobbs”, many accounts differ as to the real first name of the man known as “the king of bank robbers”: John or Michael Kerrigan. Upon his death in 1892, his wife tried to clear up matters:

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John and Anna were married in the Allen Street Methodist Church in 1870. By that point, he was already using the name adopted from his uncle: Johnny Dobbs. Kerrigan’s background and career was very similar to his friend and frequent partner, Jimmy Hope, except that Hope rose from a Philadelphia gang (the Schuylkill Rangers) and Kerrigan from a Lower East Side gang (Slaughter-house Point gang, later Patsy Conroy’s river thieves).

Because Kerrigan is such a major figure in several of the biggest crimes of the 1870s and 1880s, a more complete chronology than that offered by Chief Byrnes is called for:

  • Arrested and sent to prison in February, 1864 for shooting New York police officer Sweeney in the thigh. Sweeney was trying to break up a gang, led by Dobbs, which was chasing a Chinese man down the street. Dobbs was a member of the Fourth Ward’s Slaughter-house Point Gang, soon to be dissolved, succeeded by Patsy Conroy’s gang of river thieves.
  • In prison, Dobbs said to have come under the tutelage of an old English thief named Petrie.
  • Dobbs identified as one of seven prisoners who escaped Sing Sing in February, 1868.
  • In 1869, Dobbs conspired with a corrupt bank clerk to rob Wall Street bankers Cambreling & Pyne of $140,000 in bonds. Both are arrested, and Dobbs returns his share and gives evidence against the clerk (viewed as the worse risk).
  • Married Anna Gould, February 1870
  • In October 1870, a gang of thieves, including Dobbs, “Worcester Sam” Perris, and Charles Gleason, robbed the First National Bank of Grafton, Massachusetts of between $100,000 and $150,000.
  • Purchases farm in Plainfield, New Jersey

 

  • John’s brother Matthew, known as “Mattie Dobbs,” allegedly shoots Patrick Vaughan in the aftermath of an inter-gang brawl.
  • In October, 1873, a gang of thieves entered the residence of a wealthy farmer, Abram Post, near Embogcht (Inbocht) Bay on the Hudson River, south of Catskill, New York. Similar raids were made against the homes of J. P. Emmet in New Rochelle, New York; and W. K. Soutter on Staten Island. The gang was said to use George Milliard’s saloon to plan its raids, and included Dobbs, Dan Kelly, Pugsey Hurley, Patsy Conroy, Larry Griffin, Dennis Brady, John Burns, and Shang Campbell. All were arrested except Dobbs and Campbell. They fled south to Key West, Florida. Campbell was eventually captured, but Dobbs eluded detectives.
  • Prior to May 1874, Dobbs made frequent visits to his sister and brother-in-law on a farm near Litchfield, Connecticut. The brother-in-law was John Denning, a former Fourth Ward detective.
  • May 1874: Dobbs is arrested in Hartford, Connecticut, accused of robbing the Collinsville Connecticut savings bank. He gives his name as “J. C. Rice.” Tried and convicted, he is sent to the Connecticut State Prison on a seven-year sentence.
  • A year later, in May, 1875, Dobbs escapes from the Connecticut State Prison. It is suspected that he was assisted by a corrupt guard.
  • From 1875 through 1878, Dobbs teamed up with the crew of bank robbers led by mastermind George L. Leslie. How many of their crimes Dobbs was involved in is not known. One of their major targets was the Manhattan Savings bank. An abortive attempt was made against that bank in 1877, organized by Leslie. It was foiled by an unexpected change in bank locks.

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  • In February 1878, the Dexter Savings Bank of Maine was robbed–the heist was marred by the death of the bank’s cashier during the crime. The man’s death was a subject of debate for years: was he locked into the bank’s vault because he had failed to cooperate; or had he been complicit, and then committed suicide in remorse? All evidence for the robbery pointed to Leslie’s gang; but no criminal ever admitted involvement, for fear of facing murder charges.
  • In June 1878, George L. Leslie’s body was found near Tramps Rock, Yonkers, near the Bronx River on the Westchester County/New York City border. Members of his own gang were suspected of the murder–including Johnny Dobbs–but the motive is unclear. Did they fear he would implicate them all, especially concerning the Dexter job? Or was the cause Leslie’s attempt to romance the moll of another gang member?
  • On October 27, 1878, the robbery of the Manhattan Savings Bank–initially planned by Leslie, but now led by Dobb’s friend Jimmy Hope–was pulled off successfully. Johnny Dobbs was said to be one of the robbers. The majority of the huge trove of loot, nearly three million dollars, was in registered bonds.
  • The following May, 1879, Dobbs was arrested while trying to negotiate the return of many of the Manhattan Savings bonds. He was taken to the Tombs, New York’s municipal detention center. After a few months, it was decided to return him to the Connecticut State Prison, to serve out the remainder of his term there (after he had escaped in 1875).
  • In 1881, Dobbs is released from the Connecticut State Prison, having time reduced for good behavior.
  • In March of 1884, Dobbs was captured in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with several other known criminals and a large collection of burglary tools. He plead guilty, believing that the sentence would be light. Instead, he was given a term of ten years in the Massachusetts State Prison.
  • John Kerrigan, alias John Dobbs, is released from Massachusetts in 1892 for health reasons, said the be consumptive. He returns to New York, goes to a saloon, and collapses there with a stroke. He died in Bellevue Hospital in May, 1892.

#120 Mary Ann Connelly

Mary Ann McMahon (1832-????), aka Big Satchel Mary, Mary Ann Connelly, Mary Ann Connolly, Mary Ann Williams, May Taylor, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Single. Very fleshy, coarse woman. Height, about 5 feet 4 or 5 inches. Weight, 240 pounds. Black hair, black eyes, ruddy complexion. Talks with somewhat of an Irish brogue.

RECORD. Mary Ann Connelly is a well known New York pickpocket, shoplifter and prostitute, and a coarse, vulgar woman, that would stop at nothing to carry her point. She was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to six months in the penitentiary, on January 12, 1875, for shoplifting in New York City.

She was arrested again in New York City, for picking pockets, and sentenced to one year in State prison, by Judge Sutherland, on December 11, 1875.

Arrested again in New York, for picking a woman’s pocket, and sentenced to six months on Blackwell’s Island, on April 1, 1878, by Judge Gildersleeve.

She was arrested again in New York City, in company of Joseph Volkmer and his wife Mary on November 27, 1879, for drugging and attempting to rob one Charles Blair, a countryman, whom the trio met on a Boston boat. She turned State’s evidence, and was used against the Volkmers, who were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to twelve years each in State prison, on December 15, 1879, by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions. She was discharged in this case. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in 1875.

Between 1868, when she arrived from her native city of Dublin, and 1879, Mary Ann McMahon was arrested dozens of times for shoplifting and picking pockets. She earned the nickname “Big Satchel Mary” from New York police, evoking her favorite tool of trade. Before leaving Ireland, she had been married to a man named James Connolly, who died and left her a widow. She then came to New York.

 

She was jailed several times in the 1870s, the most lengthy stretch being a one-year term at Sing Sing. However, nearly all of her arrests were so minor that they were not even mentioned in newspaper court reports–until November 1879. At that time, Mary Ann became involved in a scheme with two married ex-convicts, the Volkmers, to drug, roll (and perhaps murder) a man of means from Connecticut, Charles E. Blair. Blair had become entranced with Mrs. Volkmer, and had bought her gifts.

Blair was invited to visit the Volkmers, with Mary Ann present. At their house, they plied him with beer, laced with an unknown drug. Blair began vomiting, but he thought he was just mildly ill. He laid down, but continued to retch. Mary Ann was now alarmed that the Volkmers had not just drugged Blair, but had given him some sort of deadly poison. She may have been a petty thief, but she stopped short of wanting to be involved in a murder. She left the house and contacted police. Blair survived whatever toxin he had been given, and the Volkmers were placed on trial, with Mary Ann the star witness against them.

It was a week-long, sensational trial of the sort that New York newspapers loved, though in fact, it did not appear to merit such attention: there was no hard evidence that Blair had been poisoned, and no substances were found in the Volkmers’ house other than laudanum, an opiate. It made no sense that the Volkmers would want to murder Blair, since he was willingly spending money to please Mrs. Volkmer. Nor does it make sense that they just wanted to rob him; he knew their names and where they lived. However, instead of emphasizing these arguments, the Volkmers’ defense lawyer instead tried to shift blame for the poisoning to Mary Ann Connolly. Much of the trial consisted of Mary Ann being grilled about her criminal past.

Public sentiment seemed to back Mary Ann’s version of events. She was hailed for telling nothing that could not be verified; for her good humor; and for being honest about her past. In the end, the Volkmers were found guilty and sentenced to twelve years apiece in State prison. Mary Ann was discharged.

Her fate from that point is unknown.

 

 

#51 William Connelly

William Peter Connolly (Abt. 1814-????), aka Buffalo Bill, Old Bill, William Cosgrove, William Weston, Bill the Watcher, William Conley, William Connelly, William Marston — Hotel thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Seventy years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Stout build. Married. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, about 200 pounds. Hair gray, head bald, eyes gray, complexion light. Stout, full face. Has a double chin. Mustache gray, when worn.

RECORD. Old Bill Connelly, or Weston, as he is sometimes called, is considered one of the cleverest hotel workers in America. Of late years he has worked generally in the small cities, on account of being so well known in the larger ones. He has served two terms in prison in New York State, one in Philadelphia, and several other places.

He was arrested in the Astor House, New York City, on November 24, 1876, coming out of one of the rooms with a watch and chain (one that was left for him as a decoy). He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years in State prison on December 5, 1876, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions. His time expired on October 20, 1880.

Connelly was arrested again in the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia, Pa., for robbing some French naval officers, who were about visiting the Yorktown celebration. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years in the county prison on October 28, 1881. He is now at large, and is liable to make his appearance anywhere. Connelly’s picture is an excellent one, although taken since 1876.

Writing in 1886, Chief Byrnes was likely aware that “Old Bill” Connolly had a long history as a hotel thief; but for reasons unknown, Byrnes did not delve far into history, which involved a sensational New York City scandal; nor did  Byrnes reveal Connolly’s connection to a brothel madam still active during his heyday as a detective, a woman known as Mag Duval. Moreover, although Byrnes mentions that Connolly robbed “some French naval officers,” he doesn’t mention that the man whose hotel room Connolly entered in 1881 was General Georges Ernest Boulanger, the leader of France’s nationalist movement, a man known around the world, who nearly became the strongman leader of his country.

Capture

The great scandal precipitated by Bill Connolly was an 1853 arrest for a hotel burglary in New York City. He was indicted, but had left New York for Philadelphia. His paramour–soon to be wife–was a brothel madam known as Mag Duval (Margaret Mary Murphy). Mag was on friendly terms with a New York city judge who might help quash the indictment, though he said it might cost hundreds of dollars. Mag supplied him the money, but the delay in action on Connolly’s behalf led her to believe that she had been cheated out of the money, and so she took her story to the New York City District Attorney.

Judge Sidney H. Stuart was accused of accepting a bribe. He was placed on trial in mid-November, 1855; the proceedings lasted 5 days. The full transcript of each day’s testimony was transcribed on full page layouts of the New York Tribune. Much of the testimony focused on efforts by Stuart’s defense to smear and slander Mag Duval; but it did become obvious that Judge Stuart frequently visited Mag’s establishment for his own entertainment. Judge Stuart was eventually acquitted of bribery; but his reputation as a judge was ruined, and he had little choice other than to resign his position. He went on to become a prominent lawyer, defending the same type of criminals he had once passed judgment against.

Even in 1855, some papers referred to Bill Connolly by the nickname “Buffalo Bill.” This was two decades before anyone was aware of a western scout who went by that nickname. The future Buffalo Bill Cody was only nine years old in 1855.

Connolly did little to vary his criminal tendencies over the years; he was said to have become wealthy through his hotel room robberies. He was arrested and convicted several times; in 1876 he was sent to Sing Sing for four years under the name William Weston.

Upon his release, he worked hotels in Philadelphia, leading to the 1881 incident in which he entered the room of the wrong Frenchman:

18811029philadelphiainquirer.jpg

Connolly was sent to Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia, where he spent the next three years. After 1884, his whereabouts and fate are unknown.

Over two decades later, in 1916, the popular New York columnist Oscar Odd McIntyre noted the demolition of a landmark that Bill Connolly likely knew very well:

19160427arkansasdemocrat

#185 George Levy

George Levy (Abt. 1840-????), aka Lee — Shoplifter

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Jew, born in Poland. Single. No legitimate trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion, mole on right cheek. Three India ink marks on left arm. Generally wears brown mustache and chin whisker.

RECORD. Levy is a smart sheeny shoplifter and sneak thief, who has been traveling through the Eastern cities for years. He is as liable to sneak into a bank as into a store. He is considered quite clever, and is pretty well known in all the Eastern cities, especially in New York, where he has served time in State prison at Sing Sing, and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island. He was arrested in New York City on June 7, 1882, for the larceny of $24 worth of Japanese articles from the store of Charles W. Fuller, No. 15 East Nineteenth Street. He was tried in the Court of Special Sessions, in the Tombs building, on June 12, 1882, and discharged by Justice Murray, who was ignorant of his character.

He was arrested in New York City again on September 9, 1885, in the fur store of Solomon Kutner, No. 492 Broome Street. Mrs. Kutner noticed that a light overcoat that he carried over his arm was much larger than when he entered. She shut the door, and stood before it. Finding himself locked in, he threw the bundle to the floor, seized the woman, and pushed her to one side. He found that he had been foiled again, as she had taken the key out of the door after locking it. Mrs. Kutner shouted, and her son and husband held Levy until an ofificer arrived and arrested him. The property he attempted to steal consisted of a sealskin sacque, valued at $170; two pairs of beaver gloves, and a roll of satin lining. Levy pleaded guilty in this case, and was sentenced to three years in State prison at Sing Sing, on September 21, 1885, by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions, New York. Levy’s picture is a good one, although he tried to avoid it. It was taken in June, 1882.

Following his release from Sing Sing in 1888, Levy migrated to Philadelphia. He was arrested there on suspicion in December, 1888; but was soon discharged. He was arrested again in August, 1889, for picking pockets at a Philadelphia ferry terminal, working in tandem with Reddy Dunn.

 

Levy’s 1885 Sing Sing intake lists an address of 24 E. 4th St. in New York’s East Village area; and mentions a cousin, Miss M. A. Williams living at the same address. These could not be confirmed in New York City directories.

Byrnes labels Levy as Jewish, a “sheeny”; and the anti-semitic screed The America Jew: Am Expose of his Career reprints Byrnes’ facts, along with other racist insults. However, Levy’s 1886 Sing Sing intake describes him as a Protestant.

Lacking additional clues, nothing more can be determined about this man.