#82 Michael Quinn

Michael Quinn (Abt. 1841-????), aka Shang Quinn, Big Mike Quinn, Thomas Burton, William Parker, William Irving — Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Medium build. Born in Ireland. Single, Blacksmith. Height, 6 feet 1 inch. Weight, about 180 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. Wears black mustache and side-whiskers. Has a star in India ink on left arm.

RECORD. “Shang” Quinn is an old and expert burglar and pickpocket, and is known in most all the principal cities of the United States, and has served considerable time in State prisons. He is considered to be a very clever safe burglar. He pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, New York City, on August 23, 1880, to larceny of $85 from one Edward Stroyck, of No. 21 Tenth Avenue, and was remanded to August 28, 1880, when he was sentenced to two years and six months in Sing Sing prison, under the name of William Parker, by Judge Cowing. He had previously served two years in the same institution for a larceny. Quinn’s picture is a good one, taken in November, 1875.

Shang Quinn was a minor, unexceptional thief, who stood out mainly for his stature. For men of his era, he was very large; and had some training as a blacksmith and stone cutter. The nickname “Shang,” in Quinn’s case, was likely derived from allusion to long-legged Shanghai roosters, and was often applied to tall men. [The more famous criminal of that nickname, Thomas “Shang” Draper, was said to have gotten his name from the “shanghai-ing” of his unlucky saloon patrons.]

Shang Quinn was born in Ireland around 1841, and had a brother James, but nothing more is known about his family origins. He was arrested and convicted of stealing a watch from a hotel room in May, 1872; and was sent to Sing Sing prison under the name Thomas Burton. In August 1875, he was arrested at Far Rockaway rifling through the cash drawer of a railway agent. He was arrested under the name William Irving.


In September 1880, Quinn was caught picking a hotel clerk’s pocket at rooms near Gansevoort Market in New York’s meatpacking district. He gave the name William Parker, and was sentenced to Sing Sing once more. In September of 1885, he and several others (including Andrew Hess) were caught during a burglary. This time, the prosecutors identified him as a 3-time offender, and he was sentenced to six and a half years at Sing Sing. This was the second time he entered Sing Sing under the name William Parker. The prison registry indicates that he now had a wife named Nellie Wilson, but nothing more is known about her.

The most interesting fact about Shang Quinn is that he was questioned in prison about his connection to Annie Downey, aka Annie Martin, a young woman found murdered in January 1880 (when Quinn was not in prison). Like several other 19th century New York City murders of young women, Annie Martin’s death became a sensational case–all the more so because it was never solved. Byrnes included a description of the murder case in his book, and it was still being discussed decades later. About two years before Martin’s death, one report says that Quinn’s gang was captured in the same room in which she was found; and that Quinn had been her former lover. Quinn was questioned in prison and admitted he knew her, but said he had no enmity against her, and said she knew nothing of the gang’s activities. Authorities seemed convinced that Quinn had no connection to her death.


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