#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.


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:


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:


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