#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.



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