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