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
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:
Cannon was never heard from after this.