#159 Augustus Gregory

August F. H. J. Schwannecke (1864-1890), aka August Gregory, Gus Gregory, Edward Kennedy — Hotel Thief

Link to Byrnes’ entry for #159 Augustus Gregory

Chief Byrnes devoted quite a bit of space to hotel thief August Gregory, doubtless because the NYPD detective bureau was under enormous pressure to stop Gregory’s one-man crime wave in the fall of 1884. Their hunt was successful, and Byrnes saw  Gregory sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing (the youngest man ever sent to Sing Sing, up to that time). In his 1895 edition, noted that Gregory had died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1890.

Byrnes failed, however, to give any telling of the huge melodrama of Gregory’s brief life. During Gregory’s sentencing to Sing Sing, Judge-Recorder Smyth remarked “You have a mother, young man, and I sympathize very deeply with her in having such a son.” Had Smyth been fully aware of the mother’s history, he might have had more sympathy for Gregory. In fact, he might have blamed her for her son’s sins.

In 1870, when August Schwannecke was just five years old, his parents’ private affairs made headlines:


Young August was in the middle of this tumult. He had gone with his father to visit Germany in the middle of 1869, only to return to find that his mother had divorced his father and married another man–and was now divorcing that man. Little August likely understood none of this. Custody of August was awarded to his mother.

Yet this was just the beginning of the romantic entanglements of Amelia Schwannecke-Ross. She successfully divorced brewer Ross, and then married a man known only as “a wealthy Swiss” man who died shortly after their nuptials. One account suggests she then married a fourth time, only to end that marriage with a divorce. Finally, in the late 1870s, Amelia married an English railroad engineer, William Henry Gregory, a widower with his own son about the same age as August. The patchwork family settled down to live in San Francisco.

By 1882, the marriage bonds of the Gregorys frayed. Amelia took $4800 in cash and her 17-year-old son August and headed east. Mother and son stopped at a Denver hotel, where August decided to assert his independence. He crept into his mother’s room and took the sack of money, then headed north to Wyoming. His mother reported the robbery to Denver police. August, meanwhile, committed some burglary in Cheyenne before being apprehended and taken back to Denver. Eventually, his mother decided to drop charges. They returned to California, where August faced additional charges of burglary. The District Attorney dropped these charges, suggesting that perhaps they had been brought by his estranged step-father, W. H. Gregory.

Early the next year, in 1883, August was caught stealing again in Denver, and was sentenced to the Colorado State Prison. He was pardoned after a year and then joined his mother, who had finally withdrawn from the Gregory marriage and had returned to New York. In the fall of 1884, August began his crime spree, which ended with his ten-year sentence to Sing Sing.


August was a small, thin young man, lacking a strong constitution. After several years in Sing Sing, he contracted “consumption,” a term that usually signified tuberculosis. Meanwhile, his biological father, Herman Schwannecke, was also reaching his final years, after accumulating a fortune valued at between $10,000 and $100,000.

Amelia heard about Herman’s failing health, and knew that it created a dilemma. She knew that Herman would leave nothing to her in his will, but would likely name his son August as his heir. But since August was a convict, under law he could not inherit any wealth. Amelia had to retrieve August from jail so that he could benefit from Herman’s will.


August Schwannecke was too ill to entertain any thoughts about inheriting a fortune. He died just a week after his release from Sing Sing.


Amelia’s contest of Herman Schwannecke’s will was set aside. She got nothing.




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