#174 William Wright

William Wright (1831-19??), aka Roaring Bill, Charles W. Thompson, Watson — Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-three years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 4 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Brown hair, turning gray; gray eyes, sallow complexion. Generally wears a mustache, which is quite gray. Scars on right eyebrow, under lower lip, and on chin.

RECORD. “Roaring Bill” is an old New York thief. He has spent the best portion of his life in State prisons and penitentiaries, and is well known in all the principal cities in America. He is a general thief, can turn his hand to almost anything, and is considered a very clever man. He is credited with having served four years for an express-train robbery in Colorado; also, with robbing an Adams Express Co. money-car, out West, of $15,000.

Bill was arrested in Providence, R.I., and sentenced to four years in the Rhode Island State prison on March 21, 1881, for the larceny of a valise containing a sealskin sack and several other things from a railroad train between New York and Providence. His sentence expired on October 25, 1884.

He was arrested again in New York City on August 10, 1885, and committed to Blackwell’s Island for three months, in default of $500 bail, as a suspicious person, by Justice Murray. Wright’s picture is a good one, taken in August, 1885.

Just before Chief Inspector Byrnes retired from the police force in 1894, a writer for a Buffalo newspaper asked him who were the most capable thieves not then in jail. Byrnes listed eight men: Rufus Minor, Joe Elliott, John Love, Ned Lyons, Gus Kindt, Mike Kurtz, Chauncy Johnson…and William Wright. None of these are surprising, except for Wright. Byrnes added, “Bill was one of the funniest, one of the shrewdest, and one of the most deceitful crooks I ever saw. It’s well-nigh impossible to fasten a crime on him.”

Wright received the nickname “Roaring Bill” from his loud, boisterous behavior when drunk.
Wright’s documented criminal history began–as Byrnes wrote–in 1881. However, Wright was already fifty years old by that time. Byrnes hints at some interesting details in Wright’s background, none of which can be confirmed. Still, these fragments are fascinating: Wright had been a cowboy in Texas; he had been in the regular army (but when and where is unknown); and he robbed a train in Colorado and spent four years in State prison in that state. In New York in the 1870s, he had been a member of Jimmy Hope’s gang of bank thieves.

By comparison, Wright’s crimes from 1881 and forward seem petty. He was caught that year taking a sealskin coat from a passenger on the Fall River line train on its way from Boston to Newport, Rhode Island. He was arrested in New York, but was tried in Rhode Island and sentenced to four years in the State Prison.

While jailed in Providence, one of Bill’s fellow prisoners did not find him so amusing. That prisoner’s name was James Dunbar, alias Dunmunday, alias Shea. Dunbar was said to have been a former member of the Jesse James gang (a claim yet to be proved). One day in the prison workshop, Dunbar grabbed a hefty hammer and brought it swiftly down on Wright’s head. Bill was saved only by his thick skull. Dunbar was thrown into solitary confinement, and through his own vile temper remained there until he died. Some say he attacked Bill for no reason other than to get transferred to an asylum from which he could escape; others say that he wanted to silence Bill, since Bill was the only one who recognized him as a member of the James gang.

The more likely scenario is that Bill said or did something to the man to provoke the attack. A different prisoner, who testified a few years later to a committee investigating conditions at the State Prison, claimed that Bill was the worst man he had ever met; and said that Bill–who also worked as a prison hospital orderly–gave the patients indigestible food contrary to doctors’ orders.

After his release, Bill could be found living at the Rochester House hotel in New York and spending summer days at Coney Island, working the crowds there as a pickpocket, and stealing items from the bathhouses where people changed out of their street clothes. One night in March, 1886, Bill was standing at the bar at the Rochester House when the stakes backer of the boxer George Le Blanche rolled in, despondent that his man had just lost a bout to Jack Dempsey. The backer mistook Bill Wright for a man named Tuthill, the brother of Dempsey’s backer, and thrust $2000 into Wright’s hands to settle accounts to the winner. Bill looked at the money and hesitated. However, he considered Dempsey a friend, and so he gave the money back and directed the man to visit the bar of the Hoffman House, where he knew Dempsey was staying.

A year later, in February 1887, Wright was in Albany plying his trade, and believed he might find good pickings in the New York State Senate chamber. During a recess in proceedings, he got onto the floor of the chamber and walked away with Senator Jacob Worth’s overcoat. He was caught and charged with grand larceny; Senator Worth insured that Wright was given the maximum sentence: nine years and eleven months at Clinton Prison, Dannemora.

By 1898, Bill was back in New York, once again working the crowds at Coney Island. However, he was soon arrested again, tried and sentenced to ten years at Sing Sing. Bill was 67 years old when his last term started. He would roar no more.

#178 Joseph Colon

Joseph Colon (abt. 1847-19??), aka Joseph Rogers, Edward Burns, Joseph Johnson, James Boyd, Henry Reid, Henry R. Lee, etc. — Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 138 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, nose flat and turns up at the end, sandy complexion; sandy mustache or beard, when grown. Has scar on side of head; mole on the left cheek. A woman’s head on right fore-arm, and a star on the right hand in India ink.

RECORD. Joe Colon is a very clever sneak thief and house man. He may be found around boat regattas, fairs, etc., and sometimes works with a woman. Of late he has been doing considerable house work. He travels all over and has been quite successful, as he drops into a town or city, does his work, and takes the next train out of it.

Colon first made the acquaintance of the New York police on October 23, 1877, when he was arrested at the Grand Central Railroad depot, on the arrival of a Boston train, for having in his possession a vest, watch and chain belonging to Elliot Sanford, a broker, in New York, which he had stolen from a sleeping-car. Mr. Sanford, after getting his property back, refused to go to court, and Colon was discharged, after his picture was taken for the Rogues’ Gallery.

Colon was arrested at Troy, N.Y., on August 20, 1884, under the name of Joseph Rogers, for the larceny of a gold watch and chain, the property of George L. French, from a locker in the Laureate Club boat-house during a regatta. He was convicted under Section 508 of the New York Penal Code, and sentenced to one year in the Albany, N.Y., penitentiary, and fined $500, on Saturday, August 30, 1884. He was, however, discharged before his time expired.

He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., on November 11, 1885. Tools for doing house work, consisting of a pallet-knife for opening windows, a screwdriver, soft black hat, rubber shoes, and a one-inch wood-chisel for opening drawers, etc., were found in a satchel he was carrying. His picture was taken, and he was discharged, as no complaint could be obtained against him. Colon’s picture is a good one, taken on November 11, 1885.

Colon was a very business-like thief: he left towns quickly, and when captured used a variety of common-place aliases. He often worked alone, avoiding the mistakes and disloyalty of others. He was said not to have any of the bad habits that plagued other thieves, i.e. drinking, gambling. Nothing else about his personal life or origins has been found.

However, more crimes can be attributed to Colon:

  • In December 1890, Colon was caught in Buffalo, New York, stealing a woman’s pocketbook containing $11.00. He was sent to the Erie County Penitentiary for 30 days.
  • In February, 1891, he was caught attempting to steal five pocketbooks from a department store in Chicago.
  • In July 1891, Colon was spotted loitering around the boathouses on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee–one of his favorite targets. He was sentenced to 90 days in the house of correction.
  • Byrnes indicates that Colon was arrested and later jailed on November 18, 1892, for assaulting his wife. A different source says that he was arrested that day as a thief under the name Joseph Johnson. However, newspapers and prison registers can’t confirm either of these. He was however, spotted in a store in Boston on November 7 by detectives, brought him in as a suspicious character, and told him to leave town.
  • Arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 11, 1895 for larceny from a boathouse. Sentence to the house of correction for two years.
  • Arrested in Philadelphia on December 16, 1898 as Henry Reid for attempted shoplifting. Sentenced to Philadelphia County prison for 18 months.
  • Arrested on October 22, 1900 in Northampton, Massachusetts for a larceny attempt at the Amherst College gymnasium. Sentenced to house of correction for 18 months.

#163 Benjamin B. Bagley

Benton Bushnell Bagley (1847-1921), aka Benjamin B. Bagley — Hotel, Church thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-five years old in 1886. Born in the United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 153 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. Has scar on chin. Has a peculiar expression in one eye; it is hardly a cast.

RECORD. Bagley is a very clever sneak thief. He works houses, churches, receptions and weddings, and is pretty well known in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and in the Eastern States generally. He starts out occasionally and travels South and West, and is liable to turn up anywhere.

He was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison, on February 21, 1872, under the name of Benton B. Bagley, for grand larceny. He has done service since.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 22, 1883, in company of Frank Shortell (168), and John T. Sullivan, two other expert sneaks, for the larceny of a sealskin dolman, valued at $350, from the Church of the Incarnation, Thirty-fifth Street and Madison Avenue, during a wedding, on December 27, 1882. Bagley and Sullivan were discharged on January 30, 1883, and Shortell was sent to the Elmira reformatory, by Judge Cowing, on February 5, 1883. Bagley’s picture is a good one, taken in January, 1883.

Benton B. Bagley was either an very infrequent thief or a very good one, for he was only jailed once (unless he was taken under undetected aliases). He had a couple of misadventures before embarking on thieving. In September 1864, at age 17, he enlisted in the 91st New York Volunteer Infantry. The unit was then stationed guarding Baltimore, and did not see action in the last months of that year. Bagley deserted by December.

By the end of the war, Benton was back living in Brooklyn and working as a clerk in a New York lawyer’s office. One hot July afternoon, he hid himself under a grating on Fulton Street in order to stare up underneath the hoop skirts of women walking above. Upon being caught and hauled into court, he plead that the hot weather had led to the intense feelings that caused his indiscretion. The judge gave him a fatherly lecture and let him go.




On Christmas day, 1871, Bagley used a false key to enter a room at the Sturtevant House hotel and steal a woman’s cloak. He was caught, not only with the cloak, but with a set of false keys. He was found guilty, but the judge suspended his sentence after hearing from character witnesses. A month later he was caught in a similar act at the Westminster Hotel. This time, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing.

Bagley was arrested again in 1883, as Byrnes relates, in the company of two well-known sneak thieves. However, there was no solid evidence against him, and he was released–marking the end of his known criminal career.

In Byrnes’ 1895 edition, the old detective says that Bagley “has shown the inclination to reform” and was currently in the bakery business with a relative.

By 1910, Bagley, now 63 years old, was working for a security company as a watchman. He was assigned to the night shift at the mansion of the late Charles L. Tiffany, founder of the jewelry empire. The house was then owned by his daughter Louise Harriet Tiffany. She wanted the house kept as her father left it, but couldn’t bear to reside there herself, so had the property patroled around the clock by shifts of watchmen. In March, 1910, it was discovered that over $6000 in jewelry and clothing had been taken from the house.

The watchmen who had been assigned to the mansion were questioned, and all denied knowledge. Detectives then followed them for several weeks. Without doubt, Bagley’s history as a former Sing Sing convict was revealed. However, as detectives trailed the daytime-shift watchman, William Hoffman, they observed him visiting several pawn shops. Searching Hoffman’s residence, police found the loot stolen from the Tiffanys. Bagley was cleared of the crime, but likely lost his job anyway.

By 1914, poverty forced Bagley to the New York City for the Aged and Infirm. His wife and daughter went to live with relatives; three other children were grown and living on their own. He was still an inmate in 1920, and died there in 1921 at age 74.

No effort was required to trace Bagley’s family history. His descendants had already placed him in their family tree records found on the web.

#154 James Price / #158 Thomas Price

James C. Price (1838-????), aka Jimmy Price, James A. Hoyt — Pickpocket, burglar; Thomas Price (1842-1889), aka Deafy Price, Thomas McCormick — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:
#154 James Price
DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Brown hair, dark eyes, thick nose, dark complexion.
RECORD. Jimmy Price is an old New York pickpocket. He has been a “Moll Buzzer” (one who picks a woman’s pocket) ever since he was a boy, and confines himself generally to that particular branch of the business. This big, lazy thief has sent many a poor woman home minus her few hard-earned dollars, after her visit to a crowded market, fair, or railroad car. He is a brother of Tommy Price, alias ” Deafy ” Price, the pickpocket (158), and Johnny Price, the bank sneak. He is well known in all the principal cities in the United States and Canada. He has served terms in Sing Sing prison and on Blackwell’s Island.
He was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to one year in Sing Sing prison, on October 20, 1876, under the name of William A. Hoyt, for grand larceny from the person. Since then he has done service for several States, and is now at large. Price’s picture is not so good as it might have been, on account of some difficulty he had with the officer, at the time of his arrest, in 1877.
#158 Thomas Price
DESCRIPTION. About forty-four years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Brown hair, dark eyes, sallow complexion, high forehead, an Irish expression, and is very deaf.
RECORD. “Deafy Price” ought to be well known all over America, as he has been a thief for at least twenty-five years. He is one of the old Bowery gang of pickpockets, and an associate of Old Jim Casey, “Jimmy the Kid” (142), “Big Dick” Morris (141), “Pretty Jimmy” (143), “Jersey Jimmy” (145), “Combo” (148), “Nibbs” (137), “Funeral” Wells (150), and, in fact, all the old timers. He is a brother of Jimmy Price, the “Moll Buzzer” (154), and Johnny Price, the bank sneak. He is a saucy, impudent thief, and wants to be taken in hand at once.
He was arrested in New York City and sent to the work-house on Blackwell’s Island, N.Y., on July 3, 1866. He was arrested again in New York City, in company of another man who has since reformed, for an attempt to pick pockets, and sentenced to four months in the penitentiary, on October 17, 1866, by Judge Dodge. He was arrested in New York City again on July 21, 1875, charged with violently assaulting Samuel F. Clauser, of No. 38 East Fourth Street, New York, while that gentleman was walking down Broadway. He was placed on trial on July 27, 1875, in the Court of Special Sessions, in the Tombs prison building, on a charge of assault with intent to steal, as a pickpocket. The evidence of the complainant was not strong enough to convict him of the intent to steal, and he was discharged.
He was arrested again on September 8, 1876, in company of George Williams, alias “Western George” (now dead), at the Reading Railroad depot, near the Centennial Exhibition Grounds, in Philadelphia, Pa. They were taken inside the grounds, and sentenced to ninety days in the penitentiary on September 9, 1876, under a special law passed to protect visitors to the Exposition from professional thieves. He was arrested again in New York City on December 25, 1879, charged with attempting to rob one Marco Sala, an Italian gentleman, while riding on a horse-car. He was committed for trial by the police magistrate, and afterwards discharged by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions, on January 30, 1880. Price’s picture is a good one, although taken fifteen years ago, in New York City.
While it’s no surprise that Chief Byrnes included the profiles of lifelong New York pickpockets Jimmy and Tommy Price in Professional Criminals of America, it is a minor mystery that he did not profile brother Johnny Price, a first-class bank sneak thief on par with his frequent partners Rufe Minor, George Carson, Frank Buck, Peppermint Joe Buford, Billy Coleman, etc. Though Byrnes does mention Johnny Price in the profiles of some of the above, he is not merited his own short biography. The reason for this appears to be Byrnes devotion to his format, which required a rogue’s gallery photograph for each criminal. Apparently, Johnny was never photographed (or he was and it was mislaid.)

                        Jimmy Price

The Prices came from a large Irish family, with no father present by the time the boys were teens. The oldest brother, William, born in 1838, was never a criminal; and in fact appears to have been employed as a broker at New York’s Custom House his entire career. There were two daughters, one of whom married a New York police sergeant. However, the three younger brothers fell into crime at an early age, likely through association with the Nineteenth Street gang, led by Stephen Boyle. Jimmy and Tommy were hard of hearing–Tommy profoundly so–but both were called “Deafy” at one point or another. The nickname stuck with Tommy.

            Thomas “Deafy” Price

As pickpockets, Jimmy and Tommy were highly-skilled. Byrnes indicates that the Prices were known all over the country, but there are few mentions of them in other cities, aside from Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876, which attracted pickpockets everywhere.
Jimmy was released from Sing Sing in 1895, when he was about 57 years old. He fate from that point is unknown.
Tommy “Deafy” Price, when he wasn’t picking pockets, tended bar and ran a seedy saloon in SoHo. Years later, a police captain recalled Deafy:

From the autobiographical notes of Captain Charles Albertson regarding the time he served in the New York City Police Department 8th Precinct:
Informant Deafy Price
When I was first appointed there was a dance hall of questionable reputation on the south side of Prince Street between Greene and Mercer Streets, kept by a peculiar and notorious crook known as “Deafy Price” who was the most versatile all round thief I ever knew. I came to know him quite well as his place required considerable attention. The hall was soon closed and for several years I used to see Deafy standing in front of Alderman Joe Welling’s liquor store on the corner of Houston and Sullivan Streets as I passed there from time to time. One afternoon about 1885 I went over the Chamber Street ferry to see an uncle and aunt off on the Erie on their way home. As I was getting on a Belt Line car on my way home I felt my watch being lifted from the fob pocket of my trousers. I grabbed the hand attached to the watch and discovered that it belonged to Deafy. He started to apologize, when I said, “Deafy you get off and work the next car, I will work this.” He got off.
Several months after the above mentioned event I met Deafy on Broadway when he thanked me for overlooking his former indiscretion and said he would be pleased to help me solve any criminal mystery that I had to work out from time to time and directed me where to write so that he would not be known as my “stool.” He was of great service to me in many important cases, obtaining information I would not have been able to obtain otherwise. He was said to be so expert as a pickpocket that he taught novices or new beginners his art.
I met Deafy after not having seen him for some years and when I asked him who he was doing now he said,, in a joking way that he was working a large department store that had recently opened. This store had a very opinionated detective whom I wished to try out. When I said to Deafy that I had my doubts of his being able to shop lift anything from there he said, “You get a sample of goods from there, send me that sample and I will send to you at your station the piece of goods it is curt from.” I went to the store, selected a sample of very small black and white checked silk which was very fashionable at the time and sent this to Deafy. About a week later the piece of silk was left at my station. I sent for my friend the detective and when he called said to him “your store is being worked by shoplifters.” He insisted that it was impossible. I then told him what had occurred, he insisted that my informant must have purchased the goods. We cut a sample from the piece and went to the store. I went to the silk counter at which time he came from the opposite direction. I gave the saleslady my sample, requesting to know if she could match it. She said, “Yes”, and commenced searching and after some time remarked, “I am quite sure it has not been sold” which was a fact. I believe the effect of this escapade was beneficial as it caused the detective to get busy and Deafy some time after informed me that he had been compelled to seek new fields for his efforts.
In 1889, Deafy was living with his sister on E. 136th Street, not far from the East River. His sister said that he was despondent and wandered off one day in late March. His body was found in the river a month and a half later, just a block away.

#199 Samuel Perris

Samuel Lafayette Parris (1840-????), aka Sam Perris, Sam Gorman, Samuel Ferris, Worcester Sam — Bank robber

From Byrnes’s Text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in Canada. A French Canadian. Single. No trade. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 180 pounds. Looks something like a Swede or German. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Face rather short. Has a prominent dimple in his chin. Is thick set and very muscular. Has a quick, careless gait. Speaks English without French accent ; also, French fluently. He changes the style of his beard continually, and is “smooth-faced” a part of the time. Generally wears some beard on account of his pictures having been taken with smooth face. He drinks freely and spends money rapidly. He has a scar from a pistol-shot on his right eyebrow.

RECORD. “Worcester” Sam is one of the most notorious criminals in America. He has figured in the annals of crime in the Eastern and New England States for years. He is an associate of Old Jimmie Hope (20), Mike Kerrigan, alias Johnny Dobbs (64), and all the most expert men in the country. He has no doubt participated in every bank robbery of any magnitude that has taken place in the United States for the past twenty years. He is a man of undoubted nerve, and has a first-class reputation among the fraternity. His specialty is banks and railroad office safes.

Sam is wanted now by the Worcester (Mass.) police; also, for the robbery and alleged murder of Cashier Barron, of the Dexter Bank of Maine. He was in custody at Worcester, Mass., but escaped from jail there on April 5, 1872. He has never been recaptured, although there is a standing reward of $3,000 offered for him by the county commissioners. (See records of George Wilkes and No. 50.)

Perris’s picture is the best in existence. It was copied from one taken with a companion, and resembles him very much.

Reuben and Adaline Parris were part of the wave of migration from French Canada to the United States that started in the 1830s and 1840s, fleeing a poor economy. Their first stop in the United States was Randolph, Vermont, where son Samuel Lafayette Parris was born in 1840. Adaline and her children were noted as “mulatto” in census records. In the 1850s, the family moved first to Worcester, Massachusetts; then to Watervliet, New York; and later to back Worcester, Massachusetts, where there was a large French-Canadian population that had sought out textile factory jobs. Reuben Parris (whose surname was often spelled Perris, Paris, or Pareice) was a fish and fruit dealer by trade. Reuben Parris did little to discourage his son from a life of crime, and in at least one instance abetted one of Sam’s bank robberies.

When and where Sam Parris started his life of thieving is not known, but anecdotes about his involvement in specific robberies surfaced in 1871 which dated his activities back to at least 1869, about the time he was said to have left Worcester. He traveled under the alias “Sam Gorman,” and among his early mentors were George Miles White (alias George Bliss, George Miles) and Max Shinburn. In 1869, Parris was involved in a heavy robbery in Boston, and by December of that year was enjoying the spoils in New Orleans. There he was arrested as Sam Gorman for the theft of $20,000 from the banking form of Pike, Brother, & Co. He was released on bail after donating $400 to the recorder (judge) that handled his case.



Shortly afterwards, Parris was back in northern New England, committing robberies with new partners Daniel Dockerty and Charles Gleason. In July 1870 they hit the safe of E. B. True in Newport, Vermont; followed several weeks later by a robbery in Barton, Vermont. Gleason was captured by a detective from New Hampshire in White River Junction, but was released on bail. Reunited, the gang hit the First National Bank of Grafton, Massachusetts, not far from Sam’s Worcester home.

In January, 1871 the gang of thieves robbed a bank in Waterbury, Connecticut. Afterwards, Parris was rumored to have fled to England. By May he was back in the United States, but was captured by detectives in Hoboken, New Jersey. Several states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine requested Parris, but ultimately it was decided to send him back to Worcester to stand trial for the Grafton bank robbery.

Gleason, Dockerty, Parris, and Sam’s father Reuben all faced charges. Reuben Parris was accused of driving the thieves to Grafton, and for accompanying his son to New York to sell some bonds stolen from the Grafton bank. Gleason and Dockerty were convicted and sent to the Massachusetts State Prison for long stretches: thirteen and fourteen years. Reuben Parris was acquitted of the most serious charges. Sam Parris was still waiting to learn his fate when he escaped from the Worcester jail, aided by his wife Harriet. The escape was meticulously planned:


Three months later, in July 1872, a gang of eight or nine men hit the bank at Uxbridge, Massachusetts. The technique was the same employed by Parris’ former partners, Gleason and Dockerty: they would lay in wait for the bank cashier, gag him, beat and threaten him, and then force him to open the safe. Parris’ partners are not known, but sometime in the mid 1870s, he was frequently mentioned as being one of George Leslie’s gang, which included Jimmy Hope, Abe Coakley, and Johnny Dobbs (Michael Kerrigan).

In 1876, Parris re-teamed with an old partner, George Miles White, to rob a bank in Barre, Vermont. White was captured, while Parris eluded authorities. White was imprisoned for a long sentence, and emerged from jail reformed by religion. He went on to write two books about his criminal career and religious conversion, From Boniface to Bank Burglar and Penalty and Redemption.

Parris left the United States and went to Europe, where he conspired with other touring American criminals; but what crimes they successfully committed are not known. He returned to the United states and took part in the infamous robbery at the Dexter bank in Maine in February 1879. As was his pattern, the bank cashier was threatened; when he proved uncooperative in opening the inner vault door, one of the gang of robbers locked the man behind the vault’s outer door. Most accounts suggest that Worcester Sam Parris was the guilty party when the cashier was found dead the next morning.

The Dexter job had been planned by mastermind George Leslie, who rarely participated in the actual robbery. Now that the gang had blood on their hands, it was feared that Leslie might lose his nerve. Leslie was subsequently murdered in Westchester County, just across the border from New York City. Who killed Leslie is not known, but the leading suspects were Johnny Dobbs or Sam Parris.

Parris laid low for several years, some of which were spent in Philadelphia under the protection of Jimmy Hope and his friends. The last crime that Parris was thought to be involved in was a robbery at a Walpole, New Hampshire drug store with partner Thomas McCormick. McCormick was captured and sent to prison; Parris (if it was him) put up a desperate fight, twice breaking away from officers, before outrunning them.

Worcester Sam then disappeared. An article from Cincinnati published in 1904 suggested that he was still alive, and still wanted as a fugitive in Worcester.

There is one curious mention of Parris after 1883: the June 1900 issue of The Blue Pencil Magazine contained an article by respected editor and newspaperman James F. Corrigan, titled “The Murder of Nathan.” Corrigan relates meeting an old bank robber at the New York docks in 1898, and discussing an old unsolved murder with him. It was the killing of banker Benjamin Nathan that took place in 1870, that remained unsolved. The old bank robber told Corrigan who had committed the crime, and said both perpetrators were long dead [Charles Dennis and Hugh “Kew” Carr; the pair had been briefly considered as suspects, but it was found that Dennis was in jail when Nathan was murdered.] Corrigan named his informant as “Worcester Sam,” a name that hardly anyone would have recognized in 1900.

#47 Emile Voegtlin

Emil Thomas Voegtlin (1860-1909) — Boarding room and hotel thief

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single. Scenic artist by trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Wears black mustache and side-whiskers. Has a very genteel appearance.
RECORD. Voegtlin, who branched out lately as a boarding-house and hotel thief, is the son of very respectable people in New York City. That he is a professional there is no doubt. He is a clever man, and his picture is well worth having, as he is not very well known outside of New York. He was arrested in New York City on April 23, 1882, for stealing jewelry at No. 7 Fifth Avenue, where he was boarding. On account of his family judgment was suspended, after he had pleaded guilty and promised to reform.
He was arrested again in New York City on December 12, 1883, charged by a Mrs. Josephine G. Valentine, a guest of the Irving House, corner Twelfth Street and Broadway, with stealing from her room there a diamond-studded locket and other jewelry. The scoundrel almost implicated an innocent girl, whom he was keeping company with, by giving her some of the stolen jewelry. Voegtlin was convicted of grand larceny in Part I of the Court of General Sessions, and sentenced to five years in State prison on January 8, 1884. Immediately after his sentence he was taken to Part II of the same court, and sentenced to one year on the old suspended sentence, making six years in all. His imprisonment will expire, if he earns his commutation, on March 7, 1888. Voegtlin’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

In order to appreciate the crimes of Emil Voegtlin, one has to consider the dynamics of the Voegtlin family.

In the years before motion pictures, the grand masters of the visual performing arts were the costume designers, set designers, and scenic artists. The premiere scenic artist working in America from the 1850s through the 1880s was Swiss-born William A. Voegtlin. Voegtlin often received headline billing equal to (and sometimes exceeding) the main actors of a production. He was frequently hired to paint the interiors of opera houses and theaters, in addition to pieces used in specific productions. His works, combined with lighting effects, were masterpieces of deception, creating dramatic panoramic landscapes within the confines of a small stage.
In 1857, William Voegtlin married Bertha Fleischman in the town of Peru, Illinois. Over the next twenty-five years, they had nine children–but only two survived to adulthood: Emil, born in 1860; and Arthur, born in 1862.
By 1881, the family made their headquarters in a prosperous New York City boarding house. William was often on the road, but the young men sometimes joined him as assistants, and both learned their father’s craft.

In early 1882, Bertha, now 42, formed a relationship with a wealthy, married New York businessman, Carl Voegel. At about the same time as Bertha was beginning this affair, Arthur ( age 19) played a cruel prank on Emil. Arthur arranged for the New York Dramatic Mirror print a notice that Emil ( age 21) was engaged to a popular new actress, a beauty named Emma Carson. The notice forced the young actress to protest that it was not true. The Dramatic Mirror retracted the story the next week.
A month later, in April 1882, Emil was arrested for perpetrating a series of thefts that had occurred in the boarding house. He plead guilty, and confessed that he had spent the proceeds of his robberies “in dissipation.” Thanks to the entreaties of his parents, his sentencing was suspended.
Later that autumn, Bertha ran away with Carl Voegel to San Francisco. They presented themselves as “Mr. and Mrs. Voegel,” though both were still legally married to others. In November, 1882, Bertha filed papers for divorce from William A. Voegtlin, claiming that he was cruel and intemperate. William A. Voegtlin visited California in March of 1883, working for theaters there. He was served with the divorce papers. In April, he filed a cross-suit accusing Bertha of adultery.
Emil Voegtlin spent the summer of 1883 at a Hudson Valley resort in Tarrytown, New York. He romanced a young teen girl, Julia Regna, and by summer’s end gave both her and others in town the impression that their engagement was imminent. Then he left abruptly.
Meanwhile, Bertha and her new man, Carl Voegel, went on a tour of Europe. However, at some point they split up. Bertha arrived back in New York alone and asked William to provide her with support. He agreed, providing that she lived with son Arthur. The arrangement lasted only a few weeks before Bertha tired of the treatment she received. She fled New York again–supposedly going to Mexico–and later sent William a letter indicating the divorce had gone through.
Emil, after fleeing Tarrytown, had returned to the family’s new rooms at the Irving House hotel. He began romancing a young, teen-aged Macy’s employee, Nellie Haight. Soon he was giving her jewelry, and once again it was assumed they would soon announce an engagement. However, it was discovered that Emil had stolen the pieces of jewelry from other hotel residents. He was tried and found guilty; combined with his earlier suspended sentence, he was sent to Sing Sing for a six-year sentence.
Meanwhile, Emil’s father William returned to California. Believing himself divorced, William began cohabiting with a young Los Angeles fashion designer, Lizzie M. Richey. They were married in May, 1884. However, within a few months, Lizzie discovered letters written to William from his first wife Bertha, and consequently started bigamy proceedings against her husband. William countered with accusations that Lizzie was blackmailing him. Their dispute ran on for a year, until they agreed to separate.
William A. Voegtlin continued his career as a scenic artist until he died while working on a job in Boston, Massachusetts in May 1892. Where first wife Bertha went to after 1883 is unknown.
Emil was released from Sing Sing in 1888, whereupon he resumed his career as a scenic artist. He was arrested for larceny while traveling on a job in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He was sentenced to three years at the State Penitentiary in Jackson, Michigan.
After his release from Jackson, Emil once again pursued the vocation of scenic artist. Both he and his brother went on to have successful careers, although Arthur was much more in demand. Arthur Voegtlin designed many of the facades and interiors at Luna Park, the foremost amusement park of the early twentieth-century; and later moved to Hollywood, where his son had a career as an actor and director. Emil worked exclusively for the scenic artist firm responsible for productions at the New York Hippodrome. He spent his last ten years married to Katherine Foley.
Emil’s larcenous and romantic misadventures came to a stop with his father’s death.

#81 Frederick Benner

Francis Bellman (1854-19??), aka Frederick Benner, Frederick Bennett, George Harrison, John Watson, Frank Belmont, Dutch Fred — Pickpocket, Thief

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-three years old in 1886. German. Born in United States. Barkeeper. Married. Well built. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 148 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Wears a light-colored mustache. Has letters “F. E.” in India ink on his left fore-arm.
RECORD. Benner, alias “Dutch Fred,” is a New York burglar and pickpocket, having served time in Philadelphia and New York penitentiaries for both ofifenses. He is very well known in both cities and is considered a clever man. He was arrested on May 31, 1879, in the Lutheran Cemetery, on Long Island, N.Y., in company of Johnny Gantz, another New York pickpocket, charged with picking a woman’s pocket. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison, in the Queens County, Long Island, Court, in June, 1879.
He made his escape from the jail in Long Island City, in company of three other prisoners, on June 28, 1879, by sawing through the iron bars of the jail windows. He was arrested again in New York City on July 24, 1879, and delivered to the Sheriff of Queens County, who at once delivered him to the prison authorities at Sing Sing. Benner was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to three years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, on August 20, 1883, for burglary, under the name of Frederick Bennett. His time expired on April 20, 1886. “Dutch Fred’s” picture is a good one, taken in October, 1877.

Byrnes’ account of Frank Bellman’s career up to 1886 covers all that is known of his crimes to that point. He was never considered more than a second-rate thief. While one Sing Sing register correctly identified his real name as Bellman, Thomas Byrnes did not appear to know this. Bellman came from a large German family living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two of his older sisters died while Frank was a teen.

In December 1886, after Byrnes’ first edition was published, Bellman was arrested under the name “George Harrison” for assaulting a saloon owner named George Kling. Bellman realized that if recognized as a repeat offender, he would face a long sentence, a prospect he feared:

Bellman’s injuries were not fatal. He was brought into court three months later, recognized as a repeat offender, and sentenced to eighteen years in Sing Sing.

At some point early in his incarceration, a movement was started to promote clemency for Bellman. How this started isn’t known: it could have been because of sympathy generated by his sentencing theatrics; or family members could have lobbied on his behalf. However, the most plausible and intriguing possibility is that Bellman himself reached out from behind bars to contact his favorite author, Laura Jean Libbey.

Laura Jean Libbey was a bestselling author of dime novels featuring young working women, alone in the world, struggling for advancement (although that often was accomplished through marrying a successful man). Her works were immensely popular–putting her on par with Horatio Alger and Erastus Beadle of the previous generation. Some sources mention that–for reasons unknown–her works were also popular among an unexpected demographic: male convicts.

Libbey, at that time, was unmarried. She responded to Bellman’s plight and lobbied New York Governor Flowers to commute his sentence. Her plea was effective: Bellman was set loose in December, 1892.

Six months later, he was caught stealing shoes from a shoe store. He had grabbed four shoes–none of which were mates to another. He was nabbed by NYPD officer Kuntz [sadly, not a close relative of the blog author. -ED] By 1900, Frank was out of prison and living in a boarding house in Jersey City. His whole family, save one married sister,was gone: three brothers, two sisters, and his parents had died before Frank reached forty. How much longer Frank lived is unknown.

#106 William B. Towle

William Bentley Towle (1857-1898) — Medical supply thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Australia. Very slim build. Married. Height, 6 feet 1 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Sandy hair, blue eyes, sandy, complexion. Has scars on the left arm, near the wrist; freckled hands.

RECORD. William B. Towle makes a specialty of robbing doctors’ offices. Twenty-seven physicians, all Towle’s victims, were present in court in New York City on July 19, 1884, to testify that he had entered their offices and stolen medical instruments, etc. His method of operating was the same at nearly all the places which he visited. Sometimes he would dash up to a doctor’s door in a cab, and after hastily inditing a note, be left alone in the office and suddenly leave the premises with whatever he could lay his hands on.
At one time he was a clerk in a drug store, there becoming familiar with the value of different articles used by physicians and surgeons. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in State prison on August 6, 1884, by Judge Cowing. Towle was recognized in court as a man who in January, 1884, was arrested for assaulting a man named Oliver, in Abingdon Square, New York. It was said at the time that Oliver had found his wife and Towle under suspicious circumstances. For this assault Towle was sent to Blackwell’s Island, and was only a short time from there when arrested for robbing doctors’ offices and sentenced as above. His picture is an excellent one, taken in July, 1884.

William Bentley Towle was certainly a unique individual, but he should not be classed as a “professional criminal” based on the one crime spree conducted between May-July of 1884. The motivation behind those robberies of medical supplies is still unclear, but fits a portrait of Towle as a man of strange and powerful impulses.

He was born to Dr. Frederick W. Towle and his wife in Geelong, Victoria, Australia in 1857. At age 18, William joined the police force of Victoria as a constable. That same year he was married to Eveline Hewitt. They had a daughter, Bertha, in January 1877. However, William tired of that vocation after two years, and then determined to follow in the footsteps of his father as a surgeon. He first went to England to finish his education; his plan must have been to be educated as a surgeon in England, as his father had been.

What happened to Towle in England between the critical years 1878 and 1883 is a blank, as is the status of his marriage. He did not complete any medical degree while there. He appeared in New York City in late 1883, alone. However, he quickly became enamored of the affections of an unhappily-married woman, known only as Mrs. Oliver. In January 1884, Towle was arrested in Abingdon Square in New York’s West Village for assault on Mr. Oliver. In his pocket was found a note indicating that he and Mrs. Oliver intended to elope (despite both being legally wed to others). Towle was sent to the county prison at Blackwell’s Island for ninety days.

When Towle was released in May 1884, he conceived his crime spree. He was, obviously, trying to raise a large amount of cash as quickly as possible, using his knowledge of expensive medical tools and lax security in physician offices. It is known that during his thefts, he asked one doctor about whether medical coursework completed in England would be accepted by American medical colleges; so perhaps he was raising money to get into medical school. Or to run away with Mrs. Oliver. However, after robbing over twenty-seven doctors, he was finally caught short of achieving his mysterious goal. Instead of medical school, Towle found himself enrolled in a two-year semester at Sing Sing.

Upon his release, with time reduced, Towle headed to Chicago and enrolled in medical school at the University of Illinois. He supported his studies by working nights for the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper. He served as an intern at the Cook County hospital, but in 1888 opted to finish his degree at Bishop’s Medical Facility in Montreal–a degree from a University in the British Commonwealth would be valid in any Commonwealth country, including Australia. By one account, he graduated with honors.

Dr. William Bentley Towle first took positions in England, but by 1891 had returned to his native Australia. He took a series of positions in small Australian towns or rural areas: Geelong in Victoria; Berrigan in New South Wales; Gympie in Queensland; and Wilcannia in New South Wales. There is no indication that he ever reconnected with his estranged wife, Eveline. She remarried in 1893; and Towle himself remarried in 1897.

Towle appears to have burned bridges with his family. He had no contacts within the Australian medical community, and was unable to establish his own thriving practice. Thumbing his nose at the establishment, Towle decided to advertise his services, claiming to cure maladies that others could not. In essence, he became a quack.

Aside from questionable diagnoses and treatments, Towle championed some very strange medical concepts. Like some others in the Victorian period, Towle was convinced that “self-abuse,” i.e. masturbation, was the cause of many ailments. He wrote a book, The Sexual System in Health and Disease. In this work, Towle claimed that his “Hercules Life Renewer,” a belt with an attached pouch for the genitals that delivered an electric shock, would stop “self-abuse” and cure impotence.herculesliferenewer_p42
However, Towle himself suffered from other unhealthy habits. He was said to have long suffered from sleeplessness, a condition he medicated with chloral drops, a synthetic opiate popularly known as “knockout drops.” To rouse himself from his induced stupors, he took cocaine. One night in November, 1898, he added too many chloral drops to his nightly glass of beer and never awoke, ending the career of perhaps the strangest “Professional Criminal of America.”

Seven Months and Seventy Criminals [Author’s Note]

Entering the month of July, 2018, I have been adding about ten criminal profiles per month. To date, seventy of the 210 entries in Byrnes 1886 edition have been updated. So far, my overall impression is surprise at the diversity of stories. Of the remaining 140 criminals, I expect to hit dead-ends with many–their names and arrests will not yield clues to their full identities. So the project as a whole is, perhaps, half-way done.

For my part, I need to take a short break. I have a full-length book written on a criminal mastermind who predates Byrnes tenure, and need to prepare that text for publication. Also, one of my recent entries took me down a fascinating rabbit-hole of research that may result in another book-length work.

Summarizing these individuals’ complete lives in mini-essays emphasizes their criminals acts, in contrast to the overwhelming percentage of their existence spent as prisoners. I’m not sure that doing time reformed any of them; but fear of doing more time reformed a few.

#119 Lena Kleinschmidt

Magdalina/Madaleine Warner [or Levi] (Abt. 1830-????), aka Black Lena, Lena Kleinschmidt, Bertha Kleinschmidt, Bertha Kleinsmith, Betty Smith, Mary Morris — Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Housekeeper. Stout build. Height, about 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark complexion. Wrinkled face.
RECORD. Lena Kleinschmidt, or “Black Lena,” is a notorious shoplifter. She is well known from Maine to Chicago, and has been arrested and sent to prison several times, three times in New York City alone.
She was arrested in New York City, in company of Christene Mayer, alias Mary Scanlon, alias Kid Glove Rosey (118), on April 9, 1880, for the larceny of 108 yards of silk dressings, valued at $250, from the store of McCreery & Co., Broadway and Eleventh Street. The property was found on Lena; and other property, stolen from Le Boutillier Brothers, on Fourteenth Street, New York, was found on Rosey. Kleinschmidt gave $500 bail, and left the city, but was re-arrested and brought back, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years and nine months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 30, 1880, by Recorder Smyth. Rosey was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years, the same day. Lena’s picture is a good one, taken in April, 1880.
“Black Lena” Kleinschmidt (so-called for her typical dark garb and black hair) was famous for being one of Marm Mandelbaum’s favorite shoplifters (along with Sophie Lyons). Marm Mandelbaum and Lena likely came to New York from Germany within a year of one another, in 1850-51, if Lena’s account is to be believed. Lena said that she, at age 16, arrived on the same ship, the bark Salon, as her soon-to-be husband, Adolph Kleinschmidt. However, there is no woman on the passenger list that seems to fit that age; and in several later occasions, she indicated her birth year as 1829, not 1835.
Lena’s marriage record for her union with Adolph Kleinschmidt has not surfaced, though her 1867 divorce announcement was printed in the newspaper. Adolph was a peddler/tinsmith by profession, and apparently did not join Lena’s shoplifting outings. However, Adolph, Lena, and Marm Mandelbaum were all arrested together in Brooklyn in December, 1859 in a house full of stolen items. Lena’s shoplifting forages were already far-flung; two months earlier, in October 1859, she was taken by detectives from her property in Hackensack, New Jersey and sent to Chicago to face grand larceny charges. She escaped conviction in that instance, too.

An anecdote about Black Lena’s exploits in Hackensack was first related by Detective Phil Farley in his 1876 book, Criminals of America, and then reprinted many times: by NYPD Chief Walling in his book of reminiscences; by Herbert Asbury in Gangs of New York; and in a 1932 New Yorker feature article. These stories do not place Lena in Hackensack until 1863/64, which is at least five years off the mark. Also, the premise of these stories is that Lena had hoodwinked the whole town into believing her feigned respectability; in fact, she had been exposed as a notorious shoplifter in local newspapers by 1859, if not earlier.
Lena’s lifestyle wore on Adolph. In 1866, while Lena was out on a $2000 bail for shoplifting, and they had a dispute: she accused him of abuse; he accused her of running off to Charleston with a man named John Joseph Heinrich (likely a shoplifting partner of Lena’s). Adolph had the bondsman revoke her bail, and she was taken to New York City’s Tombs detention center. Following this misadventure, Adolph instituted divorce proceedings against Lena. The divorce was finalized in June 1867, but Adolph had already taken the liberty of marrying another woman in March, 1867.
In July, 1870 Magdalina Kleinschmidt remarried to John Schneider. Their marriage record gives a possible clue as to her birth name: Magdalina Warner, daughter of Georg and Rosina Warner. However, there is no corroborating evidence; and counter to this, other evidence exists suggesting her maiden name was Levy/Levi. By this time, Lena was known to be working with her alleged sister, Amelia Levy, who later became known as “Black Amelia.”

            “Black Lena” Kleinschmidt

In 1875, Lena and a young “English” (as opposed to German) shoplifter named Tilly Miller were arrested for shoplifting in Brooklyn and locked up in the Kings County jail. They were said to be working on behalf of a “male firm” of receivers, not Marm Mandelbaum. Before they could be examined by a grand jury, they were smuggled tools and a rope, and escaped from the jail. Aiding them was Charley Perle (husband of Augusta Harris of the Greenthal gang of fences) and John Nugent (perhaps the same man as husband #2, John Schneider). Brooklyn detectives chased them to Montreal and attempted to arrest them, but they refused to budge–no extradition treaty existed with Canada that covered larceny.
With Brooklyn and New York City detectives held at bay, Lena and Tilly Miller ventured into New York state on shoplifting visits. Meanwhile, Charley Perle and John Nugent were caught trying to sneak $1000 from a Canadian bank. John Nugent reportedly died after six months in prison.
In December 1876, Lena, Tilly Miller, and alleged sister Amelia were among a host of noted female shoplifters that convened in Boston, apparently drawn by assurances of a corrupt detective that they would be unmolested. Instead, Lena and Tilly were arrested and sent to Brooklyn to face charges they had escaped from more than a year earlier. In Brooklyn, they were sentenced to four and a half years in the penitentiary. Lena was released on bail pending an appeal of her conviction in August 1878 (an unusual occurrence); to everyone’s surprise, she showed up at her appeal, only to have it denied. However, the governor of New York pardoned her in December, 1879.

            “Black Amelia” Levy

Just four months later, Lena was caught shoplifting along with another infamous figure, Mary Scanlon, alias Kid Glove Rosie. Lena was sentenced to Blackwell Island for a term of four years and six months. She was released early for good behavior, and left the east coast for Chicago, where she teamed up with members of the Reinsch-Weir gang of shoplifters.
Lena Kleinschmidt was mentioned as being a sister of the matriarch of the Reinsch family of thieves, Henrietta Reinsch, whose maiden name was Levi/Levy. Another member of the Reinsch gang, the same generation as Henrietta, was Eva Geisler, whose maiden name was also Levi/Levy. Were the four professional shoplifters: Pauline Reinsch, Eva Geisler, Amelia Levy, and Bertha Kleinschmidt all sisters? It is a tempting theory, but not one without issue.
Amelia Levy’s ethnicity was often described as Jewish. Black Lena, too, was sometimes described as Jewish, but not as often. The Reinsch and Weir families were not Jewish; Pauline Reinsch was buried in a German Lutheran cemetery. In one interview, Black Lena recounts growing up in a German Catholic village, and feeling guilt from the presence of statues of Jesus. She also related that she had conversations with the prison priest. Possibly the four sisters named Levi/Levy came from a family that no longer identified as Jewish; but that in itself would be outside the norm.

The identification of Lena and Amelia–and other professional criminals–as Jews served as fodder for antisemitism.

Lena was arrested in Chicago along with Emma Weir (nee Reinsch) In November 1883; and again in December. Her trial was delayed, but in March 1884 she was sentenced to three years at Joliet for larceny. Another five years was tacked on later, which kept her in Joliet until July 1889. A month later, in August, she was caught again; and in October sentenced to another four years at Joliet.
She was free again–for just two weeks–in March 1893. Once again she was captured stealing items in a store accompanied by Emma Weir. She escaped conviction but was nabbed in both Milwaukee and St. Louis within a few months, paying fines to avoid jail.
By 1896, Black Lena was back in trouble in Chicago. She was arrested for shoplifting, assisted by Martin Weir. She plead guilty and was sentenced to three months in Cook County jail, while Martin was sent to Joliet.
Lena joined Martin in Joliet in 1897, after once again failing to control her habits. While there, she was interviewed by criminologist J. Sanderson Christison, and named simply as “Bertha.” That interview has been reprinted on the Historical Crime Detective site. She expresses contrition, and admits she can’t help herself.
Lena was released from Joliet in 1899. By 1901, a Chicago detective spoke of her being dead, but no record has yet surfaced of when or where that occurred.