Samuel Lafayette Parris (1840-????), aka Sam Perris, Sam Gorman, Samuel Ferris, Worcester Sam — Bank robber
From Byrnes’ Text:
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
“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, aHas 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 babking 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. Corrigan named his informant as “Worcester Sam,” a name that hardly anyone would have recognized in 1900.