#163 Benjamin B. Bagley

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

From Byrnes’ 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.

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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.

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