Charles Wesley Allen (1843-189?), aka Wess/Wes Allen, Wesley/Westley Allen, Charles Langley — Pickpocket, Thief
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Widower. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Right eye gray, left eye out, and replaced at times by a glass one. He sometimes wears green goggles, or only a green patch over the left eye. Dark hair, mixed with gray; sallow complexion. Generally wears a black mustache. Scar on left side of face. Has letters “W.A.,” an anchor, and dots of India ink on left fore-arm.
RECORD. “Wess.” Allen is probably the most notorious criminal in America, and is well known all over the United States. He is a saucy, treacherous fellow, and requires to be watched closely, as he will use a pistol if an opportunity presents itself. Wess.’s brothers are Theodore Allen, well known as “The. Allen,” a saloon keeper in New York, John Allen, a jeweler in New York, Martin Allen, a burglar, now in Sing Sing State prison, sentenced to ten years on November 1, 1883, for burglary in New York City (a house robbery, second offense), and Jesse Allen, a burglar (now dead).
Wess. has been a thief for many years, but has not served much time in prison. He was arrested in New York City for an attempt to break into a silk house, and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison, on July 7, 1873, under the name of Charles W. Allen. Since his release, in 1877, he has been arrested in almost every city in America, but always manages to escape conviction.
The following are a few of his arrests since 1880: He was arrested in New Haven, Conn., on January 29, 1880, in company of Wm. Brown, alias Burton, and James H. Johnson, at the Elliott House, whither they had followed Parnell and Dillon, the agitators. After a few days’ detention he was discharged. He was discharged from custody at Reading, Pa., on April 14, 1880, where he was detained on five indictments for picking pockets at a fair there in the fall of 1879.
He was charged with picking the pocket of Thomas Rochford of his watch, on the night of October 29, 1880, near the City Hall in Brooklyn. He proved an alibi, and was acquitted by a jury in the Kings County Court of Sessions in Brooklyn, N.Y., on December 23, 1880.
He was arrested in New Haven, Conn., on August 30, 1883, for an attempt to pick the pocket of John McDermott on a railroad train. As usual, he was discharged. He was discharged from arrest in the Jefferson Market Police Court, New York City, on July 30, 1884. The complainant, Edward P. Shields, a barkeeper for Theodore Allen, Wess.’s brother, charged him with “jabbing two of his fingers in his left eye.”
He was arrested again in New York City, after a severe tussle, on September 13, 1885, while attending the funeral of his wife, Amelia, on a warrant issued by Justice Mulholland, of Syracuse, N.Y., charging him with grand larceny. He was delivered to a detective officer, who took him back to Syracuse, where he again escaped his just deserts.
In November, 1885, two men of gentlemanly appearance called upon an Alleghany City, Pa., tailor named Rice, and were measured for some suits of clothing. “Send them C. O. D. to West Jefferson, Ohio, when they are finished,” they said, and bowed themselves out, after giving their names as Fisher and Grimes. The clothes, valued at $146, were shipped by Adams Express a week later, and the night they arrived in West Jefferson the express office was broken into and the clothing stolen. Fisher proved to be Wess. Allen. He had assumed his father-in-law’s name, Martin Fisher, whose house in New York City was searched by the police, and they found three of the missing suits there and also some silk. Fisher and his wife were taken into custody as receivers of stolen goods, and subsequently discharged. The former is over seventy years old, and the latter only a few years younger. Allen could not be found, as from the latest accounts he had gone to England to try his fortune there. His picture is an excellent one, the best in existence, taken in March, 1880.
Wes Allen was one of five infamous brothers of the Allen family, noted for their thieving, street gang battles, political thuggery, and vice activities centered in Manhattan’s Eighth and Ninth Wards. His older brothers included Theodore “The” Allen (1834-1908); Jesse “Jess” Allen (1837-1875); Martin Van Buren “Mart” Allen (1841-191?); and John, a saloon operator. Among them, Wes, has the distinction of being the only one included in Byrnes’ Professional Criminals of America. Brothers Jess and Mart might have qualified, but Jess died eleven years before Byrnes published. Why Mart did not make the cut is a mystery–perhaps he only lacked a photograph–which is unfortunate, since Mart was perhaps the most interesting of the clan.
For sixty years, members of the Allen family were a constant source of melodrama, bloody violence, infidelity and depravity that entertained the newspaper-reading public and saloon gossipers of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “The” Allen was also a major figure in New York City politics, sporting life and nightlife. The family’s story started conventionally enough, with the marriage of Jesse Allen Sr. and Hannah Louise Cole just before 1830. Jesse Sr. was a cartman by trade. Hannah bore ten children by 1848, seven of who survived childhood.
In 1848, when the brothers ranged from 5 to 17 (with Wes being the youngest), the family first came to public attention–but not because of any mischief by the sons, who had no arrest records to that point. From the October 26, 1848 edition of the New York Herald:
Seduction by a Methodist Class Leader
Much to be regretted, we are called upon too often to expose the wolves in sheep’s clothing, who prowl about in this community, seeking whom they may devour, under the garb of religion, consummating their hellish purposes in seduction and adultery; breaking up the peace and quiet of respectable families, apparently with impunity—all of which is done under the cloak of administering spiritual comfort. One of these wolves we are about to describe; and that the reader may understand the whole case, we shall begin at the beginning and finish off with the last acts by which the guilty parties were discovered and taken to the police station, through the ingenious management of Justice Mountfort, one of our indefatigable magistrates.
It will be recollected that many months ago, the Independent Methodist Church, situated in 18th street, near the North River, was under the direction of Brother Witney, a Methodist minister, in which meeting house a class was formed of the pious souls of that vicinity; and amongst this congregation was Brother Peter W. Longley, a produce dealer, of No. 78 Courtlandt street. Now, brother Longley was a man of the world, and, although a class-leader, was still susceptible of the many points that constitute the attractions of a pretty woman; such, however, is human nature, and brother Longley, on this point, was no worse than many others who are yet to be discovered.
In the class of brother Longley was a neat, good-looking little woman, of about 34 years of age, by the name of Hannah Allen, the wife of Jesse Allen, a respectable cartman, residing in West 18th street, by whom she has a family of seven children. Brother Longley was very attentive to all his little flock, in administering to them the spiritual comforts; but more particularly to Mrs. Allen, whom he used to visit during the day, at her residence, sometimes once, sometimes twice, and some days three times, according as the spirit moved him. On these meeting the neighbors would hear them pray and sing together with all the devotion imaginable, until some of the good neighbors began to think that brother Longley was a little too devoted in his attentions.
This was secretly whispered around by the different ladies in the vicinity, and finally came to the ears of Mr. Allen, who, upon several occasions of coming home in the course of a day, found brother Longley in earnest prayer with his better half. Brother Allen then told brother Longley that he thought his visits were rather too frequent—and that it would be more pleasing to him if he would stay away. This rather dampened the ardor of brother Longley; and the consequence was that out-door visits were resorted to, as they were afterwards frequently seen seated together in earnest conversation in Union square.
The intercourse was carried on as usual between them in secret meetings, until about two weeks since, when brother Longley concocted a plan whereby they could enjoy each other, without creating so much suspicion. A few months ago, Longley’s wife was the owner in her own right of a new three-story house situated in 26th street, corner of 2d avenue; this, Longley persuaded her to make over to him, which she did, accordingly. Thus far so good, for brother Longley; but not so for Mrs. Longley as two weeks ago she was informed by her husband that her mother, who resides at New Haven, was very sick, and wanted to see her, and was advised by him to go up immediately; and was told at the same time that she might stay two weeks, or as long as she pleased.
Mrs. L started; but on arriving at New Haven, she discovered the story was false—that her mother was not sick. Now that his wife was absent, brother Longley devised a plan whereby to enjoy the worldly comforts of sister Allen; the father of Mrs. Allen was applied to, and the husband (Mr. Allen) represented to be a brute, and that a divorce must be obtained; and while that was pending, brother Longley kindly offered two rooms in his house for the accommodation of sister Allen. This was readily accepted by Mrs. Allen, and sanctioned by the father, who knew Longley to be a member of the church, and a class leader, thus feeling satisfied that his daughter was safe in the hands of such a good and pious man. Therefore, in the absence of Mr. Allen, Mrs. Allen removed some of her best furniture from her husband’s house to the house of Longley, where she was to occupy a room, taking with her likewise one of her children.
On Mr. Allen coming home from his daily labor, he learned the news that his wife had left, nor could he ascertain her whereabouts. This passed on for near two weeks, when Mrs. Longley returned, a few days earlier than was expected; she thought some trouble would occur on her return, from the fact of her being deceived by her husband in her New Haven trip. Therefore, she went to work with some caution; and as the lower part of Longley’s house is hired out to another family, upon inquiry, some important facts were elicited. Fearful that some tragical scene might occur if she went to the house alone, and to eradicate any such difficulty, she applied to Justice Mountfort, who, upon consultation, sent for Mr. Allen; and a plan was soon devised by the Justice, in order to keep the peace and see that no violence was used towards the person of either party.
This arranged, a descent was made on the house by Mrs. Longley and Mr. Allen, accompanied by a friend, Mr. Isaac F. Sharp, guarded in the rear by Captain Johnson and Assistant Captain Flandreau, of the Eighteenth ward police. The time was set at eleven o’clock, on Tuesday night last. The house was entered very carefully, so as to not give any alarm. Mr. Allen and Mrs. Longley, the two aggrieved parties, ascended gently upstairs to the room door of brother Longley, Mrs. L. putting her ear to the keyhole, and plainly heard the devoted couple praying together.
The reader can readily imagine the feelings of the discomforted couple outside the door, at hearing the loving couple within the room. Allen was for going right in, and so was Mrs. L; but recollecting the instructions of the magistrate, which was to listen attentively at the door, until quiet was restored within, then burst in the door, and each one go in for their own; this instruction was most faithfully kept, for no sooner was the light extinguished in the room, than in went the door, and, sure, such a scene was never seen before.
Mrs. Longley seized her husband’s inexpressibles, and grabbed his pocket book. He jumped out of bed sans culottes, seized his wife around her waist, and such a scene then took place, such a tugging, pulling, and hauling for the breeches, as the reader can more easily imagine than we can possibly describe; she crying out help, murder, murder, &c, making a “slice” of tragical comedy rarely witnessed. Mrs. Allen doubled herself up in bed under the sheets, resembling a mole hill in a meadow. The alarm of murder now brought in the aid of the police, to keep the peace between the enraged parties; which resulted in all being taken to the station house.
In the morning, Justice Mountfort investigated the case but finding no criminal law touching the charge of adultery, that was abandoned and Mr. Longley was held to bail in the sum of $500, to keep the peace towards his wife, as it appears from her affidavit that he has been in the habit of abusing her, as on one occasion, before she left for New Haven, because she did not clean his boots just to please him he slapped her face, and otherwise misused her. Mr. Allen took his wife home again, and is willing to forget and forgive, if she will only conduct herself better in future. It appears they have been married near twenty years, and have had ten children, seven of which are now living.
The hoped-for (at least by the Herald) reconciliation between Jesse Allen and Hannah did not occur. Less than two years later, Hannah could be found cohabiting with Peter Longley along with her youngest children, Martin (9), Wes (8), and Hannah (4). In 1851, Hannah sued Jesse for support; by 1855 she had married the now-divorced Longley and had two daughters by him. Martin (14), Wes (13) and Hannah (9) still lived with her and Peter. Similarly, after their divorce, Jesse Allen remarried and fathered four more children with his second wife, Helen Staley.
By 1860, Hannah and Peter had migrated to Brooklyn. In that year’s census, Peter’s property was valued at $20,000–comparatively wealthy for that time. Martin, now 20, still lived with his mother, but Wes apparently opted to stay behind in Manhattan, where his grandparent’s had sheltered Theodore and Jesse after the breakup of the Allen marriage.
In that year, 1860, Wes–at age 18, was already described as a well-known pickpocket. Wes’s worse tendencies were interrupted by the Civil War, for which he volunteered in June, 1861. [His older brother “The”, Theodore Allen, also served, but ended the war in a military prison for collecting bounties on ghost recruits]. Wes Allen served ably in New York’s 62nd Infantry, Company G, and was promoted to Corporal in May 1864. He was wounded in October, 1864 during the pivotal Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia, and lost his left eye. Afterwards he always wore an eye patch or dark green spectacles–a distinctive feature that cramped his occupation as a pickpocket [imitator pickpockets started wearing eye patches and dark glasses]. He was formally mustered out in October, 1865–but had already been roaming his home streets since May 1865 while convalescing at David’s Island military hospital in New Rochelle.
In May, 1865, Wes was picked up for snatching a man’s watch, but a city alderman appeared just in time to convince the victim not to press charges in return for $100, which the man assented to, but not before a judge learned of the story. Allen was brought up on charges and sentenced to five years in State Prison. He was pardoned by Governor Fenton after just five months, thanks to a bargain struck by his brother “The.” The deal was this: if “The” could carry the 7th and 8th districts of the Eighth Ward for M. O. Roberts as Judge, the Governor would be convinced to issue the pardon. “The” kept his end of the bargain, and his little brother was freed.
In August, 1868, Wes Allen and a large number of youths loitered outside “The’s” saloon, the St. Bernard House, at the corner of Mercer and Prince streets. They were told to disperse by a patrolman, Officer Crittenden, but instead chose to shower the man with abuse. Crittenden grabbed Wes Allen and signalled four other officers to join him. A nasty fight between the five officers and as many as thirty or forty ruffians broke out, capped by the appearance of Wes’s older brother Jess, who waded in to the fracas waving revolvers. Shots rang out, and the street toughs retreated inside “The’s” saloon, from which they opened fire. About thirty shots were traded, but with no serious injuries. Wes was released the next morning.
In November 1869, Wes was convicted of burglary in Brooklyn, where his family had no political influence, and sent to Auburn Prison. However, it was election time, and his brother “The” was on the ballot in the Eighth ward:
Byrnes ends his entry saying that Wes fled to England in 1885. In Byrne’s 1895 edition, he states that Wes died there in prison in June, 1890. Articles appeared in January, 1891, confirming that he was in England, but was on the verge of death. A report from the New York Sun in July, 1891, said that Wes was present in his brother John’s house in Manhattan when “The” was taken there after a near-fatal stabbing. So was Byrnes wrong about Wes’s death? Regardless, Wes was heard from no more.