Edward Fairbrother (18??-????), aka Edward S. West, John Brown, Edward Weston — Boarding house thief
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Fifty-five years old in 1886. Born in England. Physician. A small, nervous man. Speaks very rapidly, Has long, thin, white hair. Hollow cheeks; high, sharp cheek bones. No upper teeth. Large, long nose. Has a fine education, and speaks five languages.
RECORD. Dr. West, the name he is best known by, was arrested in New York City on July 7, 1873, for grand larceny from a boarding-house in 128th Street. The complaint was made by Charles E. Pierce. The Doctor was convicted, and sentenced to two years in State prison on July 14, 1873, by Judge Sutherland, in the Court of General Sessions, New York.
West was arrested again in New York in January, 1880, charged with committing twenty-two robberies inside of seven months. He freely admitted his guilt, and confessed to all of them. The best piece of work he had done, he said, was the robbery of Major Morton’s residence on Fifth Avenue, New York City, where he secured $6,000 worth of diamonds and jewelry, with which he got safely away and pawned for $450. When taken to Major Morton’s residence, however, the people in the house failed to identify him, and went so far as to say that he was not the man who had called there. West told the officers how he robbed Morton’s house and several others. At the time of his arrest he had $20 in his possession. Out of this he gave $13 to a poor man named Kane, from whom he had stolen a coat. A poor servant-girl also came to court. West recognized her, and offered her the last of his money, $7; but she would only take five of it.
West, in speaking of himself at that time, said, “I have not always been a criminal; I have seen better days, far better days than many can boast of, and bright opportunities, too. I had no disposition for crime—in fact, no inclination that way. But time’s whirligig turned me up a criminal; and I fought hard against it, too. I came to this country from England in 1855. I had just then graduated from Corpus Christi College, founded by Bishop Fox, of Winchester. I am an alumnus of Oxford. I took my degree of M.D., and came to this country, and became a practicing physician in New York City. I lived then in Clinton Place. In 1863 I was arrested for malpractice, and was sent to Sing Sing State prison for five years. While in the prison I associated with all kinds of people, and there I learned the art of robbery. After my time was up I returned to New York City, and tried to lead an honest life; but I had learned too much, and was again arrested for larceny, and sent to prison. I got out, and went back again for another term, which ended in June, 1879.”
West was arraigned in the Court of General Sessions in New York City on four indictments for grand larceny, and the District Attorney accepted a plea of guilty on one of them, and Judge Cowing sentenced him to five years in State prison on January 29, 1880. His sentence expired, allowing him full commutation, on August 28, 1883. West’s picture was taken since 1873. He looks much older now.
Newspaper clippings and the registers of Sing Sing offer many clues to the history of Edward Fairbrother, but these leads are contradictory or not verifiable. He was sent to Sing Sing four times (1873, 1876, 1880, 1885) in each case for larceny, usually for stealing from boarding houses. He consistently stated that he had been born and educated in England and was a physician.
The birth years he offered ranged from 1823 to 1837. His earliest known jailing, in 1873, was under the name Fairbrother; and in 1885, when arrested as John Brown, he admitted to having a brother George C. Fairbrother living on York St. in Toronto (who can not be found). That same 1885 prison register indicates he had also been jailed in 1860 and 1871, but those records can not be found. In 1880, Fairbrother told a judge that he had been jailed for five years in 1863 for malpractice (usually associated with botched abortions); but no newspaper or prison records seem to confirm this.
In 1880, Fairbrother said that he came to America right after getting his medical degree at Oxford in 1855. However, in 1876, he said that he had been in America less than four years. In 1885, he said he had been born in Ireland and educated at Eton.
What can be said withe surety is that Fairbrother had seen considerable trauma to his body at some point in his past: he was missing all his upper teeth and had an old bullet wound in his right cheek. He also had two gun wound scars on his right leg and one on his left. Fairbrother was obviously not a veteran of street gangs, so it is likely he had seen action on a battlefield. One article said he had claimed to be an army surgeon. One has to wonder whether the injuries had affected him in other, less visible ways.
Inspector Byrnes seemed to accept the fact that Fairbrother was highly educated, and could speak several languages. During his court appearance in 1880, Fairbrother entertained those in the courtroom with a long, amusing account of his crime, delivered with dramatic flair. When convicted in 1873, Fairbrother had appealed to the judge for mercy, and offered to prove that he was a man of feeling by reciting a poem he had composed in jail:
O Music! gentle Music,
There’s magic in thy swell;
Come where thou wilt, in lady’s bower,
Or in a felon’s cell
etc., etc. After patiently listening to many stanzas, the judge was unimpressed, and Fairbrother was sent up the river to Ossining. It was a fate he seemed to find comfortable, and repeated many times over the next dozen years.