#196 William Hague

William Hague (Abt. 1844-1924), aka Curly/Curley Harris, John Hague, John Harris, Henry Abrams, Henry Miller, Jack Davis, etc. — Pickpocket, Burglar, Murderer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Jew, born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 140 pounds. Looks like, and is, a Jew. Dark eyes, black curly hair, dark complexion. Generally wears a black mustache. Four dots of India ink on left arm. Has a vaccination mark and mole on right arm above the elbow.

RECORD. “Curly” Harris is one of the most desperate thieves and ruffians in America. He is well known in all the large cities in the United States, especially in Philadelphia, where he makes his home.
Harris, with “Brummagen Bill” and James Elliott, two other notorious Philadelphia thieves, robbed Hughy Dougherty, the minstrel performer, in a saloon on Ninth Street, above Jayne, in Philadelphia, some years ago. The thieves subsequently, in passing the corner of Sixth and Market streets, were accosted by Officer Murphy, whereupon Harris deliberately drew his revolver and fired. The ball, fortunately for the officer, struck the buckle of his belt, which saved his life. “Brummagen Bill” and Elliott were arrested and convicted, and sentenced respectively to eleven and sixteen years’ imprisonment in the Eastern Penitentiary.

Harris escaped, but was afterwards arrested in Pittsburg, Pa. The authorities of Philadelphia chartered a special car, and traveled westward after the fugitive criminal. While returning, Harris, with his hands still manacled, escaped from his captors, and although the train was traveling at the rate of forty miles an hour, he jumped from the rear platform of a car, and a diligent search failed to reveal his whereabouts.

Nothing was heard of “Curly” for some years, and this was owing to the fact that he had been arrested and convicted in the northern part of the State of New York for a hotel robbery, and sentenced to six years in State prison. After his release he boldly went back to Philadelphia, and was arrested there for robbing the American Hotel. He was acquitted, however, and when the old charge against him for the Dougherty affair was spoken of, it was found that the minstrel performer and the officer could not be found to prosecute him.

Harris was arrested again in New York City on May 6, 1880, and delivered to the police authorities of Philadelphia, charged with the murder of James Reilly, alias John Davis, another hotel thief. The murder was committed on August 25, 1879. Reilly resided with his wife on Orange Street, Philadelphia. Upon the day mentioned he was picked up bleeding in front of a saloon at Eighth and Sansom streets. On September 13, 1879, the wounded man died from a fracture of the skull. From facts subsequently gathered it appears that Harris met Reilly and asked him for some money, and the latter replied that he had none. He was then told to go to his wife and obtain some, which he abruptly declined to do. Harris, in his usual cowardly manner, drew a revolver, aimed it directly at his partner in crime and pulled the trigger. The cartridge did not explode, and the desperado then pushed the barrel of his pistol with so much force into one of Reilly’s eyes as to fracture his skull and cause his death. Harris was tried and convicted in June, 1880, and sentenced to ten years in State prison on July 3, 1880, by Judge Yerkers, in Philadelphia. His sentence will expire on June 3, 1888.

From Byrnes’ 1895 Edition:

Harris was arrested again at Buffalo, N.Y., on September 7, 1888. He was found in the Mansion House, about to sneak into a room which had been left unlocked. He was held on a charge of vagrancy, and sentenced to thirty days in the Erie Co., N.Y., Penitentiary, on September 9, 1888.

Arrested again at Wilmington, Del., in company of Geo. Devlin, alias Broken-nose George. They were caught in the act of burglarizing a safe. Both were sentenced to six months imprisonment and received twenty lashes each at the whipping-post at Newcastle, Del., on February 9, 1889.

He was heard from again on May 30, 1890, when he was arrested for picking pockets at the Lutheran Cemetery. He escaped from the constable who was taking him to the jail in Long Island City, N.Y. He was captured attempting to cross the ferry at Hunter’s Point. For this offense he was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing Prison, on July 18, 1890, by Judge G. Garretson, County Judge, Queen’s Co., N.Y.

After his release he was employed for awhile at Gloster, N.J., race track. He finally came to grief again at Philadelphia, Pa., for the larceny of a watch. Judge Biddle sent him to the Eastern Penitentiary, for three years, on May 3, 1894.

Curly Harris first appeared under his preferred alias in 1869, as an associate of Philadelphia gang leader James Haggerty. In 1871, Curly was with a group of other Philly street toughs and participated in the mugging of Hughey Dougherty and the shooting of officer Murphy. Harris didn’t use the gun; that was done by a ruffian named Jim Elliott. Harris faced trial for these events six years later, in 1877, but Dougherty could not identify Harris as one of the muggers; and Murphy could not say if Harris was among those that shot him.

However, at the time that his friends were arrested for these crimes, Curly certainly feared he would be sent to jail, too; and left town to go to Pittsburgh. However, he might have had an additional reason for leaving Philadelphia: On February 2 1871, the famous Kensington Bank robbery occurred, and several sources suggest Curly Harris was involved. His daring escape from the moving train in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, won him grudging admiration for his courage from law officials and the general public.

Later that year, Harris was caught during a burglary in upstate New York, and was convicted and sentenced to seven years. The name under which he was imprisoned has not yet been uncovered, but part of his sentence was spent in Auburn and the other part in Sing Sing. He was released after five years.


He was rearrested in Philadelphia in 1877 on the old charges from 1871, but was acquitted of those after a trial. He was picked up in New York in May, 1880, and delivered to Philadelphia to face a murder charge, as Byrnes relates. Had the victim not been a notorious fellow thief, Harris might have faced a more serious sentence, but as it was, he was given ten years and was out in eight.

Curly’s brief stint at gainful employment at the Gloucester (NJ) Race Track may not have been any more commendable than his other activities: Gloucester was one of the shadiest racecourses ever run, and closed just three years after it opened. Curly’s role there was likely as security/house detective, to scare off pickpockets.

As Byrnes notes, Curly’s last known arrest and imprisonment occurred in 1894, for stealing a watch. He was released from Eastern State Penitentiary in 1896.

Over the next few years, Curly dropped his alias and resumed life under his given name, William Hague. In 1898, he married a respectable Jewish widow, Elmira Rice, who had three older children from her previous marriage to Aaron Kile Wismer, who belonged to a venerable Jewish family dating back before the American Revolution.

Byrnes may have intended to point out Hague’s appearance and Jewish origins as a slur; instead, Hague’s Jewish connections proved to be his salvation, even though there is no public evidence that Hague, Elmira Rice, or her Wismer children were active in the faith.
Hague continued to do security/detective work for a few years, but when older switched to less dangerous jobs, and was still working as a salesman into his seventies. The family moved to from Philadelphia to Atlantic City in the 1910s. Hague died there in 1924 and was buried in Philadelphia.

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