#160 Alexander Evans

Alexander Evans (Abt. 1844-1891), aka Aleck the Milkman, Charles Williamson — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Peddler. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 5 1/2 inches. Weight, 207 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, florid complexion. Bald on front of head.
RECORD. “Aleck The Milkman” is a professional thief, and one of the Bowery, New York, gang of pickpockets. He is known from Maine to California. He “stalls” generally, but is credited with being a clever “wire” (a term for one who actually picks the pocket). He has served terms in Sing Sing prison and Blackwell’s Island, N.Y.
His last arrest was in New York City, for an attempt at grand larceny, for which he was convicted and sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, N.Y., on June 23, 1885, under the name of Charles H. Williamson. Evans’ sentence will expire, allowing him full commutation, on April 23, 1887.
Evans’s oldest son, Geo. W. Evans, who, unlike his father, is not a thief, was sentenced to fifteen years in State prison on January 22, 1886, for shooting and killing a negro named Thos. Currie in an altercation as to the janitorship of a flat house in West Twenty-first Street, on the night of January 30, 1885.
His picture resembles him, although his eyes are closed. It was taken in April, 1881.

Very few details about the life and career of Aleck the Milkman have been uncovered, not even the source of his colorful nickname–though the explanation may be as simple as that he had worked as a milkman at one time. His first known arrest came in Philadelphia in 1876, but even then he was described as a known pickpocket. He was convicted and sent to Sing Sing twice, under the name Charles Williamson, in 1881 and 1885.

As Byrnes notes, Aleck’s son George had more intrigue in his life. In 1886, Byrnes declared that George W. Evans was not a thief like his father, but by his 1895 edition, Byrnes had need to create a separate entry for George, due to his many crimes and arrests.
How was this possible, if in 1886 he had been sentenced to fifteen years for killing a man? When George had been arrested for this crime in 1885, his father Aleck knew just the lawyer his son needed: William F. Howe of Howe & Hummel, the attorneys of choice for all New York’s professional criminals.
The crime had occurred early in 1885. George W. Evans, an indifferent worker, showed up to his job as janitor of an apartment building only to discover that he had been fired. He was informed of this by his replacement, an African-American named Thomas Currie. A dispute arose, and ended when George W. Evans took out a gun and shot Currie. There were no witnesses. Evans claimed he shot in self-defense, but fled the scene. Currie was taken to a hospital. He identified Evans as the man that shot him. Currie died four days later.
With no witnesses, the case against George W. Evans depended upon the declaration made by Currie before he died. That was enough for the jury and judge, who found Evans guilty and sentenced him to fifteen years. [It is likely that in many other circumstances in the United States, the word of a white man would have been accepted over that of a black man; so with this initial conviction, at least, race did not seem to be a factor.]
However, William F. Howe appealed the decision on an arcane point of law: when Currie had identified Evans as his attacker, Currie was not sure that he was dying. Therefore, his identification of Evans did not fit the definition of a “dying declaration,” and could not be used as evidence, for it was equivalent to hearsay. In order for his statement to be used in court, Currie would have had to have indicated that he believed he was mortally wounded.

Though this sounds like an antiquated legal loophole, the same concept persists today in many states.

Lacking any other evidence upon which to let the conviction stand, George W. Evans was released in early 1887 after Howe’s successful appeal…and went on to have a worse criminal career than his father.

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