#123 Ellen Darrigan / #180 William Darrigan

Ellen Rodda (1845-????), aka Ellen Darrigan, Annie Derrigan, Ellen Matthews, Kate Friday, Ellen Mahaney, Mary Reese, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

William Darrigan (Abt. 1847-????), aka Billy Darrigan/Derrigan, Hugh Derrigan, William Davis, W. Darrington, etc. — Pickpocket

Link to Byrnes’s texts on Ellen Darrigan and William Darrigan

Ellen Rodda was born in late 1845 to Thomas and Elizabeth Rodda of Penzance, Cornwall (home to pirates of many kinds). The family emigrated to the United States and settled in northern New Jersey in the early 1860s.

In October 1866 Ellen married James Badham. Four months later, Badham–a bad man–was caught breaking and entering in Essex County, New Jersey, and sentenced to the New Jersey State Prison for five years.

While Badham was in prison, Ellen Rodde cavorted with gambler Jere Dunn, who made his fortune running gaming dens and saloons in Chicago. Dunn was a sporting man, heavily involved in the boxing world and in horse racing. Dunn was “married” several times, though he disdained churches and paperwork; he defined marriage on his own, somewhat fluid, terms. In 1869, Dunn was on the run from police and eluded them by traveling around the country with a group of pickpockets, presumably including Ellen Rodda. Dunn was known to have employed the alias “John Matthews” during this time. There is no evidence that his dalliance with Ellen Rodde was ever recognized as even a common-law marriage. Dunn was arrested in late 1870, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing for killing another man in a saloon fight.

When John Badham was released from prison in late 1870, he sought and obtained a divorce from Ellen. The same month the divorce was granted (January 1871), an infamous sneak thief named John Mahaney was released from Sing Sing. Ellen married Mahaney two months later, in March 1871. Mahaney went by several aliases, and was known by the public as “Jack Sheppard,” a name that invoked the memory of the most famous thief of 18th-century England. But Mahaney was also known as John H. Matthews, the same alias used by Ellen’s previous beau, Jere Dunn.

Ellen used the same surname in her alias of this period: “Ellen Matthews.”

This time, Ellen’s matrimonial bliss lasted a bit longer, but in April 1872, Mahaney stole a load of silks in Philadelphia, shipped them to New York, and was caught there by detectives. He escaped from a New York City police station and fled west to Illinois, where he was soon arrested and sent to Joliet prison for several years.

Chief Byrnes indicates that Ellen was arrested in December 1875 for shoplifting, resulting in a sentence of four years in Sing Sing. However, no newspaper reports or prison registers seem to match that event. On the contrary, there is a marriage record for her from January 1876, when she was united with Billy Darrigan. Byrnes also mentions that Billy broke her nose in December 1875, after she had sliced his ear. This would make more sense as an event that ended a marriage, not preceded it.

If Ellen was sent to Sing Sing for four years, it must have been under an unknown alias, and occurred either between 1871-1875, or between 1877-1885, periods when her activities are not known.

William “Billy” Darrigan, born in New York in 1847, was a known pickpocket by the late 1860s. He married the infamous female pickpocket known as Louise Jourdan. Their attachment did not last; In 1867, Darrigan went over to Europe with Red Leary and Fatty Dolan, and the three pickpockets were arrested in France as soon after they got there. Louise then partnered with Tom McCormick.

Billy was arrested in New York City in February 1872, for picking pockets, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison, under the name of Hugh Derrigan. Upon getting out, he married Ellen Rodda. Nothing is known about the length and nature of their marriage other than the anecdote about the fight resulting in her broken nose. Billy went back to Sing Sing for a year in 1880. By 1885, Ellen was described as a “grass widow,” implying they were no longer together.


Ellen was arrested with Mary Bell for shoplifting in a New York dry goods store in April, 1885, and sentenced to five months at Blackwell’s Island penitentiary as Ellen Darrigan.

She was arrested again with a partner identified as Sarah Burke, alias Daly alias Maria Bourke, in February 1888, for shoplifting from a Brooklyn dry goods store. She gave her name as Mary Connolly. They skipped bail. The same pair were arrested a year later in New Haven, Connecticut. This time Ellen used the name Mary Reese.

In December 1889, Ellen and another woman (likely the same as above) were arrested in Washington, D.C. Ellen now used the alias Kate Friday. While under indictment in Washington, a detective from Rochester, New York arrived with a requisition to be used if the pair were not convicted in Washington. They were placed on trial in February 1890. During the court proceedings, a blonde girl of about ten was seen rushing to and hugging Ellen. One newspaper identified Ellen as “Durriger” and claimed that she had assisted Billy Porter and Mike Kurtz in the 1884 robbery of a jewelry store in Troy, New York. Kate was sentenced to two consecutive one year sentences at the state prison in Albany, New York.
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Ellen went to prison, but her sharp lawyer noted that the federal government’s contract with states to house prisoners only applied to sentences over one year, and that as Ellen had been sentenced to two sentences of precisely one year, her sentencing had been invalid and had to be set aside. She was released in October 1890.

Billy Darrigan’s last misadventure came in the fall of 1890, when he was arrested for burglary, but had the charge reduced to assault. He was sent to the penitentiary for one year.

In 1891, Washington officials tried to retrieve Ellen from Coney Island to bring her back to face additional indictments for which she had never been tried, but the political boss of Coney Island arranged for her to be set loose from their custody.

Billy and Ellen were never heard from again, but there is a curious note: in Chief Byrnes’ 1895 edition, he updated his profile of Billy Darrigan and charged his name heading to “W. Darrington.” Darrington was not Billy’s real name, and was not a name that had been used in any of his arrests.
However, a William Darrington and wife Ellen did live in Brooklyn in the early 1890s. In June 1891, the pair had an argument in their apartment and William Darrington threw his wife to the floor and kicked her severely. He was arraigned. In 1895, Ellen was in turn arraigned for attacking her husband with a teapot, “a probable fracture of the skull.”

Somehow it would seem satisfying to know that Ellen and Billy were there to comfort each other as they aged.

One thought on “#123 Ellen Darrigan / #180 William Darrigan

  1. Lots of wonderful research here! I also really like both the photos, especially her unusual headgear. Criminals of this era depended upon constant name changes to keep the police guessing!

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