#45 Edward Sturgess

Edward Hoyt (Abt. 1851-????), aka Edward Sturges/Sturgess, John Burke — Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Slim build. Claims to have been born in Havana, Cuba. Married. No trade. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Weight, 137 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Full, light-colored whiskers and mustache. Two dots of India ink on left fore-arm.

RECORD. Sturgess is a very clever hotel worker, well known in most of the large cities in the United States. He was at one time a pickpocket, but now confines himself to hotel work. He was sentenced to three years and six months in State prison in New York City, on February 20, 1871, for larceny from the person, under the name of Edward Hoyt. He was was again sentenced in New York City on June 2, 1873, to three years in State prison, under the name of Edward Sturgess, for a hotel robbery. While confined in prison in 1873, Sturgess escaped in a swill barrel, but was recaptured the same day and taken back. Nothing has been heard of him lately, having gone West in October, 1877, when he escaped from an officer in New York City, who was arresting him for forfeiting his bail in an old case. His picture is an excellent one, taken in 1877.

Hoyt/Sturges/Burke hid his identity much too skillfully to be traced by family; and also changed his name with each crime, so very little of his criminal career outside of Byrnes’s reporting is known. In Byrnes’s 1895 edition, he refers to one further crime committed under the alias John Burke: he was arrested in Baltimore and in Washington D.C. with George Carson and Joseph McCloskey, for till tapping.

However, as a legacy, Hoyt/Sturgess/Burke left behind an anecdote about an attempted escape from Sing Sing that deserves retelling:


#88 Michael Hurley

Michael Hurley (1846-????), aka Pugsey Hurley, John Raymond, Martin Hurley, John Reilly — Masked robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty years old in 1886. Born in England. Medium build. Machinist by trade. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, pug nose. Has an eagle, with star underneath, in India ink, on inside of right arm.

RECORD. “Pugsey” Hurley is an old Seventh Ward, New York, thief. He was one of the New Rochelle, N.Y., masked burglars. The gang consisted of “Dan” Kelly, Larry Griffin, Patsey Conroy (now dead), Big John Garvey (now dead), Frank Kayton, Frank Woods, “Shang” Campbell, Mike Kerrigan, alias Johnny Dobbs, John O’Donnell, John Orr (now dead), Dennis Brady, George Maillard and Hurley, and their headquarters was at Maillard’s saloon, corner Washington and Canal streets, New York City.

The principal offense of which Hurley was convicted and for which he was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment, was committed at the country residence of Mr. J. P. Emmet, known as “The Cottage,” at Pelham, near New Rochelle, N.Y., on December 23, 1873. On that night Hurley, in company with others of the gang of well organized and desperate masked burglars, of which “Patsey” Conroy was said to be the leader, broke into Mr. Emmet’s residence, and after surprising the occupant, his nephew and servants, bound and gagged them, and afterwards ransacked the house, getting altogether about $750 worth of plunder, with which they escaped.

The same gang, on the night of October 17, 1873, broke into the house of Abram Post, a wealthy farmer, living three miles from Catskill village, on the Hudson River, tied up the occupants and plundered the house, collecting bonds, jewelry and other property worth $3,000, with which they decamped.

On December 20, 1873, three days prior to the Emmet robbery, the same band of masked marauders surprised the watchman at the East New York depot of the Jamaica, Woodhaven and Brooklyn Railroad, and, after binding and gagging him, blew open the safe, which contained $4,000 in cash.

In less than a week after the plundering of the Emmet cottage, Mr. Wm. K. Souter, his family and servants, at his house at Sailors’ Snug Harbor, at West Brighton, Staten Island, were awakened in the dead hour of the night to find that they were the prisoners of a masked gang of burglars who terrified them with threats of instant death. The thieves were all heavily armed and had no trouble in frightening the occupants into submission.

These depredations created considerable excitement among the residents of the suburbs of New York at the time, and nearly all the small villages were banded together and vigilance committees formed to look out for the band of masked marauders.

All the gang were arrested by the police, and with the exception of two or three who established alibis, were sentenced to twenty years in State prison. Shang Campbell and Kerrigan, alias Dobbs, escaped to Key West, Florida, and were subsequently apprehended there. Campbell was brought back and sent to prison, but Kerrigan, who had plenty of money, succeeded in gaining his liberty, through the technicalities of the law. Orr (now dead) was next arrested; then Hurley was made a prisoner on August 15, 1874. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to twenty years in State prison on October 1, 1874, by Judge Tappan, at White Plains, Westchester County, N.Y.

While in Auburn prison in the spring of 1876, and also of 1877, he was foiled by the guards in two desperate efforts at escape. He then feigned insanity, and was transferred to the asylum attached to Clinton prison. He had not been there long before he made another break for liberty, but being detected he was re-examined, pronounced cured, and drafted back to Auburn prison. He made several attempts to escape after that, and finally, with assistance from the outside, in April, 1882, he cut through the prison roof and bid his prison chums and guards a hasty good-by.

He was re-arrested in New York City on August 1, 1882, on the corner of Liberty and Washington streets, delivered to the prison authorities on August 2, 1882, and taken back to serve his unexpired term of twelve years. Hurley’s picture is an excellent one, notwithstanding his eyes are closed. It was taken in July, 1882.

Pugsey Hurley (nicknamed for a pug nose) was a core member of the infamous “river burglars” gang that terrorized riverside towns around New York in late 1873. Most sources cite Patsey Conroy as the leader of this gang of masked house robbers, but a few suggest that Hurley was the guiding force. It has never been explained who among this gang procured the boat used; nor who it was that piloted it. They ranged far up the Hudson; up the East River into the Long Island Sound; and into the Kill Van Kull around Snug Harbor, Staten Island.

The willingness of the gang to use threats of violence, and to tie up their victims, led to severe sentences for all the apprehended, including Pugsey Hurley. He was sentenced to twenty years in State Prison. Initially, Hurley was sent to Sing Sing; but after he was caught planning escapes, he was transferred to the more secure confines of Auburn Prison.

In November, 1875, Hurley attempted to escape from Auburn Prison by crawling through the sewer tunnels (a stunt repeated in other prison escapes–and in The Shawshank Redemption). However, he was captured before he could exit the prison grounds.

Two months later, Hurley was able to disguise his prison garb with overalls, over shirt, and hat; and stuffed himself into a workshop toolbox that was transported out of the prison each night. Hurley–a small man–stuffed himself into the wooden box that measured three feet long, two feet wide, and sixteen inches deep. The top of the box consisted of three boards–two end pieces on hinges and a center board that was supposedly nailed in. Because it seemed impossible that any person could fit inside it, it was never checked when driven past the gate.

The teen driver of the tool shop manager drove his wagon out of the prison, unaware that Hurley was already inside the box when other prisoners hefted it into the wagon. Once on the street, the boy looked back and saw the lid of the box moving. Luckily, he was passing a grocery store and saw one of the off-duty keepers there, and stopped to alert him. Hurley jumped out of the box, but the jailer was armed, and ordered him to stop. He then fired three shots at Hurley, one of which hit his foot and another grazing his leg. The jailer was able to chase down Hurley, and he was returned to the prison hospital.

A year later, in January 1877, Hurley made another escape attempt at Auburn. The details were never published, but he apparently never made it outside the walls.

Next, Hurley feigned madness in order to be transferred to the asylum for prisoners at Dannemora. While there, he was observed making escape plans, which convinced his keepers that he was in fact, not insane at all–and so he was transferred back to Auburn.

By this point, Hurley had already forfeited any commutation for good behavior; he was now on the path to serving a full twenty years. Realizing there was nothing left to lose, Hurley made another attempt in April, 1882. Auburn’s cells had stone ceilings, but that stone slab was connected to the side walls by arches of brick masonry. One Sunday night after being locked up, Hurley and the prisoner in the adjoining cell (murderer William Fahey) began to loosen the bricks at the rear corners of their respective cells, adjacent to one another. Each man was able to remove three feet of brick, making a hole that both could reach. They crawled up through the hole into the building’s attic. With a keyhole saw (that someone had smuggled to them, along with picks) they cut a one foot hole in the roof boards, then punched out the overlaying slate shingles. They crawled out and walked across the roof to the northeast corner, then lowered themselves to the wall by means of a rope. Walking over the wall, they reached a section that joined a lower wall, and from there were able to jump to the street. They were not seen once loose in Auburn.

Authorities figured that Hurley would show up at his old haunts sooner or later, and so Inspector Burns sent his detectives out to pump their informers if Hurley showed his face. They were rewarded four months later, in August 1884, and three officers lay in wait for Hurley to make an appearance at a certain saloon. They leapt upon him, pinning both arms, and found two six-chambered revolvers and an ugly jackknife in his pockets.

On the way to police headquarters, Hurley cried with rage, “If you fellows had no been so quick,” he said, “I should have killed you or killed myself. I’ve just had enough of prison life, and I’d a thousand times rather die than go back to Auburn. I don’t blame you fellows for doing this, but I say it’s damned rough on me.”

Byrnes, writing in 1886, was probably confident that Pugsey Hurley would be out of circulation until October 1894, when his twenty-year sentence would expire. However, it was still possible for Hurley’s friends to pull strings in the political realm. Hurley had his sentence commuted by New York’s Secretary of State and was released in May, 1887–about twelve years and eight months into his twenty year sentence.

Hurley was arrested several months later in connection with crimes committed at Bennington, Vermont, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Battle of Bennington Monument. Two pickpockets were arrested, one of whom was William Perry. The second pickpocket was initially identified as John Bishop alias William Peck. The two pickpockets escaped from the Bennington jail, and weeks later, Michael Hurley was identified as the second man, not Peck; Hurley stood trial and was let go.

After being arrested on suspicion in Boston and later released, Hurley wound up in Philadelphia, and found shelter with an uncle. He lived for the next several years under the name Martin E. Hurley. He was arrested for attempting to crack a safe in Duboistown, Pennsylvania, near Williamsport. The local District Attorney suspected that his prisoner was Michael Hurley, but Hurley obtained affidavits from several respectable citizens in Philadelphia, claiming that they knew Hurley had been living there since the middle of 1887, when Michael Hurley was said to be serving out his twenty year sentence. However, the D.A. dug further discovered that Hurley had been freed in May, 1887, well short of the 20 years; and furthermore his prisoner had a tattoo matching one known to adorn Michael Hurley.

Hurley was convicted and sentenced to five years. Whether he survived his term, or where he went if he did serve it out, is unknown.

#93 Peter Lake

Peter Lake (1836-1913), aka Grand Central Pete — Bunco Steerer, Confidence Man

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Stout build. Married. No trade. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 165 pounds. Hair black, turning gray; dark hazel eyes, ruddy complexion, smooth face generally; sometimes wears a brown mustache.

RECORD. “Grand Central Pete” is one of the most celebrated and persistent banco steerers there is in America, “Hungry” Joe possibly excepted. Like all others of his class, he has been arrested in almost every city in the Union, but seldom convicted, for the reason that as soon as he falls into the hands of the police, his confederates give the victim back his money, and he is only too glad to make himself scarce.

He was arrested on March 9, 1877, in New York City, in company of another confidence man named Charles Johnson, better known as “Tip” Farrell, of Chicago, for swindling one John Slawson, the superintendent of the Star Silver Mining Company, of Idaho Territory, out of $100, at the banco game. Slawson was stopping at the St. Nicholas Hotel, and was met by Pete, who had a “sure thing” for him. Lake and Farrell pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, and were sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and fined $100 each, on March 15, 1877, by Judge Gildersleeve.

Pete Lake has been arrested at least fifty times since, but never convicted, for reasons above stated. He obtained his nickname through prowling around the Grand Central Railroad depot, in New York City. Pete’s picture is a good one, taken in March, 1877.

If you asked most people to conjure an image in their mind of an old con man nicknamed “Grand Central Pete,” they would likely picture a shabby man accosting commuters at Grand Central Station with a spiel as insincere as a used-car salesman. The reality was somewhat different. To begin with, Pete’s frequent locale was Grand Central Depot, the station house that preceded the construction of Grand Central Station (which opened just six months before Pete died, and long after he had reformed).

An 1885 article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tried to dissuade the public from other misconceptions:

“Don’t flatter yourself that you can tell a bunco man at first sight. Bunco men are not flashily dressed, beetle-browed and vulgar fellows who talk slang and use gambling terms. They dress richly, but in perfect taste, as a rule. So far as dress is concerned, you could not pick one out from a wealthy, cultivated merchant. They are generally good-looking, well-behaved men, whose chief stock in trade is their ability to make men have confidence in them and to loosen purse strings. A bunco man looks like a good, solid citizen, and the parson of your village is not half so nice in his conversation. The bunco man reads and travels, so that no matter what town or country you hail from, the chances are that he can tell you all about it and its population.

“In walking down Broadway you may meet this person somewhere between Fourteenth and Thirty-second streets:


You may think he is a banker. He may tell you that he is, but he isn’t. He is Peter Lake, “Grand Central Pete,” the bunco steerer. You needn’t open your eyes and say ‘Get out!’ ‘Grand Central Pete’ is one of the cleverest bunco men in the country, and it is very likely that he knows all about the place you hail from. Look out for him.

“Just before you meet ‘Pete’, some other man will seize you by the hand and look as if you were a long-lost debtor who had suddenly become rich. He will cry: ‘Why, hello, Mr. Blucher, how are the folks in Ironton?’ You will probably reply: ‘I am not Mr. Blucher and I don’t come from Ironton. I am John Broadgauge and I’m from Elmira.’ The man will raise his hat politely and say: ‘Dear me, what a likeness! I am afraid you will think me rude, sir; but I’m very sorry to have made a mistake and disturbed you.’ Then you will say, ‘Don’t mention it,’ and will go on rubbing your hands and thinking what exceedingly polite men New Yorkers are.

“Within a hundred yards you will meet ‘Pete.’ Of course, you won’t know that the other man has slipped into a hallway and held a brief but intelligent conversation with ‘Pete.’ When ‘Pete’ accosts you his face will light up with a smile of joyous recognition and he will take your hand with a firm and manly grasp, saying: ‘My dear Mr. Broadgauge, how on earth did you ever wander out of Elmira? Why, it wouldn’t surprise me to see your father here.’

“You will at once respond: ‘Well, I can’t quite place you, but I know your face.’ Of course you will, because it feels good to be greeted so warmly by such a substantial and well-dressed man. ‘Pete’ will ask about your family and you will tell him all about your family and everybody in Elmira. When you get down to the point where you call him ‘Pete’ by his first name, and when you have stretched your conscience sufficiently to tell him that, now you think of it, you remember him very well and that you have often heard your father speak of him, ‘Pete’ will tell you that he has just learned that he has won a prize in a lottery and he wants you, dear old fel, to go with him and see him scoop in his cash.

“Stranger, look at the expression in the right eye of the above portrait and you will know just how ‘Pete’ will beam upon you at the moment when he offers to share his luck with you.”


Pete’s last arrest came in New York City in 1907. The complainant whom he had tried to swindle took compassion and asked for Pete’s release, but the judge sent him to the city workhouse, an indignity to any career criminal. Following that episode, Pete was not heard from until his death in the summer of 1913. He was married more than once, but his last wife worked as a servant in homes out on Long Island or in the Catskills, so he was often alone, living on his pension as a former Union soldier.

Several untrue stories circulated about Pete. He  was one of those to whom the quote “There’s a sucker born every minute,” was attributed, but a more definitive source was Pete’s frequent partner, Hungry Joe Lewis. Another specious anecdote about Pete appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere, suggesting that he was so illiterate that he couldn’t tell the difference between $9000 and $9,000,000. It’s probably safe to say that few persons have ever been more aware of the value of money than Grand Central Pete.



#113 James Fitzgerald

Gilbert J. Fitzgerald (1856-1933), aka James Fitzgerald, The Kid, Red Fitz, J. S. Morrison — Bunco Steerer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Washington, D.C. Slim build. Single. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Red hair, dark auburn eyes, sandy complexion, straight nose, beard red (when worn), hair very thick and coarse.

RECORD. “The Kid,” as he is called, is well known in New York, Boston and several other large cities, and is considered one of the cleverest men in the banco business. He generally worked with Johnny Norton (now dead). He and Norton were the two men that succeeded in obtaining $7,000 from Charles Francis Adams, in Boston, in 1882, by the banco game. “The Kid ” was arrested, tried,, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the Charlestown, Mass., State prison on June 23, 1882. His sentence will expire August 27, 1886. Norton escaped at the time and never was captured. He died in New York City in March, 1885. Fitzgerald’s picture is a good one, taken in October, 1881.

The few details known about Gilbert Fitzgerald’s career are fascinating, and leave one wishing more was known about his adventures as a con-man. Gilbert J. (middle name James, it can be assumed) Fitzgerald was born to Irish immigrants who had settled in Milwaukee. Gilbert’s father, Francis (Frank) was a thriving shoemaker. In the mid-1870s, when Gilbert reached adulthood, he was recommended by Senator Matthew Hale Carpenter to a position in the Government Printing Office in Washington, D. C. He helped in the printing of the Congressional Record. A later report from a Washington source recalled:

“He was known among his friends and acquaintances as ‘Reddy,’ a name applied to him perhaps on account of his fiery red hair. He was a jovial, quick-witted, devil-may-care fellow, and a good compositor. He was given to gambling, and most of his wages went into a faro-bank. He was small of stature but of good nerve, and was quite an athlete. While his disposition was the reverse of quarrelsome, yet he was quick to take up a quarrel of a friend, and generally came out winner, even when the odds were apparently much against him.”

By May, 1878 Fitzgerald had quit his government job and was found far from Washington, D.C.–he was arrested in Deadwood, South Dakota with three other men for running a bunco operation and swindling a man; but “The Kid” was released for lack of evidence. For a while, he made Denver his center of operations–at a time when Denver was the unofficial capital of con artists and grifters. It was said that one man who joined him there was George Ellwood, who later gained fame as “Gentleman George,” the creepily-polite burglar. The mentor of the gang appeared to be a bunco artist named Charley Miller.

Gilbert formed a new gang with Billy Harris and Johnny Norton, and headed to New Orleans in the fall of 1881. After New Orleans, Fitz was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida in January, 1882 for swindling a wealthy man from Maine, but was released. The gang headed north to Boston, where they happened upon the most prominent bunco victim in history: Charles Francis Adams–son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams; and himself a former Ambassador to Great Britain. In 1882, Charles Francis Adams was in his seventies, and was mostly retired from public life. Gilbert Fitzgerald was only twenty-six.

Immediately after swindling Adams out of a check for $17,500, Adams’ lawyer, his son, and a private detective tracked Fitzgerald down. Fitzgerald and Norton agreed to meet with them, since they were confident that Adams’ representatives would, in the end, honor the check and preserve the old diplomat’s reputation. Fitzgerald, using the alias “J. S. Morrison,” sauntered into the room, sat down, and opened with a statement: “Gentlemen, this is my business. My occupation is to allure elderly gentlemen of wealth into some den and extort money from them. I have been in this business for a great while. I have recently returned from Florida, where I have been absent the greater part of the winter, and have done a great deal of this sort of business with various Boston parties.”

Fitz then continued to explain that they had targeted Mr. Adams. They knew him by reputation to be wealthy and had made themselves familiar with his habits; the 28th day of March was the day Fitz had met Mr. Adams as he left his house on Mount Vernon street, and introduced himself as the son of an old friend of Mr. Adams; he accosted him very politely, requested permission to walk with him, and did walk with him, conversing with Adams on subject of interest to the old statesman. When they arrived at some point on Boylston street, Mr. Morrison (Fitz) suddenly changed the subject by producing a lottery ticket, and explained to Adams that he had won a prize on it, and would like to have Mr. Adams come inside the lottery office they were passing to help identify him.

Morrison went to the office cashier and received his cash prize and two tickets. Then Morrison called Adams’ attention to a very interesting and fascinating game which was going on, in which cards were laid out in a grid, with a very few blank spaces among the rows of cards. Upon using a ticket, a player was issued six cards with numbers on them. The player totaled the numbers of his cards, which corresponded to the position of a face-down card on the grid. Morrison and Adams each played their ticket, and Adams’ number total pointed to a card that, when turned over, revealed a prize of $2500. As a consequence of that win, Adams qualified to get two more tickets to play again, on condition that he put up a check for $250, 10% of his $2500 prize. That check was given by Adams. They played again with the result of another prize for Adams, this time $16,000. Adams wrote a check for $1600 to play again, and received additional tickets. After another win, Adams wrote a check for $17,500, and then received his cards. This time, the numbers totaled pointed not to a face-down card, but to a blank spot on the grid. Adams had lost.

Morrison (Fitz) had been playing and winning along with Adams, and also lost when Adams lost. Morrison then made a great act of being angry and distraught, saying that he had gambled away his savings. Adams was shocked to learn that they had been gambling, and insisted that he had never gambled in his life. However upset Adams was, Morrison played the victim even stronger, forcing Adams to console his new young acquaintance. Morrison accompanied Adams back to Adams’ house, and the old man went meekly inside.

Adams’ son and lawyer listened to the story in shock. They asked Fitz if the game had been fair. Fitz brushed the question away, “Oh, it was all a fraud, for that matter.” The lawyer of Mr. Adams exclaimed, “I don’t believe this. This can’t be the true story.” Fitzgerald gave him a pained look, and explained, “It was always so at the first in these cases; there was generally a struggle at the beginning, but these checks were always paid.”

If Fitzgerald had been less smug, perhaps the scam would have worked once again. But the Adams family united together and decided to bring the matter to the authorities. Fitzgerald was arrested and brought into a courtroom, where his nonchalant, smarmy attitude was noted by all. During the majority of the court testimony, he sat reading the morning newspaper. Fitzgerald and his attorney were confident that the whole confessional discussion that had taken place could not be used as evidence–but the judge ruled otherwise. Fitzgerald was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

After his release in the mid-1880s, a large gap in Fitzgerald’s activities occurred. One news item from 1893 suggested that he had been convicted of robbing residents of Monaco and the casino at Monte Carlo, but that may have been a different Fitzgerald.

In 1900, at age 44, he was in New York City and married a sixteen-year old girl from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Coleman. In census records, he listed his occupation as “traveling agent” (never a good sign!)

In 1915, Fitzgerald was arrested for being one of the operators of an elaborate “wireless wiretap” betting parlor con, first developed by Larry Summerfield and Timothy Oakes. Fitzgerald’s partners in this venture were Charles and Fred Gondorf; and Fitzgerald was sometimes introduced to others as “Harry Gondorf.” If the name sounds familiar, it is because that was the character name of the wireless wiretap operator (Paul Newman) in the movie The Sting: Henry Gondorff.

Fitzgerald was free by 1917. Over the next several years, he took several trips to Havana, which was then a resort for wealthy Americans. He died in Queens, New York at age 77.


#179 Robert Hovan

Preston Hovan (Abt. 1855-????), aka Robert Hovan, Charles H. Adams, Paul Harrington, Henry Parker, George Wilson, Robert Monroe, Charles Hovan, Preston Sutherland, etc. — House thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-four years old in 1886. Born in the United States. Married. Produce dealer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Hair, light brown. Hazel eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a full, sandy beard. Has an anchor on the right fore-arm, a star on the left fore-arm, and five dots of India ink on right hand. Inclined to be feminine in his actions.

RECORD. Bob Hovan is a very clever house sneak and burglar. He is a brother of Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace (25), the bank sneak; also, a brother-in-law of Bill Vosburg (4), another notorious bank sneak. Hovan is pretty well known in all the principal cities in America.

He was arrested in New York City, on June 18, 1880, for a house robbery, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, by Judge Cowing, on June 28, 1880, under the name of Charles H. Adams.

In December, 1882, Hovan, or Harrington, as he then called himself, was arrested by the police in Brooklyn, N.Y. He had no difficulty in securing his release upon bail, which, when the case was called for trial and Harrington did not appear, proved valueless. A warrant was issued, and detectives Corr and Looney, of Brooklyn, came to New York, and located Harrington at No. 1225 First Avenue, where he was living with a Mrs. Adams, or Charlotte Dougherty, Horace Hovan’s wife.

The detectives, soon after dark, on the night of February 17, 1883, stationed themselves in an opposite door-way, and patiently watched. They had not long to wait, and in the twilight they could see a man entering the house who in build and general appearance resembled Harrington. He, however, did not wear a full beard like that usually worn by the burglar, but had his chin cleanly shaven, and had a mustache and small side-whiskers. They waited for him to come out, and after half an hour’s watch the man they suspected came out of the house. Corr and Looney came to the conclusion that it was Harrington. They followed him to the corner of Sixty-fifth Street, where he caught sight of them, and apparently it flashed across him who his pursuers were.

He quickened his pace, and the two detectives did likewise. Near the corner of Second Avenue, Corr said to Looney, “That’s our man; let us close in on him.” They moved forward rapidly, and as they did so Harrington made a feint as if to ascend the stairs leading to the Elevated Railroad station. The detectives and the fugitive at that time were the only people in sight. Looney was about six feet in advance of his companion, and when he came within two or three paces of the fugitive there was a flash and a report from a weapon which Harrington held in his outstretched hand. With the report Looney fell prostrate into the gutter, shot in the neck.

With the flash Corr whipped out his weapon, and as he brought it to bear on the burglar the fellow fired a second shot, which missed the officer. Corr returned the fire, and discharged two shots from his revolver. As he was about to fire a third shot he received a bullet from another chamber of the burglar’s pistol, which passed through his cheek and buried itself in his neck. Before the officers could recover from the shock of their wounds Harrington had made good his escape.

Hovan was arrested again on March 18, 1883—a little over a month after he shot Looney and Corr—in the east end of Allegheny City, Pa., for robbing a safe in a feed store. He was shortly after sentenced to three years in the Western Penitentiary, at Allegheny City, under the name of Henry Parker. His time expired on November 28, 1885, when he was re-arrested on a requisition by New York officers and returned to New York City, to answer an indictment for assault in the first degree. His case went to trial in the Court of General Sessions, but Judge Cowing allowed Hovan, during the progress of the trial, to plead guilty to one of the indictments. He was remanded until December 10, 1885, and in the time intervening several church people interceded for him, and Judge Cowing sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment in Sing Sing prison—this being his fourth term served in that prison. Hovan’s sentence will expire on July 10, 1889, allowing him commutation.

His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1880.

Inspector Byrnes repeats the assertion that Preston Hovan was a brother-in-law of Bill Vosburgh; but there is no evidence that this was true–and there is a compelling explanation for that misconception. The alias “Charley Adams” was used by bank robber Langdon Moore, who was (for a time) a brother-in-law of Vosburgh’s; and the alias “Charles H. Adams” was used Robert Hovan. Byrnes also states that Preston Hovan was found in December, 1882 by Brooklyn officers to be living with Charlotte Dougherty, Horace Hovan’s wife. This, too, is not quite accurate. Preston’s brother Horace did not marry Charlotte until May of 1884 (when Preston had disappeared and was ensconced in the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania).


Although several sources suggest that Horace and Preston–with their similar looks– committed burglaries where one brother appeared in public to establish an alibi while the other burgled, the truth is that Preston was more a career prisoner than criminal:

  • At age 15, he was sent to Richmond’s jail for 60 days for thieving.
  • In December 1872, after just turning 17, he served his first sentence in Sing Sing. Two and a half years.
  • In April 1875, just weeks after his discharge, he was sent back to Sing Sing for another two and a half year sentence.
  • After a brief stint of freedom, Preston was back in Sing Sing in August 1877 to serve a three year sentence.
  • Granted a change in scenery, Preston was sent to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary in June 1880 for a one year sentence

Preston actually roamed New York for two years before shooting the Brooklyn policemen sent to arrest him for not appearing in court. He fled, but a month later sent to the Western Penitentiary in Pennsylvania for committing a burglary in Allegheny City in March 1883. Upon his discharge there in November 1885, he was returned to New York to serve a five year sentence in the familiar confines of Sing Sing. He was released in 1889.


Preston went over to Europe in the early 1890s. In 1893, the Illustrated Police News of Boston claimed that he was committing second-story jobs of estates in England, Germany, and Austria with Rufe Minor, Frank Searles, and William Ogle (who was already dead). In his 1895 edition, Byrnes stated that Preston was working in a London grocery shop, Walter Chapman & Co., which did indeed exist.

In 1896, New York City papers said that Preston (as Charles Hovan) was back in the United States, and was arrested for possessing obscene materials with an intent to sell. This odd tidbit was the last heard of Preston.


#50 David Cummings

David Cronin (1847-????), aka Little Dave Cummings, J. H. Smith, James Hogan, Harry Smithson, etc. — Sneak thief

Link to Byrnes’s text for #50 David Cummings

Inspector Byrnes not only devoted several pages to Dave Cummings, he also presented information about Dave’s early career that had never been published before 1886, and relating crimes far from New York. Byrnes undoubtedly received most of this information from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been tracking Cummings long before he showed his face in New York City.

There is one egregious error in Byrnes’s entry on Cummings: the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store in New Orleans took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. This robbery continued to generate headlines for many months, for two different reasons. First, it was suspected that Billy Forrester was among the gang that did the job–and Forrester was the prime suspect in the murder of financier Benjamin Nathan in July of 1870. Secondly, at about 6:00AM on the morning of Jan 1., a fire broke out on one docked steamboat at New Orleans, which spread to four other ships, destroying them all. There were persistent rumors that the fire had been started by the gang to occupy the police while they made their getaway. However, it does not make a great deal of sense that this would be done hours after the heist was completed; or that the fire would get so out of control from one start point.

The Scooler’s robbery had another detail of interest: as reported by Byrnes, Cummings used the trick of fooling a watchman on street patrol by moving a dummy facade of a safe in front of a window, so that the burglars could work on the real safe without being seen. The same trick was later attributed to Mike Kurtz in an 1884 jewelry store robbery in Troy, New York.

Byrnes (or rather, the Pinkerton Agency) was likely correct that Cummings’ real last name was Cronin. Chicago newspapers indicated that Cummings had been there as a youth; and there is an 1860 Census entry for a “David Cronan” (a common variant spelling of Cronin) born in 1847, and no entries for any David Cummings living in Chicago that was close to the same age. Cummings had initials tattooed on his arm, “D. C.”

Cummings worked with many of the best bank thieves of his era. However, it is doubtful that any criminal of his generation could equal the year that Cummings had in 1881–Byrnes’s information from 1881 bears repeating:

  • In January, 1881, he was arrested at the Sinclair House, New York City, a porter having caught him coming out of the room of a son of United States Senator Pinchback’s, with a full outfit of tools and some valuables of the guests. He was committed, obtained bail, and again went into hiding. [Byrnes later suggested that Cummings was able to get out on bail after playing sick–he ate brick dust while in the Tombs, and spit it up, suggesting that he was coughing blood.]
  • His next appearance was at Philadelphia, where he formed a partnership with Walter Sheridan, Joe McClusky, and other noted bank sneaks. Their first robbery was that of a diamond broker on Chestnut Street, near Twelfth, where Cummings and Sheridan engaged the attention of the clerk, and McCluskey secured about $6,000 worth of diamonds.
  • In May, 1881, Sheridan, Dave, and Jack Duffy made a trip to Baltimore, where they ran across a traveling salesman of the jewelry house of Enos, Richardson & Co., of Maiden Lane, New York. They followed him to the Clarendon Hotel, where they watched till he went to dinner, entered his room and stole his entire stock, valued at $15,000. The chase becoming hot for Cummings, he finally returned the proceeds of the robbery, and received $2,500 for it.
  • He then started for the Pacific slope with Old Jimmy Hope and Big Tom Bigelow, and after looking about, these enterprising burglars concluded to rob Sauthers & Co.’s Bank, a Hebrew institution, where there was $600,000. They again put into operation their favorite tactics of securing a vacant room over the vault. They had tunneled through four layers of brick and several tiers of railroad iron, when the chief of detectives learned they were in the city. He took possession of several offices in the vicinity of the bank with his men, and about 10:30 p. m., on the night of June 27, 1881, he made a raid on them. He found Jimmy Hope at work. Cummings heard them coming and ran to the roof, crawled through the scuttle, and running over the tops of several buildings, finally descended through a vacant store, and was once more at large. Bigelow, who was supposed to have been working inside with Hope, in some manner escaped also.
  • Cummings left his trail at every hotel where he stopped, in Southern California, New Mexico, Denver, Col.; and at a small town, twenty miles from Denver, he robbed a well known Chicago liquor dealer, named Al. Arundel, of $1,400 in money, a $500 watch, and a $400 diamond stud.
  • He then paid a flying visit to Chicago, then to Saint Joseph, Mo., from there to St. Paul, then to Oshkosh, Wis. where he was arrested under the name of J. H. Smith, for robbing a Chicago salesman of his watch, diamond pin, and $200 in money, at the Tremont Hotel in that town. Dave pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in State prison there on September 14, 1881.

Cummings career following his release from the Wisconsin State Prison was much more dismal. He went to England, and with Rufe Minor started to plan hotel thefts. However, they were advised against targeting hotels, as security in England was tighter than in the United States. Cummings ignored that advice, and for his trouble was arrested and imprisoned for five years.

He returned to the United States and was arrested for possession of burglar’s tools in New York City in February 1891. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing under the name Patrick Robertson.

Cummings was released in September 1894. From that point, little is known of his fate. A 1905 item in the National Police Gazette implied that he was alive and had moved to the Pacific Coast.

In 1912, newspaper columnist Henry C. Terry devoted one of his “Parallel Stories of Famous Crimes” columns to the foiled 1872 Jersey City bank robbery attempt, in which Cummings escaped arrest. Terry’s approach is interesting: he first lets one of the criminals tell his story; then lets one of the police detectives give his view of events:






#155 John McGuire

John F. McGuire (1848-19??), aka Shinny/Sheeny McGuire/Maguire, John Watson, James Clarke, David Smith, George Russell, Edward Leland, etc. — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-four years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes. Ruddy complexion. Has letter “F” in India ink on left arm. Generally wears a dark brown beard.

RECORD. “Shinny” McGuire is considered one of the cleverest pickpockets in America. Tom Davis, the sawdust swindler, who was shot and killed in New York on August 31, 1885, by T. J. Holland, of Abilene, Texas, married two of McGuire’s sisters. He is an associate of Joe Gorman (146), Jersey Jimmie (145), Charley Allen, and several other New York pickpockets, and is well known in all the principal cities.

He was arrested in New York City on October 11, 1878, charged with the larceny of a pocket-book from a man who had just left the Seaman’s Savings Bank, corner of Pearl and Wall streets, and was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on July 2, 1879, by Recorder Hackett. He escaped from the penitentiary library, where he was engaged as librarian, on July 1, 1879. He gave New York a wide berth, working the other cities, until September 21, 1885, when he was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., and returned to Blackwell’s Island to finish his unexpired time. He will be discharged on December 20, 1886. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1876.

John McGuire was one among a handful of Bowery gang members turned pickpockets, who later became operatives of “green goods” rings, a highly lucrative con game. His nickname of “Sheeny/Shinny” is a minor mystery, as that was a derogatory slur word used against those of Jewish descent–and McGuire was Irish in heritage and appearance.

McGuire’s extended family relationships are fascinating–an example of how tight-knit some criminal associations were in lower Manhattan. As Byrnes mentions, two of McGuires sisters, Isabelle and Julia, claimed to be the wife of green goods operator Tom Davis, who was a member of the notorious Davis family. John McGuire was a partner during his pickpocket days of Tom Davis’ brother, Theodore “The.” Davis. McGuire himself was said by the New York Herald to be married to a Davis sister, “Henrietta”–but no record of this marriage has surfaced; and no sibling named “Henrietta” can be found in the census records of the Davis family. Mary Davis, who was a sibling of this family, married the famous bank thief Dutch Heinrich (Edwin Newman). The Davis brothers, as well as Dutch Heinrich, had their careers ended before Inspector Byrnes wrote his book; otherwise their profiles surely would have merited inclusion.

John McGuire was picking pockets as a teen in the late 1860s. He was caught in 1867 and–because of earlier arrests–sent to State prison for four years. McGuire was caught again in 1878; and again in October 1879, when he was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary for two years. McGuire had such clean, innocent looks and a pleasant, insinuating manner that he was given the job of librarian of the prison. He was also rewarded for his good behavior by being given the responsibility of driving a mule cart used to make deliveries between buildings on Blackwell’s Island. One day in July, 1880, the cart was found in the warden’s flowerbed, alongside the East River, without its driver. McGuire had apparently been picked up by a waiting rowboat.

He was not heard from again for five years, when he was arrested in Philadelphia and recognized. McGuire was returned to New York to serve out the remainder of his sentence on Blackwell’s Island.

This was followed by a gap of over a dozen years when McGuire was not heard from.

In the late 1890s, McGuire reappeared as a member of Mike Ryan’s “green goods” operations, otherwise known as the Westchester Depot gang. When Ryan himself was arrested, it appears that his main lieutenants, John McGuire and Joe Baker, moved the ring to two locations: Allentown, Pennsylvania and Fishkill, New York.

McGuire was seen several times in Allentown in the late 1890s, where he used the name George Russell. However, he was not arrested until 1902, in a raid that included New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

McGuire’s fate after that point is unknown.


#165 James Burns

James Burns (abt. 1842-1887), aka Big Jim Burns, James Boyle, John Bowen, John Hawkins, John Ashton, etc. — Bank sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in Boston, Mass. Single. No trade. A large, well-built man. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, about 200 pounds. Brown hair, dark hazel eyes, dark complexion. Has fine spots of India ink between thumb and forefinger of left hand. Generally wears a sandy-brown mustache and whiskers.

RECORD. Jim Burns, alias Big Jim, is a celebrated bank sneak, burglar and forger. He is a native of Boston, Mass., and is called by the fraternity “The Prince of Thieves,” on account of his great liberality with his money, and the many charitable acts performed by him. It is a well known fact that he has always contributed to the support of the wives and families of his associates whenever they were in trouble.

Some years ago, after a large and successful bank sneak robbery. Burns, and the others who were with him, returned to New York and went to their usual rendezvous, a saloon corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, New York, kept by one Dick Piatt. The entire party imbibed quite freely and Burns fell asleep. When he awoke he found that he had been robbed of his portion of the plunder. On being informed by one of his companions who had done it, Burns said, “It was hard, that after doing a lot of work, and getting a good lump of money, to have an associate rob me. He can’t be much good, and will die in the gutter.” The fact is, that about one week after the occurrence the party referred to was walking down Broadway and was stricken with paralysis, fell into the gutter, and died before any assistance could be rendered him.

Burns was connected with all of the most celebrated criminals in this country, and took part in a large number of the most prominent bank robberies. Owing to his genial good-nature he never was able to save a dollar. He has served terms in prison in Sing Sing, New York, and Boston, Mass., and is well known all over America and Europe.

He was arrested in New York City on March 11, 1878, for the larceny of a carriage clock, valued at $52, from Howard, Sanger & Co., Broadway and Grand Street. He was released on $500 bail, and when his case was called for trial he failed to appear. He was arrested again in New York City on December 17, 1878, for attempting to rescue “Red” Leary from a private detective. He was indicted, and again admitted to bail.

While at large, he was arrested with George Carson (3) for the larceny of $12,000 in money from the Government Printing Office, in Washington, D. C. No case being made out against them, they were discharged on July 1, 1879, by Commissioner Deuel, at Washington.

Burns was arrested upon his discharge on a bench warrant in the old clock case, brought to New York City, tried, convicted of grand larceny, and sentenced to three years and six months in Sing Sing prison, on July 11, 1879, by Judge Cowing.

He made his escape from Raymond Street jail in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday night, July 31, 1883, where he was confined for the larceny of a package containing $3,000 in money from the desk of the postmaster of Brooklyn, N.Y.

After his escape he went to London, England, and from there to Paris, where he devoted his talents to picking pockets, and had to leave there to keep out of the clutches of the police. When next heard from he was in Stockholm, Sweden, with Billy Flynn, alias Connolly, and Bill Baker, alias Langford, where the party obtained about eighteen hundred kroners from a bank in that city. They were arrested for the robbery, but having no evidence against them a charge of vagrancy was preferred, and they were imprisoned for six months as vagrants.

A few months after their time expired they went to Hamburg, Germany, where, on June 22, 1885, they succeeded in robbing the Vereins Bank of 200,000 marks, about $44,000. On July 15, 1885, the bank offered a reward of 10,000 marks, about $2,200, for them. They were all arrested in London, England, in the latter part of July, 1885, and returned to Paris, France, they having been tried, convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment each for an offense committed in that city. According to French law, any person may be tried convicted, and sentenced for an offense during his absence. After their sentence expires they will be taken to Hamburg for trial for the larceny of the 200,000 marks. Burns’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1882.

One can tell from the phrases used in Byrnes’s summary of Big Jim Burns’ career that he had an appreciation of the scoundrel, who, like Big Jim’s “pal” Horace Hovan, loved to steal for the fun of it. The team of Rufe Minor, Hovan, Burns, and George Carson was likely the most potent collection of criminal talent of the nineteenth century.

Though Byrnes does an adequate job of retelling Big Jim’s brief career, he missed a choice anecdote or two. In March of 1879, Big Jim went out partying in Manhattan with Tom McCormick, the famous bank thief. This was during the era when one of the great sporting (and gambling) crazes was walking (pedestrian) races. Once they were stumbling drunk, Big Jim and McCormick went into the spacious Coleman House hotel, which had corridors linked in a giant square, and decided to have their own pedestrian race. When the hotel clerk and porter tried to stop their shenanigans, a fight ensued. Somehow, a plate glass window worth $150 was broken. The two thieves were arrested, and luckily were not under indictments at the time.

1 Im02u1AsVUAm64ha4OL59w
The Coleman House hotel, as it appears today

In August, 1887, Big Jim was over one year into his five year sentence for robbing a bank in Hamburg, Germany. A delegation from the Philadelphia Society for the Amelioration of Prisons happened to be in that city and visited the prison where Burns was incarcerated. Upon learning that Burns was there, a Philadelphia lawyer who knew him was granted permission to visit the prisoner. Burns asked the lawyer for news of Philadelphia, as he had been in Europe for the past two years, and held the Quaker City in fond regard.

Their discussion turned toward the great financial institutions of the city, and in the course of their talk the lawyer mentioned that the Drexel bank had moved into a new building at Fifth and Chestnut Streets. Big Jim was thunderstruck. Fighting to contain his pain, the thief finally explained his consternation”

“I don’t mind telling you,” said Mr. Burns, after the first burst of his grief had subsided, “that ever since 1878 we have had our eye on that drawer in the bond counter. The bank, as you know, was on the west side of Third Street, between Chestnut and Market Streets. The counter that curved around the left wall as you entered was the bond counter. Between it and the door, near the left wall, was a writing stand. The clerk in charge of the bond counter kept the securities, during business hours, in a wide wooden drawer, which ran the full depth of the counter, and the end of which consequently would be at ten or twelve inches, at the farthest, from the chest of any one standing in the open space in front of the counter. Nothing but a few inches of deal [pine] or mahogany would separate such a person from hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of securities.

Burn drew a map for his guest:



“Our plan was this: One of us would go into the bank after business hours some day, when the clerks had gone and the valuables had all been removed to the Safe Deposit Company [the doors and lobby of the bank still being open, but all the counters closed for business]. He would saunter in among the scrub-women, who would be washing up the floor, as if to write a hasty letter on the writing stand. The others would, as they readily might, have followed him in, and began writing and arranging business papers in a hurried way. Such a proceeding would not have been unusual. While the ‘stalls’ were thus engaged the active member of the party, who would have on a large cloak, under which he carried a brace and bit, with an attachment of a peculiar character, would stand immediately in front of the end of the wooden drawer, bore a hole through the end of the wooden drawer, noiselessly, with a fine steel bit which cut little dust, and by means of a peculiar attachment of which I have spoken would simultaneously with the boring cut through the counter and drawer until a circular section some eight inches in diameter was entirely excised and ready for removal. All this would be the work of not more than five minutes. Traces of the cutting would then be obliterated by the use of a little walnut putty, and one after another the ‘mob’ would saunter out and disperse.

“When the bank opened the next morning there would be nothing suspicious in the appearance of the drawer. The securities would be replaced in it as usual. During the busiest hour of the day we would go in again. One of us would engage the bond clerk on a matter of business at a point along the counter some distance from the drawer. The man with the cloak would have had no trouble in pushing in the circular section of both counter and drawer and drawing through, in a moment, a handsome package of bonds.”

At that point, Burns cast his gaze around his cell. Without prompting, he launched into detailed explanations of two other American banks which had not yet been robbed, and also drew floor maps of how their cashier counters were laid out, and how they could be surreptitiously attacked by a bold team of sneak thieves. Burns seemed not to realize that he was explaining these plans to a lawyer–and that Burns was not his client, and that their conversation was not bound by confidentiality.

Burns concluded his monologue wistfully, “And while there’s life there’s hope. Two and a half years (remaining until his release from Hamburg) isn’t so long.”

Three months later, Big Jim Burns fell seriously ill, and died in the prison in December, 1887.

#49 George W. Gamphor

George Washington Gampher (1847-1927), aka  James F. Rogers — Hotel thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Philadelphia. Medium build. Clerk. Not married. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, about 148 pounds. Blonde hair, dark gray eyes, sandy complexion and mustache.

RECORD. Gamphor was arrested in New York City on February 1, 1876, for the larceny of a gold watch and chain, valued at $100, from one E. W. Worth, of Bennington, Vt., at one of the hotels on Cortlandt Street. He was convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in State prison in the Court of General Sessions, on December 20, 1880, by Recorder Smyth.

He is a clever hotel thief, and has traveled all over this country, robbing hotels and boarding-houses, and is regarded as a first-class operator. He is well known in a number of large cities. Gamphor’s picture was taken in 1876.

Inspector Byrnes correctly identifies George Gampher’s first known arrest, which took place in New York City in 1876. [The victim’s name was Charles E. Welling, not E. W. Worth]. However, Gampher was not convicted in this case; his conviction came two years later, in a totally unrelated case. In October, 1880, Gampher was caught drilling holes next to door locks of rooms of the Astor House hotel, to be used to insert wire loops to pull open bolted doors. He was caught with other burglary tools.

George was the son of a Philadelphia cooper of the same name, George Washington Gampher. His father had been a volunteer in the Civil War, and for a time was also on the Philadelphia police force. George Jr., on the other hand, seems to have been a habitual customer of saloons and gambling joints, and a store thief as well as a hotel thief.

By the late 1880s, George Jr. managed a “disorderly house,” i.e. a brothel in Philadelphia, along with a woman named Lucy Simpson. They appear to have been operating it as a panel thieves.

Whatever other character faults George W. Gampher had, he remained devoted to his tight-knit family, who apparently put up with his missteps. He lived with his parents their entire lives, moving from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1880s. There, George Jr. seems to have settled down a bit, listing his occupation as real estate agent.

The family allegiance went so far as to collectively sue the husband of George’s sister, Marie Gampher. Marie had died in her forties, and before her husband, Alexander Poulson, could have the body buried in a plot he had purchased, the Gamphers took it and buried it in their family plot. Poulson had it moved, and the Gamphers sued (unsuccessfully).

For the last three decades of his life, George W. Gampher stayed out of trouble–except for one instance in 1905 when he collected $600 from the friends of a jailed pickpocket, whom he promised he could get out of jail; and then took no action.

#43 William Fale

William Brooks (18??-????) — Hotel thief, Sleeping-car thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-five years old in 1886. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 7 3/4 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Dark brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. Wears a brown mustache. A German. Baker by trade.

RECORD. Fale, or Brooks, is an old hotel and sleeping-car worker, and is pretty well known in the principal Eastern and Southern cities, where he has been arrested and convicted for similar offenses. He was arrested at the Grand Central Railroad depot, in New York City, on December 23, 1874, for the larceny of a gold watch and chain from a sleeping-car. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced, in the Court of General Sessions, to four years in State prison on January 18, 1875.

His manner of working was to meet the in-coming trains in the morning by walking up the railroad yard, jump on them, and rob the berths, while the persons who occupied them were washing and getting ready to leave. Fale’s picture is a fair one, taken in 1874.

Inspector Byrnes’s forty-third criminal profile is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; and Byrnes himself is partially to blame. Byrnes gives no indication as to where he found the name “Fale.” There were only a handful of people in the United States in the nineteenth-century with that surname; and none were born as early as this criminal. Likewise, it is not known where Byrnes learned that he was German by background or a baker by trade.

The one specific crime that Byrnes associated with this man was the January, 1875 conviction for a sleeping-car robbery. That arrest, conviction, and imprisonment was made on the name William Brooks. The Sing Sing register for the prisoner gives his age as 50, his birthplace as Missouri, his residence as Philadelphia, and his trade carpentry. Another man, about 10-15 years younger was arrested as Brooks’ accomplice. His name was Joseph Morton alias John Martin, who was also labeled a notorious thief. The evidence against Morton/Martin was weak, so he was released.

The New York Times further noted that Brooks used the alias Burke; that he was a well-known hotel thief; and that he had been sent to the State Prison (Sing Sing) in 1867 for a burglary.

The Sing Sing registers for 1867 do indeed have an entry for William Brooks. His physical description matches the 1875 entry, but his age is given as 45 (a three-year difference); his birthplace is here listed as Rochester, NY; and his residence as New York City. Looking at the newspaper accounts of the crime that led to this sentence, it can be seen that Brooks was arrested in January, 1865, along with accomplice John Moore for the burglary of a New York hotel resident. Moore was sent to prison (on a two year sentence) in February, 1865; but before Brooks could be tried, the main witness against him left town, so Brooks was discharged. Then, two years later, Brooks was arrested in February, 1867 for another hotel room burglary, along with an accomplice, John Martin alias William Gale, alias John Moore. The evidence against Brooks was weak, so the District Attorney, upon learning that the 1865 main witness had returned to New York, decided to try Brooks on that two year old indictment.  Martin/Gale/Moore was sentenced to two and a half years in Sing Sing; while Brooks, as a notorious past offender, was given ten years.

It seems apparent that the thief William Brooks had been working with an accomplice–likely just one man–between 1865 and 1875. One theory may be that the records that Byrnes reviewed were not clearly legible, and that he mistook the name “Gale” for “Fale,” and moreover ascribed that name to Brooks, not Martin/Morton/Moore.

But there is a further fly in the ointment: in 1860, a “John Moore” was arrested in New York for stealing at a hotel. He had an unnamed accomplice. The National Police Gazette printed a drawing of this “John Moore,” and it resembles the man who was photographed in December 1874 as “William Fale alias Brooks.”

One possibility may be that the two thieves took turns exchanging aliases. Or did authorities get their identifications mixed up? Or were there more than two criminals involved among all the above facts?