#28 John Tracy

John Tracy (1849-1906), aka Big Tracy, Long John, Jim Tracy, Charles McCarty, John Riley, Edwin Taylor — House thief, Bank robber, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Plumber by trade. Single. Stout build. Height, 6 feet 1 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Dark brown hair, light complexion. Has a cross in India ink on right fore-arm. Generally wears a dark brown beard and mustache. Scar on back of hand.

RECORD. “Big” Tracy does considerable “second-story” or house work, and is well known in New York, Chicago, and all the large cities. He has served considerable time in Eastern prisons — one term of five years from Troy, N.Y., for highway robbery, in 1878. (See Addenda.)

He was arrested again in the spring of 1884, in company of Billy Ogle (13), for robbing a residence on Jersey City Heights, N.J., of diamonds and jewelry valued at $1,500. They were both tried and convicted on June 26, 1884; their counsel obtained a new trial for them, and they were discharged in July, 1884.

Tracy and Ogle went West, and in the fall of 1885 Ogle was arrested in Tennessee for “house work,” and sentenced to the penitentiary for ten years. He shortly after escaped from a gang while working on the railroad. Tracy escaped arrest, and is now at large in the West. His picture is a good one, taken in 1877. (See records of Nos. 13 and no.)

“Big Tracy” (as he was best known) had a variety of aliases, none of which can be proven as his real given name. His first known arrest was in Boston in 1872 for a petty larceny, under the name John Riley. In 1875 he was an accomplice of Eddie Garing (Eddie Goodie) in a robbery on a horse-car in New York City. The victim, a bookkeeper carrying thousands of dollars, had been targeted and followed onto the car. Big Tracy and Garing escaped arrest for this crime.

Sometime between 1875 and 1876, Big Tracy was one of those who made the first approach to Patrick Shevlin, the night watchman of the Manhattan Savings Institution, which would eventually be robbed in October 1878. Big Tracy had been a friend of Shevlin’s since they were teens; and another of the early conspirators, Tim Gorman (known as Little Tracy) had been a schoolmate.

In the summer of 1877, Big Tracy was recommended as a “good man” to bank robber Langdon Moore. Moore recruited Big Tracy to assist with an attempt on a safe at the Dedham, Massachusetts post office. The attempt was a failure, and Moore placed much of the blame on Big Tracy, whom he portrayed as cowardly. A chapter in Langdon Moore’s autobiography is devoted to this misadventure, titled “Lame Duck at Dedham.”

Big Tracy was not among the gang that eventually pulled off the Manhattan Savings Institution job, the most famous bank robbery of the 19th-century. Several months earlier, in July 1878, he had participated in a horse-car robbery in Troy, New York that was very similar to the 1875 episode with Eddie Goodie. In this case, the crime in Troy was committed by a gang of six or seven men led by William “Mush” Reilly. They targeted a messenger carrying a large amount of cash, got onto a street-car with him, and then one man garroted him from behind while another emptied his pockets.

This time, all the conspirators were captured. Big Tracy was originally sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but on appeal the sentence was reduced to five years, to be served in Clinton Prison in Dannemora. With time reduced, Big Tracy was discharged in October, 1882.

As Byrnes mentions, Big Tracy and Billy Ogle were arrested for house burglaries in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1884; but were released for lack of evidence. They both traveled together to Tennessee to commit more burglaries, were caught, and sentenced to a chain gang. They both escaped.

In 1888, Big Tracy was seen on the streets of Boston and taken in as a suspicious character, and later released. In 1889 he was arrested for picking pockets outside a dime museum in Philadelphia.

Between 1889 and 1894 there is a big gap in his record, which one newspaper attributed to an eight-year (reduced) sentenced in Sing Sing; but if he was convicted in New York, it must have been under an unrecognized alias.

In December 1884 he was caught following a house burglary in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which yielded jewelry worth only $25.00. For this crime he was sentenced to fifteen years in the Connecticut State Prison.

Upon his release in 1906, he was brought in for picking pockets in Brooklyn and sentenced to a year in the Blackwell’s Island penitentiary. He died there later that year at age 57.

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