#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?

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