#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.


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