#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.


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