#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.

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