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.
Emanuel Marx (Abt 1846-????), aka Emanuel Marks, Minnie Marks, The Red-Headed Jew, etc. –Pickpocket, Thief, Bank Sneak, Con Man
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Jew, born in Illinois. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, about 160 pounds. Florid complexion, bushy brown hair, almost sandy. He is a little stooped shouldered. Blue eyes that have a bold, searching look. Walks with a very slouchy gait. He is a good talker, and rattles away at a furious rate. Speaks good English, German and Hebrew. Used to dress well, but getting careless of late.
RECORD. Minnie Marks, alias The Red-headed Jew, is a Chicago thief, and is well known in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, and New York. He received considerable notoriety when arrested In New York City, on October 21, 1881, and was delivered to the police authorities of Detroit, Mich., charged with robbing the First National Bank of that city of $2,080. It was a sneak robbery, which was done by four men, with a light wagon, on June 22, 1881.
In Chicago, where Marks is well known, he is not considered a very smart thief,, although other people who know him say he is a good man. He works with men like Rufe Minor (1), Mollie Matches (11), Johnny Jourdan (83), Georgie Carson (3), Big Rice (12), Billy Burke (162), Paddy Guerin, and other celebrated thieves. Marks’s picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery at New York, Chicago and Detroit.
He is said to have been with Jourdan, Minor, Carson and Horace Hovan in the Middletown Bank robbery in July, 1880. He is also said to have been one of the men who, in April, 1881, attempted to rob the bank at Cohoes, N.Y. Marks succeeded in making his escape from the jail in Detroit, Mich., on March 12, 1882, with twelve other prisoners, and has never been recaptured. Since that time he has served two years in St. Vincent De Paul prison in Montreal, Canada. The latest accounts say that he is now employed as a porter in a first-class hotel in Montreal, Canada. Marks’s picture is a very good one, taken in Detroit, Mich.
Emanuel Marks (the spelling used throughout his career) was born in New York about the year 1846 to German Jew immigrants Isaac and Cecelia Marx. The Marx family, including Emanuel’s younger brother Louis and sister Cornelia, moved from New York to Chicago in the 1850s where Isaac worked as a driver and Cecelia was an “intelligence officer,” i.e. a phrase used at that time for an agency placing servants in homes or finding rental properties. As a young man, Emanuel found temp servant jobs through his mother, working large dinners as a dishwasher; or as a health aide to sick, wealthy clients.
His other pursuit, starting in 1866, was picking pockets. He was arrested many times during the late 1860s, and always seemed to get charges dismissed or light sentences, indicating that he had good lawyers. He also had saloon owners putting up his bail money, a sure sign that he was connected to an underworld fraternity. By the early 1870s he was picking pockets and working small cons on travelers passing through Chicago train stations. The only effective measure against him were arrests for vagrancy. By 1873, the Chicago Tribune declared him a successful “thief, burglar, assassin and outlaw,” though the paper does not defend those accusations.
By 1875, Emanuel had made at least one roving tour to pick pockets and con travelers, and was told to leave the city of Buffalo, New York. He returned to Chicago to continue his same habits, now well-rehearsed. He picked up the nickname “Minnie” as a play on his childhood name “Mannie”. During the 1860s and 1870s, a petite woman named Minnie Marks was an immensely popular trick-rider in circuses. When arrested, his sentences were still mere slaps on the wrist.
Life changed quickly for Minnie Marks; his father died suddenly in 1876, followed by his mother in 1877. His arrest record came to include burglaries. In 1880, Marks joined fellow Chicagoan Billy Burke on several bank sneak operations. Along with frequent gang members George Carson, Rufe Minor, Horace Hovan, Big Rice, Mollie Matches, and Johnny Jourdan, Burke’s gang robbed banks in Middletown, Connecticut; Cohoes, New York; Detroit; and Baltimore between July 1880 and September 1881. Emanuel’s job was to “stall,” to distract cashiers.
He was arrested in November 1881 and sent to Detroit to stand trial for the bank robbery that had occurred there the previous June. While awaiting trial, he escaped from jail in March 1882 and fled to Canada. In Montreal in 1884, he was caught stealing a gold chain in a store and was sentenced to two years in St. Vincent De Paul prison.
In 1886 Inspector Byrnes reported, hopefully, that Marks was now a porter in an upscale Montreal hotel–but if he was, Byrnes’s publication likely sabotaged that employment. Marks was not heard from again until the early 1890s, when police spotted him again in Chicago and told him to leave town. The last mention of Marks is from New York in 1897, where he was found cheating newly-landed immigrants out of $5 and $10.
Minnie Marks’ father, mother, sister and brother can be found resting eternally at the Zion Gardens cemetery in Chicago, Illinois (under the name Marx). No one knows where Emanuel’s remains can be found.
Christine Mayer (Abt. 1847-????), aka Kid Glove Rosie, Mary Scanlon, Rosa Rode–Shoplifter
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Housekeeper. Slim build. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight, about 125 pounds. Dark brown hair, dark blue eyes, dark complexion.
RECORD. Kid Glove Rosey is a well known New York shoplifter. She is also well known in several other Eastern cities. She was arrested in New York City, in company of Lena Kleinschmidt, alias Louisa Rice, alias Black Lena (119), on April 9, 1880, charged with stealing from the store of McCreery & Co., corner of Eleventh Street and Broadway, two pieces of silk containing 108 yards, valued at $250. The property was found in their possession, together with some other property which had been stolen from Le Boutillier Brothers on West Fourteenth Street, New York City. Mayer was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 30, 1880. Kleinschmidt, who had been bailed, left the city, but was re-arrested, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years and nine months on the same day by Recorder Smyth.
Mayer’s sentence expired on November 30, 1883, and Kleinschmidt’s on September 30, 1883. “Rosey’s” picture is a good one, taken in April, 1880.
Because of her evocative nickname, “Kid Glove Rosie” has gained in notoriety over the decades as one of the premiere shoplifters of the nineteenth-century. Although she was, in likelihood, a repeat offender, her documented offenses boil down to three arrests and three prison terms, all taking place in a fairly short succession in New York City.
The first offense took place in May, 1875, when she was arrested under the name assigned by the New York Times as “Christina Mayer, alias Marks, a notorious shoplifter.” There are no prior references to arrests under either of those names. She was caught taking eighty yards of blue silk from the Lord & Taylor store. She was sentenced to one year on Blackwell’s Island, the city penitentiary.
In May of 1877, the incident that gave Rosie he nickname took place in a store that specialized in gloves:
Although the math is difficult to figure, the final charge against Rosie was for taking 20 dozen pairs of gloves…in one visit. She was able to hide 240 pairs of expensive kid gloves in hidden pockets in her skirts. This crime earned her a three and a half year sentence to Blackwell’s Island.
The third known arrest of Kid Glove Rosie–accompanied by Black Lena Kleinschmidt–took place in April, 1880, when the pair was caught purloining expensive goods from the store of James McCreery. Both women were German immigrants, with Rosie several years younger than Lena. This incident may explain other, non-specific, references to the fact that Rosie/Christine shoplifted with an older woman described as her mother.
In this case, Rosie was sent to Blackwell’s Island on a sentence of four years and nine months. The three prison terms between 1875 and 1885 took away what should have been her prime years as an adult. She was not heard from again.
Joseph Baker (Abt. 1847-19??), aka Nigger Baker, Joe Baker, George Baker, Thomas Baker, Lannon, Graham, Bartholomew Hayes, George R. Tate, George Lehman, George T. Bradford, etc.–Pickpocket, Green Goods Operator
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Black hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a black mustache. Two vaccination marks on right arm.
RECORD. Joe Rickerman, alias “Nigger” Baker, so called on account of his very dark complexion, is a well known New York burglar and pickpocket. He is an associate of Will Kennedy, Joe Gorman (146), Big Jim Casey (91), “Poodle” Murphy (134), “Pretty” Jimmie (143), Jimmy Scraggins, and other well known New York thieves and pickpockets. He is pretty well known in all the Eastern cities, especially in Philadelphia and New York, where his picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery. He has served terms in prison in Philadelphia (Pa.), Sing Sing (N. Y.), and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and is considered a very handy man with a set of tools.
Of late years Joe has been traveling through the country, “stalling” for a gang of pickpockets. He was arrested in New York City and sentenced to three years and six months in Sing Sing prison for burglary, on September 15, 1881. His sentence expired on July 15, 1884. Rickerman’s picture is a good one, taken in November, 1878.
Chief Inspector Byrnes made a misleading error in his entry on Joseph Rickerman/Baker: the man arrested and sent to Sing Sing on September 15, 1881, was not Rickerman/Baker, but a much younger man named Henry Baker, who was arrested in this instance under the name James Johnson. Henry Baker was born about 1862, making him fifteen years younger than Rickerson/Baker. This same Henry Baker was sent to Sing Sing in 1879, at age 17, under the name James Flynn.
The man that Byrnes was talking about and depicts in a photo was obviously older; but also even more difficult to trace than Henry Baker. “Rickerman” appears to have been a one-off alias, given at just one of his arrests. The press usually referred to him by his underworld nickname, Nigger Baker–a label meant to mock his dark complexion.
Without that one arrest date as a clue, there is little to go on to trace this man other than his nickname and the name Rickerman. A 1902 article on Baker claims that he was jailed in July 1868 under the name Richmond; and imprisoned again in 1874 and 1881; but none of these can be verified. The first documented presence of Baker can only be found in a round-up of 18 pickpockets working the New York City crowd during President Grant’s funeral in August 1885; among them was George alias “Nigger” Baker. Several additional arrests of Baker under that nickname for picking pockets occurred between 1885 and 1888.
In the 1890s, like several of the Bowery gang of pickpockets, Baker moved in to “green goods” operations, in which gullible “come-ons” were lured to trade their good money for loads of supposed high-quality counterfeit notes, which through sleight-of-hand turned out to be nothing more than satchels full of sawdust or plain paper.
Although law enforcement was often stymied in figuring out how to crack down on this devious confidence game, one man took it upon himself to lead the fight: Anthony Comstock. A Civil War Union army veteran with a strict puritan background, Comstock came to New York City in the early 1870s to work for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Seeing firsthand the many immoral and corrupt influences that led young men astray, Comstock founded a reform organization called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
Comstrock’s primary target was obscene printed materials. Though a prude, Comstock was a profoundly influential and effective campaigner. Just a year after arriving in New York, Comstock lent his name to a federal law, the Comstock Act of 1873, that made illegal the use of the U. S. Mail to deliver “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material. Comstock was quick to broaden his definition of these terms to anything pertaining to sex, including any mentions of abortion, birth control, or venereal disease. Anecdotes suggest the law was even applied to medical text books. Wielding popular support, Comstock was hired as a special investigator for the United States Postal Service.
Comstock took his role seriously, and cracked down on distributors of material he deemed unfit. In a narrow sense, his efforts yielded some good: he prosecuted medical quacks who preyed upon young, desperate women with worthless or dangerous solutions to their health issues. However, Comstock was anything but contained; he broadened his misuse of the mail to include gambling efforts–in the form of lottery tickets sold through the mail; and, eventually, to the circulars distributed by green goods operators.
By working closely with local law authorities, Comstock used the federal mail fraud act to attack green goods operators on two fronts, by cracking down both on the “writers” who sent out mass-mailed circulars; and on the backers and turners who actually executed the swindle of the victim. Through the 1880s and 1890s, Comstock’s efforts winnowed the ranks of New York’s green goods operators. One of the last, strongest operations were those of backer Mike Ryan, who, prior to 1894, counted on protection offered by his political and police associates. Ryan was finally jailed in 1896, having been brought before the reforming Lexow Committee a little while earlier, thanks to Comstock.
Comstock then sets his sights on the remaining members of Mike Ryan’s operation. At the head of the new gang was “George Lehman,” otherwise known as Nigger Baker. Baker had shifted the physical meeting place of the swindles to Allentown, Pennsylvania; though he was still headquartered in New York. Comstock’s indefatigable determination finally trapped Baker:
As mentioned in the above article, Comstock personally sat in on Baker’s trial, both as a witness and audience to the proceedings. True crime author Jay Robert Nash related a story of that scene that serves as a epitaph for Baker, alias George Lehman:
“Comstock delightedly sat day after day in court, reveling in his victory, until the con man was convicted for green goods swindles for the sixth time since 1896.
“’Why don’t you go straight when you get out, George?’ Comstock asked the prisoner before he was led away.
“’Don’t be silly,’ Lehman replied. ‘When you got a profession, you stick to it. It’s the only way to get ahead.’”
William Peck (Abt. 1860-1888), aka William Parker, John Bishop — Pickpocket
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 140 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, light complexion. Has two moles, and two scars from burns, on his right arm. Generally wears a small brown mustache and side-whiskers.
RECORD. Billy Peck is one of a new gang of pickpockets which are continually springing up in New York City. He is an associate of all the Bowery (New York) “mob” of pickpockets, and is considered a promising youth. He is known in Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Boston, and several other Eastern cities. With the exception of a short term in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, nothing is known about him, except that he is a professional thief.
He was arrested in New York City on January 3, 1885, in company of another pickpocket, named William Davis, for attempting to pick pockets on one of the horse-cars. No complaint was obtained against him, and he was discharged, after his picture was taken for the Rogues’ Gallery.
He was arrested again in Albany, N. Y., in August, 1885, during Grant’s obsequies, in company of a gang of New York pickpockets, locked up until after the funeral, and then discharged. He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., on December 21, 1885, in company of James Wells, alias Funeral Wells (150), and Jimmie Murphy, two other New York pickpockets, attempting to ply their vocation in Mechanics’ Hall, during one of Dr. W. W. Downs’s sensational lectures. He was in luck again, for, after having their pictures taken, they were escorted to the train and ordered to leave town.
This is a very clever thief, and may be looked for at any moment in any part of the country. He was arrested again in Hoboken, N.J., under the name of William Parker, on February 16, 1886, charged with attempting to pick a lady’s hand-satchel, and sentenced to three months in jail there. His picture is an excellent one, taken in December, 1885.
Little more is known about William Peck than is listed in Byrnes’s entry. A man identified as Peck was captured in Bennington, Vermont in September, 1887, and jailed for picking pockets. This man, and two other prisoners (pickpocket William Perry and a local man–a rapist) confined in the city jail sawed off their cell door and dug a hole through a brick wall. That was the last heard of Peck, until Byrnes noted in his 1895 edition that there was a report that Peck had died in September, 1888–a year after his alleged escape. But in the Fall of 1887, a different criminal, Michael Hurley, was identified as the escaped pickpocket, not Peck.
Peck’s nickname–“Peck’s Bad Boy” was taken from the humorous novels of George Wilbur Peck, starting with Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa in 1883. The stories centered around the pranks played by Hennery Peck on his father and others. Many of the episodes were more mean-spirited than harmless, and made references that were racially or ethnically biased. They were adapted as stage plays that were running continuously around the country throughout William Peck’s brief career.
However, within the criminal underworld, William Peck had another nickname: “Earsey.” A look at his Rogues’ Gallery photograph will explain why (note the shape of his hat brim):
Peck’s two nicknames are both interesting. Many people who pick up Chief Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America find the criminal nicknames to be one of the most memorable things about the book. There is a reason why Byrnes recorded many of the nicknames–they were used within the underworld to identify fellow criminals, when real names often were never known, and aliases changed at will. To get information from informants and witnesses, the authorities had to know whom these nicknames referred to. New York State finally began collecting criminal nicknames in an index file in the 1890s. By the late 1930s, the FBI had a criminal nickname database said to contain 80,000 names.
There was a logic to many criminal nicknames, and it was not complicated. Many nicknames focused on a defining physical characteristic, even if it was a physical handicap:
Blink Kelly (one-eye missing)
Titters (James Titterington, a stutterer)
Brocky George (dirty or pock-marked face)
Black Lena (dark-complexioned)
Or their notable behavior:
Roaring Bill (for his laughter)
Nibsey (for his self-importance)
Mysterious Jimmy (a man of few words)
Peppermint Joe (for his fondness of mints)
Or simply by height or girth:
Shang Quinn (or Campbell, or Draper; from Shanghaes, long-legged roosters)
Others used age to differentiate criminals:
Old Ike Vail
Old Bill Vosburgh
Old Man Hope
Billy the Kid Burke
Some were identified by where they came from or made their home:
Brummy (someone from Birmingham, England)
Others were identified by common ethnic slurs, even if misapplied:
Nigger Baker (not African-American)
Chink Mandelbaum (not Chinese)
Or by ethnicity:
French Louis Brown
French Gus Kindt
A few were named for folkloric figures:
Old Mother Hubbard
Peck’s Bad Boy
Some names refer to a certain criminal trait or incident:
Sealskin Joe (who was arrested with several furs)
The Diamond Swallower
Mollie Matches (who imitated a girl matchstick vendor to pick pockets)
Kid Glove Rosie (for her favorite shoplifting target)
James P. Wilson (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Pretty Jimmy, James Watson, James Anderson — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States, Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, florid complexion. Has the following India ink marks on his person: a woman, in short dress, in red and blue ink, with bow and staff in hand, on right arm; another woman, in short dress, holding in her left hand a flag, on which is a skull and crossbones, on left arm; anchor on back of left hand; a shield between thumb and forefinger of left hand.
RECORD. “Pretty Jimmie” is an old New York pickpocket, and partner of Terrence, alias Poodle Murphy (134). He was arrested in Montreal, Canada, during the Marquis of Lome celebration, with a gang of American pickpockets, from whom a box of stolen watches was taken. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment there.
He was arrested again in New York City, and pleaded guilty to an attempt at larceny from the person of Stephen B. Brague, and sentenced to one year in State prison, on July 12, 1875, by Judge Sutherland, under the name of James Anderson.
Since 1876 Wilson and Murphy have robbed more people than any other four men in America. He was finally arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on January 16, 1885, with Poodle Murphy (134), charged with robbing one Shadrach Raleigh, of Delaware, of $526 in money and $3,300 in notes, etc., on a Columbia Avenue horse-car, on December 24, 1884. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in the Eastern Penitentiary, on March 16, 1885. Murphy, his partner, who did the work, was sentenced to three years. There were four other charges against this team, which were not tried. His picture is a good one, taken in January, 1885.
Few clues exist that point to the origins and final fate of Pretty Jimmy Wilson, but his career centered around the East Side of Manhattan; and later in life, the Stuyvesant Heights section of Brooklyn. Wilson may have once been a handsome boy, but as he aged, his hair thinned and he cultivated an enormous walrus mustache that covered his mouth, so that in adulthood the “Pretty Jimmy” name was a mockery. His tattoos were more elaborate than most criminals’, so he may have been a sailor at one time–or at least a river pirate.
As Byrnes indicates, he was a senior member of the Bowery pickpocket gang led by Poodle Murphy. Murphy eventually branched out to be a major operator of the “Green Goods” confidence game. Not long afterwards, Pretty Jimmy also shifted his efforts in that direction, though it is not clear whether he was still partnering with Murphy.
In 1906, when Jimmy was over 60 years old, federal Post Office Inspectors had him arraigned of charges of conspiracy to commit fraud via the mails. Two months later, the Washington Post published a long article (abridged here) mentioning that arrest under the headline “Green Goods Game is Melting Away Into the Misty Distance of the ‘Con Man’s’ Golden Age.” It offered a detailed overview of how that con game had evolved:
“According to the police and the post-office inspectors, the green goods game is one of the few new things under the sun. It only came into being, they say, around the year 1870.
“To make the man swindled an intending criminal himself by inducing him to buy supposed counterfeit money to pass on to his neighbors was the essence of the new scheme. And it was not long in developing into one of the most lucrative and persistent swindles ever known.
“The most striking feature of the business during its early years was the ease with which its victims were swindled. There were no postal regulations then to prevent the operators from using the mails, and it was almost impossible to punish them under State laws. In consequence, the business progressed with an old-fashioned simplicity, grimly amusing to contemplate from a viewpoint twenty-five years distant.
“The circulars advertising for sale counterfeit money, not to be distinguished from the genuine, were simply dumped into the mails by the hundred. The addresses of the leading lights of hamlets and towns not-too-distant from New York were bought by brokers, who then, as now, did a regular business in procuring them from patent medicine houses and other mail-order concerns.
“Then thirty circulars out of a hundred, as against twelve today, elicited replies. To these a second circular was mailed, enclosing a sample of the alleged counterfeit money, invariably a genuine $1 bill, with a recommendation that the customer test it on his friends and make sure that ‘it is as good as the genuine.’ He could buy counterfeit money just as good as that, $3000 worth for $500, $7000 worth for $750, and so on. Then all that remained for the victim was to come to New York and be robbed. [Usually by a sleight-of-hand substitution of a satchel full of real money for an identical satchel full of plain paper or sawdust.]
“Not only ignorant country bumpkins, but intelligent men in every walk of life bit at the hook of the green goods men…the annual income of ten groups of them, operating from New York in the early 80’s, has been estimated by the police at upwards of $900,000…
“Then, about 1886, came the passage of the Federal enactment making use of the mails with intent to defraud an offense punishable by eighteen months in jail and $100 fine; likewise, by giving the Postmaster General the power to issue fraud orders. This was the first real blow, and up to a few years ago the only effective one, that had ever been struck at the game.
“For a time it made all the operators practically give up business…The real effect of the new Federal law..was merely to invent a more ingenious scheme than ever. The chief new feature of the game was the use of the telegraph. This new feature was simply to arrange that the come-on should send his answers to the swindlers by wire instead of by mail.
“The other radical improvement over the old scheme provided for a division of labor. Instead of being worked by one man or group of men in the good old fashion, the new scheme fell into the hands of two different parties of operators, quite unconnected, and headed by two men called in the parlance of the underworld the writer and the backer.
“The writer first got up the circulars and sent them out by the hundred. He kept the venal telegraph operators on his payroll to receive the telegrams from the victims. He arranged with other tools to get these dispatches, with the steerers to meet the victims. With that, his part of the game was finished. The backer now took hold.
“He was the man who provided the roll of from $2000 to $10,000 in good greenbacks used as a bait. He hired the turner, the man to whom another steerer, also hired by him, brought the victim from the writer’s steerer to be swindled. The backer likewise hired the ringer who affected the rapid substitution of the green paper for the good money, if that was done, in the turning joint. He also engaged the tailers, who kept watch outside the turning joint while the victim was being fleeced, and the one who put him on a through train for home afterward.
“Say the come-on was robbed of $1000. Half went to the writer, half to the backer. The backer paid a good rent for the turning joint, gave the turner who did the actual swindle a quarter of his pile, and his steerer, tailers, and ringer $5 or $10 each. The writer gave his telegraph operator $25 a month right along, and the steerers, usually broken-down crooks like the turner’s minor assistants, $5 apiece.
“Thus writers and backers each made from $340 to $375 on the turn without coming anywhere near the reach of the arm of the law themselves. Both kept out of sight at all stages of the swindle”
The only way that authorities could crack down on the practice was by attacking the practice from two directions. Undercover policemen were used to reply to the circulars and get as far as meeting the turner. They then arrested the turner (and, if lucky, the ringer, tailer, or steerer) and confiscated the roll of genuine money, dealing the backer a blow far greater than the profit he might have received. To get to the writers, however, authorities had to track down the corrupt telegraph operators. From them, they could identify the address or person to whom the telegrams were delivered–and from that person, identify the writer.
Pretty Jimmy Wilson was caught three times: in 1903 he was caught as a writer, traced to the address of a saloon where he telegraph messages were dropped. In 1905 he was captured as a turner; and in 1906 he was found with evidence suggesting he was playing both roles, exposing himself to more risk–perhaps more desperate for money. After serving a sentence of two and a half years, he was freed in the fall of 1908. Without an income or savings, Jimmy reverted to picking pockets. He tried his luck on a subway car, but when a victim felt his hand, other passengers leapt in to hold him. Unlike a streetcar where he might jump off, Jimmy had no avenue of escape on the subway–a contrivance that was just four years old. He was sent to the workhouse and was not heard from again.
Pretty Jimmy had tried to adapt his practices to a changing world, but was a step behind.
Samuel Koller (1862-1926), aka Young Julius, Julius Klein, Sheeny Julius, Samuel Frank, Julius Heyman, Little Sam — Pickpocket, Shoplifter, Fence, Swindler
From Byrnes’s text: DESCRIPTION. Twenty-four years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Single. Furrier by trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 122 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, light complexion. Strong bushy hair. Has a mole on his left arm. RECORD. “Young” Julius is a very smart young sneak thief and shoplifter. He is well known in a number of the Eastern cities, especially in New York and Boston, where he has served terms in State prison. He is a sneak thief well worth knowing. He was arrested in New York City in June, 1882, for the larceny of a gold watch from a passenger on a Long Branch boat. He obtained $1,000 bail and was released. He was arrested again in New York City in October, 1882, for the larceny of $100 from a lady while she was admiring the bonnets displayed in a Sixth Avenue window. Although morally convinced that Klein was the party who robbed her, the lady refused to make a complaint against him and he was discharged. He was arrested again in New York City on October 14, 1882, in company of Henry Hoffman (190) and Frank Watson, alias Big Patsey, two other notorious New York sneaks and shoplifters, charged with robbing the store of W.A. Thomas & Co., dealers in tailors’ trimmings, No. 35 Avon Street, Boston, Mass., of property valued at $3,500. All three of them were delivered to the Boston police authorities, taken there, tried and convicted. Hoffman and Watson were sentenced to three years in Concord prison, on November 24, 1882, and Klein to two years in the House of Correction. Julius was arrested again in New York City on November 27, 1885, in company of Frank Watson, alias Big Patsey, charged with (shoplifting) the larceny of some velvet and braid, valued at $60, from the store of A.C. Cammant, No. 173 William Street. Both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York, on December 17, 1885, in the Court of General Sessions. Klein’s sentence will expire on December 16, 1886. His picture is a good one, taken in April, 1882. Chief Inspector Byrnes updated his entry on Julius Klein in 1895 by noting only: “This man has reformed. He is now in business in New York City.” It is difficult to know whether Byrnes was dissembling for reasons known only to him; or whether he was truly misinformed as to Klein’s recent activities; or whether Klein–whose real name was Samuel Koller–convinced Byrnes of his efforts to reform. The pickpocket and shoplifter Julius Klein went to Europe with another shoplifter named Ella Roberts, and they were joined there by Mike “The Dude” Moriarty and Frank Lane. Lane, Moriarty, and Klein went to Paris and broke into a jewelry store. Klein and Lane were arrested and jailed.
Klein was back in the United States by 1894, and from that point lived in New York as furrier under the name Samuel Koller. In July, 1894 he married Sarah Mandelbaum, the daughter of Marm Mandelbaum, who had died in Hamilton, Ontario in February of that year. Sarah had divorced her first husband, Ralph Weill. The whole surviving Mandelbaum clan descended on New York to celebrate her remarriage. In 1896, Koller operated a Raines Law hotel in New York City, operated under a license that allowed him to serve liquor in late hours, as long as he had rooms to let and food items. Even so, authorities cited him for offering board to sailors–which entangled him in more regulations designed to curb vice. Eventually he was fined in 1902 for running a “disorderly house”, i.e. a brothel. Koller then turned to a series of stunningly successful swindling operations, in which he ordered goods on credit, accepted delivery, and sold them to fences. He did this in a variety of ways: in one case (1909) he had an accomplice get a sales position with an reputable company–then fed orders through him, using planted phones and offices to satisfy his employers that the orders were real. In 1910, Koller bought a hardware company that was closing, the W. J. Nixon Co., that had few assets, but an excellent credit rating. Koller used that credit to buy goods, sold them at a discount to junk dealers, and appropriated the gains. The next year, Koller and another shady partner, Charles A. Seaton, started a company called the Broadway Bargain Company. At the time, there was already a very successful wholesale company called the Broadway Bargain House. Koller and Seaton contacted other companies, asking for samples and making orders of goods on credit, while the sellers all the time believing that they were dealing with the honest traders at the Broadway Bargain House. Their scam took in half a million dollars in goods–none of which was ever paid for. In this case, because the swindlers used the U. S. Mail to conduct their business, they were arrested on Federal charges. Koller plead guilty and received a one year sentence. In 1916, Koller tried to replicate the same scam by setting up a concern called the Latin American Trading Company. He induced investors to get the company going, using their good names to purchase good on credit. Post Office inspectors were dispatched to his office, but he fled down the building’s fire escape. He later turned himself in. It seems that with this history, Koller should have been imprisoned for a long time. A witness to a Federal Judiciary committee offered this insight in 1916: “If you doubt it is possible to be persecuted, if you still doubt that Influence is a bar to justice, if you doubt that the laws of the Federal courts in this district are elastic and can be made to benefit the few who are on ‘the Inside,’ then read on, read on. “The press of New York have many times exploited the career of the State and Federal protected criminal, Samuel Koller, a notorious dive keeper, crook, swindler, thief, and ex-convict, whose record of crime Is as long as your arm. Some readers may well remember his mother-in-law, the notorious Fagin and keeper of fences for the crooks of a decade ago, ‘Mother Mandelbaum,’ who was immune from arrest during her spectacular career in this city. “That the mantle of ‘Mother Mandelbaum’ has fallen upon Samuel Koller, and that he is enabled to pursue his criminal activities unmolested is no myth. That ‘Mother Mandelbaum’ exacted a promise from the police department of protection for her son-in-law, Samuel Koller, a legacy which, it is alleged, Koller has reaped the benefit at the hands of the United States and New York district attorneys In the past, Is a matter of record on the yellow ticket of the police department of the city of New York, which shows he can be arrested, but not indicted and prosecuted. Why not? “He has done time before the mantle of ‘Mother Mandelbaum’ had time to settle officially on his shoulders, but not of late years. Further reasons for Koller’s Immunity from arrest are that until lately mortgages upon his property have been held by a prominent detective and also a former deputy police commissioner of this city, and that a certain United States commissioner stands ready to defend his interests whenever called upon.” In his final years, Koller returned to keeping a hotel. He died in 1926.
Frank Sutton (Abt. 1854-????), aka Fred P. Gray, Frank Smith, Big Frank Norton, William Gray, George Perry – Thief
From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States. Medium build. Single. No trade. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 165 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion, brown mustache, and a thin growth of brown beard. Large ears.
RECORD. Grey, or Gray, is no doubt a clever burglar, from the fact that he was one of the “Johnny Dobbs” gang, that gave the authorities all over New England so much trouble in 1884. He is from the West, and is not very well known in the Eastern cities.
He was arrested in Lawrence, Mass., on March 3, 1884, in company of Johnny Dobbs (64), Denny Carroll, alias Wm. Thompson, alias ” Big Slim” (147), and Tommy McCarty, alias Day, alias Tommy Moore, alias “Bridgeport Tommy” (87). See record of No. 64 for full particulars. Kerrigan, alias Dobbs, and Carroll pleaded guilty. McCarty and Grey stood trial, were convicted, appealed their case without avail, and were finally sentenced to ten years each in State prison, at Concord, Mass., on February 11, 1885. See record of No. 87. His picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1884.
From Byrnes’ 1895 edition:
Grey was arrested again in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 16, 1895, under the name of Frank P. Sutton. He was in company of one Charles Johnson, who is said to have served a term of four years for burglary in California. A number of burglars tools were found in their rooms in Brooklyn. They were wanted for a number of post office robberies throughout the country. His second trial resulted in his acquittal on June 19, 1895. He was then delivered to the authorities of Matteawan, N.Y., who wanted him for an alleged post office robbery in that place. Later on he was admitted to bail.
Chief Byrnes’s 1895 edition went to press with Frank Sutton’s trial for a post office robbery in Dutchess County, New York, still pending. There is little doubt that Sutton was a professional criminal well-versed in covering his tracks with aliases, tight lips, and good lawyers. His real name and family history are still unknown, as is his fate. However, details of the crime that took place at Matteawan and its subsequent trial shine a bit of light on the character of Frank Sutton (the name he was most often known by).
On the night of February 5, 1895, three burglars entered the small town of Matteawan, New York and robbed a hardware store, then broke into the post office and blew open the safe there, using so much dynamite that the whole front of the building collapsed into the street. On their way out of town they knocked down a watchman with a sandbag, then encountered a policeman, Officer Marshall Snyder, who emerged from a doorway two houses down from the post office. A short, thick-set man, supposed by authorities to be a thief named Charles Johnson, spotted the officer, pointed a pistol at him, and told him to get back inside the house. Snyder hesitated, and Johnson fired at him. The bullet went through Snyder’s mouth and into his neck, just missing his spinal column, and Snyder fell onto his back just inside the doorway. He was stunned, but conscious.
After a few seconds, a taller man leaned over Snyder and struck a match. “Are you much hurt?” the taller man asked with concern. Snyder’s mouth was full of blood, and he could not reply. The stranger lit several more matches, examining Snyder’s wounds. Over the tall man’s shoulder, Snyder saw the short, stocky man who shot him looking on anxiously. The tall man said to his partner, “You had no business to shoot this man. We may get in trouble for this.”
The shorter man snorted, “There will be trouble enough if you stay here much longer.” The taller man acknowledged that remark, and leaned over to take Snyder’s revolver and handcuffs. “You won’t be needing these tonight.” Then the burglars disappeared.
Police had no clues to identify to perpetrators, but as arrests were made of burglars in New York City, over the next few weeks, a check was made against the descriptions that Snyder and other residents of Matteawan had offered. In March of 1895, Charles Johnson and Frank Sutton were arrested in Brooklyn for possessing burglar’s tools. There had been a recent string of burglaries in Brooklyn, but the case against Johnson and Sutton there was weak. Officer Snyder, still healing from his gunshot wound, was brought down to the city and identified Frank Sutton as the taller burglar, the one who was concerned over his injury. Snyder invited other Matteawan residents who had seen the supposed burglars in town just before the robbery to take a look a Sutton, and they agreed he was one of the culprits.
Frank Sutton was transferred to the Dutchess County jail in Poughkeepsie to stand trial for the Matteawan robbery. Following him from Brooklyn to Poughkeepsie was a “handsome, well-dressed” woman who claimed to be Sutton’s wife. One newspaper reported that she had been the wife of a Cleveland lumber dealer who decided to leave her husband and accompany Frank Sutton on his adventures.
Sutton was tried in June, 1895. He entered court finely dressed, wearing jewelry, and well-groomed. Officer Snyder was placed on the stand to testify, and under cross-examination began to waver in his certainty that Sutton had been the tall man. Snyder’s doubt was enough to discharge Sutton. As the courtroom cleared, Sutton’s companion rushed over to Snyder and thanked him profusely.
Sutton walked out of the Dutchess County jail a free man, vindicated by sworn testimony. Had he been found guilty, he would have returned to his county jail cell to await sentencing before being transferred to a State prison. However, he might have had a backup plan in mind in that event. After Sutton had left town, the sheriffs found in his cell a piece of soap on which he had made impressions of jail warder’s keys; and behind the tin sheeting of the tiles in the prisoner’s wash room, they found: nine saws, two door keys, three handcuff keys, and three files. One of the door keys fit the main cell block door, and another would have opened Sutton’s leg shackles.
Chief Byrnes’s entry on Daniel S. Ward wastes no time in making the sensational claim that Ward was a suspected Confederate agent involved in the attempt to burn New York City on Election Day in November, 1864. However, after tracking Ward’s activities during the Civil War and for the forty years following the war, a pattern emerges of a boastful, homeless, friendless alcoholic dedicated to one purpose in life: swindling others. No sane military authority would have trusted Ward in any capacity. At most, Ward might have heard gossip of the incendiary plot, and in turn blabbed about it while in his cups. He was sent to jail at New York’s Fort Lafayette on Election Day, 1864, but was released soon afterward.
Albert C. Ward was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1841 to David S. Ward and Martha Ann Wood. Martha was the second wife of David S. Ward, and Albert was her first child with Ward (she had also been married earlier). David S. Ward died in 1851 (when Albert was 10); Martha then married for the third time to wealthy carriage-maker Thomas W. Harding in 1858.
At the onset of the Civil War, Albert C. Ward joined the Indiana Volunteers of the Union forces. In January 1862, while in Washington, D.C., Ward found a like-minded young soldier from a New York regiment to carouse the town with, and they wandered from bar to bar. Finally, when both were drunk, Ward knocked his companion down with a stick, grabbed his pistol, and fired it near the man’s face while he was on the ground. Then he stole $280 the soldier was carrying. Ward was traced to Baltimore and arrested. He was tried and convicted, and sentenced to eight years in prison. However, Albert’s mother and step-father interceded on his behalf, and he was granted a pardon by President Lincoln.
By the following year, 1863, Albert C. Ward was in Louisville, Kentucky (perhaps with relatives, since his mother was originally from Kentucky). He was arrested in June of that year for “obtaining $10 by false pretenses.” He was detained for trial for four months on $500 bail. Finally, when his case came up in January 1864, it was decided not to prosecute him, and he was discharged.
Ward later claimed to have been a member of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s raiders, who harassed Union forces along the northern Kentucky border. There is no evidence this was true; or that he was ever a member of any Confederate unit.
After the effort to start fires at several New York hotels failed in late November, 1864, newspaper reports surfaced that General Dix, the military commander in charge of defending New York, had been warned of such a plot early in November by information from a man named Ward. Ward was briefly detained at Fort Lafayette, and then released. This claim has not been officially documented, so once again it may have been nothing more than an idle boast by Ward.
On April 5th, 1865, Ward was arrested as a suspicious character in Baltimore. He admitted to being a former rebel soldier, but said he had deserted. In 1866, Ward was found in Bergen County, New Jersey and in New York City, defrauding hotel keepers and soliciting loans that were never repaid. He was still at it in 1871, in a typical Ward adventure:
Ward was sentenced to 2 and a half years in Sing Sing in 1895. He was jailed again in Indianapolis in 1898 and in 1907 in Chicago. He tried passing forged checks again in Boston in 1908, and was sentenced to another three years. Afterwards, he returned to Indianapolis and died there in 1912, at age 71. To the end, he insisted he had been a member of the “Confederate Army of Manhattan” that had tried to burn down the city in 1864.
Albert Wise (Abt. 1843-19??), aka Jacob Sondheim, Sheeny Al, Jew Al, A. H. Loudon, Al Wilson, Albert Simpson, Charles H. Whittemore, Albert Williams, James T. Watson, Adolph Gephart, Edward Pinter, Arnold Metzany, Emile Hemlin, Otto Henry, etc. — Pickpocket, sneak thief, confidence man
Al Wise is credited with originating an astoundingly lucrative “big con” called by various names, including The Alchemist, The Philosopher’s Stone, and Gold Sweating. While it is likely the game was not created by Wise, he became its most famous and successful practitioner. As the names above implied, Wise played the role of a scientist who had perfected a chemical reaction capable of adding a third or a half to a given weight of gold. His victims supplied him with piles of gold, rumored to be as much as $200,000 at a time.
Al Wise started as a much humbler crook: a pickpocket and sneak thief, working on teams with others of that ilk, and disposing of some of the loot through the New York fence, Marm Mandelbaum. He was romantically involved with Black Amelia, sister of Black Lena, at some point in the 1860s and 1870s, but by the mid 1880s had fallen out both with her and with (exiled in Ontario) Marm Mandelbaum.
Byrnes alludes to the reports that Wise’s 1882-1883 arrest and conviction in Buffalo was contentious. In a letter sent to the Pinkerton Agency in 1886, Wise claimed that Mandelbaum, Black Lena and Black Amelia, and New York Detectives had conspired to frame him for the Buffalo check forgeries, fearing that he was about to inform on them. However, at his trial, he had a parade of witnesses claim he was in New York City at the time of the forgeries; but wrote to the Pinkertons saying he had been in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Wise said the forgeries were done by George Wade Wilkes’ gang. Another rumor–which has the scent of credibility–is that Wise was fingered by a partner in the forging scheme, who was upset that Wise had not given him a fair share. Wise was capable of passing forged papers; he had done so in Boston in 1875.
Wise was arrested in Boston in 1880 for that 1875 forgery. With him at the time was a con man identified as his brother, but named G. H. Simpson. Simpson was also arrested, but not for forgery–Simpson was nabbed for running the Alchemist con game.
Wise was in jail for the Buffalo forgeries from 1883 to 1886. During that time, in 1884, the Alchemist con was run (unsuccessfully) by a man named Ettlinger in Cincinnati.
It was only in the late 1880s that Wise, now free from prison, was identified as the man running the Alchemist con. He did so first in New York City; then in Baltimore, bringing in $100,000. From Baltimore, Wise headed across the Atlantic to Europe, emerging as “Dr. Edward Pinter.” This was when Wise made his most famous sting. He was rumored to have swindled members of the Rothschild family; the Duke of Cambridge; and King George of Greece–but none of these instances are backed up with facts. However, one rumored con appears to be more believable. It was later described by the New York Herald:
“In July of this year  Edward Streeter, a well-known Bond street jeweler, was summoned to Claridge’s by the Duke of Edinburgh [Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria] to meet Count Kearney and the American Chemist, Dr. Pinter. The Duke told Streeter, in strict confidence, that Dr. Pinter had made one of the most wonderful discoveries of the age, in that he was able by means of a chemical process known only to him to add from one-third to one-half to the weight of gold. Dr. Pinter had performed this feat in the presence of the Count and himself, the Duke said, having on three different occasions melted a sovereign in his crucible, adding a powder to it, and producing a lump of gold that weighed each time one-third more than the original metal, that had been found genuine by competent assayers. [Hint: the mystery powder was gold dust]
“Further, the Duke informed Streeter, the Count and himself had agreed to hand over £40,000 in gold to Dr. Pinter, which he was to increase in weight, the three to divide the additional value equally, but that the doctor had insisted that he first make another test in the presence of some skilled metallurgist. The Duke had selected Streeter to serve in that capacity.
“Streeter was a hard-headed person. While he was flattered by the mark of confidence that a member of the royal family had placed in him, he was aware that some mischief was afoot, and, in violation of his oath of secrecy, for which he may be pardoned, he proceeded from Claridge’s hotel direct to Scotland Yard, after making arrangements with the eminent chemist for a test of his discovery the following day. The jeweler told the story of the scheme for the augmentation of the bulk of gold to Inspector Littlechild.
“”Does this Dr. Pinter wear side whiskers?’ the inspector asked.
“‘Yes, he does. Why do you ask?'” responded Streeter.
“”Because I have just received a letter from Detective Golden of the New York police, telling me to be on the lookout for this very man,’ said Littlechild. ‘He has been operating the same game in the United States.’
“The inspector produced Golden’s letter, which had contained a photograph of Al that was at once identified by the jeweler as the counterfeit presentment of the self-styled Dr. Pinter. It did not take long to plan a trap for the eminent chemist, though neither the Duke nor the Count was let into the secret. The next afternoon, when Dr. Pinter came to make his test in Streeter’s workshop, in the rear of the great establishment in Bond street, two detectives were concealed in the room. The Duke of Edinburgh, as it happened, was detained at home by a rather severe illness, but his friend Count Kearney and the chemist drove up to Streeter’s together in a smart brougham. Dr. Pinter was allowed to put 10 sovereigns into a crucible with his marvelous powder, and then the detectives stepped out from their place of concealment and arrested him.
“And now Scotland Yard was in a predicament. If Al was brought to trial the name of the Duke of Edinburgh would be involved, and it is no part of English policy to make a member of the royal family a butt for ridicule. Consequently, Sondheim [Al Wise], under the name of Edward Pinter, was allowed to plead guilty to an attempt to swindle Streeter and was given three months’ imprisonment. He laughed when sentence was pronounced. Count Kearney seemed tremendously shocked when he was told of the previous career of his dear friend, and he left England soon after the other’s arrest.
“To explain the opportune arrival of Golden’s letter it is necessary to go back a year or more in Sondheim’s career. He had been sentenced to five years in Auburn prison in 1883 for swindling the Merchants Bank of Buffalo, and had spent some time in Germany and Austria growing his whiskers, playing many kinds of confidence games, picking pockets and robbing shopkeepers after his release. He returned to New York in the spring of 1890, however, wearing German clothes, a German hat and German shoes, and with a German accent, although he could speak English perfectly. He put up at the Morton House, where he soon became known as Prof. Albert Wise, scientist, late of Heidelberg University.
“Although a man of learning, the professor was also a convivial person, and he soon became on intimate terms with Messrs. Shook and Collier, who spent much of their time in the Morton House, next door the the Union Square theater. Indeed, the hotel was then under Shook’s management. They found the German professor an entertaining companion and also a profound philosopher, and gradually he let them into the secret of a discovery he had made that would revolutionize the wealth of the world–a chemical process for increasing the bulk of gold! Finally he rented the basement of a house in Great Jones street between Lafayette place and the Bowery and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he could do what he said he could.
“Anyone who ever knew ‘Shed’ Shook and Jim Collier will admit that they were as shrewd men of the world as New York has ever produced. Nevertheless, they were completely carried away by the promise of enormous wealth that Professor Wise’s discovery offered, and they raised $5000 between them, which they brought in gold to the Great Jones street basement and deposited in the vat of chemicals that the German scientist had installed there. He informed them that it would take two or three weeks for the process of augmentation to be completed, and a padlock was placed upon the door of the basement and the key given to Shook.
“Shook and Collier hobnobbed daily with Prof. Wise in the Morton House until 24 hours before it had been decided to unlock the basement door and take out and weigh the gold, and then the scientist disappeared from the hotel, leaving his baggage behind him. Hence the two investors unlocked the door in Great Jones street and let the supposed chemicals out of the vat by themselves, only to ascertain that the $5000 in gold had vanished. They found evidence that someone had entered the place by a rear window and knew that it could have been none other than the German professor.”
In 1903, Al Wise was caught picking pockets in Urbana, Ohio, and was sentenced to five years in prison under the name Otto Henry. While in the State Prison, Wise contributed stories about his adventures to the Ohio Penitentiary News, a prisoner newspaper. Unfortunately, runs of the paper from those years have not survived. About the same time, a Cincinnati newspaper started printing short stories written by “O. Henry,” and some people guessed that Al Wise was the author. [He wasn’t; but another former convict, William Sydney Porter, was].
Upon his release, Al Wise indicated he had had enough of America, and told people he was going to back to Germany. He was not heard from again.