#188 Charles Bennet

Alias William T. Angell (Abt. 1849-????) — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Dark complexion. Had cast in one eye, which was operated upon, and is hardly noticeable now. Very genteel-looking. Good talker and writer. Dark brown hair. Generally wears a full dark beard, or mustache and whiskers, as in picture.

RECORD. Bennett is a very daring thief. He was an old partner of Fairy McGuire (78) and Sleepy Gus, and traveled through the country with them smashing in windows and robbing them. He is an expert burglar, and is well known in all the large cities, especially Philadelphia and New York.

Bennett was arrested in Middletown, Conn., on December 5, 1878, with a lot of burglars’ tools in his possession. He was tried and sentenced to two years in State prison, by Judge Morton, on the same day of his arrest. He has served terms in Sing Sing and the Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia since. This man, of late years, is not relied upon much by the fraternity, on account of his fondness for liquor. Bennett’s picture is an excellent one, taken in December, 1878.

Inspector Byrnes reached his cryptic worst in his entry for this professional criminal. The one arrest and conviction he cites from December 1878 was made under the name William T. Agnell–an alias not used before or after this one incident.

There were many records for a “Charles Bennett” being sent to New York prisons prior to 1886, but none were sent to Sing Sing–the only New York prison with accessible registers that give ages, birthplaces, descriptions, and (sometimes) family contacts. Therefore there is no way to determine if any of these is the man that Byrnes was talking about.

All the major newspaper databases combined have only a small handful of arrests of a Charles/Charley/Charlie Bennet/Bennett; again, from those brief entries, it is impossible to tell if any match Byrnes #188.

Tantalizingly, there was a William Bentley (one of the alias surnames Byrnes mentions) who was sent to Sing Sing in 1874. Bentley was the same age and physical description as Byrnes’s Bennett–and even had the same scarred eye; but William Bentley was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate a month into his stint at Sing Sing.

For now, Bennett’s claim to fame will have to be limited to the fact that he was partner to two of the quaintest-named old crooks: Fairy McGuire and Sleepy Gus (Augustus Tristram).




#138 George Milliard

George A. Millard (Abt. 1842-????), aka George Milliard, George Williams, George Malloy, George Stevens, Miller — Receiver, pickpocket, burglar, green goods operator

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Saloon keeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 118 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion, bald on front of head. Generally wears a full black beard. Has an anchor in India ink on right fore-arm.

RECORD. Milliard is an old New York pickpocket, burglar, and receiver of stolen goods. He formerly kept a liquor saloon on the corner of Washington and Canal streets. New York, which was the resort of the most desperate gang of river thieves and masked burglars in America.

Milliard was arrested in New York City on January 5, 1874, in company of John Burns, Big John Garvey (now dead), Dan Kelly, Matthew McGeary, Francis P. Dayton, Lawrence Griffin, and Patsey Conroy (now dead), charged with being implicated in several masked burglaries. One in New Rochelle, N.Y., on December 23, 1873; another at Catskill, on the Hudson River, on October 17, 1873; and one on Staten Island, N.Y., in December, 1873, about a week after the New Rochelle robbery.

The particular charge against Milliard was receiving stolen goods, part of the proceeds of these burglaries. He was tried in New York City, convicted, and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison on February 13, 1874.

The other parties arrested with him at the time were disposed of as follows : Dan Kelly, Larry Griffin, and Patsey Conroy were each sentenced to twenty years in State prison for the New Rochelle burglary on February 20, 1874. Burns was sentenced to sixteen years in State prison for the Catskill burglary on October 23, 1874. Big John Garvey (now dead) was sentenced to ten years in State prison in New York City on June 22, 1874. McGeary was discharged on January 13, 1874. Dayton was put under $1,000 bail for good behavior on January 13, 1874. Shang Campbell, John O’Donnell, John Orr (now dead), and Pugsey Hurley (88), were also arrested in connection with these burglaries, and sent to State prison.

Since Milliard’s discharge he has been traveling through the country picking pockets with Jimmie Lawson, alias “Nibbs” (137), and a Chicago thief named Williard. He is considered a first-class man, and is known in all the principal cities in the United States. He has been arrested several times, but manages to escape conviction. His picture is a good one, taken in August, 1885.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Arrested again in New York City on June 16, 1894, in company of “Sheeny Mike,” alias Mike Kurtz (No. 80), John Mahoney, alias Jack Shepperd (No. 62), and Charley Woods, alias Fowler, all well-known and expert safe burglars, charged with a series of burglaries. On June 18 Sheeny Mike was held to await requisition papers from New Jersey (see No. 80). Charley Woods was remanded in the custody of an officer from Erie Co., N.Y., having escaped from the penitentiary there in 1883. Jack Shepperd (see No. 62) and Milliard were discharged.

Though Byrnes stuck to the unusual spelling Milliard, most newspaper accounts gave this man’s name as Millard–it was probably not his real name, which (as Byrnes indicates) may have been Miller.

Millard was first arrested for picking pockets in 1866 and given a stiff sentence of five years in Sing Sing–which he remained bitter about for many years. After his release he opened a small saloon on the Bowery, but it lasted just a year. He then did some work copying records in the New York County Clerk’s office; around 1872 he opened a different saloon, “George’s,” at the northwest corner of Canal and Washington Streets in Lower Manhattan. His saloon soon became a popular hangout for burglars and pickpockets, and in 1873 became the headquarters of the Hudson river house-breakers, the “Masked Eleven,” led by Patsy Conroy. Millard was suspected of being among the masked men that terrorized riverfront residences in the fall of 1873, but was only prosecuted for the booty and tools that police found in the saloon. He was charged with being a receiver of stolen goods–a fence–and was sentenced to Sing Sing for another five years as George A. Millard.

Byrnes mentions that Millard then traveled with on an pickpocket expedition with James Lawson, i.e. “Nibbs,” and George Williard. This must have been around 1884-1886, for there was a narrow window when Nibbsy was not in prison.

In 1889, Millard was arrested as “George Williams” and charged with conspiracy to commit grand larceny. No description of the crime has surfaced, but this coincides with the period in which Millard–like many Bowery pickpockets–became a “green goods” operator, playing a con in which greedy yokels were encouraged to buy (nonexistent) counterfeit money with their good money. He was sentenced to two and a half years in Sing Sing.

Upon his release, in 1891 Millard was caught almost immediately running a green goods game with Bill Vosburgh and Joseph Rickerman, aka Nigger Baker.

As Byrnes mentions, Millard was arrested again in 1984 with some illustrious burglars, Mike Kurtz and John Mahaney, aka Jack Sheppard. However, Millard escaped prosecution–and made no more known crimes under that name or identifiable aliases.




#74 William O’Brien

William O’Brien (1850-1892), aka Billy Porter, Leslie L. Langdon, William Davis, William Morton, etc. — Bank robber, burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #74 William O’Brien


Billy Porter was one of the most celebrated criminals of the late 1870s and 1880s, with a career that coincided with the prime of Inspector Byrnes’s authority, though the two rarely intersected. Although a thief, Porter was admired by many for his fearlessness and willingness to stand up for his friends, as he did when thief John Walsh shot Porter’s friend and partner John Irving in Shang Draper’s saloon. Walsh also died of a bullet wound, and Porter was tried and acquitted for his killing; but nearly everyone believed that Porter was responsible.

Porter was also a great friend to the hero of the age, boxer John L. Sullivan. Sullivan had visited Billy in his cell when Billy had been jailed in the Kings County Penitentiary in the early 1880s. Porter later accompanied Sullivan as his guard during Sullivan’s legendary prizefight against Charley Mitchell in Chantilly, France in 1888. Porter hovered in Sullivan’s corner with revolvers in each of his coat pockets, which were later needed to clear the crowd so that he could help Sullivan evade the gendarmes that dispersed the gathering (after the match had been fought to a bloody draw).

Billy Porter was raised in Boston, but there are few anecdotes about his early years, other than this revealing item from an 1886 article in the Boston Globe:


For anyone who considers looking at the family history of criminals to be an idle waste of time, consider this: it was genealogical research that proved to be Billy Porter’s salvation; and then later led to the downfall that killed him. Therein lies a story.

In 1886, Porter traveled to Europe, where, under the direction of Adam Worth, he traveled from country to country pulling off large burglaries with other American thieves. In July 1888, Scotland Yard arrested Billy and Frank Buck on suspicion of a huge jewelry robbery committed in Munich. In their residence, authorities found some of the stolen German gems, as well as uncut diamonds. Buck and Porter were detained pending the arrival of extradition papers from Munich.

However, the small print of the extradition treaty that existed between Great Britain and Germany stipulated that British citizens were not subject to extradition. When the two thieves were called for their hearing in London, they made the claim that they were British subjects. Buck maintained that he was Canadian, but had little proof. However, Porter’s lawyer called Billy’s Irish uncle as a witness. The uncle swore that his sister (Billy’s mother) left for American right after her marriage, and had a son born at sea on a British vessel. A marriage and birth certificate were submitted in support of the story.

The chief magistrate of the police court hearing the case had heard similar claims before, and rejected their argument. Frank Buck was sent to Germany and was later sentenced to a ten-year term. Many newspapers in the United States reported that the claim of both of the thieves had been rejected, and assumed that Porter was shipped to Munich along with Frank Buck. However, Billy Porter appealed the magistrate’s decision; over a period of months Porter’s representatives made their case, and in the end he won his appeal and was freed.

Though he had lost one partner, Billy was eager to resume his career with another old friend, Horace Hovan. In 1890, Billy and Hovan were caught attempting a burglary in Bordeaux, France. Porter knew that if he was forced to serve a sentence in France, he would subsequently be taken to Germany to stand trial there. For the burglary in France, Porter was found guilty and given a light sentence: two years; still, because of the threat of then being taken to Germany, he appealed his French sentence. Billy appealed  on the basis of once again claiming to be a British subject, and submitting the same proofs that he had been born in the Atlantic Ocean on a British ship.

The French magistrate before whom Billy made his appeal listened to his argument, then offered his reaction. The judge conceded that there had been a mistake in Billy’s sentence of two years. But the mistake was in being too lenient. Instead, he ordered Porter to serve twenty years at the French penal colony on New Caledonia, off the coast of Australia.

This is one of the last anecdotes told about Billy Porter’s fate. Earlier reports suggested he had been freed in France, and was in hiding in London. One New York reporter swore that he had seen him on the streets of New York. A flurry of anonymous reports surfaced in August 1892 asserting that he had died in Bordeaux from heart disease. These seem to be the most credible accounts, though they are unclear as to whether he was serving a sentence or detained on an appeal of being transported to New Caledonia. Definitive proof of Billy’s death likely exists in French judicial files.





#193 George Bell

George Bell (Abt. 1846-????), aka George H. Williams — Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single. No trade. A well-built man. Height, 5 feet 11 3/4 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, light complexion. Vaccination mark on right arm. Small scar on right arm, above the wrist. Scar on right temple, over the eye. He is generally clean-shaven, and affects a staid and religious air during his operations.

RECORD. George Bell is as good a general thief as there is in this country. He is well known in most of the principal cities in the United States and Europe, having operated with Charles O. Brockway, alias Vanderpool (14), the celebrated forger, on both sides of the water, and was considered one of Brockway’s cleverest men. Bell has traveled considerably, but claims New York City as his home. He has been a professional thief, forger and manipulator of forged paper for years.

He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on March 25, 1876, and sentenced to one year in Cherry Hill prison. Shortly after his discharge he was arrested again, in Philadelphia, for a “pennyweight” robbery, and sentenced to eighteen months in the Philadelphia County prison.

Early in 1880 Bell went to Europe with Al. Wilson, Cleary and others, for the purpose of flooding the Continent with forged circular notes. The scheme, which was managed by George Wilkes, Engle and Becker, proved a failure, and they returned to America.

Bell, Charles Farren, alias the “Big Duke,” and Henry Cleary, were arrested in New York City on July 27, 1880, charged with having defrauded the Merchants’ National Bank and the Third National Bank of Baltimore, Md., to the amount of $12,000, by forged checks, on July 16 and 17, 1880.

Farren was discharged for want of evidence. Cleary was claimed by the Albany (N.Y.) police authorities, and delivered to them, to answer a charge of forgery (a check for $490), for which he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in Dannemora prison, New York State, in November, 1880.

Bell was delayed in New York City, by habeas corpus proceedings, until August 1880, when he was delivered to Deputy Marshal Prey, of Baltimore, Md., and taken to that city by him. He was tried in Baltimore on November 30, 1880. The trial lasted until December 1, when the jury disagreed. He was tried again on December 16 and 17, 1880, with the same result. The venue was changed, and he was again tried, in an adjoining county. This trial resulted in a conviction, and he was sentenced to ten years in State prison on July 9, 1881.

Bell’s sentence will expire on October 9, 1889…His picture is a good one, taken in 1876.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

Bell’s 1876 arrest in Philadelphia came under the name George H. Williams.

Inspector Byrnes undoubtedly had information that would identify the real name of Bell/Williams, but by the publication of his 1895 edition, Byrnes believed that Bell had reformed, and was then in a legitimate business that prepared insurance and patent rights documents.

Byrnes believed this despite the fact that he was aware that Bell/Williams had masterminded a check-forging operation even in the weeks before his release from the Central Maryland State Penitentiary:


The fate of Bell/Williams is not known, but to put an ambitious forger in a position of dealing with insurance and patent documents does not forebode a good outcome.




#144 George Harrison

Henry Hart (Abt. 1834-1894), aka George Harris, George Thompson, William Thompson, George Wilson, William Harris — Thief, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in Scotland. Single. Machinist. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, about 160 pounds. Black curly hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a brown mustache. Had weak eyes. Has scar under right eye.

RECORD. “Boston,” the name he is best known by, is a well-known New York pickpocket. He has been arrested in almost every large city in the Union. He is said to have served terms in prison in Philadelphia and Boston. When he first appeared in New York City he came from Boston, Mass., and the fraternity christened him after that city. He is not able to do much alone, but is considered an excellent “stall.” He works sometimes with Jersey Jimmie (145), Charley Allen, and other New York pick-pockets.

He was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to four years and six months in Sing Sing prison on November 8, 1882, under the name of George Wilson, for grand larceny from the person. His time expired, allowing him full commutation, on March 8, 1886. “Boston’s” picture is a good one, taken in 1876.

Little more is known about this man beyond his arrest record, but one curious fact is that none of his arrest or prison records mention the last name “Harrison”–only Harris. There are one or two newspaper mentions of this man as “Harrison,” but they came after Byrnes’s book came out in 1886 and appear to be citing it.

A Sing Sing register asserted his real name was Henry Hart and that his mother was Mary Hart; he referred to the same Brooklyn address to contact her in two different Sing Sing registers, so this appears to be correct, and aligns with a New York City death record for a Henry Hart that is one day removed from a death date given in Byrnes’s 1895 edition.

Hart was first arrested in October 1855, when he was about 21 years old. He was sent to Sing Sing under the name George Thompson for two years, but was pardoned in April 1857.

He returned to Sing Sing in January 1871 as William Thompson, again for grand larceny. This time his sentence was five years. He was recognized as a repeat offender in 1880, but–curiously–only received a sentence of one year. This stemmed from a case in which two of Hart’s pals stole a parcel of tools from a hardware store, and one of them came out of the store and handed the parcel to Hart. So Hart was, in effect, punished as a conspirator to larceny, not as an active participant.

Hart was captured in New York a third time in September 1882, under the name George Wilson, and was sentenced to four and a half years in Sing Sing.

Hart had other arrests in Syracuse and in Philadelphia, and was rounded up many times during New York city crackdowns on pickpockets.

He died in Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan on December 2, 1894.




#95 Joseph Lewis

Joseph Elzas (1854–19??), aka Hungry Joe Lewis, Francis J. Alvany, Henry F. Post, W. C. Howard, Joseph Abzes/Elsas, etc. — Bunco steerer

Link to Byrnes’s text on # 95 Joseph Lewis

Hungry Joe Lewis was one of the most celebrated criminals in Inspector Byrnes’s collection. Among his accomplishments, he was credited with (nearly) swindling Oscar Wilde; and of coining the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He can be found in any history of swindlers and con men, and has an extensive entry in Wikipedia. He had the distinction of being the only member of Byrnes’s Rogues Gallery that was profiled in a dime novel (which is little more than a tissue of fabrications and imagined dialogues):


Hungry Joe was known as a bunco operator as early as 1875, in Chicago. An 1888 article from the Chicago Tribune included some credible insights:


The same article explains that Hungry Joe acquired his nickname from his prodigious appetite: “When he was in Chicago it was nothing unusual for him to go into Billy Boyle’s a half dozen times a day and each time eat a hearty meal. Paddy Ryan says he has seen Joe eat a double porterhouse steak, a whole chicken, and a full portion of ham and eggs in a single night, and when Mike McDonald ran a gambling house over ‘The Store,’ Joe is said to have eaten an entire luncheon that had been prepared for thirty men. These and even worse stories are related about his gluttonous appetite by the men about town.”

Hungry Joe and Grand Central Pete Lake were the nation’s acknowledged best bunco steerers, though Joe was known to be less patient with his victims. This led to his downfall, resulting in an 1885 arrest and imprisonment in New York, after he simply grabbed a wad of cash out of the hands of his English victim.

It was Joe’s 1888 arrest in Baltimore that turned him bitter. Though he pleaded guilty at the time, after he was sentenced to nine years in prison he complained that he had been railroaded–and blamed Inspector Byrnes:

“Byrnes has a grudge against me which dates back some years. It was on account of some money matters. I had made some $15,000 in Chicago–but never mind that. If I was disposed to tell all I knew the public would have less confidence in Inspector Byrnes. If he had received all he deserves, he, and not I, would today be serving time. He made his reputation by sending John Hope to prison for twenty years for robbing the Manhattan Bank, and I know that Hope is innocent of that crime. It has long been Tom Byrnes’ aim to do me, and this was his opportunity. It was he who prevented me from engaging in a legitimate business…I had been offered $25,000 to go into the bookmaking business, but Byrnes stepped in and broke me up. He pulled me down at every turn.”

In most published accounts of Hungry Joe’s life, it will note that he died on March 22, 1902, as reported in many newspapers. A few newspapers, like the New York Sun, reserved some skepticism:


However, the Baltimore Sun correctly identified the rumor to be untrue:


The Baltimore Sun also ran a second article, six years later, in 1908, saying that Joe was still very much alive, and had been living honestly for the past six years. In this second article, the paper gave his name as Joseph Abzes–in the 1902 article, they used the spelling Elsas. The Sun was very close: Hungry Joe was born in Baltimore in 1854 as Joseph Elzas, son of Lewis and Emma Elzas. The Elzas family moved to Chicago in the late 1860s or early 1870s, where Joe started his criminal career.

Joe’s resurrection was confirmed by his old friends in New York in 1908 when they spotted him on Broadway. Joe had a personality quirk that made him immediately recognizable: he refused to walk close to building lines on a sidewalk, instead always walking on the outside curb–and detoured his stride far away from the mouths of alleyways.





#29 Charles Wilson

Paul C. Wilson (Abt. 1852–????), aka Charles Wilson, Charles Wilks, Little Paul — Sneak thief, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-three years old in 1886. Stout build. Born in England. Not married. Height, 5 feet 2 3/4 inches. Weight, 140 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, round full face, light complexion. Whiskers, when grown, are a little sandy.

RECORD. “Little Paul” is quite a clever sneak and shoplifter. He was sent to State prison in New York City in January, 1878, and again on June 18, 1883, for four years, for larceny in the second degree, by Recorder Smyth.

On November 14, 1883, in company of Frank Harrison, alias Frank Reilly (79), he escaped from the mess-room at Sing Sing prison early in the morning, by sawing off the iron bars of a window and crawling into the yard; they then went to the west end of the prison wall, which projects over the Hudson River docks, and there, by means of a convenient float, reached the shore outside the prison wall, where they left their prison clothes and put on civilian’s attire, that had been “planted” there for them some time before.

Paul was re-arrested in New Orleans, La., on January 26, 1884, and returned to Sing Sing prison in February of that year. His full time will expire on June 17, 1887. His picture is a good one, taken in 1878.

Wilson was gifted with a third stint at Sing Sing in November 1893 for Grand Larceny and sentenced to three years and two months.

However, in Wilson’s case, his criminal career is far less interesting than the Gordian’s knot genealogy puzzle he left for future generations. Here are the clues:

  • Despite Byrnes’s assertion, there are multiple sources that place his birth year at around 1852 in Philadelphia, not England.
  • He had the letter “P” tattooed on his right arm. Both Byrnes and Sing Sing registers maintain that his real name was “Paul C. Wilson.”
  • His earliest Sing Sing record, from May 1874, offers his name as Charles Wilks, and his father’s name as James Wilks of Philadelphia (no specific address).
  • His 1883 Sing Sing record uses the name Charles Wilson, and he lists a sister: Mrs. Mary A. Lodge of 715 Sansom Street in Philadelphia.
  • His November 1893 Sing Sing record also uses Charles Wilson and lists a cousin, Mrs. C. R. Forepaugh of 303 N Fifth Street, Philadelphia.

And some items to ponder:

  • In 1883, the address 715 Sansom Street in Philadelphia included upstairs apartments: but also was home to the Miller & Sharkey Detective Agency.
  • There was a Mary A. Lodge living in Philadelphia in 1883, married to Louis Lodge. Mary’s maiden name was Farrell. Her paternal grandmother’s name was Mary Wilson. Mary had a brother, Joseph Farrell, born in 1852, whose fate can not be traced into the 1870s or beyond.
  • Mrs. Caroline R. Forepaugh married into the famous Forepaugh circus family. Her maiden name was Lachlan. Nothing can be traced beyond her mother and father’s names–making it possible to know the family names of any cousins.

While it’s fairly obvious that “Little Paul” came from Philadelphia; and used the names of real people as contacts; it also appears that he made something of a game out of hiding his identity.

#167 Edward McGee

Samuel Edward McGee (Abt. 1843-????), aka Charles A. Bernhard, Benjamin Earle, Edward Meyers, Edward Murphy

From Byrnes’s 1886 text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Southerner by birth. A baker by trade. Height, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Tall, slim man. Brown hair, dark eyes, dark, sallow complexion. Has a coat-of-arms and sunburst in India ink on his right fore-arm. Dark mustache and chin whiskers; grows thin.

RECORD. Eddie McGee is one of the cleverest burglars, sneak thieves and pennyweight workers there is in the country. He is a partner of Johnny Curtin, alias Cunningham, alias Roberts (169), another daring and desperate thief. McGee is well known in all the principal cities of the United States, especially Chicago, Philadelphia (Pa.), New York and Boston, in all of which he is said to have been sent to prison.

McGee and Curtin were arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., for shoplifting, and sentenced to eighteen months each in the Eastern Penitentiary. When their time expired, on August 14, 1883, they were both arrested by New York officers, at the penitentiary gate, and brought to New York City, to answer an indictment charging them with the larceny of $1,200 worth of jewelry from Theodore Starr, a Fifth Avenue jeweler, in January, 1882. In this case there was no conviction.

Shortly after their release they went to England. Curtin was arrested there and sent to prison. McGee returned to America, and was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on February 12, 1884, for burglary, and sentenced to five years and six months in the Kings County Penitentiary on April 16, 1884, under the name of B. C. Earl. McGee’s picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1883.

From Byrnes’s 1895 text:

He went to Europe with Johnny Curtin (No. 169), one of the most expert jewelry and sneak thieves in the world. They were both arrested at Paris, France, in the spring of 1884, for a sneak robbery, and sentenced to four years imprisonment each. This was reduced for some cause, as they were at liberty on April 15, 1886.

He was arrested again at Hoboken, N.J., on June 11, 1888. He was charged in company of Billy Goodman, alias Gordon, alias Gardiner, with attempting to rob a show case in a jewelry store in that city of a handful of diamond rings. He was arrested on the spot. Goodman made his escape. He was arrested again in New York City on June 23, 1888, and delivered to the Hoboken authorities. For this Offense he and Goodman were sentenced to five (5) years each in Trenton, N.J., State Prison, and costs, on September 21, 1888. McGee gave the name of Chas. A. Bernard. Picture taken August, 1883.

There is a glaring inconsistency between the 1886 and 1895 editions of Byrnes’s book in their profiles of Eddie McGee: the 1886 edition states that McGee was arrested in Brooklyn in April, 1884; while the 1895 edition asserts that McGee went to Europe with John Curtin and was jailed there in the Spring of 1884.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

Given the grim predictability of McGee’s career, one almost wishes he might have at least known the variety of a Parisian prison. Sadly, it appears that his placement in Paris in 1884 is the error.

McGee was born as Samuel Edward McGee, son of a very successful Washington, D. C. baker, Samuel McGee, about 1843. Though it’s possible he saw service in the Civil War, most accounts suggest he only spent twenty out of his first fifty-two years out of prison. One of those terms was supposedly served at Joliet State Prison in Illinois, which was not a consequence of any of his known transgressions, from 1877 forward.

In June 1877, McGee and a partner, George Clarke alias Henry Miner, were captured in New York City with the proceeds of several house burglaries. They were sentenced in July to five years in Sing Sing; Both McGee and Clarke were described as “well-known burglars.”

No long after his release, in January 1882 McGee partnered with John Curtin on a robbery of diamond jewelry from the store of Theodore Starr in New York City. Before long, the same pair were caught picking pockets in Philadelphia, and both were sentenced to eighteen months in Eastern State Penitentiary. Inspector Byrnes suspected that they were responsible for the diamond robbery, and had a clerk from the store visit the Penitentiary to identify them. Upon their release from Eastern State, New York detectives arrested them and took them back to New York. They were tried in August 1883, but escaped conviction for lack of evidence.

If Eddie McGee then went to Europe with John Curtin, then McGee returned alone before April, 1884. That month he was caught fleeing a burglary scene by a Brooklyn police officer after a long foot chase, one in which McGee was seen flinging one tool after another into the streets. He was arrested as Benjamin Earle and sentenced to five and a half years in the Kings County Penitentiary.

He wasn’t free long before he was caught trying to rob a Hoboken jewelry store in June 1888. This episode cost McGee five years at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

In May 1895, McGee was nabbed once again while stealing silk bundles from a New York store. He was returned to Sing Sing for two years and five months. He was barely out of prison before being caught with a partner, Martin McCloskey, stealing opera glasses worth $2000 from a Philadelphia optician. The two old burglars informed on each other, but did not improve their cases. They were both given three and a half years at Eastern State in January 1898.

Nothing more was heard of McGee after this prison term.





#127 Annie Reilly

Kate Foley (Abt. 1841-????), aka Annie Reilly/Riley, Annie Wilson, Kate Manning, Kate Connolly, Kate Williams, Kate Cooley, Mary Ann Riley, etc. — Dishonest Servant

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886; looks younger. Born in Ireland. Married. Medium build. Servant and child’s nurse. Height, 5 feet 1 inch. Weight, 113 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, fair complexion. Round, full face. Speaks two or three languages.

RECORD. “Little Annie Reilly” is considered the cleverest woman in her line in America. She generally engages herself as a child’s nurse, makes a great fuss over the children, and gains the good-will of the lady of the house. She seldom remains in one place more than one or two days before she robs it, generally taking jewelry, amounting at times to four and five thousand dollars. She is well known in all the principal Eastern cities, especially in New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, Pa.
Annie was arrested in New York City, for grand larceny, on complaint of Mrs. A. G. Dunn, No. 149 East Eighty-fourth Street, and others, and committed for trial, in default of $6,500 bail, by Judge Ledwith. She was convicted, and sentenced to four years and six months in State prison, by Judge Sutherland, in the Court of General Sessions in New York, on April 23, 1873, under the name of Kate Connelly.
She was arrested again in New York City, on August 3, 1880, for robbing the house of Mrs. Evangeline Swartz, on Second Avenue, New York. She was convicted of this robbery, and sentenced to three years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on September 8, 1880, by Judge Gildersleeve, under the name of Kate Cooley.
After her release, in January, 1883, she did considerable work in and around New York. She robbed the guests of the New York Hotel of $3,500 worth of jewelry, etc., while employed there as a servant.
She then went to Brooklyn, N.Y., and was arrested there, under the name of Kate Manning, on June 5, 1884, for the larceny of a watch and chain from Charles A. Jennings, of Macon Street, that city. At the time of her arrest a bronze statuette was found in her possession, which was stolen by her from a Mr. Buckman, of Columbia Street, New York City. Annie pleaded guilty in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Saturday, June 27, 1884, and was sentenced to four years and six months in the Kings County Penitentiary. Her sentence will expire June 27, 1887, allowing full commutation.
This woman is well worth knowing. She has stolen more property the last fifteen years than any other four women in America. She has served terms in prison in Pennsylvania and on Blackwell’s Island independently of the above. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1880.
Inspector Byrnes ended his profile of Annie Reilly with her incarceration in the Kings County Penitentiary (and he had no update in his 1895 edition). While at that prison, the warden, John Green, offered this statement about her:
“Kate Manning [aka Annie Reilly] is the most remarkable woman in the prison. Who she is or where she came from are mysteries which no detective has been able to unravel. Ella Larrabee and Nellie Babcock, about whom pages have been written, are pygmies alongside of her. She does not seem to have a relative, friend, or acquaintance in the world, and she lives completely within herself.”

While Annie’s mystery remains unsolved, a bit more can be said about her than was known by Warden Green and Inspector Byrnes.
Annie first came to the attention of authorities in 1866 under the name Kate Foley. While Byrnes says she was born in Ireland, other sources indicate she came from the Hudson Valley: Ulster County, New York; or Poughkeepsie. She was then about 15 years old. She engaged as a domestic servant with several wealthy families, but only stayed a day or two, taking with her whatever valuables she could carry. She took the articles to pawnshops. Caught in May 1866, she was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing.
She was enjoying freedom by late 1867–which is too early a date for a commuted sentence; so it may be that Annie made one of her legendary escapes from Sing Sing sometime in late 1866 or 1867. In December 1867, she took a position with the household of Mrs. and Mrs. Joseph M. Johnson of Rivington Street in lower Manhattan. She stole items, then went to work for a family in South Bergen, New Jersey; followed by another household in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was arrested in January 1868 by Detective Keirns in Manhattan under the name Mary Ann Riley, but sentenced to two years at Sing Sing under the name Annie Riley.
In May 1869, she escaped from Sing Sing (probably for the second time). She crawled up to the roof through a skylight; then slid down a lightning rod; and went unmissed until the next morning.

In July 1869, a “dishonest domestic” named Ann Riley was caught and sentenced to one year at Blackwell’s Island–but this was likely a different woman. However, Detective Keirns knew his suspects, and in November 1870 arrested Kate Foley, alias Gordon alias Bliven alias Annie Wilson for stealing clothing from a household at which she had been hired. She was sent to Blackwell’s Island for six months. Upon her release, she went to Connecticut, where she committed a string of house robberies there using her familiar methods before being caught and sent to the Connecticut State Prison in Weathersfield for one year.
In the Spring of 1873 a new spate of servant robberies struck the wealthy abodes of New York City, culminating with a robbery of the house of the military secretary of Governor Dix. The entire detective force of New York was assigned to trap her, but only one man knew her methods so well as to set a trap:
This time Annie was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing. She was assigned to assist the nurses. After being there just a month, Annie went to an upstairs room to get something for a patient, closed the door, and jumped out the window to a bell rope hanging outside. She slid down to the ground and was soon at large.
Once again, Detective Keirns was assigned the job of tracking her down. It took a year, but he knew her habits and found her again in June 1877–but not before she had victimized many households. She was sent to Blackwell’s Island under the name Kate Williams for two years–and this time did not escape.
Her history then follows Byrnes’s narrative: arrested again in August 1880, and given another three years on Blackwell’s Island. Then she went to Brooklyn and was arrested there as Kate Manning, resulting in a term of four and a half years.
Annie was not heard of again after her release from Kings County, adding to her mystery.

#166 John Riley

John Reilly (Abt. 1831-????), aka John Rogers — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Printer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/4 inches. Weight, 142 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, sandy complexion; whiskers, when worn, are sandy. Has letters “J. R.” in India ink on his left arm.

RECORD. Johnny Riley is an old New York pickpocket, sneak and shoplifter. He generally works with his wife, Annie Riley, and pays considerable attention to funerals and markets. His wife is a very clever pickpocket, John generally doing the “stalling” for her. He has served terms in prison in Philadelphia, Sing Sing, and on Blackwell’s Island, New York. He lives in New York, but is well known in several of the Eastern cities.

Riley, Annie his wife, Fred. Benner, alias Dutch Fred (81), and Mag. Sweeny, alias Bell, were arrested in New York City on August 1, 1885, for picking the pocket of a woman named Eliza J. North, in Washington Square Park. Riley and Benner were sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on August 12, 1885. Mrs. Riley and Sweeny were sentenced to six months in the penitentiary the same day by Judge Gildersleeve.

The only sure reference to this criminal is the newspaper account of the one specific arrest that Byrnes mentions:


Note that this item suggests that all four arrested were between 32 and 40 years of age (in 1885), whereas Byrnes, just a year later, suggests that Riley is fifty-one. No Sing Sing records for a John Riley, John Murphy, or John Rogers that align with Byrnes’s description can be found.

There was a very active East Coast female pickpocket in the 1880s and 1890s who infrequently used “Annie Reilly” as one of her aliases, but was better known as Kate Armstrong aka Mary Ann Dowd. However,  there is no evidence that this was the same person as the wife of John Riley. Likewise, “Little Annie” Reilly, the larcenous domestic servant, was also not the wife of John Reilly.