#182 Frank Lowenthal

August W. Erwin (18??-????), aka Frank Lowenthal/Loenthal/Loeventhal, Sheeny Erwin/Irwin/Irving, Sheeny Gus, William Irving — Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Jew, born in United States. Married. Telegraph operator and jewelry dealer. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 121 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Jewish appearance.

RECORD. Frank Lowenthal, alias “Sheeny Irving,” is a noted shoplifter and receiver of stolen goods. He shot his wife, Delia, and then himself, in the Allman House, in East Tenth Street, New York City, on July 15, 1885.

He was arrested in New York City on September 28, 1882, for the larceny of some opera glasses from a jewelry store in Maiden Lane, New York. Julius Klein, alias “Sheeny” Julius (191), another notorious young thief, was arrested with him for the same offense, but was not held. Erwin, however, was committed in $500 bail for trial, which he furnished. His case had not come to trial up to the time of his arrest for assaulting his wife.

Erwin is a man of good education, and speaks German fluently. He says that he was born in Cincinnati of wealthy parents, who sent him to Germany to be educated. After spending two years at the high school at Magdeburg, he entered the University of Heidelberg as a student of the natural sciences, and graduated with the degree of B. A. After his return to the United States he was connected with a St. Louis newspaper; he afterwards came to New York, and commenced his criminal career.

Erwin was prompted to shoot his wife by rum and unhappy domestic experience. She was going to Europe with her father, who was anxious to separate them when he found out that Erwin was a thief. Mrs. Erwin recovered from her wounds, and Erwin pleaded guilty to assault in the second degree, and was sentenced to five years in State prison and fined $1,000, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City, on September 21, 1885.

His picture is a good one, taken in September, 1882.

Nothing can be confirmed about the background stories offered by Erwin/Lowenthal, although a “August W. Erwin” does suddenly appear in an 1882 Cincinnati city directory as a clerk, boarding alone. His travels to and return from Germany are not supported by passenger manifests under the names Erwin/Lowenthal; and the German-language newspaper he claimed to have once worked for, the Westliche Post of St. Louis, never confirmed his employment.

By early 1883, Erwin appeared in New York City and was associated with shoplifters Julius Klein and Frank Watson, aka Big Patsey. He quickly gained a reputation under the name Frank Lowenthal as a common thief, with the street nickname “Sheeny Erwin/Irving.” In March, 1883, he was introduced by Frank Watson to Agnes Murphy, a matron at the Kings County Penitentiary. Erwin met Murphy a few times, and plied her with presents–perhaps all an effort to smuggle something in to one of the inmates. The prison warden discovered the meetings, and Murphy was fired.

Erwin was such a minor thief that he likely would never have been included in Byrnes’s tome, were it not for the fact that in the fall of 1884, he attempted to supplement his sources of income by marrying into a wealthy Irish Catholic family, the O’Thaynes. Patriarch Patrick O’Thayne had built a modest fortune in the laundry business. His means allowed him to send his daughter Margaret Adele, “Delly,” to a fine private school, Mount St. Vincent Academy (now the College of Mount St. Vincent). One of Delly’s classmates had a mother who ran a boarding house, and one of the boarders that Delly met when visiting her friend was August W. Erwin.

One of Delly’s other friends and classmates was a young woman named Victoria Morosini, daughter of banker Giovanni Morosini. Giovanni Morosini had fought with Garibaldi to unify Italy, and then came to the United States to make his fortune as a close ally of financier and robber-baron Jay Gould. Morosini’s daughter Victoria became a sensational celebrity in New York early in 1884. Victoria eloped with the family’s coachman, and her father reacted by disinheriting her. Public sentiment ran strongly in Victoria’s favor, supported by the idea that Morosini (and Jay Gould) had come from a humble background himself, and should have welcomed an honest, hard-working man into the family.

Delly O’Thayne must have had Victoria’s romantic experience on her mind when she met August W. Erwin, a well-dressed, educated older man with engaging manners. They eloped in November, 1884 and were married by a Methodist minister. Delly, who was Catholic, seemed not to care that Erwin was Jewish; nor did it matter to him. The father, Patrick O’Thayne, did not learn about the marriage for weeks.  The young couple took rooms at the Allman House Hotel. Erwin apparently began asking Delly for money soon afterward. She believed that he was a salesman, but later discovered that he spent his time at race-tracks, gambling.

Others in the Allman House hotel reported hearing Erwin hit and yell at his bride. He pressured her to get money from her parent’s; and wanted Patrick O’Thayne to rent them a place at Newport, Rhode Island, the resort for New York’s wealthy. In June, 1885, Delly had enough and left Erwin to go back to her father’s house. Patrick O’Thayne made plans to take his daughters away from New York on an extended trip back to his native Ireland. Delly went back to the Allman House to inform Erwin that she was leaving. Erwin restrained her, and told her that her ship’s departure time was an hour later than it really was; she missed the ship that carried her father and sister away.

Delly returned to Allman House the next day accompanied by her step-brother, with the intention of collecting her belongings, as she had resolved to leave Erwin. Erwin met the pair and told the brother he wanted to speak with Delly alone. In their rooms, Erwin sat down in a chair, leaned over to a drawer, and extracted a large pistol. Her turned it on Delly; she screamed and ran out of the room. Erwin followed her and fired at her in the hallway, striking her in the back. She was able to escape and collapsed in the room of another boarder.

A policeman and other lodgers searched the building for Erwin and found him slunk down in the far corner of a dark upper hallway. The officer approached warily, and as he came closer, Erwin turned the pistol on himself and shot himself in the abdomen.

The result was a newspaper scandal that equaled Victoria Morosini’s. Both Erwin and Delly survived their wounds, and Erwin was tried and convicted of assault with intent to kill. He was sent to Sing Sing on a five-year sentence, and was released in 1889.

Erwin apparently resided in Chicago between 1889 and 1893, but later returned to New York and was caught shoplifting in Bloomingdale’s in the summer of 1893; and again in Philadelphia at Bailey, Banks & Biddle in December 1893. For the latter crime, he was sent to the county penitentiary for 90 days. His fate following that is unknown.





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