#99 David Swain

David Swain (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Old Dave, James A. Robbins, James A. Roberts, James G. Allison — Swindler, bunco steerer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in New York City. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Light brown hair, blue eyes. Ruddy complexion. Wears full sandy beard and mustache. Married. Scar on forehead over left eye. Part of an anchor in India ink on right fore-arm.

RECORD. Swain is one of the sharpest, meanest, and most dangerous confidence men in the business. He has no favorites, and would rob a friend or a poor emigrant as soon as a party with means. He may be found around railroad depots or steamboat landings, and is well known in all the Eastern cities, especially Boston, Mass., where, it is said, he has a mortgage on the Eastern Railroad depot.

Swain was arrested in New York City on July 17, 1873, for grand larceny from one Edward Steinhofer, of Brooklyn. He was committed to the Tombs prison on July 18, 1873, but was shortly afterwards delivered over to the Albany, N.Y., police authorities, and taken there upon an old charge. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in the Albany Penitentiary, at the Court of Quarter Sessions, in Albany, on September 20, 1873. His time expired in March, 1876.

Swain passed considerable of his time in and around Boston, Mass., when out of prison, and has fleeced many a poor victim there. In August, 1883, he robbed two poor Nova Scotians, man and wife, out of $150 in gold, all the money they had saved for years. He was finally arrested in Boston, Mass., on December 12, 1884, for robbing the Nova Scotians, whose name was Taylor. He lay in jail there until May 23, 1885, when he was brought to court, where he pleaded guilty to the charge, and was sentenced to two years in the House of Correction.

Swain has been working these last few years with George Gifford, who was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 15, 1886, for swindling one John Reilly by the confidence game, and sentenced to four years in the Kings County Penitentiary on April 30, 1886. He has also served a term in Boston, Mass., for the same offense. Young Gifford is the son of Harry Gifford, a very clever old confidence man, who died a short time ago. Swain’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

David Swain’s criminal career dates back to, at the least, August 1868, when he (along with a partner) was caught at a New York  railroad depot using the old gold brick swindle. In 1872, Swain’s name was invoked as the man engaged to burglar Ed. Johnson’s sister. Johnson, Dave Cummings, and Mose Vogel had been arrested for a bank robbery attempt in Jersey City, New Jersey, and while in jail implicated Jersey City’s Chief of Police and a detective as being in on the robbery. Johnson’s highly amusing testimony mentioned his sister and Swain.

As Byrnes mentions, Swain was arrested the next year for a swindle in Albany, and was sentenced in September of 1873. About six months after getting out of prison in New York, Swain was caught robbing a hotel room in Philadelphia. He was sentenced in thirteen months in Eastern State Penitentiary.

Swain was known to have worked at various times with George Gifford; George Affleck; and Walking Joe Prior.

In 1881, he showed up in Boston, but was arrested on suspicion and told to leave town. Byrnes recounts what happened to Old Dave when he ignored that warning–he was arrested in Boston in 1884 and was shuttled between jail and prison until 1887.

In 1892, Dave was caught pulling swindles on travelers at a rail depot in Chicago.

An article written in 1905 by the Columbus, Ohio Chief of Police described Dave as now being a dangerous bunco operator. In 1909, Dave was detained in Montreal, Quebec for vagrancy–an offense often used to get pickpockets and swindlers off the streets.

A David Swain died on Staten Island in 1914 that might have been Old Dave, but there is no definite evidence linking this Swain (and his family) to the notorious con man.

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