#168 Thomas Shortell

Frank Shortell (1859-????), aka Thomas Shortell, Frank Wilson — Thief, Counterfeiter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-seven years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. Conductor. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 148 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. Eyebrows meet ; high cheek bones. Has an anchor in India ink on back of right hand.

RECORD. Shortell, although young in the business, is a very clever sneak thief. He was formerly a conductor on one of the New York railroad cars, and first made the acquaintance of the police in New York City on November 20, 1880, when he was arrested for perjury in a seduction case — Murry vs. Cronin — which was being investigated in one of the police courts. In this case he was not convicted.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 22, 1883, in company of Benton B. Bagley (163) and John T. Sullivan, two other expert sneak thieves, for the larceny of a sealskin dolman, valued at $350, from the Church of the Incarnation, on Madison Avenue, New York City, during a wedding, on December 27, 1882. Bagley and Sullivan were discharged on January 30, 1883, and Shortell was sent to the Reformatory at Elmira, New York, by Judge Cowing, on February 5, 1883.

Shortell was arrested again, under the name of Frank Wilson, in company of Tommy Connors, another New York thief, who gave the name of Thomas Wilson, at Nashville, Tenn., for picking pockets during the race week, in May, 1885. On searching their baggage in their rooms it was found to contain $1,000 in counterfeit $10 United States Treasury notes. They were indicted in the Federal Court, and the charge of picking pockets withdrawn. They were delivered to the United States authorities, tried, and both sentenced to a fine of $100 and five years’ imprisonment in Chester (Ill.) prison on May 26, 1885. Shortell’s picture is a very good one, taken in January, 1883.

Like his friend and co-conspirator Benton Bagley, Frank Shortell’s crimes appear to be more amateurish than professional. He was born in New York’s 21st Ward to Irish immigrants T. Henry and Mary Shortell. It appears that several family members did not survive the 1870s, and by 1880, Frank was living alone and employed as a streetcar conductor. The fact that Shortell was sent to the Elmira reformatory–at age 24–rather than a penitentiary indicates that veteran Judge Cowing did not consider Shortell to be a career criminal.

Shortell’s arrest in Nashville was also amateurish. He and his friend were caught with very poorly-produced counterfeit notes that were easily recognized. Following his sentencing to a federal prison in Illinois, all trace of Shortell is lost.

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