#129 Kate Ryan

Catherine Ryan (Abt. 1836–19??), aka Kitty Ryan, Kate Ryan, Catherine Mantell, Ellen Mantell, Ellen McCarthy, Ellen Murray, Kate Murray, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Seamstress. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Dark brown hair, light hazel eyes, dark complexion.

RECORD. Kate Ryan is an old New York pickpocket and shoplifter. She works parades and stores, and is known in Philadelphia and New York, and some of the Western cities.

She was arrested in New York City on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1876, charged with picking pockets during the parade. She was convicted and sentenced to four years in the penitentiary on March 28, 1876, by Recorder Hackett, in the Court of General Sessions.

Kate has served time in State prison and in the penitentiary since the above. Her picture is a good one, taken in March, 1876.

In his 1895 edition, Inspector Byrnes merely added, “Reported dead.” Perhaps he just lost track, considering that Kate was sent to prison in 1876, 1883, 1886, 1888, 1890, 1891, and 1894–and these are the convictions that are known of, in New York City and Brooklyn alone.

Kate specialized in stealing from women’s pocketbooks–in parades, in stores, at funerals and weddings, etc.

Kate was not dead by 1895, but she was about to be caught in the worst mistake of her life. She had been arrested in Brooklyn in June, 1893, for picking pockets. Before she could be tried, she was released on bail of $1000 put up by Henry Hamilton, a Brooklyn livery stable keeper. She jumped bail, returned to Manhattan, got arrested for shoplifting, and was sent to Blackwell’s Island penitentiary. In 1896, Hamilton, who had forfeited the $1000 he offered as bail, discovered that Kate was in Blackwell’s Island. He informed the Brooklyn District Attorney, who arranged for a detective to greet Kate upon her release from Blackwell’s. Kate was outraged to discover that she was being rearrested. She claimed that she was being persecuted. Judge Aspinall of Brooklyn showed Kate no mercy; she was sent to Auburn State Prison on a sentence of ten years.

At that point, Kate was already 60 years old, so many doubted she would survive her stretch at Auburn.

She was back in Brooklyn in 1907, and was caught picking pockets under the name Ellen McCarthy. No one appeared to testify against her, but she was jailed for vagrancy. As similar episode occurred in 1908–she was spotted jostling customers in line in a butcher shop, and was detailed for disorderly conduct.

In 1912, Kate (still using the alias Ellen McCarthy) was spotted opening clasp pocketbooks on Coney Island. She claimed to be 59, but police knew that she frequently shaved decades off her age–she was closer to being 77. She was handed over to a probation officer.

A year later, under the name Ellen Mantell, she was caught in a New York department store attempting to reach into the purse of a female store detective. As she was being booked, the police lieutenant looked at her and asked, “You must be nearly 80 now?”

“Seventy-five,” Kate replied in a broken voice.

The officer looked over her record: she had been arrested 14 times since 1886, and had served fifteen and a half years in prison. He leaned over in front of her face, “And you came back?”

“Yes,” she said, her head drooping. “They put the temptation in my way.” Kate was referring to the fact that the store detective had been walking around the displays with an open purse, and bills visible inside.

At her trial, Kate plead guilty. “I’m all in judge,” she said, “and I want to go to Auburn prison for a long time. There ain’t nothing much more for me and its too late for me to try to get anything more than a place to sleep and three meals a day. I’m hungry and tired and broke.”

Judge Swann, realizing that prison was unnecessary, sent Kate to the Reformatory.

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