#105 Solomon Stern

Solomon Stern (1854-19??), aka Samuel Stern, Saul Stern, William Stern, William Stearns, William Stone, Isaac J. Stern– Bogus check swindler

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Jew. Born in United States. Single. Book- keeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, sallow complexion.
RECORD. Solomon Stern is the son of very respectable parents. He was arrested in New York City on June 29, 1883, charged with obtaining large quantities of jewelry, etc., from merchants by means of bogus checks.
The story of Stern’s downfall is interesting. In the spring of 1882 he became attached to a woman in an up-town resort in New York City. He was then a salesman in his father’s store, and resided at home. His salary was small, his father being a strict disciplinarian and an unbeliever in the fashionable follies of young men. Young Stern had little spending money, and in order to gratify his inamorata began stealing from his father. He purchased diamonds for her and paid her board at a seaside hotel. Her tastes were very expensive, and her demands on Stern for money very frequent. He began going every Sunday morning to his father’s store, and always went away with a roll of costly woolen cloth. An inventory of stock was taken, and the father discovered that he was being systematically robbed. More than $5,000 worth of woolens had been stolen. Mr. Stern soon found that his son was the thief, and discharged him. He also turned him out of his home. When this occurred the young man had become a confirmed drinker. Stern was still infatuated with the woman, and was determined to get money to supply her demands. He endeavored to borrow from his acquaintances, but without avail. Then he went to his mother, but she discarded him, and his paternal uncle also gave him the cold shoulder.
It was then he resolved upon a career of crime. He wrote his mother’s name to a check of $650 which he gave in payment for some diamonds to C. W. Schumann, of No. 24 John Street, New York City, on September 24, 1882. The check was on the Germania Bank. He sold the diamonds, and with his companion went to Baltimore, where he stayed until all his money was spent. When the woman wanted more he returned.
On December 16, 1882, he obtained a sealskin sacque with a $250 worthless check from Henry Propach, a furrier, at No. 819 Broadway, New York, and three days later a precious stone worth $525 from A. R. Picare, a jeweler, of Fifteenth Street, New York, whom he paid in similar fashion. When the police got on his track he went out of town again. He didn’t return to New York until January 6, 1883, when he swindled Joseph Michal, of No. 150 Ewen Street, Brooklyn, out of $800 by giving a worthless check in payment for jewelry. There were four complaints against Stern. He pleaded guilty to one of them, and was sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Gildersleeve, on August 3, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. His sentence will expire on March 3, 1887. His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1883.
In recounting the crimes of Solomon Stern, Inspector Byrnes presents a human story of character shortcomings, in which a wayward youth is lured into crime to satisfy the wants his demanding mistress. While it’s possible that the gist of this story may true, its plausibility recedes when considering facts of which Byrnes was unaware: Solomon Stern had been presenting bogus checks starting (at least) four years earlier. He had been arrested in both Hartford, Connecticut and Buffalo, New York; and had been sentenced in 1878 to three years in the Connecticut State Prison.
Given these facts, it seems more likely that Solomon Stern’s compulsion to lay down bad checks had other causes, such as a gambling addiction. There’s no evidence that he had any training from professional check forgers. Indeed, his efforts seemed pretty clumsy, did little to hide his identity, and were fairly sure to result in his capture.
In November 1878, Solomon went to Hartford, Connecticut, for the alleged purpose of representing his father’s clothing firm as a salesman. He was introduced to several businessmen there, and returned a week later to resume his activities. He went to one of his new contacts, a jeweler, and showed him a check written out to his father’s firm from one of their clients, and explained that he needed this check cashed there in Hartford in order to conclude a separate business deal. His new friend obliged, and Stern took part of the payment in cash, part in diamonds, and part in a new check for the remainder. After Stern left, the jeweler’s suspicions were aroused, and he investigated. Stern was tracked down, arrested, and jailed. In December 1878 he was sentenced to three years in the State prison for fraud.

Stern learned little from that experience. After his release from Connecticut, he returned to employment in New York, and made the acquaintance of a tailor hailing from Buffalo, New York. In November, 1881, Stern went to Buffalo and looked up this tailor. He went to his store and ordered a fine suit, to be delivered to his New York address, paid with a forged check. The tailor’s bank required him to verify the check, and the fraud was uncovered. Buffalo authorities believed that Stern had been active in other cities, such as Chicago, under the aliases William Stern, William Stearns, William Stone, and Isaac J. Stern, Jr. Since the check that was forged was on a New York City bank, a New York City detective was sent to Buffalo to take him back to face charges.
It appears that those charges were dropped, and young Solomon was free to continue his exploits, which pickup up with Byrnes’s recitation of his crimes in 1882-1883. Byrnes, writing in 1886, indicated that Stern had been sent to Sing Sing on a five-year sentence and would be released in 1887.
Alas, upon his release, Solomon went straight back to swindling. He took $2000 worth of jewelry from a store in New York using a bad check, and then went to Baltimore to try to exchange some of the stones. He was captured in that city and returned to New York, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Sing Sing beginning in January 1888.
Stern was released in October 1894. Now finally, Solomon Stern appears to have quelled his demons. He married Rachael Block in 1897, and re-entered the specialty clothing business. After the death of his wife (after 1915), Solomon lived with his younger brother Jacob, and they continued together in the necktie business.

One thought on “#105 Solomon Stern

  1. Two stints in Sing Sing! Of course graduation from the notorious prison didn’t necessarily lead to an honest life back then. In fact Solomon going straight was not the typical outcome.

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