#125 Tillie Pheiffer

Tillie Pheiffer (Abt. 1850-????), aka Kate/Catherine Collins, Tillie Miller, Maria Pfeiffer, etc. — Hotel thief, house thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in France. Servant, Married. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 128 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Mole on the right side of the nose under the eye.

RECORD. Tillie Pheiffer, or Martin, is a notorious house and hotel sneak thief. She sometimes hires out as a servant and robs her employers; but her specialty is to enter a hotel or flat, and wander up through the house until she finds a room door open, when she enters and secures whatever is handy and decamps. She is known in New York City, Brooklyn, Paterson, N.J., and Baltimore, Md., where she also served a term in prison. She is said to have kept a road-house near Paterson, N.J., some years ago.

Tillie was arrested in New York City a few years ago, endeavoring to rob the Berkeley Flats, on the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, but subsequently released on habeas corpus proceedings in 1879.

She was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., disposing of a stolen watch in a pawnbroker’s shop. When arrested, she drew a revolver and attempted to shoot the officer. For this she was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary there.

She was arrested again in New York City on June 15, 1881, taken to police headquarters and searched. There was found upon her person four pocket-books, which contained money and jewelry. In one of them there was $10 in money, a gold hairpin and earrings, and the address of Miss Jennie Yeamans, of East Ninth Street, New York City, who testified that her rooms had been entered by a sneak thief during her absence, and the property stolen. Two other parties appeared against her and testified that she had robbed them also. Tillie pleaded guilty in this case, and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on June 23, 1881, by Judge Cowing.

She was arrested again in New York City on June 19, 1882, for entering the apartments of Annie E. Tool, No. 151 Avenue B, and stealing a gold watch and chain and a pair of diamond earrings valued at $300. For this she was sentenced to eighteen months in the penitentiary on June 26, 1882, by Judge Gildersleeve. Her picture is a fair one, taken in June, 1882.

Inspector Byrnes offers many clues to this female criminal in his entry, which requires much unpacking. Byrnes’s references to a jailing in Maryland; Tillie’s operating a road-house in Paterson, N.J.; and the robbery in the Berkeley Flats apartments have no traceable sources. That is regrettable, because the remaining facts–as presented by Byrnes–offer little insight on Tillie’s background and fate.

The March, 1878 Brooklyn arrest referred to by Byrnes was made on a woman using the name Maria Pfeifer/Pfeiffer. While being captured, she pulled a gun and attempted to shoot Detective David H. Corwin. After appearing in court and hearing her sentence (three and a half years in the penitentiary), Maria broke down; she later tried to poison herself with laudanum. At the time of her arrest, a man appeared claiming to be her husband, and explained that he was a “Nevada speculator” who had only been in the city for four months, and that he never suspected his wife was committing these crimes. However, Mr. Pfeiffer never reappeared at her later trial.

In June 1881, while attempting to rob the hotel room of actress Jennie Yeamans, Tillie was captured under the name Kate/Catherine Collins, alias Pheiffer. She was described as an old-time thief, who had been previously jailed not only in Brooklyn, but also in New York.

Finally, the June 1882 arrest in the apartment of Mrs. Toale (not Tool), took place under the name she offered as “Tilly Miller.” In this instance, there was no mention of the name Pfeifer or Collins. In fact, none of these three incidents (1878, 1881 and 1882) mentioned the names Byrnes suggested, “Tillie Pheiffer”; or the name under Byrnes’s photograph of her, “Tilly Martin.”

It so happens that “Tilly Miller” was the name of a notorious female shoplifter and thief, Matilda Ann Myers, best known as a partner of Black Lena Kleinschmidt, and also wife of hotel thief and shoplifter Billy Miller. Given these relationships alone, it is a minor mystery why Byrnes did not include a separate entry for “Tilly Miller.”

Was Maria Pfeiffer/Kate Collins the same woman as the infamous Tilly Miller? Probably not, based on an age difference; and the fact that Tilly Miller was know to have been born in Philadelphia to a German family.

One thought on “#125 Tillie Pheiffer

  1. Byrnes was not always as well informed as he claimed he was. Information at times seemed to slip by him or maybe never even made it to his desk. At any rate, whoever she was I love her hat!

    I wonder why folks didn’t start putting locks on doors in boarding houses and hotels in the mid-19th century. Thieves exploited the lack of locking doors well into the 20th century. Can you imagine nowadays leaving your room unlocked in a NYC hotel or Airbnb?


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