#134 Terrence Murphy

Henry Murphy (Abt. 1849-19??), aka Poodle Murphy, Henry Robinson, Henry Brady, Henry Williams, James Williams — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in Albany, N.Y. Married. Slim build. Height, five feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Hair, auburn, slightly mixed with gray ; blue eyes, light complexion. Can grow a full red beard quickly.

RECORD. “Poodle Murphy” is the most notorious and successful pickpocket in America. He is well known in every city in the United States as the leader of a Bowery (New York) gang of pickpockets. He is an associate of James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), Dick Morris, alias Big Dick (141), Charley Allen, Aleck Evans, alias Aleck the Milkman (160), Johnny Williams (149), Joe Gorman (146), Jim Casey (91), Nigger Baker (195), Tom Burns (148), and others.

Murphy and Charley Woods were arrested in New York City on July 20, 1881, and delivered to the police authorities of Philadelphia, charged with robbing ex-Secretary of the Navy Robeson of a watch, on a railroad car in that city. After several days had been set for the trial, and as many adjournments obtained, the Secretary became tired and abandoned the case, and the thieves were once more given their liberty on September 30, 1881.

Murphy is without doubt the smartest pickpocket in America. He is the man who does the work, while his confederates annoy the victim and attract his attention. This is what is called “stalling.” He has been arrested in every large city in the Union, but never sent to a State prison before.

He was arrested in Philadelphia on January 16, 1885, in company of James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), another notorious pickpocket, charged with robbing one Shadrach Raleigh, of Delaware, of $526 in money and $3,300 in notes, etc., on a Columbia Avenue car in that city, on December 24, 1884. For this he was sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, on March 16, 1885. There were four other charges against him at the time, but they were not tried. Pretty Jimmie, his partner, was also sent to the penitentiary for two years and six months the same day. Poodle’s picture is an excellent one, although somewhat drawn. It was taken in January, 1885.

“Poodle” Murphy’s name (and aliases) started appearing in New York arrest reports rather suddenly, starting in 1876; and he very quickly became the acknowledged leader of the most adept gang of pickpockets in the country, known as the Bowery gang. Skills such as Poodle had are not gained overnight, so it is likely that he had come to New York from another city; and perhaps had just been released from prison.


The first name “Terrence” did not appear in print until 1882. From 1876-1882, Murphy used the aliases Henry Murphy, Thomas Murphy, Henry Brady, and Henry Robinson. He gained the nickname “Poodle” early in these years, due to the fact that he sported large mutton-chop sideburns. That facial hair saved him on one occasion; while awaiting a hearing, in his cell he took a dinner knife and cut off his facial hair, scarring his cheeks with the dull blade. The ploy worked; his victim was unable to identify him.

As his face became known in New York, Poodle ranged to other cities, such as Newark, Philadelphia, and Boston. While his partners jostled their target, Poodle was the one with the quick fingers that made the grab. Their favorites locales were street-cars; elevated rail stations; and outside the entrances to banks.

By the late 1880s, Poodle and his gang were so well-known in New York that they found it hard to operate as pickpockets, and turned to  the “Green Goods” confidence game. It must have been a bit of a downfall for Poodle, who had been viewed as the king of pickpockets, to realize that his skills had little value in the green goods scam. He was a minor figure in those operations, he was never viewed as a good “steerer.” Still, like others participating in that racket, he made good money.

Poodle tried to diversify by investing in an honest business–a cafe/saloon in a busy lower Manhattan office building, the Electrical Exchange. However, he chose another ex-con as his partner, who took advantage of Murphy’s reluctance to sign his name to a loan agreement. Poodle lost his entire savings, about $7000, on the venture. For once, he was the victim.

In the late 1890s, Poodle returned to picking pockets, and was arrested on suspicion several times, but usually soon released. His luck rand out in 1904 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania,  where he was caught stealing from two men. New York detectives came to Pennsylvania to testify about his previous record; he was quickly convicted and sentenced to six years at Eastern State Penitentiary. By 1907, a friend of his indicated that Poodle has lost all his teeth in prison.

In 1914, one “Henry Murphy” was arrested in Boston with another 76-year-old pickpocket (a resident of Boston’s home for ex-convicts). They were described as the oldest pickpockets ever taken in Boston.




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