John J. Pettingill (Abt. 1835-1886), aka John Anderson, Joe Pettengill, James Pettingill, William Pettingill, James Gray, Little Pettingill, Boston Pett, Edward Perkins — Thief, Forger, Counterfeiter
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in the United States. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Blue eyes, very weak; light hair, Light complexion. Thick lower lip, broad, high forehead. Has India ink marks on left arm and back of left hand. Small scar on back of neck from a boil.
RECORD. Pettengill is an old New York thief. He is what may be called a general thief, as he can turn his hand to almost anything — burglary, boarding-house work, handling forged paper or bonds, counterfeiting, etc. He has been arrested in almost every State from Maine to California, and has spent considerable of his life in State prison. He is well known in all the cities, and is considered more of a tool than a principal.
He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on June 24, 1875, and sentenced to two years in Cherry Hill prison. Since then he has served terms in Sing Sing prison, New York, and other places. He was finally arrested in the ferry house in Hoboken, N.J., on April 18, 1885, in company of Theodore Krewolf, charged with passing a number of counterfeit ten-dollar bills, of the series of 1875, on several shopkeepers in Hoboken. He was sentenced to six years in Trenton State prison for this offense, on July 22, 1885. His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1875.
Byrnes describes Pettingill as “an old New York thief,” but Pettingill was a Boston native through and through, earning the nickname “Boston Pett.” His prime years as a criminal took place a generation before most of Byrnes’s crooks. In 1860 he was arrested for robbing $3000 worth of silks from a Manchester, New Hampshire store; and at the same time held for a store robbery in Boston. Even as this juncture, Pettingill was described as a “well-known Boston thief.”
In 1865, Pettingill was caught trying to pass counterfeit $50 bills at a Springfield, Massachusetts bank. He was arrested and taken to a station house, but while his Bertillon measurements were being taken, ran out the door. He was later recaptured and held on a $4000 bail bond; the money was put up, and Pettingill disappeared, forfeiting the bond. In 1866, Pettengill was rumored to have been in Dan Noble’s gang when it committed the Lord Bond robbery, netting a million and a half dollars [however, the crooks who committed the Lord Bond job have never been conclusively identified.] He was finally recaptured in 1868, and was sent to prison.
In 1875, Pettingill passed a forged check at a Philadelphia bank. He was tracked to New York, arrested, and sent back to Philadelphia, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years at Eastern State Penitentiary (not two years at Cherry Hill, as Byrnes indicated).
Upon his release, he was next discovered in 1878 in Washington, D. C., where he robbed Chief Naval Constructor Isaiah Hanscome of $48,000 in bonds and cash. This job was pulled off in partnership with two notorious Philadelphia criminals, Pete Burns and Jimmy Logue. Pettingill was jailed for over a year while he was tried, convicted, and held on appeal, but finally, in July 1879, his appeals were denied and he was sentenced to three years in prison.
Pettengill was next apprehended, four months after his release, in New York in 1882, trying to pass a forged check in company with two other noted forgers, Andy Roberts and William Bartlett. Curiously, neither Byrnes nor New York newspapers offered details of any prosecutions resulting from these arrests, which suggests that the case against them was dismissed.
Boston Pett’s last misadventure came in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June of 1885, when he and a partner are caught trying to pass counterfeit $10 bills at a series of stores in New Jersey. Pettingill was sentenced to six years of hard labor at the State Prison in Trenton. His constitution could not endure the conditions there; he died in January 1886.