#34 Richard O. Davis

Richard Oliver Davis (1856-19??), aka James Camp, George T. Carson — Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Married. Born in United States. Cloth cutter by trade. Medium build. Fair complexion. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Weight, 161 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes. Dresses well. Davis and his partner, No. 36, are considered clever people. They are well known in New York, Boston and in several other cities in the United States.

RECORD. Davis was arrested in New York City on November 22, 1883, in connection with Edward Darlington (36) and Charles Preston, alias Fisher (41), charged with forging a check for $400, drawn on Harris & Co. The complaint was made by Howes & Co., bankers. No. 11 Wall Street, New York City. He was committed in $2,000 bail by Justice Duffy. Davis pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions in New York City, and was sentenced to six years in State prison, on December 27, 1883. His sentence will expire, allowing him his commutation time, on February 26, 1888. This man and his partner, Darlington, had been traveling around the country for some time, before their arrest in New York City, passing forged checks. His picture is a good one, taken in 1883.

While Richard O. Davis was not a forger’s dupe, like Berkeley Puseley (aka Edward Darlington, the young man whose life was ruined by Davis and Charles Tisher, aka Charles Fisher), neither was he a master penman. His usual role was to establish good accounts and gain the trust of cashiers, while a lower-level player presented the bad checks. Inspector Byrnes never realized the full extent of Charles Tisher’s operations–Tisher, more so than Charles Becker or George Wade Wilkes–was the foremost forger mastermind of the 1880s and 1890s.


Richard O. Davis was the son of James Oliver Davis and Anna V. Luce. Richard was just one of more than ten children in the family, which made several moves: from near Albany, New York; to Weehawken, New Jersey; to Dunkirk, New York (on Lake Erie); and finally back east to Manhattan. James Oliver Davis was a jack-of-all-trades: a carpenter, a tavern owner, and lastly a stable owner. His son Richard sometimes worked for his father, buying horses. It was likely in this capacity that he came in contact with Charles Tisher, sometime in 1882, leading to his conviction for forgery–along with Berkeley Puseley–in 1884.

Davis’s whereabouts between his release from Sing Sing in 1888 and 1894 are not known, but it is likely that he joined a new forging gang led by Charles Tisher following Tisher’s release from Sing Sing in May 1892. The new gang included Bob Bowman, a veteran operations man, James Cregan, and Charles Becker, a skilled penman, as well as several others.

Davis was seen passing a forged check in April 1894 in Cincinnati, Ohio, posing as James Camp. A bank teller identified him as Davis from the photograph in Byrnes’s book. This kicked off a legal battle to find, extradite, and convict Davis that lasted more than four years. He was arrested in October 1894 in New York City, sparking the first legal battle over whether there was cause to send him to Ohio. After a hearing, it was decided to allow him to be escorted back there. Next a writ of habeas corpus was submitted, arguing that the requisition issued by Ohio had not been valid. That was denied, but in February 1895, Davis was allowed out of the Cincinnati jail on a $5000 bail bond. He dutifully returned to a Cincinnati court in March to renew his bail bond.

The next month, April 1895, Davis was caught trying to pass a forged check in Boston, Massachusetts, under the name George T. Carson; his partner was Max Steele. He was held in jail for months, long enough for official in Cincinnati to hear about it. A Cincinnati police detective came to Boston, posted Davis’s bail there, and took him back to Cincinnati to face trial. However, prosecutors now had difficulty collecting witnesses against him, and he was released on bail again.

Davis next joined a gang of postal box thieves/forgers, a crime that had been perfected by Charles Tisher. Tisher himself had fled to England in 1897, so leadership of the postal-box gang fell to Timothy J. Hogan. The so-called “Hogan band” gang made a huge tour starting with Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. Davis was arrested in New York in December 1897 by postal authorities for mailbox robberies that took place in Toledo; Hogan was arrested in Kansas City, Kansas. Prosecutors once again failed to make a case against Davis in Toledo, so he was taken to Kansas City. There, the case against him failed when it was discovered that the alleged crime had taken place in Missouri, not Kansas. Missouri officials declined to take over the case, so Davis was once again released in late 1898.

Davis turned to burglary in March 1900, and was quickly arrested in New York City. No one recognized him as the once-famous forger. He was sent to Sing Sing on a sentence of five years, and released in 1904. A year later, in December 1905, he was caught in Queens, New York, again for burglary. When he re-entered Sing Sing with another five-year sentence it was noted he was lame in one leg.

There is no record that Davis was ever discharged or pardoned.





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