#161 Frederick Lauther

Frederick R. W. Lawther (Abt. 1845-19??), aka Freddie Lauther/Louther, Frederick R. Watson, Robert Shaw, Robert Campbell, George Dussold, Light-Finger Fred, Matthew Clark, Fritz Lawther, etc.–Burglar, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Dark hair, dark gray eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a heavy sandy beard; sometimes dyes it. Has numbers “33” in India ink on his left fore-arm.

RECORD. Lauther is an old New York sneak thief and pickpocket. He formerly kept a drinking saloon in the Tenth Ward, New York City, which was the resort of a large number of the professional thieves in America. He is the husband of Big Mag Shaffer, a very clever old-time shoplifter and pickpocket.

Lauther was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to Sing Sing prison for two years and six months on April 20, 1874, for grand larceny under the name of Robert Campbell.

He was arrested again in Philadelphia, Pa., on February 21, 1878, under the name of Shaw, his picture taken, and discharged.

Arrested again with George Milliard (138), and Tommy Matthews (156), in New York City, on the arrival of the Fall River steamer Newport, on April 12, 1879, for the larceny of a watch and $12 in money from Daniel Stein, during the passage from Boston to New York. So cleverly was the robbery committed that Judge Otterbourg was forced to discharge them.

He was arrested and convicted in Harrisburg, Pa., in June, 1879.

Again, on April 3, 1880, in Philadelphia, in company of Will Kennedy, for larceny from the person, and sentenced to eighteen months’ solitary confinement in the Eastern Penitentiary.

He has been arrested from time to time in almost every city in the Union. He has served terms in Sing Sing prison and the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, N. Y., and is a man well worth knowing. His picture is an excellent one, taken in June, 1885.

Fred Lawther was an atypical career pickpocket, in that he came from a close family, married and sired a family, and operated a business (a saloon) for several years. This despite the fact that he was sent to Sing Sing four times, and had stints at Eastern State Penitentiary and the Ohio State Penitentiary.

His wife, “Big Mag,” Margaret Dussold, may have had as many as seven children, though some apparently died as infants. Lawther was arrested on one occasion for beating his wife, but the marriage survived–at least until the late 1890s, when Lawther was behind bars in Columbus, Ohio–and his family thought him dead. At that juncture, Big Mag moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, and was known as Mrs. Eitel, the proprietor of a “disorderly house,” i.e. brothel.

Fred Lawther’s first brush with the law came in 1867, when he took part in a bungled burglary and was arrested under the name Robert Shaw:


This misadventure sent Lawther to Sing Sing for 5 years and 11 months. In April 1874, he committed another burglary under the name Robert Campbell, and was sentenced to a further two and a half years at Sing Sing.

In September 1877, Lawther assaulted a police office that came into his saloon and was bothering his sister-in-law.

Byrnes notes that Lawther was captured and later discharged in 1878 and 1879 in Philadelphia and New York, but he was caught in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in June 1879 and convicted on a light sentence. The next spring, 1880 found him in Philadelphia, where was was caught dipping again and sentenced to 18 months at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Lawther then headed to Windsor, Ontario, where he joined forces with Tom Bigelow and his wife, Louise Jourdan. In October 1884, he was arrested in Detroit under the name George Dussold for picking pockets.

Back in New York by 1888, Fred was arrested in New York with saws and wax key impressions that he intended to use to break friends out of jail in Bangor Maine. By Fred’s account, he was simply being a good friend:


In 1896 he was caught picking pockets in Cleveland, and sentenced to five years in the Ohio State prison. Released in May 1899, Lawther was immediately taken back to New York to face trial for lifting a diamond pin from a man on a street car in 1895.

In June 1899, Lawther was sentenced to five years and eight months in State Prison, going first to Sing Sing as Frederick R. Watson. He was later transferred to Clinton, where he was released in June, 1903.



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