George B. Gordon (1841-????), aka George Mason, George B. Graham, George Gardiner, George Smith — Burglar, Bank robber
George Mason was one of the leading bank robbers from the 1860s through the 1880s, yet little is known of his personal life. Byrnes states that he was born in Boston, brought to New York at an early age, orphaned, and sent to Sing Sing before he was twenty. None of this can be confirmed. Byrnes’s mentions of bank robberies Mason conducted with Jimmy Hope are far off the mark–the Wilmington robbery occurred in 1873, not 1863; and the 1865 robbery of a Baltimore bank appears to be a reference to the huge 1869 robbery of a bank in New Windsor, Maryland. 1These represent just two errors in Byrnes’s sloppy account of Mason’s crimes.
The traceable beginnings of Mason’s career are found in Philadelphia, following the Civil War. There he gained a reputation as a burglar, and one who was prepared to fight any arrest attempt. In February 1867, an officer spotted Mason and a pal on the street, and had instructions to bring him in. Mason resisted, using a blackjack to knock down the officer. A second patrolman arrived on the scene and knock Mason down with his club. As a result, Mason was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary for three years on a charge of assault and battery.
If Mason was released early in 1869, it is possible he could have been a member of the gang that hit the bank in New Windsor, Maryland; the other members were rumored to include Ned Lyons, Jimmy Hope, and Max Shinburn. Later in 1869, Lyons, Hope, Mason and Big Haggerty attempted several bank robberies in New England: one was in September, at the Rochester (New Hampshire) Savings Bank; and the second was in October at the Townsend (Massachusetts) Bank. In both cases, explosions woke the town, but did not breach the inner vault door. The same thing happened a third time, in December 1869, when the vault of the Lumberman’s Bank in Oldtown, Maine, was dynamited. This time, the outer door of the vault lodged itself to block the inner door, once again stymieing the thieves.
Mason was found back committing burglaries in Philadelphia in 1870. In June of that year, he was arrested leaving the scene of a house burglary in which a safe was unsuccessfully blasted. He appears to have escaped punishment, because in late August he was arrested for the robbery of a silk store in Philadelphia. He was released on a straw bond and disappeared. In September 1870, Mason, Lyons, and Hope were arrested for an attempted bank robbery in Warsaw, New York, in which Mason was released. This was followed with a failed attempt in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in November 1870.
Mason’s whereabouts between late 1870 and early 1874 are not clear, though officers in Philadelphia did say they just missed arresting him there in October 1872. Byrnes’s account of Mason’s activities is useless, for Byrnes got the dates of several robberies mixed up, and some [Covington KY bank robbery; Planters Bank of Virginia robbery] can’t even be identified.
In February 1874, Mason was said to be in the gang that included Dave Cummings, Robert C. Scott and Mose Vogel that robbed the bank in Quincy, Ill. of $200,000. With Scott and Vogel, he was also said to have next attempted a robbery in Des Moines, Iowa, but had to flee on foot through bitter cold and snow.
In September, with Jimmy Hope, Ned Lyons and others, Mason took hostage the family of the cashier of the Wellsboro, Pennsylvania bank. The story of Mason’s gentle treatment of the frightened hostages is recounted in a column by newspaperman Louis Megargee, reprinted in the REVISED entry for James Hope. A month later, in October Mason was with a gang that used similar tactics to rob a bank in Milford, New Hampshire.
In 1875, Mason was rumored to have been involved with planning the first assault on the Manhattan Saving Institution–though he was not involved by the time the job finally came off in October of 1878.
In July 1876, Mason was arrested as G. B. Graham in a Pittsburgh hotel and held for authorities from Tioga County, Pennsylvania who charged him with participation in the 1874 Wellsboro robbery. Jimmy Hope tried to break Mason out of the Tioga County jail by blasting the outer jail wall, but the resulting explosion stunned Mason to the extent that he failed to get away. During his trial one of his hostages testified on his behalf, and he was acquitted and given a fond farewell by the townspeople.
In 1877, a thief using the alias of Phillips was caught attempting a bank robbery in New York City, and sent to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary for two years. Some accounts suggest this was Mason–and this corresponds to other accounts that explain he was not in on the Manhattan Savings job of October 1878 because he was in prison.
In November 1879, Mason was taken on as a partner by Langdon Moore. They successfully robbed a pawnbroker’s store, but mistrusted each other over the division of the spoils. Mason and Moore were later arrested for an attempt to rob the Warren Institution of Savings. Mason was arrested first, and when Moore did not come to his financial aid (Moore said he was broke), Mason informed against Moore. They were both sent to the State prison in Charlestown. Mason served less than three years, being released in November 1882.
Mason was arrested for possession of burglars’ tools in Philadelphia in March 1883. He pleaded guilty and was given seven months in prison, gaining his freedom on October 30, 1883.
As Byrnes relates, Mason was next arrested in Hoboken, New Jersey in September 1885 for a house burglary. He was sentenced to five years in the State Prison at Trenton under the name George Smith.
Byrnes, in his 1895 edition, states that Mason died on March 1, 1895 in New York City, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx; but no death record or burial record can be found under his known aliases, so this remains in question.