#121 Mary Ann Watts

Mary Ann Watts (Abt. 1844-????), aka Mary Wilson, Mary Walker — Shoplifter, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Dressmaker. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, ruddy complexion. Coarse features.

RECORD. Mary Ann Watts is a well known New York female thief. She is considered a very clever woman, and is known in all the principal cities East and West. She is credited with having served one term in the House of Correction in Boston (Mass.), one in Chicago and Philadelphia, besides two terms in New York State prison and two in the penitentiary.

She was arrested in New York City under the name of Mary Wilson, pleaded guilty to an attempt at grand larceny, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison, by Recorder Hackett, on December 19, 1873.

She escaped shortly after, and was at large until her arrest in New York City again for shoplifting. In this case she was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three years in State prison, by Judge Sutherland, on April 6, 1876.

After this last sentence expired she had to serve out about two years she owed on the previous sentence, making about five years in all. This is a clever woman, and well worth knowing. Her picture is a good one, although taken ten years ago.

Mary Ann Watts was the oldest daughter of English immigrants Isaiah and Emma Watts. Isaiah Watts was a respected, very successful “intelligence agent,” i.e. an employment agency specializing in placing servants in wealthy households. In the late 1860s, she became the partner of a shoplifter going by the name Wilson (James or Joe), and Mary Ann started using the name Mary Wilson. The man Wilson apparently died in prison; Mary Ann then associated herself with David H. Levitt, aka David Goldstein.

In December 1873, Mary Ann was caught shoplifting silks from a Manhattan store and sentenced to five years at Sing Sing. One night in early April 1874, Mary Ann became one of the  few women to escape from Sing Sing (Sophie Lyons was another, in December 1872). She was an assistant in the prison hospital, and therefore was free to walk the cell corridors until 8 PM. With a duplicate key, she opened a door to a laundry room and locked it behind her. She took a ladder that was there (used for washing windows) and carried it outside to the prison’s stone wall. The ladder reached about eight feet, tall enough for Mary Ann to grab the top edge of the wall and pull herself up and over. The warden later reported that “Daniel Levitt” (David H. Levitt) had been present when she first came to the prison; and had been seen just in the nearby village just a few days before her escape.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

A week later, the warden arrested two prison officers implicated in supplying Mary Ann the duplicate key. The same guards were responsible for aiding an earlier Sing Sing escape by James Brady and Bill Miller (the husband of Tilly Miller).

Mary Ann remained a fugitive for the next two years, during which she likely assisted David Levitt and Tilly Miller in a silk-smuggling operation at Niagara Falls, immediately after her escape from Sing Sing. Levitt was caught, but escaped a day later, assisted by a woman who was probably Mary Ann.

In April 1876, Mary Ann was arrested for shoplifting in New York City. She gave her name as Mary Walker, but the arresting detective recognized her as the fugitive from Sing Sing, Mary Ann Watts. In court, she was sentenced to finish her original term, and also another three years for her most recent shoplifting crime.

A year and a half into her return to Sing Sing, seventy-seven female convicts were transferred to Brooklyn’s Kings County Penitentiary via a ship taken down the Hudson. During the voyage, many of the women passed time by whistling a jig and dancing in the ship’s hold, but Mary Ann stood by silently. A guard point her out to a reporter from the Brooklyn Eagle who was along for the transfer.

“She stood leaning against the woodwork sullenly, would speak to no one, and took no notice either of the keepers or the convicts. ‘That woman was planning an escape,’ said Mr. Crummey. ‘She found out some time ago that she was to be removed down to Brooklyn, and she tried to smuggle a letter out to some of her friends in New York, but it was discovered. It informed them to be on the lookout for her when the boat landed and to try and effect her rescue. The matron told me about this, and I guess Watts knows it, and that’s the reason she’s so sulky. She’ll be one of the first to be locked up in the prison van. She threatened to cut Mrs. Hall to pieces one time at Sing Sing, and is one of the hardest of the whole crowd.'”

Mary Ann Watts served out her sentence. In 1895, Inspector Byrnes reported that she had reformed.






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