#166 John Riley

John Reilly (Abt. 1831-????), aka John Rogers — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Printer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/4 inches. Weight, 142 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, sandy complexion; whiskers, when worn, are sandy. Has letters “J. R.” in India ink on his left arm.

RECORD. Johnny Riley is an old New York pickpocket, sneak and shoplifter. He generally works with his wife, Annie Riley, and pays considerable attention to funerals and markets. His wife is a very clever pickpocket, John generally doing the “stalling” for her. He has served terms in prison in Philadelphia, Sing Sing, and on Blackwell’s Island, New York. He lives in New York, but is well known in several of the Eastern cities.

Riley, Annie his wife, Fred. Benner, alias Dutch Fred (81), and Mag. Sweeny, alias Bell, were arrested in New York City on August 1, 1885, for picking the pocket of a woman named Eliza J. North, in Washington Square Park. Riley and Benner were sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on August 12, 1885. Mrs. Riley and Sweeny were sentenced to six months in the penitentiary the same day by Judge Gildersleeve.

The only sure reference to this criminal is the newspaper account of the one specific arrest that Byrnes mentions:


Note that this item suggests that all four arrested were between 32 and 40 years of age (in 1885), whereas Byrnes, just a year later, suggests that Riley is fifty-one. No Sing Sing records for a John Riley, John Murphy, or John Rogers that align with Byrnes’s description can be found.

There was a very active East Coast female pickpocket in the 1880s and 1890s who infrequently used “Annie Reilly” as one of her aliases, but was better known as Kate Armstrong aka Mary Ann Dowd. However,  there is no evidence that this was the same person as the wife of John Riley. Likewise, “Little Annie” Reilly, the larcenous domestic servant, was also not the wife of John Reilly.


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