#53 William Miller

William Augustus Meeker (1847-1886), aka William Miller, Billy Miller — Hotel thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches. Weight, 140 pounds Brown hair, brown eyes, sallow complexion. Generally wears a brown mustache.

RECORD. Miller is a professional hotel and boarding-house sneak. He has served ten years in Sing Sing prison, independently of the sentence below, for robbing a boarding-house in Clinton Place, in New York City.

He escaped from Sing Sing prison with Big Jim Brady the burglar, in 1873, by bribing a keeper with $1,000. The keeper was afterwards sent to prison himself for letting them escape. Miller was recaptured, and returned to Sing Sing, where he served his time out.

This is a very clever man, and well worth knowing. He was arrested again in New York City on October 28, 1879, on suspicion of robbing the room of one M. Vanderkeep, a Spanish cotton merchant, who was stopping at the New York Hotel. The room was entered on October 26, 1879, and diamonds and jewelry valued at $2,500 were carried away. In this case he could not be identified.

At the time of his arrest there was found upon his person a watch and some Canada money, which, it was ascertained, were stolen from a gentleman’s room in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, corner of Chambers Street and West Broadway, New York City, a few nights previous to his arrest. For this last offense he was held for trial, and finally pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to ten years in State prison again on November 7, 1879. His sentence expired May 6, 1886. Miller’s picture is an excellent one, taken in October, 1879.

Billy Miller was an undistinguished hotel thief mainly notable for one event: an October, 1873, escape from Sing Sing accompanied by James Brady and assisted by Billy’s wife, Tilly Miller. Big Jim Brady (aka Albany Jim) was one of the greatest thieves of his era, but was not given a profile in Byrnes’s book–probably because there was no good photograph in Byrnes’s Rogues Gallery. Tilly Miller was the equal to any of the great female shoplifters of her time; and had engineered more than one jail escape. She, too, was never given her own profile by Byrnes, likely for the same reason.

Billy married Philadelphia-native Tilly (Matilda Ann) Myers when she was 27 and he was 21. He had already been married once; he already had a reputation as a gambler in New York City. A month after their marriage, in October 1870, Billy was caught burgling and sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing. From the day he entered prison, Tilly began planning on how to help him escape.

Meanwhile, in the spring of 1871, James Brady had been caught in a botched jewelry theft in New York City. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing, but was later transferred to Auburn. There, Brady conspired with Jimmy Hope and Dan Noble to make an escape. They chiseled a hole around a water-wheel shaft that ran through the prison wall, and slipped out unnoticed in January 1873. In May of that year, New York detectives spotted him in the office of a bond-forging suspect, and were able to retake him, along with evidence of recent burglaries. He was sentenced to three and a half years in Sing Sing, and would need to return to Auburn after that.

[Note: For an overview of Brady’s remarkable career, read Laurence P. Gooley’s four-part article from Adirondack Almanac (2013) ]

And so, by late May 1873, both Billy Miller and Big Jim Brady were languishing in Sing Sing; but Tilly Miller was ready to break them out.

Billy had been assigned duty as a waiter to other prisoners who slaved over the prison’s limekiln, which produced quicklime (used for cement, plastering, laundry, etc). In that job, Billy got to stand around and gab with the guards. He approached one of the newer guards, John Outhouse, and, after getting to know him, suggested that Outhouse help him escape. Outhouse refused. Billy then suggested to Outhouse that he knew of a bank that could be easily robbed, and which had a safe containing $100,000; and that if Outhouse helped Billy to escape, Billy would rob the bank and give half the proceeds to Outhouse. The guard perhaps knew that Billy was just a hotel thief, not a bank robber, and still refused to help him.

Billy then told Outhouse that he had a friend in the prison–Big Jim Brady–who would give Outhouse $2000 up front for a few small favors: first, Outhouse was to fill a small tin box with a mixture of beeswax and oil, and then give it to another guard, William Many. Once Many returned the tin to him, Outhouse was to take it and a letter to Tilly Miller. Later, he would meet Tilly at the Sing Sing depot and take her to the limekiln station when it was deserted, so that she could hide a bundle there for Billy.

Outhouse at last agreed to the plan, and purchased the tin and beeswax at a local general store. He gave it to the other guard, William Many, who made an impression in the wax of the key which opened cell doors in Corridor 19, where Brady and Miller were kept. Many returned the tin to Outhouse, who gave it to Tilly. Tilly went to a locksmith in New York City, John Steurer, who made a duplicate key from the wax impression. Steurer also made a small jackscrew that could pry open bars and a lever to work it.

Tilly then met Outhouse who took her to the limekiln to plant the tools for Billy. The key she slipped to him during one of her visits to see him. Billy later gave the key to Jim Brady. Tilly’s last chore was to plant a bundle of clothes wrapped in newspaper near the limekiln’s woodpile, which could be reached from the Hudson via a rowboat.

One night in October 1873, Brady and Miller then made dummy figures of themselves that they placed under the blankets in their cell bunks. Brady unlocked his cell door, then walked over to Billy’s cell and let him out. Billy used the jackscrew to pry open the window bars in the gallery, and they slipped out onto the grounds. From there they went to the lumber pile, retrieved the clothes left there, and waited for a rowboat.

Though their escape plan worked perfectly, Billy Miller and Jim Brady’s triumph was short-lived: Billy was recaptured several weeks later; and Brady was caught a month later in Wilmington, Delaware,  with a bank-robbery gang that included Jimmy Hope,  Ike Marsh, Tom McCormick, and George Bliss.

Though Tilly Miller and James Brady went on to several more adventures in their separate careers, Billy Miller served out his ten-year term and was released in 1879. Just a few weeks after his discharge, he was arrested again for hotel thefts in New York City. His sentence: another ten years in Sing Sing. Billy was pardoned in April 1886 for medical reasons, went home to Newark, New Jersey, and died a few days later.





#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.






#30 David Goldstein

David H. Levitt (Abt. 1844-18??), aka Sheeny Dave, Daniel H. Levett/Leavitt/Lovett/Leavett, James Lewis, Louis Lewis, Herman Lewis, Louis/Lewis Ruebenstein, David Goldenberg — Smuggler, Sneak thief, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. A Jew, born in Poland. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Dark complexion, black hair, dark eyes, cast in left eye. Black beard, when worn. Dresses well. Is very quick in his movements.

RECORD. “Sheeny Dave,” whose right name is David Levitt, is an old New York thief, and is pretty well known in all the principal cities of the United States. He has served time in State prison in a number of States.

He was arrested In Buffalo, N.Y., on January 26, 1878, in company of a man who reformed about six years ago, for shoplifting (working jewelry stores), and both sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in Auburn (N.Y.) prison.

When his time expired he was taken to Baltimore, Md., for a crime committed there, but was not convicted.

He was arrested again in New York City, under the name of James Lewis, on January 15, 1881, for the larceny of two pieces of blue silk from the store of Edward Freitman & Co., No. 473 Spring Street, valued at $140. For this offense, upon his plea of guilty, he was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, on April 12, 1881, by Judge Cowing.

He was arrested again in New York City on December 21, 1883, under the name of Samuel Newman, for the larceny of a diamond bracelet, valued at $500, from Kirkpatrick, the jeweler, on Broadway, New York. He was indicted by the Grand Jury on January 10, 1884, and forfeited his bail on January 15, 1884.

He was arrested again on September 30, 1884, in York County, Maine, for picking pockets, and sentenced to three years in prison at Alfred, Maine, under the name of Herman Lewis. For expiration of sentence, see commutation law of Maine. He is still a fugitive from justice, and is wanted in New York City. His picture is an excellent one, taken in January, 1878.

So successful was this felon in issuing aliases that his real name is only suspected to be David H. Levitt, determined by a consensus of arrest and prison records.

Dave’s traceable career begins in April 1874, when he and pickpocket Tilly Miller were caught on the Niagara Falls suspension bridge smuggling silks from Canada. He was taken to Rochester, New York, where he faced trial in a U. S. District Court and was sentenced to six months and a $500 fine, with the time to be served at the Monroe County Penitentiary. However, while waiting to be transported to the Penitentiary, he escaped from the Monroe County Jail with the help of a female accomplice, known on this occasion as “Julia Reilly”. Why Dave chose to be a fugitive rather than take a light sentence is a minor mystery.

Tilly Miller was separately detained. She had been in Canada after fleeing from New York authorities for her role in helping her husband, Billy Miller, escape from Sing Sing with the assistance of bribed guards. The other woman “Julia Reilly,” was likely Mary Ann Watts, a shoplifter that had taken up with Dave Levitt after the death of her common-law pickpocket husband, Joe Wilson. Mary Ann Watts had been residing in Sing Sing until March 1874 (just a month before the smuggling episode), when she escaped using the same accomplices that Tilly Miller had used to free her husband.

Dave Levitt enjoyed his freedom for over a year, probably in the company of his fellow fugitive, Mary Ann Watts. However, in November 1875, he was caught trying to sneak watches off a jeweler’s tray in New York City. He first gave his name as Louis Lewis, but was later recognized as the fugitive David H. Levitt. He was handed back over to U. S. Marshals, and was sent to Auburn prison to serve his time for smuggling.

After being released, Dave was on his own again (Mary Ann Watts had, in the meanwhile, been arrested and sent back to Sing Sing). Dave soon took a new mistress, known only as Teresa. He continued shoplifting from jewelry stores, making a successful raid in early January 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. He sent the loot to Teresa in New York for safekeeping. In late January 1878, he was apprehended in Buffalo after sneaking valuables out of  a jewelry store and was sentenced to one year in Auburn State Prison.

While Dave was in Auburn, Teresa’s step-father stumbled across the hiding-place where she had stored the stolen valuables from Baltimore. He took the loot for himself; Teresa discovered it gone and confronted him, and another man overheard the argument and went to police. After interviewing all the participants, Baltimore officials now had the circumstantial evidence they needed to charge Dave with the robbery. After his time in Auburn expired, he was taken to Baltimore, but the case against him was weak enough to secure his acquittal.

He was caught shoplifting silk in New York City in January 1881, resulting in a two and a half year sentence in Sing Sing. Soon after getting out, he was caught again sneaking objects from a jewelry store in December 1883. He jumped his $500 bail and once more became a fugitive.

Dave then went to Maine, where he was arrested for picking pockets in September 1884. Consequently, he was sent to Maine’s state prison for a three year term.

In the late 1880s, Dave somehow resolved his debt to New York courts, but how this was done remains unknown. In the 1890s, he became a special detective hired, as Byrnes indicated in 1895, “by a major sea resort near New York City.” This was almost certainly John Y. McKane’s Coney Island police force, which was notorious for hiring ex-convicts.

A newspaper item from 1897 mentioned that Dave was no longer alive; the exact date of his death and the name he was using at the time are not known.

#55 Stephen Raymond

Stephen George Francis Rayment (1835-1909), aka Stephen Raymond, Stephen Handsworth, Frank Stewart, George Morgan, Charles Seymour, Robert Maguire — Forger, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-four years old in 1886. Born in England. Stout build. Married. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Has considerable English accent when talking. Gray mixed hair, blue eyes, dark complexion. Mole on the upper lip, right side. The right eye is glass.

RECORD. Steve Raymond has a remarkable history as a forger and negotiator of forged bonds and securities. He had only left Sing Sing prison, where he had been confined for forgery, a few months, when he was arrested in London, England, on January 8, 1874, charged with being implicated in the great Buffalo, Erie and New York Railroad bond forgeries. Over $400,000 of fraudulent bonds of these railroads were sold in New York City, and an equal amount in other places, before their genuineness was doubted. They were so cleverly executed that one of the railroad companies accepted $40,000 of them without suspicion. These forgeries were the largest that were ever committed and successfully carried out in this or any other country. The capital to carry this scheme was said to have been furnished by Andrew L. Roberts and Valentine Gleason. Raymond’s share was $40,000 cash, the larger part of which was stolen from him before he left for Europe in July, 1873. Raymond was taken before Justice Henry, a London magistrate, and remanded for extradition on January 16, 1874, and was shortly after brought back to America.

While awaiting trial in the Tombs prison in New York, with his confederates, Walter Sheridan, alias Ralston (8), Charles Williamson, alias Perrine (202), Andy Roberts and Valentine Gleason, Raymond was taken to Elmira, N.Y., on habeas corpus proceedings, to be examined as a witness in some case, and while there he succeeded in making his escape from the Sheriff. He was arrested some time afterwards and committed to the Eastern Penitentiary on Cherry Hill, Philadelphia, for fifteen months, under the name of Frank Stewart, for a petty pocketbook swindle, which he carried on through the newspapers, and remained there without recognition until a short time before his release, when the fact became known to the New York authorities, who arrested him at the prison on January 27, 1877 (just two years after he had left the Tombs for Elmira), and brought him back to New York.

Raymond was convicted of forgery in the third degree and sentenced to State prison for five years on March 20, 1877, and was discharged from there in October, 1880. The list of the forgeries he was implicated in is as follows : New York Central Railroad bonds, $250,000 ; Buffalo, New York and Erie bonds, $200,000 ; Western Union Telegraph Company bonds, $200,000 ; New Jersey Central Railroad bonds, $150,000. A total of $800,000.

Raymond was arrested again in New York City on July 3, 1882, charged with the larceny of a watch on a street car. He could not be identified as the party who stole it, but a bunch of keys was found upon his person and the magistrate construed these keys as being equivalent to burglars’ tools and committed him in $1,500 bail for trial. This was reduced to $500 by Judge Haight, of the Supreme Court, and Raymond was shortly after discharged.

Raymond was arrested again in New York City on September 1, 1883, charged with altering the numbers and cashing coupons of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, which had been stolen from the Northampton Bank in Massachusetts, in 1876. He presented at the office of the Union Pacific Railroad Company on September 1, 1883, twelve coupons and received a check for $480 in payment. When placed on the stand at the time of his trial, he said:

“I met a man named George Clark, with whom I had been acquainted for years, in a liquor store on Eighth Avenue, about two years ago; during the conversation he asked me if I would cash some coupons; I was promised a percentage of $50 on $480, the amount of interest; Clark said to me, ‘You can’t expect the coupons to be straight; they are cut from stolen bonds.’ I cashed several lots of coupons; I never suspected that the numbers of the coupons had been altered or I would not have had anything to do with them; I saw three detectives near the bank when I entered it, but they were looking in another direction. In my extensive experience with crooked bonds I never before heard of the numbers of the coupons being altered. If I had had plenty of money I would not have touched the coupons, but as my wife was sick I wanted money. When I came out of prison in 1880 I sold directories and afterwards gambled.”

Raymond was convicted of forgery (second offense) and sentenced to State prison for life on October 22, 1883. The law under which he was sentenced reads as follows : “If the subsequent crime is such that upon a first conviction the offender might be punished, in the discretion of the court, by imprisonment for life, he must be imprisoned for life.” The Court of Appeals of New York State confirmed Raymond’s sentence on April 29, 1884. Raymond’s picture is a good one, taken in 1882.

This forger was baptized as “Stephen George Francis Rayment,” but at an early age the family reverted to the spelling Raymond. He was first arrested at age 12 for stealing a tea kettle, and was sentenced to six days in jail. He was apprenticed in his father’s trade of type foundry, but later in life identified himself as a jeweler. One mention suggests he was a “Botany Bay convict,” i.e. had been sent from England to an Australian penal colony.


Raymond arrived in the United States in the late 1860s, having already married and divorced in England before 1862. In New York City, he was recruited by some unknown gang of Wall Street forgers to help them secure bonds from a bank messenger. He was caught stealing gold certificates from a messenger in October 1868 and sentenced the next February to four and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Stephen Handsworth.

In Sing Sing, Raymond became friends with Dr. Alvah Blaisdell, a New York whiskey distiller who had attempted to remove a zealous tax collector by paying witnesses to testify that the taxman took bribes. The “Whiskey Ring” plot was uncovered, sending Blaisdell to Sing Sing.

When Blaisdell was freed, he was anxious to recoup his losses via the shortcut of forged bonds, and joined with a gang of professionals to help him: Andy Roberts, Valentine Gleason, George Engels, George W. Wilkes, Walter Sheridan, Charles Perrin (Williamson), Spence Pettis…and Blaisdell’s jail pal, Stephen Raymond. The efforts of this impressive collection of men resulted in–as Byrnes states–the largest successful forgeries ever committed up to that time. It became known as the Roberts-Gleason gang.

Nearly all of Raymond’s share of the loot was stolen from him in a saloon by pickpockets Red Leary and Jim Hoey. Seeing other members of the Roberts-Gleason gang being arrested, Raymond fled to England in July 1873 along with “Mrs. Bowden” nee LaGrand, the mistress of Alvah Blaisdell. William A. Pinkerton tracked him down in England and had him arrested and extradited back to the United States. While awaiting trial, he was sent to Elmira in order to testify in a case, and managed to escape from an escorting sheriff.

Raymond adopted the alias “Frank Stewart” and made Philadelphia his base for a mail-fraud known as “the pocket-book swindle.” It was fairly simple–he placed ads in newspapers around the country announcing that the Union Pocket Book Company of Philadelphia would send a fine morocco pocket-book to all who remitted them the sum of one dollar, with the pocket book containing a coupon for a lottery drawing of $100,000. These ads were to be paid for after they were run (but never were). No pocket-books were ever sent out. Raymond was caught for this scam and sentenced to three years in the Eastern State Penitentiary.

In 1877, visiting detectives to the prison recognized Raymond and he was returned to face trial for the Roberts-Gleason gang forgeries. In March 1877, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing.

Raymond got out in 1882, and–as Byrnes notes–was harassed with a charge of carrying burglars’ tools, when all he had was a bunch of keys. However, in 1883, he tried to cash a check for coupons taken from stolen bonds–coupons given to him by other thieves who had altered the numbers. Whether Raymond was cognizant of the forgery or not, he was found guilty; moreover, a recently enacted law required anyone found guilty of forgery a second time was to be imprisoned for life.

It took nine years, but this injustice was resolved with a pardon from New York Governor Flower in 1892.

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes states that “Steve” Raymond was next heard from in 1895, when he ran a “panel room” operation against a man named Louis Oppenheimer.

By 1906, Raymond was over seventy years old and nearly blind, and was forced to take refuge in the New York Almshouse. He died in March 1909 at the New York City Home for the Aged, with his burial there funded by the Episcopal City Mission Society.





#24 George Mason

George B. Gordon (1841-????), aka George Mason, George B. Graham, George Gardiner, George Smith — Burglar, Bank robber

Link to Byrnes’s text for #24 George Mason

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. [efn_note]”A Baltimore Bank Robbery,” New York Times, January 26, 1869.[/efn_note]These 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.






#76 Billy Forrester

Alexander McClymont (1838-1912), aka Billy Forrester,  Frank Livingston, Frank Howard, Conrad Foltz, etc. — Thief, Burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #76 Billy Forrester

The story of Billy Forrester’s career is filled with misinformation: false stories of his origins; crimes that he likely did not commit; aliases which he may or may have not used; how he escaped prisons; women he married; and when and how he came to an end. The worst mistake occurred when New York detectives (before Byrnes’s time) accepted the word of a convict-informer and started a manhunt for Forrester, believing him to be the murderer of financier Benjamin Nathan. For many years, Forrester found himself branded as a killer, despite the fact that he proved he was in the South at the time when the burglary at Nathan’s mansion occurred.

When Billy realized that he was about to be railroaded for murder in 1872, he explained his history to the New York Herald: his name was Alexander McClymont, he was born in Glasgow, and served for a long period in the U. S. Navy, starting as a messenger boy in 1852.  [As late as 1907 or 08, Forrester was still trying to get past pay due to him, and in fact thought he was was owed decades of pay, since he had never been formally discharged. Detective William Pinkerton tried to dissuade Billy of that claim, reminding Billy that he had deserted.]

In 1872, Allan Pinkerton gave the Chicago Tribune an account of Forrester’s history, most of which can be verified from 1868 on. Forrester himself had once indicated he had been in Joliet from 1863-1867, but if so, must have been under a different name:


For the act of interceding, “The.” Allen was dragged through court proceedings for six months.

Pinkerton’s account continues on, but skips over an embarrassing episode. From New York, Billy went to Boston, where he romanced a young girl, Elizabeth Dudley, the daughter of a respected liquor merchant from a venerable family, James Winthrop Dudley. They eloped and were married in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in October 1869. [Though there are hints he had been married to others earlier.] “Lizzie” Dudley later claimed she only knew Forrester to be a gambler, but it is more likely that both she and her father knew exactly how Forrester earned his living. Forrester was arrested in Boston in November 1869, discharged, and then rearrested by detectives who had learned about the requisition issued for his return to Illinois. In December, he was put on a train to New York, linked to a detective by a cord. They got off for a drink in New Haven, and Forrester managed to cut the cord and escaped.

Two months later, Forrester and a gang tried a bank robbery in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Before they could crack the safe, they were spotted and had to flee. Billy headed to Pittsburgh, where he was seen by a Pinkerton operative and captured. In March, 1870, he was taken first to Philadelphia to face charges for the Wilkes Barre robbery attempt; while being measured at the station house there, he fled, wearing nothing but his underwear.

In April, Billy and his bride Lizzie Dudley were reunited in Baltimore. The Baltimore police learned of his presence in the city, and the couple were forced to flee south, taking a ship to Key West, then to Havana, and finally to New Orleans, arriving in early June 1870. New Orleans police had already been warned to lookout for Forrester, and he was soon arrested in mid-June, 1870. However, no requisition was yet in hand from Illinois, and so he was released on a writ of habeas corpus.

Billy lived in New Orleans without further harassment for a couple of months, during which time he was seen by many people. Meanwhile, in New York City, financier Benjamin Nathan was killed in his home during a bungled burglary on July 28, 1870.

After a gap of activity in the late summer and fall of 1870, Billy returned to New Orleans in December to coordinate the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store, which took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. While Billy was enjoying the spoils from this job, his one-time partner in the failed Wilkes Barre bank robbery, George Ellis, informed police from his cell in Sing Sing that Billy was responsible for the Nathan murder. This kicked off a nationwide manhunt.

He was run to earth in Washington, D. C. in September 1872 and taken by train to New York. There he was interrogated, and proved his alibi to the grudging satisfaction of prosecutors. The Pinkertons and others had been hoping to collect a $50,000 reward for Nathan’s killer, but instead were forced to send Billy back to Joliet to serve out his term.

Billy was freed in January 1880 and drifted to Philadelphia, where he was frequently seen in the new high-end saloon run by the Brotherton brothers, who themselves had recently been released from San Quentin. In April 1881, Forrester was captured during a house burglary in Philadelphia, resulting in his trial, conviction, and sentencing to Eastern State Penitentiary for five years. His term ended there in November 1885.

Byrnes picks up Billy’s history in his 1895 edition:

Shortly after Forrester‘s release from the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. (in November, 1885), he was arrested at Richmond, Va., as Frank Renfrew, charged with breaking into the residence of one A. L. Lee. He was indicted for burglary and carrying burglars’ tools. While in jail awaiting trial he escaped, and the next heard from him was his arrest at Chester, Pa., in 1887, under the name of James Robinson, for safe breaking and shooting at a police officer.

He was convicted at Media, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. He was released from there on March 20, 1891, re-arrested, taken to Richmond Va., where he plead guilty to having burglars’ tools in his possession, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on April 9, 1891. Forrester’s time expired at Richmond, Va., on August 17, 1895.

It should be noted that while Billy was devoting time to prison in Philadelphia and Richmond between 1885 and 1895, another criminal who took the alias “Billy Forrester” was active in Denver, Butte, and Chicago. His specialty was safe-cracking.

After Billy got out of prison in Richmond in 1895, he was taken in Washington, D. C. and held to account for a robbery there. He was sentenced to ten years, to be served in Albany County Penitentiary in New York.

Gaining his freedom in 1902, Billy went to New York City and lived for awhile with an old friend, Dan Noble. Flat broke, he approached the Pinkerton Agency in New York and asked for a loan to tide him over until he gained employment. They offered him a small amount in cash, and tried to recruit him as an informer. He declined.

He was never heard from again, until 1909, when he went to Buffalo to meet William A. Pinkerton. Though he tried to press Pinkerton to support his claim to back pay from the Navy, in truth he seemed just pleased to talk to his old adversary.

Billy was then working as a facilities superintendent for “a major Catholic institution near Niagara Falls,” described as a large monastery. This almost certain refers to the Mount Carmel monastery in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Billy managed a staff of seven there, working from 1903 until his death in 1912.













#33 Timothy J. Gilmore

Timothy G. Gilmore (Abt. 1838-18??) — Check forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Widower. Clerk. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 175 pounds. Dark brown hair, brown eyes, ruddy complexion, high forehead. Generally wears brown mustache, cut short. Gilmore has three young sons who are now in an orphan asylum.

RECORD. Gilmore is a professional forger, well known in New York and several of the Eastern cities. He is said to have formerly lived in St. Louis, Mo., and has served time in prison there.

He was arrested in New York City on June 24, 1878, and sentenced to four years and six months in State prison for forgery.

He was arrested again in New York City on February 7, 1884. Mr. Goodwin, a baker, of No. 228 Front Street, New York, identified Gilmore as the man to whom on July 30, 1883, he had sold ten barrels of bread for $25.22, and who gave him a check for $70 in payment. The check was worthless. Thomas A. O’Brien, bookkeeper for Fitzpatrick & Case, spice dealers, of No. 7 James Slip, New York, said that on December 11, 1883, Gilmore paid him a check for $80, signed ” R. H. Macy & Co.,” for $45 worth of tea. In this case he obtained $35 change. Gilmore pleaded guilty to both complaints, and was sentenced to eight years in State prison on March 5, 1884, in the Court of General Sessions, New York. Gilmore’s picture is a good one, taken in 1878.

Timothy J. Gilmore’s habit of writing bad checks appears to have been more mental illness than criminal ambition. He came from a good family, and when his father Martin died in 1849, he was provided for in the will, along with his mother and brother. He settled down to life as a clerk, and married Catherine Lyons around the year 1860. They had two sons, Martin in 1863 and Edward in 1867–and then Timothy went off the rails.

He was caught in late May 1868 passing worthless checks, signing them with fictitious names and presenting them to gullible merchants. Newspapers did not record his sentencing, but he was not sent to State prison. He appeared to have operated strictly on his own. The Gilmores had a third son Albert,  born a year later, in 1869.

Timothy’s mania returned in August 1873. This time, he was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing, and was later transferred to Auburn. Though no details can found, apparently his imprisonment drove his wife temporarily insane:


After a brief year of freedom, Gilmore continued to lay down a flurry of bad checks in June 1878. He was sent back to Sing Sing for another sentence of four and a half years.

He was released in 1882, long enough to see his wife, Kate, pass away, leaving Timothy alone to raise three boys. That responsibility did not deter Gilmore: he was arrested for the same crime, using the same methods, in December 1883. Merchants were shown Gilmore’s photograph, taken in 1878, and identified him quickly. Gilmore’s sons were placed with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; Gilmore was sent to Sing Sing a third time, this time for eight years.

When Gilmore was processed back into society yet again, his found his sons were grown, and there was no reunion. In February 1892, he spread bad checks throughout Brooklyn, and was returned to Sing Sing to do another eight years. There are no records indicating that he emerged from his fourth obligation to the State of New York.





#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.



#190 Henry Hoffman

Hiram Hoffman (1852-????), aka Henry Hoffman, Harry Hoffman, William Tannis/Tennis, Henry Steiner — Burglar, Receiver

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Jew, born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 3/4 inches. Weight, 154 pounds. Black hair, dark eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a black mustache. Big nose. Parts his hair in the middle. Has a Jewish appearance. Has ” H.H.” near wrist on right arm. Scar on left cheek.

RECORD. Hoffman, which is his right name, is a well known New York thief and receiver, and has been arrested from time to time in almost every city in the United States. He has served two terms in State prison for burglary, and is a man well worth knowing.

He was arrested in New York City on October 14, 1882, in company of Frank Watson, alias Big Patsey, and Julius Klein (191), and delivered to the police authorities of Boston, Mass. Hoffman, Watson and Klein were arraigned in court in Boston, Mass., on November 24, 1882, and pleaded guilty to breaking and entering the store of Mr. Thomas, No. 35 Avon Street, that city, and carrying away velvet and cloth valued at $1,000. Hoffman and Watson were sentenced to three years each in Concord prison. Their sentence expired on July 3, 1885. Klein was sentenced to two years in the House of Correction at South Boston. His sentence expired on October 2, 1884.

During the months of October and November, 1885, two express wagons and their contents were stolen in Boston, Mass. The wagons were recovered, but their contents, valued at $4,000, were only partly recovered. Shortly after the robbery two notorious wagon thieves, named Stephen Dowd and Wlliam W. Alesbury, were arrested in Boston for the offenses. In Dowd’s pocket was found the directions of Hoffman’s house in New York City. Hoffman was arrested in New York, and part of the stolen property found in his possession. He was taken to Boston on December 15, 1885, and used as a witness against Dowd and Alesbury, who were convicted and sentenced to four years each in the Charlestown State prison. Alesbury has previously served a three years’ sentence in the same prison for a similar offense.

Hoffman was arrested again in Baltimore on May 7, 1886, under the name of Henry Stiner, charged with burglary. He pleaded guilty on June 3, 1886, and was sentenced to five years in State prison. His picture is an excellent one, taken in May, 1886.

Hiram Hoffman’s known record is even more depressing than Byrnes relates. He was sent to Sing Sing at age 19 for stealing two rifles and two pouches, under his real name, Hiram Hoffman (son of Abraham and Minna Hoffman). Even then, he was described as “an old and well-known offender.” For this crime, he was sentenced for five years, the latter portion spent in Auburn State Prison.

His activities between 1875 and 1880 haven’t been traced, but by that point, he was using a very common name, Henry Hoffman.

In June 1880, he was caught stealing $125 worth of goods from a Manhattan jeweler. He returned to Sing Sing for another two years.

He was next arrested in Boston with two more polished burglars, Frank Watson aka Big Patsey and Julius Klein. Whether Hoffman was being coy when offering an alias, or whether the court reporters were just sloppy, Hoffman’s processing was reported under six different names: William Tannis, William Franks, Big Bill, Tom Travis, William Francis, and William Tennis. Whatever name he was sentenced under, the term was three years. He was discharged from the Massachusetts State Penitentiary in October 1884.

Hoffman apparently made some burglar friends in jail, because in December 1885, two thieves were apprehended in Boston and one had Hoffman’s New York address in his pocket (which was an inexcusable blunder). New York police raided Hoffman’s abode and found half the loot from the Boston robberies. To save himself, Hoffman agreed to go to Boston and testify against the two crooks.

Hoffman was arrested again for burglaries of his own in Baltimore in May 1886. He was given a term of five years in the Maryland State Prison, emerging in August 1890.

A month later, he was caught again in New York, and given a much stiffer sentence: eight years and eleven months at Clinton Prison in Dannemora. He was discharged on August 5, 1896.

One can only hope that Hoffman finally made some peace with society. He wasn’t heard from again.

#72 William Morgan

William B. Morgan (1852-1887), aka Billy Morgan, William Moran, William Brown, James Sweeney — Sneak thief, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-three years old in 1886. Born in New York. Medium build. Single. No trade. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 142 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, florid complexion. Has “W. B. Morgan” in India ink on his right arm; one dot of ink on left hand.

RECORD. Billy Morgan is considered one of the smartest till-tappers and shoplifters in the business. He has confined himself to till-tapping and work of that description of late years, and has been arrested in several of the principal cities in America, and is well known in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He has worked with the best people in this line, and thoroughly understands his business.

He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 16, 1880, with “Marsh Market Jake” (38), Little Al. Wilson, and George Williams (194), for the larceny of $2,200 in bank bills from one Henry Ruddy of that city. The whole party were convicted and sentenced to eighteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia on April 26, 1880.

Since his release he has been traveling through the country working almost every kind of schemes to get money. He has been arrested in New York several times. An account of all his arrests would fill many pages. His picture is a very good one, taken while under arrest, in August, 1882.

Billy Morgan was a habitual, but not particularly notorious thief. He was arrested for grand larceny in 1870, at age 18, and sent to Sing Sing on a two-year sentence under the name William Brown in December 1870.

He was arrested again for attempted larceny, shoplifting clothing, in October 1874 and sentenced to Sing Sing again for another two years.

The April 1880 sneaking of bank bills in a gang led by Marsh Market Jake resulted in his arrest in Philadelphia under the name William Moran. [Charles J. Everhardt, on this occasion, used a little wit in giving his alias as “William Helburne.”]

No further criminal activities of Morgan are documented. In his 1895 edition, Byrnes indicates that Morgan died suddenly in New York City on November 5, 1887, at age 35. He left behind a wife, Hester Logan, and a daughter, Hester Morgan.