#171 Theodore Wildey

Theodore Wiley (Abt. 1843-????), aka “The.” Wildey, George Van Dugan, George Davis, George Marsh — Sneak Thief, Till Tapper

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Printer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 166 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion, dark brown mustache, high forehead. Two joints off fingers of right hand. “Josephine,” and numbers “1858,” in India ink on left fore-arm.

RECORD. “The.” Wiley is a clever sneak thief, burglar and pickpocket. He is what might be called a good general thief, as he can turn his hand to almost anything. He is well known in New York and nearly all the principal cities in the United States. He is an old criminal, and has served terms in Sing Sing and other prisons.

He was arrested in New York City on August 14, 1875, and delivered to the Brooklyn (N.Y.) police authorities, for robbing a safe in Calvin Cline’s jewelry store on Fourth Street, that city, of $5,000 worth of diamonds, on August 12, 1875. He was tried in the Kings County Court of Sessions in Brooklyn, on October 6, 1875, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary by Judge Moore, for burglary in the second degree, under the name of George Marsh. He cut off the fingers of his right hand, while confined in the Kings County Penitentiary, so he would not have to work. His sentence expired on April 5, 1882.

He was arrested again in Syracuse, N.Y., on January 4, 1883, in company of Timothy Oats (136) and William A. Brown, alias “The Student,” charged with stealing a tin box containing $250 in money from a saloon there. (See record of No. 136.) Wiley gave the name of George Davis, alias George Marsh, and was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in Auburn (N.Y.) State prison, on March 1, 1883. His sentence expires October 1, 1886. Oats pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years on the same day in this case. Russell also pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to five years in Auburn prison at the same time. Wiley’s picture is an excellent one, taken in September, 1882.

Inspector Byrnes briefly mentions a gruesome anecdote about the thief Theodore Wiley: that Wiley cut off his own fingers in order to avoid prison labor. This event occurred in October 1876, when Wiley was a convict at the Kings County Penitentiary. A firm called the Bay State Shoe and Leather Company had a contract with the county to use convicts to make shoes in the prison workshop. Wiley had three fingers of his right hand cut off by a hide-cutting machine. Authorities thought he did this on purpose to avoid work, but Wiley later tried to sue the company for personal injury.

However, there’s more to the story…

Earlier that same month–October 1876–The.’s older brother, Peter Wiley, died from consumption (likely tuberculosis) while an inmate of Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison. Peter Wiley and a partner had arrived in Philadelphia in September on a train from New York, and within a few hours found themselves under arrest for attempting to snatch a handful of gold lockets at a jewelry store. Peter was sentenced to two years.

He was likely already ill when arrested, and in the weeks he was incarcerated taken to the prison hospital several times. According to the prison officials there, despite his sickness, he remained “bold, defiant and hardened,” refusing to see a priest or to receive visits from family and friends. One of his last requests was: “Gimme some chloroform. Let me die game,” i.e. give him a fatal overdose, he was ready to die.

Peter Wiley had come to Philadelphia only a short time after being released from New York’s Sing Sing prison. At Sing Sing, Peter distinguished himself as being a difficult and troublesome convict. When told that he was slacking at his workshop job and had to comply or face punishment (torture), Peter Wiley snatched a hatchet and chopped off four of his fingers.

And so, just days after Peter Wiley died in Philadelphia, his brother Theodore paid tribute to him. People grieve in different ways.




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