#92 Charles Mason

Charles Henry Marion (Abt. 1840-19??), aka Boston Charley, Charles Mason, Charles Marsh, Charles Merrion/Marrion, Charles Mortis/Martis, Charles Whiteman, Charles Lloyd — Swindler, Bunco Steerer, Pickpocket, Political Fixer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Heavy build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark-brown hair, turning gray; brown eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a heavy, reddish-brown mustache; rather fine features. A very active man for his size.

RECORD. “Boston” Charley’s principal occupation is “banco.” He has been in several jails in the East and West, and has traveled from Maine to California working various schemes. In New York he worked with Jimmie Wilson (143) and Shang Campbell (107), picking pockets; also, with Jack Strauss, on the sneak.

He worked in the winter of 1876 in Boston, Mass., with Charlie Love, alias Graves, alias Scanlon, and was in the scheme to rob a man named Miller out of $1,200 by the banco game. Charley fell into the hands of the police, and Love escaped. He was afterwards implicated in a robbery in the Adams House, where Mrs. Warner, of St. Paul, Minn., lost considerable property.

He then left Boston, and remained away until 1881. During the interval he is credited with having served five years in Joliet prison. Mason was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison on December 20, 1881, by Recorder Smyth, for robbing one John H. Lambkin, of Cork, Ireland, out of $1,139, at banco. His time expired, allowing full commutation, on May 19, 1885. Mason’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

Boston Charley volunteered to the Sing Sing registrars that he was born in Boston about 1840, and that his real name was Charles H. Marion–information confirmed in city directories from San Francisco and Butte, Montana. However, Charley’s family and early years have not yet been traced. The earliest mentions of him come from the early 1870s, when he was rumored to have been an assistant to William “Canada Bill” Jones, the greatest three-card monte player in history.

Canada Bill plied his trade on Kansas and Missouri passenger trains, and one of the things that Boston Charley learned from him was that that a con man could offer bribes to receive a level of protection from authorities. Canada Bill paid conductors to look the other way; and once (famously) tried to offer a railroad’s management a “license” fee to operate freely on their trains. This was the start of Boston Charley’s political education.

Canada Bill ran into a series of arrests in 1875, which was about the same time that Boston Charley opted to head further west to San Francisco with a gang of bunco steerers. They successfully set up shop, but Charley was arrested twice between September and November, 1875.

As Byrnes indicates, Charley returned to Boston and tried running a bunco operation there, but had no influence to prevent being shut down, and was forced to flee. He returned to San Francisco and formed a new bunco gang with Jack Dowd and Doc Boone. Though they had paid bribes to police officials, the gang was arrested several times, and eventually realized that others on the police force were acting on behalf of a rival gang of bunco artists. This was Charley’s next lesson in politics.

He married a woman in San Francisco named Hazel, but after he was indicted once more, he and Hazel fled to Panama. There, he deserted his bride after less than a year of marriage.

Charley then headed eat to New York City and picked pockets and ran con swindles with Charles Allen, Jimmie Wilson, and Shang Campbell. He was arrested in December 1881 and sentenced to 4 and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Charles Mason. While he was in jail, Hazel got a divorce.

Charley returned to San Francisco when he got out of Sing Sing, but did not tarry long there. By 1887, he decided to head somewhere where other gangs and corrupt officials had not yet taken control; he wound up in Butte, Montana.

In Butte, Charley posed as Col. Charles Lloyd and ran a dance hall/gambling joint. His gambling den featured his customized faro tables (rigged to cheat). He also ran faro games at the local race track that were exposed as crooked. Still, he eluded any penalties for three years, mainly because he was a political kingmaker.

In 1890, Charley Marion returned to New York, and made a woeful attempt to join the Salvation Army to reform himself, producing what may be the funniest incident involving any professional criminal:

“Charles H. Marion plays the accordion with much religious fervor and muscular energy in a Salvation Army band. He played with such vigor and he sang so loud at the barracks, No. 10 Horatio street, on Sunday night that Lieut. David L. Bossey, of the army, tried to restrain him. Marion, however, played and sang even while the preaching was going on, so Bossey had him arrested. ‘He almost breaks my heart,’ complained Lieut. Bossey in the Jefferson Market Court yesterday. ‘He insists on singing the wrong verses.’

“‘That’s serious,’ said the Justice. ‘Ten dollars fine.’ Marion was locked up. An hour later, someone paid the fine for him.”

Charley’s efforts to reform ran against his character. A fellow mission worker invited Charley and another man over to his place for a drink, and when he went out to get more beer, came back to discover that Charley and the other man had pilfered valuables from his house.

Charley drifted back to Butte and returned to running his dance hall and sponsoring politicians. In 1895 he convinced a couple of local young men to try to pass a forged check in Chicago. When that brought him unwanted attention from the Pinkertons, he came back east to Washington, D. C. and tried a similar scam, selling bogus mining stocks to a Butte mine. When detectives closed in, he left for New York City.

While cooling off in New York, Charley and old con man Ike Vail were arrested for running a swindle in Hoboken. Realizing it was time to flee again, Charley went to Detroit, was run out of town, and then went south to Kansas City, Missouri. There he impersonated a Treasury officer and confiscated alleged counterfeit bills from victims, threatening them with prosecution. He was captured and sentenced to three years in the Missouri State Prison.

After serving his time, Charley returned to Butte and picked up his former life there. By now, all the local newspapers in Montana had run stories giving his history, so his character was no secret. Still, was was able to remain a force in Butte politics.

From 1901 until his demise–date unknown–he kept his name out of the papers.

 

 

 

 

 

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