#112 Charles Smyth

Alias David Howard (Abt. 1843-????), aka Smythe, Richard Roe — Bogus Express Company operator, Green Goods Operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, fair complexion. Wears glasses, and a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. “Doc” Smyth is a well-known Bowery, New York, confidence and sawdust man. He generally works with Charley Johnson and Freddie Reeves, and is an old offender. He is also well known in a number of other cities, having been arrested several times, and is considered a clever man at his business.

He was arrested in New York City on December 1, 1885, charged with using the United States mails in flooding the Western States with circulars offering “Green goods, in samples of $1, $2, $5 and $10,” to farmers and others, assuring them of a safe and rapid fortune by dealing in the stuff, which was understood to be counterfeit money. The “Doctor” pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Judge Benedict, of the United States Court, in New York City, on December 17, 1885. Smyth’s picture is a very good one, taken in March, 1878.

Perhaps it is little surprise that one of Byrnes’s criminals about whom the least can be discovered may have been one of the most clever. “Smyth” was the alias this man was known by to his ad hoc partner in the December 1885 green goods operation, but in earlier years he had gone by the name David Howard. The green goods (bogus counterfeit money) circulars he mailed out en masse used dozens of other aliases (usually including the first name William), and dozens of New York mail drop addresses.

His first known operation, though ingenious, was a bust. In February 1874 David Howard and two partners set up a fake express company, “Roger’s Express,” complete with an impressive storefront, signs, a delivery van, and several horses, on a busy Lower Manhattan commercial street. They then presented fake orders to local merchants for goods to be delivered to Brooklyn and Queens. However, a few suspicious storekeepers alerted police, and the gang was arrested before they could start to collect the goods. If not interrupted, the operation would have reaped thousands of dollars in goods within just a few days.

In March 1876, again using the name David Howard, this man was caught operating one of the first known “green goods” operations. From the late 1870s through the early 1880s, the more common name given to this confidence game was the “sawdust game,” owing to the fact that the victim ended up with a satchel of worthless paper or sawdust instead of high-quality counterfeit bills. Howard’s 1876 operation was treated as a novelty by the New York press–in fact one newspaper, the New York Herald, in an editorial wondered if such an operation was more of a public service than a crime: “Instead of being sent to State Prison, the government ought to pay Howard to continue in the business,” since the long-term result would be to discourage anyone from thinking about buying counterfeit money.

That benign attitude quickly changed as dozens of green goods operations sprang up over the next three decades, resulting in complaints that poured in from all over the country where the circulars were distributed.

Howard likely reaped a small fortune running green goods operations between 1877 and late 1885. When arrested in December, he only offered the name “Richard Roe.” However, his partner named him as David Smith/Smyth/Smythe, and it under that name that he was convicted. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison; his fate after his release is unknown.

 

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