#61 Thomas O’Connor

Thomas O. Connors (Abt. 1860-????), aka Tommy Connors — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. Teamster. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 3/4 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Dark hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion, freckled face. Has a star in India ink on right hand, and letters “T. O. C.” in a circle on left arm.

RECORD. “Tommy Connors,” the name he is best known by, is a desperate west side New York burglar. He is well known in the Eastern States as the former partner of Clark Carpenter, alias Clarkey (deceased), and James McDonald, alias Milky McDonald, two other notorious west side burglars. He has served a term in Sing Sing prison and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York.

He first came into prominent notice when arrested in New York City on December 2, 1884, in company of John McKeon, alias Kid McKeon, alias Whitey, and William Pettibone, for robbing a safe in the Bay State shoe-shop, in the Kings County Penitentiary of New York. Pettibone was at the time in the employ of the company. McKeon had served a term in the penitentiary, and worked in the shop. These two, in company of Connors, tore the safe open, and secured $3,104 in money in November, 1884. Pettibone was arrested and used by the people as a witness to convict McKeon, who was sentenced to six years and six months in State prison. Connors escaped conviction in this case.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 14, 1886, in company of Clark Carpenter, alias Clarkey, and James McDonald, alias Milky McDonald, and delivered to the police authorities of Boston, and taken there to answer for a series of burglaries. One of the burglaries occurred on October 1, 1885, at No. 470 Harrison Avenue; another on Thanksgiving morning, 1885, at No. 428 Tremont Street; another on December 26, 1885, at No. 390 West Broadway, South Boston, and several others in the city of Boston and vicinity. Connors, McDonald, and Clark were tried in Boston on February 11, 12, and 13, 1886, and the jury disagreed; they were remanded to Charles Street jail to await another trial. This case was finally brought to a close on April 15, 1886, when Thomas O’Connor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in State prison. Milky McDonald was discharged on April 15, 1886. Clarkey was also discharged on the same day, but, being very sick, died in Charles Street jail on the following day, April 16, 1886. O’Connor’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1886.

Byrnes’s entry for this criminal is maddeningly unclear. None of the accounts of the two crimes Byrnes lists mention the name “O’Connor,” only “Connors.” The accompanying photo for Byrnes’s entry labels the man’s name as “Thomas O. Connor,” and his physical description mentions a tattoo with three initials: T.O.C.  Byrnes also mentions that Tommy had been in Sing Sing, but no Connors or O’Connors match the description given by Byrnes.

Many criminal court entries and Blackwell’s Island jailings can be found for men named Thomas O’Connor or Thomas Connors, but without further clues, there is no way to tell if any of those are the same man. So while not much more can be discovered about Tommy, there’s more that can be said about the two crimes listed by Byrnes.

The robbery of a safe inside the Kings County Penitentiary was a huge embarrassment to the county sheriff and prison warden, made worse by the fact that the suspects were soon corralled by New York City detectives, not Brooklyn detectives (the cities had not yet merged).

Connors was arrested only upon being implicated by McKeon, who had confessed his guilt. With no other evidence against him, Connors was released. 

Byrnes’s detectives also captured the three men accused of a string of burglaries that took place in Boston in the fall of 1875: Connors, James “Milky” McDonald, and Clark W. “Clarkey” Carpenter. They were transported to Boston, and were charged with three counts of burglary each.

A trial on one of the counts took place in February 1886, and resulted in a hung jury. The three men were then tried on the other two charges. Clark Carpenter, by that point, was near death from consumption. It was reported that even if found guilty, he would never be sent to prison. McDonald’s mother was also deathly ill back in New York, and sent messages begging to see her son. The Boston Herald reported that, out of sympathy for his two partners, Tommy Connors agreed to plead guilty so that charges against the others would be dropped. If true, the burglar had a bit of nobility in him.

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes only update was a mention that Connors was then working on the ships that transported cattle from New York to Liverpool.

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