Walter D. Price (Abt. 1830-1894), aka George W. Henry, Charles Rodgers — Pickpocket, Policy Writer
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Sandy hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Sometimes wears a light beard; generally shaved clean. Quite a clerical-looking old fellow.
RECORD. Price is no doubt one of the most expert old pickpockets and shoplifters in America. He is known from Maine to California, and has served terms in prison in almost every State in the Union. This man generally works with a smart woman, doing the “stalling” for her; he, however, is quite handy himself, and does considerable work alone.
He was arrested in New York City, in company of one George Williams, for shop-lifting. He was charged with the larceny of a silver watch from a jewelry store. In this case Price and Williams, on a plea of guilty, were sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on February 18, 1875, in the Court of General Sessions. Price gave the name of Louis Lewis.
After this he is credited with serving another term in Sing Sing prison.
He was arrested again in New York City, on November 24, 1879, under the name of George W. Henry, in company of Mary Grey, alias Ellen Clegg (115), another notorious female pickpocket and shoplifter. The complainant testified that Price and Ellen visited his establishment on November 24, and while Price engaged the attention of one of the salesmen by exhibiting a sample piece of silk, stating he wanted a large quantity of the pattern, Ellen, who carried a large bag or “kick,” quietly slipped into its recesses $120 worth of silk which lay on the counter. As they were leaving the store, which was at No. 454 Broome Street, New York City, one of the salesmen missed the goods and caused their arrest. On the way to the police station, Ellen tried to drop the bag which was under her dress, but she was detected in the act. Both pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, before Judge Gildersleeve, on December 16, 1879, when Price was sentenced to three years in State Prison at Sing Sing, and Clegg to three years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York City. Price’s picture is a very good one, although taken ten years ago.
Little can be said about Walter Price that would improve upon his obituary printed by the New York Herald, which shines a light onto aspects of New York City history that have faded into the shadows:
“This notice, which appeared in the Herald yesterday, tells of the death of one of the most remarkable criminals with whom the police of this and other cities have had to deal: ‘PRICE–On Monday, August 6, Walter D. Price, beloved husband of Margaret McKiernan, in his 65th year. Funeral from his late residence, 305 W. 126th St., on Thursday, August 9, at one o’clock. Relatives and friends invited. Interment in Woodlawn.’
“Price was born here, and grew up a Bowery boy in every sense of the word, except so far as outward appearances are concerned. He slipped into crime naturally.
“He was considered, in his prime, one of the most dangerous pickpockets living. He had a dozen aliases and had undergone arrest many times. Then, for a dozen years he made a princely income by conducting a policy shop [numbers lottery] in Vesey street, near Washington, and directly across the way from the market, until a few weeks ago, when his place was closed by the proprietor, who remodeled the building.
“The funeral party is expected to include many of the old ‘Gilhoolies and Rileys’ as they fondly term themselves, a group of whom were on the sidewalk in front of McKeever Brothers’ saloon, at 98 Vesey street, last evening, and talked over old times. Prominent among them was T. J. Gowan, head bartender, who used to be treasurer for both of the clubs. He was applauded vigorously when he remarked: ‘Any Gilhooly or Riley that don’t help bury him deserves to be buried, too.’
“Their feeling of friendship to Price, who was regarded by society at large as a most dangerous character, dates back a decade and a half, when he was conducting his policy shop, in the rear of a supposed hairdressing salon. Price didn’t make himself unduly conspicuous in those days, or in any others when he could help it.
“He was five feet, eight and one-half inches in height and weighed 180 pounds. His light complexion and smooth face went well with carefully-brushed sandy hair, and his gray eyes had a kindly expression. He always dressed in black, the cut of his clothing, especially about the collar, leading all but his intimates to suppose him to be a clergyman. Sometimes he wore a light beard, but nearly always his face was clean shaven.
“The police say his principal characteristic was ability to pick almost any pocket without being detected. Gowan, his friend, described him in these words: ‘When some married man died, he was always the first to ask, “Is the widder broke?” And then, he would go down into his clothes for a tenner or for twenty-five either. Many a poor woman will cry when she hears the news of him being dead, and so will men he has fed and kept alive until they got work.’
“The other old Gilhoolies and Rileys murmured assent at this, and to a question then asked Gowan replied: ‘Was he liberal? Well, he was. In the good old days, if you had a chowder he would take two tickets, or four, or six most likely, whether he intended to go or not. He got to be sorry for his pocket picking, but never denied it. I’ve heard several ask him about that life, and he’d say back, “Yes, I was a foolish young feller then. I done the things you spoke of.”‘
“‘But remember,’ chimed in another Gilhooley close by, ‘he reformed later and conducted a perfectly respectable policy shop next door.’
“‘Yes,’ added Gowan, ‘for years and years he did a tremendous business and was known as the King of Policy Shops. All the best butchers and other men in Washington Market played there regular. Then others crept in and cut up the business, so I don’t believe he left a dollar. It was all he could do to navigate around the last few months. Poor fellow! He was good and kind and nobly liberal.’
“‘So he was!’ chorused the others.
“It is said that Price never drank or gambled or cursed or smoked in his life.
“Superintendent Byrnes, however, placed a different estimate on Price’s value to the community. In a book he says Price was known as Henry, alias Lewis, alias Gregory, lifelong pickpocket and shoplifter, from Maine to California, as a dangerous character, and served terms in prison in almost every State in the Union. He generally worked with a smart woman.”