#96 William J. Johnson

Joseph W. Harris (Abt. 1857-????), aka William J. Johnson – Pickpocket, Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single. Printer. Well built. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion; generally wears a brown mustache. Has scar over left eye; dot of India ink on left hand. Claims to have been born in Philadelphia.

RECORD. Johnson, or Harris, is a clever pickpocket and boarding-house thief. He is well known in New York and Boston, Mass., and other cities, and is an associate of Frank Auburn, alias Austin (46), with whom he has been working in several of the Eastern cities. He was arrested in Boston, Mass., on April 28, 1884, in company of Auburn, charged with picking pockets in the churches in that city, tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years in State prison at Concord, Mass., on May 16, 1884. His sentence will expire on December 23, 1886. His picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1884.

Though Byrnes contended that Harris was “well-known in New York and Boston, Mass., and other cities,” no arrests other than the one mentioned by Byrnes can be found.

What is true is that Harris was a partner of John Francis Aborn, aka Frank Auburn, the ever-fascinating swindler/process server. Harris appears to be another pal of Aborn’s in the mold of Mason Helmborn, i.e. Harris came from a respectable family, had a little money, and was easily cajoled into going on a swindling and pickpocket spree. This matches the impression that was conveyed by Boston newspapers:

 

Harris’s bright-eyed appearance in his arrest photograph does not suggest a man that has ever seen the inside of a prison. Instead of meriting a separate profile in Byrnes’s book, it might have been more appropriate for Harris to be given a brief mention in a longer entry for Aborn, alias Frank Auburn.

 

 

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