[Editor’s note: I hadn’t planned on researching criminals from Byrnes’s 1895 edition, but after receiving feedback from a descendant of one of them, I found this crook’s story very intriguing…]
Joseph Clark Parker (1846-1922), aka Bill the Brute, William Stetson, English Bill, Bill Snow, George Goodwin, George Whiting, Sheeny Bill, etc. — Bank sneak thief, fence, burglar
From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:
DESCRIPTION. Fifty-three years old in 1895. Born in England. Machinist. Single. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 175 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, pug nose, fresh complexion. Marks, etc.: Bald on top of head. Scars right side of forehead and right side of nose. Abscess mark right side of neck. Ink dot between thumb and first finger of right and left hands. Cut mark left side of forehead.
RECORD. English Bill is a notorious burglar and sneak. He has traveled through the country receiving stolen goods the last few years, having lost his nerve. “Bill the Brute,” one of his aliases, enjoys an international reputation as a criminal. He robbed a bank in Paris, France, of 20,000 francs, in company Of Eddie Guerrin, a well-known western thief. On dividing the proceeds in a cemetery after the robbery the thieves fell out and Stetson shot Guerrin, dangerously wound
ing him. He repented and assisted him to London, where they again quarreled before Guerrin had recovered, and Stetson fled to Boston, after betraying his companion in crime to the police. Guerrin was arrested, taken to France, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for a bank robbery.
Parker has traveled all over America, England, France and Canada, and has been in jail in every country he visited. His full record would occupy too much space. I will, therefore, give only sufficient data to convict him of a second offense should he come your way.
Under the name of George Whiting he was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., for the larceny of a gold chain from a jewelry store. He gave bail on November 16, 1880, and forfeited it. He was arrested again in this case, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and six months in the Eastern Penitentiary, on October 18, 1882, by Judge Fell, Court of General Sessions, on November 4, 1882. His sentence in this case was reconsidered, and reduced to two years. He was arraigned in the same court on another complaint charging him with the larceny of a ring. He also plead guilty in this case and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, on October 18, 1882, by Judge Fell. He was arrested again under the name of George Goodman at Manchester, Eng., in company of Wm. Murray, alias Brown, alias “Thee Wylie’s Kid ” (No. 214), on August 1, 1887, and sentenced to nine months imprisonment for the larceny of a £50 note. Arrested again in New York City on November 1, 1894, for robbing a till in a florist store on Second Avenue. Tommy Featherstone, another notorious thief who was with him, made his escape and went to court and bailed him out. Featherstone was arrested on November 10, 1894, for “ flim-flamming,” and was recognized in court by the woman in the Stetson case, and the court officers, as Stetson’s bondsman. Both were discharged by Judge Ryan, November 30, 1894
Clark Parker (his preferred name in his later years, dropping Joseph) was not (as Byrnes asserted) an Englishman. He was born in Massachusetts in 1846 to Nathaniel and Mary Parker. His father died two years later, leaving behind four children, of which Joseph Clark Parker was the youngest. Clark followed his brothers into the blacksmithing profession, but started to appear in arrest records of New York and Boston in the late 1860s and early 1870s. He was using the alias “Bill Stetson” as early as 1869. Parker’s first crimes were store burglaries, shoplifting, and picking pockets.
Most of Parker’s crimes committed during the 1870s escaped detection, though his reputation grew as a successful professional crook; he was said to have partnered only with other highly skilled thieves. He took out a passport application in 1873; by 1882 he had earned the nickname “English Bill,” apparently from time he spent overseas.
In November, 1880, Parker robbed a Philadelphia jewelry store; and in 1881, a Hoboken post office. He jumped bail after the Hoboken arrest, and was nabbed for the Philadelphia robbery two years after it occurred, after a witness recognized him on the street. In October, 1882 he was sentenced to three years and six months in the Eastern State Penitentiary for this crime under the alias George Whiting. Upon his release in 1885, he was served a warrant for the Hoboken crime. Once again he met bail, then was not heard from again until arrested in Manchester, England in July 1887 as George Goodwin. Arrested with him was William Murray, aka William A. Brown, “The Wildey’s Kid.”
Sometime before his 1887 arrest in Manchester, Parker had picked up the nickname “Bill the Brute,” though there are conflicting reasons offered for how he earned that moniker. Detroit newspapers mentioned that Parker ferociously resisted arrest in that city on two occasions, one of which pre-dated 1887. In 1892, a Buffalo newspaper asserted that Parker had kicked a man to death in Massachusetts in the early 1870s (but there seems to be no corroboration of this). One obituary of Clark asserts that he killed a deckhand aboard a sailing vessel in 1855 (he was only 9 in 1855) and was jailed for this crime in Massachusetts. Yet another bit of hearsay suggests that Parker killed a jail-keeper in Scotland by smashing his head with a brick and later escaping from the court where he was being tried.
One verifiable act of violence was committed in 1889 against a partner-in-crime, Eddie Guerin, while the two men were dividing the spoils of a bank robbery in French churchyard. Parker shot Guerin, then helped his victim to get medical attention and escape to England–only to betray Guerin to the police there.
After his release in England for the Manchester robbery, and after committing bank robberies in France, Parker returned to New York and was arrested there in 1890 for running a panel room–a type of “badger game” requiring him to act the part of a irate, threatening husband. Later in 1890, he was picked up in Boston on a warrant from Pennsylvania for a jewelry robbery there, but the Governor of Massachusetts refused to surrender Parker.
In 1892, Parker was arrested on suspicion in both New York City and in Buffalo, on both occasions traveling with a well-known bank thief, Big Ed Rice. Both Rice and Parker were well-known to police at this point, and their preferred crime–snatching bills from bank counters–was becoming more difficult to execute. Parker returned to robbing jewelry stores, and was arrested for stealing gems in both Philadelphia and Newport, Rhode Island–but managed to escape conviction. He was, however, taken in New York in 1894 for working with partner Thomas Featherstone to steal from the till of a florist shop.
Parker was arrested in New York in 1896, once again accompanied by Big Ed Rice. However, it some became apparent to the authorities that he could not have committed the crime he was then accused of, so he was released.
After 1896, Clark Parker was not heard from again, although it was known that he was living back in his hometown of Boston in the late 1890s. One of his brothers, Benjamin W. Parker, was a successful, honest molasses broker. During the late 1880s, Clark had sent home much of the spoils of his European crimes for safekeeping by Benjamin. Benjamin, though often mentioned as being an upright citizen, kept the money for his brother and helped him start a new life in Pasadena, California under a new name. In Pasadena, Parker became a fixture of the community and a benefactor to several civic organizations.
Benjamin Parker, as his health faltered in 1910, seems to have struck a deal with Clark: if Clark remained reformed and married a good woman, Benjamin would make him the heir to his molasses fortune. True to his word, when Benjamin expired, his fortune of roughly a million dollars went to Clark Parker–much to the displeasure of Benjamin Parker’s other relatives, particularly one nephew who sued the estate. As a result of that court action, Clark Parker’s real identity was exposed.
During the years that the estate battle dragged on, public sentiment seemed to be with Clark Parker over his nephew. Clark was seen as a having genuinely atoned for his past life, and to have been close to his brother Benjamin; while the nephew was portrayed as being cold and aloof.
When Clark Parker died in 1922, his fortune was divided among the civic organizations in Pasadena that he had championed; and the children of his lawyers and financial managers. He left $100 to the nephew who had tried to wrest his fortune away: Bill the Brute was nothing if not civilized.