#205 R. Sufferage

Robert James Selfridge (Abt. 1861-19??), Henry Murphy, R. J. Sufferage, Robert J. Rummels, Robert James Thompson, Henry Harper, Henry Williams–Thief, Swindler, Bank Sneak

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Thirty-five years old in 1895. Born in New York City. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 136 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, fair complexion. Marks, etc. : Letters “A. S.” on right forearm.

“BOBBY” SUFFERAGE is a well-known New York sneak thief. He operated a bogus theatrical agency in New York in 1882, in company of one Maurace A. Schwab (No. 334), another well-known swindler. Sufferage was convicted on a charge of burglary when he was ten years old and sent to the House of Refuge, New York City, where he remained a year and a half. He was arrested again in New York City on December 14, 1879, for stealing a watch and chain. For this offense he was sentenced to two years and Six months in State Prison, on January 14, 1880, from the Court of General Sessions, New York City.
He was arrested again in New York City on April 13, 1882, in company of Maurace A. Schwab, a well-known swindler, charged with swindling a number of stage-struck girls out of $700 by means of a bogus theatrical agency. For this offense he. was sentenced to three years in State Prison on May 16, 1882, by Recorder Smyth, Court of General Sessions.
Under the name of Robert James Thompson, he was arrested at Liverpool, Eng., on April 17, 1888, for the larceny of £70 in bank notes, from the counter of the Adelphia Bank of Liverpool. He was tried at the Liverpool Assizes on May 3, 1888, and sentenced to five years penal servitude, on May 14, 1888, by Mr. Justice Day.
Under the name of Henry Harper he was arrested at Brussels, Belgium, on December 10, 1894, charged with attempted robbery with use of violence and threats. For this offense he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment by the Judge of the Court of Sessions of Brabant, Belgium, on April 1, I895.
Picture is a good one, taken April, 1882.

Little of the history of Robert J. Selfridge is known outside of Byrne’s recital of his crimes, but his prison intake records offer a few additional clues. For instance, his 1882 Sing Sing admission record (as Robert J. Rummels) asserts that his correct last name is Selfridge. Other prison records list his mother’s name as Ellen G. Selfridge. Ellen’s marriage with fellow Irish-born laborer John James Selfridge dissolved in the 1890s, and she spent her last dozen years in and out of the almshouse, where she died in 1911.

Selfridge’s involvement with the theatrical agent swindler Maurice A. Schwab was likely limited to taking instructions from Schwab, who masterminded many different cons.

Screenshot 2022-01-29 172627

The Sing Sing prison records were also updated to indicate that R. J. Selfridge had returned to New York after his release from Belgium and was arrested for Grand Larceny in April, 1902. He was admitted to Clinton State Prison at Dannemora on May 12. 1902 as Henry Murphy and was released on Oct. 2, 1905, at the age of 45. Like many American sneak bank thieves, he had migrated to Europe in the late 1880s and 1890s, where the security was more lax and their faces less familiar.

His fate after Oct. 1905 is unknown.