This site was created as an experiment in historical research, using as its basis the landmark 1886 book by Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes of the New York Police Department, Professional Criminals of America.
Written during January 2018-January 2019 as blog entries, these posts revisit those same profiles using genealogical information, government (court and prison) records, and newspaper archives to discover what, if anything, Byrnes missed in his sketches of the most infamous criminals of his age.
Byrnes’s book numbered each of its 204 criminal profiles and organized them (roughly) into groups of bank sneaks, forgers, burglars, female thieves, pickpockets, and con artists. Instead of researching these in order, the subject of each blog post was selected randomly.
Several of the illustrations are reworkings of the “rogue’s gallery” photographs drawn by artist David Birkey. My thanks to David for his willingness to allow their use on this site. Thanks also to Shayne Davidson, who provided good images of the rogues’ gallery photos until I was lucky enough to get a copy of the original 1886 edition. Shayne’s “likes” and comments made a huge difference in helping the project along.
I have not cited my source material, but can provide those on request; as sources are requested, I may use the WordPress plugin that allows the insertion of popup footnotes. I also maintain a public tree on Ancestry.com named Professional Criminals of America used to explore the genealogy of these individuals.
At the project’s onset, I wondered if the result might eventually be converted to book format; but after completing all 204 profiles, the sheer bulk of all the text and images likely would require two or three print volumes, and would find a much smaller audience than online.
There are ways in which the project could be continued or expanded: with research into the additional criminals listed in Byrnes’s 1895 edition; with research on the notable criminals of his age that Byrnes omitted; with research into notable American criminals whose careers ended before 1886, etc. The possibility that any of these will ever be realized by my hand has to be measured against interest in other projects that don’t involve criminals.