From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. A Jew, born in Germany. Married. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/ inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Light brown hair, light brown whiskers and mustache, light complexion, blue eyes. Has a small India ink spot on the left hand between the thumb and forefinger, and a small dark mole on the back of the left hand. Two vaccination marks on each arm. Wears a No. 7 shoe.
RECORD. Wise, or Sondheim (the latter is supposed to be his right name), is a very clever professional pickpocket, bank sneak, confidence man, forger and swindler. He is well known all over the United States, and has been arrested in almost every city in the Union, several of which have his picture in the Rogues’ Gallery.
He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 7, 1877, for a sneak robbery. He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., on July 10, 1880, charged with obtaining $1,000 in money from one H. P. Line, in July, 1875, by falsely representing to him that he had a large amount of jewelry in Adams Express Company’s office, and showed him a bill of the goods marked C. O. D. This case was nolle prosequi, on account of some valuable information given by him to the police authorities in relation to some bank robberies.
He was next arrested in Buffalo, N.Y., under the name of James T. Watson, tried, found guilty in the Superior Court, of forgery and swindling, and sentenced to five years in Auburn prison, New York, on February 7, 1883.
The history of Watson’s operations reveals a series of swindles such as none but a professional could have worked. About the middle of November, 1882, a stranger called at the Merchants’ Bank of Buffalo, New York, and stating that he was in the lumber business, and wished to open an account, deposited $600 in currency. A similar statement was made to the cashier of the Manufacturers and Traders’ Bank of that city, and $1,000 was deposited there. Subsequently Watson deposited in the Merchants’ Bank a draft for $1,700, made by the Second National Bank, of Wilkesbarre, Pa., upon the Fourth National Bank of New York. A draft for $3,400, made by the Cleveland National Bank of Commerce upon the Manhattan Bank of New York, was also deposited in the Manufacturers and Traders’ Bank, Within two days Watson checked against these amounts, leaving but a small balance to his credit. Shortly afterward the Merchants’ Bank discovered that the $1,700 draft had been raised from $17. The other draft was also shown to have been raised from $34. Search was made for Watson, but he had flown, leaving no trace. Descriptions of the swindler and his operations were immediately scattered through the country. A New York detective, seeing the description, immediately associated the criminal with the well known professional “Al” Wilson. Wilson was arrested and held until some of the bank officers from Buffalo arrived to identify him. They were accompanied by Joseph Short, a boy whom Watson employed in his office. The latter immediately identified the swindler. Notwithstanding Wilson’s protestations that he was not the man and had not been out of New York in six months, he was taken to Buffalo, indicted and held for trial.
The trial took place on February 6, 1883, and the court room was crowded. The prisoner, who is a bright, good-looking fellow, appeared sanguine of acquittal, which feeling was shared by his counsel. The bank officials were positive that Wilson was the man, but their testimony was exceedingly conflicting. The office boy swore positively that Wilson and Watson were identical.
The Maverick National Bank of Boston, learning of the arrest, sent a clerk, Henry A. Lowell, to ascertain whether the accused was the individual who swindled its institution of nearly $5,000 under like circumstances a short time before. Lowell identified the prisoner, and swore that he operated in Boston under the name of Whittemore. The defense produced a number of witnesses from New York, who swore that Wilson was in the metropolis when the crime was committed. Detectives from New York testified that Wilson was a professional thief, and had been so for years. Certain witnesses swore that the prisoner had worn a beard during November, and others swore that he wore only a mustache. The testimony being so conflicting, public interest was excited as to the result. The judge’s charge was against the prisoner, and the jury retired at noon, returning at 3:30 p.m., on February 7, 1883, with a verdict of guilty. Watson, who had looked for an acquittal, was surprised, but maintained his composure. Before the sentence was passed he made an eloquent appeal for leniency on the part of the court. He said that he had a wife and mother, who were left penniless. Rising to his full height, he denied that he was a professional thief and said that his innocence would be proved some day. He requested that he might be sent to Sing Sing instead of Auburn, which request was denied. The spectators in court were unanimously of the opinion that Watson is the coolest rascal ever seen.
Sondheim’s Boston operations were as follows: Some time in August, 1882, under the name of Whittemore, he went into the Maverick National Bank and deposited the sum of $2,000, announcing his determination to carry on business at the bank. The following day he entered the bank, bringing with him a boy whom he introduced as a messenger, and who, so he said, would transact his business for him. He then began to draw against the deposit until it was almost gone, when he reappeared and deposited a check for $5,000. The next day the boy also reappeared and drew one-half of the $5,000 deposited, and finished on the following day with drawing the entire deposit, minus about $17. Whittemore, after making a similar attempt upon another banking house in Boston, took his departure for Portland, Me., where he also tried to victimize a banking institution. He then went to Buffalo, where he carried on the operations for which he was found guilty, as above stated. His sentence will expire September 7, 1886.
Wise’s picture is a pretty good one, taken in April, 1877.
From Byrnes’ 1895 edition:
The following extract from a New York daily paper gives an account of Jew Al’s arrest in London, Eng., in 1891:
“PICKPOCKET, SNEAK, CONFIDENCE MAN AND FORGER. LONDON, May 19, 1891.—Edward Pinter, the American, alias ‘Sheeny Al,’ who is charged with attempting to obtain $40,000 from Edwin Streeter, the Bond Street jeweller, by false pretenses, was again under examination to-day at the Marlborough Street Police Court. The prisoner in his own behalf again affirmed that he was able to make gold, and said that he was anxious to prove the truth of this statement in open court. The magistrate, however, objected on the ground that he understood that a horrible stench was one of the features of the experiments. The prisoner then demanded that an official analysis of the powders should be made, and the magistrate agreeing to this, Pinter’s case was adjourned for a week.
“Dr. Dupre, the chemical expert employed by the Government, stated in court that he had found that one of the boxes taken from the prisoner, Pinter, contained pure granulated gold, another calomel, which is a chloride of mercury and carbon, and sulphate of calcium. In answer to a question, Dr. Dupre said that a pound and three-quarters of these powders mixed together would account for the increase of gold which it was said Was found in the crucible. Dr. Dupre assured the court that the ‘terrible smell’ was simply that of ammonia.”
Edward Pinter, the name he gave when arrested in the Streeter case, was sentenced to three months imprisonment on July 27, 1891. He plead guilty to an attempt to swindle Mr. Streeter. He was discharged from prison on October 26, 1891. Re-arrested, charged with swindling a number of people in Switzerland. He was brought up on extradition proceedings in the Bow Street police court of London, on December 8, 1891. After a hearing, the application for his extradition to Switzerland was granted. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment at Zurich, Switzerland, on August 26, 1894. He is wanted in several other places in Europe for similar transactions. The following is an account of one of his transactions in this country previous to his departure for Europe:
“PINTER, THE “GOLD MAKER.” HE IS WELL REMEMBERED IN TWO OF OUR LARGE CITIES. [Special to tile ‘World.’] BALTIMORE, May 19.—The cable dispatches which have recently announced that several noted people had been swindled by a fellow named Pinter, who pretended that he could take a certain amount of gold, and by the addition of certain cheap chemicals and a hot fire, produce three times the original amount of gold, recall the operations of the same pretender in this country. This city was the scene of one of Pinter’s most successful confidence games. He conducted his game here under the name of Gephart, and his net gains while here were in the near neighborhood of $100,000. He came here about three years ago and enlisted the interest of five well-to-do and well-known business men. By agreement between the victims the story has until now been kept a secret. Yesterday one of the Baltimoreans told the story to your correspondent, but with the understanding that the names Of those concerned should not be mentioned. Gephart first called upon a well-known real estate man, and introducing himself, said that he desired his aid in developing a matter which would surely bring a fortune to them both.
“He then unfolded his scheme Of increasing the bulk of gold, and assured the agent that he did not wish him to invest a dollar in the enterprise until all doubt had been removed from his mind of the ability of Gephart to do all he claimed. He invited the agent to call at his rooms on Charles Street, when he would substantiate his claim by practical tests. The agent accompanied him, and gave Gephart a gold dollar with which to make the first experiment. This dollar was placed in a small crucible and a white powder was added by Gephart. The two men took turns at a blow-pipe in increasing the heat in the crucible until the gold was melted and mixed with the chemical. It was then allowed to cool, after which Gephart took it out, gave it to the agent and told him to send it to the United States Mint to be assayed and recoined. The mint officials returned a report showing three times the amount of gold that was put into the crucible. The same tests with larger amounts were continued, and always with the same result. The real-estate agent became convinced of the value of Gephart’s secret, and, lured on by the prospect Of an easy and early fortune, he introduced Gephart to several wealthy citizens, with the view of enlisting them in the enterprise. The same tests were made before them, and they, too, became convinced of Gephart’s ability to increase the bulk of gold. So certain were they Of the truth and value of Gephart’s discovery that they decided to invest $100,000 in the scheme as a starter.
“One of the Gold Increasing Company furnished about $50,000 in gold, and the other four about $10,000 each. They were to share proportionately in the profits. In the presence of the whole party Gephart apparently put all this gold into one of the vats and placed it on the fire. He then put in a quantity of the powder and other chemicals. In doing this, however, he declined to permit any of the party to approach the vat, saying that the fumes of the chemicals would overcome any one not prepared to resist them. A top was put on the vat, and, at the suggestion of Gephart, extra strong locks were procured and the vat was securely fastened with them. The same precautions were taken with the door of the basement. The keys were given to the gentleman in whose house the experiment was being tried. Gephart said the vat must not be opened for three weeks.
“After remaining about the city for several days, Gephart said he was called to a distant city on business, but would return on the day appointed for taking out the gold. The party of investors still had no suspicion, and Gephart left. When the time elapsed he did not return; still none of the party went near the vat. Three days more passed and he did not come, as promised. The real estate agent then became suspicious, and finally persuaded the party to make an investigation. They went to the cellar, and upon opening the vat, they found that the gold had disappeared, while in its place was a lot of rocks and old scrap iron. The men were dumbfounded. A consultation between the swindled ones resulted in the placing of detectives upon the trail of the swindler, but he was never captured.”
“CINCINNATI, May 19, 1891.—Pieter, who has so cleverly worked the myth of the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ in England and this country, is very well known here. In fact, residents of this city are perhaps better acquainted with this suave swindler than people living elsewhere, for it was in this city that his game was discovered before he had victimized any one to any great extent. He came to this city in the fall of 1884, under the name of Ettlinger, or Ellenburger. He was a Hungarian by birth, a fine linguist and highly educated. He had a room with Mme. Krolage, now of No.49 West Ninth Street, but then living where Dr. De John’s residence and office are now, just west of Vine on Ninth. He made the acquaintance of Mr. Gus Wahle, the ex-post master; Mr. Cloud, of the Phoenix Insurance Company; Gen. Hickenlooper, John E. Bell, and other prominent people, and gave them a test of his powers. He had an office in the St. Cloud Building on Main Street, just above Fourth, where John E. Bell has now his real estate office. Mr. Wahle describes the man ‘as being very nervous and a great drinker of cognac, while his eyes were continually winking.’ Mme. Krolage says that he rented her second-story front room, furnished, for $10 a week, drank heavily of cognac and champagne, and was taken away by a Jew from Cleveland, as he was on the verge of delirium tremens.
“One Of the capitalists approached by Ettlinger, though believing in the tests by which the alchemist tripled the quantity of gold, was more careful than his comrades and brought a very shrewd lawyer into the scheme. The latter ‘smelled a mouse,’ and asked the alleged possessor of the philosopher’s stone if he would consent to the capitalists purchasing the materials. The chemist refused, whereupon the lawyer said: ‘Very well, you may buy the materials, but we will provide only for a run of $1,000. We will agree to put into the second run all the first products. You say that you can triple it. Assume that, clear of expenses, it is doubled. Starting with $1,000 and doubling each time, in fourteen runs you produce $4,000,000, or $1,000,000 apiece. That can all be done in less than six months, and as I am no hog, that’s fast enough for me.'”
“But to this the chemist would not consent, and all negotiations were ended by the maker of gold, who, at a champagne dinner given by him to those whom he attempted to defraud, made a speech, in the course of which he said that the distrust of him was so great that he should decline to proceed in the matter any further. Soon afterwards he disappeared and has not been heard of here since then.”