#89 Frank McCoy

Frank McCoy (Abt. 1843-1905), aka Big Frank McCoy, Frank McDonald, Francis H. Carter — Bank Robber

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in Troy, N.Y. Medium build. Cabinet-maker by trade. Married. Height, 5 feet 11 3/4 inches. Weight, 176 pounds. Dark-red hair, light-gray eyes, full face, sandy complexion, bald on front of head, dimple in point of chin. Has letters “F. M. C.” in India ink on right fore-arm, a cross and heart on left fore-arm. Generally wears long, heavy red whiskers and mustache.

RECORD. Frank McCoy, alias Big Frank, is a famous bank burglar, and a desperate criminal. He is one of the men who originated the “butcher-cart business,” robbing bank messengers and others in the street, and quickly making off with the plunder by jumping into a butcher cart or wagon.

He was arrested with Jimmy Hope, Ike Marsh, Jim Brady, George Bliss, and Tom McCormack, in Wilmington, Del., for an attempt to rob the National Bank of Delaware, on November 7, 1873. They were convicted on November 25, 1873, and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, one hour in the pillory, and forty lashes. McCoy and McCormack made their escape from New Castle jail, with tools furnished by Bill Robinson, alias Gopher Bill.

McCoy was associated with Jimmy Hope in the robbery of the Beneficial Savings Fund and other savings banks in Philadelphia, and several other robberies. He is said to have stolen over two million dollars during his criminal career. He is well known all over the United States, and is a treacherous criminal, as several officers can attest. He owes his nickname, “Big Frank,” to his stature.

He was arrested in June, 1876, near Suffolk, Va., a small town between Norfolk and Petersburg, in company of Tom McCormack and Gus Fisher, alias Sandford. A lot of burglars’ tools was found concealed near the railroad depot there, and suspicion pointed to them as the owners. The citizens armed themselves and tracked the burglars with bloodhounds to their tent, which they had pitched in a dismal swamp near the village. They were arrested, taken to the Suffolk jail, and chained to the floor. McCoy was shortly after returned to Delaware prison, from where he afterwards escaped. Fisher, alias Sandford, was sent to Oxford, N.J., and was tried for a burglary. McCormack managed to regain his liberty through his lawyer, in October, 1876.

McCoy was arrested again in New York City on August 12, 1878, charged with robbing C.H. Stone, the cashier of Hale’s piano-forte manufactory. The cashier was knocked down and robbed at the corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Ninth Avenue, New York City, on his return from the West Side Bank, on August 3, 1878. In this case McCoy was discharged, as Mr. Stone was unable to identify him.

McCoy was arrested again in New York City on April 12, 1881, charged with robbing Heaney’s pawnbroker’s establishment, on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, on March 8, 1875, of $2,000 worth of jewelry, etc. He was arrested for this robbery in 1879, and upon an examination before Judge Terry, of Brooklyn, he was discharged. The grand jury afterwards indicted him, and he was arrested again as above, and committed to Raymond Street jail. He afterwards gave bail, and was released.

He was finally arrested again in New York City on May 26, 1885, on suspicion of being implicated in a conspiracy to rob the Butchers and Drovers’ Bank of New York City, in connection with one Gustave Kindt, alias French Gus, a notorious burglar and toolmaker. No case being made out against him, he was delivered to the Sheriff of Wilmington, Del., on November 6, 1885, and taken back to the jail that he had twice escaped from, to serve out the remainder of his ten years’ sentence.

McCoy has killed two men during his criminal career, one on the Bowery, New York, and another in a saloon in Philadelphia, Pa., some years ago. Frank’s picture was taken in August, 1878.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

He was pardoned by Governor Reynolds of Delaware on November 18, 1892. His time would have expired in February, 1893. Since his release he has been trying to live honestly. He was employed in the pool-rooms in New York—when in existence—and on the race-tracks by book makers.

Big Frank McCoy had a rich criminal history long before Byrnes picks up his story, as can be seen from this summary from an 1885 New York Herald story:

The “West Garden National Bank” referred to in this article appears to be the Beneficial Savings Fund Bank, robbed in April 1869. Jimmy Hope was involved in this job, and helped return the plunder to the needy families whose savings were stolen.

The Wilmington, Delaware bank robbery debacle was one of the most notable crimes of the 1870s–not because it succeeded, but due to the fact that it involved five of the most skilled bank robbers of the era: Jimmy Hope, Frank McCoy, Jim Brady, George Bliss, and Tom McCormick–and that they were punished not only with imprisonment, but with a public flogging, followed by a daring escape.

McCoy was quickly recaptured, but escaped a second time. After being caught in a failed bank robbery in Suffolk, Virginia, McCoy was sent back to Delaware to serve out his sentence–and escaped a third time.

Despite being wanted in Delaware, McCoy lived openly in Long Island City, Queens, from 1881 to 1885, operating a pool hall. McCoy was far from remaining honest, though, as this story about how he and Red Leary stole $5000 by cheating a gambling hall attests:

In 1885, McCoy was arrested in New York on suspicion of planning a job with Gus Kindt; he was discharged by the court, but Inspector Byrnes conveniently chose to send him back to Delaware to serve out the sentence he had escaped from three times. McCoy later maintained that Byrnes did so to apply pressure on Jimmy Hope to cough up the bonds stolen from the Manhattan Savings Bank.

McCoy finally paid Delaware the time he owed, and was pardon by the Governor there in 1892.

McCoy died poor in Bellevue Hospital in 1905, but not before giving a few deathbed interviews to several New York newspapers. He regretted his life of crime and wished he had gone into politics instead. He recalled his adventures with Jimmy Hope fondly.

“I’ve never killed a man…,” Frank stated, “That thought is my one consolation.”

Perhaps what Frank meant to say was that he had never killed a man except that deserved it, for he had shot dead John Steiger in 1867 over the proceeds of a burglary they had committed; and also killed Philadelphia thief Patsey Williams in a saloon in 1870.


#38 Charles J. Everhardt

Charles J. Everhardt (Abt. 1842-19??), aka Marsh Market Jake, Charles Williams, George Walsh, Charles Webb, Greenback Charley, George Hartman, Samuel Peters, Charles Koch, Charles McGloin, George Jones, Samuel Wells, William Helburne, etc. — Sneak thief, forger

Link to Byrnes’s text for #38 Charles J. Everhardt

Despite his distinctive name, nickname, and numerous mentions in Professional Criminals of America, there are several mysteries surrounding “Marsh Market Jake.” Most sources agree he was raised in Baltimore, which had a neighborhood (and street gang) named Marsh Market. Baltimore had a large German population, with many families named Everhardt/Everhart/Everhard–but there are no leads indicating whether Jake came from one of them. The same sources locating his early years in Baltimore also say that he was a thief since youth; yet there are no Baltimore crime reports of a chronic offender by this name.

Before any known criminal activities, Jake served in the military, according to the 1890 Veteran Schedule records filled out in Sing Sing. Those indicate that he served three months (May-August 1861) in the 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; and then enlisted in the Navy in 1862 and served over thirty months on the USS Brandywine during its blockade of the Virginia coast.

In January 1870, Everhardt, alias Charles Williams alias George Walsh, was arrested twice in Philadelphia: once for snatching bills away from a man at a bank; and secondly for trying to shoplift a bolt of satin. He was sentenced to six years and nine months in Eastern State Penitentiary.

After leaving ESP, Everhardt teamed up with Philly Pearson and George Williams for an 1876 bank robbery in Montreal, but were captured. Everhardt was sentenced to three and a half years.

In April 1880, Everhardt was back in Philadelphia and led a gang that opened a safe in a whisky store, stealing $2200. His partners were Kid Carroll (identified by Byrnes as “Little Al Wilson”), George Williams, and Billy Morgan. They were each sentenced to eighteen months in Eastern State Penitentiary.

A Cincinnati detective was convinced that Everhardt, Tom Bigelow, John Jourdan, and Charles Benedict were responsible for the October 1881 theft of $20,000 in bonds from Senator Burton in Cincinnati, but the case was never proved, nor were they ever arrested.

In May 1882, Everhardt and Philly Pearson were caught with a third man, known by the alias Charles Wilson, in Kingston, Ontario. They were accused of robbing a Toronto jewelry store; Pheason gave his name as John Miller, and Everhardt gave the name Charles Webb. They were sentenced to five years in the Kingston Penitentiary, but with time reduced were out in March 1885.

Three months later, Everhardt and Pearson were arrested on suspicion in Philadelphia, where Jake offered the aliases William Helburne and Albert Rudolph. Pearson gave the name George Thompson. Though the evidence against them was circumstantial, they were given ninety days in jail.

Upon his release in August 1885, Jake hooked up with Charles Fisher’s gang of check forgers. Fisher and Everhardt were briefly detained by police in Boston, but were let go. In New York, the gang–including Everhardt, Fisher, Walter Pierce, and Charles Denken–were tracked by Byrnes’s detectives, who succeeded in corralling the gang and charged them with several counts of presenting forged checks. Everhardt’s protege, Kid Carroll, was arrested for attempting to lay one of the checks in Baltimore. In January 1886, Marsh Market Jake was sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing.

Jake’s sentence was commuted and he was released from Sing Sing in November 1892.

Everhardt returned to New York and resided there under the alias Samuel Wells, and situated himself as a trader in jewelry. In October 1894, Secret Service and Postal Inspectors had Everhardt arrested on charges that he had broken into and stolen $5000 in stamps from the New Albany, Indiana post office. When he was taken in New York, officials found $3000 in stamps in his possession. Everhardt was brought up on charges in a federal court in Indiana and convicted, despite calling in many respectable witnesses who swore they saw him in New York at the time of the robbery.

Everhardt was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. In October 1896, just four months shy of completing his term, Jake was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland. The Secret Service and Post Office had discovered after his conviction that others committed the robbery.

Jake returned to New York, but within a few years had exhausted every means of legal income. He checked in with Chief Detective George F. Titus, a former lawyer, and Titus got him a job as a watchman on the New York subway construction project.

Many years later, it was said that he died in a poorhouse, but the date and location is unknown.




#192 John Carroll

John Carroll (Abt. 1863-????), aka John F. Barnes — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-three years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, straight nose, slim face, light complexion. Has India ink spot on left arm.

RECORD. Young Carroll is a first-class bank sneak. He traveled through the country with Charles J. Everhardt, alias Marsh Market Jake (30), working the banks. Carroll was known as “Marsh Market Jake’s Kid.” A number of people claim that this is the boy that used to work with Rufe Minor, alias Pine (1). Such is not the case, as Jake brought this boy out and left him behind him in Baltimore. He is not the first man that Jake left behind.

Jake and “The Kid” entered the Citizens’ Bank in Baltimore, Md., on October 22, 1885, and did what is called a “turn trick.” A citizen, named Jeremiah Townsend, had drawn some money and was in the act of counting it, when Carroll, who gave the name of James F. Barnes, called his attention to some bills on the floor. While Mr. Townsend was in the act of picking up the money from the floor, Carroll snatched $525 of the money from the desk. He was not quick enough, however, as Mr. Townsend caught him and held him until he was arrested. Jake, as usual, made good his escape. Carroll, alias Barnes, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years and six months in the Maryland penitentiary, at Baltimore, on October 24, 1885. See Commutation Laws of Maryland for expiration of sentence. Carroll’s picture is an excellent one, taken in October, 1885.

There is little to distinguish John “The Kid” Carroll from dozens of other men of the same name, age and larcenous tendencies, and the crimes mentioned by Byrnes in his 1886 and 1895 editions offer few clues to Carroll’s origins, fate, or full career.

But that does not mean that nothing can be said about “The Kid.” In fact, John Carroll was singled out for special mention in connection with the theories Havelock Ellis, the famous writer, physician, and proponent of the scientific study of human sexuality. Before turning his attention to subjects such as social reform, sexuality, procreation, eugenics, and hallucinogens, in the late 1880s, Ellis was an authority on criminal anthropology.

Following years of study, Ellis reached a conclusion, published in his 1890 book, The Criminal:

“Large voluminous ears are the most marked characteristic of the criminal,”Ellis declared.

In a feature article on Ellis’s book, the St. Louis Post Dispatch put his contention to the test by examining the rogues gallery photos in Byrnes’s book.

“Of all the men whom Inspector Byrnes has selected probably the most peculiar and in many respects the worst is Eddie McGee. His offenses were manifold and daring. He was finally sent to prison for burglary in Brooklyn. He carries with him the largest ears in the rogues’ gallery. The lobe must be an inch long and the whole ear four inches. They branch from the head at a right angle.

“One more portrait is worth attention. It is that of John Carroll, alias ‘Kid Carroll,’ the bank sneak. His ears are nearly as long as McGee’s, but are narrow and pinched laterally and come out straight from the head.”

While the idea that large ears are somehow related to criminality is ridiculous, the study of ear measurements and shapes remains a crucial component of facial recognition–and was credited by several detectives as the trait they used to spot criminals they had not seen in years.


#70 Edward Lyons

Edward Lyons (Abt. 1839-1906?), aka Ned Lyons, Alexander Cummings — Sneak thief, pickpocket, bank robber, green goods operator

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Stout build. Height, about 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 180 pounds. Hair inclined to be sandy. Wears it long, covering the ears, one of which (the left one) has the top off. Wears a very heavy reddish mustache. Bald on front of head, forming a high forehead.
RECORD. Ned Lyons was born in Manchester, England, in 1839; came to America in 1850. His father had hard work to make both ends meet and look after his children, and in consequence young Ned had things pretty much his own way. They lived in West Nineteenth Street, New York City, a neighborhood calculated to develop whatever latent powers Ned possessed. The civil war, with its attractions in the shape of bounties, etc., proved a bonanza while it lasted, and after that Ned loomed up more prominently under the tuition of Jimmy Hope (20). He was afterwards a partner of Hope’s, and was arrested several times, but never convicted.
In 1869 Lyons, Hope, Bliss, Shinborn, and others, robbed the Ocean Bank, of New York, of money and bonds amounting to over a million of dollars. The bank was situated on the corner of Fulton and Greenwich streets. A basement directly underneath was hired, ostensibly as an exchange. To this office tools were carried, and a partition erected, between which the burglars worked day and night, when opportunity served, cutting up through the stone floor of the bank, and gaining an entrance on Saturday night, after the janitor had left. To tear open the vaults was a task requiring time; but they operated so well, that on Monday morning the iron front door of the bank was found unlocked, the vault literally torn to pieces, and the floor strewn with the debris of tools, mortar, stone, bricks, bonds, and gold coin — the bonds being left behind as worthless, and the gold coin as too heavy.
A few years before this robbery Lyons married a young Jewess, named Sophie Elkins, alias Levy (128), protegee of Mrs. Mandlebaum. Her mania for stealing was so strong that when in Ned’s company in public she plied her vocation unknown to him, and would surprise him with watches, etc., which she had stolen. Ned expostulated, pleaded with, and threatened her, but without avail; and after the birth of her first child, George (who, by the way, has just finished his second term for burglary in the State Reformatory at Elmira, N.Y.), Ned purchased a farm on Long Island, and furnished a house with everything a woman could wish for, thinking her maternal instinct would restrain her monomania; yet within six months she returned to New York, placed her child out to nurse, and began her operations again, finally being detected and sentenced to Blackwell’s Island.
Early in the winter of 1870 Lyons, in connection with Jimmy Hope, George Bliss, Ira Kingsland, and a well known Trojan, rifled the safe of the Waterford (N.Y.) Bank, securing $150,000. Lyons, Kingsland and Bliss were arrested, and sentenced to Sing Sing prison. Hope was shortly after arrested for a bank robbery in Wyoming County, and sentenced to five years in State prison at Auburn, N.Y., on November 28, 1870. He escaped from there in January, 1873.
Lyons escaped from Sing Sing in a wagon on December 4, 1872. About two weeks after Ned’s escape (December 19, 1872), he, in company of another person, drove up in the night-time to the female prison that was then on the hill at Sing Sing. One of them, under pretense of bringing a basket of fruit to a sick prisoner, rang the bell; whereupon, by a pre-concerted arrangement, Sophie, his wife, who had been sent there on October 9, 1871, for five years, rushed out, jumped into the carriage, and was driven away.
They both went to Canada, where Ned robbed the safe of a pawnbroker, securing $20,000 in money and diamonds, and returned to New York, where their four children had been left — the eldest at school, the younger ones in an orphanage.
About this time (September, 1874) the bank at Wellsboro, Pa., was robbed. Lyons was strongly suspected of complicity, with George Mason and others, in this robbery. Although Sophie and Ned were escaped convicts, they succeeded in evading arrest for a long time.
Both of them were finally arrested at the Suffolk County (L.I.) Fair, at Riverhead, in the first week in October, 1876, detected in the act of picking pockets. Two weeks later he was tried in the Court of Sessions of Suffolk County, L.I., found guilty, and sentenced to three years and seven months in State prison, by Judge Barnard.
Sophie was discharged, re-arrested on October 29, 1876, by a detective, and returned to Sing Sing prison to finish out her time. Lyons had on his person when arrested at Riverhead $13,000 of good railroad bonds.
In 1869 Lyons had a street fight with the notorious Jimmy Haggerty, of Philadelphia (who was afterwards killed by Reddy the Blacksmith, in Eagan’s saloon, corner Houston Street and Broadway). During the melee Haggerty succeeded in biting off the greater portion of Lyons’ left ear.
On October 24, 1880, shortly after Ned’s release from prison, in a drunken altercation, he was shot at the Star and Garter saloon on Sixth Avenue, New York City, by Hamilton Brock, better known as “Ham Brock,” a Boston sporting man. Brock fired two shots, one striking Lyons in the jaw and the other in the body. Lyons was arrested again on July 31, 1881, in the act of breaking into the store of J. B. Johnson, at South Windham, Conn. He pleaded guilty in the Windam County Superior Court, on September 14, 1881, and was sentenced to three years in State prison at Wethersfield, Conn. At the time of his arrest in this case he was badly shot. That he is now alive, after having a hole put through his body, besides a ball in the back, embedded nine inches, seems almost a miracle.
Upon the expiration of Ned’s sentence in Connecticut, in April, 1884, he was rearrested, and taken to Springfield, Mass., to answer to an indictment charging him with a burglary at Palmer, Mass., on the night of July 27, 1881. Four days before he was shot at South Windham, Lyons, with two companions, entered the post-office and drug store of G. L. Hitchcock, and carried away the contents of the money-drawer and a quantity of gold pens, etc. They also took a safe out of the store, carried it a short distance out of the village, broke it open, and took some things valued at $350 from it. In this case Lyons was sentenced to three years in State prison on May 29, 1884. His picture was taken while he was asleep at the hospital in Connecticut, in 1881.
From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:
After Lyons’ release from the Massachusetts State Prison, he went West and was arrested at Kent, 0., on June 10, 1887, in company of Shang Campbell (see No. 107) and Ned Lyman (see No. 102), two other well-known eastern thieves, charged with robbing a passenger on a railway train near Kent, Portage Co., 0., on June 10, 1887. Lyons and Lyman were sentenced to five years imprisonment in the penitentiary at Columbus, 0., on September 4, I887. Shang Campbell gave bail and forfeited it. Since Lyons’ release he has been engaged in the “green goods” business, making his head quarters near Perth Amboy, N.J.

Nearly all of Ned Lyon’s criminal career took place within the epic melodrama that had at its center his one-time wife, Sophie Lyons. Her story, involving not only Ned, but her other erstwhile husbands: Maury Harris, Jim Brady and Billy Burke; not to mention other notable friends and lovers, involves a huge swath of American criminal history. She was more than a notable member of the underworld community, she was one of its foremost chroniclers.

Sophie never honestly told her own story, and her criminal reminiscences were only infrequently based on her own recollections, and otherwise relied on other sources (like Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America), and a large dose of fabrication. A full, accurate, well-researched biography of Sophie’s life has never been published, but it may not be long before one appears.
Because any long-overdue study of Sophie Lyons will cover the major events of Ned’s criminal career–and Byrnes mentions most of them–put those aside and consider two parts of Ned’s life that are likely to defy definitive research: his origins and his death. According to different reports, Ned was born in America, Ireland, England, or Scotland; and grew up in New York City or Boston. Fortunately, starting in 1856, Lyons left a long trail of shoplifting and pickpocket arrests in Boston–which also point back to Lowell, Massachusetts, where a few articles believe Lyons was raised. He was often caught with a pal named Michael Sullivan. The 1850 census shows a boy Edward Lyons, 11, living in Lowell with his mother Bridget. Born were listed as having been born in Ireland.

By 1858, Lyons was moving between Boston and New York to avoid arrests, and had already served more than one term in Boston’s House of Corrections. When the Civil War broke out, he set aside his career as a pickpocket to join the more lucrative venture of army recruitment bounty fraud, joining other thieves who congregated at Robert “Whitey Bob” White’s saloon at 104 Prince Street. There Lyons was mentored by the likes of Tom Bigelow, Dan Barron, and Dan Noble. It was during this period–the end of 1864 and into 1865–that Lyons met Sophie, who had just given up on her short marriage to pickpocket Morris Harris.
Skipping ahead to Lyons’s sad final years, in October 1904 he was spotted by detectives on a street in Buffalo, New York, and arrested on suspicion. He said he had been living in Buffalo for the past six months. They held him until they sent out a notice to the Pinkerton agency and to major metropolitan police departments asking if he was currently wanted; but he was not, so he was released.
In January 1906, Lyons was arrested in Toronto, Ontario under the alias Alexander Cummings. He was accused by James Tierney of Brooklyn of working a “green goods” con, in which Lyons was well-versed. Ned had run a successful green goods operation out of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in the mid 1890s, until its operations were exposed by New York’s Lexow Committee on corruption.
Once Toronto authorities had captured Lyons, Mr. Tierney came from Brooklyn to identify him as he languished in jail. When Tierney was shown into his cell, Lyons smiled, extended his hand, and said, “Shake with me.”
“Never. I could see you die in jail,” hissed Tierney, drawing back. “You know the turn you did me. I am only a poor man, drawing $14 a week, but I would go to the ends of the earth to see you punished.”
Lyons himself was likely poorer than his victim. His clothes were shabby; his hair was now snow white. He suffered the lingering effects of bullets left in his body, and years of wear from confinement in State prisons. Despite Tierney’s testimony, no evidence existed to convict Lyons, so he was discharged and told to leave the province in February 1906.
Less than a year later, in January 1907, a short notice in a Chicago paper mentioned that Lyons had passed away the previous year in New York’s Bellevue hospital and had been buried in a potter’s field. However, no death record dated 1906 has surfaced. There is a May 22, 1907 New York City death record for an Edward Lyons, but no confirmation that this was Ned.

#27 Frank Buck

Charles Taylor (Abt. 1843–????), aka George Rush, Frank Bailey, Frank Buck, Buck/Bucky/Buckey Taylor — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in Philadelphia, Pa. Married. Engineer. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Light hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Three India ink dots on left hand, one on right hand. Bald on front of head. Generally wears a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. “Buck” is a very clever bank sneak. He has been working with Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace (25), since 1881. He has also worked with Langdon W. Moore, alias Charley Adams (22), Johnny Price and other notorious bank sneaks.

“Buck” was arrested in June, 1881, at Philadelphia, Pa., with Horace Hovan (25), for the larceny of $10,950 in securities from a broker’s office in that city. He was convicted of burglary and sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia with Hovan, on July 2, 1881. His time dated back to June 6, 1881. Hovan was pardoned.

Buck served his time, and afterwards joined Hovan in Washington, D.C., in May, 1884. They both traveled around the country and were arrested coming out of a bank in Boston on June 18, 1884, and their pictures taken for the Rogues’ Gallery.

Buck and Hovan went to Europe in the spring of 1885, and Buck returned alone the same fall, Horace having been arrested there and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for the larceny of a package of money from a bank safe. Buck’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Since 1885 he has spent a good deal of the time in Europe. Buck, Porter, Johnny Curtain and other fly American thieves have been engineered in Europe by Adam Worth (215), the American ex-thief, still under indictment in Boston for the famous Boylston bank robbery. Worth is a receiver of stolen goods in London, whose place is the rendezvous of all American thieves when they go to that city. He was formerly a bank burglar in this country, and has made a fortune out of his business.

Frank Buck, alias Bailey, alias Allen, etc., and Billy O’Brien, alias Porter, was arrested at London, Eng., on June 21, 1888, on an extradition warrant charging them with burglarizing a jewelry store on the Marionplatz, in Munchen, Germany, on April 29, 1888. It was alleged that property of the value of £50,000 was stolen.

Billy Porter was discharged from custody in London, on September 27, 1888. He proved that he was born on an English vessel, was an English subject, and therefore not extraditable. Buck was sentenced in this case to ten years imprisonment, and ten years loss of civil rights and police surveillance, by the Judge of the Circuit Court of Munchen, Bavaria, on September 22, 1889. He was delivered to the German authorities by England on October 10, 1888, and was in prison there until his trial in September, 1889.

Tracing Frank Buck’s origins takes one down a plausible, but by no means conclusive, path. On the other hand, tracing his fate from the point where he was imprisoned in Germany leads to an enormous red herring. That false trail can be blamed on certain law authorities and/or newspaper writers on the East Coast of America jumping to a conclusion based on one alias that was used by two different men, one of whom was Frank Buck: the alias was “Buck Taylor”.

In 1901, an employee of the Selby Smelter works in Contra Costa County, California, by the name of Jack Winters tunneled beneath the company’s office, removed a portion of brick floor, and drilled through the bottom of the office safe. Inside the safe were the latest finished products of the smelter: bars of gold bullion. Winters got away with $280,000 in gold–the largest gold robbery in California. Initially, authorities believed a whole gang of professional safe burglars was involved. Evidence led detectives to believe that it had been an inside job, and the trail led to Winters. When he was arrested, local authorities announced his capture, and sent out a bulletin listing Winters known aliases, one of which was “Buck Taylor.”

Newspapers in Boston were the first to print headlines claiming that Buck Taylor, aka Frank Buck, the famous burglar pal of Horace Hovan and Billy Porter, had almost pulled off a huge gold heist single-highhandedly. No one had heard of Frank Buck since he was thrown in a German prison in 1888, so it was possible that he had gone to California upon his release, gotten a job at the smelter, and then robbed it. Newspapers in New York and elsewhere in the northeast reprinted the story.

However, they overlooked the discrepancy in the men’s ages: Jack Winters was in his mid-thirties; Frank Buck, in 1901, would have been nearly sixty. The false story never would have been printed had they compared Frank Buck’s picture in Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America (top, taken in 1884) with a picture of Jack Winters (bottom taken in 1901):

The truth is that no credible word about Frank Buck’s fate was ever published after he entered the German prison in 1889.

What of his origins? Byrnes states that Frank Buck came from Philadelphia; and the first arrest that Byrnes cites is from June, 1881, when he and Horace Hovan were nabbed for stealing bonds from a securities broker in Philadelphia. On this occasion, Buck gave the alias “George Rush,” but was recognized as an old Philadelphia burglar, “Bucky Taylor.” The Philadelphia Inquirer of June 4, 1881, recalled, “Taylor is the man who committed the $17,000 silk robbery at Benson’s and served a time for the offense.”

The robbery that the Inquirer was referring to took place in September, 1870 at the Besson & Son’s store in Philadelphia. Soon after the robbery, three men were arrested. One was the most notorious thief and gang leader in Philadelphia, Jimmy Logue. The other two men were named as Buck Taylor and Bill Price. Various newspaper accounts also offered Taylor’s name as Charles Taylor; and, indeed, that was the name he was imprisoned under at Eastern State Penitentiary for this crime.

This was not Charles Taylor’s first brush with crime. Philadelphia newspapers between 1865 and 1870 printed numerous items where Taylor was arrested for picking pockets and other forms of thievery.

However, there were several young men named Charles Taylor living in Philadelphia in the 1860s; so there the trail ends.

#74 William O’Brien

William O’Brien (1850-1892), aka Billy Porter, Leslie L. Langdon, William Davis, William Morton, etc. — Bank robber, burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #74 William O’Brien


Billy Porter was one of the most celebrated criminals of the late 1870s and 1880s, with a career that coincided with the prime of Inspector Byrnes’s authority, though the two rarely intersected. Although a thief, Porter was admired by many for his fearlessness and willingness to stand up for his friends, as he did when thief John Walsh shot Porter’s friend and partner John Irving in Shang Draper’s saloon. Walsh also died of a bullet wound, and Porter was tried and acquitted for his killing; but nearly everyone believed that Porter was responsible.

Porter was also a great friend to the hero of the age, boxer John L. Sullivan. Sullivan had visited Billy in his cell when Billy had been jailed in the Kings County Penitentiary in the early 1880s. Porter later accompanied Sullivan as his guard during Sullivan’s legendary prizefight against Charley Mitchell in Chantilly, France in 1888. Porter hovered in Sullivan’s corner with revolvers in each of his coat pockets, which were later needed to clear the crowd so that he could help Sullivan evade the gendarmes that dispersed the gathering (after the match had been fought to a bloody draw).

Billy Porter was raised in Boston, but there are few anecdotes about his early years, other than this revealing item from an 1886 article in the Boston Globe:


For anyone who considers looking at the family history of criminals to be an idle waste of time, consider this: it was genealogical research that proved to be Billy Porter’s salvation; and then later led to the downfall that killed him. Therein lies a story.

In 1886, Porter traveled to Europe, where, under the direction of Adam Worth, he traveled from country to country pulling off large burglaries with other American thieves. In July 1888, Scotland Yard arrested Billy and Frank Buck on suspicion of a huge jewelry robbery committed in Munich. In their residence, authorities found some of the stolen German gems, as well as uncut diamonds. Buck and Porter were detained pending the arrival of extradition papers from Munich.

However, the small print of the extradition treaty that existed between Great Britain and Germany stipulated that British citizens were not subject to extradition. When the two thieves were called for their hearing in London, they made the claim that they were British subjects. Buck maintained that he was Canadian, but had little proof. However, Porter’s lawyer called Billy’s Irish uncle as a witness. The uncle swore that his sister (Billy’s mother) left for American right after her marriage, and had a son born at sea on a British vessel. A marriage and birth certificate were submitted in support of the story.

The chief magistrate of the police court hearing the case had heard similar claims before, and rejected their argument. Frank Buck was sent to Germany and was later sentenced to a ten-year term. Many newspapers in the United States reported that the claim of both of the thieves had been rejected, and assumed that Porter was shipped to Munich along with Frank Buck. However, Billy Porter appealed the magistrate’s decision; over a period of months Porter’s representatives made their case, and in the end he won his appeal and was freed.

Though he had lost one partner, Billy was eager to resume his career with another old friend, Horace Hovan. In 1890, Billy and Hovan were caught attempting a burglary in Bordeaux, France. Porter knew that if he was forced to serve a sentence in France, he would subsequently be taken to Germany to stand trial there. For the burglary in France, Porter was found guilty and given a light sentence: two years; still, because of the threat of then being taken to Germany, he appealed his French sentence. Billy appealed  on the basis of once again claiming to be a British subject, and submitting the same proofs that he had been born in the Atlantic Ocean on a British ship.

The French magistrate before whom Billy made his appeal listened to his argument, then offered his reaction. The judge conceded that there had been a mistake in Billy’s sentence of two years. But the mistake was in being too lenient. Instead, he ordered Porter to serve twenty years at the French penal colony on New Caledonia, off the coast of Australia.

This is one of the last anecdotes told about Billy Porter’s fate. Earlier reports suggested he had been freed in France, and was in hiding in London. One New York reporter swore that he had seen him on the streets of New York. A flurry of anonymous reports surfaced in August 1892 asserting that he had died in Bordeaux from heart disease. These seem to be the most credible accounts, though they are unclear as to whether he was serving a sentence or detained on an appeal of being transported to New Caledonia. Definitive proof of Billy’s death likely exists in French judicial files.





#24 George Mason

George B. Gordon (1841-????), aka George Mason, George B. Graham, George Gardiner, George Smith — Burglar, Bank robber

Link to Byrnes’s text for #24 George Mason

George Mason was one of the leading bank robbers from the 1860s through the 1880s, yet little is known of his personal life. Byrnes states that he was born in Boston, brought to New York at an early age, orphaned, and sent to Sing Sing before he was twenty. None of this can be confirmed. Byrnes’s mentions of bank robberies Mason conducted with Jimmy Hope are far off the mark–the Wilmington robbery occurred in 1873, not 1863; and the 1865 robbery of a Baltimore bank appears to be a reference to the huge 1869 robbery of a bank in New Windsor, Maryland. [efn_note]”A Baltimore Bank Robbery,” New York Times, January 26, 1869.[/efn_note]These represent just two errors in Byrnes’s sloppy account of Mason’s crimes.


The traceable beginnings of Mason’s career are found in Philadelphia, following the Civil War. There he gained a reputation as a burglar, and one who was prepared to fight any arrest attempt. In February 1867, an officer spotted Mason and a pal on the street, and had instructions to bring him in.  Mason resisted, using a blackjack to knock down the officer. A second patrolman arrived on the scene and knock Mason down with his club. As a result, Mason was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary for three years on a charge of assault and battery.

If Mason was released early in 1869, it is possible he could have been a member of the gang that hit the bank in New Windsor, Maryland; the other members were rumored to include Ned Lyons, Jimmy Hope, and Max Shinburn. Later in 1869, Lyons, Hope, Mason and Big Haggerty attempted several bank robberies in New England: one was in September, at the Rochester (New Hampshire) Savings Bank; and the second was in October at the Townsend (Massachusetts) Bank. In both cases, explosions woke the town, but did not breach the inner vault door. The same thing happened a third time, in December 1869, when the vault of the Lumberman’s Bank in Oldtown, Maine, was dynamited. This time, the outer door of the vault lodged itself to block the inner door, once again stymieing the thieves.

Mason was found back committing burglaries in Philadelphia in 1870. In June of that year, he was arrested leaving the scene of a house burglary in which a safe was unsuccessfully blasted. He appears to have escaped punishment, because in late August he was arrested for the robbery of a silk store in Philadelphia. He was released on a straw bond and disappeared. In September 1870, Mason, Lyons, and Hope were arrested for an attempted bank robbery in Warsaw, New York, in which Mason was released. This was followed with a failed attempt in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in November 1870.

Mason’s whereabouts between late 1870 and early 1874 are not clear, though officers in Philadelphia did say they just missed arresting him there in October 1872. Byrnes’s account of Mason’s activities is useless, for Byrnes got the dates of several robberies mixed up, and some [Covington KY bank robbery; Planters Bank of Virginia robbery] can’t even be identified.

In February 1874, Mason was said to be in the gang that included Dave Cummings, Robert C. Scott and Mose Vogel that robbed the bank in Quincy, Ill. of $200,000. With Scott and Vogel, he was also said to have next attempted a robbery in Des Moines, Iowa, but had to flee on foot through bitter cold and snow.

In September, with Jimmy Hope, Ned Lyons and others, Mason took hostage the family of the cashier of the Wellsboro, Pennsylvania bank. The story of Mason’s gentle treatment of the frightened hostages is recounted in a column by newspaperman Louis Megargee, reprinted in the REVISED entry for James Hope. A month later, in October Mason was with a gang that used similar tactics to rob a bank in Milford, New Hampshire.

In 1875, Mason was rumored to have been involved with planning the first assault on the Manhattan Saving Institution–though he was not involved by the time the job finally came off in October of 1878.

In July 1876, Mason was arrested as G. B. Graham in a Pittsburgh hotel and held for authorities from Tioga County, Pennsylvania who charged him with participation in the 1874 Wellsboro robbery. Jimmy Hope tried to break Mason out of the Tioga County jail by blasting the outer jail wall, but the resulting explosion stunned Mason to the extent that he failed to get away. During his trial one of his hostages testified on his behalf, and he was acquitted and given a fond farewell by the townspeople.

In 1877, a thief using the alias of Phillips was caught attempting a bank robbery in New York City, and sent to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary for two years. Some accounts suggest this was Mason–and this corresponds to other accounts that explain he was not in on the Manhattan Savings job of October 1878 because he was in prison.

In November 1879, Mason was taken on as a partner by Langdon Moore. They successfully robbed a pawnbroker’s store, but mistrusted each other over the division of the spoils. Mason and Moore were later arrested for an attempt to rob the Warren Institution of Savings. Mason was arrested first, and when Moore did not come to his financial aid (Moore said he was broke), Mason informed against Moore. They were both sent to the State prison in Charlestown. Mason served less than three years, being released in November 1882.

Mason was arrested for possession of burglars’ tools in Philadelphia in March 1883. He pleaded guilty and was given seven months in prison, gaining his freedom on October 30, 1883.

As Byrnes relates, Mason was next arrested in Hoboken, New Jersey in September 1885 for a house burglary. He was sentenced to five years in the State Prison at Trenton under the name George Smith.

Byrnes, in his 1895 edition, states that Mason died on March 1, 1895 in New York City, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx; but no death record or burial record can be found under his known aliases, so this remains in question.






#50 David Cummings

David Cronin (1847-????), aka Little Dave Cummings, J. H. Smith, James Hogan, Harry Smithson, etc. — Sneak thief

Link to Byrnes’s text for #50 David Cummings

Inspector Byrnes not only devoted several pages to Dave Cummings, he also presented information about Dave’s early career that had never been published before 1886, and relating crimes far from New York. Byrnes undoubtedly received most of this information from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been tracking Cummings long before he showed his face in New York City.

There is one egregious error in Byrnes’s entry on Cummings: the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store in New Orleans took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. This robbery continued to generate headlines for many months, for two different reasons. First, it was suspected that Billy Forrester was among the gang that did the job–and Forrester was the prime suspect in the murder of financier Benjamin Nathan in July of 1870. Secondly, at about 6:00AM on the morning of Jan 1., a fire broke out on one docked steamboat at New Orleans, which spread to four other ships, destroying them all. There were persistent rumors that the fire had been started by the gang to occupy the police while they made their getaway. However, it does not make a great deal of sense that this would be done hours after the heist was completed; or that the fire would get so out of control from one start point.

The Scooler’s robbery had another detail of interest: as reported by Byrnes, Cummings used the trick of fooling a watchman on street patrol by moving a dummy facade of a safe in front of a window, so that the burglars could work on the real safe without being seen. The same trick was later attributed to Mike Kurtz in an 1884 jewelry store robbery in Troy, New York.

Byrnes (or rather, the Pinkerton Agency) was likely correct that Cummings’ real last name was Cronin. Chicago newspapers indicated that Cummings had been there as a youth; and there is an 1860 Census entry for a “David Cronan” (a common variant spelling of Cronin) born in 1847, and no entries for any David Cummings living in Chicago that was close to the same age. Cummings had initials tattooed on his arm, “D. C.”

Cummings worked with many of the best bank thieves of his era. However, it is doubtful that any criminal of his generation could equal the year that Cummings had in 1881–Byrnes’s information from 1881 bears repeating:

  • In January, 1881, he was arrested at the Sinclair House, New York City, a porter having caught him coming out of the room of a son of United States Senator Pinchback’s, with a full outfit of tools and some valuables of the guests. He was committed, obtained bail, and again went into hiding. [Byrnes later suggested that Cummings was able to get out on bail after playing sick–he ate brick dust while in the Tombs, and spit it up, suggesting that he was coughing blood.]
  • His next appearance was at Philadelphia, where he formed a partnership with Walter Sheridan, Joe McClusky, and other noted bank sneaks. Their first robbery was that of a diamond broker on Chestnut Street, near Twelfth, where Cummings and Sheridan engaged the attention of the clerk, and McCluskey secured about $6,000 worth of diamonds.
  • In May, 1881, Sheridan, Dave, and Jack Duffy made a trip to Baltimore, where they ran across a traveling salesman of the jewelry house of Enos, Richardson & Co., of Maiden Lane, New York. They followed him to the Clarendon Hotel, where they watched till he went to dinner, entered his room and stole his entire stock, valued at $15,000. The chase becoming hot for Cummings, he finally returned the proceeds of the robbery, and received $2,500 for it.
  • He then started for the Pacific slope with Old Jimmy Hope and Big Tom Bigelow, and after looking about, these enterprising burglars concluded to rob Sauthers & Co.’s Bank, a Hebrew institution, where there was $600,000. They again put into operation their favorite tactics of securing a vacant room over the vault. They had tunneled through four layers of brick and several tiers of railroad iron, when the chief of detectives learned they were in the city. He took possession of several offices in the vicinity of the bank with his men, and about 10:30 p. m., on the night of June 27, 1881, he made a raid on them. He found Jimmy Hope at work. Cummings heard them coming and ran to the roof, crawled through the scuttle, and running over the tops of several buildings, finally descended through a vacant store, and was once more at large. Bigelow, who was supposed to have been working inside with Hope, in some manner escaped also.
  • Cummings left his trail at every hotel where he stopped, in Southern California, New Mexico, Denver, Col.; and at a small town, twenty miles from Denver, he robbed a well known Chicago liquor dealer, named Al. Arundel, of $1,400 in money, a $500 watch, and a $400 diamond stud.
  • He then paid a flying visit to Chicago, then to Saint Joseph, Mo., from there to St. Paul, then to Oshkosh, Wis. where he was arrested under the name of J. H. Smith, for robbing a Chicago salesman of his watch, diamond pin, and $200 in money, at the Tremont Hotel in that town. Dave pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in State prison there on September 14, 1881.

Cummings career following his release from the Wisconsin State Prison was much more dismal. He went to England, and with Rufe Minor started to plan hotel thefts. However, they were advised against targeting hotels, as security in England was tighter than in the United States. Cummings ignored that advice, and for his trouble was arrested and imprisoned for five years.

He returned to the United States and was arrested for possession of burglar’s tools in New York City in February 1891. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing under the name Patrick Robertson.

Cummings was released in September 1894. From that point, little is known of his fate. A 1905 item in the National Police Gazette implied that he was alive and had moved to the Pacific Coast.

In 1912, newspaper columnist Henry C. Terry devoted one of his “Parallel Stories of Famous Crimes” columns to the foiled 1872 Jersey City bank robbery attempt, in which Cummings escaped arrest. Terry’s approach is interesting: he first lets one of the criminals tell his story; then lets one of the police detectives give his view of events:






#165 James Burns

James Burns (abt. 1842-1887), aka Big Jim Burns, James Boyle, John Bowen, John Hawkins, John Ashton, etc. — Bank sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in Boston, Mass. Single. No trade. A large, well-built man. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, about 200 pounds. Brown hair, dark hazel eyes, dark complexion. Has fine spots of India ink between thumb and forefinger of left hand. Generally wears a sandy-brown mustache and whiskers.

RECORD. Jim Burns, alias Big Jim, is a celebrated bank sneak, burglar and forger. He is a native of Boston, Mass., and is called by the fraternity “The Prince of Thieves,” on account of his great liberality with his money, and the many charitable acts performed by him. It is a well known fact that he has always contributed to the support of the wives and families of his associates whenever they were in trouble.

Some years ago, after a large and successful bank sneak robbery. Burns, and the others who were with him, returned to New York and went to their usual rendezvous, a saloon corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, New York, kept by one Dick Piatt. The entire party imbibed quite freely and Burns fell asleep. When he awoke he found that he had been robbed of his portion of the plunder. On being informed by one of his companions who had done it, Burns said, “It was hard, that after doing a lot of work, and getting a good lump of money, to have an associate rob me. He can’t be much good, and will die in the gutter.” The fact is, that about one week after the occurrence the party referred to was walking down Broadway and was stricken with paralysis, fell into the gutter, and died before any assistance could be rendered him.

Burns was connected with all of the most celebrated criminals in this country, and took part in a large number of the most prominent bank robberies. Owing to his genial good-nature he never was able to save a dollar. He has served terms in prison in Sing Sing, New York, and Boston, Mass., and is well known all over America and Europe.

He was arrested in New York City on March 11, 1878, for the larceny of a carriage clock, valued at $52, from Howard, Sanger & Co., Broadway and Grand Street. He was released on $500 bail, and when his case was called for trial he failed to appear. He was arrested again in New York City on December 17, 1878, for attempting to rescue “Red” Leary from a private detective. He was indicted, and again admitted to bail.

While at large, he was arrested with George Carson (3) for the larceny of $12,000 in money from the Government Printing Office, in Washington, D. C. No case being made out against them, they were discharged on July 1, 1879, by Commissioner Deuel, at Washington.

Burns was arrested upon his discharge on a bench warrant in the old clock case, brought to New York City, tried, convicted of grand larceny, and sentenced to three years and six months in Sing Sing prison, on July 11, 1879, by Judge Cowing.

He made his escape from Raymond Street jail in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday night, July 31, 1883, where he was confined for the larceny of a package containing $3,000 in money from the desk of the postmaster of Brooklyn, N.Y.

After his escape he went to London, England, and from there to Paris, where he devoted his talents to picking pockets, and had to leave there to keep out of the clutches of the police. When next heard from he was in Stockholm, Sweden, with Billy Flynn, alias Connolly, and Bill Baker, alias Langford, where the party obtained about eighteen hundred kroners from a bank in that city. They were arrested for the robbery, but having no evidence against them a charge of vagrancy was preferred, and they were imprisoned for six months as vagrants.

A few months after their time expired they went to Hamburg, Germany, where, on June 22, 1885, they succeeded in robbing the Vereins Bank of 200,000 marks, about $44,000. On July 15, 1885, the bank offered a reward of 10,000 marks, about $2,200, for them. They were all arrested in London, England, in the latter part of July, 1885, and returned to Paris, France, they having been tried, convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment each for an offense committed in that city. According to French law, any person may be tried convicted, and sentenced for an offense during his absence. After their sentence expires they will be taken to Hamburg for trial for the larceny of the 200,000 marks. Burns’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1882.

One can tell from the phrases used in Byrnes’s summary of Big Jim Burns’ career that he had an appreciation of the scoundrel, who, like Big Jim’s “pal” Horace Hovan, loved to steal for the fun of it. The team of Rufe Minor, Hovan, Burns, and George Carson was likely the most potent collection of criminal talent of the nineteenth century.

Though Byrnes does an adequate job of retelling Big Jim’s brief career, he missed a choice anecdote or two. In March of 1879, Big Jim went out partying in Manhattan with Tom McCormick, the famous bank thief. This was during the era when one of the great sporting (and gambling) crazes was walking (pedestrian) races. Once they were stumbling drunk, Big Jim and McCormick went into the spacious Coleman House hotel, which had corridors linked in a giant square, and decided to have their own pedestrian race. When the hotel clerk and porter tried to stop their shenanigans, a fight ensued. Somehow, a plate glass window worth $150 was broken. The two thieves were arrested, and luckily were not under indictments at the time.

1 Im02u1AsVUAm64ha4OL59w
The Coleman House hotel, as it appears today

In August, 1887, Big Jim was over one year into his five year sentence for robbing a bank in Hamburg, Germany. A delegation from the Philadelphia Society for the Amelioration of Prisons happened to be in that city and visited the prison where Burns was incarcerated. Upon learning that Burns was there, a Philadelphia lawyer who knew him was granted permission to visit the prisoner. Burns asked the lawyer for news of Philadelphia, as he had been in Europe for the past two years, and held the Quaker City in fond regard.

Their discussion turned toward the great financial institutions of the city, and in the course of their talk the lawyer mentioned that the Drexel bank had moved into a new building at Fifth and Chestnut Streets. Big Jim was thunderstruck. Fighting to contain his pain, the thief finally explained his consternation”

“I don’t mind telling you,” said Mr. Burns, after the first burst of his grief had subsided, “that ever since 1878 we have had our eye on that drawer in the bond counter. The bank, as you know, was on the west side of Third Street, between Chestnut and Market Streets. The counter that curved around the left wall as you entered was the bond counter. Between it and the door, near the left wall, was a writing stand. The clerk in charge of the bond counter kept the securities, during business hours, in a wide wooden drawer, which ran the full depth of the counter, and the end of which consequently would be at ten or twelve inches, at the farthest, from the chest of any one standing in the open space in front of the counter. Nothing but a few inches of deal [pine] or mahogany would separate such a person from hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of securities.

Burn drew a map for his guest:



“Our plan was this: One of us would go into the bank after business hours some day, when the clerks had gone and the valuables had all been removed to the Safe Deposit Company [the doors and lobby of the bank still being open, but all the counters closed for business]. He would saunter in among the scrub-women, who would be washing up the floor, as if to write a hasty letter on the writing stand. The others would, as they readily might, have followed him in, and began writing and arranging business papers in a hurried way. Such a proceeding would not have been unusual. While the ‘stalls’ were thus engaged the active member of the party, who would have on a large cloak, under which he carried a brace and bit, with an attachment of a peculiar character, would stand immediately in front of the end of the wooden drawer, bore a hole through the end of the wooden drawer, noiselessly, with a fine steel bit which cut little dust, and by means of a peculiar attachment of which I have spoken would simultaneously with the boring cut through the counter and drawer until a circular section some eight inches in diameter was entirely excised and ready for removal. All this would be the work of not more than five minutes. Traces of the cutting would then be obliterated by the use of a little walnut putty, and one after another the ‘mob’ would saunter out and disperse.

“When the bank opened the next morning there would be nothing suspicious in the appearance of the drawer. The securities would be replaced in it as usual. During the busiest hour of the day we would go in again. One of us would engage the bond clerk on a matter of business at a point along the counter some distance from the drawer. The man with the cloak would have had no trouble in pushing in the circular section of both counter and drawer and drawing through, in a moment, a handsome package of bonds.”

At that point, Burns cast his gaze around his cell. Without prompting, he launched into detailed explanations of two other American banks which had not yet been robbed, and also drew floor maps of how their cashier counters were laid out, and how they could be surreptitiously attacked by a bold team of sneak thieves. Burns seemed not to realize that he was explaining these plans to a lawyer–and that Burns was not his client, and that their conversation was not bound by confidentiality.

Burns concluded his monologue wistfully, “And while there’s life there’s hope. Two and a half years (remaining until his release from Hamburg) isn’t so long.”

Three months later, Big Jim Burns fell seriously ill, and died in the prison in December, 1887.

#28 John Tracy

John Tracy (1849-1906), aka Big Tracy, Long John, Jim Tracy, Charles McCarty, John Riley, Edwin Taylor — House thief, Bank robber, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Plumber by trade. Single. Stout build. Height, 6 feet 1 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Dark brown hair, light complexion. Has a cross in India ink on right fore-arm. Generally wears a dark brown beard and mustache. Scar on back of hand.

RECORD. “Big” Tracy does considerable “second-story” or house work, and is well known in New York, Chicago, and all the large cities. He has served considerable time in Eastern prisons — one term of five years from Troy, N.Y., for highway robbery, in 1878. (See Addenda.)

He was arrested again in the spring of 1884, in company of Billy Ogle (13), for robbing a residence on Jersey City Heights, N.J., of diamonds and jewelry valued at $1,500. They were both tried and convicted on June 26, 1884; their counsel obtained a new trial for them, and they were discharged in July, 1884.

Tracy and Ogle went West, and in the fall of 1885 Ogle was arrested in Tennessee for “house work,” and sentenced to the penitentiary for ten years. He shortly after escaped from a gang while working on the railroad. Tracy escaped arrest, and is now at large in the West. His picture is a good one, taken in 1877. (See records of Nos. 13 and no.)

“Big Tracy” (as he was best known) had a variety of aliases, none of which can be proven as his real given name. His first known arrest was in Boston in 1872 for a petty larceny, under the name John Riley. In 1875 he was an accomplice of Eddie Garing (Eddie Goodie) in a robbery on a horse-car in New York City. The victim, a bookkeeper carrying thousands of dollars, had been targeted and followed onto the car. Big Tracy and Garing escaped arrest for this crime.

Sometime between 1875 and 1876, Big Tracy was one of those who made the first approach to Patrick Shevlin, the night watchman of the Manhattan Savings Institution, which would eventually be robbed in October 1878. Big Tracy had been a friend of Shevlin’s since they were teens; and another of the early conspirators, Tim Gorman (known as Little Tracy) had been a schoolmate.

In the summer of 1877, Big Tracy was recommended as a “good man” to bank robber Langdon Moore. Moore recruited Big Tracy to assist with an attempt on a safe at the Dedham, Massachusetts post office. The attempt was a failure, and Moore placed much of the blame on Big Tracy, whom he portrayed as cowardly. A chapter in Langdon Moore’s autobiography is devoted to this misadventure, titled “Lame Duck at Dedham.”

Big Tracy was not among the gang that eventually pulled off the Manhattan Savings Institution job, the most famous bank robbery of the 19th-century. Several months earlier, in July 1878, he had participated in a horse-car robbery in Troy, New York that was very similar to the 1875 episode with Eddie Goodie. In this case, the crime in Troy was committed by a gang of six or seven men led by William “Mush” Reilly. They targeted a messenger carrying a large amount of cash, got onto a street-car with him, and then one man garroted him from behind while another emptied his pockets.

This time, all the conspirators were captured. Big Tracy was originally sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but on appeal the sentence was reduced to five years, to be served in Clinton Prison in Dannemora. With time reduced, Big Tracy was discharged in October, 1882.

As Byrnes mentions, Big Tracy and Billy Ogle were arrested for house burglaries in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1884; but were released for lack of evidence. They both traveled together to Tennessee to commit more burglaries, were caught, and sentenced to a chain gang. They both escaped.

In 1888, Big Tracy was seen on the streets of Boston and taken in as a suspicious character, and later released. In 1889 he was arrested for picking pockets outside a dime museum in Philadelphia.

Between 1889 and 1894 there is a big gap in his record, which one newspaper attributed to an eight-year (reduced) sentenced in Sing Sing; but if he was convicted in New York, it must have been under an unrecognized alias.

In December 1884 he was caught following a house burglary in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which yielded jewelry worth only $25.00. For this crime he was sentenced to fifteen years in the Connecticut State Prison.

Upon his release in 1906, he was brought in for picking pockets in Brooklyn and sentenced to a year in the Blackwell’s Island penitentiary. He died there later that year at age 57.