#200 Joseph Bond

Joseph Krakoski (1854-1915), aka Paper Collar Joe, Joseph Krakowski, Joseph Bond, Joseph Martin, Joseph Gray, Joseph Kray, etc. –Confidence Man, Card Sharp, Art Swindler

Link to Byrnes’s text for #200 Joseph Bond

Though he was one of the most famous confidence men in American history, Paper Collar Joe’s exploits were often confused with those of Hungry Joe Lewis. Many examples can be found where Paper Collar Joe is credited with the saying “there’s a sucker born every minute;” or with nearly swindling Oscar Wilde; or of being a partner of Grand Central Pete Lake–all of which are true of Hungry Joe, not Paper Collar Joe.

Perhaps Joseph Krakoski preferred to have his own accomplishments remain in the shadows, for he became very adept at avoiding prosecution. He practiced every major con of his era: three-card monte, bunco, the gold-brick game, the green-goods game, and even the fake wiretap. However, he also created new scams involving the real-estate investment swindles and artwork swindles.

Paper Collar Joe was born to a Polish father and a German mother, and was raised in Niagara Falls, New York. Joe’s father sold souvenirs and Indian artifacts, and became the leading merchant of trinkets at the popular resort. The business he built was eventually handed down to his daughters, and the store became famous in their names as “Libbie & Katie’s”. As a popular resort on the Canadian border, Niagara Falls attracted grifters and crooks of all kinds, from those that came to prey on the crowds to those that were in transit between one country or the other, escaping authorities. Young Joseph Krakowski fell in with some of these, and in his early twenties opted to move to one of their favorite haunts, Chicago.

In Chicago, Joe was mentored by a master bunco operator, William E. Langley, alias Appetite Bill. Joe went by the alias Joseph Martin, and served as a “roper” to entice passersby into a gambling den managed by Langley, but owned by Chicago crime boss Mike McDonald. Joe helped manage McDonald’s gambling rooms throughout the 1870s, but also made trips with Langley down the Mississippi to New Orleans and St. Louis, bilking rubes into playing three-card monte. He married a Chicago woman, but abandoned her after a month. He also made an ill-advised trip to Philadelphia during the 1876 Centennial, and was jailed there for a year.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Joe made New York his headquarters. He was known there as Joe Gray, alias Paper Collar Joe. He had earned that nickname when in Philadelphia learning from con man Jack Canter, the originator of a fake insurance scam:

[It should also be noted that in the 1860s, there was a popular English music hall song, “Penny Paper Collar Joe,” a comic ditty about a flirtatious dandy.]

William Muldoon, the boxing trainer and raconteur, told an anecdote about Joe and President Grant:

“Yes, siree, it ‘s all very well to make guesses about a man from the cut of his coat or the shape of his hat, but don’t be too cock-sure of your judgment if you limit your evidence to his linen.

“Now, there was the case of Paper-Collar Joe, extraordinary character; sort of a thinly lacquered pan-handler. Little, wiry, lived by his wits. Wore a hat like Augustin Daly’s, Prince-Albert coat, but always a paper collar. And that shifty gait! Golly! he could flim-flam money out of the Sphinx; and so oily! He used to hang around the old Fifth Avenue Hotel in the seventies at the time General Grant lived there.

“Mornings the general used to pass through the lobby with a pocketful of sugar on the way to some stables near by where he kept the horses that had served him through the war. The general was always alone. He had a curious walk; sort of threw himself along, head down, looking at nobody. But he couldn’t get past Paper-Collar Joe. Up Joe went one morning and braced the general; talked and talked, and soon, by golly! they went out together, Paper-Collar Joe spouting his hot-air investments like a steam-engine to General Grant! It happened that morning and the next. Paper-Collar Joe was the only person around the hotel that had a steady speaking acquaintance with the silent general. Everybody was amazed, but everybody was just as sure the general would see through the flim-flammery of Joe.

“Then the thing was forgotten, especially since Joe became rather more as he used to be, by himself, but always with a sharp eye for newly arriving victims on all trains due East.

“Finally, the hotel people voted Joe a nuisance as well as a danger, and ordered him off the premises. But he tarried and talked; so one day a house detective grabbed him by the neck and hustled him the full length of the lobby, right up to the Fifth Avenue door, all the time calling him ‘bunco-steerer,’ ‘green-goods man,’ and other fashionable terms of the day. But before the detective could maneuver the door, it was opened for him, and in stepped General Grant.

“‘What’s all this?’ asked the general.

‘”Why, er—this man is objectionable.’

“‘Objectionable!’ roared the general. ‘My friend objectionable? How dare you, sir? He ‘s my guest. Come along with me, Joe!’

“And, by golly! arm in arm they marched back through the lobby, past staring desk clerks and the paralyzed manager—General Grant and Paper-Collar Joe—right up to the general’s suite.”

“And the answer?” somebody asked.

“Character, odd character. Joe was that, and Grant always liked odd characters. Fellow feeling; Grant was one himself.”

In New York, Joe teamed up with a veteran riverboat gambler and con man named Henry Monell. Together, they came up with a scheme to use their card sharp skills on wealthy passengers of transatlantic ships.

By 1888, Joe had earned enough to open his own saloon/gambling hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, under the name Joe Kray. He was popular among that city’s sporting crowd, but kept his activities legitimate. However, three Indiana farmers who had been cheated out of $20,000 at cards a few years earlier hired a private detective who traced Joe to St Paul and exposed his past history. Joe was forced to leave abruptly.

He then went to England, where he assumed the role of “J. Chesterfield Kray,” Regent street art dealer. Joe familiarized himself with the paintings trade, and realized that his unique talents could reap profits from pretentious nouveau riche Americans. He purchased a few genuine works by famed artists; but ones which were considered damaged or inferior. To these he added a large selection of forgeries crafted by a talented imitator, Pierre Lacont. Joe then made tours of American cities in the Midwest, pawning off his fakes and flawed goods to wealthy clients who were too proud to admit their ignorance about art.

The art game was productive for Joe, and he kept it up for nearly twenty years. It allowed him to travel in luxury and to see the world, and to pick up extra cash with a card game here or there. He married a French woman with whom he lived until expelled from that country.

In 1912, Joe was arrested for being involved in a fake wiretap con being run by the Gondorf brothers (the inspiration for the movie The Sting).

Over the next few years, Joe went back to card sharping on the Atlantic passenger ships. Ill-health forced him to retire to his siblings’ residence in Niagara Falls, where he died in November 1915.






#92 Charles Mason

Charles Henry Marion (Abt. 1840-19??), aka Boston Charley, Charles Mason, Charles Marsh, Charles Merrion/Marrion, Charles Mortis/Martis, Charles Whiteman, Charles Lloyd — Swindler, Bunco Steerer, Pickpocket, Political Fixer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Heavy build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark-brown hair, turning gray; brown eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a heavy, reddish-brown mustache; rather fine features. A very active man for his size.

RECORD. “Boston” Charley’s principal occupation is “banco.” He has been in several jails in the East and West, and has traveled from Maine to California working various schemes. In New York he worked with Jimmie Wilson (143) and Shang Campbell (107), picking pockets; also, with Jack Strauss, on the sneak.

He worked in the winter of 1876 in Boston, Mass., with Charlie Love, alias Graves, alias Scanlon, and was in the scheme to rob a man named Miller out of $1,200 by the banco game. Charley fell into the hands of the police, and Love escaped. He was afterwards implicated in a robbery in the Adams House, where Mrs. Warner, of St. Paul, Minn., lost considerable property.

He then left Boston, and remained away until 1881. During the interval he is credited with having served five years in Joliet prison. Mason was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison on December 20, 1881, by Recorder Smyth, for robbing one John H. Lambkin, of Cork, Ireland, out of $1,139, at banco. His time expired, allowing full commutation, on May 19, 1885. Mason’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

Boston Charley volunteered to the Sing Sing registrars that he was born in Boston about 1840, and that his real name was Charles H. Marion–information confirmed in city directories from San Francisco and Butte, Montana. However, Charley’s family and early years have not yet been traced. The earliest mentions of him come from the early 1870s, when he was rumored to have been an assistant to William “Canada Bill” Jones, the greatest three-card monte player in history.

Canada Bill plied his trade on Kansas and Missouri passenger trains, and one of the things that Boston Charley learned from him was that that a con man could offer bribes to receive a level of protection from authorities. Canada Bill paid conductors to look the other way; and once (famously) tried to offer a railroad’s management a “license” fee to operate freely on their trains. This was the start of Boston Charley’s political education.

Canada Bill ran into a series of arrests in 1875, which was about the same time that Boston Charley opted to head further west to San Francisco with a gang of bunco steerers. They successfully set up shop, but Charley was arrested twice between September and November, 1875.

As Byrnes indicates, Charley returned to Boston and tried running a bunco operation there, but had no influence to prevent being shut down, and was forced to flee. He returned to San Francisco and formed a new bunco gang with Jack Dowd and Doc Boone. Though they had paid bribes to police officials, the gang was arrested several times, and eventually realized that others on the police force were acting on behalf of a rival gang of bunco artists. This was Charley’s next lesson in politics.

He married a woman in San Francisco named Hazel, but after he was indicted once more, he and Hazel fled to Panama. There, he deserted his bride after less than a year of marriage.

Charley then headed eat to New York City and picked pockets and ran con swindles with Charles Allen, Jimmie Wilson, and Shang Campbell. He was arrested in December 1881 and sentenced to 4 and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Charles Mason. While he was in jail, Hazel got a divorce.

Charley returned to San Francisco when he got out of Sing Sing, but did not tarry long there. By 1887, he decided to head somewhere where other gangs and corrupt officials had not yet taken control; he wound up in Butte, Montana.

In Butte, Charley posed as Col. Charles Lloyd and ran a dance hall/gambling joint. His gambling den featured his customized faro tables (rigged to cheat). He also ran faro games at the local race track that were exposed as crooked. Still, he eluded any penalties for three years, mainly because he was a political kingmaker.

In 1890, Charley Marion returned to New York, and made a woeful attempt to join the Salvation Army to reform himself, producing what may be the funniest incident involving any professional criminal:

“Charles H. Marion plays the accordion with much religious fervor and muscular energy in a Salvation Army band. He played with such vigor and he sang so loud at the barracks, No. 10 Horatio street, on Sunday night that Lieut. David L. Bossey, of the army, tried to restrain him. Marion, however, played and sang even while the preaching was going on, so Bossey had him arrested. ‘He almost breaks my heart,’ complained Lieut. Bossey in the Jefferson Market Court yesterday. ‘He insists on singing the wrong verses.’

“‘That’s serious,’ said the Justice. ‘Ten dollars fine.’ Marion was locked up. An hour later, someone paid the fine for him.”

Charley’s efforts to reform ran against his character. A fellow mission worker invited Charley and another man over to his place for a drink, and when he went out to get more beer, came back to discover that Charley and the other man had pilfered valuables from his house.

Charley drifted back to Butte and returned to running his dance hall and sponsoring politicians. In 1895 he convinced a couple of local young men to try to pass a forged check in Chicago. When that brought him unwanted attention from the Pinkertons, he came back east to Washington, D. C. and tried a similar scam, selling bogus mining stocks to a Butte mine. When detectives closed in, he left for New York City.

While cooling off in New York, Charley and old con man Ike Vail were arrested for running a swindle in Hoboken. Realizing it was time to flee again, Charley went to Detroit, was run out of town, and then went south to Kansas City, Missouri. There he impersonated a Treasury officer and confiscated alleged counterfeit bills from victims, threatening them with prosecution. He was captured and sentenced to three years in the Missouri State Prison.

After serving his time, Charley returned to Butte and picked up his former life there. By now, all the local newspapers in Montana had run stories giving his history, so his character was no secret. Still, was was able to remain a force in Butte politics.

From 1901 until his demise–date unknown–he kept his name out of the papers.






#95 Joseph Lewis

Joseph Elzas (1854–19??), aka Hungry Joe Lewis, Francis J. Alvany, Henry F. Post, W. C. Howard, Joseph Abzes/Elsas, etc. — Bunco steerer

Link to Byrnes’s text on # 95 Joseph Lewis

Hungry Joe Lewis was one of the most celebrated criminals in Inspector Byrnes’s collection. Among his accomplishments, he was credited with (nearly) swindling Oscar Wilde; and of coining the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He can be found in any history of swindlers and con men, and has an extensive entry in Wikipedia. He had the distinction of being the only member of Byrnes’s Rogues Gallery that was profiled in a dime novel (which is little more than a tissue of fabrications and imagined dialogues):


Hungry Joe was known as a bunco operator as early as 1875, in Chicago. An 1888 article from the Chicago Tribune included some credible insights:


The same article explains that Hungry Joe acquired his nickname from his prodigious appetite: “When he was in Chicago it was nothing unusual for him to go into Billy Boyle’s a half dozen times a day and each time eat a hearty meal. Paddy Ryan says he has seen Joe eat a double porterhouse steak, a whole chicken, and a full portion of ham and eggs in a single night, and when Mike McDonald ran a gambling house over ‘The Store,’ Joe is said to have eaten an entire luncheon that had been prepared for thirty men. These and even worse stories are related about his gluttonous appetite by the men about town.”

Hungry Joe and Grand Central Pete Lake were the nation’s acknowledged best bunco steerers, though Joe was known to be less patient with his victims. This led to his downfall, resulting in an 1885 arrest and imprisonment in New York, after he simply grabbed a wad of cash out of the hands of his English victim.

It was Joe’s 1888 arrest in Baltimore that turned him bitter. Though he pleaded guilty at the time, after he was sentenced to nine years in prison he complained that he had been railroaded–and blamed Inspector Byrnes:

“Byrnes has a grudge against me which dates back some years. It was on account of some money matters. I had made some $15,000 in Chicago–but never mind that. If I was disposed to tell all I knew the public would have less confidence in Inspector Byrnes. If he had received all he deserves, he, and not I, would today be serving time. He made his reputation by sending John Hope to prison for twenty years for robbing the Manhattan Bank, and I know that Hope is innocent of that crime. It has long been Tom Byrnes’ aim to do me, and this was his opportunity. It was he who prevented me from engaging in a legitimate business…I had been offered $25,000 to go into the bookmaking business, but Byrnes stepped in and broke me up. He pulled me down at every turn.”

In most published accounts of Hungry Joe’s life, it will note that he died on March 22, 1902, as reported in many newspapers. A few newspapers, like the New York Sun, reserved some skepticism:


However, the Baltimore Sun correctly identified the rumor to be untrue:


The Baltimore Sun also ran a second article, six years later, in 1908, saying that Joe was still very much alive, and had been living honestly for the past six years. In this second article, the paper gave his name as Joseph Abzes–in the 1902 article, they used the spelling Elsas. The Sun was very close: Hungry Joe was born in Baltimore in 1854 as Joseph Elzas, son of Lewis and Emma Elzas. The Elzas family moved to Chicago in the late 1860s or early 1870s, where Joe started his criminal career.

Joe’s resurrection was confirmed by his old friends in New York in 1908 when they spotted him on Broadway. Joe had a personality quirk that made him immediately recognizable: he refused to walk close to building lines on a sidewalk, instead always walking on the outside curb–and detoured his stride far away from the mouths of alleyways.





#91 James Casey

James Casey (Abt. 1837-????), aka Big Jim Casey, James Mason — Pickpocket, Bunco and Green goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single, No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Black hair, dark eyes, dark complexion ; generally wears a full black beard, turning gray.

RECORD. Big Jim Casey is a well known Bowery (New York) pickpocket and “stall” for pickpockets. He was formerly an associate of Poodle Murphy (134), Pretty Jimmie (143), Big Dick Morris (141), and all the first-class men. Of late years he cannot be relied on, and the clever ones give him the go-by, as he is fond of drink. Lately he has turned his hand to banco business, and generally handles the bag of cloth samples. He is now working with Pete Lake (93) and Ed Parmelee, two notorious banco steerers.

Casey was arrested at Clifton, Canada, with a gang of American pick-pockets, during the Marquis of Lome’s celebration, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He has served time in Sing Sing prison, and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and is well known in all the Eastern cities as Big Jim Casey.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 26, 1884, in company of Poodle Murphy (134), Tom Burns, alias Combo (148), Joe Gorman (146), and Nigger Baker (195), charged with sneaking a package of Elevated Railroad tickets, valued at $75, from a safe in the station at Houston Street and the Bowery, New York. For this offense he was sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on February 26, 1884. (See record of No. 134.) His picture is a fair one.

Big Jim Casey was another long-time Bowery pickpocket that transitioned to the main confidence games of his era: the Green Goods game and the Bunco game. He partnered at various times with all the luminaries mentioned by Byrnes in his entry on Casey. Casey was a bit older than most within this community, and many years of drinking took their toll, limiting his abilities by the 1890s.

It was a minor mystery to Inspector Byrnes how a declining pickpocket and lower-level con man like Casey could afford the best legal representation, on the several occasions where Casey was arrested. Byrnes stumbled upon the answer not long before he left as police Superintendent in 1895:


Big Jim Casey, as one of the founders of the trust, benefited most as his skills declined.

There are many ways to define an organized crime organization. The formation of a mutual aid agreement is surely one of them.

#99 David Swain

David Swain (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Old Dave, James A. Robbins, James A. Roberts, James G. Allison — Swindler, bunco steerer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in New York City. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Light brown hair, blue eyes. Ruddy complexion. Wears full sandy beard and mustache. Married. Scar on forehead over left eye. Part of an anchor in India ink on right fore-arm.

RECORD. Swain is one of the sharpest, meanest, and most dangerous confidence men in the business. He has no favorites, and would rob a friend or a poor emigrant as soon as a party with means. He may be found around railroad depots or steamboat landings, and is well known in all the Eastern cities, especially Boston, Mass., where, it is said, he has a mortgage on the Eastern Railroad depot.

Swain was arrested in New York City on July 17, 1873, for grand larceny from one Edward Steinhofer, of Brooklyn. He was committed to the Tombs prison on July 18, 1873, but was shortly afterwards delivered over to the Albany, N.Y., police authorities, and taken there upon an old charge. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in the Albany Penitentiary, at the Court of Quarter Sessions, in Albany, on September 20, 1873. His time expired in March, 1876.

Swain passed considerable of his time in and around Boston, Mass., when out of prison, and has fleeced many a poor victim there. In August, 1883, he robbed two poor Nova Scotians, man and wife, out of $150 in gold, all the money they had saved for years. He was finally arrested in Boston, Mass., on December 12, 1884, for robbing the Nova Scotians, whose name was Taylor. He lay in jail there until May 23, 1885, when he was brought to court, where he pleaded guilty to the charge, and was sentenced to two years in the House of Correction.

Swain has been working these last few years with George Gifford, who was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 15, 1886, for swindling one John Reilly by the confidence game, and sentenced to four years in the Kings County Penitentiary on April 30, 1886. He has also served a term in Boston, Mass., for the same offense. Young Gifford is the son of Harry Gifford, a very clever old confidence man, who died a short time ago. Swain’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

David Swain’s criminal career dates back to, at the least, August 1868, when he (along with a partner) was caught at a New York  railroad depot using the old gold brick swindle. In 1872, Swain’s name was invoked as the man engaged to burglar Ed. Johnson’s sister. Johnson, Dave Cummings, and Mose Vogel had been arrested for a bank robbery attempt in Jersey City, New Jersey, and while in jail implicated Jersey City’s Chief of Police and a detective as being in on the robbery. Johnson’s highly amusing testimony mentioned his sister and Swain.

As Byrnes mentions, Swain was arrested the next year for a swindle in Albany, and was sentenced in September of 1873. About six months after getting out of prison in New York, Swain was caught robbing a hotel room in Philadelphia. He was sentenced in thirteen months in Eastern State Penitentiary.

Swain was known to have worked at various times with George Gifford; George Affleck; and Walking Joe Prior.

In 1881, he showed up in Boston, but was arrested on suspicion and told to leave town. Byrnes recounts what happened to Old Dave when he ignored that warning–he was arrested in Boston in 1884 and was shuttled between jail and prison until 1887.

In 1892, Dave was caught pulling swindles on travelers at a rail depot in Chicago.

An article written in 1905 by the Columbus, Ohio Chief of Police described Dave as now being a dangerous bunco operator. In 1909, Dave was detained in Montreal, Quebec for vagrancy–an offense often used to get pickpockets and swindlers off the streets.

A David Swain died on Staten Island in 1914 that might have been Old Dave, but there is no definite evidence linking this Swain (and his family) to the notorious con man.

#93 Peter Lake

Peter Lake (1836-1913), aka Grand Central Pete — Bunco Steerer, Confidence Man

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Stout build. Married. No trade. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 165 pounds. Hair black, turning gray; dark hazel eyes, ruddy complexion, smooth face generally; sometimes wears a brown mustache.

RECORD. “Grand Central Pete” is one of the most celebrated and persistent banco steerers there is in America, “Hungry” Joe possibly excepted. Like all others of his class, he has been arrested in almost every city in the Union, but seldom convicted, for the reason that as soon as he falls into the hands of the police, his confederates give the victim back his money, and he is only too glad to make himself scarce.

He was arrested on March 9, 1877, in New York City, in company of another confidence man named Charles Johnson, better known as “Tip” Farrell, of Chicago, for swindling one John Slawson, the superintendent of the Star Silver Mining Company, of Idaho Territory, out of $100, at the banco game. Slawson was stopping at the St. Nicholas Hotel, and was met by Pete, who had a “sure thing” for him. Lake and Farrell pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, and were sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and fined $100 each, on March 15, 1877, by Judge Gildersleeve.

Pete Lake has been arrested at least fifty times since, but never convicted, for reasons above stated. He obtained his nickname through prowling around the Grand Central Railroad depot, in New York City. Pete’s picture is a good one, taken in March, 1877.

If you asked most people to conjure an image in their mind of an old con man nicknamed “Grand Central Pete,” they would likely picture a shabby man accosting commuters at Grand Central Station with a spiel as insincere as a used-car salesman. The reality was somewhat different. To begin with, Pete’s frequent locale was Grand Central Depot, the station house that preceded the construction of Grand Central Station (which opened just six months before Pete died, and long after he had reformed).

An 1885 article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tried to dissuade the public from other misconceptions:

“Don’t flatter yourself that you can tell a bunco man at first sight. Bunco men are not flashily dressed, beetle-browed and vulgar fellows who talk slang and use gambling terms. They dress richly, but in perfect taste, as a rule. So far as dress is concerned, you could not pick one out from a wealthy, cultivated merchant. They are generally good-looking, well-behaved men, whose chief stock in trade is their ability to make men have confidence in them and to loosen purse strings. A bunco man looks like a good, solid citizen, and the parson of your village is not half so nice in his conversation. The bunco man reads and travels, so that no matter what town or country you hail from, the chances are that he can tell you all about it and its population.

“In walking down Broadway you may meet this person somewhere between Fourteenth and Thirty-second streets:


You may think he is a banker. He may tell you that he is, but he isn’t. He is Peter Lake, “Grand Central Pete,” the bunco steerer. You needn’t open your eyes and say ‘Get out!’ ‘Grand Central Pete’ is one of the cleverest bunco men in the country, and it is very likely that he knows all about the place you hail from. Look out for him.

“Just before you meet ‘Pete’, some other man will seize you by the hand and look as if you were a long-lost debtor who had suddenly become rich. He will cry: ‘Why, hello, Mr. Blucher, how are the folks in Ironton?’ You will probably reply: ‘I am not Mr. Blucher and I don’t come from Ironton. I am John Broadgauge and I’m from Elmira.’ The man will raise his hat politely and say: ‘Dear me, what a likeness! I am afraid you will think me rude, sir; but I’m very sorry to have made a mistake and disturbed you.’ Then you will say, ‘Don’t mention it,’ and will go on rubbing your hands and thinking what exceedingly polite men New Yorkers are.

“Within a hundred yards you will meet ‘Pete.’ Of course, you won’t know that the other man has slipped into a hallway and held a brief but intelligent conversation with ‘Pete.’ When ‘Pete’ accosts you his face will light up with a smile of joyous recognition and he will take your hand with a firm and manly grasp, saying: ‘My dear Mr. Broadgauge, how on earth did you ever wander out of Elmira? Why, it wouldn’t surprise me to see your father here.’

“You will at once respond: ‘Well, I can’t quite place you, but I know your face.’ Of course you will, because it feels good to be greeted so warmly by such a substantial and well-dressed man. ‘Pete’ will ask about your family and you will tell him all about your family and everybody in Elmira. When you get down to the point where you call him ‘Pete’ by his first name, and when you have stretched your conscience sufficiently to tell him that, now you think of it, you remember him very well and that you have often heard your father speak of him, ‘Pete’ will tell you that he has just learned that he has won a prize in a lottery and he wants you, dear old fel, to go with him and see him scoop in his cash.

“Stranger, look at the expression in the right eye of the above portrait and you will know just how ‘Pete’ will beam upon you at the moment when he offers to share his luck with you.”


Pete’s last arrest came in New York City in 1907. The complainant whom he had tried to swindle took compassion and asked for Pete’s release, but the judge sent him to the city workhouse, an indignity to any career criminal. Following that episode, Pete was not heard from until his death in the summer of 1913. He was married more than once, but his last wife worked as a servant in homes out on Long Island or in the Catskills, so he was often alone, living on his pension as a former Union soldier.

Several untrue stories circulated about Pete. He  was one of those to whom the quote “There’s a sucker born every minute,” was attributed, but a more definitive source was Pete’s frequent partner, Hungry Joe Lewis. Another specious anecdote about Pete appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere, suggesting that he was so illiterate that he couldn’t tell the difference between $9000 and $9,000,000. It’s probably safe to say that few persons have ever been more aware of the value of money than Grand Central Pete.



#113 James Fitzgerald

Gilbert J. Fitzgerald (1856-1933), aka James Fitzgerald, The Kid, Red Fitz, J. S. Morrison — Bunco Steerer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Washington, D.C. Slim build. Single. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Red hair, dark auburn eyes, sandy complexion, straight nose, beard red (when worn), hair very thick and coarse.

RECORD. “The Kid,” as he is called, is well known in New York, Boston and several other large cities, and is considered one of the cleverest men in the banco business. He generally worked with Johnny Norton (now dead). He and Norton were the two men that succeeded in obtaining $7,000 from Charles Francis Adams, in Boston, in 1882, by the banco game. “The Kid ” was arrested, tried,, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the Charlestown, Mass., State prison on June 23, 1882. His sentence will expire August 27, 1886. Norton escaped at the time and never was captured. He died in New York City in March, 1885. Fitzgerald’s picture is a good one, taken in October, 1881.

The few details known about Gilbert Fitzgerald’s career are fascinating, and leave one wishing more was known about his adventures as a con-man. Gilbert J. (middle name James, it can be assumed) Fitzgerald was born to Irish immigrants who had settled in Milwaukee. Gilbert’s father, Francis (Frank) was a thriving shoemaker. In the mid-1870s, when Gilbert reached adulthood, he was recommended by Senator Matthew Hale Carpenter to a position in the Government Printing Office in Washington, D. C. He helped in the printing of the Congressional Record. A later report from a Washington source recalled:

“He was known among his friends and acquaintances as ‘Reddy,’ a name applied to him perhaps on account of his fiery red hair. He was a jovial, quick-witted, devil-may-care fellow, and a good compositor. He was given to gambling, and most of his wages went into a faro-bank. He was small of stature but of good nerve, and was quite an athlete. While his disposition was the reverse of quarrelsome, yet he was quick to take up a quarrel of a friend, and generally came out winner, even when the odds were apparently much against him.”

By May, 1878 Fitzgerald had quit his government job and was found far from Washington, D.C.–he was arrested in Deadwood, South Dakota with three other men for running a bunco operation and swindling a man; but “The Kid” was released for lack of evidence. For a while, he made Denver his center of operations–at a time when Denver was the unofficial capital of con artists and grifters. It was said that one man who joined him there was George Ellwood, who later gained fame as “Gentleman George,” the creepily-polite burglar. The mentor of the gang appeared to be a bunco artist named Charley Miller.

Gilbert formed a new gang with Billy Harris and Johnny Norton, and headed to New Orleans in the fall of 1881. After New Orleans, Fitz was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida in January, 1882 for swindling a wealthy man from Maine, but was released. The gang headed north to Boston, where they happened upon the most prominent bunco victim in history: Charles Francis Adams–son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams; and himself a former Ambassador to Great Britain. In 1882, Charles Francis Adams was in his seventies, and was mostly retired from public life. Gilbert Fitzgerald was only twenty-six.

Immediately after swindling Adams out of a check for $17,500, Adams’ lawyer, his son, and a private detective tracked Fitzgerald down. Fitzgerald and Norton agreed to meet with them, since they were confident that Adams’ representatives would, in the end, honor the check and preserve the old diplomat’s reputation. Fitzgerald, using the alias “J. S. Morrison,” sauntered into the room, sat down, and opened with a statement: “Gentlemen, this is my business. My occupation is to allure elderly gentlemen of wealth into some den and extort money from them. I have been in this business for a great while. I have recently returned from Florida, where I have been absent the greater part of the winter, and have done a great deal of this sort of business with various Boston parties.”

Fitz then continued to explain that they had targeted Mr. Adams. They knew him by reputation to be wealthy and had made themselves familiar with his habits; the 28th day of March was the day Fitz had met Mr. Adams as he left his house on Mount Vernon street, and introduced himself as the son of an old friend of Mr. Adams; he accosted him very politely, requested permission to walk with him, and did walk with him, conversing with Adams on subject of interest to the old statesman. When they arrived at some point on Boylston street, Mr. Morrison (Fitz) suddenly changed the subject by producing a lottery ticket, and explained to Adams that he had won a prize on it, and would like to have Mr. Adams come inside the lottery office they were passing to help identify him.

Morrison went to the office cashier and received his cash prize and two tickets. Then Morrison called Adams’ attention to a very interesting and fascinating game which was going on, in which cards were laid out in a grid, with a very few blank spaces among the rows of cards. Upon using a ticket, a player was issued six cards with numbers on them. The player totaled the numbers of his cards, which corresponded to the position of a face-down card on the grid. Morrison and Adams each played their ticket, and Adams’ number total pointed to a card that, when turned over, revealed a prize of $2500. As a consequence of that win, Adams qualified to get two more tickets to play again, on condition that he put up a check for $250, 10% of his $2500 prize. That check was given by Adams. They played again with the result of another prize for Adams, this time $16,000. Adams wrote a check for $1600 to play again, and received additional tickets. After another win, Adams wrote a check for $17,500, and then received his cards. This time, the numbers totaled pointed not to a face-down card, but to a blank spot on the grid. Adams had lost.

Morrison (Fitz) had been playing and winning along with Adams, and also lost when Adams lost. Morrison then made a great act of being angry and distraught, saying that he had gambled away his savings. Adams was shocked to learn that they had been gambling, and insisted that he had never gambled in his life. However upset Adams was, Morrison played the victim even stronger, forcing Adams to console his new young acquaintance. Morrison accompanied Adams back to Adams’ house, and the old man went meekly inside.

Adams’ son and lawyer listened to the story in shock. They asked Fitz if the game had been fair. Fitz brushed the question away, “Oh, it was all a fraud, for that matter.” The lawyer of Mr. Adams exclaimed, “I don’t believe this. This can’t be the true story.” Fitzgerald gave him a pained look, and explained, “It was always so at the first in these cases; there was generally a struggle at the beginning, but these checks were always paid.”

If Fitzgerald had been less smug, perhaps the scam would have worked once again. But the Adams family united together and decided to bring the matter to the authorities. Fitzgerald was arrested and brought into a courtroom, where his nonchalant, smarmy attitude was noted by all. During the majority of the court testimony, he sat reading the morning newspaper. Fitzgerald and his attorney were confident that the whole confessional discussion that had taken place could not be used as evidence–but the judge ruled otherwise. Fitzgerald was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

After his release in the mid-1880s, a large gap in Fitzgerald’s activities occurred. One news item from 1893 suggested that he had been convicted of robbing residents of Monaco and the casino at Monte Carlo, but that may have been a different Fitzgerald.

In 1900, at age 44, he was in New York City and married a sixteen-year old girl from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Coleman. In census records, he listed his occupation as “traveling agent” (never a good sign!)

In 1915, Fitzgerald was arrested for being one of the operators of an elaborate “wireless wiretap” betting parlor con, first developed by Larry Summerfield and Timothy Oakes. Fitzgerald’s partners in this venture were Charles and Fred Gondorf; and Fitzgerald was sometimes introduced to others as “Harry Gondorf.” If the name sounds familiar, it is because that was the character name of the wireless wiretap operator (Paul Newman) in the movie The Sting: Henry Gondorff.

Fitzgerald was free by 1917. Over the next several years, he took several trips to Havana, which was then a resort for wealthy Americans. He died in Queens, New York at age 77.


#195 Joseph Rickerman

Joseph Baker (Abt. 1847-19??), aka Nigger Baker, Joe Baker, George Baker, Thomas Baker, Lannon, Graham, Bartholomew Hayes, George R. Tate, George Lehman, George T. Bradford, etc.–Pickpocket, Green Goods Operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Black hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a black mustache. Two vaccination marks on right arm.

RECORD. Joe Rickerman, alias “Nigger” Baker, so called on account of his very dark complexion, is a well known New York burglar and pickpocket. He is an associate of Will Kennedy, Joe Gorman (146), Big Jim Casey (91), “Poodle” Murphy (134), “Pretty” Jimmie (143), Jimmy Scraggins, and other well known New York thieves and pickpockets. He is pretty well known in all the Eastern cities, especially in Philadelphia and New York, where his picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery. He has served terms in prison in Philadelphia (Pa.), Sing Sing (N. Y.), and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and is considered a very handy man with a set of tools.

Of late years Joe has been traveling through the country, “stalling” for a gang of pickpockets. He was arrested in New York City and sentenced to three years and six months in Sing Sing prison for burglary, on September 15, 1881. His sentence expired on July 15, 1884. Rickerman’s picture is a good one, taken in November, 1878.

Chief Inspector Byrnes made a misleading error in his entry on Joseph Rickerman/Baker: the man arrested and sent to Sing Sing on September 15, 1881, was not Rickerman/Baker, but a much younger man named Henry Baker, who was arrested in this instance under the name James Johnson. Henry Baker was born about 1862, making him fifteen years younger than Rickerson/Baker. This same Henry Baker was sent to Sing Sing in 1879, at age 17, under the name James Flynn.

The man that Byrnes was talking about and depicts in a photo was obviously older; but also even more difficult to trace than Henry Baker. “Rickerman” appears to have been a one-off alias, given at just one of his arrests. The press usually referred to him by his underworld nickname, Nigger Baker–a label meant to mock his dark complexion.

Without that one arrest date as a clue, there is little to go on to trace this man other than his nickname and the name Rickerman. A 1902 article on Baker claims that he was jailed in July 1868 under the name Richmond; and imprisoned again in 1874 and 1881; but none of these can be verified. The first documented presence of Baker can only be found in a round-up of 18 pickpockets working the New York City crowd during President Grant’s funeral in August 1885; among them was George alias “Nigger” Baker. Several additional arrests of Baker under that nickname for picking pockets occurred between 1885 and 1888.

In the 1890s, like several of the Bowery gang of pickpockets, Baker moved in to “green goods” operations, in which gullible “come-ons” were lured to trade their good money for loads of supposed high-quality counterfeit notes, which through sleight-of-hand turned out to be nothing more than satchels full of sawdust or plain paper.

Although law enforcement was often stymied in figuring out how to crack down on this devious confidence game, one man took it upon himself to lead the fight: Anthony Comstock. A Civil War Union army veteran with a strict puritan background, Comstock came to New York City in the early 1870s to work for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Seeing firsthand the many immoral and corrupt influences that led young men astray, Comstock founded a reform organization called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Comstrock’s primary target was obscene printed materials. Though a prude, Comstock was a profoundly influential and effective campaigner. Just a year after arriving in New York, Comstock lent his name to a federal law, the Comstock Act of 1873, that made illegal the use of the U. S. Mail to deliver “obscene, lewd, or  lascivious” material. Comstock was quick to broaden his definition of these terms to anything pertaining to sex, including any mentions of abortion, birth control, or venereal disease. Anecdotes suggest the law was even applied to medical text books. Wielding popular support, Comstock was hired as a special investigator for the United States Postal Service.

Comstock took his role seriously, and cracked down on distributors of material he deemed unfit. In a narrow sense, his efforts yielded some good: he prosecuted medical quacks who preyed upon young, desperate women with worthless or dangerous solutions to their health issues. However, Comstock was anything but contained; he broadened his misuse of the mail to include gambling efforts–in the form of lottery tickets sold through the mail; and, eventually, to the circulars distributed by green goods operators.

By working closely with local law authorities, Comstock used the federal mail fraud act to attack green goods operators on two fronts, by cracking down both on the “writers” who sent out mass-mailed circulars; and on the backers and turners who actually executed the swindle of the victim. Through the 1880s and 1890s, Comstock’s efforts winnowed the ranks of New York’s green goods operators. One of the last, strongest operations were those of backer Mike Ryan, who, prior to 1894, counted on protection offered by his political and police associates. Ryan was finally jailed in 1896, having been brought before the reforming Lexow Committee a little while earlier, thanks to Comstock.

Comstock then sets his sights on the remaining members of Mike Ryan’s operation. At the head of the new gang was “George Lehman,” otherwise known as Nigger Baker. Baker had shifted the physical meeting place of the swindles to Allentown, Pennsylvania; though he was still headquartered in New York. Comstock’s indefatigable determination finally trapped Baker:


As mentioned in the above article, Comstock personally sat in on Baker’s trial, both as a witness and audience to the proceedings. True crime author Jay Robert Nash related a story of that scene that serves as a epitaph for Baker, alias George Lehman:

“Comstock delightedly sat day after day in court, reveling in his victory, until the con man was convicted for green goods swindles for the sixth time since 1896.

“’Why don’t you go straight when you get out, George?’ Comstock asked the prisoner before he was led away.

“’Don’t be silly,’ Lehman replied. ‘When you got a profession, you stick to it. It’s the only way to get ahead.’”


#114 George N. Elwood

George B. Hibbard (1843-1893), aka George Elwood/Ellwood, George A. Moore, Gentleman George — Masked house burglar

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Chicago, Ill. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Hair dyed black, eyes dark- blue, complexion sallow. Has small scar on back of head, left side.

RECORD. Elwood/Wilson is a daring and murderous Western thief. Nothing much is known of him in the Eastern country. He was arrested in New York City on August 24, 1885, in company of Joe Wilson, alias Whalen (65), charged with a series of masked burglaries in several of the Western States. When Elwood’s and Wilson’s rooms, at No. 220 Forsyth Street, New York City, were searched, after the capture of the cracksmen, among the articles seized was a Masonic ring, marked “Edison W. Baumgarten, June 25, 1884.” The ring was traced to Ohio, and on August 25, 1885, in response to some inquiries made by telegraph, the Chief of Police of New York City received the following reply from the Chief of Police of Toledo: “Hold Elwood and Wilson. Charge, grand larceny and burglary and shooting officer with intent to kill. Will send requisition papers immediately.” Subsequent correspondence on the same subject stated that the men were also wanted for a robbery which they had committed at Detroit.

The crime for which the Toledo authorities requested the detention of the prisoners was committed on August 13, 1885. On that night, it was alleged, they broke into a house, and being discovered in the act of plundering the place, fired several shots at the servants. An alarm was raised, and a policeman who started in pursuit of the fugitives was shot in the breast and dangerously wounded. The men then came on to New York. They had been there only a few days before they were under surveillance, and while they were being watched the detectives became aware of the plans they were hatching for a series of burglaries which they contemplated committing in Saratoga. When they were about to start on that trip the detectives arrested them. All through the West, Elwood is known as a daring and desperate burglar, and it is said that some two years ago he murdered two of his associates. Elwood and Wilson were on August 25 arraigned at the Jefferson Market Court in New York City, and at the request of their captors they were committed until the arrival of the Toledo authorities with the requisition papers. They were both delivered to the police authorities of Toledo, Ohio, on August 29, 1885, and taken there for trial. Elwood and Wilson were the parties who robbed the residences of Messrs. Oakes and Merriam in St. Paul, Minn., in August, 1885. Merriam’s diamond scarf-pin was found in their possession, and a pawn ticket taken at Detroit for his diamond collar-button was also found upon them. A requisition was taken out at St. Paul to intercept the prisoners at Toledo, where they were being taken for the robbery of Mr. Baumgarten’s residence and the murder of a policeman. The intention was to take them to St. Paul in case they could not be held for the Toledo crimes. The trial of George A. Elwood, one of the notorious burglars, closed at Toledo, Ohio, on December 12, 1885, with a verdict of guilty. The defense offered no evidence, but argued that Elwood had not been sufficiently identified. A motion for a new trial was made, which was overruled. Elwood said he believed he would get the full extent of the law.

He and his partner, Joseph Wilson, are the original gentlemanly burglars who emptied the houses and filled the newspapers of Cleveland, Detroit, St. Paul, Milwaukee and St. Louis, until their doings in Toledo led to their apprehension in New York. These men are well known thieves, and considerable excitement was caused among the fraternity at the time they were arrested and were about to be taken back to the West. Their methods employed to transfer the possessions of others to their pockets were so peculiarly bold that the whole West was startled by their exploits. Detroit in particular suffered from them, mainly because the police were nonplused by the audacity of their performances. They invariably awakened the parties they intended to rob, and compelled them to comply with their wishes at the points of their revolvers. Oftentimes they would repair to the dining-room with the owner of the premises and indulge in a feast before their departure. Besides doing this, at a residence in Cleveland, they compelled the victim to sign a check for $100 and made him promise not to dishonor it. While leaving a Detroit residence early one morning they met the gentleman of the house returning from out of the city, and not at all taken aback by the encounter, they robbed him on the porch, and then sent him into the house to see what they had left. These eccentricities caused their fame to spread far and wide, and the “gentlemanly burglar” was patterned after in many localities. But there were few equals, and none superior. For coolness and daring Elwood and Wilson stood in the front rank of masked burglars. Elwood was found guilty on December 19, 1885, and was sentenced to ten years in the Ohio penitentiary. In the case of Wilson there was a disagreement of the jury. A second trial resulted in his conviction. (See record of No. 65.)

Before Wilson associated with the desperado Elwood he operated for months alone in Brooklyn, N.Y. House robbery was his line of business, and silverware his plunder. He committed a series of mysterious robberies, and although an active search was made for the “silver king,” he succeeded in avoiding arrest. His repeated successes stimulated other thieves, who began operating in Brooklyn. One of the latter was caught, and it was then believed that the cunning “silver king” had been at last trapped. Such was not the case, for Wilson had set out for the Western country. Elwood’s picture was taken in August, 1885.

Throughout his criminal career, “Gentleman George” never revealed his real identity, with the intention of shielding his family’s reputation. However, while imprisoned for the final time, his wife wrote a letter to him that was intercepted by authorities and published in several New England newspapers. The details in the letter revealed “Gentleman George” to be George B. Hibbard of Detroit, Michigan. His respectable, embarrassed family hoped no one would notice these newspaper articles. He died in 1893 in a Rhode Island prison as George Ellwood. Three years later, George B. Hibbard was officially declared dead in Michigan. The family’s story was that he had been long institutionalized in an Eastern Michigan asylum, and had died there.

The truth was much darker. “Gentleman George,” after losing several appeals of his conviction–and facing more than twenty more years remaining on his Rhode Island sentence–attempted a jailbreak by overpowering a guard. He was shot dead while swinging a hammer at the prison guard’s head.

By all appearances, Hibbard was an honest family man during the 1870s and early 1880s, working as a traveling windmill salesman and living with his in-laws in Adrian, Michigan. Years later, rumors surfaced that he had led a long life of crime, and had deceived his wife all during their marriage. One specific allegation said that he was not a salesman, but a “bunco steerer,” a con-man; and that he had joined a gang led by James Fitzgerald in Denver. However, there is no record of any brushes with the law prior to 1885 (also, some confusion might have arisen between Hibbard and other bad characters named George Ellwood.) Sometime in 1883, he met and decided to team up with burglar Joe Whalen (alias Joe Wilson). Why Hibbard turned to burglary is not known, but he and Whalen proved to be an effective team.

The pair of burglars spent the summer of 1885 breaking into houses in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago. From their base in Detroit, they then decided to hit a house in Toledo, where Hibbard, empowered by his mask, made one of his trademark, chilling visits:


Hibbard and Wilson were picked up by detectives in New York on suspicion, and items from this Toledo robbery were found in their possession. It was in New York that Hibbard first used the alias Ellwood, which stuck with him. They were escorted back to Ohio, where they were tried for the Toledo and Cleveland robberies. Hibbard received a sentence a long sentence, and entered the State Prison in 1885. More than halfway through his stretch, he broke free:


Six months later, Hibbard migrated to New England. He burglarized homes in Providence, Rhode Island; then he attempted a house robbery in Norwich, Connecticut, but was shot by the owner in his left breast and left shoulder. Hibbard fled the scene, and though seriously wounded, got on a train to Worcester, Massachusetts. He broke into a couple of houses there, but was later found collapsed in a doorway. Prosecutors agreed the strongest case against him could be made in Providence, so he was sent there to await trial.

It took over a year to convict Hibbard, after his first trial was thrown out on mishandled evidence. At his separate sentencing session, he was accorded the chance to address the court before the sentence was announced. Hibbard stood and began reading from a text said to be forty pages long. He spoke for nearly an hour, condemning the whole process that had brought him to this point: he accused the judges he had faced in Rhode Island of being incapable of fairness; he accused the officers who arrested him of stealing his money, thereby denying his access to good counsel; he stated that the prosecutors had paid witnesses to perjure themselves; he referred to the jury that convicted him as little more than $134 worth of dirt and water, and that they had decided their verdict before they heard any evidence.

Hibbard concluded his tirade with an elaborate, hearty curse:

“My curse upon you all for driving me to the very verge of hell, and may the time come, whether in heaven or hell, upon this miserable earth, when you will likewise curse and I can demonstrate to you my hatred, and how much I loathe, hate, and despise you all. Now look upon your work and see if I am fit to live. Oh, that I had the strength of a thousand Samsons, that I could crush, tear, and rend you all like mad dogs. Now do the most agreeable duty of your life and sentence the man you have hounded into a fiend and a demon. Do your dirty work accordingly.”

Given his nickname, perhaps someone had expected him to be polite.

After a shocked pause, Hibbard’s attorney begged the court to ignore Hibbard’s desperate speech, and be merciful. The judge rebuked Hibbard for being a coward dulled by crime, and sentenced him to twenty-five years hard labor. Six months later, Hibbard made his attempt to escape that resulted in his death.