#61 Thomas O’Connor

Thomas O. Connors (Abt. 1860-????), aka Tommy Connors — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. Teamster. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 3/4 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Dark hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion, freckled face. Has a star in India ink on right hand, and letters “T. O. C.” in a circle on left arm.

RECORD. “Tommy Connors,” the name he is best known by, is a desperate west side New York burglar. He is well known in the Eastern States as the former partner of Clark Carpenter, alias Clarkey (deceased), and James McDonald, alias Milky McDonald, two other notorious west side burglars. He has served a term in Sing Sing prison and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York.

He first came into prominent notice when arrested in New York City on December 2, 1884, in company of John McKeon, alias Kid McKeon, alias Whitey, and William Pettibone, for robbing a safe in the Bay State shoe-shop, in the Kings County Penitentiary of New York. Pettibone was at the time in the employ of the company. McKeon had served a term in the penitentiary, and worked in the shop. These two, in company of Connors, tore the safe open, and secured $3,104 in money in November, 1884. Pettibone was arrested and used by the people as a witness to convict McKeon, who was sentenced to six years and six months in State prison. Connors escaped conviction in this case.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 14, 1886, in company of Clark Carpenter, alias Clarkey, and James McDonald, alias Milky McDonald, and delivered to the police authorities of Boston, and taken there to answer for a series of burglaries. One of the burglaries occurred on October 1, 1885, at No. 470 Harrison Avenue; another on Thanksgiving morning, 1885, at No. 428 Tremont Street; another on December 26, 1885, at No. 390 West Broadway, South Boston, and several others in the city of Boston and vicinity. Connors, McDonald, and Clark were tried in Boston on February 11, 12, and 13, 1886, and the jury disagreed; they were remanded to Charles Street jail to await another trial. This case was finally brought to a close on April 15, 1886, when Thomas O’Connor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in State prison. Milky McDonald was discharged on April 15, 1886. Clarkey was also discharged on the same day, but, being very sick, died in Charles Street jail on the following day, April 16, 1886. O’Connor’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1886.

Byrnes’s entry for this criminal is maddeningly unclear. None of the accounts of the two crimes Byrnes lists mention the name “O’Connor,” only “Connors.” The accompanying photo for Byrnes’s entry labels the man’s name as “Thomas O. Connor,” and his physical description mentions a tattoo with three initials: T.O.C.  Byrnes also mentions that Tommy had been in Sing Sing, but no Connors or O’Connors match the description given by Byrnes.

Many criminal court entries and Blackwell’s Island jailings can be found for men named Thomas O’Connor or Thomas Connors, but without further clues, there is no way to tell if any of those are the same man. So while not much more can be discovered about Tommy, there’s more that can be said about the two crimes listed by Byrnes.

The robbery of a safe inside the Kings County Penitentiary was a huge embarrassment to the county sheriff and prison warden, made worse by the fact that the suspects were soon corralled by New York City detectives, not Brooklyn detectives (the cities had not yet merged).

Connors was arrested only upon being implicated by McKeon, who had confessed his guilt. With no other evidence against him, Connors was released. 

Byrnes’s detectives also captured the three men accused of a string of burglaries that took place in Boston in the fall of 1875: Connors, James “Milky” McDonald, and Clark W. “Clarkey” Carpenter. They were transported to Boston, and were charged with three counts of burglary each.

A trial on one of the counts took place in February 1886, and resulted in a hung jury. The three men were then tried on the other two charges. Clark Carpenter, by that point, was near death from consumption. It was reported that even if found guilty, he would never be sent to prison. McDonald’s mother was also deathly ill back in New York, and sent messages begging to see her son. The Boston Herald reported that, out of sympathy for his two partners, Tommy Connors agreed to plead guilty so that charges against the others would be dropped. If true, the burglar had a bit of nobility in him.

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes only update was a mention that Connors was then working on the ships that transported cattle from New York to Liverpool.

#78 Andrew McGuire

Alias Fairy McGuire (Abt. 1838-????), aka Ferris McGuire/Maguire, Eddie Watson, Andrew Connors, Edwin/Edward McGuire/Maguire — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Slim build. Married. Cigar-maker. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, bald head. Generally wears a full reddish-brown beard and mustache.

RECORD. “Fairy” McGuire is probably one of the most daring and desperate thieves in America, and is well known in almost all the large cities. He served a fifteen years’ sentence in Bangor, Maine, for highway robbery; also a term in Clinton prison, New York State, for burglary.

He was arrested in New York City on March 6, 1881, in front of No. 53 Nassau Street, occupied by L. Durr & Bro., assayers and refiners of gold and silver. An officer discovered the burglars at work in the store, and while looking in the window was approached by McGuire, who commenced talking loudly, thereby giving the men on the inside a chance to escape. McGuire was arrested, and upon the premises being examined it was found that three safes were partly torn open; they also found a full set of burglars’ tools. As no connection could be made with McGuire and the people on the inside, he had to be discharged.

He was arrested again in New York City on March 17, 1881, and delivered to the Brooklyn police authorities, charged with robbing Miss Elizabeth Roberts, of Second Place, in that city. Four men entered the basement door of the house, bound the servant and tied her to a chair; then went upstairs, bound and gagged Miss Roberts, and took $3,000 in Cairo City Water bonds, numbered respectively 52, 71 and 72, also about $500 worth of jewelry. Although there was no doubt that McGuire was one of the four men engaged in this robbery, he was discharged, as the parties could not identify him, on account of being disguised on the day of the robbery.

He was arrested again in Newark, N.J., on July 5, 1881, charged with “blowing” open the safe in James Traphagen’s jewelry store on Broad Street, that city. When the officers pursued McGuire, he turned and fired several shots at them. A party giving the name of George Williams, alias Dempsey, was arrested also. McGuire was tried and convicted on three indictments on October 18, 1881, one for burglary and two for felonious assault. He was sentenced to ten years in Trenton prison on each indictment, making thirty years in all, on October 19, 1881. Williams was sentenced to two years for burglary the same day. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1881.

Fairy McGuire was only arrested a handful of times, but the nature of his crimes combined with appearances before hard-nosed judges put him behind bars for over thirty years.

    Fairy McGuire, 1881 and 1897.

 

McGuire was sent to Sing Sing in the early 1860s for four and a half years, though the circumstances of his conviction aren’t known. In prison he met a veteran burglar named David Bartlett, with whom he would later collaborate.

In January 1866, McGuire participated in the robbery of an Adams Express car on the New Haven Railroad, getting away with over a half a million dollars–a crime many recognize as the first train robbery in America. The other gang members included Gilly McGloin, Martin Allen, Jimmy Wells, and John Grady. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, and within six months had tracked down all the gang members.

However, Fairy McGuire was not captured until after committing another robbery in Maine of the Bowdoinham Bank, in June 1866. This robbery represented another first: the first one committed by masked bandits, and the first where the bandits called each other by number. The other gang members were the aforementioned David Bartlett, George Miles White (aka George Bliss), and Owen “Rory” Simms.

When McGuire was captured in New York in October 1866, he was handed over to Maine officials for prosecution–a misfortune for him, since Maine sentencing laws were much harsher than those he would have faced if handed over to Connecticut. He was sentenced to twenty years in the Maine State Prison and released after fifteen.

Fairy (named for his high-pitched, squeaky voice) wasted little time getting into trouble again; Inspector Byrnes gives a good summary of his 1881 missteps, which culminated with his conviction in New Jersey, and the hard sentence of thirty years.

McGuire appealed the extreme term, and eventually he was released after serving fourteen and a half years in Trenton.

McGuire was arrested twice in 1897, both times on suspicion that he was about to commit a burglary. He appears to have escaped more prison time, but perhaps these scare finally discouraged him. Nothing more is known about his fate after 1897 when he was fifty-nine.

 

 

#156 Thomas Matthews

Thomas Matthews (Abt. 1837-????), aka Tommy Matthews, James Turner, Thomas Morgan, Joseph Morton, Thomas Williams — Burglar, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION, Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Cooper by trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 133 pounds. Hair gray, eyes gray, nose a little flat, ruddy complexion. Generally wears a full, dark beard and mustache, turning very gray.

RECORD. Tommy Matthews is an old and expert thief. He has been on the road for at least twenty years, and has served terms in a dozen prisons throughout the United States. He is known in all the large cities from Maine to Colorado, and although getting old, is quite clever yet. He generally associates with the best local talent, and is a very careful worker of late, preferring to lose a “trick” than to take any chances of going to State prison.

Matthews was arrested in New York City, on January 11, 1879, in company of Tim Oats (136), charged with robbing a man named Michael Jobin of $200, on a Third Avenue horse-car. Both were committed in $5,000 bail for trial. They pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to two years each in the penitentiary on February 6, 1879, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions. In this case he gave the name of James Moran.

Matthews was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Morgan, for picking pockets. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, on October 29, 1885, by Recorder Smyth. (See records of Nos. 136, 161.) Matthews’ picture is a pretty good one, taken in January, 1879.

Inspector Byrnes characterized Tommy Mathews primarily as a pickpocket, but he had a more versatile criminal career, dating back to the 1850s. He was sent to Sing Sing three times and to Blackwell’s Island at least four times. Byrnes and the Sing Sing registrars believed his real name to be Thomas Matthews/Mathews, but on one occasion his listed his parents as William and Mary Morton.

His first known offense was in December 1857, under the name Thomas Williams, when he was convicted of stealing watches from a New York City jeweler. His 1862 he was arrested twice in “Dad” Cunningham’s gambling room on Broadway; he was assisting the faro games as a cuekeeper. He was convicted of an offense in 1862 under the name he gave on these occasions–James Turner–but it is unclear what the charge against him was.

In August 1867 he was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island for six months for an attempted burglary. In 1868 he was sent back for another two and a half years for burglary.

In 1875, he was arrested once again under the name James Turner along with two others, all captured while in the middle of burglarizing a warehouse of cashmeres, satin, and velvet. They were released on bail and did not reappear for their trial, but were rearrested several months later. This time, he was sent to Sing Sing for four years. He was described as an old member of Wes Allen‘s gang.

As Byrnes mentions, Tommy was caught in 1879 working as a pickpocket with Tim Oates. Upon arrest, Tommy used the alias James Moran while Oates used Timothy Clark. They both got two years at Blackwell’s.

In 1881, under the alias Joseph Morton, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing for another burglary.

He had only been out a small while before being caught picking pockets at Coney Island with Roaring Bill Wright. He was sent back to Sing Sing in October 1885 under the name Thomas Morgan.

In 1890 he was picked up in Brooklyn for carrying burglar’s tools and sent to King’s County Penitentiary for four and a half years.

Finally, in 1896, Tommy suffered the same fate as many Bowery pickpockets: he was arrested in New Jersey for being a member of a “green goods” operation based in Brooklyn.

 

#170 James McMahon

Alias James McMann (Abt. 1855-????), aka James McMahon — River Pirate

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, light complexion, big nose, thick lips.

RECORD. McMahon is a well known New York burglar and river thief. He has served a term on Blackwell’s Island, and is a desperate man. He is also well known in Philadelphia and other cities. He was arrested in New York City on May 16, 1880, charged with robbing the schooner Victor, of Prince Edward’s Island, while lying at one of the wharves. McMahon was detected in the act of robbing the vessel by the mate, John Williams, who, while in an attempt to arrest McMahon, was terribly beaten by him. McMahon was committed for trial in default of $3,000 bail, by Justice Morgan, on May 15, 1880, indicted on May 18, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to ten years in State prison on May 18, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. His sentence expires on September 18, 1886. His picture is a good one, taken in May, 1880.

In terms of identifying James McMahon, Inspector Byrnes offers more obscurity than clarity. Of the five river pirates that boarded the schooner Victor, each of the four others used an alias, and most newspaper accounts assumed that McMahon/McMann was an alias [some newspapers used the spelling McMahon, but the Sing Sing register and the most detailed newspaper account (by the New York Times) used the spelling McMann]. In the Sing Sing register, McMann offered the name of a contact, a cousin: William Meehan.

The Sing Sing register also gave this prisoner’s age as 25, not 36 as Byrnes asserts. The other four men involved were under twenty-five.

While identifying McMahon/McMann is futile, the crime for which he was arrested is fairly interesting: river piracy.

New York City was one of America’s major ports, with docks sprouting from the shores of Hudson County, New Jersey; Manhattan; the Bronx, and Brooklyn. The surrounding waterways, then and now, present a fractal landscape of bays, coves, islands, rivers, harbors, points, inlets, channels, etc.–in other words, a pirate’s paradise of areas where a vessel could quickly be hidden.

River pirates operated from small vessels: a yawl, sloop, or ketch; and consisted of gangs of 4-12 men. Their main targets were anchored shipping vessels that were lightly-manned, with most of the crew ashore or not yet hired. The booty they sought was anything portable: nautical instruments, small chests, items in containers, etc. They boarded these larger vessels silently, under cover of night, and with guns drawn. The expectation was that they would catch whatever skeleton crew was onboard asleep, and overpower them. Alternatively, sometimes these gangs targeted dockside warehouses.

In 1879–the year before McMann/McMahon’s arrest–a large gang of river pirates led by Big Mike Shanahan had been broken up by the authorities, with nearly all the major members caught and imprisoned. This one gang was said to be responsible for losses totaling a half-million dollars.

McMann/McMahon’s gang of young men attempted to fill in the vacuum left by the downfall of Shanahan’s gang. There were eyewitness accounts of their attack on the Victor:

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The second man that tried to cling to the swamped yawl was Thomas Holland, alias James Rourke/O’Rourke. His body was found about ten days later floating in Long Island Sound. Each of the four surviving pirates was sentenced to Sing Sing for ten years.

There was absolutely no sympathy on the part of the public for the river pirates. The Brooklyn Eagle wrote:

“That they meant murder is obvious, and that they should be punished to the full extent of the law is manifest. The New York docks teem with such rats. The surface of the East River and the Sound is fretted with them. They know that boats must anchor at certain places for tide or towage, and presuming on their ability and inclination to murder if interfered with, they are in readiness for any opportunity to plunder. They need an example. The authorities have four of them in their hands. There should be no delay in the trial, and, if they are found guilty, Bedloe’s Island should again be decorated as one Mr. Johnson decorated it years ago.”

The last reference is to Albert Hicks, alias William Johnson, who was arrested for murder in 1860. He claimed that he had been shanghaied to help crew a small ship as it left port, and when he found a chance he murdered the entire crew and left the ship adrift while he escaped in a yawl. He was captured and publicly hanged from gallows erected on the shore of Bedloe’s Island–the last man hanged for piracy in New York. Thousands of people watched the hanging from hundreds of ships and boats hugging the island’s shore–it was a blood-lust spectacle worthy of Rome’s Colosseum.

Bedloe’s Island is now Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty.

 

 

#171 Theodore Wildey

Theodore Wiley (Abt. 1843-????), aka “The.” Wildey, George Van Dugan, George Davis, George Marsh — Sneak Thief, Till Tapper

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Printer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 166 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion, dark brown mustache, high forehead. Two joints off fingers of right hand. “Josephine,” and numbers “1858,” in India ink on left fore-arm.

RECORD. “The.” Wiley is a clever sneak thief, burglar and pickpocket. He is what might be called a good general thief, as he can turn his hand to almost anything. He is well known in New York and nearly all the principal cities in the United States. He is an old criminal, and has served terms in Sing Sing and other prisons.

He was arrested in New York City on August 14, 1875, and delivered to the Brooklyn (N.Y.) police authorities, for robbing a safe in Calvin Cline’s jewelry store on Fourth Street, that city, of $5,000 worth of diamonds, on August 12, 1875. He was tried in the Kings County Court of Sessions in Brooklyn, on October 6, 1875, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary by Judge Moore, for burglary in the second degree, under the name of George Marsh. He cut off the fingers of his right hand, while confined in the Kings County Penitentiary, so he would not have to work. His sentence expired on April 5, 1882.

He was arrested again in Syracuse, N.Y., on January 4, 1883, in company of Timothy Oats (136) and William A. Brown, alias “The Student,” charged with stealing a tin box containing $250 in money from a saloon there. (See record of No. 136.) Wiley gave the name of George Davis, alias George Marsh, and was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in Auburn (N.Y.) State prison, on March 1, 1883. His sentence expires October 1, 1886. Oats pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years on the same day in this case. Russell also pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to five years in Auburn prison at the same time. Wiley’s picture is an excellent one, taken in September, 1882.

Inspector Byrnes briefly mentions a gruesome anecdote about the thief Theodore Wiley: that Wiley cut off his own fingers in order to avoid prison labor. This event occurred in October 1876, when Wiley was a convict at the Kings County Penitentiary. A firm called the Bay State Shoe and Leather Company had a contract with the county to use convicts to make shoes in the prison workshop. Wiley had three fingers of his right hand cut off by a hide-cutting machine. Authorities thought he did this on purpose to avoid work, but Wiley later tried to sue the company for personal injury.

However, there’s more to the story…

Earlier that same month–October 1876–The.’s older brother, Peter Wiley, died from consumption (likely tuberculosis) while an inmate of Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison. Peter Wiley and a partner had arrived in Philadelphia in September on a train from New York, and within a few hours found themselves under arrest for attempting to snatch a handful of gold lockets at a jewelry store. Peter was sentenced to two years.

He was likely already ill when arrested, and in the weeks he was incarcerated taken to the prison hospital several times. According to the prison officials there, despite his sickness, he remained “bold, defiant and hardened,” refusing to see a priest or to receive visits from family and friends. One of his last requests was: “Gimme some chloroform. Let me die game,” i.e. give him a fatal overdose, he was ready to die.

Peter Wiley had come to Philadelphia only a short time after being released from New York’s Sing Sing prison. At Sing Sing, Peter distinguished himself as being a difficult and troublesome convict. When told that he was slacking at his workshop job and had to comply or face punishment (torture), Peter Wiley snatched a hatchet and chopped off four of his fingers.

And so, just days after Peter Wiley died in Philadelphia, his brother Theodore paid tribute to him. People grieve in different ways.

 

 

 

#188 Charles Bennet

Alias William T. Angell (Abt. 1849-????) — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Dark complexion. Had cast in one eye, which was operated upon, and is hardly noticeable now. Very genteel-looking. Good talker and writer. Dark brown hair. Generally wears a full dark beard, or mustache and whiskers, as in picture.

RECORD. Bennett is a very daring thief. He was an old partner of Fairy McGuire (78) and Sleepy Gus, and traveled through the country with them smashing in windows and robbing them. He is an expert burglar, and is well known in all the large cities, especially Philadelphia and New York.

Bennett was arrested in Middletown, Conn., on December 5, 1878, with a lot of burglars’ tools in his possession. He was tried and sentenced to two years in State prison, by Judge Morton, on the same day of his arrest. He has served terms in Sing Sing and the Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia since. This man, of late years, is not relied upon much by the fraternity, on account of his fondness for liquor. Bennett’s picture is an excellent one, taken in December, 1878.

Inspector Byrnes reached his cryptic worst in his entry for this professional criminal. The one arrest and conviction he cites from December 1878 was made under the name William T. Agnell–an alias not used before or after this one incident.

There were many records for a “Charles Bennett” being sent to New York prisons prior to 1886, but none were sent to Sing Sing–the only New York prison with accessible registers that give ages, birthplaces, descriptions, and (sometimes) family contacts. Therefore there is no way to determine if any of these is the man that Byrnes was talking about.

All the major newspaper databases combined have only a small handful of arrests of a Charles/Charley/Charlie Bennet/Bennett; again, from those brief entries, it is impossible to tell if any match Byrnes #188.

Tantalizingly, there was a William Bentley (one of the alias surnames Byrnes mentions) who was sent to Sing Sing in 1874. Bentley was the same age and physical description as Byrnes’s Bennett–and even had the same scarred eye; but William Bentley was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate a month into his stint at Sing Sing.

For now, Bennett’s claim to fame will have to be limited to the fact that he was partner to two of the quaintest-named old crooks: Fairy McGuire and Sleepy Gus (Augustus Tristram).

 

 

 

#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

Capture

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:

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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.

 

 

 

 

#167 Edward McGee

Samuel Edward McGee (Abt. 1843-????), aka Charles A. Bernhard, Benjamin Earle, Edward Meyers, Edward Murphy

From Byrnes’s 1886 text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Southerner by birth. A baker by trade. Height, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Tall, slim man. Brown hair, dark eyes, dark, sallow complexion. Has a coat-of-arms and sunburst in India ink on his right fore-arm. Dark mustache and chin whiskers; grows thin.

RECORD. Eddie McGee is one of the cleverest burglars, sneak thieves and pennyweight workers there is in the country. He is a partner of Johnny Curtin, alias Cunningham, alias Roberts (169), another daring and desperate thief. McGee is well known in all the principal cities of the United States, especially Chicago, Philadelphia (Pa.), New York and Boston, in all of which he is said to have been sent to prison.

McGee and Curtin were arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., for shoplifting, and sentenced to eighteen months each in the Eastern Penitentiary. When their time expired, on August 14, 1883, they were both arrested by New York officers, at the penitentiary gate, and brought to New York City, to answer an indictment charging them with the larceny of $1,200 worth of jewelry from Theodore Starr, a Fifth Avenue jeweler, in January, 1882. In this case there was no conviction.

Shortly after their release they went to England. Curtin was arrested there and sent to prison. McGee returned to America, and was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on February 12, 1884, for burglary, and sentenced to five years and six months in the Kings County Penitentiary on April 16, 1884, under the name of B. C. Earl. McGee’s picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1883.

From Byrnes’s 1895 text:

He went to Europe with Johnny Curtin (No. 169), one of the most expert jewelry and sneak thieves in the world. They were both arrested at Paris, France, in the spring of 1884, for a sneak robbery, and sentenced to four years imprisonment each. This was reduced for some cause, as they were at liberty on April 15, 1886.

He was arrested again at Hoboken, N.J., on June 11, 1888. He was charged in company of Billy Goodman, alias Gordon, alias Gardiner, with attempting to rob a show case in a jewelry store in that city of a handful of diamond rings. He was arrested on the spot. Goodman made his escape. He was arrested again in New York City on June 23, 1888, and delivered to the Hoboken authorities. For this Offense he and Goodman were sentenced to five (5) years each in Trenton, N.J., State Prison, and costs, on September 21, 1888. McGee gave the name of Chas. A. Bernard. Picture taken August, 1883.

There is a glaring inconsistency between the 1886 and 1895 editions of Byrnes’s book in their profiles of Eddie McGee: the 1886 edition states that McGee was arrested in Brooklyn in April, 1884; while the 1895 edition asserts that McGee went to Europe with John Curtin and was jailed there in the Spring of 1884.

Capture
Collection of Shayne Davidson

Given the grim predictability of McGee’s career, one almost wishes he might have at least known the variety of a Parisian prison. Sadly, it appears that his placement in Paris in 1884 is the error.

McGee was born as Samuel Edward McGee, son of a very successful Washington, D. C. baker, Samuel McGee, about 1843. Though it’s possible he saw service in the Civil War, most accounts suggest he only spent twenty out of his first fifty-two years out of prison. One of those terms was supposedly served at Joliet State Prison in Illinois, which was not a consequence of any of his known transgressions, from 1877 forward.

In June 1877, McGee and a partner, George Clarke alias Henry Miner, were captured in New York City with the proceeds of several house burglaries. They were sentenced in July to five years in Sing Sing; Both McGee and Clarke were described as “well-known burglars.”

No long after his release, in January 1882 McGee partnered with John Curtin on a robbery of diamond jewelry from the store of Theodore Starr in New York City. Before long, the same pair were caught picking pockets in Philadelphia, and both were sentenced to eighteen months in Eastern State Penitentiary. Inspector Byrnes suspected that they were responsible for the diamond robbery, and had a clerk from the store visit the Penitentiary to identify them. Upon their release from Eastern State, New York detectives arrested them and took them back to New York. They were tried in August 1883, but escaped conviction for lack of evidence.

If Eddie McGee then went to Europe with John Curtin, then McGee returned alone before April, 1884. That month he was caught fleeing a burglary scene by a Brooklyn police officer after a long foot chase, one in which McGee was seen flinging one tool after another into the streets. He was arrested as Benjamin Earle and sentenced to five and a half years in the Kings County Penitentiary.

He wasn’t free long before he was caught trying to rob a Hoboken jewelry store in June 1888. This episode cost McGee five years at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

In May 1895, McGee was nabbed once again while stealing silk bundles from a New York store. He was returned to Sing Sing for two years and five months. He was barely out of prison before being caught with a partner, Martin McCloskey, stealing opera glasses worth $2000 from a Philadelphia optician. The two old burglars informed on each other, but did not improve their cases. They were both given three and a half years at Eastern State in January 1898.

Nothing more was heard of McGee after this prison term.

 

 

 

 

#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. 1These represent just two errors in Byrnes’s sloppy account of Mason’s crimes.

Capture

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.

 

 

 

 

 

#76 Billy Forrester

Alexander McClymont (1838-1912), aka Billy Forrester,  Frank Livingston, Frank Howard, Conrad Foltz, etc. — Thief, Burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #76 Billy Forrester

The story of Billy Forrester’s career is filled with misinformation: false stories of his origins; crimes that he likely did not commit; aliases which he may or may have not used; how he escaped prisons; women he married; and when and how he came to an end. The worst mistake occurred when New York detectives (before Byrnes’s time) accepted the word of a convict-informer and started a manhunt for Forrester, believing him to be the murderer of financier Benjamin Nathan. For many years, Forrester found himself branded as a killer, despite the fact that he proved he was in the South at the time when the burglary at Nathan’s mansion occurred.

When Billy realized that he was about to be railroaded for murder in 1872, he explained his history to the New York Herald: his name was Alexander McClymont, he was born in Glasgow, and served for a long period in the U. S. Navy, starting as a messenger boy in 1852.  [As late as 1907 or 08, Forrester was still trying to get past pay due to him, and in fact thought he was was owed decades of pay, since he had never been formally discharged. Detective William Pinkerton tried to dissuade Billy of that claim, reminding Billy that he had deserted.]

In 1872, Allan Pinkerton gave the Chicago Tribune an account of Forrester’s history, most of which can be verified from 1868 on. Forrester himself had once indicated he had been in Joliet from 1863-1867, but if so, must have been under a different name:

18720929chicagotribune

For the act of interceding, “The.” Allen was dragged through court proceedings for six months.

Pinkerton’s account continues on, but skips over an embarrassing episode. From New York, Billy went to Boston, where he romanced a young girl, Elizabeth Dudley, the daughter of a respected liquor merchant from a venerable family, James Winthrop Dudley. They eloped and were married in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in October 1869. [Though there are hints he had been married to others earlier.] “Lizzie” Dudley later claimed she only knew Forrester to be a gambler, but it is more likely that both she and her father knew exactly how Forrester earned his living. Forrester was arrested in Boston in November 1869, discharged, and then rearrested by detectives who had learned about the requisition issued for his return to Illinois. In December, he was put on a train to New York, linked to a detective by a cord. They got off for a drink in New Haven, and Forrester managed to cut the cord and escaped.

Two months later, Forrester and a gang tried a bank robbery in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Before they could crack the safe, they were spotted and had to flee. Billy headed to Pittsburgh, where he was seen by a Pinkerton operative and captured. In March, 1870, he was taken first to Philadelphia to face charges for the Wilkes Barre robbery attempt; while being measured at the station house there, he fled, wearing nothing but his underwear.

In April, Billy and his bride Lizzie Dudley were reunited in Baltimore. The Baltimore police learned of his presence in the city, and the couple were forced to flee south, taking a ship to Key West, then to Havana, and finally to New Orleans, arriving in early June 1870. New Orleans police had already been warned to lookout for Forrester, and he was soon arrested in mid-June, 1870. However, no requisition was yet in hand from Illinois, and so he was released on a writ of habeas corpus.

Billy lived in New Orleans without further harassment for a couple of months, during which time he was seen by many people. Meanwhile, in New York City, financier Benjamin Nathan was killed in his home during a bungled burglary on July 28, 1870.

After a gap of activity in the late summer and fall of 1870, Billy returned to New Orleans in December to coordinate the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store, which took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. While Billy was enjoying the spoils from this job, his one-time partner in the failed Wilkes Barre bank robbery, George Ellis, informed police from his cell in Sing Sing that Billy was responsible for the Nathan murder. This kicked off a nationwide manhunt.

He was run to earth in Washington, D. C. in September 1872 and taken by train to New York. There he was interrogated, and proved his alibi to the grudging satisfaction of prosecutors. The Pinkertons and others had been hoping to collect a $50,000 reward for Nathan’s killer, but instead were forced to send Billy back to Joliet to serve out his term.

Billy was freed in January 1880 and drifted to Philadelphia, where he was frequently seen in the new high-end saloon run by the Brotherton brothers, who themselves had recently been released from San Quentin. In April 1881, Forrester was captured during a house burglary in Philadelphia, resulting in his trial, conviction, and sentencing to Eastern State Penitentiary for five years. His term ended there in November 1885.

Byrnes picks up Billy’s history in his 1895 edition:

Shortly after Forrester‘s release from the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. (in November, 1885), he was arrested at Richmond, Va., as Frank Renfrew, charged with breaking into the residence of one A. L. Lee. He was indicted for burglary and carrying burglars’ tools. While in jail awaiting trial he escaped, and the next heard from him was his arrest at Chester, Pa., in 1887, under the name of James Robinson, for safe breaking and shooting at a police officer.

He was convicted at Media, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. He was released from there on March 20, 1891, re-arrested, taken to Richmond Va., where he plead guilty to having burglars’ tools in his possession, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on April 9, 1891. Forrester’s time expired at Richmond, Va., on August 17, 1895.

It should be noted that while Billy was devoting time to prison in Philadelphia and Richmond between 1885 and 1895, another criminal who took the alias “Billy Forrester” was active in Denver, Butte, and Chicago. His specialty was safe-cracking.

After Billy got out of prison in Richmond in 1895, he was taken in Washington, D. C. and held to account for a robbery there. He was sentenced to ten years, to be served in Albany County Penitentiary in New York.

Gaining his freedom in 1902, Billy went to New York City and lived for awhile with an old friend, Dan Noble. Flat broke, he approached the Pinkerton Agency in New York and asked for a loan to tide him over until he gained employment. They offered him a small amount in cash, and tried to recruit him as an informer. He declined.

He was never heard from again, until 1909, when he went to Buffalo to meet William A. Pinkerton. Though he tried to press Pinkerton to support his claim to back pay from the Navy, in truth he seemed just pleased to talk to his old adversary.

Billy was then working as a facilities superintendent for “a major Catholic institution near Niagara Falls,” described as a large monastery. This almost certain refers to the Mount Carmel monastery in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Billy managed a staff of seven there, working from 1903 until his death in 1912.