#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.






#104 Charles Ward

Charles W. Hall (Abt. 1833-19??), aka Charles E. Stewart, Charles E. Ward, Charles Vallen, J. C. Massie, William Edwards, William Hall. E. C. Stewart, Charles D. Stewart, etc. — Swindler, Check forger, Hotel Thief, Sneak Thief

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States. Book-keeper. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 159 pounds. Brown hair, mixed with gray, wears it long; blue eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a full, heavy gray beard and mustache. Dresses well, and has an extraordinary gift of the gab.

RECORD. Charley Ward, whose right name is Charles Vallum, is one of the most noted confidence operators in America. He enjoys the distinction of being the only man in his line who can play the confidence game successfully on women. His principal forte, though, is collecting subscriptions for homes and asylums.

He was arrested in New York City on April 6, 1877, for collecting money for the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City without authority. For this he was sentenced to five years in State prison, on April 12, 1877, by Judge Sutherland. He was pardoned by Governor Cornell in 1880.

He was arrested again in New York City on August 4, 1881, for collecting considerable money, without authority, in aid of the “Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind,” of New York City, and appropriating it to his own use. In this case, owing to the efforts of a loving wife, he escaped with eighteen months’ imprisonment in State prison, on September 7, 1881, being sentenced by Judge Cowing. Ward’s picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1877.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Ward was arrested at Cincinnati, 0., in August, 1889, charged with having stabbed a woman that he was boarding with. For this offense he was sentenced to four years in the penitentiary at Columbus, 0. He was discharged from there on April 15, 1892.

Arrested again at Rochester, N. Y., on July 26, 1894, for the larceny of a satchel from the N.Y. Cen. & H.R.R. Depot. For this offense he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the Munroe Co., N.Y., Penitentiary, by Judge Chas. B. Ernst, on July 27, 1894, under name of Wm. Edwards.

He was arrested again at Niagara Falls, N.Y., under the name of Wm. Hall, alias, E. C. Stewart, on November 28, 1894, charged with passing a worthless check on the proprietor of the Prospect House; he refused to prosecute him. He was, however, sentenced to twenty-five days imprisonment in the Niagara County Jail at Lockport, N.Y., for the larceny of a satchel from the New York Central Railroad Depot, by Judge Piper, on November 30, 1894.

Arrested again on January 31, 1895, at Dunkirk, N.Y., under the name of Wm. E. Miller, charged with defrauding the Hotel Gratiot out of a hotel bill. He sold his overcoat, settled his bill, and was discharged.

Ward was arrested again at Philadelphia, Pa., on October 28, 1895, for the larceny of an overcoat containing valuable papers from a guest of the Waldorf Hotel, New York City. He was brought back to New York, and was sentenced to three years and three months on this charge, on November I5, 1895, by Recorder Goff.

While detained by police in Cincinnati in May of 1889, the criminal popularly known as Charles Ward spoke with a reporter and offered a confession of his criminal career. He claimed to be sixty-three years old, though other records indicate he was only fifty-six. Still, by appearance he looked like a man living his final years. Neither Ward nor the reporter could have predicted that Ward’s confession was a bit premature, for many arrests and jailings were still to come.

“My life has a tinge of romance in it,” said Ward, as he chatted with the reporter last evening. “It’s no matter what my right name is. But one man knows, and he is my brother, a prosperous merchant in a South American country.

“Years ago I went wrong. What led me to a life of crookedness I can’t say, for I believe I was cut out for something better than a thief. Some dozen years ago I landed in St. Louis with a mob of crooks. We put up at the Lindell Hotel, but our headquarters we made at a well-known house of ill-fame. We were flush, and spent our money like princes for two weeks. Then a big trick was turned, and we scattered. My share was $4,000. At the house mentioned I became infatuated with a girl named Doris Meyer. She told me her story. When scarcely seventeen years old she had been brought to this country by her aunt, a Madame Schimmel, who then kept a den of infamy at 537 Race street in Cincinnati.

“This innocent, pretty girl’s honor was deliberately sold by her aunt to the highest bidder. Subsequently Doris married a captain in the army name Bookwood. The husband went wrong, and was dismissed from the army in disgrace. He was no better than the relative who had ruined the girl, for he forced his wife to return to a life of infamy, and lived on the proceeds of her shame.

“It was then I met her. I pitied Doris, and loved her as man ever loved woman. Well, I took her with me to Chicago. She did not know I was a crook, for I led her to think I was a gambler. Leaving her in Chicago, I went east; in Buffalo I ‘fell.’ I telegraphed Doris, and she came on. It was a bad case. Grover Cleveland was my lawyer, and although we made a vigorous fight, I went up for five years. Doris went to work,and, after I had spent half my term at Auburn, she secured my pardon.

“I found that Doris had become a city missionary in New York. The graduate of a St. Louis den had become an angel of mercy. Well, I married her in Brooklyn. Through her influence I secured work as a collector for a charitable institution. I received only $12 a week, but it was honest, and I felt better than when I had thousands I had stolen. Frequently  have turned over at then end of a week as much as $2000. That shows how easy it is to get money from the rich, and it was this fact that accomplished my final ruin.

“I was given a prominent position under the society, and my annual income was between $4000 and $7000. I seemed to have a peculiar faculty for the work. Through my own exertions the contributions had increased nearly $50,000. My besetting sin has been drink. I began to squander my money for wine, and, forgetful of my faithful Doris, I became infatuated with a shameless woman. In the mean time, my wife and I had made a trip to Europe. I had a comfortable bank account, and nobody was better thought of. But the climax came. I remained away from the office for an entire week. I was permitted to resign.

“My money went fast in dissipation, until I awoke one morning and realized that I hadn’t a dollar in the world. Then the idea seized me that I would work the collection racket. My success astonished me. Soon thousands of dollars were pouring in on me…and so it went on for weeks. I had returned to my old life and was again the associate of thieves and one of them.

“One day I called on wealthy Miss Catherine Wolf…I represented myself as from a prominent institution and left my book. Unfortunately for me Miss Wolf was on friendly terms with the president of the concern, and when he called the next day she broached the subject and showed the book. When I called three days after recovering from a spree a servant handed me the book with the ends of several bills sticking ut. The next instant a detective laid his hand on my shoulder and I was a prisoner. This time I also got five years for forgery.

“My wife again went to work and finally, after I had served nearly three years at Sing Sing, she secured my pardon from Governor Robinson. New York was now closed to me; I was too well known. I went to Baltimore with several crooks. One night while playing billiards we were pinched. Some gilly had been robbed. He identified all of us, though on my word we were innocent. Again I went to the Penitentiary, and again my wife began to intercede for me. She was finally successful, but before the doors opened, I received a letter announcing the death of my devoted Doris. She had caught cold while at her missionary work, and death had quickly followed.

“I began to drink, and, within a week, was again pinched.I had attempted a little crooked business at a hotel wand was caught. Again I went up. Doris’s death made me desperate and despondent. I cared for nothing. A year ago last February I was released from the Maryland Penitentiary.”

It appears that Ward was being very honest in his account: he did marry Doris Meyer, who had been married to a Charles Bookwood. Ward was pardoned out of Auburn Prison in 1874, after entering it as Charles W. Hall in March 1872. He was also pardoned from Sing Sing in October 1879 after entering as William H. Hall in April, 1877. Doris Ward roomed for many years at the Bible House, the mission of the American Bible Society.

Ward went to Cincinnati in 1879 to seek out Madame Schimmel, who was running a sketchy boarding house under the name Helene Krolage. They got along together at first–and in fact helped her con another woman in town that was her enemy. However, by July, Ward confronted her about her ruination of 17-year-old Doris, and became enraged. He tried to stab her with a penknife; she survived, but Ward was arrested and convicted of assault, sending him to the Ohio State Penitentiary for five years.

Upon his release, Ward wandered through upstate New York, committing small robberies of coats, satchels, etc. from train depots and hotels.  In Niagara Falls, when an officer attempted to arrest him in his hotel room, he tried to put a gun to his own head and commit suicide. Later that same year, 1895, he was arrested in Philadelphia for a hotel robbery he had committed in New York and sent back there. This episode earned him another three year sentence in Sing Sing as Charles Vallen.

Again regaining his freedom, he joined a gang of forgers led by an interesting figure, former timber magnate, lawyer, and State Senator, Alonzo James Whiteman.

The last reference to Ward dates to 1906, when he was arrested by a Manhattan hotel detective for stealing into someone else’s room.

In his last decades, Ward was often confused by amateur sleuths for another criminal in Byrnes’s book, the horse-trainer and sometime-forger Lewis Martin. They were similar in appearance when both were wearing long, gray beards.

#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.





#108 James Lee

James Lee [Kohln/Kohlen/Kölhen] (Abt. 1841-1904), aka B. Sharp, August Ortman, C. M. Tingle, Charles H. Ray, Frank Bell, David Cartwright, Morris Fleckenger – Custom House Officer Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. No trade. Single. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 3/4 inches. Weight, 175 pounds. Hair sandy, eyes gray, sandy complexion, reddish-brown mustache. Has a naval coat-of-arms, anchor and eagle, in India ink, on right arm.
RECORD. James Lee was evidently in the government employ, so well is he posted in custom-house matters.
He was arrested in New York City on April 23, 1882, charged by Mrs. C. F. Chillas, of Livingston Place, with defrauding her and thirty others out of $9.98. Lee claimed to be a custom-house collector, and would collect this amount and give the parties an order on the custom-house stores for a package which he claimed was consigned to them from Europe. In this case Lee was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison on May 5, 1882, by Judge Gildersleeve. His sentence expired on May 5, 1884.
He was arrested again in Baltimore, Md., on September 17, 1884, charged with swindling eight persons in that city under similar circumstances. In several instances Lee sat at the piano and played “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” while the ladies left the parlor to procure the money for him. He was again sentenced to three years in State prison on October 15, 1884. His sentence will expire April 14, 1887. Lee’s picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1882.

Lee is first found in New York City in 1871, as a cited example of a rare species, a Tammany Hall Republican. Tammany Hall was the Democratic political machine that dominated New York City politics, but Lee was given a patronage job as a Custom House officer. Items in the New York Times suggest that he resigned from the Custom House to become a “henchman” of Police Commissioner Henry Smith. After Smith left his position as head of the police, reports began to surface about a swindler misusing the badge of a custom house officer: he would accost travelers disembarking from a ship with their baggage and demand that their baggage be surrendered to be taken away to be reinspected; and would inform the owners that they could call at the Custom House to retrieve their belongings. Of course, the baggage was never seen again.

By 1879, he swept through Brooklyn, going to targeted homes and informing the residents that packages from overseas were being held at the Custom House for them, but that duty taxes were owed. He often received about $10 per victim from this ruse. In 1881, he used his badge to impress a Brooklyn Customs officer coming from work; Lee claimed he was a ranking Customs House Inspector from Washington, D.C., and that many officers in Brooklyn would soon be laid off. Over drinks in a bar, Lee would suggest that he could use his influence to save the jobs; and incidentally, he needed a temporary small loan of $10. Lee was arrested and spent two years in the Kings County Penitentiary.
In August 1881, Lee flashed his badge at the New York residence of Surgeon-General William Hammond, with urgent news that First Lady Garfield insisted he come at once to Washington to take over care of the mortally wounded President. While breathlessly delivering this news to Hammond in the doctor’s study, Lee asked the doctor for a glass of bromide. Apparently, Lee’s plan was to steal valuables from the study while Hammond retrieved the glass, but Hammond never left Lee alone in the study.
In addition to using his Custom House badge, Lee’s other trick was to go to a new city and claim that he was a writer from a leading New York newspaper, and would appreciate if local theater managers and rail ticket offices could “accommodate” his needs for gratis services.
Back in New York in 1882, Lee went back to bullying residents in their homes over unclaimed packages from the Continent. This time, he was arrested by Byrnes and his detectives, after first giving aliases of “B. Sharp” and “Frank Bell.” Byrnes discovered that he had bilked as many as twenty people with the fake bills of laden between mid-1881 and April, 1882. James Lee was sent to Sing Sing to serve two and a half years, commuted to May, 1884.
As Byrnes indicates, upon his release, Lee went to Baltimore and played the same game, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment in Maryland. Once he regained his freedom in 1887, he moved to Milwaukee and added a new twist to his game; now he used bogus telegrams to inform people that packages awaited them. In September, 1887 he was caught at this practice and sentenced to 18 months in Milwaukee’s House of Corrections.
Undaunted, Lee merely slipped down to Chicago after his confinement in Milwaukee ended. He victimized many well-to-do residents there with his routine, which cleverly included approached newly-married rich women, suggesting a gift of vases was being sent to them from Europe. Thinking it to be another wedding gift, the women would gladly pay the duties on the receipt Lee handed them. Lee was arrested, but later released after his victims failed to positively identify him.
Lee next went to Cincinnati, Ohio, and posed as August Ortman. After playing his con on many people, he was finally capture. Interviewed, he gave this account: “I served in the Eighty-Seventh, New York, in the Twenty-Fifth, New York, and in the Fourth, New Hampshire. I was in the Union army for four years and was made a sergeant. For sixteen years I lived the life of a sailor. I was a custom house inspector in New York under the late ex-President Arthur for three years and nine months.”
Inspector Byrnes cited the above in his 1895 edition, but it’s likely a fabric of lies. Lee spent only a few months in 1871 as a Customs House inspector, not years–and not during President Arthur’s tenure. He could not have served in the Civil War and have spent sixteen years as a sailor–he had been thieving continuously since 1871.
Moreover, his name was not Ortman. When sent to Sing Sing in 1882, he listed a family contact: a brother-in-law, Louis Bickel of Alton, Illinois. Bickel’s wife was Mary, nee Maria Norberta Kohln, according to her son’s birth record. A baptism record from Germany exists for a female with the same birth date from the same village, with the name Maria Josepha Kölhen. In both cases, these records may have been transcribed in error or based on phonetic spellings; but the family name was likely Kohln/Kohlen/Kölhen (which perhaps was Byrnes source for saying one of Lee’s aliases was “Coleman,” an alias that never appeared in print.)
After serving time in Ohio, Lee gravitated back to Chicago, keeping his last alias, August Ortman. He left the world with a mystery as his legacy:
Lee’s murder was never solved.

#172 Wm. H. Little

William Henry Little (Abt. 1841-19??), aka Tip Little, William Johnson, Henry Osgood, William Thompson, George Thompson, William B. Austin, George F. Clark, George Little — Pickpocket, Panel House thief, Shoplifter, Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in New York, Married. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 140 pounds. Dark curly hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a black curly beard. Has a peculiar expression about the eyes.

RECORD. “Tip” Little is an old New York “panel thief,” confidence man, sneak thief and forger. He is well known as the husband of Bell Little, alias Lena Swartz, alias Eliza Austin, a notorious pennyweight worker, shoplifter and “bludgeon thief.” This team is well known all over the United States. They worked the “panel game” in New York and other cities for years, and their pictures adorn several Rogues’ Galleries. Of late they have been working the “bludgeon game” or “injured husband racket” with considerable success, as their victims are generally married men and will stand black-mailing before publicity. “Tip” and “Bell” have been arrested in New York City several times, but with the exception of a few short terms in the penitentiary, they have both escaped their just deserts (State prison) many a time.

Little was arrested in New York City on November 28, 1885, in company of a negro accomplice named Isaac Hooper, for attempting to negotiate a check that had been raised from $4 to $896. About one week before the arrest Hooper obtained a check for $4, on the Nassau Bank of New York, from Henry Carson, a grocer, of Fulton Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., by pretending that he wanted to send money to a relative, and that he had only silver dollars. He raised the check himself from $4 to $896, and also made a spurious check for $1,200, on the Nassau Bank of New York, and signed Carson’s name to it. With the $1,200 check. Tip Little, on November 25, 1885, went to Wm. Wise & Son’s jewelry store on Fulton Street, Brooklyn, and selecting articles worth $400, tendered the check in payment. He was so indignant when it was suggested that it would be nothing more than a common business transaction to ask Mr. Carson if the check was all right, that he snatched it up and left the store. Then he planned to swindle Daniel Higgins, a furniture dealer on Eighth Avenue, New York City, with the raised check of $896, which had been certified by the cashier of the Nassau Bank. He visited Mr. Higgins on November 27, 1885, and selected furniture worth $300. Higgins went to the West Side Bank, which was close by his store, and its cashier ascertained by telephone that Mr. Carson repudiated the check. When Mr. Higgins returned to the store, “Tip” had left without his change. Hooper (the negro) was tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in State prison on January 15, 1886, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, Part L He had been previously convicted and sentenced to State prison for forgery in Providence, R.I. “Tip” Little pleaded guilty on January 15, 1886 (the same day), and was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions, Part H. ” Little’s” picture is a very good one, taken in April, 1879.

William Henry Little was born about 1841 in Goshen, New York, about sixty miles northwest of New York City, to a respectable family including his mother, Mary and father, William C. Little, a butcher. It is not clear if he enlisted in the army during the Civil War, but by 1866 he was living on his own in New York City. In August of 1866, he was rounded up with other “well-known pickpockets” under the name William Johnson. By 1870 he had gained the honor of being #3 in the New York police department’s Rogue’s Gallery of photographed criminals, and was described as a shoplifter and pickpocket.

In 1871, Tip was found running one of New York City’s “panel-houses,” into which men were lured by a woman, distracted by foreplay or sex, and robbed by hidden accomplices. Tip’s house was in the Eighth Precinct at 476 1/2 Broome Street; the whole surrounding area was infamous for allowing these operations to continue (likely through pay-offs to the precinct captain).

In 1873, Tip married one of the woman with whom he conducted the panel-house business, Elizabeth Bropson, who later became known to the public as Lizzie Little, Belle Little, Martha Ward, Clara Morris, Mary Hart, Eliza Austin, or, more colorfully, “The Whale.” Mrs. Little was plump, but had a pleasant face, creamy white complexion, and an engaging manner. However, Tip also worked with other women: he employed the noted panel-house thief, Mollie Rush; and in the 1880s worked as a shoplifting partner of Lena Kleinschmidt, aka Black Lena. On several occasions, Lena was misidentified as Mrs. Tip Little (who also sometimes partnered with Lena on shoplifting expeditions).

In December of 1884, Mrs. Little got into a argument with Johnny Jourdan, the noted thief, over a $100 loan that he supposedly owed her. She called in the police to have Jourdan arrested; one of the results was that she and Jourdan were identified in public as lovers, and it was suggested the fight was over Jourdan’s other women, not money. That may or may not have been true; and moreover, Tip Little may or may not have cared about her romantic entanglements. Perhaps he cared more about coming under the scrutiny of the police. Whatever the cause, he arrived home and started to beat and kick Mrs. Little, to the extent that the police were called in again.

Tip fled the scene. Several months later, it was reported that Mrs. Little was no longer associated with Tip, but instead had taken up with her shoplifting partner, George Williams, aka Pettengill. However, by July 1885, the Littles had reconciled.

In late 1885, Tip tried passing altered checks made by Isaac Cooper [not Hooper, as Byrnes cited]. Cooper was an ex-convict, having already seen one term in Sing Sing. Cooper stands out as the only African-American criminal mentioned by Inspector Byrnes; and newspapers cited him as the only black convicted in New York state for forgery. Both Tip and Cooper were convicted of forgery; Tip got five years while Cooper was sentenced to seven and a half years.


While Tip was locked up at Sing Sing, Lizzie Little died; by most accounts, she was only forty-five years old. After his release, Tip took care of his mother, Mary, who now resided in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He also spent time at racetracks, working the crowd with small cons. In 1993, he chose the wrong victim: a prominent politician. Instead of being too embarrassed to press charges, the politician instead exerted his influence to keep his name out of the papers while still prosecuting Little. Tip, under the name Henry Osgood, was sentenced to another five years in Sing Sing, the latter portion of which was served in Dannemora.

After two years of freedom, from 1897-1899, Tip was caught till-tapping, a crime usually performed a young, agile thieves. He was given a term four years and two months in Sing Sing, once again under the name Henry Osgood. A news item from 1907 claimed that he had died in prison, sometime between 1899 and 1903.


#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.


#203 Albert Wise

Albert Wise (Abt. 1843-19??), aka Jacob Sondheim, Sheeny Al, Jew Al, A. H. Loudon, Al Wilson, Albert Simpson, Charles H. Whittemore, Albert Williams, James T. Watson, Adolph Gephart, Edward Pinter, Arnold Metzany, Emile Hemlin, Otto Henry, etc. — Pickpocket, sneak thief, confidence man

Link to Byrnes’s entry for #203 Albert Wise

Al Wise is credited with originating an astoundingly lucrative “big con” called by various names, including The Alchemist, The Philosopher’s Stone, and Gold Sweating. While it is likely the game was not created by Wise, he became its most famous and successful practitioner. As the names above implied, Wise played the role of a scientist who had perfected a chemical reaction capable of adding a third or a half to a given weight of gold. His victims supplied him with piles of gold, rumored to be as much as $200,000 at a time.

Al Wise started as a much humbler crook: a pickpocket and sneak thief, working on teams with others of that ilk, and disposing of some of the loot through the New York fence, Marm Mandelbaum. He was romantically involved with Black Amelia, sister of Black Lena, at some point in the 1860s and 1870s, but by the mid 1880s had fallen out both with her and with (exiled in Ontario) Marm Mandelbaum.

Byrnes alludes to the reports that Wise’s 1882-1883 arrest and conviction in Buffalo was contentious. In a letter sent to the Pinkerton Agency in 1886, Wise claimed that Mandelbaum, Black Lena and Black Amelia, and New York Detectives had conspired to frame him for the Buffalo check forgeries, fearing that he was about to inform on them. However, at his trial, he had a parade of witnesses claim he was in New York City at the time of the forgeries; but wrote to the Pinkertons saying he had been in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Wise said the forgeries were done by George Wade Wilkes’ gang. Another rumor–which has the scent of credibility–is that Wise was fingered by a partner in the forging scheme, who was upset that Wise had not given him a fair share. Wise was capable of passing forged papers; he had done so in Boston in 1875.

Wise was arrested in Boston in 1880 for that 1875 forgery. With him at the time was a con man identified as his brother, but named G. H. Simpson. Simpson was also arrested, but not for forgery–Simpson was nabbed for running the Alchemist con game.


Wise was in jail for the Buffalo forgeries from 1883 to 1886. During that time, in 1884, the Alchemist con was run (unsuccessfully) by a man named Ettlinger in Cincinnati.

It was only in the late 1880s that Wise, now free from prison, was identified as the man running the Alchemist con. He did so first in New York City; then in Baltimore, bringing in $100,000. From Baltimore, Wise headed across the Atlantic to Europe, emerging as “Dr. Edward Pinter.” This was when Wise made his most famous sting. He was rumored to have swindled members of the Rothschild family; the Duke of Cambridge; and King George of Greece–but none of these instances are backed up with facts. However, one rumored con appears to be more believable. It was later described by the New York Herald:

“In July of this year [1891] Edward Streeter, a well-known Bond street jeweler, was summoned to Claridge’s by the Duke of Edinburgh [Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria] to meet Count Kearney and the American Chemist, Dr. Pinter. The Duke told Streeter, in strict confidence, that Dr. Pinter had made one of the most wonderful discoveries of the age, in that he was able by means of a chemical process known only to him to add from one-third to one-half to the weight of gold. Dr. Pinter had performed this feat in the presence of the Count and himself, the Duke said, having on three different occasions melted a sovereign in his crucible, adding a powder to it, and producing a lump of gold that weighed each time one-third more than the original metal, that had been found genuine by competent assayers. [Hint: the mystery powder was gold dust]

“Further, the Duke informed Streeter, the Count and himself had agreed to hand over £40,000 in gold to Dr. Pinter, which he was to increase in weight, the three to divide the additional value equally, but that the doctor had insisted that he first make another test in the presence of some skilled metallurgist. The Duke had selected Streeter to serve in that capacity.

“Streeter was a hard-headed person. While he was flattered by the mark of confidence that a member of the royal family had placed in him, he was aware that some mischief was afoot, and, in violation of his oath of secrecy, for which he may be pardoned, he proceeded from Claridge’s hotel direct to Scotland Yard, after making arrangements with the eminent chemist for a test of his discovery the following day. The jeweler told the story of the scheme for the augmentation of the bulk of gold to Inspector Littlechild.

“”Does this Dr. Pinter wear side whiskers?’ the inspector asked.

“‘Yes, he does. Why do you ask?'” responded Streeter.

“”Because I have just received a letter from Detective Golden of the New York police, telling me to be on the lookout for this very man,’ said Littlechild. ‘He has been operating the same game in the United States.’

“The inspector produced Golden’s letter, which had contained a photograph of Al that was at once identified by the jeweler as the counterfeit presentment of the self-styled Dr. Pinter. It did not take long to plan a trap for the eminent chemist, though neither the Duke nor the Count was let into the secret. The next afternoon, when Dr. Pinter came to make his test in Streeter’s workshop, in the rear of the great establishment in Bond street, two detectives were concealed in the room. The Duke of Edinburgh, as it happened, was detained at home by a rather severe illness, but his friend Count Kearney and the chemist drove up to Streeter’s together in a smart brougham. Dr. Pinter was allowed to put 10 sovereigns into a crucible with his marvelous powder, and then the detectives stepped out from their place of concealment and arrested him.

“And now Scotland Yard was in a predicament. If Al was brought to trial the name of the Duke of Edinburgh would be involved, and it is no part of English policy to make a member of the royal family a butt for ridicule. Consequently, Sondheim [Al Wise], under the name of Edward Pinter, was allowed to plead guilty to an attempt to swindle Streeter and was given three months’ imprisonment. He laughed when sentence was pronounced. Count Kearney seemed tremendously shocked when he was told of the previous career of his dear friend, and he left England soon after the other’s arrest.

“To explain the opportune arrival of Golden’s letter it is necessary to go back a year or more in Sondheim’s career. He had been sentenced to five years in Auburn prison in 1883 for swindling the Merchants Bank of Buffalo, and had spent some time in Germany and Austria growing his whiskers, playing many kinds of confidence games, picking pockets and robbing shopkeepers after his release. He returned to New York in the spring of 1890, however, wearing German clothes, a German hat and German shoes, and with a German accent, although he could speak English perfectly. He put up at the Morton House, where he soon became known as Prof. Albert Wise, scientist, late of Heidelberg University.

“Although a man of learning, the professor was also a convivial person, and he soon became on intimate terms with Messrs. Shook and Collier, who spent much of their time in the Morton House, next door the the Union Square theater. Indeed, the hotel was then under Shook’s management. They found the German professor an entertaining companion and also a profound philosopher, and gradually he let them into the secret of a discovery he had made that would revolutionize the wealth of the world–a chemical process for increasing the bulk of gold! Finally he rented the basement of a house in Great Jones street between Lafayette place and the Bowery and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he could do what he said he could.

“Anyone who ever knew ‘Shed’ Shook and Jim Collier will admit that they were as shrewd men of the world as New York has ever produced. Nevertheless, they were completely carried away by the promise of enormous wealth that Professor Wise’s discovery offered, and they raised $5000 between them, which they brought in gold to the Great Jones street basement and deposited in the vat of chemicals that the German scientist had installed there. He informed them that it would take two or three weeks for the process of augmentation to be completed, and a padlock was placed upon the door of the basement and the key given to Shook.

“Shook and Collier hobnobbed daily with Prof. Wise in the Morton House until 24 hours before it had been decided to unlock the basement door and take out and weigh the gold, and then the scientist disappeared from the hotel, leaving his baggage behind him. Hence the two investors unlocked the door in Great Jones street and let the supposed chemicals out of the vat by themselves, only to ascertain that the $5000 in gold had vanished. They found evidence that someone had entered the place by a rear window and knew that it could have been none other than the German professor.”

In 1903, Al Wise was caught picking pockets in Urbana, Ohio, and was sentenced to five years in prison under the name Otto Henry. While in the State Prison, Wise contributed stories about his adventures to the Ohio Penitentiary News, a prisoner newspaper. Unfortunately, runs of the paper from those years have not survived. About the same time, a Cincinnati newspaper started printing short stories written by “O. Henry,” and some people guessed that Al Wise was the author. [He wasn’t; but another former convict, William Sydney Porter, was].

Upon his release, Al Wise indicated he had had enough of America, and told people he was going to back to Germany. He was not heard from again.




#136 Timothy Oats

Timothy Oakes (1848-1907), aka Tim Oates/Oats, Timothy Ryan, Timothy Clark, Charles Oats, Thomas Bradley, etc. — Pickpocket, Till Tapper, Badger-Puller, Con Man

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Speculator. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 198 pounds. Sandy hair, blue eyes, sandy complexion. Generally wears a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. Tim Oats is an old New York panel thief and pickpocket. He was arrested in New York City in 1874, with his wife Addie Clark, charged with robbing a man by the panel game. They escaped conviction on account of the complainant’s departure from the city.

He was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Timothy Ryan, charged with robbing William Vogel, on July 30, 1875, of a diamond stud valued at $200, while riding on an East Broadway railroad car. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison, on September 17, 1875, by Recorder Hackett.

Tim was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Timothy Clark, on January 11, 1879, in company of James Moran, whose name is Tommy Matthews (156), charged with robbing a man named Michael Jobin, of Mount Vernon, N. Y., of $200, on a Third Avenue horse-car. Both were committed in default of $5,000 bail for trial by Judge Murray. They pleaded guilty to larceny from the person and were sentenced to two years in the penitentiary on February 6, 1879, by Judge Gildersleeve.

Tim Oats, Theodore Wiley (171) and William Brown, alias Wm. H. Russell, alias “The Student,” were arrested at Syracuse, N. Y., on January 4, 1883, charged with grand larceny. They stole a tin cash-box from behind a saloon bar, containing $250, the property of Seiter Brothers, No. 99 North Salina Street, Syracuse. Two other people were with the above party but escaped. Oats played the “fit act” in the back room, kicking over chairs and tables. The proprietor and all the parties in the store ran into the back room to help the “poor fellow,” when one of the party sneaked behind the bar and stole the cash-box. Tim Oats gave the name of Charles Oats, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Auburn State prison, on March 1, 1883. His sentence expired November 1, 1885. “The.” Wiley gave the name of George Davis, alias George Marsh, and was tried and convicted also. (See No. 171.) Brown, alias Russell, alias “The Student,” pleaded guilty in this case and was sentenced to five years in Auburn prison, on March 1, 1883. Oats’s picture is a very good one, taken in January, 1879.

Timothy Oakes died in 1907 under his real name, but for most of his life he was known as Tim Oates/Oats. He married Ada Clark when both were 20 or younger. Addie was his partner in crime through the early 1870s, and likely is the same woman later identified as his wife in the 1880s and 1890s, Alice Oates.

Tim made his name as a New York pickpocket, but was involved off-and-on between 1874 and the late 1890s as a panel-thief/badger game operator. Panel thieves hid behind a curtain or thin partition in a room in which a co-conspirator woman has lured a man into a sexual tryst. In some cases, the robbery occurs during sex with a prostitute, by sneaking wallet contents from the man’s discarded clothes. Tim Oats preferred to interrupt the scene before any physical intimacy took place by stampeding through the door as an enraged husband. He then would threaten violence on his pretend wife, and the victim was supposed to smooth things over by offering money to stop any beating. This variation was known as the badger game.

Panel thieves were sometimes found in brothels, but that soon gave a bad reputation to those businesses. Panel thieves and badger games were much more effective when the premises were rented on a short-term basis; and when the woman lured the victim through an impromptu meeting. The woman usually presented herself as high society: elegantly dressed, wearing expensive jewelry, well-spoken, etc. The victims were targeted as being wealthy, respectable men–and unlikely to be armed or pugnacious.

Following his 1870s arrests for picking pockets (listed by Byrnes), in early 1882, Tim Oats tried operating a saloon in Philadelphia. A Philadelphia detective made a deal with Tim to protect a badger-game operation run by Tim, but reneged on the deal and arrested Addie. Tim got his revenge by selling the saloon and testifying against the detective on corruption charges.

Byrnes got some facts wrong about Tim’s 1883 arrest in Syracuse: he was sentenced April 1, 1883, and was only given two years, regaining his freedom long before November 1885; in fact, he was picked up and later released for picking pockets in Philadelphia in September, 1885. The 1883 arrest helped Timothy Oats to get credit for the “Fainting-Fit” deception, practiced mainly in saloons, where an accomplice feigning a fainting or epileptic fit distracts the counter man or bartender, leaving the sneak thief easy access to the till.

Byrnes does not mention in his book Tim’s next vocation, but in newspaper interviews, he suggested that he devised a con in which he advertised for tutors to be assigned to jobs in other cities, and took deposits from his applicants to assure their position. Then he would disappear with the deposits.

One of the women he interviewed was Jennie McLean, from Passaic, New Jersey, who was so charming that she was able to turn the tables and get a loan of $25.00 from Tim. Time recognized talent, and this was the supposed start of his badger game operation. He employed Jennie, Mamie St. Charles, Kitty Hester, Louise Loflin, and “Essie” to bait targeted men. They were all described as pretty, intelligent, and criminally clever. Tim paid them a weekly salary and assigned them different territories in Manhattan.
By late 1888, Tim Oats had a virtual monopoly on the badger-game business in New York. However, by 1889 authorities finally recognized all his women and their methods, and Tim left New York for Cincinnati. After a year or so in that city, they returned to New York.

Rather than trust another team of sometimes rebellious female recruits, this time Tim relied on the charms of two women: his wife, Alice Oates, aka Addie Clark or Anna Davis; and her alledged sister Jenny Jones, aka English Jen (who was perhaps, Jennie McLean). As muscle, Tim employed William Ferguson, aka Billy Devere, Joe “Jimmy” Walsh, and Mike McCarthy, aka Wreck Donovan. The gang was arrested in New York in November, 1891, but none of their victims appeared to press charges. Still, authorities convinced them to leave town.

At that point, the gang split up. There may have been a marital split-up between Tim and his wife. Alice Oates and William Ferguson went on to Boston and then to Washington, D. C. to ply their badger game. Tim Oates opted to go to England with a man named William Shaw and two women, one of whom was likely English Jen and the other Rachel Hurd, the wife of forger Charles Fisher. In England, Tim went by the name Thomas Bradley, and his associate sailed by as James Bradley. Within a short time, the two men argued, and Tim assaulted his partner. Tim was charged with this attack and sent to jail for two years.

In 1895, Tim returned to the United States, and was soon back in the badger-game business in Washington, D.C. and in New York, teaming up with some of his former gang.
Late in the 1890s, Tim Oakes teamed up with Larry Summerfield to create several “big cons,” elaborately scripted con games targeting rich men, and involving teams of role-players. One con involved selling a huge number of Standard Oil stocks that were supposedly being hoarded by an old miser in England.

But undoubtedly the most famous “big con” developed by Summerfield and Oakes was the “wireless wiretap,” in which a team of con artists set up what was supposed to have been an illegal wiretap that obtained horse race results before they were received by bookies. The victims of the con were gamblers who believed that they had advance knowledge of the race results; therefore these victims could never complain about their losses without admitting that they themselves had tried to cheat. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the plot of the Robert Redford/Paul Newman movie, The Sting. Some sources, like the New York Times, gave most of the credit for the invention of this con to Oakes.
In August, 1905, New York police got wind that a “wireless wiretap” con was being run in the Tenderloin district, and raided the lair. They were surprised to find such an operation being run, since Larry Summerfield was already behind bars in Sing Sing, but they found the rest of his gang–including Tim Oakes.

Two years later, in September 1907, the New York Times announced that Tim Oakes had died at the Ward’s Island Asylum for the Insane, where he had been incarcerated for over two years.