#132 Kate Armstrong

Alias Kate Armstrong (Abt. 1841-19??), aka Sarah Williams, Catharine Armstrong, Mary Ann Dowd, Becky Stark, Annie Reilly, Mary/Rebecca Colson/Colston, Annie/Rebecca Lewis, Rebecca McNally, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Cook. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 2 1/2 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, florid complexion. Wears gold eye-glasses. Has a large space between upper front teeth. Vaccination mark on left arm.

RECORD. Mary Ann Dowd (right name Catharine Armstrong) is a very clever woman. She was arrested in the spring of 1876, during Moody and Sankey’s revivals, in Madison Square Garden, in New York City, for picking a lady’s pocket, and sent to Sing Sing for two years.

She was arrested again in Providence, R.I., on May 14, 1878, and sentenced to two years in State prison in June of the same year, for picking a woman’s pocket on the street. After her time expired in Providence she went West, and visited Chicago (Ill.) and St. Louis. Mrs. Dowd generally works alone, and confines herself principally to opening hand-bags, or stealing them. Her operations have been greatly aided by her respectable appearance and her perfect self-control.

She was arrested in New York City on October 20, 1884, charged with the larceny of a diamond, sapphire and pearl bar-pin, valued at $250, from the jewelry store of Tiffany & Co., New York, on July 7, 1884. The pin was found on her person, with the diamond removed and a ruby set in its place. For this she was tried by a jury, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison. She obtained a new trial in this case, which resulted in her discharge by Judge Cowing, on December 18, 1884.

She was arrested again in Philadelphia, Pa., at Wanamaker’s grand depot, in company of Harry Busby (135), on November 3, 1885, for picking pockets. Busby was discharged and Mary Ann was convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in the Eastern Penitentiary on November 11, 1885. Her sentence will expire on September 11, 1887. Mrs. Armstrong’s, or Dowd’s, picture is a good one, taken in November, 1885.

None of the names offered by the woman Byrnes declared as “Kate Armstrong” might have been her real name. She was arrested most frequently under two names that Byrnes never mentioned: Rebecca Stark and Rebecca Colston. Several sources do agree that she came from England in the early 1870s, and that she was a pastry cook by profession–when not picking pockets. She was first arrested in Boston in January 1873 under the name Sarah Williams, but was later released.

She next appeared as Mary Ann Dowd, picking pockets as New York’s Hippodrome in March of 1876 (as mentioned by Byrnes) and sentenced to two years in Sing Sing. Byrnes and other sources say that she was arrested in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1878 and jailed for another two years–but if that occurred, her sentence was likely much shorter, for in April of 1879 she was arrested in Boston under the name Rebecca McNally. She was discharged on this occasion, but late in 1879 was taken in Boston again as Ann Riley, alias McNally, and sentenced to one year in the House of Correction.

According to Byrnes, she spent the years between 1880 and 1884 in St. Louis and Chicago, but no accounts from those years have surfaced. In October 1884, she was caught picking pockets in New York at Tiffany’s, and was arrested under her old New York alias, Mary Ann Dowd. She was later discharged.

In November 1885, she was caught in Philadelphia working with an English pickpocket, “English Tom.” She now deployed the alias Catharine/Kate Armstrong, aka Carrie K. Saunders. She was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary for 18 months, but was released early–and was quickly rearrested in October 1886 at the Chester County (PA) Fair under the name Annie Riley, alias Rebecca McNally. However, she was returned to Eastern State Penitentiary as Catharine Armstrong. According to authorities there, she feigned madness, but dropped the act when it proved ineffective.

When released in May 1887, she went to Boston, and was taken in on suspicion as Ann Riley, aka Rebecca McNally. She was discharged and told to leave the city, but instead left the country heading to England. She later claimed to have attended Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, where she made a tidy profit.

She was rediscovered in Boston in September 1891 and arrested for her usual activities, after being identified as Ann Riley/Rebecca McNally/Kate Armstrong/May Ann Dowd/Rebecca Colston. She was punished with one year in the House of Correction. “Correction” was a misnomer, for she was caught in Boston in April 1892, jailed, released, and picked up again in December 1892. This time she was told to leave town.

She did leave Boston, but only for a little over a year. In April 1894 she returned and was arrested as Becky Stark, alias Colston, and was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction.

In May 1896, she reacquainted herself with New York city police. She was discharged, but not before biting the police photographer. Still, he was able to trick her into taking a photo while she was smiling. Her looks had changed little since she had posed eleven years earlier.

She was arrested twice in Boston in 1897; and once in Hoboken in 1898. By 1899 she had migrated to Brooklyn, where she was sent to the House of the Good Shepherd for six months for vagrancy and drunkenness.

In September, 1902, she wandered to Boston again, and was caught picking pockets. She was arrested and tried under the name Rebecca Stark. Once again she was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction. The Boston Globe concluded an item about this episode with as good an epitaph as any:

“When she heard the sentence, ‘Becky,’ who had played the part of a feeble old woman whose heart was nearly broken and was being misjudged, straightened up, wiped away the tears which she had forced to flow, and in a manner that showed that she was anything but spirit-broken, exclaimed, “Six months! For the Lord’s sake! Six months for that!’ The expression on her face clearly denoted satisfaction and surprise that the sentence was not twice as severe.”



#128 Sophie Lyons

Sophia Elkins-Levy (1847-1924), aka Sophie Lyons, Sophie Burke, Sophie Brady – Pickpocket, Moll

Link to Byrne’s text on #128 Sophie Lyons

The life story of Sophie Lyons–intricately connected to the careers of her other erstwhile husbands: Maury Harris, Ned Lyons, Jim Brady and Billy Burke; not to mention other notable friends and lovers–involves a huge swath of American criminal history. She was more than a notable member of the underworld community, she was one of its foremost chroniclers. Sophie never honestly told her own story, and her criminal reminiscences were only infrequently based on her own recollections, and otherwise relied on other sources (like Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America), and a large dose of fabrication.

A full, accurate, well-researched biography of Sophie’s life has never been published, but it may not be long before one appears. Much was written about her long before her career was over, and those articles also were full of mistakes and untruths. Offered below is a typical example from a very atypical source (which makes it such an oddity): the lawyer who represented her in several early scrapes, William F. Howe, of the infamous firm Howe & Hummel.

It is a minor mystery why, in 1897, William F. Howe would have written this article (the first of two) on Sophie for the National Police Gazette. There were dozens of other criminals he could have written about–including his foremost client, Marm Mandelbaum–but Howe chose only to write about Sophie. A decade earlier, in 1888, he had written a book with Hummel about the New York underworld, Danger!: A True History of the Great City’s Wiles and Temptations, but it carefully avoided naming active professional criminals.

One might expect that Howe–a legal genius–would pen a dispassionate, clear-eyed history of Sophie, but instead he engaged in romantic myth-building as enthusiastically as any eager young yellow journalist. One of Sophie Lyons’s qualities was the ability to encourage in others the image of her as a bandit queen, born to be a thief, and not driven to thievery by necessity–and to ignore any pain she inflicted on victims of her crimes. William F. Howe’s puffery (based on anecdotes he heard, true or false) is a prime example:


“If ever there was a woman who was worthy of the title of high priestess of crime and queen of blackmailers, that woman is Sophie Lyons, who has made victims on two continents contribute to her purse; and who, perhaps with the exception of ‘Little Annie’ Reilly, has stolen more money than any other woman in the world. Thomas Byrnes, once Superintendent of Police of New York, says that she is the most expert and dangerous female crook he ever met, and her record shows that he knows what he is talking about.

“There is really no reason why Sophie Lyons should have been anything else than a thief, for her grandfather was one of the most daring cracksmen the sleuths of Scotland Yard ever had to deal with, and he gave them more trouble than any other lurcher who ever roamed London at night looking for a crib to open. Her mother was Sophie Elkins, as slick a shoplifter as ever dropped a bolt of silk into a bag, and her father was a blackmailer who could give points on trickery to any nobsman in the business. If that choice bunch wasn’t enough to put criminal blood into a woman, then nothing ever would. So you see that there was an excuse for her, and that, according to the law of heredity, it wasn’t really her fault that she became a crook. When she became a star in her chosen profession she reflected credit upon her parents.

“She was taken in hand when she was very young, and as she grew up it became very natural for her to look around for a ‘good thing.’ But there was something besides her cleverness which helped her, and that was nature. She was a pretty girl from the start, with big, gray, sympathetic eyes that could make anyone fall in love with them if she willed it, and as she grew into young womanhood she developed a figure that was superb in its wonderful loveliness. She was a woman to win a man’s heart and take his purse from under his very nose, but from the first she hated small purses. Sophie Lyons never lowered herself to petty larceny. She had been taught that it was infinitely easier to get away with a large bank roll than a few dollars, and she faithfully followed that teaching all her life.

“So to her parents and associates Sophie has always been a credit. And why wouldn’t she, when it is asserted that her parents burned her arms with hot irons to force her to steal. She learned the lesson better than they thought she would, and when she had no more to learn she began to teach others.

“She married a famous burglar–it is seldom that these women are really married–and she raised children for him. He was Ned Lyons. They had children and there is every reason to believe that Lyons was the father, for she was true to her crib-cracking spouse. As a result of the union there were two boys and two girls. The boys both became thieves, and the daughters were placed in a convent in Canada. She took great pride in her oldest son, George, who inherited the thieving instinct. He wasn’t as lucky in his operations as he might have been, and he died while serving a term in Auburn prison.

“But it will be better, perhaps, to begin at the beginning of the woman’s career–to begin, for instance, at her birth, and go with her through her calendar of crime. Everything can not be known, however, for Sophie has turned tricks which have never seen the light of day, and that, perhaps, is one of the reasons why she is worth $50,000 today.

“Forty-six years ago her father was in hiding from the detectives and her mother was in prison for shoplifting when she was born. She saw prison bars as soon as she opened her eyes, and it seemed to have been rather a pat introduction into the world for her. But she wasn’t really heard of until she was about twelve years old. Then she was caught picking a pocket. She was so young and she looked so innocent that the magistrate couldn’t believe her guilty, so he discharged her. But it didn’t stop her. She kept her hands in folks’ pockets with great success, for she had been made more shrewd by her first fail.

“At the extremely tender age of fifteen years she had her first love affair, and it is perhaps one of the most romantic affairs in the life of this remarkable woman. She went out walking on the avenue one fine afternoon looking for ‘graft.’ As usual, she was alone, for even at that tender age she made up her mind she could work better alone than with any ‘pals.’ She came to a street corner where a horse had fallen down and where a crowd had collected.

“She couldn’t have wished for anything better, and in a few minutes she was among the people, pushing and shoving with the rest, only she didn’t care a rap what all the excitement was about. All she was looking for was plunder. In a few minutes she had spotted a school boy of about seventeen years who wore a heavy gold watch chain on his vest. She edged her way over to him, and when she started back a few moments later she not only had his watch, but she had the chain, too. That was all she got that afternoon, and on her way home she looked at her booty. Upon the case of the watch was engraved the boy’s name and address, and for the first time in her life a great feeling of sympathy came over Sophie Levy for one of her victims. She remembered that the boy was very handsome, that he had big blue eyes and a manly way with him that appealed to her, and the result was that when she arrived home she said nothing about the watch, but kept it hidden in the bosom of her dress. She couldn’t get the boy’s face out of her mind, and it haunted her day and night, until finally she took to hanging about the house where he lived. One day, by accident, he met her on the avenue and he smiled on her.

“That is the way it began, and that is how they became acquainted. While they walked and talked she could feel his watch ticking against her breast, and it seemed to her as if everyone on the street could hear it.

“After that they had a great many meetings, and at last the boy became so infatuated with her that he wanted to marry her.

“She was willing, so he took her to the grand house where he lived so that he could introduce her to his father.

“‘What is your name?’ asked the old gentleman.

“‘Sophie Levy.’

“‘You’re a very nice little girl, but I think you’re too young to marry. Besides, when my son marries he shall marry his equal. Here is a present for you,’ and he held out a $10 bill. ‘Now run away home.’

“She took the money, threw it on the floor and trampled on it angrily. ‘I don’t want your money,’ she screamed, ‘and I’m going to marry your son just to spite you.’

“‘Come, come, none of that. You must go out of here and not raise any row.’

“He took her by the shoulders and began to push her towards the door, but she flew at him like a tigress. She fought him back to the center of the room and then she said: ‘I’ll go now because I am ready to go. Good bye.’ And she started out.

“She got $20 from a fence for the watch and chain and she was willing to get rid of it now her romance was over. But she had her revenge.

“Three times in as many weeks she picked the old gentleman’s pocket. Once she got his watch, twice she fished his purse out and then she wound up by nipping his diamond stud from his ample shirt front. In telling of this afterwards she said she ought to have stolen the old fellow’s clothes off his back for breaking up her first love affair. If she had married the swell kid Sophie Levy might today be a leader in a social set, instead of a woman who is constantly under the surveillance of the police.

“When she was seventeen years old she was a decided beauty, and it was then she met old Mother Mandelbaum, the notorious fence, who years later took refuge in Canada from the inquisitive police. Mother Mandelbaum had no use for anyone but a high-class crook, and when she took little Sophie Levy up it made her reputation at once. Levy was her name before she married Ned Lyons. The Mandelbaum woman put new ideas in her head.

“‘You are beautiful, my child,’ she said to her one day. ‘You ought to do very well. Men will like you and that is the best of all, for you can do with them as you please, and with your face it will not be necessary for you to nip their clocks–they will give you anything you want.’

“That set Sophie to thinking, and she concluded the old mother of crooks was right. So from that time on she began to play upon the sympathies of men, and it is on record that she was never once known to fail.

“She was in the hey-day of her youth and beauty when she met Ned Lyons, the man who was destined to become her husband–the man who stole millions and who eventually drifted into the worst kind of poverty; the man who was as handsome as an Adonis, but who lost his looks with his luck.

“Lyons’ father was an honest weaver, who came to New York with his family in 1850 from Manchester, England. The boy fell among among thieves and it wasn’t long before he was working with them and turning a trick as good as the best of them. At the beginning of the war he was a young man, handsome, daring and athletic, and he turned his talents to robbing drunken soldiers until the game became risky and then he became a full-fledged bounty jumper. It was his boast that he enlisted and deserted in New York alone eighteen times within one month. That was pretty fast moving, and so, in order to escape the bullets they generally throw into a captured bounty jumper, Lyons moved westward.

“He did not return east until 1866, and then it was known that he had turned off altogether about $150,000, most of which had gone into the faro bank, for which he was a good thing. But when he struck New York he was still ‘flush’ enough and was far from broke. With the rest of the criminal push he wandered to Mother Mandelbaum’s.

“One night he was sitting there when a handsome young woman came in. ‘Who’s the moll?’ he asked.

“‘Sophie Levy,’ was the answer.

“‘I think I’ll make a play for her,’ he remarked, as he walked over to where she was. He was introduced by Mrs. Mandelbaum and he began his courting by saying to her, ‘I rather like your looks. What do you think of me?'”






#124 Elizabeth Dillon

Bridget Cole (Abt. 1844-192?), aka Elizabeth Dillon, Bridget McNally, Bridget Rafferty, Bridget Corrigan, Mary Ryan – Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Housekeeper, Slim build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Brown hair, dark brown eyes, swarthy complexion, high cheek bones. A remarkably tall, thin woman; big lips.

RECORD. Elizabeth Dillon, or Cole, is a well known female pickpocket. She has been arrested in almost every city in the Union, and has done considerable service in State prisons and penitentiaries throughout the country. She is well known in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Providence, R.I., and several other Eastern cities. She is very quick in her actions and difficult to follow. She was arrested in Providence, R.I., on February 1, 1879, charged with picking pockets, and sentenced to two years in State prison on March 11, 1879. Since then she has served two terms in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York. Her picture is a very good one, taken in March, 1879.

Though Elizabeth Dillon (the name she often favored when arrested) did roam eastern cities picking pockets, her home was Boston, Massachusetts. She said she had come from Ireland as a young girl, and had not started stealing until an adult. Her first known arrest was in Boston in April 1876, working crowds with another pickpocket named Patrick McNally. She used the name Bridget Cole, which may have been her real name. In the following years, her arrests came under the name Bridget McNally–which was also the name used when she (re)married in 1894 to Francis Corrigan.

In 1883, she was still using the name Bridget McNally, but was no longer working with him. Instead, she traveled with another male pickpocket named Martin Rafferty. They were arrested together in Buffalo, New York in August 1883. By the next year, 1884, she was using the name Bridget Rafferty.

There was a long gap in her career between 1884 and 1895, likely signifying one or more long sentences, before she reappeared in Boston in 1894. Her mate, Martin Rafferty, was said to have died many years earlier. In June 1894, she married another pickpocket partner, Francis Corrigan, in a Catholic ceremony.

A May 1895 arrest of Bridget interrupted their marriage. A Boston police detective recognized her, trailed her movements, and caught her stealing a pocketbook. She was sent to prison for two years. She was arrested again in 1898 and served another year. In January 1900, she and Corrigan were arrested together. They were released for lack of evidence. Several months later, in May, she was stopped by a store detective while picking the pocket of a customer. Again, she was not convicted.

In August 1901, “Liz Dillon” was caught while picking pockets at a funeral. As an excuse, she said she liked to cry, and could do so as easily for a stranger as a friend; and that no one suspected a person who cries. At her trial, the judge heard a recitation of her record, and remarked, “Truly, she is beyond redemption.” She was sentenced to three and a half years in the House of Correction.

After her release she went to New York and was caught working the passengers on a ferry. For this, she was put away another three years.

In September, 1908, she was arrested in Boston for picking pockets at the Dudley Street streetcar terminal, and described by her real married name, Bridget Corrigan. A year later she was picked up again, this time for vagrancy. Bridget was, in 1909, between 56 and 66 years old. She was sentenced to four months in jail–the limit for vagrancy.

Boston, August 1912: Six months, attempted larceny. Her appearance in court was quite feeble, and opinion was that she would be serving her last sentence.

April 1913: Three months for picking pockets at Revere Beach.

September 1913: Arrested in Boston as a vagabond: four months to a year.

October 1918: Eight months in Boston’s House of Correction.

October 1919: One year, picking pockets in a department store.

In May, 1920, Bridget was arrested for vagrancy. Judge Michael J. Murray, Sheriff John A. Keliher, and a female probation officer sat her down and made her an offer: she was known to be an excellent seamstress, having done very high-quality work while confined in various prisons. Judge Murray told Bridget that he had arranged for her to get a job and a place to live as a seamstress, and that if she kept honest, she would soon be able to live on her own. He suspended her six-month sentence if she would agree to try to live honestly.

No further arrests were recorded.





#117 Margaret Brown

Margaret Brown (18??-????), aka Old Mother Hubbard, Elizabeth Haskins, Mrs. Arthur Young, Eliza Burnham, Eliza Burns, Julia Burnham, Margaret Burnham, Margaret Hutchinson, Jane Hutchinson, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Housekeeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Gray hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a long cloak when stealing.

RECORD. Margaret Brown, which is her right name, has been a thief for fifty years. She makes a specialty of opening hand-bags, removing the pocket-book, and closing them again.

She was arrested in Chicago, III, and sentenced to three years in Joliet prison, where, in an attempt to escape, she fell, and was nearly killed. She was discharged from Joliet in 1878, and after that operated in St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other cities.

She was arrested in Boston, Mass., on March 24, 1883, in R. H. White’s dry goods store, for stealing a hand-bag, which was found on her person ; for this offense she served six months in the House of Correction there.

She was arrested in New York City on March 26, 1884, for stealing a pocket-book from a Mrs. H. S. Dennison, of Brooklyn, N. Y., in Macy’s store on Fourteenth Street ; for this she was sentenced to three months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 2, 1884.

On the expiration of this sentence on July 2, 1884, she was arrested again on a requisition from Boston, Mass., charged with the larceny of a satchel containing $260 in money from a store there. She was taken to Boston, and sentenced to two years in the House of Correction in the latter part of July. She was subsequently transferred to Deer Island, on account of her old age and infirmities. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1883.

Confirmation of Margaret Brown as “Old Mother Hubbard’s” real name remains lacking, and does her age. She once maintained her maiden name was Elizabeth Haskins. One source gives her birth year as 1818; another has her twenty years younger. Inspector Byrnes split the difference and gave her assumed birth year as 1828, birthplace Ireland.

A habitual shoplifter named Margaret Brown was active in New York City in 1859, and was sent to Blackwell’s Island for five months. In 1865, Margaret Brown was sent to state prison for a five year term for grand larceny.

Most accounts of Margaret’s career start with her being sentenced to Joliet Prison in Illinois sometime in the 1870s–accounts differ as to whether she entered in 1870, 1875, or 1877. Regardless, it seems that she was nearly killed during an escape attempt (the athleticism required for this attempt might argue for her birth date being closer to 1838 than 1818):

Nothing was heard from her until the sequence of events that Byrnes refers to: a jailing in Boston in 1883, followed by three months at New York’s Blackwell’s Island in 1884; and an immediate return to Boston to serve two years in the house of corrections. She was said to have been traveling with a gang led by another infamous shoplifter, Mollie Hoey.

In 1886 she was arrested in Brooklyn and sent to the county penitentiary for one year. She was caught in Brooklyn again in 1890. Another gap in Margaret’s record exists between 1890 and June, 1893, when she was arrested in Detroit. Accounts from this period forward indicate she was now married to a man named Young; but his first name was cited at different times as being William, Albert, or Arthur. Margaret was released in Detroit, and she and Young descended upon the Chicago World’s Fair, which attracted every pickpocket in the nation.

Margaret’s favorite trick was to visit waiting areas in rail stations or department stores and sit next to other women shoppers who had placed their bags on the bench. Margaret would sit down next to them with her arms swathed in a large fur stole. She would casually fling her stole over her neighbor’s bags, then work her hand underneath it to extract items from the shopping bag or pocketbook.

From Chicago (after a little trouble with police), she and Young headed to Toledo, where she was arrested. A judge there believed her to be insane, and had her confined to an asylum. With the help of a lawyer and her husband, Toledo sent her back to her alleged residence, Cleveland, where she was eventually released.

Margaret wasted little time leaving Cleveland on another foray, and was arrested in both Buffalo and Rochester in late 1894, but released in both instances

Nothing was ever published that indicated her demise.


#115 Ellen Clegg

Ellen Maguire (Abt. 1845-????), aka Ellen Clegg, Mary Wilson, Mary Lane, Ellen Lee, Mary Gray, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Lives in New York. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, light complexion, big ears.

RECORD. Ellen Clegg is an old and expert pickpocket, shoplifter, and hand-bag opener. She was one of Mrs. Mandelbaum’s women, and is well known throughout the country. Her picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery in several of the large cities. She is a clever woman, and the wife of Old Jimmy Clegg, alias Bailey, alias Lee, alias Thomas, who was convicted and sentenced in Portsmouth, N.H., in April, 1882, for four years, for picking pockets.

This team has traveled through the country for years, and been arrested time and time again. Ellen was arrested in Boston, Mass., on December 6, 1876, in company of Tilly Miller, Black Lena, and four other notorious shoplifters, and her picture taken for the Rogues’ Gallery.

She was arrested again in Boston in 1878 for picking pockets, and sent to the House of Correction.

Again arrested in New York City on November 24, 1879, in company of Walter Price (197), under the name of Mary Gray, charged with shoplifting. (See record of No. 197.) She pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, N.Y., by Judge Gildersleeve, on December 16, 1879. Price went to State prison. Ellen’s time expired in this case on April 16, 1882.

She was arrested again in Boston on May 21, 1883, for shoplifting, and sentenced to one year in the House of Correction. Arrested again in Boston on December 22, 1885, and again sent to the House of Correction for one year. In this case Ellen was detected in the act of opening a lady’s hand-bag and attempting to remove a pocket-book. Her picture is a pretty good one, taken in 1876.

A few things can be said that can partially clear up the confusion over Ellen Clegg’s family. Byrne’s states that she was the wife of “Old Jimmy Clegg.” However, the Clegg she married was Alfred A. Clegg, alias James Bailey. Alfred Clegg came from a notorious family of pickpockets (father John Clegg, mother Susannah, from Yorkshire and Manchester respectively); brothers Alfred, James, and John Jr. came to America and thrived as pickpockets.

Ellen’s maiden name can only be found on documents relating to her children; and they are not consistent. Her son Charles’s baptismal record lists her maiden name as Maguire. The baptismal record of another son, George W. Clegg, gives a latin-ized rendering that is a letter soup: “Magrcis.” George’s Social Security application that came many decades later listed her surname as McInerney. The baptismal records are likely more accurate, so odds are her name was Maguire. Her given first name may have been Elenor; that was the name given to first child.

Ellen and Alfred Clegg had four children: Elenor Susannah (b. 1866), Alfred A. Jr. (b. 1868), George William (b. 1874), and Charles (b. 1878). They likely only spent a few years with their parents, who during these years made Boston their home. Ellen appears to have stopped using the name Clegg after the mid-1880s, preferring the alias Mary Lane.

As Byrnes notes, Ellen Clegg was said to be one of the favored proteges of Marm Mandelbaum. In 1916, during a period when there was a keen nostalgia for stories of the old crooks of the 1870s and 1880s, an anonymously-written feature article appeared in the New York Sun that tells a story of an adventure of Ellen Clegg’s that resulted in Marm Mandelbaum’s exile to Ontario. Some ancient anecdote might have inspired this story, but it is mainly a work of fiction. [As seen below it spells Mandelbaum as Mendelbaum]. Still, it illustrates how the professional criminals of the last decades of the nineteenth century captured the imagination of the public, and why they remain staples of popular culture:

Mother Mendelbaum and the Rawley Pearls: A Story of New York’s Most Notorious “Fence”

Some years ago there was an old woman known very widely as Mother Mendelbaum. Her photograph was in the rogue’s gallery at Police Headquarters, and her name off and on during each twenty-four hours was in the mouth of every detective between the Battery and the Golden Gate. Mother Mendelbaum was a “fence”–not a common, everyday pawn shop fence, but a national institution.

When a detective went out to get Mother Mendelbaum, as one did every little while, he made a lot of work for himself, but he did not get Mother Mendelbaum. Possibly he ended his quest by lying up in a hospital from a bullet wound and possibly he ended it by ending his career as a human being.

They used to say that the Czar of Russia was not so well guarded as Mother Mendelbaum. Perhaps that was so and perhaps it wasn’t. The fact remained, however, that year after year Mother Mendelbaum went on plying her trade and becoming richer and richer. In the course of time she turned the sixty year post and became so rich that her name was a byword in all the East Side–“Vy, he’s as rich as Mother Mendelbaum.”

One day three detectives whose names are as widely known now as the name of Mother Mendelbaum sat around a table in a Bowery saloon and complain in soft but strong accents that the profession was not what it once was; in short, they decided it was going to the dogs.

“Now, I’ll tell you what it is,” said one of these men, whose name shall be Jones, “there ain’t a criminal in New York that’s worth going after except one, and she’s a woman.”

“Who’s that?” said Squig.

The third detective, whose name may as well be Smith, glanced at Squig with a certain expression of contempt. Jones himself took the ragged end of a cigar from his mouth, spat upon the floor, and said with disgust, “Why you poor fish, wake up!”

A light of intelligence shone in Squig’s eyes. “Well if it’s Mother Mendelbaum you’re talking about, let me out right now. She ain’t a criminal, she’s a genius.”

Smith and Jones cast their eyes up and signified agreement. For the moment Squig had come out of water and was no longer a fish. There was no way of getting around the fact that Mother Mendelbaum was a genius. For a few minutes there was silence.

“Just the same,” Jones burst out finally, “there is only one criminal in New York who’s worth going after.”

“And getting you neck broke or your body punctured, eh?” said Smith.

“Quite right, my man,” rejoined Jones, “but think of the glory!”

“And I,” said Smith, who was not wholly wanting in a sense of the dramatic, “am the only man in New York who knows how to get her.”

That was the beginning of the last quest for Mother Mendelbaum, the most notorious fence New York has ever known. It was not, however, until six months after that the three detectives, Smith, Jones and Squig, had finally drawn their nets and were prepared to close in on the old woman.

Mother Mendelbaum’s shop was in Essex street. In the year 1880 there were still fashionable stores in Grand street, not far away, and it was not an uncommon occurrence for fashionably dressed women to wander into Mother Mendelbaum’s place. To judge by the window display she conducted a business in fine gowns, furs and rare silks. An interior inspection showed that she also dealt in costly Persian rugs, old silver, and bric-a-brac. For the theatrical trade she was also a jeweler. But there was no jewelry on display in Mother Mendelbaum’s store.

“Let me tell you, Ellen Clegg,” said Mother Mendelbaum one evening, “this is not a time to go to Boston. It is not a time to go anywhere–but to church.”

Ellen Clegg was about 40 years old, good looking, well-dressed, a woman of the world, one who could carry herself with ease in any place from a Bowery dance hall to an opera house. She was Irish, New York Irish, and as sharp as the tip of an Australian stock whip.

The two women were sitting alone in a little room just back of Mother Mendelbaum’s shop. It was a raw night outside and there was a roaring grate fire. Ellen Clegg was dressed in expensive clothes of the most recent style. Mother Mendelbaum wore her customary black silk gown and her wig of straight black hair parted in the middle and well-plastered down.

“And is it the cold weather,” rejoined Ellen Clegg, “that is giving you the chilblains, mother?”

“It is not the cold weather and you know it very well, Ellen; it’s the man who has been living beneath the lamppost on the corner for a month.”

Ellen Clegg laughed. It was a musical laugh. “Excuse me, mother, but can’t a poor beggar sell chestnuts on any corner within a mile without arousing your suspicions?”

“Not when it takes only half an eye to see that his whiskers are false and that he knows no more of roasting chestnuts than you do.”

“So that’s the game, is it?”

“It is,” said Mother Mendelbaum emphatically. “And I take it that you know me well enough to realize that I wouldn’t refuse all shipments and not take a chance on letting any one of my best men come here if there was not good reason.”

“But how about me, mother? I continue to come. Am I not one of your best women?”

A smile stole over the face of Mother Mendelbaum but did not soften its hard and cumming expression. “Yes, my dear, yes. But you’re in a class by yourself. You’re a sly one, Ellen, and so clever! And that is why you’ll give up this notion about the pearls in Boston and continue to say your prayers for a short time longer.”

“On the contrary,” said Ellen Clegg, rising, “that is why I shall not give up my notion. I’m here tonight to ask your blessing. I leave on the midnight train.”

“Impossible my dear, you would not think of it.”

Ellen Clegg picked up an exquisite sealskin coat and slipped it on. “Let me see,” said she. “This is Tuesday. You will receive on Thursday a little package by express. Do not refuse it, mother. It will contain the prettiest set of pearls even your old eyes ever looked upon.”

And with that Ellen Clegg walked out of the room into the shop and out of the shop into the street, where a poor man might have been seen selling chestnuts on the corner.

There was nothing in the figure of the chestnut man to arouse Ellen Clegg’s suspicions as she passed him and turned briskly toward the Bowery. It was a stooped figure, the figure of an old man, and it possessed the customary allotment of unalloyed dirt. But scarcely had Ellen turned her back on the chestnut man when he picked up his camp oven and hobbled feebly into the entrance of a tenement. A few moments later a tall and alert man stepped from that tenement to the sidewalk and walked hastily in the tracks of Ellen Clegg. A moment later another man appeared and turned in the same direction. On his heels came a third. They were Smith, Jones, and Squig. The chase had begun.

Mother Mendelbaum sat before the grate fire in her little sitting room mumbling unintelligible syllables to herself and slowly stirring a mug of ale with a hot poker. It was her notorious habit to sit before the grate fire and drink warm ale before retiring. Nobody knew Mother Mendelbaum better than Gen. Greenthal, that sly old crook, who frequently used the name of Myers on a check; and Gen. Greenthal has often testified to the mother’s habits.

But on this particular evening, the evening of the great adventure, Mother Mendelbaum was very nervous. It was a queer state for her, but there was something queer in the air, and, above all, there was something queer about the chestnut man on the corner which did not seem to permit the iron safe to rest as securely in the shadow as was usual.

Mother Mendelbaum tossed off the last of the ale and walked over to the safe. The combination twirled quickly back and forth between her gnarled old fingers. The tumblers clicked musically into place and the heavy door swung back. The mother reached in and drew forth a tray of sparkling diamonds, rubies, amethysts, turquoises, emeralds, and pearls that would have made the eyes of any Maiden Lane merchant dance with excitement. Long ago the settings had been dropped into the melting pot and had found their way to the Assay Office. the stones themselves had come from every center of wealth in the United States and Canada.

Second story men had risked their lives for them in San Francisco; shoplifters had gone after them in Chicago; notorious dips had snatched them in the opera jams in New York; Montreal, Quebec and Toronto had yielded up their share. And the collection was constantly changing. Year by year the old ones had gone and new ones had been added. Mother Mendelbaum bought them for a song from “her boys” and sold them at a thousand percent profit to any safe purchaser.

While mother was saying good night, as it were, to her choicest collection, Ellen Clegg was indulging in a little irritability toward Jennie, her maid. She lay on a sofa in the bedroom of her apartment watching Jennie place the wrong things in a neat leather bag.

“My dear,” said Ellen, “if your hands were as nimble as your eyes when the butcher calls you would not be doing this sort of thing.”

“Yes ma’am,” responded Jennie, who was a very trim little person, as was afterward recorded in its proper place.

“You would be wearing the most expensive clothes and going to the theater every night.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And you would be spending the entr’actes in the dressing room, where nimble fingers are in demand.”

This was a bit beyond Jennie, but she replied with her usual formula. The little witticism as it appeared to be in Ellen’s eyes put her in a more affable humor. “And now,” said she, rising and speaking with mock seriousness, “for the great adventure. Did you put in my prayer book, Jennie? Then all is ready. My hat, dear, and a heavy veil. As the mother says, it is sometimes advisable to conceal one’s beauty.”

Ellen Clegg took a cab, a fact which, like the other facts in this story, has indebted the writer to George Dougherty, once, a Deputy Police Commissioner in this city. It might have been noticed that at the instant when she stepped into the cab three men stepped into another cab on the opposite side of the street. In a few minutes both cabs arrived at the station. A porter took Ellen Clegg’s bag. The three men, who were unencumbered by luggage, walked some distance behind her, chatting pleasantly among themselves.

“A ticket to Boston,” said Ellen to the ticket clerk.

“Round trip, madam?”

Ellen hesitated. “No, one way only, please.”

The three men were immediately behind her at the window. They also took tickets to Boston. There was the difference, however, that they purchased tickets back to New York.

One does not go to Chicago for the climate. Neither does one go to Boston for pleasure, especially from New York. It was by some such line of reasoning together with a pretty accurate though unsubstantial notion of Ellen Clegg’s means of livelihood that the three male travelers, to wit, Smith, Jones, and Squig,  arrived at the conclusion that business, big business, was at the other end of the line.

No sooner was Ellen Clegg comfortably seated in her section at one end of the car than the three detectives, who had engaged two sections at the other end, called for a deck of cards and played just one rubber. At the conclusion Smith and Jones went to bed in their section and Squig sat up in his. In due course Ellen retired, and in time dawn came. Later the Boston atmosphere was encountered and by noon a certain Boston hotel, which in those days was in high repute, housed four travelers from New York.

At precisely 2 o’clock in the afternoon a quietly though richly dressed woman stepped out of the elevator and into the hotel lobby. She waled quickly to the doors and out to the street. In one hand she carried a black leather handbag of rather large proportions for those days. In the other she had a black silk umbrella. Her gloves were of a light cream color, the shade of pearls.

She walked briskly along the sidewalk with the air of one who knew exactly where she was going and did not care to loiter on the way. Two men followed on the opposite side of the street. There was a puzzled expression on their faces. They had left a companion in the hotel lobby.

In 1880 there was a jewelry store in Boston which bore in a fashion the reputation that Tiffany’s enjoys today. A footman pushed open the swinging doors of this establishment and Ellen Clegg entered.

“What is it you wish, madam?” inquired an attendant who was standing just inside.

“I have heard,” she responded, “that you possess the Rawley pearls. I am a great fancier of pearls, and being here from New York should like to look at yours.”

At the mention of the Rawley pearls the eyes of the attendant moved instinctively to Ellen Clegg’s clothes. There was no doubt that she had the appearance of a woman of wealth. And there was in spite of Ellen Clegg’s underworld associations a mark of refinement in her features.

Instantly the attendant was all courtesy. He led the way to a counter in the center of the store. He himself stepped behind it and pushing back a sliding door reached into the case and drew forth the famous pearls. They were strung into a necklace.

Ellen Clegg placed her leather handbag well over to the rear edge of the counter. The umbrella she placed horizontally across the counter so that the handle remained close to her right hand and the steel end protruded just over the rear edge. The pearls were directly in front of her. Exactly on the other side was the attendant and at his left stood a clerk.

At the instant when this relative position of pearls, handbag and umbrella was established two men who had entered the store just behind Ellen Clegg approached a counter about twenty feet away, from which they were able to obtain an unobstructed view of Ellen Clegg, the pearls, and the two men behind the case. With a rapid sweep of her eyes Ellen Clegg saw them, saw everyone, in fact, in the store. There was a quick movement of her body, a movement of impatience. But immediately the two men became absorbed in the contents of the case before them and again Ellen Clegg glanced down at the pearls.

All this happened as things are thought and not as they are spoken.

“perhaps you know, madam,” the attendant was saying, “that the peculiar value of these pearls lies in their exact similarity.”

” I have heard so, ” said Ellen. As she spoke she reached forward with her right hand to pick up the necklace. But as her arm rose the umbrella, the handle of which had caught in the sleeve of her coat, swept to one side and carried with it the black leather handbag. It fell to the floor between the attendant and the clerk. Instinctively both of them stooped to pick it up.

Their heads disappeared beneath the counter. Ellen Glegg picked up the Rawley necklace with her left hand and dropped it into an ample pocket in the side of her sealskin coat. Simultaneously she opened her right hand, which had remained above the counter, and another necklace dropped onto the velvet pad. At that instant the attendant emerged with the handbag and placed it on the case. The clerk’s head bobbed up at the same moment.

“Thank you very much,” said Ellen Clegg, and picking up the pearls began to examine them closely. “They are exquisite stones,” she said.

Twenty feet away Smith nudged Jones and whispered “Well I’ll be damned!”

“Now, none of that,” responded Jones. “Just you keep your eyes on these beautiful watches.”

“Shall we take her now with the booty?” queried Smith.

“Look here,” said Jones. “What kind of a rube are you? Have we spent six months of our lives to get Ellen Clegg or to get Mother Mendelbaum? Now ease up and look careless.”

Smith did as he was told and both men waited somewhat breathlessly, wondering if the duplicate pearls would be detected. But both men knew in their hearts that they would not be, for Ellen Clegg was far too clever a woman to use imitation stones that would be told with anything but a microscope.

“Well of all the brass I ever saw!” burst out Smith, unable to contain himself. “The woman is looking over more of the stock.”

The attendant placed the duplicate necklace back in the case and drew forth other stones. Ellen Clegg stood there for ten minutes chatting pleasantly with him and inspecting various gems. Finally she was bowed out of the store and with her left hand resting lightly in her coat pocket began to retrace her steps to the hotel.

“Why it’s as simple as a dream after you know how to take hop,” said Squig after Ellen Clegg had been seen safely into the elevator and the three men were sitting together in the lobby. “This little bird will return to New York before nightfall and will take a cab directly from the station to Mother Mendelbaum to deliver the goods and collect her fee.”

“A very pretty idea,” said Smith, “but I’d rather let the mother have her liberty for a while longer and take Ellen while we’re sure on her.”

But Smith was overruled. While they were discussing the question, the elevator door opened and Ellen Clegg stepped out and walked to the cashier’s window. A bellboy was carrying her traveling bag. She paid her bill and was out of the hotel and in a cab before the three detectives fairly realized what was happening.

They dashed out of the seats simultaneously and ran to the street. There was not another cab in sight. “It looks as if we’ll have to hoof it and pretty fast, too,” said Squig.

Jones and Squig started to run and Smith stayed behind to pay a dinner bill that had not been settled. It was a good half mile to the station and Ellen Clegg’s cab traveled rapidly. Consequently the two men were breathing like a pair of porpoises when they walked into the waiting room a few seconds behind their bait and reached the ticket window just in time to hear Ellen saying pleasantly, “New York, please.”

The train left in five minutes, but the detectives were on it and so was Ellen Clegg.

“It’s my opinion,” said Squig as the two men settled back, “that we’re not making a howling success of this.”

“And why not?” asked Jones.

“Well, just between you and me that woman knows we’re shadowing her and has known it ever since we left New York.”

“if that’s the case,” replied Jones, “I’m no judge of the criminal love for detectives, for she looked square at me before hoisting the pearls and didn’t seem to care whether I saw her or not.”

Ellen Clegg retired early. Both detectives sat up all night unwilling to take even the slightest chance. They arrived in New York early in the forenoon and followed Ellen to her hotel. It was Thursday.

“So the daisy ain’t been to see Mother Mendelbaum yet?”

“Not so you could notice it,” replied Squig, who was not in the best of humor.

“I came by the mother’s on the way here,” said Smith, “thinking to find police headquarters moved down there. But I saw it hadn’t.”

“Did you see the old woman?” asked Jones.

“Couldn’t see through the shutters.”

“Through the shutters?” said Squig and Jones in one voice.

“The place was closed up tight.”

For a few minutes all three men puzzled over this situation.

“The place closed up,” said Squig finally, “and Ellen Clegg still here. Rather strange, but anyway we know where Ellen is and she’s sure to go to Mother Mandelbaum’s sooner or later.”

The day dragged on and night came. The three men took turns watching and sleeping. At 10 o’clock the next morning Squig went over to the mother’s place and found that the shutters were still up. It had come to have the appearance of an untenanted store.

The men became alarmed in earnest and one of them went down to headquarters to report to the chief for advice. In the course of an hour he came back with instructions to take Ellen Clegg and recover the necklace, and to let Mother Mendelbaum go for the present.

The prospect of real action was an unmistakable relief. Without a moment’s delay the three men filed from the hotel and ascended to Ellen Clegg’s apartment. Jones carried a warrant which had been secured a week before. They ranf the bell and Jennie opened the door. All three brushed roughly past her and into the sitting room. As they entered Ellen Clegg rose from a chair with an expression of infinite surprise.

“Sorry, Miss Clegg,” said Jones, “but the jig’s up. Hand over the pearls and put on your hat and coat.”

“You have made some mistake,” said Ellen without the least sign of excitement.

“Come now, ” Jones said, “there’s no use of a stall. We saw you hoist them up in Boston and we know you have them now. Here’s the warrant. You’re under arrest.”

They took Ellen Clegg to the Tombs and locked her up. She was beaten and she knew it. But they did not find the pearls. Two weeks later, when she had been assured of the mother’s safety, she confessed under the advice of counsel.

Immediately on reaching her room after taking the pearls she had wrapped them up in a small box brought along for the purpose and addressed them to Mother Mendelbaum with a special delivery stamp. Then she had summoned a bellboy and tipped him generously to drop the package in a letter box. In the package she had placed the following note:

‘Sorry to embarrass you, dear mother, but the bulls are on me. They are the usual dubs, however, and you will have plenty of time to run up to Canada for a visit. Anyway, dear mother, your temper needs a change of scene. Pretty pearls, aren’t they? –Ellen Clegg’

The package and note reached Mother Mendelbaum some time after Ellen’s arrival in New York and before Smith reached town. Her departure had undoubtedly been hurried, but she had taken time to empty her safe. For various reasons Mother Mendelbaum never returned to the United States but she lived to a ripe age in Canada and stirred her ale with a hot poker until the last.












#127 Annie Reilly

Kate Foley (Abt. 1841-????), aka Annie Reilly/Riley, Annie Wilson, Kate Manning, Kate Connolly, Kate Williams, Kate Cooley, Mary Ann Riley, etc. — Dishonest Servant

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886; looks younger. Born in Ireland. Married. Medium build. Servant and child’s nurse. Height, 5 feet 1 inch. Weight, 113 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, fair complexion. Round, full face. Speaks two or three languages.

RECORD. “Little Annie Reilly” is considered the cleverest woman in her line in America. She generally engages herself as a child’s nurse, makes a great fuss over the children, and gains the good-will of the lady of the house. She seldom remains in one place more than one or two days before she robs it, generally taking jewelry, amounting at times to four and five thousand dollars. She is well known in all the principal Eastern cities, especially in New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, Pa.
Annie was arrested in New York City, for grand larceny, on complaint of Mrs. A. G. Dunn, No. 149 East Eighty-fourth Street, and others, and committed for trial, in default of $6,500 bail, by Judge Ledwith. She was convicted, and sentenced to four years and six months in State prison, by Judge Sutherland, in the Court of General Sessions in New York, on April 23, 1873, under the name of Kate Connelly.
She was arrested again in New York City, on August 3, 1880, for robbing the house of Mrs. Evangeline Swartz, on Second Avenue, New York. She was convicted of this robbery, and sentenced to three years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on September 8, 1880, by Judge Gildersleeve, under the name of Kate Cooley.
After her release, in January, 1883, she did considerable work in and around New York. She robbed the guests of the New York Hotel of $3,500 worth of jewelry, etc., while employed there as a servant.
She then went to Brooklyn, N.Y., and was arrested there, under the name of Kate Manning, on June 5, 1884, for the larceny of a watch and chain from Charles A. Jennings, of Macon Street, that city. At the time of her arrest a bronze statuette was found in her possession, which was stolen by her from a Mr. Buckman, of Columbia Street, New York City. Annie pleaded guilty in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Saturday, June 27, 1884, and was sentenced to four years and six months in the Kings County Penitentiary. Her sentence will expire June 27, 1887, allowing full commutation.
This woman is well worth knowing. She has stolen more property the last fifteen years than any other four women in America. She has served terms in prison in Pennsylvania and on Blackwell’s Island independently of the above. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1880.
Inspector Byrnes ended his profile of Annie Reilly with her incarceration in the Kings County Penitentiary (and he had no update in his 1895 edition). While at that prison, the warden, John Green, offered this statement about her:
“Kate Manning [aka Annie Reilly] is the most remarkable woman in the prison. Who she is or where she came from are mysteries which no detective has been able to unravel. Ella Larrabee and Nellie Babcock, about whom pages have been written, are pygmies alongside of her. She does not seem to have a relative, friend, or acquaintance in the world, and she lives completely within herself.”

While Annie’s mystery remains unsolved, a bit more can be said about her than was known by Warden Green and Inspector Byrnes.
Annie first came to the attention of authorities in 1866 under the name Kate Foley. While Byrnes says she was born in Ireland, other sources indicate she came from the Hudson Valley: Ulster County, New York; or Poughkeepsie. She was then about 15 years old. She engaged as a domestic servant with several wealthy families, but only stayed a day or two, taking with her whatever valuables she could carry. She took the articles to pawnshops. Caught in May 1866, she was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing.
She was enjoying freedom by late 1867–which is too early a date for a commuted sentence; so it may be that Annie made one of her legendary escapes from Sing Sing sometime in late 1866 or 1867. In December 1867, she took a position with the household of Mrs. and Mrs. Joseph M. Johnson of Rivington Street in lower Manhattan. She stole items, then went to work for a family in South Bergen, New Jersey; followed by another household in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was arrested in January 1868 by Detective Keirns in Manhattan under the name Mary Ann Riley, but sentenced to two years at Sing Sing under the name Annie Riley.
In May 1869, she escaped from Sing Sing (probably for the second time). She crawled up to the roof through a skylight; then slid down a lightning rod; and went unmissed until the next morning.

In July 1869, a “dishonest domestic” named Ann Riley was caught and sentenced to one year at Blackwell’s Island–but this was likely a different woman. However, Detective Keirns knew his suspects, and in November 1870 arrested Kate Foley, alias Gordon alias Bliven alias Annie Wilson for stealing clothing from a household at which she had been hired. She was sent to Blackwell’s Island for six months. Upon her release, she went to Connecticut, where she committed a string of house robberies there using her familiar methods before being caught and sent to the Connecticut State Prison in Weathersfield for one year.
In the Spring of 1873 a new spate of servant robberies struck the wealthy abodes of New York City, culminating with a robbery of the house of the military secretary of Governor Dix. The entire detective force of New York was assigned to trap her, but only one man knew her methods so well as to set a trap:
This time Annie was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing. She was assigned to assist the nurses. After being there just a month, Annie went to an upstairs room to get something for a patient, closed the door, and jumped out the window to a bell rope hanging outside. She slid down to the ground and was soon at large.
Once again, Detective Keirns was assigned the job of tracking her down. It took a year, but he knew her habits and found her again in June 1877–but not before she had victimized many households. She was sent to Blackwell’s Island under the name Kate Williams for two years–and this time did not escape.
Her history then follows Byrnes’s narrative: arrested again in August 1880, and given another three years on Blackwell’s Island. Then she went to Brooklyn and was arrested there as Kate Manning, resulting in a term of four and a half years.
Annie was not heard of again after her release from Kings County, adding to her mystery.

#121 Mary Ann Watts

Mary Ann Watts (Abt. 1844-????), aka Mary Wilson, Mary Walker — Shoplifter, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Dressmaker. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, ruddy complexion. Coarse features.

RECORD. Mary Ann Watts is a well known New York female thief. She is considered a very clever woman, and is known in all the principal cities East and West. She is credited with having served one term in the House of Correction in Boston (Mass.), one in Chicago and Philadelphia, besides two terms in New York State prison and two in the penitentiary.

She was arrested in New York City under the name of Mary Wilson, pleaded guilty to an attempt at grand larceny, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison, by Recorder Hackett, on December 19, 1873.

She escaped shortly after, and was at large until her arrest in New York City again for shoplifting. In this case she was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three years in State prison, by Judge Sutherland, on April 6, 1876.

After this last sentence expired she had to serve out about two years she owed on the previous sentence, making about five years in all. This is a clever woman, and well worth knowing. Her picture is a good one, although taken ten years ago.

Mary Ann Watts was the oldest daughter of English immigrants Isaiah and Emma Watts. Isaiah Watts was a respected, very successful “intelligence agent,” i.e. an employment agency specializing in placing servants in wealthy households. In the late 1860s, she became the partner of a shoplifter going by the name Wilson (James or Joe), and Mary Ann started using the name Mary Wilson. The man Wilson apparently died in prison; Mary Ann then associated herself with David H. Levitt, aka David Goldstein.

In December 1873, Mary Ann was caught shoplifting silks from a Manhattan store and sentenced to five years at Sing Sing. One night in early April 1874, Mary Ann became one of the  few women to escape from Sing Sing (Sophie Lyons was another, in December 1872). She was an assistant in the prison hospital, and therefore was free to walk the cell corridors until 8 PM. With a duplicate key, she opened a door to a laundry room and locked it behind her. She took a ladder that was there (used for washing windows) and carried it outside to the prison’s stone wall. The ladder reached about eight feet, tall enough for Mary Ann to grab the top edge of the wall and pull herself up and over. The warden later reported that “Daniel Levitt” (David H. Levitt) had been present when she first came to the prison; and had been seen just in the nearby village just a few days before her escape.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

A week later, the warden arrested two prison officers implicated in supplying Mary Ann the duplicate key. The same guards were responsible for aiding an earlier Sing Sing escape by James Brady and Bill Miller (the husband of Tilly Miller).

Mary Ann remained a fugitive for the next two years, during which she likely assisted David Levitt and Tilly Miller in a silk-smuggling operation at Niagara Falls, immediately after her escape from Sing Sing. Levitt was caught, but escaped a day later, assisted by a woman who was probably Mary Ann.

In April 1876, Mary Ann was arrested for shoplifting in New York City. She gave her name as Mary Walker, but the arresting detective recognized her as the fugitive from Sing Sing, Mary Ann Watts. In court, she was sentenced to finish her original term, and also another three years for her most recent shoplifting crime.

A year and a half into her return to Sing Sing, seventy-seven female convicts were transferred to Brooklyn’s Kings County Penitentiary via a ship taken down the Hudson. During the voyage, many of the women passed time by whistling a jig and dancing in the ship’s hold, but Mary Ann stood by silently. A guard point her out to a reporter from the Brooklyn Eagle who was along for the transfer.

“She stood leaning against the woodwork sullenly, would speak to no one, and took no notice either of the keepers or the convicts. ‘That woman was planning an escape,’ said Mr. Crummey. ‘She found out some time ago that she was to be removed down to Brooklyn, and she tried to smuggle a letter out to some of her friends in New York, but it was discovered. It informed them to be on the lookout for her when the boat landed and to try and effect her rescue. The matron told me about this, and I guess Watts knows it, and that’s the reason she’s so sulky. She’ll be one of the first to be locked up in the prison van. She threatened to cut Mrs. Hall to pieces one time at Sing Sing, and is one of the hardest of the whole crowd.'”

Mary Ann Watts served out her sentence. In 1895, Inspector Byrnes reported that she had reformed.






#125 Tillie Pheiffer

Tillie Pheiffer (Abt. 1850-????), aka Kate/Catherine Collins, Tillie Miller, Maria Pfeiffer, etc. — Hotel thief, house thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in France. Servant, Married. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 128 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Mole on the right side of the nose under the eye.

RECORD. Tillie Pheiffer, or Martin, is a notorious house and hotel sneak thief. She sometimes hires out as a servant and robs her employers; but her specialty is to enter a hotel or flat, and wander up through the house until she finds a room door open, when she enters and secures whatever is handy and decamps. She is known in New York City, Brooklyn, Paterson, N.J., and Baltimore, Md., where she also served a term in prison. She is said to have kept a road-house near Paterson, N.J., some years ago.

Tillie was arrested in New York City a few years ago, endeavoring to rob the Berkeley Flats, on the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, but subsequently released on habeas corpus proceedings in 1879.

She was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., disposing of a stolen watch in a pawnbroker’s shop. When arrested, she drew a revolver and attempted to shoot the officer. For this she was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary there.

She was arrested again in New York City on June 15, 1881, taken to police headquarters and searched. There was found upon her person four pocket-books, which contained money and jewelry. In one of them there was $10 in money, a gold hairpin and earrings, and the address of Miss Jennie Yeamans, of East Ninth Street, New York City, who testified that her rooms had been entered by a sneak thief during her absence, and the property stolen. Two other parties appeared against her and testified that she had robbed them also. Tillie pleaded guilty in this case, and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on June 23, 1881, by Judge Cowing.

She was arrested again in New York City on June 19, 1882, for entering the apartments of Annie E. Tool, No. 151 Avenue B, and stealing a gold watch and chain and a pair of diamond earrings valued at $300. For this she was sentenced to eighteen months in the penitentiary on June 26, 1882, by Judge Gildersleeve. Her picture is a fair one, taken in June, 1882.

Inspector Byrnes offers many clues to this female criminal in his entry, which requires much unpacking. Byrnes’s references to a jailing in Maryland; Tillie’s operating a road-house in Paterson, N.J.; and the robbery in the Berkeley Flats apartments have no traceable sources. That is regrettable, because the remaining facts–as presented by Byrnes–offer little insight on Tillie’s background and fate.

The March, 1878 Brooklyn arrest referred to by Byrnes was made on a woman using the name Maria Pfeifer/Pfeiffer. While being captured, she pulled a gun and attempted to shoot Detective David H. Corwin. After appearing in court and hearing her sentence (three and a half years in the penitentiary), Maria broke down; she later tried to poison herself with laudanum. At the time of her arrest, a man appeared claiming to be her husband, and explained that he was a “Nevada speculator” who had only been in the city for four months, and that he never suspected his wife was committing these crimes. However, Mr. Pfeiffer never reappeared at her later trial.

In June 1881, while attempting to rob the hotel room of actress Jennie Yeamans, Tillie was captured under the name Kate/Catherine Collins, alias Pheiffer. She was described as an old-time thief, who had been previously jailed not only in Brooklyn, but also in New York.

Finally, the June 1882 arrest in the apartment of Mrs. Toale (not Tool), took place under the name she offered as “Tilly Miller.” In this instance, there was no mention of the name Pfeifer or Collins. In fact, none of these three incidents (1878, 1881 and 1882) mentioned the names Byrnes suggested, “Tillie Pheiffer”; or the name under Byrnes’s photograph of her, “Tilly Martin.”

It so happens that “Tilly Miller” was the name of a notorious female shoplifter and thief, Matilda Ann Myers, best known as a partner of Black Lena Kleinschmidt, and also wife of hotel thief and shoplifter Billy Miller. Given these relationships alone, it is a minor mystery why Byrnes did not include a separate entry for “Tilly Miller.”

Was Maria Pfeiffer/Kate Collins the same woman as the infamous Tilly Miller? Probably not, based on an age difference; and the fact that Tilly Miller was know to have been born in Philadelphia to a German family.

#129 Kate Ryan

Catherine Ryan (Abt. 1836–19??), aka Kitty Ryan, Kate Ryan, Catherine Mantell, Ellen Mantell, Ellen McCarthy, Ellen Murray, Kate Murray, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Seamstress. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Dark brown hair, light hazel eyes, dark complexion.

RECORD. Kate Ryan is an old New York pickpocket and shoplifter. She works parades and stores, and is known in Philadelphia and New York, and some of the Western cities.

She was arrested in New York City on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1876, charged with picking pockets during the parade. She was convicted and sentenced to four years in the penitentiary on March 28, 1876, by Recorder Hackett, in the Court of General Sessions.

Kate has served time in State prison and in the penitentiary since the above. Her picture is a good one, taken in March, 1876.

In his 1895 edition, Inspector Byrnes merely added, “Reported dead.” Perhaps he just lost track, considering that Kate was sent to prison in 1876, 1883, 1886, 1888, 1890, 1891, and 1894–and these are the convictions that are known of, in New York City and Brooklyn alone.

Kate specialized in stealing from women’s pocketbooks–in parades, in stores, at funerals and weddings, etc.

Kate was not dead by 1895, but she was about to be caught in the worst mistake of her life. She had been arrested in Brooklyn in June, 1893, for picking pockets. Before she could be tried, she was released on bail of $1000 put up by Henry Hamilton, a Brooklyn livery stable keeper. She jumped bail, returned to Manhattan, got arrested for shoplifting, and was sent to Blackwell’s Island penitentiary. In 1896, Hamilton, who had forfeited the $1000 he offered as bail, discovered that Kate was in Blackwell’s Island. He informed the Brooklyn District Attorney, who arranged for a detective to greet Kate upon her release from Blackwell’s. Kate was outraged to discover that she was being rearrested. She claimed that she was being persecuted. Judge Aspinall of Brooklyn showed Kate no mercy; she was sent to Auburn State Prison on a sentence of ten years.

At that point, Kate was already 60 years old, so many doubted she would survive her stretch at Auburn.

She was back in Brooklyn in 1907, and was caught picking pockets under the name Ellen McCarthy. No one appeared to testify against her, but she was jailed for vagrancy. As similar episode occurred in 1908–she was spotted jostling customers in line in a butcher shop, and was detailed for disorderly conduct.

In 1912, Kate (still using the alias Ellen McCarthy) was spotted opening clasp pocketbooks on Coney Island. She claimed to be 59, but police knew that she frequently shaved decades off her age–she was closer to being 77. She was handed over to a probation officer.

A year later, under the name Ellen Mantell, she was caught in a New York department store attempting to reach into the purse of a female store detective. As she was being booked, the police lieutenant looked at her and asked, “You must be nearly 80 now?”

“Seventy-five,” Kate replied in a broken voice.

The officer looked over her record: she had been arrested 14 times since 1886, and had served fifteen and a half years in prison. He leaned over in front of her face, “And you came back?”

“Yes,” she said, her head drooping. “They put the temptation in my way.” Kate was referring to the fact that the store detective had been walking around the displays with an open purse, and bills visible inside.

At her trial, Kate plead guilty. “I’m all in judge,” she said, “and I want to go to Auburn prison for a long time. There ain’t nothing much more for me and its too late for me to try to get anything more than a place to sleep and three meals a day. I’m hungry and tired and broke.”

Judge Swann, realizing that prison was unnecessary, sent Kate to the Reformatory.

#118 Christene Mayer

Christine Mayer (Abt. 1847-????), aka Kid Glove Rosie, Mary Scanlon,  Rosa Rode–Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Housekeeper. Slim build. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight, about 125 pounds. Dark brown hair, dark blue eyes, dark complexion.

RECORD. Kid Glove Rosey is a well known New York shoplifter. She is also well known in several other Eastern cities. She was arrested in New York City, in company of Lena Kleinschmidt, alias Louisa Rice, alias Black Lena (119), on April 9, 1880, charged with stealing from the store of McCreery & Co., corner of Eleventh Street and Broadway, two pieces of silk containing 108 yards, valued at $250. The property was found in their possession, together with some other property which had been stolen from Le Boutillier Brothers on West Fourteenth Street, New York City. Mayer was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 30, 1880. Kleinschmidt, who had been bailed, left the city, but was re-arrested, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years and nine months on the same day by Recorder Smyth.

Mayer’s sentence expired on November 30, 1883, and Kleinschmidt’s on September 30, 1883. “Rosey’s” picture is a good one, taken in April, 1880.

Because of her evocative nickname, “Kid Glove Rosie” has gained in notoriety over the decades as one of the premiere shoplifters of the nineteenth-century. Although she was, in likelihood, a repeat offender, her documented offenses boil down to three arrests and three prison terms, all taking place in a fairly short succession in New York City.

The first offense took place in May, 1875, when she was arrested under the name assigned by the New York Times as “Christina Mayer, alias Marks, a notorious shoplifter.” There are no prior references to arrests under either of those names. She was caught taking eighty yards of blue silk from the Lord & Taylor store. She was sentenced to one year on Blackwell’s Island, the city penitentiary.

In May of 1877, the incident that gave Rosie he nickname took place in a store that specialized in gloves:


Although the math is difficult to figure, the final charge against Rosie was for taking 20 dozen pairs of gloves…in one visit. She was able to hide 240 pairs of expensive kid gloves in hidden pockets in her skirts. This crime earned her a three and a half year sentence to Blackwell’s Island.

The third known arrest of Kid Glove Rosie–accompanied by Black Lena Kleinschmidt–took place in April, 1880, when the pair was caught purloining expensive goods from the store of James McCreery. Both women were German immigrants, with Rosie several years younger than Lena. This incident may explain other, non-specific, references to the fact that Rosie/Christine shoplifted with an older woman described as her mother.

In this case, Rosie was sent to Blackwell’s Island on a sentence of four years and nine months. The three prison terms between 1875 and 1885 took away what should have been her prime years as an adult. She was not heard from again.