#123 Ellen Darrigan / #180 William Darrigan

Ellen Rodda (1845-????), aka Ellen Darrigan, Annie Derrigan, Ellen Matthews, Kate Friday, Ellen Mahaney, Mary Reese, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

William Darrigan (Abt. 1847-????), aka Billy Darrigan/Derrigan, Hugh Derrigan, William Davis, W. Darrington, etc. — Pickpocket

Link to Byrnes’s texts on Ellen Darrigan and William Darrigan

Ellen Rodda was born in late 1845 to Thomas and Elizabeth Rodda of Penzance, Cornwall (home to pirates of many kinds). The family emigrated to the United States and settled in northern New Jersey in the early 1860s.

In October 1866 Ellen married James Badham. Four months later, Badham–a bad man–was caught breaking and entering in Essex County, New Jersey, and sentenced to the New Jersey State Prison for five years.

While Badham was in prison, Ellen Rodde cavorted with gambler Jere Dunn, who made his fortune running gaming dens and saloons in Chicago. Dunn was a sporting man, heavily involved in the boxing world and in horse racing. Dunn was “married” several times, though he disdained churches and paperwork; he defined marriage on his own, somewhat fluid, terms. In 1869, Dunn was on the run from police and eluded them by traveling around the country with a group of pickpockets, presumably including Ellen Rodda. Dunn was known to have employed the alias “John Matthews” during this time. There is no evidence that his dalliance with Ellen Rodde was ever recognized as even a common-law marriage. Dunn was arrested in late 1870, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing for killing another man in a saloon fight.

When John Badham was released from prison in late 1870, he sought and obtained a divorce from Ellen. The same month the divorce was granted (January 1871), an infamous sneak thief named John Mahaney was released from Sing Sing. Ellen married Mahaney two months later, in March 1871. Mahaney went by several aliases, and was known by the public as “Jack Sheppard,” a name that invoked the memory of the most famous thief of 18th-century England. But Mahaney was also known as John H. Matthews, the same alias used by Ellen’s previous beau, Jere Dunn.

Ellen used the same surname in her alias of this period: “Ellen Matthews.”

This time, Ellen’s matrimonial bliss lasted a bit longer, but in April 1872, Mahaney stole a load of silks in Philadelphia, shipped them to New York, and was caught there by detectives. He escaped from a New York City police station and fled west to Illinois, where he was soon arrested and sent to Joliet prison for several years.

Chief Byrnes indicates that Ellen was arrested in December 1875 for shoplifting, resulting in a sentence of four years in Sing Sing. However, no newspaper reports or prison registers seem to match that event. On the contrary, there is a marriage record for her from January 1876, when she was united with Billy Darrigan. Byrnes also mentions that Billy broke her nose in December 1875, after she had sliced his ear. This would make more sense as an event that ended a marriage, not preceded it.

If Ellen was sent to Sing Sing for four years, it must have been under an unknown alias, and occurred either between 1871-1875, or between 1877-1885, periods when her activities are not known.

William “Billy” Darrigan, born in New York in 1847, was a known pickpocket by the late 1860s. He married the infamous female pickpocket known as Louise Jourdan. Their attachment did not last; In 1867, Darrigan went over to Europe with Red Leary and Fatty Dolan, and the three pickpockets were arrested in France as soon after they got there. Louise then partnered with Tom McCormick.

Billy was arrested in New York City in February 1872, for picking pockets, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison, under the name of Hugh Derrigan. Upon getting out, he married Ellen Rodda. Nothing is known about the length and nature of their marriage other than the anecdote about the fight resulting in her broken nose. Billy went back to Sing Sing for a year in 1880. By 1885, Ellen was described as a “grass widow,” implying they were no longer together.

Ellen was arrested with Mary Bell for shoplifting in a New York dry goods store in April, 1885, and sentenced to five months at Blackwell’s Island penitentiary as Ellen Darrigan.

She was arrested again with a partner identified as Sarah Burke, alias Daly alias Maria Bourke, in February 1888, for shoplifting from a Brooklyn dry goods store. She gave her name as Mary Connolly. They skipped bail. The same pair were arrested a year later in New Haven, Connecticut. This time Ellen used the name Mary Reese.

In December 1889, Ellen and another woman (likely the same as above) were arrested in Washington, D.C. Ellen now used the alias Kate Friday. While under indictment in Washington, a detective from Rochester, New York arrived with a requisition to be used if the pair were not convicted in Washington. They were placed on trial in February 1890. During the court proceedings, a blonde girl of about ten was seen rushing to and hugging Ellen. One newspaper identified Ellen as “Durriger” and claimed that she had assisted Billy Porter and Mike Kurtz in the 1884 robbery of a jewelry store in Troy, New York. Kate was sentenced to two consecutive one year sentences at the state prison in Albany, New York.
Ellen went to prison, but her sharp lawyer noted that the federal government’s contract with states to house prisoners only applied to sentences over one year, and that as Ellen had been sentenced to two sentences of precisely one year, her sentencing had been invalid and had to be set aside. She was released in October 1890.

Billy Darrigan’s last misadventure came in the fall of 1890, when he was arrested for burglary, but had the charge reduced to assault. He was sent to the penitentiary for one year.

In 1891, Washington officials tried to retrieve Ellen from Coney Island to bring her back to face additional indictments for which she had never been tried, but the political boss of Coney Island arranged for her to be set loose from their custody.

Billy and Ellen were never heard from again, but there is a curious note: in Chief Byrnes’ 1895 edition, he updated his profile of Billy Darrigan and charged his name heading to “W. Darrington.” Darrington was not Billy’s real name, and was not a name that had been used in any of his arrests.
However, a William Darrington and wife Ellen did live in Brooklyn in the early 1890s. In June 1891, the pair had an argument in their apartment and William Darrington threw his wife to the floor and kicked her severely. He was arraigned. In 1895, Ellen was in turn arraigned for attacking her husband with a teapot, “a probable fracture of the skull.”

Somehow it would seem satisfying to know that Ellen and Billy were there to comfort each other as they aged.

#130 Mary Mack

Mary Glynn (Abt 1864-19??), aka Mary Mack, Brockey Annie, Annie Mack, Annie Bond, Nellie Scott, Mary Glenn — Shoplifter, pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Twenty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 2 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion. Very heavily pock-marked. Part of first joint of thumb off of right hand.
RECORD. Mary Mack is one of a new gang of women shoplifters and pennyweight workers. She works with Nellie Barns, alias Bond, and Big Grace Daly. They have been traveling all over the Eastern States the last two years, and many a jeweler and dry goods merchant have cause to remember their visits. Mary was arrested in New York City on August 24, 1885, in company of Nellie Barns and Grace Daly, coming out of O’Neill’s dry goods store on Sixth Avenue. A ring was found upon her person, which was identified as having been stolen from the store. For this she was sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on September 4, 1885.
This woman, although young, is considered very clever, and is well worth knowing. Barns and Daly were discharged in this case. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1885.
Mary Glynn of Jersey City, New Jersey was not quite the criminal prodigy that Thomas Byrnes portrayed her to be, though she may have been a harder case than Nellie Barns and Grace Daly, whose arrests can be counted on one hand. Mary Glynn was not in the same league as several of the other female shoplifters profiled by Byrnes. She was active for about 17 years, from 1884-1901, with most of her scrapes occurring in her hometown. She ranged into New York City and Brooklyn (easily accessible via ferry), but wasn’t found elsewhere, except for one apocryphal mention of “Annie Mack” in Buffalo. In fact, without additional notes made by Byrnes in his 1895 edition concerning an 1888 arrest of Glynn, it would be impossible to identify “Mary Mack” at all.
In 1884, Mary and a younger friend decided to let themselves be romanced by two married Jersey City men. Mary’s friend rolled her date after sharing a room overnight, taking a ring and $12.00. The man swore out a complaint against the girl, who upon hearing this gave the ring to Mary to return to the man. Mary agreed, thus becoming an accomplice to the theft. In the end, Mary was released to her parents, but not before being shamed in public.
The 1885 arrest of Mary, Nellie Barns, and Grace Daly that Byrnes recounts was so minor that it was never reported in the newspapers; but the register of New York prisoners confirms that “Mary Mack” was sent to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary on September 4, 1885.
In May, 1888, Mary was arrested with Maud Flanagan for shoplifting from a dry goods store on Newark Avenue in Jersey City. It was reported that Mary admitted to being a professional thief, but that her companion was innocent. Two months later, in July, Mary and Grace Daly were caught stealing shirts in New York City from a dry good store.
Another two months went by before Mary was charged again, this time for solicitation in Jersey City. She was fined $20.00, paid by her mother. By this time, Mary Glynn had garnered celebrity of a sort by her appearance in Byrnes’ 1886 edition. In November she was brought up on charges of gross indecency for sharing an apartment with a married hack driver, Archibald Douglass. She was also still to be tried for the May robbery, though the judge–out of mercy for her parents–did not declare the bail they had put up to be forfeit.
Though Byrnes remarked on Mary’s pock-marked face, but in November, 1888, the papers described her as very handsome and well-dressed. She told the court that, prior to her life as a criminal, she worked for seven years at Lorillard’s tobacco factory in Jersey City, and could live an honest life again, given the chance. She was sent to the penitentiary for one year.
Prison did not discourage her habits. In 1891 she lured a railroad switchman, flush with his payday cash, into a Jersey City saloon, where he soon found $50 of his $59 income had disappeared. He accused Mary of picking his pocket, but the court had no evidence to support his claim. Mary was released, and from the court building was seen walking into another nearby saloon with her accuser.

In April 1893, she was accused of stealing a veil from a Jersey City store, but seems to have escaped the consequences. In August the next year (1894), she was caught red-handed by a New York police detective stealing a silk umbrella from a specialty store. She was given a year at Blackwell’s Island under the name Nellie Scott.
In July, 1896, she was back to solicitation and grabbed $50 from a man’s pocket before jumping eight feet out a window to escape. She was picked up based on the man’s description.
In March, 1901, Mary Glynn and a partner, Mary Williams, were arrested for shoplifting from Wolff’s dry goods store on Newark Avenue in Jersey City. As a repeat offender, Mary should have received a stiff sentence, but in May, the presiding judge sentenced her to three months in the County Jail. “Thank you, Judge,” said Mary, as she was led away.
And so the trail ends for Mary Glynn, though one suspects that was not the end of her bad behavior. In later years, Jersey City’s police force, if they were forced to admit so, would say that they missed her.

#119 Lena Kleinschmidt

Magdalina/Madaleine Warner [or Levi] (Abt. 1830-????), aka Black Lena, Lena Kleinschmidt, Bertha Kleinschmidt, Bertha Kleinsmith, Betty Smith, Mary Morris — Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Housekeeper. Stout build. Height, about 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark complexion. Wrinkled face.
RECORD. Lena Kleinschmidt, or “Black Lena,” is a notorious shoplifter. She is well known from Maine to Chicago, and has been arrested and sent to prison several times, three times in New York City alone.
She was arrested in New York City, in company of Christene Mayer, alias Mary Scanlon, alias Kid Glove Rosey (118), on April 9, 1880, for the larceny of 108 yards of silk dressings, valued at $250, from the store of McCreery & Co., Broadway and Eleventh Street. The property was found on Lena; and other property, stolen from Le Boutillier Brothers, on Fourteenth Street, New York, was found on Rosey. Kleinschmidt gave $500 bail, and left the city, but was re-arrested and brought back, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years and nine months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 30, 1880, by Recorder Smyth. Rosey was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years, the same day. Lena’s picture is a good one, taken in April, 1880.
“Black Lena” Kleinschmidt (so-called for her typical dark garb and black hair) was famous for being one of Marm Mandelbaum’s favorite shoplifters (along with Sophie Lyons). Marm Mandelbaum and Lena likely came to New York from Germany within a year of one another, in 1850-51, if Lena’s account is to be believed. Lena said that she, at age 16, arrived on the same ship, the bark Salon, as her soon-to-be husband, Adolph Kleinschmidt. However, there is no woman on the passenger list that seems to fit that age; and in several later occasions, she indicated her birth year as 1829, not 1835.
Lena’s marriage record for her union with Adolph Kleinschmidt has not surfaced, though her 1867 divorce announcement was printed in the newspaper. Adolph was a peddler/tinsmith by profession, and apparently did not join Lena’s shoplifting outings. However, Adolph, Lena, and Marm Mandelbaum were all arrested together in Brooklyn in December, 1859 in a house full of stolen items. Lena’s shoplifting forages were already far-flung; two months earlier, in October 1859, she was taken by detectives from her property in Hackensack, New Jersey and sent to Chicago to face grand larceny charges. She escaped conviction in that instance, too.

An anecdote about Black Lena’s exploits in Hackensack was first related by Detective Phil Farley in his 1876 book, Criminals of America, and then reprinted many times: by NYPD Chief Walling in his book of reminiscences; by Herbert Asbury in Gangs of New York; and in a 1932 New Yorker feature article. These stories do not place Lena in Hackensack until 1863/64, which is at least five years off the mark. Also, the premise of these stories is that Lena had hoodwinked the whole town into believing her feigned respectability; in fact, she had been exposed as a notorious shoplifter in local newspapers by 1859, if not earlier.
Lena’s lifestyle wore on Adolph. In 1866, while Lena was out on a $2000 bail for shoplifting, and they had a dispute: she accused him of abuse; he accused her of running off to Charleston with a man named John Joseph Heinrich (likely a shoplifting partner of Lena’s). Adolph had the bondsman revoke her bail, and she was taken to New York City’s Tombs detention center. Following this misadventure, Adolph instituted divorce proceedings against Lena. The divorce was finalized in June 1867, but Adolph had already taken the liberty of marrying another woman in March, 1867.
In July, 1870 Magdalina Kleinschmidt remarried to John Schneider. Their marriage record gives a possible clue as to her birth name: Magdalina Warner, daughter of Georg and Rosina Warner. However, there is no corroborating evidence; and counter to this, other evidence exists suggesting her maiden name was Levy/Levi. By this time, Lena was known to be working with her alleged sister, Amelia Levy, who later became known as “Black Amelia.”

            “Black Lena” Kleinschmidt

In 1875, Lena and a young “English” (as opposed to German) shoplifter named Tilly Miller were arrested for shoplifting in Brooklyn and locked up in the Kings County jail. They were said to be working on behalf of a “male firm” of receivers, not Marm Mandelbaum. Before they could be examined by a grand jury, they were smuggled tools and a rope, and escaped from the jail. Aiding them was Charley Perle (husband of Augusta Harris of the Greenthal gang of fences) and John Nugent (perhaps the same man as husband #2, John Schneider). Brooklyn detectives chased them to Montreal and attempted to arrest them, but they refused to budge–no extradition treaty existed with Canada that covered larceny.
With Brooklyn and New York City detectives held at bay, Lena and Tilly Miller ventured into New York state on shoplifting visits. Meanwhile, Charley Perle and John Nugent were caught trying to sneak $1000 from a Canadian bank. John Nugent reportedly died after six months in prison.
In December 1876, Lena, Tilly Miller, and alleged sister Amelia were among a host of noted female shoplifters that convened in Boston, apparently drawn by assurances of a corrupt detective that they would be unmolested. Instead, Lena and Tilly were arrested and sent to Brooklyn to face charges they had escaped from more than a year earlier. In Brooklyn, they were sentenced to four and a half years in the penitentiary. Lena was released on bail pending an appeal of her conviction in August 1878 (an unusual occurrence); to everyone’s surprise, she showed up at her appeal, only to have it denied. However, the governor of New York pardoned her in December, 1879.

            “Black Amelia” Levy

Just four months later, Lena was caught shoplifting along with another infamous figure, Mary Scanlon, alias Kid Glove Rosie. Lena was sentenced to Blackwell Island for a term of four years and six months. She was released early for good behavior, and left the east coast for Chicago, where she teamed up with members of the Reinsch-Weir gang of shoplifters.
Lena Kleinschmidt was mentioned as being a sister of the matriarch of the Reinsch family of thieves, Henrietta Reinsch, whose maiden name was Levi/Levy. Another member of the Reinsch gang, the same generation as Henrietta, was Eva Geisler, whose maiden name was also Levi/Levy. Were the four professional shoplifters: Pauline Reinsch, Eva Geisler, Amelia Levy, and Bertha Kleinschmidt all sisters? It is a tempting theory, but not one without issue.
Amelia Levy’s ethnicity was often described as Jewish. Black Lena, too, was sometimes described as Jewish, but not as often. The Reinsch and Weir families were not Jewish; Pauline Reinsch was buried in a German Lutheran cemetery. In one interview, Black Lena recounts growing up in a German Catholic village, and feeling guilt from the presence of statues of Jesus. She also related that she had conversations with the prison priest. Possibly the four sisters named Levi/Levy came from a family that no longer identified as Jewish; but that in itself would be outside the norm.

The identification of Lena and Amelia–and other professional criminals–as Jews served as fodder for antisemitism.

Lena was arrested in Chicago along with Emma Weir (nee Reinsch) In November 1883; and again in December. Her trial was delayed, but in March 1884 she was sentenced to three years at Joliet for larceny. Another five years was tacked on later, which kept her in Joliet until July 1889. A month later, in August, she was caught again; and in October sentenced to another four years at Joliet.
She was free again–for just two weeks–in March 1893. Once again she was captured stealing items in a store accompanied by Emma Weir. She escaped conviction but was nabbed in both Milwaukee and St. Louis within a few months, paying fines to avoid jail.
By 1896, Black Lena was back in trouble in Chicago. She was arrested for shoplifting, assisted by Martin Weir. She plead guilty and was sentenced to three months in Cook County jail, while Martin was sent to Joliet.
Lena joined Martin in Joliet in 1897, after once again failing to control her habits. While there, she was interviewed by criminologist J. Sanderson Christison, and named simply as “Bertha.” That interview has been reprinted on the Historical Crime Detective site. She expresses contrition, and admits she can’t help herself.
Lena was released from Joliet in 1899. By 1901, a Chicago detective spoke of her being dead, but no record has yet surfaced of when or where that occurred.


#120 Mary Ann Connelly

Mary Ann McMahon (1832-????), aka Big Satchel Mary, Mary Ann Connelly, Mary Ann Connolly, Mary Ann Williams, May Taylor, etc. — Pickpocket, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Single. Very fleshy, coarse woman. Height, about 5 feet 4 or 5 inches. Weight, 240 pounds. Black hair, black eyes, ruddy complexion. Talks with somewhat of an Irish brogue.

RECORD. Mary Ann Connelly is a well known New York pickpocket, shoplifter and prostitute, and a coarse, vulgar woman, that would stop at nothing to carry her point. She was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to six months in the penitentiary, on January 12, 1875, for shoplifting in New York City.

She was arrested again in New York City, for picking pockets, and sentenced to one year in State prison, by Judge Sutherland, on December 11, 1875.

Arrested again in New York, for picking a woman’s pocket, and sentenced to six months on Blackwell’s Island, on April 1, 1878, by Judge Gildersleeve.

She was arrested again in New York City, in company of Joseph Volkmer and his wife Mary on November 27, 1879, for drugging and attempting to rob one Charles Blair, a countryman, whom the trio met on a Boston boat. She turned State’s evidence, and was used against the Volkmers, who were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to twelve years each in State prison, on December 15, 1879, by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions. She was discharged in this case. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in 1875.

Between 1868, when she arrived from her native city of Dublin, and 1879, Mary Ann McMahon was arrested dozens of times for shoplifting and picking pockets. She earned the nickname “Big Satchel Mary” from New York police, evoking her favorite tool of trade. Before leaving Ireland, she had been married to a man named James Connolly, who died and left her a widow. She then came to New York.


She was jailed several times in the 1870s, the most lengthy stretch being a one-year term at Sing Sing. However, nearly all of her arrests were so minor that they were not even mentioned in newspaper court reports–until November 1879. At that time, Mary Ann became involved in a scheme with two married ex-convicts, the Volkmers, to drug, roll (and perhaps murder) a man of means from Connecticut, Charles E. Blair. Blair had become entranced with Mrs. Volkmer, and had bought her gifts.

Blair was invited to visit the Volkmers, with Mary Ann present. At their house, they plied him with beer, laced with an unknown drug. Blair began vomiting, but he thought he was just mildly ill. He laid down, but continued to retch. Mary Ann was now alarmed that the Volkmers had not just drugged Blair, but had given him some sort of deadly poison. She may have been a petty thief, but she stopped short of wanting to be involved in a murder. She left the house and contacted police. Blair survived whatever toxin he had been given, and the Volkmers were placed on trial, with Mary Ann the star witness against them.

It was a week-long, sensational trial of the sort that New York newspapers loved, though in fact, it did not appear to merit such attention: there was no hard evidence that Blair had been poisoned, and no substances were found in the Volkmers’ house other than laudanum, an opiate. It made no sense that the Volkmers would want to murder Blair, since he was willingly spending money to please Mrs. Volkmer. Nor does it make sense that they just wanted to rob him; he knew their names and where they lived. However, instead of emphasizing these arguments, the Volkmers’ defense lawyer instead tried to shift blame for the poisoning to Mary Ann Connolly. Much of the trial consisted of Mary Ann being grilled about her criminal past.

Public sentiment seemed to back Mary Ann’s version of events. She was hailed for telling nothing that could not be verified; for her good humor; and for being honest about her past. In the end, the Volkmers were found guilty and sentenced to twelve years apiece in State prison. Mary Ann was discharged.

Her fate from that point is unknown.



#122 Bertha Heyman

Bertha Schlesinger (Abt. 1853-1901), aka Bertha Heyman, Bertha Kerkow, Bertha Stanley, Big Bertha, etc. — Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-five years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Very stout woman. Height, 5 feet 4 inches. Weight, 245 pounds. Hair brown, eyes brown, fair complexion. German face. An excellent talker. Has four moles on her right cheek.

RECORD. Bertha Heyman’s maiden name was Bertha Schlesinger. She is a native of Koblyn, near Posen, Prussia. Her father served five years in prison there for forging a check. She was married twice, first to one Fritz Karko, when she first came to this country in 1878. After living in New York a short time they went to Milwaukee, where she was afterwards married to a Mr. Heyman, although her first husband was still living. She has been concerned in a number of swindling transactions, and has the reputation of being one of the smartest confidence women in America. In September, 1880, she was sued in the Superior Court of New York City for obtaining by false pretenses $1,035 from E. T. Perrin, a conductor on a palace car, whom she met in traveling from Chicago. She was arrested in London, Ontario, on February 8, 1881, in company of one Dr. J. E. Cooms, charged with defrauding a Montreal commercial man out of several hundred dollars by the confidence game.


Bertha, in her last years, preferred to be known by her nickname, Big Bertha, and used it to publicize her stage appearances and the honky-tonks that she managed in Spokane, Butte, and other cities. One reason for that decision is that it eliminated the necessity of having to explain the many married names she had accumulated. She was born in Kobylin, Prussia (now Poland), not far from Breslau. On one marriage record she listed her parents as David Schlesinger and Ernestine Frankel. She once gave an interview that offered a version of her early career, much of which can be verified:


“Fred” was Friedrich Kerkow, a partner in a very small bank in New York that served German-speakers. Fred’s story is that he first saw Bertha working as a cleaning woman, and was entranced by the pretty young girl. They married in November, 1870, when Bertha was still a teen. The marriage lasted many years; they moved together to Milwaukee in 1875 to open a millinery store–likely an ambition of Bertha’s more than Fred’s. Did Fred abandon her in Milwaukee? He never offered his version of events. In 1877, Bertha remarried to a traveling suspender salesman, John Heyman. They maintained the millinery store in Milwaukee for a short while, but Bertha and Heyman moved to a more expensive residence, where Bertha soon gained a reputation for entertaining young German actresses and the men wishing to meet them. Unpleasant rumors caused Bertha and Heyman to decamp to New York City in the spring of 1880.

On the way to New York from Chicago, Bertha struck up conversation with a Pullman palace train car conductor, and convinced him that she had many wealthy assets in need of management, and enticed him to quit his job and take over as her estate manager–but first she needed $1000 in cash to settle some matters. The conductor, Mr. Perrin, thought it was a good opportunity, and lent her the money. Upon arrival in New York, Bertha encamped in a series of luxury hotels and ran up bills, retaining a respected lawyer to advise her. Soon both the conductor, Mr. Perrin, and the lawyer, Mr. Botty, were forced to take legal action to recover the money and services they had invested in the pretend-millionairess. Mr. Botty was the person that Bertha later claimed had informed her that she was an heiress; while Mr. Botty claimed that she was the one that first contacted him.

It was at the onset of this imposture and legal woes that husband number two, John Heyman, left Bertha. As Chief Byrnes mentions, there always seemed to be a shadowy male con man feeding Bertha’s ambitions by providing forged checks and phony bonds offered in security for cash; in New York, this figure had the name of “J. E. Cooms” (aka Coombs, Combs). When the pleas of Mr. Perrin and Mr. Botty were joined by a Mrs. Schlaarbaum of Staten Island, who claimed that Bertha had stolen jewelry from her boarding house, Bertha and Cooms fled to Canada. They were arrested there for perpetrating a fraud and retreated back to New York.

Once again in New York, Bertha took rooms in a boarding house on Staten Island, where she was arrested for stealing a watch from her landlady. She was tried and convicted in October, 1881 for the watch theft, a term she served in the New York Penitentiary. She was freed in June of 1883. Bertha was then put on trial for her earlier swindles in New York, and was returned to prison on August 30, 1883. Finally, the time she owed New York authorities expired in April, 1887.

Within a year, Bertha reappeared in San Francisco as “Bertha Stanley,” accompanied by a young man she introduced as a son, William H. Stanley (who may have been the same person as Dr. J. E. Cooms). In San Francisco, she approached a leader among the Jewish community, Rabbi A. J. Messing, whom she had known as a child in Prussia. She explained to the Rabbi that she had married a gentile, a Mr. Stanley of LaSalle, Illinois, now deceased. Mr. Stanley had left her a fortune, but she now desired to marry within her faith and asked the Rabbi’s help in finding a suitable husband. Messing introduced her to members of the Beth Israel synagogue, including his unmarried brother-in-law, Abraham Gruhn. Gruhn was entranced by Bertha, despite her now-ordinary looks and heavy girth.

Within days, Gruhn and Bertha were heading a lavish engagement party, at which Bertha’s fake son “Willie” asked Gruhn for $500 to overcome his objections to his mother remarrying. Bertha wore a great quantity of diamonds, which were paste; but their display gave “Willie” the opportunity to suggest to several women that he could take their jewelry and reset the stones in the latest fashion, such as those Bertha wore. Gruhn also presented his betrothed with more jewelry. Within days, Bertha and Willie had pawned all the jewelry they had received, along with Gruhn’s cash, and headed south toward Los Angeles. Gruhn and Messing, after a day or two, slowly realized they might have been swindled. They approached the San Francisco police, who showed them Bertha’s picture in Byrnes’ book.

Detectives traced Bertha and Willie to San Antonio, Texas, where the pair was arrested. They were brought back to San Francisco to stand trial for larceny. Gruhn, who still had a soft spot for Bertha, tempered his testimony against her, forcing the prosecution to focus their efforts on Willie Stanley. The court proceedings attracted overflow crowds–a fact not unnoticed by Bertha. In the end, after prevailing in both a civil and criminal suit, she was acquitted; while Stanley was found guilty of obtaining goods under false pretenses, and was sentenced to just six months.

Bertha considered opening another millinery shop, but instead accepted an offer to appear on the stage of a low-brow opera house.  Her act consisted of posing in scenes recreating her scandals in San Francisco; followed by her posing in classical scenes in flesh-colored tights. She attracted larger-than-usual crowds eager to see “Big Bertha.” Over the next year, she took her act on the road throughout the West Coast, sometimes adding an appearance as a collar-and-elbow wrestler, willing to take on any comer. As she traveled, she attracted new admirers who presented her with gifts and offers of marriage.

During this period, reporters tracked down her first husband, Fritz Kerkow, who was now operating a popular cafe in Los Angeles. Bertha went to the cafe to meet him, and later only said that Kerkow had broken down in tears.

By 1893, Big Bertha was not only appearing on stage, but also managed honky-tonk theaters in Spokane, Washington; Bakersfield, California; and Butte, Montana. These dives presented entertainments that are hard to imagine today:


Bertha died in Chicago in May, 1901, while managing a similar type of dive in that city.

#126 Mary Busby / #135 Harry Busby

Mary Wilson (Abt. 1841-???), aka Mary Busby, Elizabeth Johnson, Mary Mitchell, etc.    / Henry Busby (Abt. 1837-????), aka Harry Busby, Henry Williams, George Fisk — Pickpockets, shoplifters

From Byrnes’ text on Mary Busby:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Stout build. Height,5 feet. Weight, 221 pounds. Dark brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion.
RECORD. Mary Busby is a clever pickpocket and shoplifter, and is well known in all the large cities. Harry Busby, alias Broken-nose Busby (135), her husband, is an old New York pickpocket and “stall.” She was arrested in New York City for shoplifting on October 25, 1882, under the name of Mary Johnson, and sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on October 30, 1882, by Judge Ford. Arrested again in Boston, Mass., on May 3, 1883, for larceny of $40 worth of silk garments from Jourdan & Marsh’s dry goods store. For this she was sentenced to one year in the House of Correction on May 18, 1883. After her discharge in Boston, she went to New York City, and was arrested for the larceny of a bonnet from Rothschild’s millinery establishment on West Fourteenth Street. For this she was sentenced to five months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on May 20, 1884. This time she gave the name of Mary Mitchell.
Mary Busby had previously served two years on Blackwell’s Island, and two years in the House of Correction in Boston, Mass. She was again sentenced to fourteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary on September 14, 1885, for picking pockets in Wannemaker’s store in Philadelphia, Pa. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in October, 1882.

From Byrnes’ text on Harry Busby:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in London, England. Married. Housepainter. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Hair black, mixed with gray; brown eyes, round face, ruddy complexion. Marks on face and neck from skin disease. Short, pug nose. Has quite an English accent. 
RECORD. Busby is a well known Eastern pickpocket, and husband of Mary Busby (126), one of the cleverest women in America in her line. He is known in all the principal cities in the United States and in Montreal, Canada. He was arrested in New York City and sentenced to two years and six months in Sing Sing prison, under the name of Henry Williams, on May 19, 1873, for an attempt at grand larceny, by Judge Sutherland.
He was arrested again in New York, on January 26, 1877, in company of John Anderson, another pickpocket, charged with robbing one Wm. Smyth of a pocket-book on a Fourth Avenue car, on January 22. They were discharged, as the complainant failed to identify them. Harry was arrested in Washington Market, New York, with Mary Kelly, as
suspicious characters, on March 27, 1886, and discharged by a Police Justice. Busby’s picture is an excellent one, taken in Philadelphia, Pa., where he has also served a term in the penitentiary.

The pair of Mary and Harry Busby lasted longer in the minds of law enforcement officials and court reporters than in actuality. According to Mary, they separated as a couple in the mid 1880s. Born in England, both came to the United States in the early 1870s.

Harry was caught shoplifting a Japanese vase from a New York auction house in November, 1886 and sent to prison for a short term. In September, 1887 he was caught pilfering in Hudson County, New Jersey and sentenced to a stiff sentence of four and a half years. He was released in 1892, but in September of that year was caught in a raid of a fence establishment in New York City. Forced to leave New York, he headed west. He was sent to the Chicago House of Correction for 60 days in March, 1894. Moving up Lake Michigan, he was similarly sent to the Milwaukee House of Correction in September, 1895 for 90 days. In March of 1896, he was convicted in Chicago of larceny for picking the pocket of a church-goer. Apparently, Harry had shifted from shoplifting to picking pockets, especially at funeral services.


Writing in 1895, Byrnes indicates that Harry had become a heavy drinker. Nothing is heard of him after 1896.

For her part, Mary was sent to Sing Sing for a four year sentence in 1887 under the name Elizabeth Johnson. After a short period of freedom, she spent another 18 months in the Connecticut State Prison. Escaping a conviction after an 1894 arrest, she was convicted a year later to serve another four and a half years at Sing Sing. There, she developed a bad case of rheumatism. In 1899 she was caught shoplifting again in Newark, New Jersey and was again jailed. In 1902, she was caught in a Pittsburgh department store with pockets full of 17 yards of ribbon and 13 pairs of gloves.

Mary was uncharacteristically quiet between 1902 and December, 1908, where she was picked up in a department store on Sixth Avenue in New York. My Mary’s account, she had been living straight for many years until she saw the Christmas displays at a New York department store:


Conveniently, Mary had prepared for her fall from grace by wearing her specially-tailored garments with the billowing internal pockets.

#131 Louise Jourdan

Louisa Farley (184?-19??), aka Little Louisa, Louisa Jourdan, Louisa Bigelow — pickpocket, moll

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, about 135 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, dark complexion, round face. Is lady-like in manner and appearance. Wears good clothes.

RECORD. Louise Jourdan, alias Little Louise, is an expert female thief, well known in New York, Chicago, and all the principal cities in the United States as the wife of Big Tom Biglow, the burglar. She was born in England. Her father once kept a public-house in Manchester, England. She served a term in an English prison for larceny. Upon her release she went to Brazil as a companion of a wealthy Spanish lady. While in that country she stole all her mistress’s diamonds, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to receive forty lashes at the whipping-post, and was condemned to have the lower part of her right ear cut off. She wears her hair over her ears to cover this deformity. Louise afterwards appeared in New York City as the mistress of Billy Darrigan, a New York pickpocket. She was arrested for shoplifting at A. T. Stewart’s dry goods store, and sent to Blackwell’s Island.

After her release she operated in Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities. She was married several times after leaving Darrigan; first to Tom McCormack, the bank burglar, who killed Jim Casey in New York, some years ago, while disputing over the proceeds of a robbery. After him, she took up with Aleck Purple, an Eighth Ward, New York, pickpocket; then with Dan Kelly, who was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in State prison for a masked burglary, with Patsey Conroy and others. After that she lived with a well-known New York sporting man, and finally married Big Tom Bigelow, and has been working the country with him since. She has been in several State prisons and penitentiaries in America, and is considered one of the smartest female pickpockets in this country. Louise Jourdan was arrested again in Cincinnati, Ohio, under the name of Mary Johnson, on May 19, 1886, in company of Sarah Johnson, a tall, blonde woman, charged with picking the pocket of a woman named Kate Thompson of $90, in one of the horse-cars. They both gave bail in $1,000, and at last accounts the case had not been disposed of. Her picture is an excellent one.

Chief Byrnes’ profile of Louisa prefers the last name Jourdan, but she adopted that name in the late 1860s, when she was the companion of sneak thief Johnny Jourdan. A few facts are known about her origins, but there is (as yet) no definitive proof of her real name. Though she traveled with many different men, her only documented marriage was to the bare-knuckle champion prizefighter, Young Barney Aaron. On that Chicago marriage application, she gave her last name as Farley–a name which is not in any of her arrest records or newspaper mentions as an alias. This might lend credence to “Farley” being her true name.

In her younger years, she was described as being very attractive, and dressed stylishly. In her later years, she cultivated comparisons to the elderly Queen Victoria–and may have assumed that as a style.


According to several reports, Louisa was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England–sometime between 1842 and 1844. Byrnes indicates that she was 42 in 1886; however, an earlier article from 1878 said that she was then 36. There are apocryphal tales of her early years in England: she began stealing at 10; married a burglar at an early age and was imprisoned; after her release, she became a maid to a wealthy Brazilian woman. In Brazil, she stole the woman’s diamonds and was caught; her punishment included “ear-cropping,” i.e. the cutting off of the lower part of her right ear–a mark that police detectives in the United States delighted in discovering, knowing who they had captured. [Note that ear-cropping was not a standard form of punishment in Brazil, so that story is suspicious.]

She arrived in the United States in the mid-1860s. An 1867 Philadelphia newspaper indicates that she was already recognized by police as a professional pickpocket. However, as Byrnes’ profile suggests, what distinguishes Louisa’s career is her talent for hooking up with bad men. Starting in the mid-1860s, she was associated with:

  • William “Billy” Derrigan/Darrigan (#180 in Byrne’s book), a New York pickpocket known to have mistreated another woman in his life.
  • Tom McCormick, a bank robber
  • William J. Sharkey, an infamous burglar, pickpocket, and gang leader who committed murder in 1872 and escaped from jail with the assistance of Johnny Jourdan’s sister, Maggie Jourdan. Sharkey fled to Cuba, abused Maggie (who fled back to the US), and was never heard from again.
  • Aleck Purple, a colorfully-named New York pickpocket
  • Dan Kelly, aka “Dan the Rioter,” a masked house burglar.
  • Patsey Conroy, another masked burglar.
  • Johnny Jourdan, the bank sneak thief often seen with Rufus Minor and George Carver.

After Johnny Jourdan was sent to prison in the early 1870s, Louisa migrated to Chicago and married the English bare-knuckle prizefighter, Barret “Barney” Aaron. Claiming abuse, she divorced him in 1878. She quickly rebounded by becoming the common-law wife of Big Tom Bigelow, a bank thief. She lived a comparatively quiet life with Bigelow in Windsor, Ontario, until his death in New Orleans in 1886.

Louisa’s final known paramour was a villain of many names, known in the east mainly as James Maguire. Maguire tried to possess Louisa’s properties in Windsor, and was said to have abused her. However, it was an assault on a man that sent Maguire, aka Frank West, to a prison in Canada. He escaped, fled to Australia, and for several years committed robberies under the name George Walter/William Russell aka W. G. Burton.

Louisa made a habit of combing the crowds at World’s Fair exhibitions as a pickpocket. She was arrested a final time in 1899 on suspicion, but was released, claiming that she had retired from crime sixteen years earlier.

#116 Mary Holbrook

Mollie/Molly Holbrook (1838-?) aka Hoey/Hoy — Pickpocket, shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Housekeeper. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 2 inches. Weight, about 135 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Shows her age.

RECORD. Mollie Holbrook was in early life a resident of the West End, in Boston, Mass. She is well known in Chicago and in all the principal cities of the United States. She has served terms in prison in Boston, Chicago, and New York, and is without doubt the most notorious and successful female thief in America. She is well known of late years as the wife of Jimmy Hoey, alias Orr, a negotiator of stolen property.

Mollie was formerly married to one George Holbrook, alias Buck Holbrook, a well known Chicago gambler and thief. He kept a sporting house in Chicago, also a road house on Randolph Street, over which Mollie presided. “Buck” was arrested for a bank robbery in Illinois in 1871, and sent to State prison. He was shot and killed while attempting to escape from there. He had dug up the floor of his cell and tunneled under the prison yard, and was in the act of crawling out of the hole outside the prison wall, when he was riddled with buckshot by a prison guard.

In January, 1872, Mollie was arrested in Chicago, on complaint of her landlady, who charged her with stealing forty dollars from her. Mollie deposited $1,200 in money as bail, and after her discharge she came to New York City, fell in with Jimmy Hoey, and married him. She was arrested in New York City for robbing a Western man in her house in Chicago of $25,000, on March 3, 1874, on a requisition from Illinois, and delivered to a detective of the Chicago police force. While at Hamilton, Canada, on their way back to Chicago, Mollie threw herself into the arms of a Canadian policeman and demanded protection. She had the officer arrested for attempting to kidnap her. They were taken before a magistrate and Mollie was discharged. The officer returned to Chicago, and lost his position for his bad judgment. Mollie was arrested again in New York City on the same complaint on July 16, 1874, and returned safely to Chicago, where she was sent to prison.

She was arrested in Boston, Mass., on April 17, 1878, for picking pockets, and gave the name of Mary Williams (which is supposed to be her maiden name). She was released on $1,000 bail, and forfeited it. She was arrested again in Boston on March 19, 1883, for picking pockets at Jordan & Marsh’s dry goods store. This time she gave the name of Mary Harvey, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to one year in State prison, in April, 1883. After her sentence expired in Boston she was arrested coming out of the prison by New York officers, taken to that city, and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on March 3, 1884, for the larceny of a pocket-book from Catharine Curtis, some years before. This time Mollie gave the name of Lizzie Ellen Wiggins. After her conviction she gave the District Attorney of New York some information that led to the finding of a number of indictments against Mrs. Mandelbaum, who. fled to Canada. For this she was pardoned by Governor Cleveland on January 5, 1885.

Mollie was arrested again in Chicago, Ill., on September 25, 1885, charged with attempting to pick a lady’s pocket in Marshal Field’s store. She gave bail, and is now a fugitive from justice in Windsor, Canada. She occasionally pays Detroit a visit, where Jimmy Hoey is located. Mollie Holbrook is looked upon by her associates in crime as a woman that would sacrifice any one to save herself from prison. It is well known that this woman has been in the employ of the police in a number of large cities, and has furnished them with considerable information. Her husband, Jimmy Hoey, is an unprincipled scamp, and lives entirely upon the proceeds of his wife’s stealings, often selling the plunder and acting as a go-between for Mollie and receivers, of stolen goods, he of late years not having sufficient courage to steal. Mollie’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1883.

Widely acknowledged as the most notorious female thief in America from the 1860s through the 1880s. She was known to the nation’s police departments mainly as a pickpocket and shoplifter, but began her traceable career as a Clark Street “panel-room” brothel madam in Chicago, where clients were robbed while they were distracted by an accomplice hiding behind a partition.


Holbrook’s origins are unknown, as is her real name. Byrnes states that her maiden name was Williams and that she came from Boston’s West End, but without more information, that would be impossible to verify. She only came to public notice once she moved to Chicago and took up with Buck Holbrook, a street-tough thief. She was arrested under the name Mollie Holbrook several times in Chicago between 1868-1869 for operating a disorderly house.

In August 1869 (not 1871, as Byrnes asserts), Buck Holbrook went with a few of his pals to rob banks in western Illinois, but were captured and jailed in the town of Hennepin. The jail building was not secure, but a guard had been hired and told to shoot first and ask questions later. Holbrook and two other men managed to get past the buildings walls, but were spotted by the guard, who opened fire with a double-barrel shotgun. Holbrook was hit and dead before he hit the ground, his head and torso struck by seventy-eight pieces of buckshot. One of the others stopped and surrendered; the third was recaptured the next day.

Mollie came down from Chicago to retrieve the body of Holbrook, horribly disfigured. In Hennepin, she told those gathered around the body, “We all know that Buck was not on the square; but he was always a good and kind man to me.”  Which is about as good an elegy that someone like Buck deserved. Mollie gave Holbrook a fine funeral in Chicago, attended by over a hundred of the city’s thieves, roughs, and prostitutes.

Mollie then took up with one James “Jimmy” Hoye, with whom she worked as a pickpocket. Hoye served as the “moll buzzer,” following Mollie into crowds and taking the goods that Mollie lifted as soon as the act was done–so that Mollie would never be caught with the evidence. She was arrested in New York State by a Chicago detective Ed Miller in early 1874; he foolishly attempted to bring her back via the Grand Trunk Railroad which runs partly through Canada. In Kingston, Ontario, she leapt off the train and sought protection from the police. Ed Miller had no requisition papers, so the Canadian official refused to hand her over. She later contrived to escape across the river to the United States. A few months later, former-Detective Miller–in an effort to regain his job– brought a woman to Chicago from Troy, New York, that he claimed was Mollie Holbrook–but was proven wrong.

By the early 1880s, Mary was working northeast cities as a pickpocket. She was arrested several times in Boston and New York, but either jumped bail or got off through the talents of her New York lawyers, Howe & Hummel. She took her stolen goods to the infamous New York fence, Marm Mandelbaum. In 1884 she was rearrested on one of the old charges and sentenced to five years at the prison on Blackwell’s island. During her court appearances, she appealed once more to Mandelbaum to provide legal assistance, but it was not forthcoming. Mollie took revenge by negotiating with New York’s District Attorney to offer testimony against Mrs. Mandelbaum–it was due to this pressure that Marm Mandelbaum was forced out of New York and retired to Hamilton, Ontario. According to the New York Times, Mollie also offered the DA information on Chief Byrnes extra-legal arrangements.


In September 1886, Mollie and Hoey were arrested in Cleveland, Ohio. Mollie was placed in the county jail. Using a pair of scissors and a hairpin, Mollie and an 18-year-old young male prisoner were able to remove a section of wall bricks and crawl to freedom; this occurred just days after the sheriff had boasted that no one had escaped from his jail.

After 1886, traces of Mollie Holbrook disappear. Rumors suggested that she and James Hoey left the United States and went to Europe.