#172 Wm. H. Little

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


#57 Daniel S. Ward

Albert C. Ward (1841-1912), aka Daniel S. Ward, Capt. Dan Ward, N. W. Page, A. C. Wood, V. C. Ward, Andrew J. West, Colonel Sellers, William H. Morgan, H. W. Keller, etc. — Swindler, Forger

Link to Byrnes’s entries on #57 Daniel S. Ward

Chief Byrnes’s entry on Daniel S. Ward wastes no time in making the sensational claim that Ward was a suspected Confederate agent involved in the attempt to burn New York City on Election Day in November, 1864. However, after tracking Ward’s activities during the Civil War and for the forty years following the war, a pattern emerges of a boastful, homeless, friendless alcoholic dedicated to one purpose in life: swindling others. No sane military authority would have trusted Ward in any capacity. At most, Ward might have heard gossip of the incendiary plot, and in turn blabbed about it while in his cups. He was sent to jail at New York’s Fort Lafayette on Election Day, 1864, but was released soon afterward.

Albert C. Ward was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1841 to David S. Ward and Martha Ann Wood. Martha was the second wife of David S. Ward, and Albert was her first child with Ward (she had also been married earlier). David S. Ward died in 1851 (when Albert was 10); Martha then married for the third time to wealthy carriage-maker Thomas W. Harding in 1858.

At the onset of the Civil War, Albert C. Ward joined the Indiana Volunteers of the Union forces. In January 1862, while in Washington, D.C., Ward found a like-minded young soldier from a New York regiment to carouse the town with, and they wandered from bar to bar. Finally, when both were drunk, Ward knocked his companion down with a stick, grabbed his pistol, and fired it near the man’s face while he was on the ground. Then he stole $280 the soldier was carrying. Ward was traced to Baltimore and arrested. He was tried and convicted, and sentenced to eight years in prison. However, Albert’s mother and step-father interceded on his behalf, and he was granted a pardon by President Lincoln.

By the following year, 1863, Albert C. Ward was in Louisville, Kentucky (perhaps with relatives, since his mother was originally from Kentucky). He was arrested in June of that year for “obtaining $10 by false pretenses.” He was detained for trial for four months on $500 bail. Finally, when his case came up in January 1864, it was decided not to prosecute him, and he was discharged.

Ward later claimed to have been a member of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s raiders, who harassed Union forces along the northern Kentucky border. There is no evidence this was true; or that he was ever a member of any Confederate unit.

After the effort to start fires at several New York hotels failed in late November, 1864, newspaper reports surfaced that General Dix, the military commander in charge of defending New York, had been warned of such a plot early in November by information from a man named Ward. Ward was briefly detained at Fort Lafayette, and then released. This claim has not been officially documented, so once again it may have been nothing more than an idle boast by Ward.

On April 5th, 1865, Ward was arrested as a suspicious character in Baltimore. He admitted to being a former rebel soldier, but said he had deserted. In 1866, Ward was found in Bergen County, New Jersey and in New York City, defrauding hotel keepers and soliciting loans that were never repaid. He was still at it in 1871, in a typical Ward adventure:


Ward was sentenced to 2 and a half years in Sing Sing in 1895. He was jailed again in Indianapolis in 1898 and in 1907 in Chicago. He tried passing forged checks again in Boston in 1908, and was sentenced to another three years. Afterwards, he returned to Indianapolis and died there in 1912, at age 71. To the end, he insisted he had been a member of the “Confederate Army of Manhattan” that had tried to burn down the city in 1864.





#203 Albert Wise

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

Link to Byrnes’s entry for #203 Albert Wise

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




#37 Albert Wilson

Albert C. Wilson (Abt. 1842-1894), aka Al. Wilson, Edward R. Marshall, W. H. Hall — Counterfeiter, Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Brown hair, slightly bald on top of head; wears light brown mustache and whiskers, generally cut short. Prominent nose, which is inclined to be hooked. Has a gunshot wound on back of left fore-arm; also a small scar half an inch long on lower lip, which runs down from corner of mouth, left side. Speaks in a calm, easy tone. Born in State of Louisiana.

RECORD. Al. Wilson is well known in many of the Eastern cities as an expert burglar and shoplifter, and has served two terms of imprisonment for the above offenses. He afterwards became an expert negotiator of forged paper of every description, and was known to the authorities of several cities as a member of “Brockway’s Gang of Forgers.” He also was identified with George Wilkes, George Engles (deceased), and Charley Becker, with whom he left for Europe in the spring of 1880, for the purpose of negotiating forged circular notes. This scheme failed, and he returned to America about August 15, 1880.

Wilson was arrested in New York City on October 18, 1880, and delivered to the police authorities of Baltimore, Md., charged, in connection with Henry Cleary, George Bell (193), and Charles O. Brockway (14), with forging and uttering checks amounting to $10,051 on the Merchants’ National Bank and the Third National Bank of Baltimore, Md., on July 16 and 17, 1880. One check for $2,160, another $3,901, and another of $1,300, were drawn to the order of J. Hunter and others, and, with the forged signature of J. H. Fisher, were presented at the Merchants’ National Bank; and a check for $1,394, and another for $1,296, drawn to the order of J. W. Kimball, and bearing the forged signature of Middleton & Co., of Baltimore, were presented at the Third National Bank. All five of these checks were paid on presentation. Wilson pleaded guilty to two cases of forgery, and he was sentenced to two years on each indictment (making four years in all), on November 3, 1880, by Judge Pinkney, at Baltimore, Md.

Shortly after his release from prison in Maryland he was arrested in Milwaukee, Wis. (June 26, 1884), under the name of Edward R. Marshall, charged with attempting to pass forged fifty-pound Bank of England notes. As he had failed to get rid of any of them there, he was delivered over to the Chicago (Ill.) authorities, who wanted him for disposing of some of the same notes. He was taken to Chicago, and escaped from a police station there on July 5, 1884, and went to England, where a gang was organized consisting of George Wilkes, George Engles, Charley Becker, Shell Hamilton, William Bartlett, Edward Burns, Edward Cleary, George Bell, and himself ; and, as above referred to, they entered into a gigantic scheme to flood France, Germany and Italy with forged circular notes, full particulars of which appear in the record of George Wilkes. A reward of one hundred dollars was offered for his arrest by the chief of police.

Al. Wilson, alias W. H. Hall, registered at St. Lawrence Hall in Montreal, Canada, on May 18, 1885, and on May 19 he went to the Bank of British North America and asked the manager of the bank to cash him a letter of credit for fifty pounds on the Union Bank of Scotland. He said that “he had fifteen hundred pounds more which he would like to have cashed in a few days.” The manager became suspicious and detained him, and sent for an officer, who arrested him when leaving the bank. One Robert Fox, a Scotchman, was arrested with him. He is about fifty-five years old. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, about 190 pounds. Stout build. Gray hair. Side whiskers and mustache, generally dyed black. Very bald. Sharp features. Round shoulders, and slightly stooped. Fox did not attempt to pass any of the letters of credit, but when arrested a large package of the letters was found on his person. He tried to destroy them, but was prevented by the officers. Wilson claimed that all the letters belonged to him, and that Fox had nothing to do with them. Wilson pleaded guilty on June 6, 1885. Fox was tried and found guilty on June 9, 1885. On June 13, 1885, Wilson was sentenced to twelve years in St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary, and Fox was sentenced to six years. Wilson’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1880.

Chief Byrnes was attuned to the fact that there were two men using the name “Al Wilson” active as forgers in the 1880s, and correctly assigns crimes to the older man, born about 1842. In his 1895 edition, Byrnes mentions that this Al Wilson was discharged from the Montreal prison in November, 1893, returned to New York City, and died a short time later.

This aligns with the death of one Albert C. Wilson, a Civil War veteran, hospitalized at Ward’s Island, and later buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn. This soldier enlisted at Albany in 1861 at age 19. His first term of service was as a private; he ended the war as a Second Lieutenant in command of African-American troops in the 3rd Regiment of the Colored Heavy Artillery.

While the above is mainly speculation, an earlier reference to Al. Wilson appears to fit the character of man described by Byrnes. In 1871, in the aftermath of an escape by several prisoners, the New York Sun looked into the state of the management of Sing Sing prison:

“It is well-known here to-day that for nearly the full term of the present agent’s administration, the real governor of the prison has been Casper C. Childs, the chief clerk, who has made a fine fortune out of the pick–I mean perquisites of his office. Agent Russell is looked upon as a nonentity, as far as the management of the prison is concerned, but is thought by most of the good citizens to have been shrewd enough to feather his nest at least as warmly as his subordinate.

“Another fact equally patent to the people here who have dealings with the prison authorities is that the business of the institution is conducted in a great measure by Al Wilson, a convict who has served five years, and hopes to be released in 1874. This man is a sharp fellow, of good education and excellent address. He was sentenced in 1866 to eight years for counterfeiting.

“Since his entrance into the prison he has been a pet, and has been subjected to but few of the mortifications and hardships which fall to the general lot. Wilson smokes fine cigars, wears a fine mustache and a head of elegant black curly hair. The cigar, the mustache, and the hirsute adornment are  strictly prohibited by the prison rules, but Mr. Wilson has somehow been enabled to override the rules and indulge his sartorial tastes to their fullest extent–except, let me say, in the matter of trousers. The agent requires him to wear the regulation stripes; and Mr. Wilson, in return for the favors granted him, accepts the trousers as a compromise.

“He is assistant to the chief clerk, and by means only known to himself, but guessed at by others, since his incarceration, made a larger fortune than he could have possibly secured by his clumsy evidences of want of respect to the legalized currency of the country. He is the happiest man in the prison, except the chaplain and the chaplain’s clerk, of whom more hereafter.

“A short time ago a citizen of Sing Sing called at the office of the prison to collect a bill due him on account of services rendered or goods furnished. He inquired of the attendant: ‘Where is Agent Russell?’ ‘Gone to New York.’ ‘Where is Tom Croton, the head keeper?’ ‘Gone off.’ ‘Where is Casper Childs, the chief clerk?’ ‘He’s away.’ ‘In heaven’s name, then, who is in charge of the prison?’ ‘Al. Wilson.’

“And to Mr. Al. Wilson, the convict clerk, the citizen paid his respects and presented his bill. The claim was duly examined, and the citizen received a check for the amount, drawn on the Sing Sing Bank, and signed ‘C. C. Childs, per Al. Wilson.’

“‘Is this check good?’ said the citizen, glanced at the striped integuments of the clerk. ‘Present it at the bank and see,’ said the convict. “My signature is as good there as anybody’s.’

“The check was presented and paid.”

For reasons unknown, Al. Wilson is one of the few criminals profiled by Byrnes that had “wanted” bulletins produced that have survived:






#39 Robert Bowman

Robert Gillman Stockton (Abt. 1841-????), aka Robert Bowman, J.C. Hale, J. C. Bowman, George Munroe, J. C. Hogan — Thief, Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Gray eyes, gray whiskers and mustache. Complexion medium. Stooped shoulders. Looks hump-backed. High forehead. Bald on front of head. Scars on bridge of nose, back of neck, and between the shoulder-blades. Born in New York. Weight, 140 pounds.

RECORD. Bowman was an associate of Wm. H. Lyman, a notorious forger, who died in prison in 1883. Both of them were sent to Clinton prison, New York State, for four years and six months in August, 1878, for forgeries committed in Catskill, N.Y. Bowman and Lyman were again arrested at Hudson, N.Y., on September 16, 1881, and taken to Fitchburg, Mass., where they were sentenced to prison for three years for forging drafts on the American Express Company, at that place. They were also charged with raising drafts that were drawn by the National Bank of St. Albans, Vt., on the Park Bank of New York City. Also with forging a draft, on September 5, 1881, on Clipperly, Cole & Haslehurst, Troy bankers. When arrested $1,200 in money was found on them.

Bowman was arrested again in Chicago, Ill., on January 14, 1886. About January 6, 1886, a man giving the name of J. F. Hall, presented to the Floyd County Savings Bank, of Charles City, Iowa, a draft payable to himself, purporting to have been drawn by the First National Bank of Joliet, Ill. Hall also had a letter of introduction from the Joliet bank; the draft was deposited to his credit, and on January 9, 1886, he wrote to the Floyd County Bank from Chicago, enclosing his receipt for the draft, and asking that the money be sent to him by the United States Express. It was sent, and when Hall called for it he was arrested and recognized as Bowman. One of the detectives went to Fort Wayne, Ind., where Hall had lived, and captured the latter’s valise, in which was found a large number of counterfeit checks and certificates. It was estimated that Bowman and his gang had defrauded the banks in the western country out of $50,000.

Bowman’s case in Chicago, Ill., was nolle prosequi, by Judge Rogers, on June 1, 1886, because the State’s attorney was unable to obtain sufficient evidence to convict him of the forgeries committed there. He was discharged, and immediately re-arrested and taken to Vermont, where he was committed for trial, charged with having committed forgeries on the First National Bank of Brandon, Vt., the Vermont National Bank, the Rutland County National Bank, of Rutland, Vt., and the Farmers and Mechanics’ Bank of Burlington, Vt. These forgeries were committed in 1881, by Bowman and Ned Lyman, and amounted in the aggregate to $30,000. Bowman’s picture is a good one, taken in 1886.

There are many curiosities and inconsistencies in the career of forger Robert Bowman, starting with his real name and origins. So much printed about Bowman was wrong or unsubstantiated, it is difficult to say much about his life prior to 1877, when he was arrested with penman William H. Lyman for forgeries committed in Catskill, New York.

Bowman shared a background that led to his association with counterfeiter and burglar Gilbert “Gib” Yost. Yost had once been an Erie Canal boatman, as Bowman was said to have been. Yost peddled counterfeit currency at stops along the canal, but soon graduated to burglary work. He rubbed shoulders with the famous New York burglars of the 1870s, in particular Billy Porter and Johnny Irving. [Several articles on Bowman refer to the notorious burglars known to Yost and Bowman were “James Barnes” and “Alexander McGregor,” two names with no other underworld credentials.] When not working with burglars, Yost returned to his home in Fonda, New York.


Meanwhile, Bowman likely met penman/swindler William H. Lyman in Auburn prison in the late 1860s/early 1870s. Lyman and Bowman, along with another man named John Fraley (or Freeleigh) from Fonda, New York, committed a series of forgeries at Catskill, New York in June, 1877. After they were arrested, it was said that Gib Yost tried to break them out by smuggling tools to Bowman, but that they were discovered under his cell mattress. They were finally tried in August, 1878 and found guilty. Both Lyman and Bowman were sent to Clinton State Prison in Dannemora, New York on sentences of four and a half years each.

They were released in August, 1881–and then in the space of twenty days committed check forgeries at banks in Troy, New York; Fitchburg, Massachusetts; and several in southern Vermont. They were arrested in Hudson, New York; at first that were taken to Fitchburg to be prosecuted, but it was decided that there was a better case at Troy. In September, 1881 they were convicted and sent back to Clinton State Prison for another four and a half years. William H. Lyman died behind bars in November, 1883. Robert Bowman was discharged on December 3, 1884.

Between 1884 and early 1886, Bowman was rumored to have accompanied George Wade Wilkes and Frederick “Little Joe” Elliott on a check forging tour of the upper Midwest and Pacific coast. Bowman’s role was to serve as the middleman between the penman and the check passers. Wilkes and Elliott were arrested in March, 1886.

Robert Bowman was arrested in Chicago in June, 1886 on charges of check forging. However, the evidence against him in this case was weak, and the judge threw out the case. Pinkerton detectives immediately took him into custody and conveyed him to Vermont, to face charges on the forgery cases from 1881. Bowman was convicted on those charges in March 1887 and sentenced to four years in the Vermont State Prison.

After he got out from Vermont, Bowman joined a check forging team that included Richard “Big Dick” Lennox, Joe English, Charles Becker, Richard Davis, and Daniel Beneycke.To quote from Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

“They began operations in 1892 at Minneapolis, and worked in Duluth and St. Joseph. They became alarmed and went to Europe, and remained there until the fall of 1893, when they returned and went to Providence, R. I., where they raised two checks of $14 and $18, to $1,400 and $1,800, and passed them on the Industrial Trust Co., and the Merchants’ National Bank. Their custom is to remain in a place just long enough to raise and pass two or three checks, and being successful in Providence, they went to Boston, thence to Buffalo, Cincinnati, New Orleans, back to Philadelphia, and then to Milwaukee, where the police “ got on to their little game,” and drove them out of the town. The swindlers then fled to Albany, N. Y., where Becker and English left Lennox and Beaumann [Bowman] and went toward Boston.”

Between 1893 and 1896, one by one, members of this gang were captured and jailed. In 1894, reports about Bowman presented a conundrum. In early June, an elderly check forger was arrested in Des Moines, Iowa, and gave the name “James Wilson.” He was tried, found guilty, and sent to prison on a twelve-year sentence. The Illustrated Police News confidently reported that this man was none other than Robert Bowman, but in reality it was Joe English.

Then, in August 1894, Boston detectives arrested a man who gave his name as “Alfred G. Highton” for presenting forged altered checks. The police authorities, as well as the local Pinkerton representative, positively identified Highton as Robert Bowman. They were later proven wrong: Highton was the man’s name, though he was a notorious confidence man and floater of worthless checks.

Bowman, it appears, was still raking in money with master forgers Charles Becker and James Cregan–until those two were arrested in the summer of 1896. Bowman, instead of working to gain the freedom of his companions, fled to England with a reported $1,000,000 of the gang’s earnings. For a while, he lived comfortably in the southwest suburbs of London and operated pubs, but lost nearly all his money through mismanagement or bad habits.

Bowman then started to write letters from England to William and Robert Pinkerton; in the 1880s, he had agreed to be an inside informer for the Pinkertons, but fed them bad information. William and Robert believed that Bowman wrote from England to see if it would be safe for him to return to America, but the Pinkertons held a grudge against him for his treachery, and instead urged British officials to keep a close watch on Bowman.

Bowman was desperate to get back in the game, and decided to come back to the United States in 1904, when Charles Becker got out of prison in California. William Pinkerton got wind of the return and said, “If there is any way in God’s world to get him in the penitentiary, I would like to do it. I never knew a more contemptible, dirty thief.” Bowman approached Becker once Becker returned to New York, but Becker had no interest in further forgeries. Where Bowman turned after his rejection is unknown.


#36 Edward Darlington

Berkeley Edward Puseley (1853-1886), aka Berkeley E. Paisley, Edward Darlington — Forger

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-three years old in 1880. Born in England. Medium build. Not married. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 138 pounds. Sandy hair, blue eyes, sallow complexion. Genteel appearance. Known in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and several other cities in the United States.
RECORD. Darlington was arrested in New York City on November 21, 1883, in connection with Richard O. Davis (34) and Charles Preston, alias Fisher (41), charged with forging the name of J.J. Smith to a check for $700 on the Continental Bank, No. 6 Nassau Street, New York City. He was committed in $2,000 bail by Justice Duffy. Darlington pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, New York City, and was sentenced to nine years in State prison on December 27, 1883. His sentence will expire, allowing him full commutation time, on November 26, 1889.
This man, who no doubt is the cleverest of the three, and his partner (34), had been traveling through the country for some time, victimizing people with forged checks. At the time of his arrest in New York he was wanted in Boston, Mass., for a similar transaction. His picture is a good one, taken in 1883.

Berkeley E. Puseley came to the United States from London, England in 1879/80 to make his reputation as a writer and playwright. He was the son of Daniel Puseley, an author who wrote under the name Frank Foster. During his twenties, Berkeley was a newspaper correspondent filing stories from Cyprus, Egypt, and Afghanistan.

Upon arriving in New York, Puseley adopted the pen name Berkeley E. Paisley, and had limited success selling some material to popular comedic actors of the era, John E. Owens and Frank Mayo. In August, 1881, he was arrested as Berkeley E. Paisley for passing forged checks in New York. Puseley was not a penman; he was a dupe employed by Charles Tisher. Several actors and actresses attended his hearing, and testified that he had an excellent character. Upon hearing their praise, Puseley broke down in tears. The judge gave him a light sentence, one and a half years at Blackwell’s Island.

Upon being freed, Puseley fell back into the same crowd of forgers, namely, Charles Tisher and Richard Davis. He was arrested as Edward Darlington in November, 1883. He was treated much more harshly this time, receiving a sentence of nine years in Sing Sing.

Earlier in life, Puseley’s siblings had died at young ages. His father had passed away in 1882, several years after losing most of his savings in bad investments. Berkeley Puseley did not want his one remaining relative, his mother, to know that he had been jailed. We wrote to her that he was journeying into the American west. He entered Sing Sing with an attitude of despair, and later wrote a poem reflecting his fate:

Preachers tell us man’s a coward
Should he seek to take his life,
Though he is by grief devoured,
Though he’s conquered in the strife.

If this is so, who can blame him,
When his heart is racked with pain?
Tyrants those who would reclaim him
To his misery again

Coward rather he who bears it,
Lingering on with gasping breath;
Making crown of thorns to wear it,
Shuddering yet at death.

Puseley survived in Sing Sing less than three years, dying of consumption. Initially he was buried in the prison graveyard, but friends later had him re-interred in a cemetery in Pleasantville, New York, under his real name.

#41 Charles Fisher

Charles H. Tisher (Abt. 1848 – 192?), aka James Farrell, Henry Mason, James Smith, Charles Palmer, Charles H. Fisher, J. B. Ford, etc. — Forger

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #41 Charles Fisher

Chief Inspector (later Superintendent) Byrnes, as seen in other REVISED entries, was often unaware of his profiled criminals’ full records, sometimes including incidents that occurred during his tenure. With his entry on Charles Fisher, there’s a further problem: he appears to be confusing two different individuals; the historical records supporting the details he describes can not be one person. Both men were German immigrants, tall, with good English; but one was nearly ten years older than the other; and one was an inept burglar, while the other was a masterful forger.

Byrnes describes the 19-year old youth who was arrested for larceny in October, 1876 and sentenced to two years and six months in Sing Sing. He was released early, in October 1878, and then was unable to find work. Starving, he broke a window to get arrested, and was brought before Judge Otterbourg, who investigated his circumstances and showed him mercy, raising funds for him to travel west.

That was one Charles Fisher, and he has not been traced further.

However, while this young man was behind bars in Sing Sing, another man–Charles H. Tisher, alias Fisher, alias Palmer, etc., was already plying his trade as a forger. All the facts presented by Byrnes from that point forward align with the career of this man, not the young , repentant thief. Moreover, Charles H. Tisher had a remarkable criminal career, that until now has never been recounted.

Charles H. Tisher appeared for the first time in Philadelphia, in early 1874, as the co-proprietor of a new enterprise, the Mercantile Bureau and Independent Collection Agency Company. Initially, it appeared to be a legitimate enterprise: a private collection agency, an industry which had recently started in the United States. Tisher had respectable attorneys as partners, but the daily management of the business was left in his hands. In early 1875, he appeared in Jersey City, New Jersey, with a plan to expand the company’s services to the New York market. He solicited both investors and new customers; and then was charged with embezzlement. Most of the charges against him were dropped, but he was jailed for months and minor charges stuck, so his business was ruined.

He reappeared in February, 1878, when he was arrested in New York with an accomplice, Charles Burton, alias John Richardson, for committing small check forgeries. Their apartments were searched and police found all the implements of a forging operation: type, small presses, dies, engraver’s tools, inks, blanks, etc. Also found were letters proving him to be the same Charles H. Tisher arrested in Jersey City in 1875. Tisher and Richardson later plead guilty, and gave evidence against three other conspirators, including Ike Hoffman (Isaac Schoan, alias John Jones); Charlie Edmunds alias Loring, and George Luxton. After nearly a year of legal maneuvers, Tisher was sent to Sing Sing in February, 1879, for a term of two and a half years.

Upon his release, he hooked up with another forgery operation headquartered in Chicago. They victimized banks in the city until the gang was captured in early 1882. This time, the member gave their names as John Bush alias Hatfield; John Miller alias Morton; and William Lawrence alias Vaughan alias Livingston. Tisher turned States evidence against the others, and was released and told to leave the state.

Tisher appeared next as Charles Fisher with a gang of forgers in New York, in company with Walter Pierce, alias Potter; Charles J. Everhardt alias Marsh Market Jake, alias Samuel Peters; and Charles Denken. They were rounded up in November 1885. Fisher was now recognized as the operation’s leader, and refused to make any statement in court. This time, Tisher was given a stiff sentence: ten years in Sing Sing.

Tisher formed another check-forging gang upon getting out of Sing Sing in 1892, this time composed of Robert Wallace alias Arthur Dearborn; William Hartley alias William Boland; and Lizzie Turner, alias Sheeny Rachel. They swept through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in early 1895, then attacked banks and merchants in San Francisco, then moved on to Cincinnati. Pinkerton detectives traced the gang to Baltimore. Tisher used the alias J. B. Ford. He was taken from Baltimore to Cincinnati on a requisition, and made a daring escape from jail while awaiting trial.

Tisher then headed to England. While there, he frequented a saloon that was a burglar’s hangout, and was swept up with others during an 1897 police raid. Rather than reveal his identity, Tisher allowed himself to be jailed for burglary under the name Edward Simpson. However, while ensconced in the Wormwood Scrubs prison, he was recognized. He was extradited to New York, and then taken back to Cincinnati, where he had broken jail. This time, in late December 1897, he was taken to the Ohio State Prison to serve three and a half years.
Upon his release, Tisher and his acknowledged wife, Rachel Hurd alias Lizzie Turner, went back to England. Tisher, under the name Henry Conroy, was arrested there in October, 1902, for stealing from letter boxes–a favorite activity of his was stealing checks from envelopes and raising their amounts, and forging signatures. He was sentenced to two years hard labor. Rachel was arrested with him, but released for lack of evidence.

After serving his time, Tisher was freed, but in July 1904 was taken once again. This time he was sentenced to ten years. Apparently he was released early, because he was back in New York City by August, 1910, when he was arrested for attempted forgery under the name Charles Wells. He was sentenced to two and a half years at Sing Sing. He was released in August, 1912. He was given an annuity by the American Banking Association on the promise that he would never forge checks again.
He was sent back to Sing Sing in May, 1914, for one year and eight months, again for forgery.
In 1920, when he was about 74 years old, Charles Tisher (as Charles Fisher) was named as the leader of a forgery gang working in Philadelphia. He was the penman that signed checks stolen by his accomplices, who had obtained jobs as janitors and elevator operators in business office buildings.
In 1923, he was arrested in New York for using a nickel slug to cheat a subway turnstile. He was sentenced to serve ten days.

Tisher did not end his career on that sad note. In 1924 he was caught up as a minor member of notorious post office hold-up gang that had reaped millions from one coast to another, headed by Gerald Chapman.

#101 John Cannon

John Cannon (abt. 1844-19??), aka Jack Cannon, Old Jack, Old Pistols, John H. Davis, John Bartlett, J. B. Collins, Bernard G. Stewart, etc. — Sneak thief, hotel thief, forger

Link to Chief Byrnes’ entry for #101 John Cannon

Byrnes’ entry on Jack Cannon is one of his most curious profiles, notably for its length. Cannon was a sufficiently interesting criminal to merit extra attention, but the text Byrnes chose to include was a patchwork: an account of Cannon’s resistance to getting his photograph taken; witness testimony from one of his recent trials; and physical descriptions of Cannon’s recent partners. In other words, much of what Byrnes relates does not particularly help to flesh out Cannon’s career; and stands in contrast to all the other short, pithy profiles in his book. One guess as to why this entry is so atypical is that the New Orleans police asked Byrnes to include all these details, as they expected more trouble in the future from Cannon’s gang. The simpler explanation is that Byrnes knew (from Cannon’s role in the Manhattan Savings Bank robbery aftermath) that he was a significant criminal figure–but one with a slim New York City record that he could reference.


Cannon’s record was long in duration (perhaps starting in the 1850s) and varied (jewelry store sneak thief, hotel thief, negotiator of stolen bonds, passer of forged checks, riverboat thief, safecracker, etc.). He was also active in many states in the nation. In several cases, it is known that he had once been imprisoned in certain jails, but the crime and alias under which he was convicted under remain unidentified. He worked with several of the most notable criminals of his age, and took a part in several famous crimes. Yet Cannon did not seem to possess unusual skills or  deep cunning. The quality that gained the admiration of his peers was his willingness to fight arrest–with a pistol or knife, if necessary.

Cannon’s real name has not been verified, but an 1886 New Orleans Times Picayune article claimed that his real last name was Hannon; that he was raised (if not born) in New Orleans and attended St. Joseph’s parochial school (started in late 1850s). Byrnes gives his birth year as about 1839, but Cannon himself indicated it was about 1845–which matches better with the founding of the school he was said to have attended.

Cannon was said to have committed minor crimes while still a young man in New Orleans, but first came to attention for activities on Mississippi riverboats. He robbed staterooms as a sneak thief; and also ran small con games on greenhorns–for example, taking $30 in cash in exchange for a counterfeit $100 bill. Cannon, late in his career, said that he spent the Civil War in the 54th Illinois regiment of Union volunteers; but this is a highly suspicious claim, since the Times Picayune article lists several crimes attributed to him from 1861-1865.

In 1866, with partner Johnny Reagan, Cannon was caught after robbing the store of a New Orleans broker, Mr. Marchand. He was captured in Memphis, but escaped before he could be convicted. In April, 1867, Cannon and an experienced jewel thief, John Watson, broke into the New Orleans store of J. Lilienthal and took $80,000 in jewelry and valuables, most of which was soon recovered. Cannon was captured and gave the name J. H. Davis. He later escaped from jail, along with four other men, but was caught again. He was released on bail in August, 1867 and disappeared.

In November 1867, it is alleged that Cannon took part in the robbery of a safe belonging to the Southern Express Company in Jackson, Tennessee, led by his partner, Johnny Reagan. From late 1867 to 1876 there is a long gap in Cannon’s traceable career, although references exist to long prison sentences in Joliet, Illinois; Massachusetts; and Missouri.

In 1877, Cannon was picked up by New York detectives who interrogated him over his role in a series of forged bonds and checks that had been wreaking havoc on Wall Street. Authorities at first suspected that one huge conspiracy of forgers was at work, but it later became apparent that there were two different groups: one led by Walter Sheridan and the other by Charles Sprague, an alias of the forger genius, James B. Crosse. The two gangs likely knew one another, and may have even shared use of the lowest men on the rungs, the ones who presented the phony documents to cashiers. Jack Cannon and Charles “Doc” Titus were among the latter.

When questioned, Cannon accused Sprague/Crosse of being the mastermind of all the forgeries (as did Titus), though in Cannon’s case he likely did more work for Sheridan’s gang. As detectives delved deeper into the forgery cases, they realized that Cannon’s admissions were worthless as evidence, and he was cut loose.

Cannon resurfaced two years later, in 1879, trying to negotiate sale of some of the $3,000,000 in bonds stolen from the Manhattan Savings Institution by Jimmy Hope and his gang. [Johnny Dobbs was also captured trying to sell some of these bonds.] It is unlikely that Cannon was directly involved in the heist, and came in to help dispose of the bonds.


In 1879, Cannon was arrested for a robbery in Newark, New Jersey, and sentenced to three years in the State Prison at Trenton.

In 1882, Cannon was arrested for robberies at the Lochiel hotel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was arrested by detectives in Philadelphia, but only after exchanging pistol fire with them. He was given a sentence of ten years in Eastern State Penitentiary, but with a very generous commutation, was released after little more than a year.

From there, Cannon raided a hotel in Jacksonville, Florida; and then moved on to his hometown of New Orleans. There, he was arrested in 1886 for taking part in the theft of $5000 in diamonds from Effie Hankins. He was also suspected of hotel thefts at the Gregg House and Hotel Royal in 1885. However, it turned out that the Hankins diamonds were recovered after the police received tips about other men that had been involved and left town; therefore Cannon was eventually released.

Cannon was next arrested following robberies in September 1888 at the Egg Harbor, New Jersey, Fair. After several weeks in a Philadelphia jail, he was released for lack of evidence. He was less lucky later in 1889, when he was picked up in Philadelphia and sent to Springfield, Massachusetts to face charges of a hotel robbery there. This time, he was found guilty and given five years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

Free once more in 1895, Cannon came to rest in Detroit, Michigan. He was arrested there for possession of burglar’s tools, and–because of his history–sentenced to ten years at the Michigan State Prison in Jackson. In 1897, Cannon (who was well into his fifties) escaped from the State Prison, only to be recaptured a few days later.

Once he was released from Jackson, Cannon went to Scranton, Pennsylvania and lived under the name Bernard G. Stewart. In 1906, was was arrested in New York City after entering the room of another hotel guest. He was found to have a knife in his pocket. With this arrest, Cannon finally felt obliged to explain himself to a newspaper reporter. He sensed that this might be his last gasp of freedom:


Cannon was never heard from after this.




#18 Charles Becker

John Charles Becker (1849-1916), aka Charlie Becker, Charley Becker, Dutchman Becker — Forger

Link to Byrnes’s entry on Charles Becker

John Charles Becker was not born in Germany, as Byrnes suggests, but in New York to parents who had long before arrived from Germany. His father, Valentin Becker, met and married Maria Margaretha Blinn in New York in 1838. John Charles was the fourth child born to the pair, arriving in 1849. Around 1856-7, the Becker clan (now numbering five offspring) moved to Chicago, but by 1865–with two more additions–they moved back to Brooklyn.

In his teens, John Charles (known to friends as Charlie) learned the printing trade and the process of lithography. He came in contact with another German lithographer living in New York, Clemenz Haering. Haering also operated a saloon on Stanton Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1871, 21-year-old Charlie married Haering’s daughter, Anna C. Haering, then just 16 or 17 years old. Charlie was not a drinker–he avoided bad habits that might affect his penmanship–but he did enjoy rubbing shoulders with criminals. Charlie’s knowledge of printing, lithography, and bank forms made him a target for recruitment by these shady characters. Moreover, his father-in-law, Clemenz Haering, was not above engaging in a bit of forgery/counterfeiting.

In August 1872, Charlie joined with Joe Chapman, Joe Elliott (aka Frederick Elliott/Little Joe Reilly) and Carlo Sescovitch to rob the Third National Bank of Baltimore. They entered the bank at night and cracked open its vault, taking away cash, bonds, and blank bank forms, totaling between $200,000 and $300,000–an enormous sum for the period. Many of the bonds were registered bonds, which thieves usually ignored because their numbers can be traced. The theft of these bonds, along with the blank forms, indicated to detectives that the robbers had a forger among them that could use the forms and change the numbers on the bonds. Witnesses had seen men around the bank in the days before the robbery, and were able to give descriptions of them. From those descriptions, detectives thought they knew who to look for–but Chapman and the others could not be found anywhere.

There was no rational reason that Charlie Becker, with his unmatched handwriting and engraving skills, needed to be involved in the heist itself; like other “penman,” he could have stayed safely in a studio with his pens, brushes, and inks. But he seemed to enjoy the thrill of crime.

The four thieves had already left the country before police could make those identifications. However, they realized the danger of traveling with the stolen bonds. Before leaving on a steamer to Europe, the stack of bonds was left with Chapman’s wife, Lydia, who was unknown to authorities. She was under instructions to bring the bonds to England in a trunk once the waiting thieves sent her the signal.

One of the reasons that the series of events from 1872-1873 involving Becker, Chapman, Joe Elliott, Sescovitch, and Adam Worth is so compelling is that it involves so many classic crime story elements: a huge bank heist; partners who distrust one another; capture and imprisonment; treachery; a prison escape; kidnapping; romantic rivals; an unsolved murder; a theft of a classic artwork; a criminal mastermind…and baffled authorities.

One of those frustrated lawmen was Andrew Lewis Drummond, operative of the United States Secret Service, who was assigned the job of finding and stopping the Baltimore bank thieves–not so much for the sake of the stolen items themselves, but to prevent Becker from becoming the most dangerous forger in America. Years later (in 1908), Drummond wrote about his role in the story–which was to follow the trunk of bonds that was in the possession of Lydia Chapman:



Early in August, 1872, the Third National bank of Baltimore was robbed. The vault was blown at dead of night and between $200,000 and $300,000 taken. A large part of this sum was in coin and currency. The rest was in registered bonds and coupon bonds. The robbers escaped without leaving a clew of their identity.

Coupon bonds can be cashed at any bank as readily as one government note can be exchanged for another. Registered bonds cannot. Ordinary thieves therefore do not take bonds the numbers and the names of the owners of which are matters of record. Forgers are the exception. With their secret chemicals for removing printing and writing inks without leaving a stain that even a magnifying glass will show, they can make use of registered bonds. The fact that a large lumber of blank drafts and checks had been stolen also indicated that one of the robbers was an expert forger.

From these bare facts it soon developed that the robbers were Joe Elliot, Joe Chapman, Charlie Becker and a Russian. Becker was the forger — one of the best that the world ever produced. Careful search revealed their movements for several days preceding the robbery. It was even found that men answering their descriptions were seen near the bank on the day it was rifled. But when all these facts became known the earth seemed to have swallowed the men who were wanted.

More than a month passed and nothing was heard of them. On September 17, the chief of the Secret Service called me to his office. Beside him sat a man with a long white beard. The chief introduced him to me as Clement Herring, father of Charlie Becker’s wife.

“This man runs a saloon on Stanton street,” said the chief. “He expects his daughter and Mrs. Chapman to call on him tomorrow morning. Be on watch outside, and if they come he will signal you. He says they are going to leave for Europe in the afternoon, and that among their baggage will be a small red trunk containing the registered bonds stolen from the Third National. Mr. Herring thinks they will get the trunk either on Lexington avenue near Twenty-second street or on Eighth avenue near Forty-eighth street.

“Here’s what I want you to do. Once you get sight of these women, follow them wherever they go. If they get the red trunk, follow them on to the ship and learn the number of their stateroom and the names under which they depart — they are not going to use their own names. When you get these facts put them in this letter that I have written to the chief of police of Southampton, and give it to the purser on the ship, who will deliver it to an officer waiting at the pier on the other side. He will be notified that you are coming and will know what to do. Don’t arrest the women; don’t seize the trunk.”

At 8 o’clock the next morning I took up the watch in front of Herring’s saloon. I waited more than an hour before anything happened. Then a stylish carriage drove up. Two women alighted, and in the moment that elapsed before they descended the three steps that led to Herring’s basement saloon I took careful note of their appearance.

Each woman was apparently 30 years old and strikingly handsome. Both were gowned in the height of fashion. The blonde woman, who I afterward learned was Mrs. Becker, was a trifle shorter than her companion. Mrs. Chapman, who was a statuesque brunette of perhaps live feet eight or nine. Both women were wreathed in smiles and apparently radiantly happy. They were going to Europe to meet their husbands, and evidently the prospect pleased them.

Two or three times while they were inside I walked past the place and caught glimpses of them through the window. The two women seemed to be sipping at glasses of Rhine wine, while they talked to the gray whiskered man who sat on the other side of the table. Mrs. Becker did most of the talking. The lightheartedness that marked her manner in the street had departed. She spoke earnestly and seriously. The man listened, almost sadly.

While I was waiting I sent a newsboy to call a hack driver who had often driven me on business trips, and when, about 11 o’clock, the women left the saloon, I was ready to follow them. But I had not taken into account the possibility that the driver might not come with the accustomed cab. He didn’t. He came with what was the most fashionable turnout of the time — a Clarence coach, drawn by two horses. This fact is of importance only because the semicircular front of the coach was glass and I was dressed like a stevedore — slouch hat, blue shirt, rough trousers and no coat or waistcoat. I had contemplated the possibility that my work that day might take me along the docks, and had dressed accordingly.

However, there was nothing to do but to jump into the coach and tell the driver to follow the women wherever they went. They cut in and out through side streets and finally turned into Lexington avenue. I remember with what amazement I was stared at by others who drove fashionable carriages like my own. Behind the semicircle of glass I sat like the modern “demonstrator” in a show window — apparently a stevedore seeing the sights at $8 a day!

Near the corner of Twenty-second street — at the number at which the aged man had said they might get the red trunk — the carriage containing the women halted. As they alighted and went up the steps to the house I saw that they were again the happy, frolicsome women who were overjoyed at the prospect of seeing their husbands. All of the earnestness, and the seriousness with which they talked to Mrs. Becker’s sad eyed father had been swept away in a swirl of smiles.

Ten minutes after the door closed upon them a servant came out with some hand baggage. He placed it on the carriage at the driver’s feet and went back after some more. I watched carefully for the red trunk, but it did not come. In a few minutes the women appeared, still smiling. They entered their carriage and were driven up •Lexington avenue to Twenty-eighth street, then over to and up Broadway.

I followed along in my Clarence coach, keeping half a block behind them. They went straight up Broadway to Eighth avenue, and from there to the Forty-eighth street house that Herring had told me about. About an hour after they entered the premises the red trunk was brought out. A few minutes later the women followed.

Telling my driver to be sure not to lose them, I resumed my pursuit. They drove straight to Cortlandt street and, still secluded in their carriage, went on the ferry. I let a few teams get in after them and then drove on the boat.

 I knew they were headed for the Cunard piers at Jersey City, which at that time were just below the present slips of the Pennsylvania railroad. I also knew they had taken passage on the old sidewheel steamboat Cuba. So while we were crossing the river I left my carriage to look for the ship. To my amazement I saw that it was not at the pier. The next instant I saw it lying in the middle of the river. The tide had gone out at noon and the dock, not having been dredged as deeply as docks are now, the ship had gone out into the stream. Late passengers would be compelled to go out on a tender.

This was a possibility that I had not contemplated. It is comparatively easy to board a ship lying at her pier and almost impossible to get aboard a tender. While I was wondering what I should do, the ferry boat nosed her way into the slip and I was compelled to do something quickly. This is what I did:

I had worked my way among the teams up to a point perhaps 50 feet behind the vehicle in which were the two women. When their carriage drove off I followed it. When they alighted, I was almost beside them, and when their handbags were put off the carriage I grabbed two of them and made for the gangplank leading to the tender.

Fortunately the crew of the tender thought I was a stevedore, and the stevedores thought I belonged to the tender. So nobody molested me and I got aboard. As soon as I could I looked for the women and was rejoiced to find that they had taken seats at the opposite end of the boat. I kept away from them all the way over and proceeded them up the ladder to the ship. Once on board the Cuba, I contrived to get behind them in order to let them lead the way to the stateroom. They walked down the starboard side of the cabin to a point half way between the middle of the ship and the stern and then turned in to a little hall. I knew their stateroom could be only a few feet away, so I asked them if the baggage I carried belonged to them. They looked at it and replied that it did. I asked where I should put it and they led me to their staterooms, the numbers of which I  noted. Then I held up a handbag which bore the name of “Mrs. Bruce Cutting” and asked to which of the women it belonged. Mrs. Chapman replied that she was Mrs. Cutting. The other bag was marked “Mrs. Steward,” which Mrs. Becker told me was her name. Mrs. Chapman was evidently impressed with my desire to make no mistake in delivering their baggage, as she gave me a 25 cent tip.

This part of the work over, I went to the writing room and, in the letter written by the chief of the Secret Service to the chief of police of Southampton, filled in the names under which Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Chapman had departed, together with the number of their stateroom. Then I sought the purser and presented my letter of introduction.

“Did you get track of them?” he asked.

I replied that I had and gave him their names. He consulted his passenger list and ran his forefinger down the column of names.

“You’re right,” said he. “Here they are, and the number of their stateroom is the same that you gave to me.”

I handed him the chief’s letter to the Southampton chief, urged him to deliver it before the women could leave the ship, and went aboard the tender just as the Cuba was preparing to get under way.

The rest of this narrative had to do with events that took place in Europe. And it should be borne in mind that in following the women and the red trunk the purpose was twofold— first, to learn the whereabouts of the band that robbed the Third National bank of Baltimore; and, second, to nab Becker if he should attempt to alter and sell any of the registered bonds. The women had committed no crime — we could not prove guilty knowledge on their part concerning the contents of the trunk — therefore we had no occasion to arrest them. And there was nothing to be gained by seizing the trunk, since the payment on all of the stolen bonds had been stopped. We wanted only Becker and his band.

When the Cuba reached Southampton, an officer representing the chief of police was at the pier. He read the letter that was handed to him by the purser and followed the two women ‘when they left the ship. Half an hour later he was on the same train with them, bound for London, where they remained a night. The next morning they went to Paris. And the red trunk was among the baggage that followed them to the hotel at which they stopped in the French capital.

The Southampton detective engaged accommodations at the same place and for a week nothing of importance developed. The women, who seemed to be plentifully supplied with money, went out every morning, evidently intent upon replenishing their already large stock of finery. In the evenings they went to the theaters.

One morning the Southampton detective waited in vain to see them go out for their accustomed shopping tour. An hour after the time when they usually entered the carriage he began to be nervous. Finally he went to the clerk and, after having led up to the subject gradually, made some reference to the “beautiful English women” whose beauty had been the subject of considerable comment. The clerk didn’t know whom he meant. The detective had purposely misstated their nationality in order not to display a knowledge of them that they might regard as suspicious if it should come to their ears. But in a moment the clerk realized the detective’s mistake and said:

“Oh. you mean Mrs. Cutting and Mrs. Steward. But they are not English women; they are Americans. They left the city this morning.”

The closing sentence jarred the detective to his boot heels, but he controlled his emotions.

“Where had they gone?” Oh, the clerk did not know. They left after midnight and another clerk was on watch. But he might be able to find out.

In a little while the clerk imparted the information that to the best of his knowledge and belief the ladies had gone to Berlin. Strangely enough, the detective was to depart for the German capital the same evening. Perhaps he would be fortunate enough to go again to the same hotel with them.

At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the detective, on his way to the train, stopped a moment at the clerk’s desk to bid him goodby. Pleasantries were exchanged, the two men had shaken hands, when the clerk hurled a parting bit of badinage.

“Too bad you will not meet the American ladles in Berlin.” he said. “They have gone to Genoa.”

The detective made enough inquiries to convince him that the information was undoubtedly correct and changed his own plans accordingly. On the way down to the Italian city he cudgeled his mind to determine how he should go about it to get track of his lost immigrants. They would reach Genoa several hours ahead of him and might even have sped on to another city before his arrival. There was only one chance by means of which he might get trace of them — the red trunk.

So when he reached Genoa he made anxious inquiries of the man who had charge of the baggage concerning two ladies whose present address he wished to learn. Speaking no Italian he had difficulty in making himself understood, but at last sought to identify his friends by explaining that among their baggage was a red trunk. The baggage hands were questioned, and at last a man was found who had sent the box that was covered with the hide of the brindle cow.

It had been transferred to the wharf of a steamship company that operated a line of boats between Genoa and Constantinople.

Again the detective resumed his travels, only to to find when he reached the city of the sultan that he had lost all track of the women. Nobody had seen the red trunk — nobody at any of the hotels had seen the women. And he was on the point of returning  to Southampton to report his failure when something happened.

Becker and Chapman were arrested by the Turkish authorities for selling forged bonds! Their trial brought their wives in public to their sides, and by shadowing them their new habitation was learned.

Becker and Chapman were quickly found guilty and sentenced to a long term of Imprisonment In Smyrna. The jail was a flimsy affair and in a few weeks they escaped. Simultaneously with their departure Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Chapman went to London, the detective following and tracking them to a boarding house in an obscure part of the city. Within a week their husbands joined them, together with the other two men who robbed the Third National bank of Baltimore, and within another week Mrs. Chapman was dead.

The cause of her death will perhaps never be known. The end came suddenly. It has always been supposed that she was poisoned by some member of the band.

After Mrs. Chapman’s death the party separated. Chapman came to the United States, robbed another bank, was caught, convicted and sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment. Becker came to Brooklyn, where a policeman arrested him in the act of making the plates for a 1000 franc French note. The red trunk was never found.

Others may wonder, as I did at first, why Mrs. Becker’s father betrayed her husband to the secret service. I put the question to the man flatly.

“Charlie didn’t treat me right.” he said. “He and I were in on a counterfeiting deal one time and he got all the best of it. I never could bear a dishonest man. And. besides, I didn’t want my daughter to go to Europe to meet him.”

Byrnes’ 1886 profile of Becker took his career up to his imprisonment in the King’s County Penitentiary, from which he was freed in 1887. In 1892 he roamed the upper midwest and northeast with forging partners Richard Lennox, Joe English, and Robert Bowman. He and his team then went to California, where they were captured and tried. Charlie was sentenced to seven years in San Quentin, but with good behavior was released in 1903.


Upon his return to Brooklyn, there were rumors that the American Banking Association offered Becker an allowance just to help keep him honest. Towards the end of his life, he was employed by the Pinkerton’s as an informant patrolling racetracks. He and his with lived as John and Anna Becker in Brooklyn. He died of diabetes in September, 1916. His wife Anna Haering, ever loyal, died just a couple of weeks after Charlie. They are buried in Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery.




#13 William Ogle

William J. Ogle (1854-1889), aka Billy Ogle, Frank Somers — Burglar, forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Born in New York. Medium build. Married. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 148 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, fair complexion. Wears sandy mustache and sometimes side whiskers.

RECORD. Billy Ogle is a good general thief. He fell in with Charles Vanderpool, alias Brockway, some years ago, and worked with him up to the Providence job in August, 1880. He does not confine himself to any particular kind of work. He is a handy burglar, good sneak, and first-class second-story man.

Ogle was arrested in Chicago with Charles Vanderpool, alias Brockway, in 1879, for forgery on the First National Bank of that city. Brockway was bailed in $10,000, in consequence of some information he gave to the authorities, and the case never was tried. Ogle was also finally discharged. He was arrested shortly after, in 1879, in Orange, N.J., for an attempt at burglary, and on a second trial he luckily escaped with six months’ imprisonment.

Ogle was again arrested in New York City and convicted for uttering a forged check for $2,490, drawn on the Phoenix Bank of New York, purported to be signed by Purss & Young, brokers, of Wall Street, New York City. He was sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Cowing, on June 14, 1880. His counsel appealed the case, and Judge Donohue, of the Supreme Court, granted him a new trial, and he was released on $2,500 bail in July, 1880. Andy Gilligan and Charles Farren, alias the “Big Duke,” were also arrested in connection with this forgery. While out on bail in this case, Ogle was again arrested in Providence, R.I., on August 16, 1880, with Charles O. Brockway and Joe Cook, alias Havill, a Chicago sneak, in an attempt to pass two checks, one on the Fourth National Bank for $1,327, and the other, of $1,264, on the old National Bank of that city. He was convicted for this offense, and sentenced to three years in State prison on October 2, 1880, under the name of Frank Somers.

His time expired in August, 1883. He was arrested again in the spring of 1884 for a “second-story job,” with John Tracy, alias Big Tracy. They robbed the residence of John W. Pangborn, on Belmont Avenue, Jersey City Heights, of diamonds and jewelry valued at $1,500. He was convicted for this offense on June 26, 1884. His counsel obtained a new trial for him in July, 1884, upon which he was tried and acquitted. Big Tracy was also discharged, and they both went West.

In the fall of 1885 Ogle was arrested in Tennessee, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary for house work. He shortly afterwards made his escape from a gang while working out on a railroad, and is now at large. Ogle’s picture is a good one, taken in 1880.

William J. Ogle was one of (allegedly) twenty-one children fathered by Dr. Ralph Ogle, an Irish veterinarian who emigrated to New York. Several of those offspring likely did not survive childhood; and those that did came from two separate mothers. Dr. Ogle became one of New York’s leading horse surgeons; and enjoyed driving and racing horses of his own. His sons grew up in the world of the horse racing “fancy,”  Tammany ward politics, corner saloons–and criminals. Thomas, the sole son from Ralph’s first marriage, grew up to be a horseman and successful veterinarian like his father. However, the boys from the second marriage were a different story.

William J.Ogle, or “Billy,” was born in 1854, and was the next oldest brother of the clan to make it to adulthood. He was the first to run afoul of the law in 1879 as Byrnes indicates, both for a burglary in New Jersey and in Chicago for passing forged checks (supplied to him by Charles O. Brockway). Though he escaped conviction in both cases, he still chose to work with Brockway, passing checks in New York and later in 1880 with George B. Havill in Providence, Rhode Island. He was imprisoned for three years in that state, and returned to New York on his release in 1883.

In 1884, Billy and John Tracy were arrested for a house burglary in Jersey City, N.J.; once again, with the best lawyers his father could afford (the ubiquitous Howe & Hummel), Billy Ogle escaped prison. Byrnes indicates that John Tracy was arrested for the New Jersey burglaries with Ogle; but other sources say it was James “Big Kentuck” Williams. At any rate, Billy and John Tracy then went out west, and were caught during a burglary in Tennessee. Both Billy Ogle and Tracy were put on a chain gang and later escaped.


Even before Billy went west, his two younger brothers, Sam and George, were steeped in trouble of their own. In late 1882, the two brothers were entrusted with $100 meant to be delivered to a Twelfth Ward alderman, but instead stopped off at their favorite watering holes and started spending freely. Another loyal Tammany man in the bar questioned their honesty, and spat beer in George’s face. In the next moment, the man had a surgical scalpel poking through his heart. “You’ve killed me,” he muttered, and fell to the floor, dead.

Witnesses first claimed that it was Sam who used the weapon (which was never found), and he was arrested, but ultimately released once the witnesses were asked to verify their stories. Focus then shifted to George, who was tipped off and fled to Montana (or Texas, according to different reports). George returned in 1885 and was arrested for the murder. At his trial, his brother Sam was called as a witness, and tried to implicate himself–but the prosecution would not permit him to do so. Instead, brother George was found guilty of murder and sentenced to Sing Sing for life. Dr. Ralph Ogle had spent $19,000 trying to get him off.

Dr. Ogle thought he had $1000 left in the bank after that. But he received a notice that his account was overdrawn, and upon investigation, bank detectives found that his account had been emptied by a checked forged by his youngest son, Ralph “Harry” Ogle. There was little his father could do–the lad was arrested and sent to Sing Sing, joining his brother George. Within weeks, son Samuel succumbed to illness, and passed away at age 29.

Billy Ogle, the fugitive from the chain gang, reappeared at his parents house sometime between Samuel’s death in 1887 and 1889. However, disease struck him, too, and he died in 1889 at age 34. Dr. Ralph Ogle worked hard to make enough money to grease the wheels and got his son George pardoned from his life sentence in 1898. In 1887, the New York Sun ran an article on Dr. Ogle’s woes. It didn’t even mention Billy Ogle: