#89 Frank McCoy

Frank McCoy (Abt. 1843-1905), aka Big Frank McCoy, Frank McDonald, Francis H. Carter — Bank Robber

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in Troy, N.Y. Medium build. Cabinet-maker by trade. Married. Height, 5 feet 11 3/4 inches. Weight, 176 pounds. Dark-red hair, light-gray eyes, full face, sandy complexion, bald on front of head, dimple in point of chin. Has letters “F. M. C.” in India ink on right fore-arm, a cross and heart on left fore-arm. Generally wears long, heavy red whiskers and mustache.

RECORD. Frank McCoy, alias Big Frank, is a famous bank burglar, and a desperate criminal. He is one of the men who originated the “butcher-cart business,” robbing bank messengers and others in the street, and quickly making off with the plunder by jumping into a butcher cart or wagon.

He was arrested with Jimmy Hope, Ike Marsh, Jim Brady, George Bliss, and Tom McCormack, in Wilmington, Del., for an attempt to rob the National Bank of Delaware, on November 7, 1873. They were convicted on November 25, 1873, and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, one hour in the pillory, and forty lashes. McCoy and McCormack made their escape from New Castle jail, with tools furnished by Bill Robinson, alias Gopher Bill.

McCoy was associated with Jimmy Hope in the robbery of the Beneficial Savings Fund and other savings banks in Philadelphia, and several other robberies. He is said to have stolen over two million dollars during his criminal career. He is well known all over the United States, and is a treacherous criminal, as several officers can attest. He owes his nickname, “Big Frank,” to his stature.

He was arrested in June, 1876, near Suffolk, Va., a small town between Norfolk and Petersburg, in company of Tom McCormack and Gus Fisher, alias Sandford. A lot of burglars’ tools was found concealed near the railroad depot there, and suspicion pointed to them as the owners. The citizens armed themselves and tracked the burglars with bloodhounds to their tent, which they had pitched in a dismal swamp near the village. They were arrested, taken to the Suffolk jail, and chained to the floor. McCoy was shortly after returned to Delaware prison, from where he afterwards escaped. Fisher, alias Sandford, was sent to Oxford, N.J., and was tried for a burglary. McCormack managed to regain his liberty through his lawyer, in October, 1876.

McCoy was arrested again in New York City on August 12, 1878, charged with robbing C.H. Stone, the cashier of Hale’s piano-forte manufactory. The cashier was knocked down and robbed at the corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Ninth Avenue, New York City, on his return from the West Side Bank, on August 3, 1878. In this case McCoy was discharged, as Mr. Stone was unable to identify him.

McCoy was arrested again in New York City on April 12, 1881, charged with robbing Heaney’s pawnbroker’s establishment, on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, on March 8, 1875, of $2,000 worth of jewelry, etc. He was arrested for this robbery in 1879, and upon an examination before Judge Terry, of Brooklyn, he was discharged. The grand jury afterwards indicted him, and he was arrested again as above, and committed to Raymond Street jail. He afterwards gave bail, and was released.

He was finally arrested again in New York City on May 26, 1885, on suspicion of being implicated in a conspiracy to rob the Butchers and Drovers’ Bank of New York City, in connection with one Gustave Kindt, alias French Gus, a notorious burglar and toolmaker. No case being made out against him, he was delivered to the Sheriff of Wilmington, Del., on November 6, 1885, and taken back to the jail that he had twice escaped from, to serve out the remainder of his ten years’ sentence.

McCoy has killed two men during his criminal career, one on the Bowery, New York, and another in a saloon in Philadelphia, Pa., some years ago. Frank’s picture was taken in August, 1878.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

He was pardoned by Governor Reynolds of Delaware on November 18, 1892. His time would have expired in February, 1893. Since his release he has been trying to live honestly. He was employed in the pool-rooms in New York—when in existence—and on the race-tracks by book makers.

Big Frank McCoy had a rich criminal history long before Byrnes picks up his story, as can be seen from this summary from an 1885 New York Herald story:

The “West Garden National Bank” referred to in this article appears to be the Beneficial Savings Fund Bank, robbed in April 1869. Jimmy Hope was involved in this job, and helped return the plunder to the needy families whose savings were stolen.

The Wilmington, Delaware bank robbery debacle was one of the most notable crimes of the 1870s–not because it succeeded, but due to the fact that it involved five of the most skilled bank robbers of the era: Jimmy Hope, Frank McCoy, Jim Brady, George Bliss, and Tom McCormick–and that they were punished not only with imprisonment, but with a public flogging, followed by a daring escape.

McCoy was quickly recaptured, but escaped a second time. After being caught in a failed bank robbery in Suffolk, Virginia, McCoy was sent back to Delaware to serve out his sentence–and escaped a third time.

Despite being wanted in Delaware, McCoy lived openly in Long Island City, Queens, from 1881 to 1885, operating a pool hall. McCoy was far from remaining honest, though, as this story about how he and Red Leary stole $5000 by cheating a gambling hall attests:

In 1885, McCoy was arrested in New York on suspicion of planning a job with Gus Kindt; he was discharged by the court, but Inspector Byrnes conveniently chose to send him back to Delaware to serve out the sentence he had escaped from three times. McCoy later maintained that Byrnes did so to apply pressure on Jimmy Hope to cough up the bonds stolen from the Manhattan Savings Bank.

McCoy finally paid Delaware the time he owed, and was pardon by the Governor there in 1892.

McCoy died poor in Bellevue Hospital in 1905, but not before giving a few deathbed interviews to several New York newspapers. He regretted his life of crime and wished he had gone into politics instead. He recalled his adventures with Jimmy Hope fondly.

“I’ve never killed a man…,” Frank stated, “That thought is my one consolation.”

Perhaps what Frank meant to say was that he had never killed a man except that deserved it, for he had shot dead John Steiger in 1867 over the proceeds of a burglary they had committed; and also killed Philadelphia thief Patsey Williams in a saloon in 1870.

 

#156 Thomas Matthews

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#92 Charles Mason

Charles Henry Marion (Abt. 1840-19??), aka Boston Charley, Charles Mason, Charles Marsh, Charles Merrion/Marrion, Charles Mortis/Martis, Charles Whiteman, Charles Lloyd — Swindler, Bunco Steerer, Pickpocket, Political Fixer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Heavy build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark-brown hair, turning gray; brown eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a heavy, reddish-brown mustache; rather fine features. A very active man for his size.

RECORD. “Boston” Charley’s principal occupation is “banco.” He has been in several jails in the East and West, and has traveled from Maine to California working various schemes. In New York he worked with Jimmie Wilson (143) and Shang Campbell (107), picking pockets; also, with Jack Strauss, on the sneak.

He worked in the winter of 1876 in Boston, Mass., with Charlie Love, alias Graves, alias Scanlon, and was in the scheme to rob a man named Miller out of $1,200 by the banco game. Charley fell into the hands of the police, and Love escaped. He was afterwards implicated in a robbery in the Adams House, where Mrs. Warner, of St. Paul, Minn., lost considerable property.

He then left Boston, and remained away until 1881. During the interval he is credited with having served five years in Joliet prison. Mason was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison on December 20, 1881, by Recorder Smyth, for robbing one John H. Lambkin, of Cork, Ireland, out of $1,139, at banco. His time expired, allowing full commutation, on May 19, 1885. Mason’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

Boston Charley volunteered to the Sing Sing registrars that he was born in Boston about 1840, and that his real name was Charles H. Marion–information confirmed in city directories from San Francisco and Butte, Montana. However, Charley’s family and early years have not yet been traced. The earliest mentions of him come from the early 1870s, when he was rumored to have been an assistant to William “Canada Bill” Jones, the greatest three-card monte player in history.

Canada Bill plied his trade on Kansas and Missouri passenger trains, and one of the things that Boston Charley learned from him was that that a con man could offer bribes to receive a level of protection from authorities. Canada Bill paid conductors to look the other way; and once (famously) tried to offer a railroad’s management a “license” fee to operate freely on their trains. This was the start of Boston Charley’s political education.

Canada Bill ran into a series of arrests in 1875, which was about the same time that Boston Charley opted to head further west to San Francisco with a gang of bunco steerers. They successfully set up shop, but Charley was arrested twice between September and November, 1875.

As Byrnes indicates, Charley returned to Boston and tried running a bunco operation there, but had no influence to prevent being shut down, and was forced to flee. He returned to San Francisco and formed a new bunco gang with Jack Dowd and Doc Boone. Though they had paid bribes to police officials, the gang was arrested several times, and eventually realized that others on the police force were acting on behalf of a rival gang of bunco artists. This was Charley’s next lesson in politics.

He married a woman in San Francisco named Hazel, but after he was indicted once more, he and Hazel fled to Panama. There, he deserted his bride after less than a year of marriage.

Charley then headed eat to New York City and picked pockets and ran con swindles with Charles Allen, Jimmie Wilson, and Shang Campbell. He was arrested in December 1881 and sentenced to 4 and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Charles Mason. While he was in jail, Hazel got a divorce.

Charley returned to San Francisco when he got out of Sing Sing, but did not tarry long there. By 1887, he decided to head somewhere where other gangs and corrupt officials had not yet taken control; he wound up in Butte, Montana.

In Butte, Charley posed as Col. Charles Lloyd and ran a dance hall/gambling joint. His gambling den featured his customized faro tables (rigged to cheat). He also ran faro games at the local race track that were exposed as crooked. Still, he eluded any penalties for three years, mainly because he was a political kingmaker.

In 1890, Charley Marion returned to New York, and made a woeful attempt to join the Salvation Army to reform himself, producing what may be the funniest incident involving any professional criminal:

“Charles H. Marion plays the accordion with much religious fervor and muscular energy in a Salvation Army band. He played with such vigor and he sang so loud at the barracks, No. 10 Horatio street, on Sunday night that Lieut. David L. Bossey, of the army, tried to restrain him. Marion, however, played and sang even while the preaching was going on, so Bossey had him arrested. ‘He almost breaks my heart,’ complained Lieut. Bossey in the Jefferson Market Court yesterday. ‘He insists on singing the wrong verses.’

“‘That’s serious,’ said the Justice. ‘Ten dollars fine.’ Marion was locked up. An hour later, someone paid the fine for him.”

Charley’s efforts to reform ran against his character. A fellow mission worker invited Charley and another man over to his place for a drink, and when he went out to get more beer, came back to discover that Charley and the other man had pilfered valuables from his house.

Charley drifted back to Butte and returned to running his dance hall and sponsoring politicians. In 1895 he convinced a couple of local young men to try to pass a forged check in Chicago. When that brought him unwanted attention from the Pinkertons, he came back east to Washington, D. C. and tried a similar scam, selling bogus mining stocks to a Butte mine. When detectives closed in, he left for New York City.

While cooling off in New York, Charley and old con man Ike Vail were arrested for running a swindle in Hoboken. Realizing it was time to flee again, Charley went to Detroit, was run out of town, and then went south to Kansas City, Missouri. There he impersonated a Treasury officer and confiscated alleged counterfeit bills from victims, threatening them with prosecution. He was captured and sentenced to three years in the Missouri State Prison.

After serving his time, Charley returned to Butte and picked up his former life there. By now, all the local newspapers in Montana had run stories giving his history, so his character was no secret. Still, was was able to remain a force in Butte politics.

From 1901 until his demise–date unknown–he kept his name out of the papers.

 

 

 

 

 

#113 James Fitzgerald

Gilbert J. Fitzgerald (1856-1933), aka James Fitzgerald, The Kid, Red Fitz, J. S. Morrison — Bunco Steerer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Washington, D.C. Slim build. Single. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Red hair, dark auburn eyes, sandy complexion, straight nose, beard red (when worn), hair very thick and coarse.

RECORD. “The Kid,” as he is called, is well known in New York, Boston and several other large cities, and is considered one of the cleverest men in the banco business. He generally worked with Johnny Norton (now dead). He and Norton were the two men that succeeded in obtaining $7,000 from Charles Francis Adams, in Boston, in 1882, by the banco game. “The Kid ” was arrested, tried,, convicted, and sentenced to five years in the Charlestown, Mass., State prison on June 23, 1882. His sentence will expire August 27, 1886. Norton escaped at the time and never was captured. He died in New York City in March, 1885. Fitzgerald’s picture is a good one, taken in October, 1881.

The few details known about Gilbert Fitzgerald’s career are fascinating, and leave one wishing more was known about his adventures as a con-man. Gilbert J. (middle name James, it can be assumed) Fitzgerald was born to Irish immigrants who had settled in Milwaukee. Gilbert’s father, Francis (Frank) was a thriving shoemaker. In the mid-1870s, when Gilbert reached adulthood, he was recommended by Senator Matthew Hale Carpenter to a position in the Government Printing Office in Washington, D. C. He helped in the printing of the Congressional Record. A later report from a Washington source recalled:

“He was known among his friends and acquaintances as ‘Reddy,’ a name applied to him perhaps on account of his fiery red hair. He was a jovial, quick-witted, devil-may-care fellow, and a good compositor. He was given to gambling, and most of his wages went into a faro-bank. He was small of stature but of good nerve, and was quite an athlete. While his disposition was the reverse of quarrelsome, yet he was quick to take up a quarrel of a friend, and generally came out winner, even when the odds were apparently much against him.”

By May, 1878 Fitzgerald had quit his government job and was found far from Washington, D.C.–he was arrested in Deadwood, South Dakota with three other men for running a bunco operation and swindling a man; but “The Kid” was released for lack of evidence. For a while, he made Denver his center of operations–at a time when Denver was the unofficial capital of con artists and grifters. It was said that one man who joined him there was George Ellwood, who later gained fame as “Gentleman George,” the creepily-polite burglar. The mentor of the gang appeared to be a bunco artist named Charley Miller.

Gilbert formed a new gang with Billy Harris and Johnny Norton, and headed to New Orleans in the fall of 1881. After New Orleans, Fitz was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida in January, 1882 for swindling a wealthy man from Maine, but was released. The gang headed north to Boston, where they happened upon the most prominent bunco victim in history: Charles Francis Adams–son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams; and himself a former Ambassador to Great Britain. In 1882, Charles Francis Adams was in his seventies, and was mostly retired from public life. Gilbert Fitzgerald was only twenty-six.

Immediately after swindling Adams out of a check for $17,500, Adams’ lawyer, his son, and a private detective tracked Fitzgerald down. Fitzgerald and Norton agreed to meet with them, since they were confident that Adams’ representatives would, in the end, honor the check and preserve the old diplomat’s reputation. Fitzgerald, using the alias “J. S. Morrison,” sauntered into the room, sat down, and opened with a statement: “Gentlemen, this is my business. My occupation is to allure elderly gentlemen of wealth into some den and extort money from them. I have been in this business for a great while. I have recently returned from Florida, where I have been absent the greater part of the winter, and have done a great deal of this sort of business with various Boston parties.”

Fitz then continued to explain that they had targeted Mr. Adams. They knew him by reputation to be wealthy and had made themselves familiar with his habits; the 28th day of March was the day Fitz had met Mr. Adams as he left his house on Mount Vernon street, and introduced himself as the son of an old friend of Mr. Adams; he accosted him very politely, requested permission to walk with him, and did walk with him, conversing with Adams on subject of interest to the old statesman. When they arrived at some point on Boylston street, Mr. Morrison (Fitz) suddenly changed the subject by producing a lottery ticket, and explained to Adams that he had won a prize on it, and would like to have Mr. Adams come inside the lottery office they were passing to help identify him.

Morrison went to the office cashier and received his cash prize and two tickets. Then Morrison called Adams’ attention to a very interesting and fascinating game which was going on, in which cards were laid out in a grid, with a very few blank spaces among the rows of cards. Upon using a ticket, a player was issued six cards with numbers on them. The player totaled the numbers of his cards, which corresponded to the position of a face-down card on the grid. Morrison and Adams each played their ticket, and Adams’ number total pointed to a card that, when turned over, revealed a prize of $2500. As a consequence of that win, Adams qualified to get two more tickets to play again, on condition that he put up a check for $250, 10% of his $2500 prize. That check was given by Adams. They played again with the result of another prize for Adams, this time $16,000. Adams wrote a check for $1600 to play again, and received additional tickets. After another win, Adams wrote a check for $17,500, and then received his cards. This time, the numbers totaled pointed not to a face-down card, but to a blank spot on the grid. Adams had lost.

Morrison (Fitz) had been playing and winning along with Adams, and also lost when Adams lost. Morrison then made a great act of being angry and distraught, saying that he had gambled away his savings. Adams was shocked to learn that they had been gambling, and insisted that he had never gambled in his life. However upset Adams was, Morrison played the victim even stronger, forcing Adams to console his new young acquaintance. Morrison accompanied Adams back to Adams’ house, and the old man went meekly inside.

Adams’ son and lawyer listened to the story in shock. They asked Fitz if the game had been fair. Fitz brushed the question away, “Oh, it was all a fraud, for that matter.” The lawyer of Mr. Adams exclaimed, “I don’t believe this. This can’t be the true story.” Fitzgerald gave him a pained look, and explained, “It was always so at the first in these cases; there was generally a struggle at the beginning, but these checks were always paid.”

If Fitzgerald had been less smug, perhaps the scam would have worked once again. But the Adams family united together and decided to bring the matter to the authorities. Fitzgerald was arrested and brought into a courtroom, where his nonchalant, smarmy attitude was noted by all. During the majority of the court testimony, he sat reading the morning newspaper. Fitzgerald and his attorney were confident that the whole confessional discussion that had taken place could not be used as evidence–but the judge ruled otherwise. Fitzgerald was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

After his release in the mid-1880s, a large gap in Fitzgerald’s activities occurred. One news item from 1893 suggested that he had been convicted of robbing residents of Monaco and the casino at Monte Carlo, but that may have been a different Fitzgerald.

In 1900, at age 44, he was in New York City and married a sixteen-year old girl from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Coleman. In census records, he listed his occupation as “traveling agent” (never a good sign!)

In 1915, Fitzgerald was arrested for being one of the operators of an elaborate “wireless wiretap” betting parlor con, first developed by Larry Summerfield and Timothy Oakes. Fitzgerald’s partners in this venture were Charles and Fred Gondorf; and Fitzgerald was sometimes introduced to others as “Harry Gondorf.” If the name sounds familiar, it is because that was the character name of the wireless wiretap operator (Paul Newman) in the movie The Sting: Henry Gondorff.

Fitzgerald was free by 1917. Over the next several years, he took several trips to Havana, which was then a resort for wealthy Americans. He died in Queens, New York at age 77.