#200 Joseph Bond

Joseph Krakoski (1854-1915), aka Paper Collar Joe, Joseph Krakowski, Joseph Bond, Joseph Martin, Joseph Gray, Joseph Kray, etc. –Confidence Man, Card Sharp, Art Swindler

Link to Byrnes’s text for #200 Joseph Bond

Though he was one of the most famous confidence men in American history, Paper Collar Joe’s exploits were often confused with those of Hungry Joe Lewis. Many examples can be found where Paper Collar Joe is credited with the saying “there’s a sucker born every minute;” or with nearly swindling Oscar Wilde; or of being a partner of Grand Central Pete Lake–all of which are true of Hungry Joe, not Paper Collar Joe.

Perhaps Joseph Krakoski preferred to have his own accomplishments remain in the shadows, for he became very adept at avoiding prosecution. He practiced every major con of his era: three-card monte, bunco, the gold-brick game, the green-goods game, and even the fake wiretap. However, he also created new scams involving the real-estate investment swindles and artwork swindles.

Paper Collar Joe was born to a Polish father and a German mother, and was raised in Niagara Falls, New York. Joe’s father sold souvenirs and Indian artifacts, and became the leading merchant of trinkets at the popular resort. The business he built was eventually handed down to his daughters, and the store became famous in their names as “Libbie & Katie’s”. As a popular resort on the Canadian border, Niagara Falls attracted grifters and crooks of all kinds, from those that came to prey on the crowds to those that were in transit between one country or the other, escaping authorities. Young Joseph Krakowski fell in with some of these, and in his early twenties opted to move to one of their favorite haunts, Chicago.

In Chicago, Joe was mentored by a master bunco operator, William E. Langley, alias Appetite Bill. Joe went by the alias Joseph Martin, and served as a “roper” to entice passersby into a gambling den managed by Langley, but owned by Chicago crime boss Mike McDonald. Joe helped manage McDonald’s gambling rooms throughout the 1870s, but also made trips with Langley down the Mississippi to New Orleans and St. Louis, bilking rubes into playing three-card monte. He married a Chicago woman, but abandoned her after a month. He also made an ill-advised trip to Philadelphia during the 1876 Centennial, and was jailed there for a year.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Joe made New York his headquarters. He was known there as Joe Gray, alias Paper Collar Joe. He had earned that nickname when in Philadelphia learning from con man Jack Canter, the originator of a fake insurance scam:

[It should also be noted that in the 1860s, there was a popular English music hall song, “Penny Paper Collar Joe,” a comic ditty about a flirtatious dandy.]

William Muldoon, the boxing trainer and raconteur, told an anecdote about Joe and President Grant:

“Yes, siree, it ‘s all very well to make guesses about a man from the cut of his coat or the shape of his hat, but don’t be too cock-sure of your judgment if you limit your evidence to his linen.

“Now, there was the case of Paper-Collar Joe, extraordinary character; sort of a thinly lacquered pan-handler. Little, wiry, lived by his wits. Wore a hat like Augustin Daly’s, Prince-Albert coat, but always a paper collar. And that shifty gait! Golly! he could flim-flam money out of the Sphinx; and so oily! He used to hang around the old Fifth Avenue Hotel in the seventies at the time General Grant lived there.

“Mornings the general used to pass through the lobby with a pocketful of sugar on the way to some stables near by where he kept the horses that had served him through the war. The general was always alone. He had a curious walk; sort of threw himself along, head down, looking at nobody. But he couldn’t get past Paper-Collar Joe. Up Joe went one morning and braced the general; talked and talked, and soon, by golly! they went out together, Paper-Collar Joe spouting his hot-air investments like a steam-engine to General Grant! It happened that morning and the next. Paper-Collar Joe was the only person around the hotel that had a steady speaking acquaintance with the silent general. Everybody was amazed, but everybody was just as sure the general would see through the flim-flammery of Joe.

“Then the thing was forgotten, especially since Joe became rather more as he used to be, by himself, but always with a sharp eye for newly arriving victims on all trains due East.

“Finally, the hotel people voted Joe a nuisance as well as a danger, and ordered him off the premises. But he tarried and talked; so one day a house detective grabbed him by the neck and hustled him the full length of the lobby, right up to the Fifth Avenue door, all the time calling him ‘bunco-steerer,’ ‘green-goods man,’ and other fashionable terms of the day. But before the detective could maneuver the door, it was opened for him, and in stepped General Grant.

“‘What’s all this?’ asked the general.

‘”Why, er—this man is objectionable.’

“‘Objectionable!’ roared the general. ‘My friend objectionable? How dare you, sir? He ‘s my guest. Come along with me, Joe!’

“And, by golly! arm in arm they marched back through the lobby, past staring desk clerks and the paralyzed manager—General Grant and Paper-Collar Joe—right up to the general’s suite.”

“And the answer?” somebody asked.

“Character, odd character. Joe was that, and Grant always liked odd characters. Fellow feeling; Grant was one himself.”

In New York, Joe teamed up with a veteran riverboat gambler and con man named Henry Monell. Together, they came up with a scheme to use their card sharp skills on wealthy passengers of transatlantic ships.

By 1888, Joe had earned enough to open his own saloon/gambling hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, under the name Joe Kray. He was popular among that city’s sporting crowd, but kept his activities legitimate. However, three Indiana farmers who had been cheated out of $20,000 at cards a few years earlier hired a private detective who traced Joe to St Paul and exposed his past history. Joe was forced to leave abruptly.

He then went to England, where he assumed the role of “J. Chesterfield Kray,” Regent street art dealer. Joe familiarized himself with the paintings trade, and realized that his unique talents could reap profits from pretentious nouveau riche Americans. He purchased a few genuine works by famed artists; but ones which were considered damaged or inferior. To these he added a large selection of forgeries crafted by a talented imitator, Pierre Lacont. Joe then made tours of American cities in the Midwest, pawning off his fakes and flawed goods to wealthy clients who were too proud to admit their ignorance about art.

The art game was productive for Joe, and he kept it up for nearly twenty years. It allowed him to travel in luxury and to see the world, and to pick up extra cash with a card game here or there. He married a French woman with whom he lived until expelled from that country.

In 1912, Joe was arrested for being involved in a fake wiretap con being run by the Gondorf brothers (the inspiration for the movie The Sting).

Over the next few years, Joe went back to card sharping on the Atlantic passenger ships. Ill-health forced him to retire to his siblings’ residence in Niagara Falls, where he died in November 1915.






#70 Edward Lyons

Edward Lyons (Abt. 1839-1906?), aka Ned Lyons, Alexander Cummings — Sneak thief, pickpocket, bank robber, green goods operator

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Stout build. Height, about 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 180 pounds. Hair inclined to be sandy. Wears it long, covering the ears, one of which (the left one) has the top off. Wears a very heavy reddish mustache. Bald on front of head, forming a high forehead.
RECORD. Ned Lyons was born in Manchester, England, in 1839; came to America in 1850. His father had hard work to make both ends meet and look after his children, and in consequence young Ned had things pretty much his own way. They lived in West Nineteenth Street, New York City, a neighborhood calculated to develop whatever latent powers Ned possessed. The civil war, with its attractions in the shape of bounties, etc., proved a bonanza while it lasted, and after that Ned loomed up more prominently under the tuition of Jimmy Hope (20). He was afterwards a partner of Hope’s, and was arrested several times, but never convicted.
In 1869 Lyons, Hope, Bliss, Shinborn, and others, robbed the Ocean Bank, of New York, of money and bonds amounting to over a million of dollars. The bank was situated on the corner of Fulton and Greenwich streets. A basement directly underneath was hired, ostensibly as an exchange. To this office tools were carried, and a partition erected, between which the burglars worked day and night, when opportunity served, cutting up through the stone floor of the bank, and gaining an entrance on Saturday night, after the janitor had left. To tear open the vaults was a task requiring time; but they operated so well, that on Monday morning the iron front door of the bank was found unlocked, the vault literally torn to pieces, and the floor strewn with the debris of tools, mortar, stone, bricks, bonds, and gold coin — the bonds being left behind as worthless, and the gold coin as too heavy.
A few years before this robbery Lyons married a young Jewess, named Sophie Elkins, alias Levy (128), protegee of Mrs. Mandlebaum. Her mania for stealing was so strong that when in Ned’s company in public she plied her vocation unknown to him, and would surprise him with watches, etc., which she had stolen. Ned expostulated, pleaded with, and threatened her, but without avail; and after the birth of her first child, George (who, by the way, has just finished his second term for burglary in the State Reformatory at Elmira, N.Y.), Ned purchased a farm on Long Island, and furnished a house with everything a woman could wish for, thinking her maternal instinct would restrain her monomania; yet within six months she returned to New York, placed her child out to nurse, and began her operations again, finally being detected and sentenced to Blackwell’s Island.
Early in the winter of 1870 Lyons, in connection with Jimmy Hope, George Bliss, Ira Kingsland, and a well known Trojan, rifled the safe of the Waterford (N.Y.) Bank, securing $150,000. Lyons, Kingsland and Bliss were arrested, and sentenced to Sing Sing prison. Hope was shortly after arrested for a bank robbery in Wyoming County, and sentenced to five years in State prison at Auburn, N.Y., on November 28, 1870. He escaped from there in January, 1873.
Lyons escaped from Sing Sing in a wagon on December 4, 1872. About two weeks after Ned’s escape (December 19, 1872), he, in company of another person, drove up in the night-time to the female prison that was then on the hill at Sing Sing. One of them, under pretense of bringing a basket of fruit to a sick prisoner, rang the bell; whereupon, by a pre-concerted arrangement, Sophie, his wife, who had been sent there on October 9, 1871, for five years, rushed out, jumped into the carriage, and was driven away.
They both went to Canada, where Ned robbed the safe of a pawnbroker, securing $20,000 in money and diamonds, and returned to New York, where their four children had been left — the eldest at school, the younger ones in an orphanage.
About this time (September, 1874) the bank at Wellsboro, Pa., was robbed. Lyons was strongly suspected of complicity, with George Mason and others, in this robbery. Although Sophie and Ned were escaped convicts, they succeeded in evading arrest for a long time.
Both of them were finally arrested at the Suffolk County (L.I.) Fair, at Riverhead, in the first week in October, 1876, detected in the act of picking pockets. Two weeks later he was tried in the Court of Sessions of Suffolk County, L.I., found guilty, and sentenced to three years and seven months in State prison, by Judge Barnard.
Sophie was discharged, re-arrested on October 29, 1876, by a detective, and returned to Sing Sing prison to finish out her time. Lyons had on his person when arrested at Riverhead $13,000 of good railroad bonds.
In 1869 Lyons had a street fight with the notorious Jimmy Haggerty, of Philadelphia (who was afterwards killed by Reddy the Blacksmith, in Eagan’s saloon, corner Houston Street and Broadway). During the melee Haggerty succeeded in biting off the greater portion of Lyons’ left ear.
On October 24, 1880, shortly after Ned’s release from prison, in a drunken altercation, he was shot at the Star and Garter saloon on Sixth Avenue, New York City, by Hamilton Brock, better known as “Ham Brock,” a Boston sporting man. Brock fired two shots, one striking Lyons in the jaw and the other in the body. Lyons was arrested again on July 31, 1881, in the act of breaking into the store of J. B. Johnson, at South Windham, Conn. He pleaded guilty in the Windam County Superior Court, on September 14, 1881, and was sentenced to three years in State prison at Wethersfield, Conn. At the time of his arrest in this case he was badly shot. That he is now alive, after having a hole put through his body, besides a ball in the back, embedded nine inches, seems almost a miracle.
Upon the expiration of Ned’s sentence in Connecticut, in April, 1884, he was rearrested, and taken to Springfield, Mass., to answer to an indictment charging him with a burglary at Palmer, Mass., on the night of July 27, 1881. Four days before he was shot at South Windham, Lyons, with two companions, entered the post-office and drug store of G. L. Hitchcock, and carried away the contents of the money-drawer and a quantity of gold pens, etc. They also took a safe out of the store, carried it a short distance out of the village, broke it open, and took some things valued at $350 from it. In this case Lyons was sentenced to three years in State prison on May 29, 1884. His picture was taken while he was asleep at the hospital in Connecticut, in 1881.
From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:
After Lyons’ release from the Massachusetts State Prison, he went West and was arrested at Kent, 0., on June 10, 1887, in company of Shang Campbell (see No. 107) and Ned Lyman (see No. 102), two other well-known eastern thieves, charged with robbing a passenger on a railway train near Kent, Portage Co., 0., on June 10, 1887. Lyons and Lyman were sentenced to five years imprisonment in the penitentiary at Columbus, 0., on September 4, I887. Shang Campbell gave bail and forfeited it. Since Lyons’ release he has been engaged in the “green goods” business, making his head quarters near Perth Amboy, N.J.

Nearly all of Ned Lyon’s criminal career took place within the epic melodrama that had at its center his one-time wife, Sophie Lyons. Her story, involving not only Ned, but her other erstwhile husbands: Maury Harris, Jim Brady and Billy Burke; not to mention other notable friends and lovers, involves a huge swath of American criminal history. She was more than a notable member of the underworld community, she was one of its foremost chroniclers.

Sophie never honestly told her own story, and her criminal reminiscences were only infrequently based on her own recollections, and otherwise relied on other sources (like Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America), and a large dose of fabrication. A full, accurate, well-researched biography of Sophie’s life has never been published, but it may not be long before one appears.
Because any long-overdue study of Sophie Lyons will cover the major events of Ned’s criminal career–and Byrnes mentions most of them–put those aside and consider two parts of Ned’s life that are likely to defy definitive research: his origins and his death. According to different reports, Ned was born in America, Ireland, England, or Scotland; and grew up in New York City or Boston. Fortunately, starting in 1856, Lyons left a long trail of shoplifting and pickpocket arrests in Boston–which also point back to Lowell, Massachusetts, where a few articles believe Lyons was raised. He was often caught with a pal named Michael Sullivan. The 1850 census shows a boy Edward Lyons, 11, living in Lowell with his mother Bridget. Born were listed as having been born in Ireland.

By 1858, Lyons was moving between Boston and New York to avoid arrests, and had already served more than one term in Boston’s House of Corrections. When the Civil War broke out, he set aside his career as a pickpocket to join the more lucrative venture of army recruitment bounty fraud, joining other thieves who congregated at Robert “Whitey Bob” White’s saloon at 104 Prince Street. There Lyons was mentored by the likes of Tom Bigelow, Dan Barron, and Dan Noble. It was during this period–the end of 1864 and into 1865–that Lyons met Sophie, who had just given up on her short marriage to pickpocket Morris Harris.
Skipping ahead to Lyons’s sad final years, in October 1904 he was spotted by detectives on a street in Buffalo, New York, and arrested on suspicion. He said he had been living in Buffalo for the past six months. They held him until they sent out a notice to the Pinkerton agency and to major metropolitan police departments asking if he was currently wanted; but he was not, so he was released.
In January 1906, Lyons was arrested in Toronto, Ontario under the alias Alexander Cummings. He was accused by James Tierney of Brooklyn of working a “green goods” con, in which Lyons was well-versed. Ned had run a successful green goods operation out of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in the mid 1890s, until its operations were exposed by New York’s Lexow Committee on corruption.
Once Toronto authorities had captured Lyons, Mr. Tierney came from Brooklyn to identify him as he languished in jail. When Tierney was shown into his cell, Lyons smiled, extended his hand, and said, “Shake with me.”
“Never. I could see you die in jail,” hissed Tierney, drawing back. “You know the turn you did me. I am only a poor man, drawing $14 a week, but I would go to the ends of the earth to see you punished.”
Lyons himself was likely poorer than his victim. His clothes were shabby; his hair was now snow white. He suffered the lingering effects of bullets left in his body, and years of wear from confinement in State prisons. Despite Tierney’s testimony, no evidence existed to convict Lyons, so he was discharged and told to leave the province in February 1906.
Less than a year later, in January 1907, a short notice in a Chicago paper mentioned that Lyons had passed away the previous year in New York’s Bellevue hospital and had been buried in a potter’s field. However, no death record dated 1906 has surfaced. There is a May 22, 1907 New York City death record for an Edward Lyons, but no confirmation that this was Ned.

#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.


#112 Charles Smyth

Alias David Howard (Abt. 1843-????), aka Smythe, Richard Roe — Bogus Express Company operator, Green Goods Operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, fair complexion. Wears glasses, and a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. “Doc” Smyth is a well-known Bowery, New York, confidence and sawdust man. He generally works with Charley Johnson and Freddie Reeves, and is an old offender. He is also well known in a number of other cities, having been arrested several times, and is considered a clever man at his business.

He was arrested in New York City on December 1, 1885, charged with using the United States mails in flooding the Western States with circulars offering “Green goods, in samples of $1, $2, $5 and $10,” to farmers and others, assuring them of a safe and rapid fortune by dealing in the stuff, which was understood to be counterfeit money. The “Doctor” pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Judge Benedict, of the United States Court, in New York City, on December 17, 1885. Smyth’s picture is a very good one, taken in March, 1878.

Perhaps it is little surprise that one of Byrnes’s criminals about whom the least can be discovered may have been one of the most clever. “Smyth” was the alias this man was known by to his ad hoc partner in the December 1885 green goods operation, but in earlier years he had gone by the name David Howard. The green goods (bogus counterfeit money) circulars he mailed out en masse used dozens of other aliases (usually including the first name William), and dozens of New York mail drop addresses.

His first known operation, though ingenious, was a bust. In February 1874 David Howard and two partners set up a fake express company, “Roger’s Express,” complete with an impressive storefront, signs, a delivery van, and several horses, on a busy Lower Manhattan commercial street. They then presented fake orders to local merchants for goods to be delivered to Brooklyn and Queens. However, a few suspicious storekeepers alerted police, and the gang was arrested before they could start to collect the goods. If not interrupted, the operation would have reaped thousands of dollars in goods within just a few days.

In March 1876, again using the name David Howard, this man was caught operating one of the first known “green goods” operations. From the late 1870s through the early 1880s, the more common name given to this confidence game was the “sawdust game,” owing to the fact that the victim ended up with a satchel of worthless paper or sawdust instead of high-quality counterfeit bills. Howard’s 1876 operation was treated as a novelty by the New York press–in fact one newspaper, the New York Herald, in an editorial wondered if such an operation was more of a public service than a crime: “Instead of being sent to State Prison, the government ought to pay Howard to continue in the business,” since the long-term result would be to discourage anyone from thinking about buying counterfeit money.

That benign attitude quickly changed as dozens of green goods operations sprang up over the next three decades, resulting in complaints that poured in from all over the country where the circulars were distributed.

Howard likely reaped a small fortune running green goods operations between 1877 and late 1885. When arrested in December, he only offered the name “Richard Roe.” However, his partner named him as David Smith/Smyth/Smythe, and it under that name that he was convicted. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison; his fate after his release is unknown.


#138 George Milliard

George A. Millard (Abt. 1842-????), aka George Milliard, George Williams, George Malloy, George Stevens, Miller — Receiver, pickpocket, burglar, green goods operator

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Saloon keeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 118 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion, bald on front of head. Generally wears a full black beard. Has an anchor in India ink on right fore-arm.

RECORD. Milliard is an old New York pickpocket, burglar, and receiver of stolen goods. He formerly kept a liquor saloon on the corner of Washington and Canal streets. New York, which was the resort of the most desperate gang of river thieves and masked burglars in America.

Milliard was arrested in New York City on January 5, 1874, in company of John Burns, Big John Garvey (now dead), Dan Kelly, Matthew McGeary, Francis P. Dayton, Lawrence Griffin, and Patsey Conroy (now dead), charged with being implicated in several masked burglaries. One in New Rochelle, N.Y., on December 23, 1873; another at Catskill, on the Hudson River, on October 17, 1873; and one on Staten Island, N.Y., in December, 1873, about a week after the New Rochelle robbery.

The particular charge against Milliard was receiving stolen goods, part of the proceeds of these burglaries. He was tried in New York City, convicted, and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison on February 13, 1874.

The other parties arrested with him at the time were disposed of as follows : Dan Kelly, Larry Griffin, and Patsey Conroy were each sentenced to twenty years in State prison for the New Rochelle burglary on February 20, 1874. Burns was sentenced to sixteen years in State prison for the Catskill burglary on October 23, 1874. Big John Garvey (now dead) was sentenced to ten years in State prison in New York City on June 22, 1874. McGeary was discharged on January 13, 1874. Dayton was put under $1,000 bail for good behavior on January 13, 1874. Shang Campbell, John O’Donnell, John Orr (now dead), and Pugsey Hurley (88), were also arrested in connection with these burglaries, and sent to State prison.

Since Milliard’s discharge he has been traveling through the country picking pockets with Jimmie Lawson, alias “Nibbs” (137), and a Chicago thief named Williard. He is considered a first-class man, and is known in all the principal cities in the United States. He has been arrested several times, but manages to escape conviction. His picture is a good one, taken in August, 1885.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Arrested again in New York City on June 16, 1894, in company of “Sheeny Mike,” alias Mike Kurtz (No. 80), John Mahoney, alias Jack Shepperd (No. 62), and Charley Woods, alias Fowler, all well-known and expert safe burglars, charged with a series of burglaries. On June 18 Sheeny Mike was held to await requisition papers from New Jersey (see No. 80). Charley Woods was remanded in the custody of an officer from Erie Co., N.Y., having escaped from the penitentiary there in 1883. Jack Shepperd (see No. 62) and Milliard were discharged.

Though Byrnes stuck to the unusual spelling Milliard, most newspaper accounts gave this man’s name as Millard–it was probably not his real name, which (as Byrnes indicates) may have been Miller.

Millard was first arrested for picking pockets in 1866 and given a stiff sentence of five years in Sing Sing–which he remained bitter about for many years. After his release he opened a small saloon on the Bowery, but it lasted just a year. He then did some work copying records in the New York County Clerk’s office; around 1872 he opened a different saloon, “George’s,” at the northwest corner of Canal and Washington Streets in Lower Manhattan. His saloon soon became a popular hangout for burglars and pickpockets, and in 1873 became the headquarters of the Hudson river house-breakers, the “Masked Eleven,” led by Patsy Conroy. Millard was suspected of being among the masked men that terrorized riverfront residences in the fall of 1873, but was only prosecuted for the booty and tools that police found in the saloon. He was charged with being a receiver of stolen goods–a fence–and was sentenced to Sing Sing for another five years as George A. Millard.

Byrnes mentions that Millard then traveled with on an pickpocket expedition with James Lawson, i.e. “Nibbs,” and George Williard. This must have been around 1884-1886, for there was a narrow window when Nibbsy was not in prison.

In 1889, Millard was arrested as “George Williams” and charged with conspiracy to commit grand larceny. No description of the crime has surfaced, but this coincides with the period in which Millard–like many Bowery pickpockets–became a “green goods” operator, playing a con in which greedy yokels were encouraged to buy (nonexistent) counterfeit money with their good money. He was sentenced to two and a half years in Sing Sing.

Upon his release, in 1891 Millard was caught almost immediately running a green goods game with Bill Vosburgh and Joseph Rickerman, aka Nigger Baker.

As Byrnes mentions, Millard was arrested again in 1984 with some illustrious burglars, Mike Kurtz and John Mahaney, aka Jack Sheppard. However, Millard escaped prosecution–and made no more known crimes under that name or identifiable aliases.




#134 Terrence Murphy

Henry Murphy (Abt. 1849-19??), aka Poodle Murphy, Henry Robinson, Henry Brady, Henry Williams, James Williams — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in Albany, N.Y. Married. Slim build. Height, five feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Hair, auburn, slightly mixed with gray ; blue eyes, light complexion. Can grow a full red beard quickly.

RECORD. “Poodle Murphy” is the most notorious and successful pickpocket in America. He is well known in every city in the United States as the leader of a Bowery (New York) gang of pickpockets. He is an associate of James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), Dick Morris, alias Big Dick (141), Charley Allen, Aleck Evans, alias Aleck the Milkman (160), Johnny Williams (149), Joe Gorman (146), Jim Casey (91), Nigger Baker (195), Tom Burns (148), and others.

Murphy and Charley Woods were arrested in New York City on July 20, 1881, and delivered to the police authorities of Philadelphia, charged with robbing ex-Secretary of the Navy Robeson of a watch, on a railroad car in that city. After several days had been set for the trial, and as many adjournments obtained, the Secretary became tired and abandoned the case, and the thieves were once more given their liberty on September 30, 1881.

Murphy is without doubt the smartest pickpocket in America. He is the man who does the work, while his confederates annoy the victim and attract his attention. This is what is called “stalling.” He has been arrested in every large city in the Union, but never sent to a State prison before.

He was arrested in Philadelphia on January 16, 1885, in company of James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), another notorious pickpocket, charged with robbing one Shadrach Raleigh, of Delaware, of $526 in money and $3,300 in notes, etc., on a Columbia Avenue car in that city, on December 24, 1884. For this he was sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, on March 16, 1885. There were four other charges against him at the time, but they were not tried. Pretty Jimmie, his partner, was also sent to the penitentiary for two years and six months the same day. Poodle’s picture is an excellent one, although somewhat drawn. It was taken in January, 1885.

“Poodle” Murphy’s name (and aliases) started appearing in New York arrest reports rather suddenly, starting in 1876; and he very quickly became the acknowledged leader of the most adept gang of pickpockets in the country, known as the Bowery gang. Skills such as Poodle had are not gained overnight, so it is likely that he had come to New York from another city; and perhaps had just been released from prison.


The first name “Terrence” did not appear in print until 1882. From 1876-1882, Murphy used the aliases Henry Murphy, Thomas Murphy, Henry Brady, and Henry Robinson. He gained the nickname “Poodle” early in these years, due to the fact that he sported large mutton-chop sideburns. That facial hair saved him on one occasion; while awaiting a hearing, in his cell he took a dinner knife and cut off his facial hair, scarring his cheeks with the dull blade. The ploy worked; his victim was unable to identify him.

As his face became known in New York, Poodle ranged to other cities, such as Newark, Philadelphia, and Boston. While his partners jostled their target, Poodle was the one with the quick fingers that made the grab. Their favorites locales were street-cars; elevated rail stations; and outside the entrances to banks.

By the late 1880s, Poodle and his gang were so well-known in New York that they found it hard to operate as pickpockets, and turned to  the “Green Goods” confidence game. It must have been a bit of a downfall for Poodle, who had been viewed as the king of pickpockets, to realize that his skills had little value in the green goods scam. He was a minor figure in those operations, he was never viewed as a good “steerer.” Still, like others participating in that racket, he made good money.

Poodle tried to diversify by investing in an honest business–a cafe/saloon in a busy lower Manhattan office building, the Electrical Exchange. However, he chose another ex-con as his partner, who took advantage of Murphy’s reluctance to sign his name to a loan agreement. Poodle lost his entire savings, about $7000, on the venture. For once, he was the victim.

In the late 1890s, Poodle returned to picking pockets, and was arrested on suspicion several times, but usually soon released. His luck rand out in 1904 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania,  where he was caught stealing from two men. New York detectives came to Pennsylvania to testify about his previous record; he was quickly convicted and sentenced to six years at Eastern State Penitentiary. By 1907, a friend of his indicated that Poodle has lost all his teeth in prison.

In 1914, one “Henry Murphy” was arrested in Boston with another 76-year-old pickpocket (a resident of Boston’s home for ex-convicts). They were described as the oldest pickpockets ever taken in Boston.




#91 James Casey

James Casey (Abt. 1837-????), aka Big Jim Casey, James Mason — Pickpocket, Bunco and Green goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single, No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Black hair, dark eyes, dark complexion ; generally wears a full black beard, turning gray.

RECORD. Big Jim Casey is a well known Bowery (New York) pickpocket and “stall” for pickpockets. He was formerly an associate of Poodle Murphy (134), Pretty Jimmie (143), Big Dick Morris (141), and all the first-class men. Of late years he cannot be relied on, and the clever ones give him the go-by, as he is fond of drink. Lately he has turned his hand to banco business, and generally handles the bag of cloth samples. He is now working with Pete Lake (93) and Ed Parmelee, two notorious banco steerers.

Casey was arrested at Clifton, Canada, with a gang of American pick-pockets, during the Marquis of Lome’s celebration, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He has served time in Sing Sing prison, and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, and is well known in all the Eastern cities as Big Jim Casey.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 26, 1884, in company of Poodle Murphy (134), Tom Burns, alias Combo (148), Joe Gorman (146), and Nigger Baker (195), charged with sneaking a package of Elevated Railroad tickets, valued at $75, from a safe in the station at Houston Street and the Bowery, New York. For this offense he was sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on February 26, 1884. (See record of No. 134.) His picture is a fair one.

Big Jim Casey was another long-time Bowery pickpocket that transitioned to the main confidence games of his era: the Green Goods game and the Bunco game. He partnered at various times with all the luminaries mentioned by Byrnes in his entry on Casey. Casey was a bit older than most within this community, and many years of drinking took their toll, limiting his abilities by the 1890s.

It was a minor mystery to Inspector Byrnes how a declining pickpocket and lower-level con man like Casey could afford the best legal representation, on the several occasions where Casey was arrested. Byrnes stumbled upon the answer not long before he left as police Superintendent in 1895:


Big Jim Casey, as one of the founders of the trust, benefited most as his skills declined.

There are many ways to define an organized crime organization. The formation of a mutual aid agreement is surely one of them.

#155 John McGuire

John F. McGuire (1848-19??), aka Shinny/Sheeny McGuire/Maguire, John Watson, James Clarke, David Smith, George Russell, Edward Leland, etc. — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-four years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes. Ruddy complexion. Has letter “F” in India ink on left arm. Generally wears a dark brown beard.

RECORD. “Shinny” McGuire is considered one of the cleverest pickpockets in America. Tom Davis, the sawdust swindler, who was shot and killed in New York on August 31, 1885, by T. J. Holland, of Abilene, Texas, married two of McGuire’s sisters. He is an associate of Joe Gorman (146), Jersey Jimmie (145), Charley Allen, and several other New York pickpockets, and is well known in all the principal cities.

He was arrested in New York City on October 11, 1878, charged with the larceny of a pocket-book from a man who had just left the Seaman’s Savings Bank, corner of Pearl and Wall streets, and was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on July 2, 1879, by Recorder Hackett. He escaped from the penitentiary library, where he was engaged as librarian, on July 1, 1879. He gave New York a wide berth, working the other cities, until September 21, 1885, when he was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., and returned to Blackwell’s Island to finish his unexpired time. He will be discharged on December 20, 1886. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1876.

John McGuire was one among a handful of Bowery gang members turned pickpockets, who later became operatives of “green goods” rings, a highly lucrative con game. His nickname of “Sheeny/Shinny” is a minor mystery, as that was a derogatory slur word used against those of Jewish descent–and McGuire was Irish in heritage and appearance.

McGuire’s extended family relationships are fascinating–an example of how tight-knit some criminal associations were in lower Manhattan. As Byrnes mentions, two of McGuires sisters, Isabelle and Julia, claimed to be the wife of green goods operator Tom Davis, who was a member of the notorious Davis family. John McGuire was a partner during his pickpocket days of Tom Davis’ brother, Theodore “The.” Davis. McGuire himself was said by the New York Herald to be married to a Davis sister, “Henrietta”–but no record of this marriage has surfaced; and no sibling named “Henrietta” can be found in the census records of the Davis family. Mary Davis, who was a sibling of this family, married the famous bank thief Dutch Heinrich (Edwin Newman). The Davis brothers, as well as Dutch Heinrich, had their careers ended before Inspector Byrnes wrote his book; otherwise their profiles surely would have merited inclusion.

John McGuire was picking pockets as a teen in the late 1860s. He was caught in 1867 and–because of earlier arrests–sent to State prison for four years. McGuire was caught again in 1878; and again in October 1879, when he was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary for two years. McGuire had such clean, innocent looks and a pleasant, insinuating manner that he was given the job of librarian of the prison. He was also rewarded for his good behavior by being given the responsibility of driving a mule cart used to make deliveries between buildings on Blackwell’s Island. One day in July, 1880, the cart was found in the warden’s flowerbed, alongside the East River, without its driver. McGuire had apparently been picked up by a waiting rowboat.

He was not heard from again for five years, when he was arrested in Philadelphia and recognized. McGuire was returned to New York to serve out the remainder of his sentence on Blackwell’s Island.

This was followed by a gap of over a dozen years when McGuire was not heard from.

In the late 1890s, McGuire reappeared as a member of Mike Ryan’s “green goods” operations, otherwise known as the Westchester Depot gang. When Ryan himself was arrested, it appears that his main lieutenants, John McGuire and Joe Baker, moved the ring to two locations: Allentown, Pennsylvania and Fishkill, New York.

McGuire was seen several times in Allentown in the late 1890s, where he used the name George Russell. However, he was not arrested until 1902, in a raid that included New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

McGuire’s fate after that point is unknown.


#143 James Wilson

James P. Wilson (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Pretty Jimmy, James Watson, James Anderson — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States, Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, florid complexion. Has the following India ink marks on his person: a woman, in short dress, in red and blue ink, with bow and staff in hand, on right arm; another woman, in short dress, holding in her left hand a flag, on which is a skull and crossbones, on left arm; anchor on back of left hand; a shield between thumb and forefinger of left hand.

RECORD. “Pretty Jimmie” is an old New York pickpocket, and partner of Terrence, alias Poodle Murphy (134). He was arrested in Montreal, Canada, during the Marquis of Lome celebration, with a gang of American pickpockets, from whom a box of stolen watches was taken. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment there.

He was arrested again in New York City, and pleaded guilty to an attempt at larceny from the person of Stephen B. Brague, and sentenced to one year in State prison, on July 12, 1875, by Judge Sutherland, under the name of James Anderson.

Since 1876 Wilson and Murphy have robbed more people than any other four men in America. He was finally arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on January 16, 1885, with Poodle Murphy (134), charged with robbing one Shadrach Raleigh, of Delaware, of $526 in money and $3,300 in notes, etc., on a Columbia Avenue horse-car, on December 24, 1884. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in the Eastern Penitentiary, on March 16, 1885. Murphy, his partner, who did the work, was sentenced to three years. There were four other charges against this team, which were not tried. His picture is a good one, taken in January, 1885.

Few clues exist that point to the origins and final fate of Pretty Jimmy Wilson, but his career centered around the East Side of Manhattan; and later in life, the Stuyvesant Heights section of Brooklyn. Wilson may have once been a handsome boy, but as he aged, his hair thinned and he cultivated an enormous walrus mustache that covered his mouth, so that in adulthood the “Pretty Jimmy” name was a mockery. His tattoos were more elaborate than most criminals’, so he may have been a sailor at one time–or at least a river pirate.

As Byrnes indicates, he was a senior member of the Bowery pickpocket gang led by Poodle Murphy. Murphy eventually branched out to be a major operator of the “Green Goods” confidence game. Not long afterwards, Pretty Jimmy also shifted his efforts in that direction, though it is not clear whether he was still partnering with Murphy.

In 1906, when Jimmy was over 60 years old, federal Post Office Inspectors had him arraigned of charges of conspiracy to commit fraud via the mails. Two months later, the Washington Post published a long article (abridged here) mentioning that arrest under the headline “Green Goods Game is Melting Away Into the Misty Distance of the ‘Con Man’s’ Golden Age.” It offered a detailed overview of how that con game had evolved:

“According to the police and the post-office inspectors, the green goods game is one of the few new things under the sun. It only came into being, they say, around the year 1870.

“To make the man swindled an intending criminal himself by inducing him to buy supposed counterfeit money to pass on to his neighbors was the essence of the new scheme. And it was not long in developing into one of the most lucrative and persistent swindles ever known.

“The most striking feature of the business during its early years was the ease with which its victims were swindled. There were no postal regulations then to prevent the operators from using the mails, and it was almost impossible to punish them under State laws. In consequence, the business progressed with an old-fashioned simplicity, grimly amusing to contemplate from a viewpoint twenty-five years distant.

“The circulars advertising for sale counterfeit money, not to be distinguished from the genuine, were simply dumped into the mails by the hundred. The addresses of the leading lights of hamlets and towns not-too-distant from New York were bought by brokers, who then, as now, did a regular business in procuring them from patent medicine houses and other mail-order concerns.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

“Then thirty circulars out of a hundred, as against twelve today, elicited replies. To these a second circular was mailed, enclosing a sample of the alleged counterfeit money, invariably a genuine $1 bill, with a recommendation that the customer test it on his friends and make sure that ‘it is as good as the genuine.’ He could buy counterfeit money just as good as that, $3000 worth for $500, $7000 worth for $750, and so on. Then all that remained for the victim was to come to New York and be robbed. [Usually by a sleight-of-hand substitution of a satchel full of real money for an identical satchel full of plain paper or sawdust.]

“Not only ignorant country bumpkins, but intelligent men in every walk of life bit at the hook of the green goods men…the annual income of ten groups of them, operating from New York in the early 80’s, has been estimated by the police at upwards of $900,000…

“Then, about 1886, came the passage of the Federal enactment making use of the mails with intent to defraud an offense punishable by eighteen months in jail and $100 fine; likewise, by giving the Postmaster General the power to issue  fraud orders. This was the first real blow, and up to a few years ago the only effective one, that had ever been struck at the game.

“For a time it made all the operators practically give up business…The real effect of the new Federal law..was merely to invent a more ingenious scheme than ever. The chief new feature of the game was the use of the telegraph. This new feature was simply to arrange that the come-on should send his answers to the swindlers by wire instead of by mail.


“The other radical improvement over the old scheme provided for a division of labor. Instead of being worked by one man or group of men in the good old fashion, the new scheme fell into the hands of two different parties of operators, quite unconnected, and headed by two men called in the parlance of the underworld the writer and the backer.

“The writer first got up the circulars and sent them out by the hundred. He kept the venal telegraph operators on his payroll to receive the telegrams from the victims. He arranged with other tools to get these dispatches, with the steerers to meet the victims. With that, his part of the game was finished. The backer now took hold.

“He was the man who provided the roll of from $2000 to $10,000 in good greenbacks used as a bait. He hired the turner, the man to whom another steerer, also hired by him, brought the victim from the writer’s steerer to be swindled. The backer likewise hired the ringer who affected the rapid substitution of the green paper for the good money, if that was done, in the turning joint. He also engaged the tailers, who kept watch outside the turning joint while the victim was being fleeced, and the one who put him on a through train for home afterward.

“Say the come-on was robbed of $1000. Half went to the writer, half to the backer. The backer paid a good rent for the turning joint, gave the turner who did the actual swindle a quarter of his pile, and his steerer, tailers, and ringer $5 or $10 each. The writer gave his telegraph operator $25 a month right along, and the steerers, usually broken-down crooks like the turner’s minor assistants, $5 apiece.

“Thus writers and backers each made from $340 to $375 on the turn without coming anywhere near the reach of the arm of the law themselves. Both kept out of sight at all stages of the swindle”

The only way that authorities could crack down on the practice was by attacking the practice from two directions. Undercover policemen were used to reply to the circulars and get as far as meeting the turner. They then arrested the turner (and, if lucky, the ringer, tailer, or steerer) and confiscated the roll of genuine money, dealing the backer a blow far greater than the profit he might have received.  To get to the writers, however, authorities had to track down the corrupt telegraph operators. From them, they could identify the address or person to whom the telegrams were delivered–and from that person, identify the writer.

Pretty Jimmy Wilson was caught three times: in 1903 he was caught as a writer, traced to the address of a saloon where he telegraph messages were dropped. In 1905 he was captured as a turner; and in 1906 he was found with evidence suggesting he was playing both roles, exposing himself to more risk–perhaps more desperate for money. After serving a sentence of two and a half years, he was freed in the fall of 1908. Without an income or savings, Jimmy reverted to picking pockets. He tried his luck on a subway car, but when a victim felt his hand, other passengers leapt in to hold him. Unlike a streetcar where he might jump off, Jimmy had no avenue of escape on the subway–a contrivance that was just four years old. He was sent to the workhouse and was not heard from again.

Pretty Jimmy had tried to adapt his practices to a changing world, but was a step behind.





#4 William Vosburg

William H. Vosburgh (1827-1904) alias “Foxy” “Old Bill” — Bank thief, burglar, confidence man

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Can read and write. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Hair, dark, mixed with gray. Gray eyes. Light complexion. Generally has a smooth-shaven face.

RECORD. Vosburg is one of the oldest and most expert bank sneaks and “stalls” in America, and has spent the best portion of his life in State prisons. He was formerly one of Dan Noble’s gang, and was concerned with him in the Lord bond robbery in March, 1886, and the larceny of a tin box containing a large amount of bonds from the office of the Royal Insurance Company in Wall Street, New York, several years ago.

Vosburg was arrested in New York City on April 2, 1877, for the Gracie King robbery, at the corner of William and Pine streets. He had just returned from serving five years in Sing Sing prison. In this case he was discharged. On April 20, 1877, he was again arrested in New York City, and sent to Boston, Mass., for the larceny of $8,000 in bonds from a man in that city. He obtained a writ in New York, but was finally sent to Boston, where they failed to convict him.

On June 10, 1878, he was arrested in New York City, charged with grand larceny. On this complaint he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to fifteen months in the penitentiary, by Recorder Hackett, on December 28, 1878. He did not serve his full time, for on May 3, 1879, he was again arrested in New York City, with one John O’Brien, alias Dempsey, for an attempt at burglary at 406 Sixth Avenue. In this case he was admitted to bail in $1,000 by the District Attorney, on May 17, 1879. The case never was tried, for on September 23, 1879, he was again arrested, with Jimmy Brown, at Brewster’s Station, New York, on the Harlem Railroad, for burglary of the post-office and bank. For this he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years in State prison at Sing Sing, on February 19, 1880, under the name of William Pond, by Judge Wright, at Carmel, New York. Brown never was tried.

After his release he claimed to be playing cards for a living, when in fact he was running around the country “stalling” for thieves. He was arrested in Washington, D.C, on March 4, 1885, at President Cleveland’s inauguration, for picking pockets. Through the influence of some friends this case never went to trial. He then started through the country with Johnny Jourdan (83), Philly Phearson (5), and Johnny Carroll, alias The Kid (192). On April 1, 1885, the party tried to rob a man in a bank at Rochester, N.Y., but failed. They followed him to a hotel, and while he was in the water-closet handled him roughly and took a pocket-book from him, but not the book with the money in it. Phearson and Carroll escaped, and Vosburg and Jourdan were arrested, and sentenced to two years and six months each for assault in the second degree, by Judge John S. Morgan, on June 15, 1885, at Rochester, N.Y. Vosburg’s picture is a good one, taken in March, 1885.

No less an authority than the New York Times labeled Bill Vosburgh (often spelled Vosburg, as Byrnes did) “the Father of Modern Criminals.” Typically, Byrnes’s recitation of Vosburgh’s career begins in 1877, but he was active close to thirty years earlier. He was a bank sneak, but also a pickpocket, burglar, and con-artist.

Byrnes did not reveal any of Vosburgh’s fascinating family connections. Vosburgh was born in Albany New York to a prominent family; it was said his grandfather fought in the Revolution; his father in the War of 1812, and that his uncle was Albany’s Postmaster. These figures were never named, but an educated guess is that his uncle was Isaac W. Vosburgh, son of William Vosburgh and Mary McDonald.

More interesting are Old Bill’s in-laws. He married Mary Ann Sturge, the daughter of an old English pickpocket and thief, Bill Sturge. Mary Ann had a sister, Rebecca “Becky” Sturge, who married twice. Her first marriage was to Daniel “Dad” Cunningham, a small, short-tempered fighter and gambler. A year after Cunningham died, Becky remarried to Langdon W. Moore, aka Charley Adams, one of the most famous bank robbers of the nineteenth century.

Vosburgh was also mentioned as being a brother-in-law to bank thief Preston Hovan (brother of Horace Hovan). However, it has not yet been discovered how they were related–or whether these sources just confused Preston Hovan with Langdon Moore due to an alias they both used, Charles Adams.

One of Bill Vosburgh’s daughters (Emma or Rebecca) married sneak thief Harry Russell, who ran in the same gang of 1890s post office thieves with George Carson and Joe Killoran.

In the late 1890s, Vosburgh enjoyed regaling reporters with the exploits of his criminal career, noting the crimes that were now too old to prosecute; ones for which he had been acquitted; and ones that sent him to prison–but avoiding mention of the successful crimes that might still incriminate him, such as his tutelage of pickpocket George Appo (subject of Timothy Gilfoyle’s book, A Pickpocket’s Tale )

He told a story of becoming a criminal after taking a packet of money he was entrusted to deliver and losing it at an Albany gambling resort; in desperation he sought help from a known thief, Flemming, who used Vosburgh to help rob a grocery store owner. They then partnered to rob “every grocery store in Albany.”

However, Vosburgh never told reporters about his more infamous adventures with Flemming–robbing the family vault of the Van Rensselaer family for silver buried with the corpses.

See Paula Lemire’s account, “The Night In Question Was Dark and Slightly Stormy.

Vosburgh then went with his new pals to New Orleans, and once there began to specialize in robbing the staterooms of Mississippi riverboats [there was good reason why Herman Melville set his novel The Confidence Man on a riverboat–they were magnets for thieves.]

By 1857, Vosburgh’s name appeared in the National Police Gazette as a known criminal. In the early 1860s he was said to be a member of Dan Noble’s gang of bank sneak thieves. He was implicated in 1866’s infamous Rufus Lord bond robbery (in Byrnes’s book, the year of this is incorrectly given as 1886), but never arrested; the same year he was also implicated in the robbery of the Royal Insurance Company on Wall Street; both of these heists were said to be directed by Dan Noble.

In 1873, Vosburgh was caught trying to rob a diamond broker of Springfield, Massachusetts. He was convicted and sent to prison, then released in early 1877. In April of that year he was arrested for stealing bonds from Gracie King, but was discharged for lack of evidence. A few days later he was arrested in Boston for stealing $8000 in bonds, but was tried and acquitted.


He was again arrested in New York for Grand Larceny in June, 1878; and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Vosburgh spent the years 1880-1884 in Sing Sing under the name William Pond for the robbery of the post office and bank at Brewster’s Station, New York.

A few months after his release, he was caught as a pickpocket in the crowd during Grover Cleveland’s inauguration in March, 1885. He was released, but was discovered the next month in Rochester, New York, attempting to rob a man leaving a bank. At that time he was touring with Johnny Jourdan, Philly Pearson, and Johnny “The Kid” Carroll. Vosburgh was convicted and served a term in Rochester until 1888.

From 1888-1895, Vosburgh tutored pickpockets and acted as a “steerer” for con-artists running the “green goods” scam, in which yokels visiting the city were convinced to buy a large stack of counterfeit bills, thinking they could multiply their investment ten-fold.


In November, 1895, Bill was picked up for fleecing a Nebraska farming visiting New York out of $500 in a “green goods” scam. However, he made a deal with the city District Attorney Goff to testify in a case against the New York City Sheriff, Tamsen, alleging that Tamsen mismanaged his jail. Vosburgh took the stand and told several amusing stories about visiting his son-in-law, Harry Russell, in Tamsen’s jail and bringing him 3 revolvers and a bottle of whiskey. Russell and two of his post-office robbery gang accomplices escaped from the jail. Many newspapers criticized Goff for accepting Vosburgh’s questionable testimony.

Vosburgh died in April, 1904. Some accounts said he was buried in Bronx’s Greenwood cemetery; others in Brooklyn’s Woodlawn; neither cemetery has him listed in their online burials database.