#127 Annie Reilly

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

#76 Billy Forrester

Alexander McClymont (1838-1912), aka Billy Forrester,  Frank Livingston, Frank Howard, Conrad Foltz, etc. — Thief, Burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #76 Billy Forrester

The story of Billy Forrester’s career is filled with misinformation: false stories of his origins; crimes that he likely did not commit; aliases which he may or may have not used; how he escaped prisons; women he married; and when and how he came to an end. The worst mistake occurred when New York detectives (before Byrnes’s time) accepted the word of a convict-informer and started a manhunt for Forrester, believing him to be the murderer of financier Benjamin Nathan. For many years, Forrester found himself branded as a killer, despite the fact that he proved he was in the South at the time when the burglary at Nathan’s mansion occurred.

When Billy realized that he was about to be railroaded for murder in 1872, he explained his history to the New York Herald: his name was Alexander McClymont, he was born in Glasgow, and served for a long period in the U. S. Navy, starting as a messenger boy in 1852.  [As late as 1907 or 08, Forrester was still trying to get past pay due to him, and in fact thought he was was owed decades of pay, since he had never been formally discharged. Detective William Pinkerton tried to dissuade Billy of that claim, reminding Billy that he had deserted.]

In 1872, Allan Pinkerton gave the Chicago Tribune an account of Forrester’s history, most of which can be verified from 1868 on. Forrester himself had once indicated he had been in Joliet from 1863-1867, but if so, must have been under a different name:


For the act of interceding, “The.” Allen was dragged through court proceedings for six months.

Pinkerton’s account continues on, but skips over an embarrassing episode. From New York, Billy went to Boston, where he romanced a young girl, Elizabeth Dudley, the daughter of a respected liquor merchant from a venerable family, James Winthrop Dudley. They eloped and were married in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in October 1869. [Though there are hints he had been married to others earlier.] “Lizzie” Dudley later claimed she only knew Forrester to be a gambler, but it is more likely that both she and her father knew exactly how Forrester earned his living. Forrester was arrested in Boston in November 1869, discharged, and then rearrested by detectives who had learned about the requisition issued for his return to Illinois. In December, he was put on a train to New York, linked to a detective by a cord. They got off for a drink in New Haven, and Forrester managed to cut the cord and escaped.

Two months later, Forrester and a gang tried a bank robbery in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Before they could crack the safe, they were spotted and had to flee. Billy headed to Pittsburgh, where he was seen by a Pinkerton operative and captured. In March, 1870, he was taken first to Philadelphia to face charges for the Wilkes Barre robbery attempt; while being measured at the station house there, he fled, wearing nothing but his underwear.

In April, Billy and his bride Lizzie Dudley were reunited in Baltimore. The Baltimore police learned of his presence in the city, and the couple were forced to flee south, taking a ship to Key West, then to Havana, and finally to New Orleans, arriving in early June 1870. New Orleans police had already been warned to lookout for Forrester, and he was soon arrested in mid-June, 1870. However, no requisition was yet in hand from Illinois, and so he was released on a writ of habeas corpus.

Billy lived in New Orleans without further harassment for a couple of months, during which time he was seen by many people. Meanwhile, in New York City, financier Benjamin Nathan was killed in his home during a bungled burglary on July 28, 1870.

After a gap of activity in the late summer and fall of 1870, Billy returned to New Orleans in December to coordinate the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store, which took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. While Billy was enjoying the spoils from this job, his one-time partner in the failed Wilkes Barre bank robbery, George Ellis, informed police from his cell in Sing Sing that Billy was responsible for the Nathan murder. This kicked off a nationwide manhunt.

He was run to earth in Washington, D. C. in September 1872 and taken by train to New York. There he was interrogated, and proved his alibi to the grudging satisfaction of prosecutors. The Pinkertons and others had been hoping to collect a $50,000 reward for Nathan’s killer, but instead were forced to send Billy back to Joliet to serve out his term.

Billy was freed in January 1880 and drifted to Philadelphia, where he was frequently seen in the new high-end saloon run by the Brotherton brothers, who themselves had recently been released from San Quentin. In April 1881, Forrester was captured during a house burglary in Philadelphia, resulting in his trial, conviction, and sentencing to Eastern State Penitentiary for five years. His term ended there in November 1885.

Byrnes picks up Billy’s history in his 1895 edition:

Shortly after Forrester‘s release from the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. (in November, 1885), he was arrested at Richmond, Va., as Frank Renfrew, charged with breaking into the residence of one A. L. Lee. He was indicted for burglary and carrying burglars’ tools. While in jail awaiting trial he escaped, and the next heard from him was his arrest at Chester, Pa., in 1887, under the name of James Robinson, for safe breaking and shooting at a police officer.

He was convicted at Media, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. He was released from there on March 20, 1891, re-arrested, taken to Richmond Va., where he plead guilty to having burglars’ tools in his possession, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on April 9, 1891. Forrester’s time expired at Richmond, Va., on August 17, 1895.

It should be noted that while Billy was devoting time to prison in Philadelphia and Richmond between 1885 and 1895, another criminal who took the alias “Billy Forrester” was active in Denver, Butte, and Chicago. His specialty was safe-cracking.

After Billy got out of prison in Richmond in 1895, he was taken in Washington, D. C. and held to account for a robbery there. He was sentenced to ten years, to be served in Albany County Penitentiary in New York.

Gaining his freedom in 1902, Billy went to New York City and lived for awhile with an old friend, Dan Noble. Flat broke, he approached the Pinkerton Agency in New York and asked for a loan to tide him over until he gained employment. They offered him a small amount in cash, and tried to recruit him as an informer. He declined.

He was never heard from again, until 1909, when he went to Buffalo to meet William A. Pinkerton. Though he tried to press Pinkerton to support his claim to back pay from the Navy, in truth he seemed just pleased to talk to his old adversary.

Billy was then working as a facilities superintendent for “a major Catholic institution near Niagara Falls,” described as a large monastery. This almost certain refers to the Mount Carmel monastery in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Billy managed a staff of seven there, working from 1903 until his death in 1912.













#125 Tillie Pheiffer

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#103 Frank Woods

Frank Woods (Abt. 1846-????), aka Frank McKenna, Frank Wilson — House Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-five years old in 1886. Born in New York City. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, fair complexion. Has scar on left hand, near thumb joint. Has figures “25” in India ink on outside of left fore-arm.

RECORD. Woods is perhaps one of the smartest house thieves there is in this country. He confines himself to second-story work generally, and usually works wealthy manufacturing towns and summer resorts.

He was arrested in New York City on July 15, 1874, under the name of Frank McKenna, in company of William Johnson, charged with entering the house of J. A. Terhune, No. 416 West Twenty-eighth Street, by removing a panel of the basement door. The noise awakened the occupants of the house, who pursued them, and caused their arrest. Woods and Johnson both pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree, and were each sentenced to State prison at Sing Sing for five years on August 4, 1874, by Recorder Hackett.

Woods escaped from Sing Sing on June 2, 1876, but was recaptured and returned to prison the same month.

He was arrested again in New York City on March 5, 1885, and delivered to the authorities of Pawtucket, R.I., charged with robbing the house of William Sayles, a wealthy manufacturer of that place. This robbery was what is called a second-story job. He was tried on July 3, 1885, and the jury disagreed. He was afterwards admitted to bail, an official becoming his bondsman, so as to insure his return in case any further evidence could be obtained against him. This was a lucky escape for him. Woods is well known in all the large Eastern cities. He has served time in State prisons in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and is a very clever thief. Woods’ picture is a good one, taken in December, 1877.

Inspector Byrnes missed the opportunity to add more detail to Woods’s background and crimes, though perhaps he did not have those at hand. An 1876 article from the New York Sun informs us:

“Frank McKenna was the handsomest and most promising of the Sixteenth Ward youths ten years ago. He had received a collegiate education, and was a student for the ministry. His father was rich, and his home refined. Unluckily, some of his associates were evil minded, and they led him to drink, gamble, and the rest. By his father’s death he was made master of three dwellings in Seventeenth street, near Eighth avenue, and thereafter he squandered his patrimony. Then he became a burglar, known to the police as Frank Woods.”

Byrnes and the Sing Sing registers preferred the opposite: that his real name was woods, and McKenna an alias.

It was as “Frank Woods” that he was rumored to have been a member of the infamous 1873 “River Pirate” gang led by Patsey Conroy and Pugsey Hurley. If so, then Woods was one of the lucky couple of members of that gang that established alibis and escaped prosecution.

Woods escaped from Sing Sing in June 1876. Some sources state that he escaped twice, the first time in May of 1875; but these accounts confuse Frank with a man involved in that earlier attempt, Peter McKenna. The 1876 escape was nearly a carbon copy of the 1875 break: prisoners walking from the rock quarry passed nearby an arch that ran over nearby rail tracks between the prison and the Hudson River. They made a break from the guards and dropped onto the passing engine and coal tender. The New York Sun got the story of the engineer:


Woods was able to get across the river and evaded his pursuers. However, he was caught in St. Louis fairly quickly, and was returned to Sing Sing to serve out his sentence.

In Byrnes’s 1895 edition, he updated Frank Woods entry to inform the public that Woods was currently living in New York, and had reformed. If so, he might have started life under a new name, because there was never further mention of the thief, Frank Woods.

#65 Joseph Whalen

Joseph Whalen (Abt. 1861-????), aka Joe Wilson — House burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Medium build. Married. Height, 5 feet 6 3/4 inches. Weight, 143 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, sallow complexion. Wears black mustache. Has a scar on right temple, another on corner of left eye.

RECORD. Joe Whalen, alias Wilson, is a clever shoplifter, and is well known in all the principal Eastern and Western cities, having formerly lived in Chicago. He was arrested in New York City on November 21, 1883, for shoplifting.

He was arrested again in New York City on August 25, 1885, in company of George Elwood, alias Gentleman George (114), a desperate Colorado burglar, with a complete set of burglars’ tools in their possession. When the detectives searched their rooms in Forsyth Street, New York, they found considerable jewelry, etc. Among it was a Masonic ring engraved “Edson W. Baumgarten, June 25, 1884.” This ring was traced to Toledo, O.

In answer to inquiries about the same. Chief of Police Pittman of that city sent the following telegram: “Hold Elwood and Wilson; charge, grand larceny, burglary, and shooting an officer.” The circumstances were as follows: On August 13, 1885, masked burglars broke into Mr. Baumgarten’s house in Toledo, O., and being discovered in the act of plundering the place fired several shots at the servants and escaped. An alarm was raised and the police started in pursuit. Coming up on Elwood, the officer demanded to know what was in a bag he was carrying. He said, “Nothing of much value—take it and see.” The officer took the bag to a lamp near by, and when in the act of examining it, Elwood shot him in the back and escaped.

Whalen and Elwood were taken to Toledo on August 29, 1885, to answer for this and a series of other masked burglaries in that vicinity, in almost all of which there was violence used. They were both tried there on December 12, 1885. Elwood was found guilty, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary at Toledo on December 19, 1885. Wilson was remanded for a new trial, as the jury failed to convict him.

Elwood hails from Denver, Col., and is a desperate man. Whalen was formerly from Chicago, but is well known in New York and other Eastern cities. These two men committed several masked burglaries, generally at the point of the pistol, in Cleveland, Detroit, St. Paul, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Whalen, or Wilson, was tried again in Toledo, and found guilty of grand larceny on May 5, 1886, and sentenced to five years in State prison at Columbus, O., on May 15, 1886, by Judge Pike, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Lucas County, Ohio. See record of No. 114. Whalen’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1883.

Inspector Byrnes’s reference to a November 1883, shoplifting arrest of Joe Whalen/Wilson in New York City can not be verified. However, there is other evidence that Whalen was well-known in New York as a shoplifter: in February, 1885, he was found in New York City by a New Haven, Connecticut detective tracking down shoplifters who had recently hit a tailor shop in that city. Hartford newspapers indicated that Whalen already was in New York’s Rogues Gallery as a shoplifter, but do not make clear under what name his record existed.

When George Ellwood and Whalen were arrested in New York in August 1885, police detectives also wondered if they had been responsible for a February 1883, house robbery in New York City’s Pike Flats apartment building. However, while this suspicion was mentioned in newspapers, Byrnes does not mention it in his entry; so it may be that the evidence was too flimsy for Byrnes to cite.

It is also curious that Byrnes made claims about Whalen’s history under the entry for George Elwood (Ellwood), but did not repeat those claims in his entry for Whalen:

“Before Wilson associated with the desperado Elwood he operated for months alone in Brooklyn, N.Y. House robbery was his line of business, and silverware his plunder. He committed a series of mysterious robberies, and although an active search was made for the “silver king,” he succeeded in avoiding arrest. His repeated successes stimulated other thieves, who began operating in Brooklyn. One of the latter was caught, and it was then believed that the cunning “silver king” had been at last trapped. Such was not the case, for Wilson had set out for the Western country.”

Between February and August 1885, Whalen teamed up with George Ellwood to commit a string of house burglaries said to include Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Cleveland, and Toledo. However, it was only the ring found in their possession in New York that tied them to any specific crime.

Whalen, aka Joe Wilson, was tried in Ohio in December, 1885, resulting in a hung jury. He was re-tried in May 1886. Whalen’s wife, whose name remains unknown, impressed the courtroom with her attractive appearance and her passionate defense of her husband. He was found guilty at the second trial, after which Mrs. Whalen accused the court bailiff of taking money from her to guarantee a not-guilty verdict. Whalen was sentenced to five years in the Ohio State Penitentiary.

One “Joe Wilson,” described as an ex-convict, was arrested for an apartment robbery in New York in 1894, but it is not clear that this was Whalen.

In his 1895 edition, the only update that Byrnes offers is that Whalen was arrested in New York on August 2, 1895 for an unspecified offense, in company with his brother Michael, also a well-known burglar; and both were released. No newspaper accounts of this arrest can be found, nor can any Whalen family be found in the New York region (or in Chicago, where Byrnes indicates Whalen originally came from) that has a Joseph and a Michael of similar ages.

Without more clues, it is impossible to tell where Whalen originally came from or where he went, after serving his sentence in Ohio.





#179 Robert Hovan

Preston Hovan (Abt. 1855-????), aka Robert Hovan, Charles H. Adams, Paul Harrington, Henry Parker, George Wilson, Robert Monroe, Charles Hovan, Preston Sutherland, etc. — House thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-four years old in 1886. Born in the United States. Married. Produce dealer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Hair, light brown. Hazel eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a full, sandy beard. Has an anchor on the right fore-arm, a star on the left fore-arm, and five dots of India ink on right hand. Inclined to be feminine in his actions.

RECORD. Bob Hovan is a very clever house sneak and burglar. He is a brother of Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace (25), the bank sneak; also, a brother-in-law of Bill Vosburg (4), another notorious bank sneak. Hovan is pretty well known in all the principal cities in America.

He was arrested in New York City, on June 18, 1880, for a house robbery, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, by Judge Cowing, on June 28, 1880, under the name of Charles H. Adams.

In December, 1882, Hovan, or Harrington, as he then called himself, was arrested by the police in Brooklyn, N.Y. He had no difficulty in securing his release upon bail, which, when the case was called for trial and Harrington did not appear, proved valueless. A warrant was issued, and detectives Corr and Looney, of Brooklyn, came to New York, and located Harrington at No. 1225 First Avenue, where he was living with a Mrs. Adams, or Charlotte Dougherty, Horace Hovan’s wife.

The detectives, soon after dark, on the night of February 17, 1883, stationed themselves in an opposite door-way, and patiently watched. They had not long to wait, and in the twilight they could see a man entering the house who in build and general appearance resembled Harrington. He, however, did not wear a full beard like that usually worn by the burglar, but had his chin cleanly shaven, and had a mustache and small side-whiskers. They waited for him to come out, and after half an hour’s watch the man they suspected came out of the house. Corr and Looney came to the conclusion that it was Harrington. They followed him to the corner of Sixty-fifth Street, where he caught sight of them, and apparently it flashed across him who his pursuers were.

He quickened his pace, and the two detectives did likewise. Near the corner of Second Avenue, Corr said to Looney, “That’s our man; let us close in on him.” They moved forward rapidly, and as they did so Harrington made a feint as if to ascend the stairs leading to the Elevated Railroad station. The detectives and the fugitive at that time were the only people in sight. Looney was about six feet in advance of his companion, and when he came within two or three paces of the fugitive there was a flash and a report from a weapon which Harrington held in his outstretched hand. With the report Looney fell prostrate into the gutter, shot in the neck.

With the flash Corr whipped out his weapon, and as he brought it to bear on the burglar the fellow fired a second shot, which missed the officer. Corr returned the fire, and discharged two shots from his revolver. As he was about to fire a third shot he received a bullet from another chamber of the burglar’s pistol, which passed through his cheek and buried itself in his neck. Before the officers could recover from the shock of their wounds Harrington had made good his escape.

Hovan was arrested again on March 18, 1883—a little over a month after he shot Looney and Corr—in the east end of Allegheny City, Pa., for robbing a safe in a feed store. He was shortly after sentenced to three years in the Western Penitentiary, at Allegheny City, under the name of Henry Parker. His time expired on November 28, 1885, when he was re-arrested on a requisition by New York officers and returned to New York City, to answer an indictment for assault in the first degree. His case went to trial in the Court of General Sessions, but Judge Cowing allowed Hovan, during the progress of the trial, to plead guilty to one of the indictments. He was remanded until December 10, 1885, and in the time intervening several church people interceded for him, and Judge Cowing sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment in Sing Sing prison—this being his fourth term served in that prison. Hovan’s sentence will expire on July 10, 1889, allowing him commutation.

His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1880.

Inspector Byrnes repeats the assertion that Preston Hovan was a brother-in-law of Bill Vosburgh; but there is no evidence that this was true–and there is a compelling explanation for that misconception. The alias “Charley Adams” was used by bank robber Langdon Moore, who was (for a time) a brother-in-law of Vosburgh’s; and the alias “Charles H. Adams” was used Robert Hovan. Byrnes also states that Preston Hovan was found in December, 1882 by Brooklyn officers to be living with Charlotte Dougherty, Horace Hovan’s wife. This, too, is not quite accurate. Preston’s brother Horace did not marry Charlotte until May of 1884 (when Preston had disappeared and was ensconced in the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania).


Although several sources suggest that Horace and Preston–with their similar looks– committed burglaries where one brother appeared in public to establish an alibi while the other burgled, the truth is that Preston was more a career prisoner than criminal:

  • At age 15, he was sent to Richmond’s jail for 60 days for thieving.
  • In December 1872, after just turning 17, he served his first sentence in Sing Sing. Two and a half years.
  • In April 1875, just weeks after his discharge, he was sent back to Sing Sing for another two and a half year sentence.
  • After a brief stint of freedom, Preston was back in Sing Sing in August 1877 to serve a three year sentence.
  • Granted a change in scenery, Preston was sent to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary in June 1880 for a one year sentence

Preston actually roamed New York for two years before shooting the Brooklyn policemen sent to arrest him for not appearing in court. He fled, but a month later sent to the Western Penitentiary in Pennsylvania for committing a burglary in Allegheny City in March 1883. Upon his discharge there in November 1885, he was returned to New York to serve a five year sentence in the familiar confines of Sing Sing. He was released in 1889.


Preston went over to Europe in the early 1890s. In 1893, the Illustrated Police News of Boston claimed that he was committing second-story jobs of estates in England, Germany, and Austria with Rufe Minor, Frank Searles, and William Ogle (who was already dead). In his 1895 edition, Byrnes stated that Preston was working in a London grocery shop, Walter Chapman & Co., which did indeed exist.

In 1896, New York City papers said that Preston (as Charles Hovan) was back in the United States, and was arrested for possessing obscene materials with an intent to sell. This odd tidbit was the last heard of Preston.


#28 John Tracy

John Tracy (1849-1906), aka Big Tracy, Long John, Jim Tracy, Charles McCarty, John Riley, Edwin Taylor — House thief, Bank robber, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Plumber by trade. Single. Stout build. Height, 6 feet 1 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Dark brown hair, light complexion. Has a cross in India ink on right fore-arm. Generally wears a dark brown beard and mustache. Scar on back of hand.

RECORD. “Big” Tracy does considerable “second-story” or house work, and is well known in New York, Chicago, and all the large cities. He has served considerable time in Eastern prisons — one term of five years from Troy, N.Y., for highway robbery, in 1878. (See Addenda.)

He was arrested again in the spring of 1884, in company of Billy Ogle (13), for robbing a residence on Jersey City Heights, N.J., of diamonds and jewelry valued at $1,500. They were both tried and convicted on June 26, 1884; their counsel obtained a new trial for them, and they were discharged in July, 1884.

Tracy and Ogle went West, and in the fall of 1885 Ogle was arrested in Tennessee for “house work,” and sentenced to the penitentiary for ten years. He shortly after escaped from a gang while working on the railroad. Tracy escaped arrest, and is now at large in the West. His picture is a good one, taken in 1877. (See records of Nos. 13 and no.)

“Big Tracy” (as he was best known) had a variety of aliases, none of which can be proven as his real given name. His first known arrest was in Boston in 1872 for a petty larceny, under the name John Riley. In 1875 he was an accomplice of Eddie Garing (Eddie Goodie) in a robbery on a horse-car in New York City. The victim, a bookkeeper carrying thousands of dollars, had been targeted and followed onto the car. Big Tracy and Garing escaped arrest for this crime.

Sometime between 1875 and 1876, Big Tracy was one of those who made the first approach to Patrick Shevlin, the night watchman of the Manhattan Savings Institution, which would eventually be robbed in October 1878. Big Tracy had been a friend of Shevlin’s since they were teens; and another of the early conspirators, Tim Gorman (known as Little Tracy) had been a schoolmate.

In the summer of 1877, Big Tracy was recommended as a “good man” to bank robber Langdon Moore. Moore recruited Big Tracy to assist with an attempt on a safe at the Dedham, Massachusetts post office. The attempt was a failure, and Moore placed much of the blame on Big Tracy, whom he portrayed as cowardly. A chapter in Langdon Moore’s autobiography is devoted to this misadventure, titled “Lame Duck at Dedham.”

Big Tracy was not among the gang that eventually pulled off the Manhattan Savings Institution job, the most famous bank robbery of the 19th-century. Several months earlier, in July 1878, he had participated in a horse-car robbery in Troy, New York that was very similar to the 1875 episode with Eddie Goodie. In this case, the crime in Troy was committed by a gang of six or seven men led by William “Mush” Reilly. They targeted a messenger carrying a large amount of cash, got onto a street-car with him, and then one man garroted him from behind while another emptied his pockets.

This time, all the conspirators were captured. Big Tracy was originally sentenced to fifteen years in prison, but on appeal the sentence was reduced to five years, to be served in Clinton Prison in Dannemora. With time reduced, Big Tracy was discharged in October, 1882.

As Byrnes mentions, Big Tracy and Billy Ogle were arrested for house burglaries in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1884; but were released for lack of evidence. They both traveled together to Tennessee to commit more burglaries, were caught, and sentenced to a chain gang. They both escaped.

In 1888, Big Tracy was seen on the streets of Boston and taken in as a suspicious character, and later released. In 1889 he was arrested for picking pockets outside a dime museum in Philadelphia.

Between 1889 and 1894 there is a big gap in his record, which one newspaper attributed to an eight-year (reduced) sentenced in Sing Sing; but if he was convicted in New York, it must have been under an unrecognized alias.

In December 1884 he was caught following a house burglary in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which yielded jewelry worth only $25.00. For this crime he was sentenced to fifteen years in the Connecticut State Prison.

Upon his release in 1906, he was brought in for picking pockets in Brooklyn and sentenced to a year in the Blackwell’s Island penitentiary. He died there later that year at age 57.

#177 Henry Cline

Henry Western (Abt. 1855-????), aka Henry/Harry Cline/Kline, Henry Weston, Henry Watson — Burglar, Coin Counterfeiter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-one years old in 1886. German, born in the United States. Married. Machinist. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 148 pounds. Black hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Has a scar on his forehead ; mole under the right eye.

RECORD. Cline is one of the most expert house and office sneaks there is in this country. He generally works with another man, who enters the room or office under pretense of selling something, thereby occupying the attention of whoever may be there, while Cline sneaks in and gets what he can. He is an expert machinist. One of the finest set of “house-workers'” tools that was ever captured was taken from him at the time of his arrest on April 24, 1885. He claimed to have made them while confined in prison. Cline has served several terms in the penitentiary of New York City. He was sentenced to three months on January 11, 1876, for petty larceny, in New York City, and again in May, 1879, for six months.

He was arrested again in New York City on July 6, 1885, under the name of Henry Weston, in company of a girl named Kitty Wilson, charged with counterfeiting United States silver coins. The United States officers searched the rooms occupied by them, and found twenty-five sets of plaster moulds, such as are used in making counterfeit coins, batteries, chemical solutions, and a number of spurious coins, among which were two hundred bogus United States standard dollars. They were rather poor imitations of the genuine, and could be readily detected.

Kitty Wilson, who is about twenty-five years of age, is of German descent, and is well known as one of the women who frequent the disreputable resorts in the vicinity of the Bowery, and Bleecker and Great Jones streets, New York. She formerly lived with a man named Wilson, and took his name. She met Cline a short time before their arrest, and went to live with him at No. 44 First Avenue, New York, and began the coining of counterfeit silver pieces in their apartments on the third floor. Weston and Kitty were committed to jail, in default of $5,000 bail, by United States Commissioner Shields, on July 7, 1885. Weston, or Cline, was sentenced to three years in State prison at Buffalo, N. Y., by Judge Benedict, in the United States Court in New York City, on October 28, 1885. Kitty Wilson was discharged. Cline’s picture is an excellent one, taken in May, 1879.

The task of gathering further information on Byrnes’s “Harry Cline” is an exercise in frustration. Newspaper coverage of the 1885 counterfeiting arrest only refer to the man as “Henry Weston.” The January 1876 and May 1879 arrests that Byrnes cites can not be confirmed, either by newspaper accounts or by New York prison registers. However, a “Henry Western alias Henry Kline” was sent to Sing Sing in November, 1876 on a three years sentence for burglary.

There is no evidence that “Henry Kline” was ever more than a third-rate thief. His 1885 arrest for counterfeiting coins did not represent a step upwards on the criminal ladder. The following interview with Chief Drummond of the U.S. Secret Service (whose main responsibility in the 1860s-1890s was stopping counterfeiters) was given to the New York Times in early October 1885, just a couple of weeks before Drummond had “Henry Weston” prosecuted for the crime he described:



#173 David Mooney

David Mooney (1852-1913), aka James H. Brady, John H. Hill, Little Dave — House thief, Murderer

Link to Byrnes’s profile of #173 David Mooney

Judging by the space Byrnes devotes to his profile of David Mooney, he was obviously fascinated by the excuses a man would make when accused of murder. Byrnes reprints a lengthy interview that a newspaper reporter elicited from a newly-arrested Mooney, in which Mooney issues denials of involvement in the death of his thieving partner, Edmond “Frenchie” Lavoiye. It was an ill-advised interview, and Mooney made several assertions that were later contradicted.

Byrnes added his own twist after quoting this interview: the fact that Mooney later confessed to the murder, which supposedly was caused by an argument over a pair of diamond earrings that Lavoiye intended to gift to a woman. Perhaps Byrnes’s intended to make a point that a criminals were often experts at dissembling. However, in Mooney’s case, his confession and sentence to life in prison did not end the debate over his guilt.


During his trial, the jury heard that the alleged suicide note left by Lavoiye showed similarity to Mooney’s handwriting, though Mooney claimed he was barely literate. Lavoiye’s pistol had been found in the hand of his disabled arm, causing the prosecution to assert that Mooney must have placed it there. Also, the prosecution called medical experts as witnesses who stated that Lavoiye’s wounds could not have been self-inflicted. As the case mounted against him, Mooney was advised to confess to a lesser charge of manslaughter–claiming self-defense–that would earn him a lighter sentence–perhaps seven years. Instead, he was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life behind bars.

He was sent to the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown in late summer, 1881. For the next twenty-six years, the world heard no news about Dave Mooney. Then, in 1907, a long feature article appeared in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper entitled “Tale of Forty Thieves as Told by the Forty-First.” It took a nostalgic look at the famous professional criminals of the 1870s and 1880s, with updates on their fates; the intention was to show that most met bad ends. The article contained a strong defense of David Mooney’s character:

“It was always ‘Dave ‘Mooney’s boast that outside of the business he was a gentleman. Mooney may be classed as the ‘king of the porch climbers.’ One of his greatest feats was the robbery of the Drexel mansion, in Philadelphia, of jewels and other valuables worth about $200,000. Mooney got away with the booty, but a boy he had used as a ‘lookout’ was arrested on suspicion. Mooney entered into negotiations and by an arrangement made through a lawyer returned every penny of his spoils to the family in return for the boys’ liberty.

“There is another little romance connected with Mooney’s ‘finish.’ Of course, it does not turn out well. One of the man’s redeeming traits was a love of children. He was married, but childless, and from an institution adopted a deaf and dumb girl, who was reared in comfort and in absolute ignorance of her foster father’s vocation.

“‘Frenchy’, known to be a pal of Mooney, was found dead in a room in Boston several years later, and Mooney was suspected. ‘Frenchy’ had been shot to death. A reward of $500 was offered for his capture, and Mooney, with his wife and foster daughter, went to Albany to lie low for a time. He was innocent of the crime, his friends have always said, but he knew his record would convict him in any court.

“Allowed to play in the open air, the girl one day in a store saw a picture of her father in a newspaper, with the information that the police would pay $500 for his capture. For some inexplicable reason she went to the police and afterward led them to Mooney’s hiding place. He was arrested, taken to Boston, and is today a ‘lifer’ in Charlestown. What became of the girl is not known.”

Two weeks later, in late January 1907, “The Forty-First” was back with another long column, this one dedicated entirely to presenting the case for Mooney’s innocence.





The publication of these articles in 1907 earned David Mooney some supporters, foremost among them Bernard Keenan, a city official in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Keenan lobbied the pardon board on Mooney’s behalf. It was pointed out that Mooney had been promised a much lighter sentence in return for confessing to manslaughter, but had been in prison for thirty years.

Finally, in February of 1912, Governor Foss of Massachusetts pardoned Mooney after thirty-two years of confinement. His wife and adopted child had died while he was in prison. Upon his re-entry into society, Mooney was asked what had changed most since he had been jailed. He answered without hesitation, that what dazed him were women’s hobble skirts: the skin-tight, full-length skirts that barely allowed the wearer to move her feet a few inches.

“They are the funniest things I have ever seen,” Mooney said.

Mooney, at age 61, got a job as a night watchman at a theater in Pawtucket. He was found dead from natural causes in the theater’s bathroom stall less than a year later, in 1913. His Pawtucket friends raised the money for his funeral and burial.




#69 Joseph Otterburg

Joseph Ottenburg (Abt. 1858-19??), aka Joseph Newman, Joseph Clark, Joseph Stearn, etc. — House burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York City. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 125 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a light-brown mustache.

RECORD. Joe Otterburg is a very clever house sneak, that being his principal business. He will stand watching when you go to arrest him, as he generally uses a pistol. He is an associate of Hoggie Real (67), and is well known in several Eastern States. He was arrested in New York City and sentenced to four years in State prison on October 6, 1870, under the name of James Oats, by Recorder Hackett, for a sneak robbery. Otterburg was convicted for having burglars’ tools in his possession at White Plains, N. Y., on September 19, 1875, and was discharged from the penitentiary at Albany on July 15, 1877, after serving two years there, under the name of Joseph Osborne.

He was arraigned for trial in the Kings County Court of Brooklyn, N. Y., on May 11, 1878, for robbing the residence of Mrs. Adolphus Nathan, of No. 117 Adelphi Street, that city, on January 25, 1875, of $450 worth of property. In this case he was tried and acquitted on May 31, 1878. Christopher Spencer, who was in this robbery with Otterburg, was afterwards sentenced to the Albany (N. Y.) Penitentiary for five years for breaking jail and assaulting his keeper at White Plains jail, Westchester County, N. Y. Otterburg was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in State prison by Judge Gildersleeve, on April 24, 1883, for robbing a house in Harlem in company of Joseph Real (67). His time expired on April 23, 1886. His picture is a good one, notwithstanding his eyes are closed, taken in April, 1883.

Chief Byrnes begins his profile of Joseph Ottenburg by misspelling his name (although it was variously spelled Ottenburgh, Ottenberg…but never “Otter–“) and by mistakenly confusing him with a different prisoner, James Oates, arrested in 1870. In 1870, Joseph Ottenburg was still a boy of 11 or so, living in the Boys Reformatory in New York City. His parentage is unknown, but he did have a sister and an aunt living in New York City.

Byrnes is correct about Ottenburg’s 1875 conviction, and his May 1878 acquittal. However, a few months later in October 1878, Ottenburg was caught burgling and was sentenced to two years in Sing Sing–an episode missing in Byrnes’s account. After a couple of years of freedom, he was arrested again in 1883 and returned to Sing Sing under the name Joseph Stern.


Upon release from Sing Sing in 1886, Ottenburg changed scenery and moved to Chicago, where he met and wed an Irish girl, Bridget Higgins Fitzgerald. Their first child, a daughter, Mabel Ottenburg, was born in Chicago in 1887. However, the next year, 1888, Joseph Ottenberg was caught in Chicago with burglar’s tools and swag in his rooms, along with crucibles for melting down silver and gold (the safer way to dispose of metal wares if they are not to be sent to a fence far away). This evidence sent Ottenburg to Joliet prison for several years.

He returned to Chicago after his release from Joliet and sired a son, Herbert, in 1894; and a daughter, Ruth, in August of 1897. He had no known brushes with the law after Joliet; but can not be said to have gained much righteousness: he abandoned his family and moved back to New York City, enlisting in a volunteer militia during the Spanish-American War. He was 42 years old at that point, and was assigned duties as a nurse in Army hospitals. He became sick himself and was invalided out after the War ceased.

Joe’s daughter Mabel, 13 when he abandoned the family, likely was old enough to become a servant; but his wife Bridget was forced to place the younger children, Herbert and Ruth, in an orphanage: the Chicago Home for the Friendless.

Ottenburg’s three children all survived their traumatic childhood, and grew into adulthood. Mabel and Ruth both married, and Herbert lived with his sister Mabel and her family. However, all trace of their father is lost after 1899.