#107 James Campbell

James Campbell (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Shang Campbell, James Morgan, George Wilson, James Williams, James Bell, George Jones — Masked burglar, Pickpocket

Link to Byrnes’s text for #107 James Campbell

Inspector Byrnes, in his two editions, offered a fairly complete record of Shang Campbell’s known crimes, but several small mysteries about the man remain. Campbell’s age, early history, and real name remain in doubt. When sent to Sing Sing in 1903, he claimed to be 71 years old (birth year 1832); but newspaper accounts from his other crimes put his birth year at around 1850. Byrnes is probably closer to the mark, indicating Campbell was born around 1844.

By his own account, Campbell’s mother died when he was young, and at age 12 he was sent north of New York City sixty miles to a farm in Orange County, New York. He said he lived there for four years, then came back to the city. Campbell told a story that his first brush with the law was an injustice–that he was hanging out on a corner with some other youths, and the police rounded up everyone and charged them with a robbery. Campbell stated that he went to the reformatory for two years, having done nothing wrong.

Byrnes says that Campbell was involved in a warehouse robbery in lower Manhattan and was sent to Sing Sing for five years; but the Sing Sing registers can not confirm this. Depending on Campbell’s real age, both of these stories could be true–but Campbell’s verifiable criminal record does not start until 1873.

Campbell gained infamy as one of the gang of masked burglars that raided houses along the Hudson River in the fall of 1873.  They were known as the “Masked Eleven” or the “Rochelle Pirates.” This gang of thieves entered the residence of a wealthy farmer, Abram Post, near Embogcht (Inbocht) Bay on the Hudson River, south of Catskill, New York. Similar raids were made against the homes of J. P. Emmet in New Rochelle, New York; and W. K. Soutter on Staten Island. The gang was said to use George Milliard’s saloon to plan its raids, and included Johnny Dobbs, Dan Kelly, Pugsey Hurley, Patsy Conroy, Larry Griffin, Dennis Brady, John Burns. All were arrested except Dobbs and Campbell. They fled south to Key West, Florida.

Dobbs and Campbell intended to get to Cuba, but on the way stopped in Key West, partied heavily, and started bragging about their exploits. They were arrested by the Key West sheriff and thrown in jail while their backgrounds were investigated. Campbell escaped, but was recaptured and returned to New York.

Once he was released, Campbell joined a gang of pickpockets that toured the States and Canada for several years. He was arrested in Worcester, Massachusetts in October 1884, and let out of a $3000 bail, which was forfeited.  In 1887, he, along with Ned Lyons and Ned Lyman, were caught picking pockets in Kent, Ohio. Campbell was let out on bail and jumped again.

Byrnes relates Campbell’s drawn-out legal hassles in Boston from 1891 through 1893, when we was tried and convicted for a bank sneak robbery. He appealed his conviction three times, but ultimately was sentenced to four years in prison.

Upon his release, Campbell returned to New York to resume his streetcar pick pocket activities under his abbreviated name, James Bell. When arrested in 1901 under the alias George Jones, it was reported that his wife had recently died–but that he had deceived her for thirty years as to the nature of his business, explaining his prison terms as foreign business trips. He seemed to be able to maintain a middle-class household from his earnings, and police complimented his “beautiful system.”

Whatever system he had failed in February 1903, when he was sent to Sing sing for five years for picking pockets. He was later transferred to Clinton Prison in Dannemora, and was released in September 1906, a withered, gray-haired man.



#78 Andrew McGuire

Alias Fairy McGuire (Abt. 1838-????), aka Ferris McGuire/Maguire, Eddie Watson, Andrew Connors, Edwin/Edward McGuire/Maguire — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Slim build. Married. Cigar-maker. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, bald head. Generally wears a full reddish-brown beard and mustache.

RECORD. “Fairy” McGuire is probably one of the most daring and desperate thieves in America, and is well known in almost all the large cities. He served a fifteen years’ sentence in Bangor, Maine, for highway robbery; also a term in Clinton prison, New York State, for burglary.

He was arrested in New York City on March 6, 1881, in front of No. 53 Nassau Street, occupied by L. Durr & Bro., assayers and refiners of gold and silver. An officer discovered the burglars at work in the store, and while looking in the window was approached by McGuire, who commenced talking loudly, thereby giving the men on the inside a chance to escape. McGuire was arrested, and upon the premises being examined it was found that three safes were partly torn open; they also found a full set of burglars’ tools. As no connection could be made with McGuire and the people on the inside, he had to be discharged.

He was arrested again in New York City on March 17, 1881, and delivered to the Brooklyn police authorities, charged with robbing Miss Elizabeth Roberts, of Second Place, in that city. Four men entered the basement door of the house, bound the servant and tied her to a chair; then went upstairs, bound and gagged Miss Roberts, and took $3,000 in Cairo City Water bonds, numbered respectively 52, 71 and 72, also about $500 worth of jewelry. Although there was no doubt that McGuire was one of the four men engaged in this robbery, he was discharged, as the parties could not identify him, on account of being disguised on the day of the robbery.

He was arrested again in Newark, N.J., on July 5, 1881, charged with “blowing” open the safe in James Traphagen’s jewelry store on Broad Street, that city. When the officers pursued McGuire, he turned and fired several shots at them. A party giving the name of George Williams, alias Dempsey, was arrested also. McGuire was tried and convicted on three indictments on October 18, 1881, one for burglary and two for felonious assault. He was sentenced to ten years in Trenton prison on each indictment, making thirty years in all, on October 19, 1881. Williams was sentenced to two years for burglary the same day. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1881.

Fairy McGuire was only arrested a handful of times, but the nature of his crimes combined with appearances before hard-nosed judges put him behind bars for over thirty years.

    Fairy McGuire, 1881 and 1897.


McGuire was sent to Sing Sing in the early 1860s for four and a half years, though the circumstances of his conviction aren’t known. In prison he met a veteran burglar named David Bartlett, with whom he would later collaborate.

In January 1866, McGuire participated in the robbery of an Adams Express car on the New Haven Railroad, getting away with over a half a million dollars–a crime many recognize as the first train robbery in America. The other gang members included Gilly McGloin, Martin Allen, Jimmy Wells, and John Grady. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, and within six months had tracked down all the gang members.

However, Fairy McGuire was not captured until after committing another robbery in Maine of the Bowdoinham Bank, in June 1866. This robbery represented another first: the first one committed by masked bandits, and the first where the bandits called each other by number. The other gang members were the aforementioned David Bartlett, George Miles White (aka George Bliss), and Owen “Rory” Simms.

When McGuire was captured in New York in October 1866, he was handed over to Maine officials for prosecution–a misfortune for him, since Maine sentencing laws were much harsher than those he would have faced if handed over to Connecticut. He was sentenced to twenty years in the Maine State Prison and released after fifteen.

Fairy (named for his high-pitched, squeaky voice) wasted little time getting into trouble again; Inspector Byrnes gives a good summary of his 1881 missteps, which culminated with his conviction in New Jersey, and the hard sentence of thirty years.

McGuire appealed the extreme term, and eventually he was released after serving fourteen and a half years in Trenton.

McGuire was arrested twice in 1897, both times on suspicion that he was about to commit a burglary. He appears to have escaped more prison time, but perhaps these scare finally discouraged him. Nothing more is known about his fate after 1897 when he was fifty-nine.



#170 James McMahon

Alias James McMann (Abt. 1855-????), aka James McMahon — River Pirate

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, light complexion, big nose, thick lips.

RECORD. McMahon is a well known New York burglar and river thief. He has served a term on Blackwell’s Island, and is a desperate man. He is also well known in Philadelphia and other cities. He was arrested in New York City on May 16, 1880, charged with robbing the schooner Victor, of Prince Edward’s Island, while lying at one of the wharves. McMahon was detected in the act of robbing the vessel by the mate, John Williams, who, while in an attempt to arrest McMahon, was terribly beaten by him. McMahon was committed for trial in default of $3,000 bail, by Justice Morgan, on May 15, 1880, indicted on May 18, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to ten years in State prison on May 18, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. His sentence expires on September 18, 1886. His picture is a good one, taken in May, 1880.

In terms of identifying James McMahon, Inspector Byrnes offers more obscurity than clarity. Of the five river pirates that boarded the schooner Victor, each of the four others used an alias, and most newspaper accounts assumed that McMahon/McMann was an alias [some newspapers used the spelling McMahon, but the Sing Sing register and the most detailed newspaper account (by the New York Times) used the spelling McMann]. In the Sing Sing register, McMann offered the name of a contact, a cousin: William Meehan.

The Sing Sing register also gave this prisoner’s age as 25, not 36 as Byrnes asserts. The other four men involved were under twenty-five.

While identifying McMahon/McMann is futile, the crime for which he was arrested is fairly interesting: river piracy.

New York City was one of America’s major ports, with docks sprouting from the shores of Hudson County, New Jersey; Manhattan; the Bronx, and Brooklyn. The surrounding waterways, then and now, present a fractal landscape of bays, coves, islands, rivers, harbors, points, inlets, channels, etc.–in other words, a pirate’s paradise of areas where a vessel could quickly be hidden.

River pirates operated from small vessels: a yawl, sloop, or ketch; and consisted of gangs of 4-12 men. Their main targets were anchored shipping vessels that were lightly-manned, with most of the crew ashore or not yet hired. The booty they sought was anything portable: nautical instruments, small chests, items in containers, etc. They boarded these larger vessels silently, under cover of night, and with guns drawn. The expectation was that they would catch whatever skeleton crew was onboard asleep, and overpower them. Alternatively, sometimes these gangs targeted dockside warehouses.

In 1879–the year before McMann/McMahon’s arrest–a large gang of river pirates led by Big Mike Shanahan had been broken up by the authorities, with nearly all the major members caught and imprisoned. This one gang was said to be responsible for losses totaling a half-million dollars.

McMann/McMahon’s gang of young men attempted to fill in the vacuum left by the downfall of Shanahan’s gang. There were eyewitness accounts of their attack on the Victor:


The second man that tried to cling to the swamped yawl was Thomas Holland, alias James Rourke/O’Rourke. His body was found about ten days later floating in Long Island Sound. Each of the four surviving pirates was sentenced to Sing Sing for ten years.

There was absolutely no sympathy on the part of the public for the river pirates. The Brooklyn Eagle wrote:

“That they meant murder is obvious, and that they should be punished to the full extent of the law is manifest. The New York docks teem with such rats. The surface of the East River and the Sound is fretted with them. They know that boats must anchor at certain places for tide or towage, and presuming on their ability and inclination to murder if interfered with, they are in readiness for any opportunity to plunder. They need an example. The authorities have four of them in their hands. There should be no delay in the trial, and, if they are found guilty, Bedloe’s Island should again be decorated as one Mr. Johnson decorated it years ago.”

The last reference is to Albert Hicks, alias William Johnson, who was arrested for murder in 1860. He claimed that he had been shanghaied to help crew a small ship as it left port, and when he found a chance he murdered the entire crew and left the ship adrift while he escaped in a yawl. He was captured and publicly hanged from gallows erected on the shore of Bedloe’s Island–the last man hanged for piracy in New York. Thousands of people watched the hanging from hundreds of ships and boats hugging the island’s shore–it was a blood-lust spectacle worthy of Rome’s Colosseum.

Bedloe’s Island is now Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty.



#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.




#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.





#88 Michael Hurley

Michael Hurley (1846-????), aka Pugsey Hurley, John Raymond, Martin Hurley, John Reilly — Masked robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty years old in 1886. Born in England. Medium build. Machinist by trade. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, pug nose. Has an eagle, with star underneath, in India ink, on inside of right arm.

RECORD. “Pugsey” Hurley is an old Seventh Ward, New York, thief. He was one of the New Rochelle, N.Y., masked burglars. The gang consisted of “Dan” Kelly, Larry Griffin, Patsey Conroy (now dead), Big John Garvey (now dead), Frank Kayton, Frank Woods, “Shang” Campbell, Mike Kerrigan, alias Johnny Dobbs, John O’Donnell, John Orr (now dead), Dennis Brady, George Maillard and Hurley, and their headquarters was at Maillard’s saloon, corner Washington and Canal streets, New York City.

The principal offense of which Hurley was convicted and for which he was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment, was committed at the country residence of Mr. J. P. Emmet, known as “The Cottage,” at Pelham, near New Rochelle, N.Y., on December 23, 1873. On that night Hurley, in company with others of the gang of well organized and desperate masked burglars, of which “Patsey” Conroy was said to be the leader, broke into Mr. Emmet’s residence, and after surprising the occupant, his nephew and servants, bound and gagged them, and afterwards ransacked the house, getting altogether about $750 worth of plunder, with which they escaped.

The same gang, on the night of October 17, 1873, broke into the house of Abram Post, a wealthy farmer, living three miles from Catskill village, on the Hudson River, tied up the occupants and plundered the house, collecting bonds, jewelry and other property worth $3,000, with which they decamped.

On December 20, 1873, three days prior to the Emmet robbery, the same band of masked marauders surprised the watchman at the East New York depot of the Jamaica, Woodhaven and Brooklyn Railroad, and, after binding and gagging him, blew open the safe, which contained $4,000 in cash.

In less than a week after the plundering of the Emmet cottage, Mr. Wm. K. Souter, his family and servants, at his house at Sailors’ Snug Harbor, at West Brighton, Staten Island, were awakened in the dead hour of the night to find that they were the prisoners of a masked gang of burglars who terrified them with threats of instant death. The thieves were all heavily armed and had no trouble in frightening the occupants into submission.

These depredations created considerable excitement among the residents of the suburbs of New York at the time, and nearly all the small villages were banded together and vigilance committees formed to look out for the band of masked marauders.

All the gang were arrested by the police, and with the exception of two or three who established alibis, were sentenced to twenty years in State prison. Shang Campbell and Kerrigan, alias Dobbs, escaped to Key West, Florida, and were subsequently apprehended there. Campbell was brought back and sent to prison, but Kerrigan, who had plenty of money, succeeded in gaining his liberty, through the technicalities of the law. Orr (now dead) was next arrested; then Hurley was made a prisoner on August 15, 1874. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to twenty years in State prison on October 1, 1874, by Judge Tappan, at White Plains, Westchester County, N.Y.

While in Auburn prison in the spring of 1876, and also of 1877, he was foiled by the guards in two desperate efforts at escape. He then feigned insanity, and was transferred to the asylum attached to Clinton prison. He had not been there long before he made another break for liberty, but being detected he was re-examined, pronounced cured, and drafted back to Auburn prison. He made several attempts to escape after that, and finally, with assistance from the outside, in April, 1882, he cut through the prison roof and bid his prison chums and guards a hasty good-by.

He was re-arrested in New York City on August 1, 1882, on the corner of Liberty and Washington streets, delivered to the prison authorities on August 2, 1882, and taken back to serve his unexpired term of twelve years. Hurley’s picture is an excellent one, notwithstanding his eyes are closed. It was taken in July, 1882.

Pugsey Hurley (nicknamed for a pug nose) was a core member of the infamous “river burglars” gang that terrorized riverside towns around New York in late 1873. Most sources cite Patsey Conroy as the leader of this gang of masked house robbers, but a few suggest that Hurley was the guiding force. It has never been explained who among this gang procured the boat used; nor who it was that piloted it. They ranged far up the Hudson; up the East River into the Long Island Sound; and into the Kill Van Kull around Snug Harbor, Staten Island.

The willingness of the gang to use threats of violence, and to tie up their victims, led to severe sentences for all the apprehended, including Pugsey Hurley. He was sentenced to twenty years in State Prison. Initially, Hurley was sent to Sing Sing; but after he was caught planning escapes, he was transferred to the more secure confines of Auburn Prison.

In November, 1875, Hurley attempted to escape from Auburn Prison by crawling through the sewer tunnels (a stunt repeated in other prison escapes–and in The Shawshank Redemption). However, he was captured before he could exit the prison grounds.

Two months later, Hurley was able to disguise his prison garb with overalls, over shirt, and hat; and stuffed himself into a workshop toolbox that was transported out of the prison each night. Hurley–a small man–stuffed himself into the wooden box that measured three feet long, two feet wide, and sixteen inches deep. The top of the box consisted of three boards–two end pieces on hinges and a center board that was supposedly nailed in. Because it seemed impossible that any person could fit inside it, it was never checked when driven past the gate.

The teen driver of the tool shop manager drove his wagon out of the prison, unaware that Hurley was already inside the box when other prisoners hefted it into the wagon. Once on the street, the boy looked back and saw the lid of the box moving. Luckily, he was passing a grocery store and saw one of the off-duty keepers there, and stopped to alert him. Hurley jumped out of the box, but the jailer was armed, and ordered him to stop. He then fired three shots at Hurley, one of which hit his foot and another grazing his leg. The jailer was able to chase down Hurley, and he was returned to the prison hospital.

A year later, in January 1877, Hurley made another escape attempt at Auburn. The details were never published, but he apparently never made it outside the walls.

Next, Hurley feigned madness in order to be transferred to the asylum for prisoners at Dannemora. While there, he was observed making escape plans, which convinced his keepers that he was in fact, not insane at all–and so he was transferred back to Auburn.

By this point, Hurley had already forfeited any commutation for good behavior; he was now on the path to serving a full twenty years. Realizing there was nothing left to lose, Hurley made another attempt in April, 1882. Auburn’s cells had stone ceilings, but that stone slab was connected to the side walls by arches of brick masonry. One Sunday night after being locked up, Hurley and the prisoner in the adjoining cell (murderer William Fahey) began to loosen the bricks at the rear corners of their respective cells, adjacent to one another. Each man was able to remove three feet of brick, making a hole that both could reach. They crawled up through the hole into the building’s attic. With a keyhole saw (that someone had smuggled to them, along with picks) they cut a one foot hole in the roof boards, then punched out the overlaying slate shingles. They crawled out and walked across the roof to the northeast corner, then lowered themselves to the wall by means of a rope. Walking over the wall, they reached a section that joined a lower wall, and from there were able to jump to the street. They were not seen once loose in Auburn.

Authorities figured that Hurley would show up at his old haunts sooner or later, and so Inspector Burns sent his detectives out to pump their informers if Hurley showed his face. They were rewarded four months later, in August 1884, and three officers lay in wait for Hurley to make an appearance at a certain saloon. They leapt upon him, pinning both arms, and found two six-chambered revolvers and an ugly jackknife in his pockets.

On the way to police headquarters, Hurley cried with rage, “If you fellows had no been so quick,” he said, “I should have killed you or killed myself. I’ve just had enough of prison life, and I’d a thousand times rather die than go back to Auburn. I don’t blame you fellows for doing this, but I say it’s damned rough on me.”

Byrnes, writing in 1886, was probably confident that Pugsey Hurley would be out of circulation until October 1894, when his twenty-year sentence would expire. However, it was still possible for Hurley’s friends to pull strings in the political realm. Hurley had his sentence commuted by New York’s Secretary of State and was released in May, 1887–about twelve years and eight months into his twenty year sentence.

Hurley was arrested several months later in connection with crimes committed at Bennington, Vermont, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Battle of Bennington Monument. Two pickpockets were arrested, one of whom was William Perry. The second pickpocket was initially identified as John Bishop alias William Peck. The two pickpockets escaped from the Bennington jail, and weeks later, Michael Hurley was identified as the second man, not Peck; Hurley stood trial and was let go.

After being arrested on suspicion in Boston and later released, Hurley wound up in Philadelphia, and found shelter with an uncle. He lived for the next several years under the name Martin E. Hurley. He was arrested for attempting to crack a safe in Duboistown, Pennsylvania, near Williamsport. The local District Attorney suspected that his prisoner was Michael Hurley, but Hurley obtained affidavits from several respectable citizens in Philadelphia, claiming that they knew Hurley had been living there since the middle of 1887, when Michael Hurley was said to be serving out his twenty year sentence. However, the D.A. dug further discovered that Hurley had been freed in May, 1887, well short of the 20 years; and furthermore his prisoner had a tattoo matching one known to adorn Michael Hurley.

Hurley was convicted and sentenced to five years. Whether he survived his term, or where he went if he did serve it out, is unknown.

#64 Michael Kerrigan

John Kerrigan (Abt. 1843-1892), aka Michael Kerrigan, Johnny Dobbs, Henry Hall, John Rodgers, J. C. Rice — River thief, bank robber

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #64 Michael Kerrigan

Best known by his street name, “Johnny Dobbs”, many accounts differ as to the real first name of the man known as “the king of bank robbers”: John or Michael Kerrigan. Upon his death in 1892, his wife tried to clear up matters:


John and Anna were married in the Allen Street Methodist Church in 1870. By that point, he was already using the name adopted from his uncle: Johnny Dobbs. Kerrigan’s background and career was very similar to his friend and frequent partner, Jimmy Hope, except that Hope rose from a Philadelphia gang (the Schuylkill Rangers) and Kerrigan from a Lower East Side gang (Slaughter-house Point gang, later Patsy Conroy’s river thieves).

Because Kerrigan is such a major figure in several of the biggest crimes of the 1870s and 1880s, a more complete chronology than that offered by Chief Byrnes is called for:

  • Arrested and sent to prison in February, 1864 for shooting New York police officer Sweeney in the thigh. Sweeney was trying to break up a gang, led by Dobbs, which was chasing a Chinese man down the street. Dobbs was a member of the Fourth Ward’s Slaughter-house Point Gang, soon to be dissolved, succeeded by Patsy Conroy’s gang of river thieves.
  • In prison, Dobbs said to have come under the tutelage of an old English thief named Petrie.
  • Dobbs identified as one of seven prisoners who escaped Sing Sing in February, 1868.
  • In 1869, Dobbs conspired with a corrupt bank clerk to rob Wall Street bankers Cambreling & Pyne of $140,000 in bonds. Both are arrested, and Dobbs returns his share and gives evidence against the clerk (viewed as the worse risk).
  • Married Anna Gould, February 1870
  • In October 1870, a gang of thieves, including Dobbs, “Worcester Sam” Perris, and Charles Gleason, robbed the First National Bank of Grafton, Massachusetts of between $100,000 and $150,000.
  • Purchases farm in Plainfield, New Jersey


  • John’s brother Matthew, known as “Mattie Dobbs,” allegedly shoots Patrick Vaughan in the aftermath of an inter-gang brawl.
  • In October, 1873, a gang of thieves entered the residence of a wealthy farmer, Abram Post, near Embogcht (Inbocht) Bay on the Hudson River, south of Catskill, New York. Similar raids were made against the homes of J. P. Emmet in New Rochelle, New York; and W. K. Soutter on Staten Island. The gang was said to use George Milliard’s saloon to plan its raids, and included Dobbs, Dan Kelly, Pugsey Hurley, Patsy Conroy, Larry Griffin, Dennis Brady, John Burns, and Shang Campbell. All were arrested except Dobbs and Campbell. They fled south to Key West, Florida. Campbell was eventually captured, but Dobbs eluded detectives.
  • Prior to May 1874, Dobbs made frequent visits to his sister and brother-in-law on a farm near Litchfield, Connecticut. The brother-in-law was John Denning, a former Fourth Ward detective.
  • May 1874: Dobbs is arrested in Hartford, Connecticut, accused of robbing the Collinsville Connecticut savings bank. He gives his name as “J. C. Rice.” Tried and convicted, he is sent to the Connecticut State Prison on a seven-year sentence.
  • A year later, in May, 1875, Dobbs escapes from the Connecticut State Prison. It is suspected that he was assisted by a corrupt guard.
  • From 1875 through 1878, Dobbs teamed up with the crew of bank robbers led by mastermind George L. Leslie. How many of their crimes Dobbs was involved in is not known. One of their major targets was the Manhattan Savings bank. An abortive attempt was made against that bank in 1877, organized by Leslie. It was foiled by an unexpected change in bank locks.


  • In February 1878, the Dexter Savings Bank of Maine was robbed–the heist was marred by the death of the bank’s cashier during the crime. The man’s death was a subject of debate for years: was he locked into the bank’s vault because he had failed to cooperate; or had he been complicit, and then committed suicide in remorse? All evidence for the robbery pointed to Leslie’s gang; but no criminal ever admitted involvement, for fear of facing murder charges.
  • In June 1878, George L. Leslie’s body was found near Tramps Rock, Yonkers, near the Bronx River on the Westchester County/New York City border. Members of his own gang were suspected of the murder–including Johnny Dobbs–but the motive is unclear. Did they fear he would implicate them all, especially concerning the Dexter job? Or was the cause Leslie’s attempt to romance the moll of another gang member?
  • On October 27, 1878, the robbery of the Manhattan Savings Bank–initially planned by Leslie, but now led by Dobb’s friend Jimmy Hope–was pulled off successfully. Johnny Dobbs was said to be one of the robbers. The majority of the huge trove of loot, nearly three million dollars, was in registered bonds.
  • The following May, 1879, Dobbs was arrested while trying to negotiate the return of many of the Manhattan Savings bonds. He was taken to the Tombs, New York’s municipal detention center. After a few months, it was decided to return him to the Connecticut State Prison, to serve out the remainder of his term there (after he had escaped in 1875).
  • In 1881, Dobbs is released from the Connecticut State Prison, having time reduced for good behavior.
  • In March of 1884, Dobbs was captured in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with several other known criminals and a large collection of burglary tools. He plead guilty, believing that the sentence would be light. Instead, he was given a term of ten years in the Massachusetts State Prison.
  • John Kerrigan, alias John Dobbs, is released from Massachusetts in 1892 for health reasons, said the be consumptive. He returns to New York, goes to a saloon, and collapses there with a stroke. He died in Bellevue Hospital in May, 1892.

#114 George N. Elwood

George B. Hibbard (1843-1893), aka George Elwood/Ellwood, George A. Moore, Gentleman George — Masked house burglar

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Chicago, Ill. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Hair dyed black, eyes dark- blue, complexion sallow. Has small scar on back of head, left side.

RECORD. Elwood/Wilson is a daring and murderous Western thief. Nothing much is known of him in the Eastern country. He was arrested in New York City on August 24, 1885, in company of Joe Wilson, alias Whalen (65), charged with a series of masked burglaries in several of the Western States. When Elwood’s and Wilson’s rooms, at No. 220 Forsyth Street, New York City, were searched, after the capture of the cracksmen, among the articles seized was a Masonic ring, marked “Edison W. Baumgarten, June 25, 1884.” The ring was traced to Ohio, and on August 25, 1885, in response to some inquiries made by telegraph, the Chief of Police of New York City received the following reply from the Chief of Police of Toledo: “Hold Elwood and Wilson. Charge, grand larceny and burglary and shooting officer with intent to kill. Will send requisition papers immediately.” Subsequent correspondence on the same subject stated that the men were also wanted for a robbery which they had committed at Detroit.

The crime for which the Toledo authorities requested the detention of the prisoners was committed on August 13, 1885. On that night, it was alleged, they broke into a house, and being discovered in the act of plundering the place, fired several shots at the servants. An alarm was raised, and a policeman who started in pursuit of the fugitives was shot in the breast and dangerously wounded. The men then came on to New York. They had been there only a few days before they were under surveillance, and while they were being watched the detectives became aware of the plans they were hatching for a series of burglaries which they contemplated committing in Saratoga. When they were about to start on that trip the detectives arrested them. All through the West, Elwood is known as a daring and desperate burglar, and it is said that some two years ago he murdered two of his associates. Elwood and Wilson were on August 25 arraigned at the Jefferson Market Court in New York City, and at the request of their captors they were committed until the arrival of the Toledo authorities with the requisition papers. They were both delivered to the police authorities of Toledo, Ohio, on August 29, 1885, and taken there for trial. Elwood and Wilson were the parties who robbed the residences of Messrs. Oakes and Merriam in St. Paul, Minn., in August, 1885. Merriam’s diamond scarf-pin was found in their possession, and a pawn ticket taken at Detroit for his diamond collar-button was also found upon them. A requisition was taken out at St. Paul to intercept the prisoners at Toledo, where they were being taken for the robbery of Mr. Baumgarten’s residence and the murder of a policeman. The intention was to take them to St. Paul in case they could not be held for the Toledo crimes. The trial of George A. Elwood, one of the notorious burglars, closed at Toledo, Ohio, on December 12, 1885, with a verdict of guilty. The defense offered no evidence, but argued that Elwood had not been sufficiently identified. A motion for a new trial was made, which was overruled. Elwood said he believed he would get the full extent of the law.

He and his partner, Joseph Wilson, are the original gentlemanly burglars who emptied the houses and filled the newspapers of Cleveland, Detroit, St. Paul, Milwaukee and St. Louis, until their doings in Toledo led to their apprehension in New York. These men are well known thieves, and considerable excitement was caused among the fraternity at the time they were arrested and were about to be taken back to the West. Their methods employed to transfer the possessions of others to their pockets were so peculiarly bold that the whole West was startled by their exploits. Detroit in particular suffered from them, mainly because the police were nonplused by the audacity of their performances. They invariably awakened the parties they intended to rob, and compelled them to comply with their wishes at the points of their revolvers. Oftentimes they would repair to the dining-room with the owner of the premises and indulge in a feast before their departure. Besides doing this, at a residence in Cleveland, they compelled the victim to sign a check for $100 and made him promise not to dishonor it. While leaving a Detroit residence early one morning they met the gentleman of the house returning from out of the city, and not at all taken aback by the encounter, they robbed him on the porch, and then sent him into the house to see what they had left. These eccentricities caused their fame to spread far and wide, and the “gentlemanly burglar” was patterned after in many localities. But there were few equals, and none superior. For coolness and daring Elwood and Wilson stood in the front rank of masked burglars. Elwood was found guilty on December 19, 1885, and was sentenced to ten years in the Ohio penitentiary. In the case of Wilson there was a disagreement of the jury. A second trial resulted in his conviction. (See record of No. 65.)

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. Elwood’s picture was taken in August, 1885.

Throughout his criminal career, “Gentleman George” never revealed his real identity, with the intention of shielding his family’s reputation. However, while imprisoned for the final time, his wife wrote a letter to him that was intercepted by authorities and published in several New England newspapers. The details in the letter revealed “Gentleman George” to be George B. Hibbard of Detroit, Michigan. His respectable, embarrassed family hoped no one would notice these newspaper articles. He died in 1893 in a Rhode Island prison as George Ellwood. Three years later, George B. Hibbard was officially declared dead in Michigan. The family’s story was that he had been long institutionalized in an Eastern Michigan asylum, and had died there.

The truth was much darker. “Gentleman George,” after losing several appeals of his conviction–and facing more than twenty more years remaining on his Rhode Island sentence–attempted a jailbreak by overpowering a guard. He was shot dead while swinging a hammer at the prison guard’s head.

By all appearances, Hibbard was an honest family man during the 1870s and early 1880s, working as a traveling windmill salesman and living with his in-laws in Adrian, Michigan. Years later, rumors surfaced that he had led a long life of crime, and had deceived his wife all during their marriage. One specific allegation said that he was not a salesman, but a “bunco steerer,” a con-man; and that he had joined a gang led by James Fitzgerald in Denver. However, there is no record of any brushes with the law prior to 1885 (also, some confusion might have arisen between Hibbard and other bad characters named George Ellwood.) Sometime in 1883, he met and decided to team up with burglar Joe Whalen (alias Joe Wilson). Why Hibbard turned to burglary is not known, but he and Whalen proved to be an effective team.

The pair of burglars spent the summer of 1885 breaking into houses in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago. From their base in Detroit, they then decided to hit a house in Toledo, where Hibbard, empowered by his mask, made one of his trademark, chilling visits:


Hibbard and Wilson were picked up by detectives in New York on suspicion, and items from this Toledo robbery were found in their possession. It was in New York that Hibbard first used the alias Ellwood, which stuck with him. They were escorted back to Ohio, where they were tried for the Toledo and Cleveland robberies. Hibbard received a sentence a long sentence, and entered the State Prison in 1885. More than halfway through his stretch, he broke free:


Six months later, Hibbard migrated to New England. He burglarized homes in Providence, Rhode Island; then he attempted a house robbery in Norwich, Connecticut, but was shot by the owner in his left breast and left shoulder. Hibbard fled the scene, and though seriously wounded, got on a train to Worcester, Massachusetts. He broke into a couple of houses there, but was later found collapsed in a doorway. Prosecutors agreed the strongest case against him could be made in Providence, so he was sent there to await trial.

It took over a year to convict Hibbard, after his first trial was thrown out on mishandled evidence. At his separate sentencing session, he was accorded the chance to address the court before the sentence was announced. Hibbard stood and began reading from a text said to be forty pages long. He spoke for nearly an hour, condemning the whole process that had brought him to this point: he accused the judges he had faced in Rhode Island of being incapable of fairness; he accused the officers who arrested him of stealing his money, thereby denying his access to good counsel; he stated that the prosecutors had paid witnesses to perjure themselves; he referred to the jury that convicted him as little more than $134 worth of dirt and water, and that they had decided their verdict before they heard any evidence.

Hibbard concluded his tirade with an elaborate, hearty curse:

“My curse upon you all for driving me to the very verge of hell, and may the time come, whether in heaven or hell, upon this miserable earth, when you will likewise curse and I can demonstrate to you my hatred, and how much I loathe, hate, and despise you all. Now look upon your work and see if I am fit to live. Oh, that I had the strength of a thousand Samsons, that I could crush, tear, and rend you all like mad dogs. Now do the most agreeable duty of your life and sentence the man you have hounded into a fiend and a demon. Do your dirty work accordingly.”

Given his nickname, perhaps someone had expected him to be polite.

After a shocked pause, Hibbard’s attorney begged the court to ignore Hibbard’s desperate speech, and be merciful. The judge rebuked Hibbard for being a coward dulled by crime, and sentenced him to twenty-five years hard labor. Six months later, Hibbard made his attempt to escape that resulted in his death.