#132 Kate Armstrong

Alias Kate Armstrong (Abt. 1841-19??), aka Sarah Williams, Catharine Armstrong, Mary Ann Dowd, Becky Stark, Annie Reilly, Mary/Rebecca Colson/Colston, Annie/Rebecca Lewis, Rebecca McNally, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Cook. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 2 1/2 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, florid complexion. Wears gold eye-glasses. Has a large space between upper front teeth. Vaccination mark on left arm.

RECORD. Mary Ann Dowd (right name Catharine Armstrong) is a very clever woman. She was arrested in the spring of 1876, during Moody and Sankey’s revivals, in Madison Square Garden, in New York City, for picking a lady’s pocket, and sent to Sing Sing for two years.

She was arrested again in Providence, R.I., on May 14, 1878, and sentenced to two years in State prison in June of the same year, for picking a woman’s pocket on the street. After her time expired in Providence she went West, and visited Chicago (Ill.) and St. Louis. Mrs. Dowd generally works alone, and confines herself principally to opening hand-bags, or stealing them. Her operations have been greatly aided by her respectable appearance and her perfect self-control.

She was arrested in New York City on October 20, 1884, charged with the larceny of a diamond, sapphire and pearl bar-pin, valued at $250, from the jewelry store of Tiffany & Co., New York, on July 7, 1884. The pin was found on her person, with the diamond removed and a ruby set in its place. For this she was tried by a jury, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison. She obtained a new trial in this case, which resulted in her discharge by Judge Cowing, on December 18, 1884.

She was arrested again in Philadelphia, Pa., at Wanamaker’s grand depot, in company of Harry Busby (135), on November 3, 1885, for picking pockets. Busby was discharged and Mary Ann was convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in the Eastern Penitentiary on November 11, 1885. Her sentence will expire on September 11, 1887. Mrs. Armstrong’s, or Dowd’s, picture is a good one, taken in November, 1885.

None of the names offered by the woman Byrnes declared as “Kate Armstrong” might have been her real name. She was arrested most frequently under two names that Byrnes never mentioned: Rebecca Stark and Rebecca Colston. Several sources do agree that she came from England in the early 1870s, and that she was a pastry cook by profession–when not picking pockets. She was first arrested in Boston in January 1873 under the name Sarah Williams, but was later released.

She next appeared as Mary Ann Dowd, picking pockets as New York’s Hippodrome in March of 1876 (as mentioned by Byrnes) and sentenced to two years in Sing Sing. Byrnes and other sources say that she was arrested in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1878 and jailed for another two years–but if that occurred, her sentence was likely much shorter, for in April of 1879 she was arrested in Boston under the name Rebecca McNally. She was discharged on this occasion, but late in 1879 was taken in Boston again as Ann Riley, alias McNally, and sentenced to one year in the House of Correction.

According to Byrnes, she spent the years between 1880 and 1884 in St. Louis and Chicago, but no accounts from those years have surfaced. In October 1884, she was caught picking pockets in New York at Tiffany’s, and was arrested under her old New York alias, Mary Ann Dowd. She was later discharged.

In November 1885, she was caught in Philadelphia working with an English pickpocket, “English Tom.” She now deployed the alias Catharine/Kate Armstrong, aka Carrie K. Saunders. She was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary for 18 months, but was released early–and was quickly rearrested in October 1886 at the Chester County (PA) Fair under the name Annie Riley, alias Rebecca McNally. However, she was returned to Eastern State Penitentiary as Catharine Armstrong. According to authorities there, she feigned madness, but dropped the act when it proved ineffective.

When released in May 1887, she went to Boston, and was taken in on suspicion as Ann Riley, aka Rebecca McNally. She was discharged and told to leave the city, but instead left the country heading to England. She later claimed to have attended Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, where she made a tidy profit.

She was rediscovered in Boston in September 1891 and arrested for her usual activities, after being identified as Ann Riley/Rebecca McNally/Kate Armstrong/May Ann Dowd/Rebecca Colston. She was punished with one year in the House of Correction. “Correction” was a misnomer, for she was caught in Boston in April 1892, jailed, released, and picked up again in December 1892. This time she was told to leave town.

She did leave Boston, but only for a little over a year. In April 1894 she returned and was arrested as Becky Stark, alias Colston, and was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction.

In May 1896, she reacquainted herself with New York city police. She was discharged, but not before biting the police photographer. Still, he was able to trick her into taking a photo while she was smiling. Her looks had changed little since she had posed eleven years earlier.

She was arrested twice in Boston in 1897; and once in Hoboken in 1898. By 1899 she had migrated to Brooklyn, where she was sent to the House of the Good Shepherd for six months for vagrancy and drunkenness.

In September, 1902, she wandered to Boston again, and was caught picking pockets. She was arrested and tried under the name Rebecca Stark. Once again she was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction. The Boston Globe concluded an item about this episode with as good an epitaph as any:

“When she heard the sentence, ‘Becky,’ who had played the part of a feeble old woman whose heart was nearly broken and was being misjudged, straightened up, wiped away the tears which she had forced to flow, and in a manner that showed that she was anything but spirit-broken, exclaimed, “Six months! For the Lord’s sake! Six months for that!’ The expression on her face clearly denoted satisfaction and surprise that the sentence was not twice as severe.”



#150 James Wells

James Wells (Abt. 1842–????), aka Funeral Wells, James Hayden — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Gray hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a full beard, light color. His eyes are small, weak and sunken.

RECORD. “Funeral Wells” is an old and expert New York pickpocket. His particular line is picking pockets at a funeral, with a woman. The woman generally does the work and passes what she gets to Wells, who makes away with it, the woman remaining behind a little time to give him a chance to escape. Wells has served a term in Sing Sing prison and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York, and is known in all the principal cities.

He has been traveling through the country lately (1886) with Billy Peck (157), and Jimmy Murphy, two other New York pickpockets, working the fairs, churches, etc.

He was arrested in New York City on April 3, 1880, charged with having attempted to rob one Ambrose P. Beekman, a merchant, residing in Jersey City, N. J., while the latter was riding on a cross-town horse-car. The complainant was unable to identify him, and he was discharged.

Wells was arrested again in New York City, on June 19, 1885, under the name of James Hayden, in company of James McKitterick, alias “Oyster Jim,” and sentenced to three months each in the penitentiary, on June 30, 1885, in the Court of Special Sessions, for an assault with intent to steal as pickpockets.

[McKitterick is a hotel and sleeping-car thief, pickpocket, and banco man. His home is in Hudson, N.Y. He is a great fancier of dogs and fighting cocks. Sometimes he has a full beard, and again a smooth face; at other times, chin whiskers. He was arrested in Schenectady in 1883, tried in Albany for picking pockets, and settled the matter by paying a fine of $800. He has been the counsel and adviser of thieves for years, and has been what is termed a “steerer.” For a partner he has had James, alias “Shang” Campbell, Thomas Hammill, Funeral Wells, Peck, alias Peck’s Bad Boy, and others of note. He was arrested some years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., for picking a man’s pocket. A Brooklyn judge who met him on the steamer for Florida identified him as his gentleman companion, and he was discharged. Soon after the close of the war, on the Mississippi he robbed a woman of $1,700. She demanded a search of all on the steamer. Jim had been so kind and attentive to her that he was not searched. A short time ago he was stakeholder for a dog fight in Boston to the amount of $300, and made off with the funds. He took $1,000 worth of bonds from a gentleman in Philadelphia in 1868. His first experience in the East was when the Ball robbery was committed in Holyoke, Mass. He was in it, and was the principal. He, with another, about two years ago, followed a well known lady of Springfield from New Haven to her home for the purpose of stealing her sealskin cloak. The theft was left to his partner, who failed for want of heart to do his work. This noted thief has been known in New York and all the principal cities of the United States under fifty different names. About two years ago, at Bridgeport, Conn., he was on a wharf to see an excursion party land from a steamboat. A man fell in the dock. A policeman standing on the edge of the wharf helped to get the man up. Jim, for fear he might fall into the dock again, kindly put his arms around him to hold him, and robbed him of his watch and eight dollars in money. In 1880, when the Armstrong walk occurred on the Manhattan Athletic grounds, New York City, Jimmy was stakeholder for $480 wagered on the event. Jimmy “welshed,” and the winners never saw the color of their money.]

Wells’s picture is an excellent one, taken in December, 1885.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Old Wells has been arrested a number of times all over the country since 1885. He is getting very old and feeble and is not able to do much except “Stalling” and “Moll buzzing.”

He was arrested in New York City on June 24, 1891, charged with stealing a pocket-book from a woman in St. John’s College at Fordham, N. Y. He plead guilty to this charge and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on July I, 1891, by Judge Cowing, Court of General Sessions.

Under the name of Alex P. Wells he was arrested in Union Square Park, New York City, on July 16, 1892, charged with the larceny of a watch from a man named Sippel. For this offense he was sentenced to two years and six months in State Prison, by Recorder Smyth.

Crime historians should take note: Byrnes’s 1895 addendum on Funeral Wells contains a big red herring. The “Alex P. Wells” sent to Sing Sing in 1892 was not James “Funeral” Wells, but a different man, Charles Henderson aka James Harris, who was making one of six or seven of his visits to Sing Sing. By comparison, Funeral Wells had a shorter criminal record, was three inches taller, and weighed thirty pounds less!

Another odd thing about Byrnes’s entry on Funeral Wells is that most of the print space is devoted not to Wells, but to his one-time partner, “Oyster Jim” McKitterick. Oyster Jim was more of an all-around thief than Funeral Wells, which Byrnes may have found more interesting.

The Sing Sing imprisonment mentioned by Byrnes occurred in May of 1865, following Wells’s arrest during the Abraham Lincoln funeral in New York (the funeral train went to many U.S. cities). One might even guess that this was the source of his nickname.

Between 1865 and 1885 there is a large gap in Wells’s career, which likely signifies numerous or long prison stays under undetected aliases. Newspaper items in 1885 mention that he had spent half his life in prisons.

Byrnes’s lack of exposition on Wells frustrated reviewers of his book. The New York Sun decided to rewrite Wells’s entry with more flourish:

“The solemn and sanctimonious-looking James Wells very appropriately makes a specialty of funerals. He can drop a tear over the deceased with a touching melancholy which goes straight to the heart, and at the same time grope pensively and unobtrusively in his neighbor’s pockets for any small articles or pocketbooks which they may have there. He is sometimes called ‘Mourner’ Wells, and he frequently works at funerals, with a woman for a confederate. The woman rifles pockets and nips off watches, which she passes to the dismal and respectable looking gentleman, who is apparently an entire stranger to her; and when he has got about all he can safely carry he quietly leaves, the confederate remaining behind to cover his retreat. Wells also works churches, church fairs, and other places where his pious visage is appropriate, and is altogether one of the most dangerous men in his way in the country.”

One of Wells’s last known exploits was to pick pockets at the commencement ceremonies and Golden Jubilee of St. John’s College (now Fordham University) in June 1891. For this crime, Wells was sent to Blackwell’s Island for a year.





#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.



#141 Richard Morris

Richard Morris (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Big Dick, Charles Johnson, Richard Johnson, James Johnson, Charles Williams, James Williams, George W. Davis, John Sullivan, etc. – Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Carpenter. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a light-colored beard and mustache, inclined to be sandy.

RECORD. “Big Dick” is a well known New York pickpocket. He works with Charles Douglas, alias Curly Charley; Poodle Murphy (134), Shang Campbell (107), James Wilson, alias Pretty Jimmie (143), and all the other good New York men. He has traveled all over the United States, and is well known in all the principal cities. Morris formerly kept a drinking saloon in New York that was a resort for nearly all the pick- pockets in America, but business fell off and he went back to his old business again.

He was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison, January 7, 1872, for larceny from the person, under the name of Richard Morris.

He was arrested again in Albany, N.Y., by New York officers, and brought to New York City, where he pleaded guilty to grand larceny, and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on August 10, 1885, for stealing a coat from Rogers, Peet & Co., some months previously. He gave bail in this case, which he forfeited, and was subsequently re-arrested as above. Morris’s picture is a good one, taken in October, 1877.

While Richard Morris’s origins, character, and fate remain obscure–and his career as a Bowery gang pickpocket was not particularly interesting–one episode in which he became the talk of New York’s entire underworld community occurred on August 11, 1879. On that day, through no fault of his own, Morris helped to make a public mockery of the entire King’s County (Brooklyn) Sheriff’s department.

Almost exactly one year earlier, in August 1878, a group of four notorious burglars had been caught while robbing the safe of a flour store in Brooklyn. They were: Billy Porter, Johnny Irving, Shang Draper, and John Wilbur (real name Gib Yost), each with long records, and all highly-skilled thieves. Billy Porter (real name William O’Brien) was one of Marm Mandelbaum’s favorite pet burglars–she called him “my most promising chick.” After being arraigned in police court, the four burglars were lodged in the Raymond Street jail to await trial. When transported between the court building and the jail, utmost security was used; the prisoners were handcuffed together; and a whole detail of sheriff deputies surrounded them.

The four burglars were afforded the best legal defense (likely funded by Marm Mandelbaum), and their trials were dragged out for over eight months. Billy Porter’s first trial resulted in a hung jury, and so he was tried again in May 1879. This time he was convicted, and returned to the Raymond Street jail to await his sentencing. Porter’s fate galvanized his supporters, and put fear into his partner Johnny Irving. Porter and Irving decided to try an escape, and found it surprisingly easy to do, for the guards had let down their vigilance. Porter and Irving had been given the freedom of the jail corridors, and noted the lax security around the building exits. They were able to walk through a kitchen door, across the open grounds of the nearby jail hospital, and then climbed over the short fence to the side street.

The effortless escape of Porter and Irving was denounced by Brooklyn and New York newspapers as a sign of mismanagement in the King’s County sheriff’s office, which spurred both the Brooklyn police and the sheriff to try to recapture the fugitives as quickly as possible. They had no leads until late July, when a New Jersey detective named Fred Whitehead noticed Marm Mandelbaum making several visits to an upscale hotel in Passaic; followed by visits made by “Mickey” Welch, a crook who was suspected in aiding Porter and Irving’s escape from jail. Through an informer, Whitehead learned that they were making arrangements for Porter and Irving to make the hotel their new headquarters. Staking out the hotel around the clock, he finally saw Porter arrive on July 14, 1879. Whitehead waited patiently, and was rewarded a week later when Irving also checked in.

He alerted the authorities in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Sheriff Riley arrived in Passaic with five of his deputies. Together with ten Passaic detectives and constables and Fred Whitehead, they had seventeen men surrounding the hotel. Sheriff Riley insisted that they hold off a day or two before arresting the pair, in hopes that other fugitive criminals might be joining them, and to verify their identities. Fred Whitehead seethed, thinking that they had Porter and Irving in a perfect trap. Meanwhile, the two thieves started keeping different schedules, and were rarely in the hotel together.

Finally, Riley declared they would raid the men’s rooms at four the next morning, when they were most like to be asleep. Porter and Irving were seen going to their rooms around midnight. The hotel proprietor, who may or may not have been bribed by Marm Mandelbaum, noticed several men lurking outside the hotel. The next thing the officers knew, Porter and Irving burst out of a side doorway and ran towards a back street. One man spotted then and chased them into a small alley, but Porter or Irving shot a pistol at him, just missing his head. They then ran into a back yard and jumped over a fence, and were not seen again. They had eluded all seventeen men.

This incident, too, made all the newspapers, further adding to the bumbling reputation of Sheriff Riley and his men. One of Riley’s deputies, Thomas Morris, felt sure that they might get another shot at capturing Porter and Irving if they kept an eye on Marm Mandelbaum, who no longer was making visits to Passaic, but instead kept close to her store at the corner of Clinton and Rivington streets in lower Manhattan. Accordingly, she was placed under constant surveillance. Through this watch they learned that Mandelbaum’s son was planning a huge picnic gathering at the Jones Wood Colosseum, a park and resort on the upper East side of Manhattan, known for hosting many large festivals.

Deputy Morris learned that Marm Mandelbaum was to be the central honoree of this celebration, and that all of her thieving proteges and their families were invited. He was convinced that Porter and Irving would not miss such an occasion, and was able to get a ticket to the picnic from an informer. After mingling with the merrymakers, Deputy Morris spotted four men at the makeshift bar tent; he identified them as Porter, Irving, and the two men who had helped them escape from jail: Johnny The Mick and Mickey Welch.

Morris ran to the nearest police precinct station and demanded to see the captain. He convinced the captain to call out every man available, and reserves, and to make a beeline to Jones Wood. There, the police surrounded the four men and took them to the precinct house, where the suspects gave suspected aliases and totally denied being any of the men being sought.

Eventually, several New York police detectives arrived and informed Deputy Morris that they had arrested the wrong men. The detectives recognized only one of the four that had been taken: his name was Richard Morris, a Bowery pickpocket. “Big Dick” was asked to explain why he was attending the Mandelbaum’s picnic. His answer was simple–he owned a bar just down the street from Marm Mandelbaum, and knew her as a local business owner.

Big Dick was let loose with apologies, while Deputy Sheriff Thomas Morris brought yet more shame to the reputation of Brooklyn’s law officers. Big Dick returned to his saloon to be hailed as the hero of the day.

Big Dick was active as late as 1903, when he was caught picking pockets at a fireman’s muster in Salem, Massachusetts.









#96 William J. Johnson

Joseph W. Harris (Abt. 1857-????), aka William J. Johnson – Pickpocket, Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-nine years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single. Printer. Well built. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion; generally wears a brown mustache. Has scar over left eye; dot of India ink on left hand. Claims to have been born in Philadelphia.

RECORD. Johnson, or Harris, is a clever pickpocket and boarding-house thief. He is well known in New York and Boston, Mass., and other cities, and is an associate of Frank Auburn, alias Austin (46), with whom he has been working in several of the Eastern cities. He was arrested in Boston, Mass., on April 28, 1884, in company of Auburn, charged with picking pockets in the churches in that city, tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years in State prison at Concord, Mass., on May 16, 1884. His sentence will expire on December 23, 1886. His picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1884.

Though Byrnes contended that Harris was “well-known in New York and Boston, Mass., and other cities,” no arrests other than the one mentioned by Byrnes can be found.

What is true is that Harris was a partner of John Francis Aborn, aka Frank Auburn, the ever-fascinating swindler/process server. Harris appears to be another pal of Aborn’s in the mold of Mason Helmborn, i.e. Harris came from a respectable family, had a little money, and was easily cajoled into going on a swindling and pickpocket spree. This matches the impression that was conveyed by Boston newspapers:


Harris’s bright-eyed appearance in his arrest photograph does not suggest a man that has ever seen the inside of a prison. Instead of meriting a separate profile in Byrnes’s book, it might have been more appropriate for Harris to be given a brief mention in a longer entry for Aborn, alias Frank Auburn.



#175 William Perry

William Perry (Abt. 1849-????), aka William Prentiss, Edward Perry, Charles Ewing, John Gray, George Graham — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in Virginia. Married. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 4 1/2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Light hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Generally has a clean-shaven face.

RECORD. Billy Perry is one of the most expert and successful professional thieves in America. He has been traveling around the country for years, generally working with a woman. He is well known in all the large cities, and is considered a first-class man.

Perry was arrested, and sentenced to three years in State prison, in Richmond, Va., in 1871, for picking pockets. He served two years in Sing Sing prison since.

On June 1, 1882, Eldridge G. Rideout, a publisher on Barclay Street, New York, was robbed of his gold watch at the South Ferry, New York. Perry was arrested, and recognized as the thief. Soon after his release on bail in this case he was arrested again, for robbing a man of a gold watch on one of the Coney Island boats. When Perry was brought to court in New York City he was discharged, because the crime with which he was charged had been committed out of the jurisdiction of the court. When Perry’s case, for stealing of Mr. Rideout’s watch, was set down for trial in the Court of General Sessions he had disappeared, and his bail was forfeited. He was re-arrested, bailed again, and when the case was set down again for trial the pickpocket could not be found.

Nothing was heard of him until the arrival of the survivors of the Greely Arctic expedition at Newburyport, Mass., on August 13, 1884, when he was arrested there, with a number of other professional thieves. Before the New York officers could reach Newburyport, Perry had been handed over to the Portsmouth (N. H.) authorities for a theft which he had committed there a few weeks before. On that charge he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in the Portsmouth jail on August 27, 1884. Perry’s sentence expired on August 27, 1885, when he was arrested, at the jail door, brought to New York City, committed to the Tombs prison on August 30, 1885, and subsequently discharged again on bail. Perry’s picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1884.

Wherever crowds congregate, professional pickpockets can be expected to be found. This fact was quickly learned by police, and so by the 1870s, plains clothes detectives were routinely assigned to patrol train stations, ship docks, and holiday gatherings. Pickpockets realized that the authorities were sometimes less prepared for special events that drew crowds. Billy Perry made a practice of following these festivities–and of stealing one item only: men’s watches.

Only a few arrests are recorded about this time thief, but they convey a different way to look at history:

  • In 1871, Perry was arrested for stealing watches from visitors to Virginia’s State Agricultural Fair. Bynres and others stated that Perry came from Virginia, but some sources said he came from Detroit. Whatever the case, Perry would have quickly learned that people took money and timepieces to State fairs.
  • In 1875, Perry was arrested in New Orleans for lifting a timepiece two weeks before the annual Mardi Gras celebrations. 1875 marked the first year that Mardi Gras was recognized as an official state holiday in Louisiana.
  • In 1879, Billy was captured in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on the occasion of General Ulysses S. Grant’s visit. In 1877, after stepping down from the Presidency, Grant had embarked on a 2 1/2 year world tour with his wife, where he met nearly every major world leader. When he returned to the United States in 1879, he then crossed the nation on a celebratory tour, and attracted vast crowds, parades, and innumerable dinners and speeches.
  • In August of 1883, Billy Perry was arrested for picking pockets at Coney Island. Coney Island was a routine hunting ground for pickpockets during the summer months, but August of 1883 was especially attractive: Buffalo Bill Cody would up his first season of touring his outdoor Wild West Show with a five-week stay at Coney Island.
  • A year later, in August 1884, Perry was arrested for stealing a watch from a man attending the reception for the rescued Lady Franklin Bay arctic expedition, led by Lt. Adolphus Greely. The expedition had been stranded for three years before a rescue fleet reached them. Only seven of twenty-five expedition members had survived. A huge homecoming parade was held for them in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Perry was tried and jailed.
  • In June 1887, Perry was apprehended picking pockets at the gala election celebration in Newport, Rhode Island–the first time in decades that Democrats had won the State elections.
  • In August 1887, Perry was jailed during the laying of the cornerstone of the Bennington Monument, which was being erected in commemoration of the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War.

Billy Perry was jailed with another pickpocket. This other man was initially identified as William “Earsey” Peck. These two pickpockets escaped from the Bennington jail along with a local man (a rapist). Perry was captured in New York a couple of months later. No explanation was ever published, but at some point the authorities stopped mention of Peck as the second man and instead identified Michael “Pugsey” Hurley–who was sent to Vermont to stand trial.

The above events only represent the occasions when Billy Perry was arrested. What other historical events did he witness where he was not caught stealing timepieces?

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes indicates that Perry had reformed.


#128 Sophie Lyons

Sophia Elkins-Levy (1847-1924), aka Sophie Lyons, Sophie Burke, Sophie Brady – Pickpocket, Moll

Link to Byrne’s text on #128 Sophie Lyons

The life story of Sophie Lyons–intricately connected to the careers of her other erstwhile husbands: Maury Harris, Ned Lyons, Jim Brady and Billy Burke; not to mention other notable friends and lovers–involves a huge swath of American criminal history. She was more than a notable member of the underworld community, she was one of its foremost chroniclers. Sophie never honestly told her own story, and her criminal reminiscences were only infrequently based on her own recollections, and otherwise relied on other sources (like Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America), and a large dose of fabrication.

A full, accurate, well-researched biography of Sophie’s life has never been published, but it may not be long before one appears. Much was written about her long before her career was over, and those articles also were full of mistakes and untruths. Offered below is a typical example from a very atypical source (which makes it such an oddity): the lawyer who represented her in several early scrapes, William F. Howe, of the infamous firm Howe & Hummel.

It is a minor mystery why, in 1897, William F. Howe would have written this article (the first of two) on Sophie for the National Police Gazette. There were dozens of other criminals he could have written about–including his foremost client, Marm Mandelbaum–but Howe chose only to write about Sophie. A decade earlier, in 1888, he had written a book with Hummel about the New York underworld, Danger!: A True History of the Great City’s Wiles and Temptations, but it carefully avoided naming active professional criminals.

One might expect that Howe–a legal genius–would pen a dispassionate, clear-eyed history of Sophie, but instead he engaged in romantic myth-building as enthusiastically as any eager young yellow journalist. One of Sophie Lyons’s qualities was the ability to encourage in others the image of her as a bandit queen, born to be a thief, and not driven to thievery by necessity–and to ignore any pain she inflicted on victims of her crimes. William F. Howe’s puffery (based on anecdotes he heard, true or false) is a prime example:


“If ever there was a woman who was worthy of the title of high priestess of crime and queen of blackmailers, that woman is Sophie Lyons, who has made victims on two continents contribute to her purse; and who, perhaps with the exception of ‘Little Annie’ Reilly, has stolen more money than any other woman in the world. Thomas Byrnes, once Superintendent of Police of New York, says that she is the most expert and dangerous female crook he ever met, and her record shows that he knows what he is talking about.

“There is really no reason why Sophie Lyons should have been anything else than a thief, for her grandfather was one of the most daring cracksmen the sleuths of Scotland Yard ever had to deal with, and he gave them more trouble than any other lurcher who ever roamed London at night looking for a crib to open. Her mother was Sophie Elkins, as slick a shoplifter as ever dropped a bolt of silk into a bag, and her father was a blackmailer who could give points on trickery to any nobsman in the business. If that choice bunch wasn’t enough to put criminal blood into a woman, then nothing ever would. So you see that there was an excuse for her, and that, according to the law of heredity, it wasn’t really her fault that she became a crook. When she became a star in her chosen profession she reflected credit upon her parents.

“She was taken in hand when she was very young, and as she grew up it became very natural for her to look around for a ‘good thing.’ But there was something besides her cleverness which helped her, and that was nature. She was a pretty girl from the start, with big, gray, sympathetic eyes that could make anyone fall in love with them if she willed it, and as she grew into young womanhood she developed a figure that was superb in its wonderful loveliness. She was a woman to win a man’s heart and take his purse from under his very nose, but from the first she hated small purses. Sophie Lyons never lowered herself to petty larceny. She had been taught that it was infinitely easier to get away with a large bank roll than a few dollars, and she faithfully followed that teaching all her life.

“So to her parents and associates Sophie has always been a credit. And why wouldn’t she, when it is asserted that her parents burned her arms with hot irons to force her to steal. She learned the lesson better than they thought she would, and when she had no more to learn she began to teach others.

“She married a famous burglar–it is seldom that these women are really married–and she raised children for him. He was Ned Lyons. They had children and there is every reason to believe that Lyons was the father, for she was true to her crib-cracking spouse. As a result of the union there were two boys and two girls. The boys both became thieves, and the daughters were placed in a convent in Canada. She took great pride in her oldest son, George, who inherited the thieving instinct. He wasn’t as lucky in his operations as he might have been, and he died while serving a term in Auburn prison.

“But it will be better, perhaps, to begin at the beginning of the woman’s career–to begin, for instance, at her birth, and go with her through her calendar of crime. Everything can not be known, however, for Sophie has turned tricks which have never seen the light of day, and that, perhaps, is one of the reasons why she is worth $50,000 today.

“Forty-six years ago her father was in hiding from the detectives and her mother was in prison for shoplifting when she was born. She saw prison bars as soon as she opened her eyes, and it seemed to have been rather a pat introduction into the world for her. But she wasn’t really heard of until she was about twelve years old. Then she was caught picking a pocket. She was so young and she looked so innocent that the magistrate couldn’t believe her guilty, so he discharged her. But it didn’t stop her. She kept her hands in folks’ pockets with great success, for she had been made more shrewd by her first fail.

“At the extremely tender age of fifteen years she had her first love affair, and it is perhaps one of the most romantic affairs in the life of this remarkable woman. She went out walking on the avenue one fine afternoon looking for ‘graft.’ As usual, she was alone, for even at that tender age she made up her mind she could work better alone than with any ‘pals.’ She came to a street corner where a horse had fallen down and where a crowd had collected.

“She couldn’t have wished for anything better, and in a few minutes she was among the people, pushing and shoving with the rest, only she didn’t care a rap what all the excitement was about. All she was looking for was plunder. In a few minutes she had spotted a school boy of about seventeen years who wore a heavy gold watch chain on his vest. She edged her way over to him, and when she started back a few moments later she not only had his watch, but she had the chain, too. That was all she got that afternoon, and on her way home she looked at her booty. Upon the case of the watch was engraved the boy’s name and address, and for the first time in her life a great feeling of sympathy came over Sophie Levy for one of her victims. She remembered that the boy was very handsome, that he had big blue eyes and a manly way with him that appealed to her, and the result was that when she arrived home she said nothing about the watch, but kept it hidden in the bosom of her dress. She couldn’t get the boy’s face out of her mind, and it haunted her day and night, until finally she took to hanging about the house where he lived. One day, by accident, he met her on the avenue and he smiled on her.

“That is the way it began, and that is how they became acquainted. While they walked and talked she could feel his watch ticking against her breast, and it seemed to her as if everyone on the street could hear it.

“After that they had a great many meetings, and at last the boy became so infatuated with her that he wanted to marry her.

“She was willing, so he took her to the grand house where he lived so that he could introduce her to his father.

“‘What is your name?’ asked the old gentleman.

“‘Sophie Levy.’

“‘You’re a very nice little girl, but I think you’re too young to marry. Besides, when my son marries he shall marry his equal. Here is a present for you,’ and he held out a $10 bill. ‘Now run away home.’

“She took the money, threw it on the floor and trampled on it angrily. ‘I don’t want your money,’ she screamed, ‘and I’m going to marry your son just to spite you.’

“‘Come, come, none of that. You must go out of here and not raise any row.’

“He took her by the shoulders and began to push her towards the door, but she flew at him like a tigress. She fought him back to the center of the room and then she said: ‘I’ll go now because I am ready to go. Good bye.’ And she started out.

“She got $20 from a fence for the watch and chain and she was willing to get rid of it now her romance was over. But she had her revenge.

“Three times in as many weeks she picked the old gentleman’s pocket. Once she got his watch, twice she fished his purse out and then she wound up by nipping his diamond stud from his ample shirt front. In telling of this afterwards she said she ought to have stolen the old fellow’s clothes off his back for breaking up her first love affair. If she had married the swell kid Sophie Levy might today be a leader in a social set, instead of a woman who is constantly under the surveillance of the police.

“When she was seventeen years old she was a decided beauty, and it was then she met old Mother Mandelbaum, the notorious fence, who years later took refuge in Canada from the inquisitive police. Mother Mandelbaum had no use for anyone but a high-class crook, and when she took little Sophie Levy up it made her reputation at once. Levy was her name before she married Ned Lyons. The Mandelbaum woman put new ideas in her head.

“‘You are beautiful, my child,’ she said to her one day. ‘You ought to do very well. Men will like you and that is the best of all, for you can do with them as you please, and with your face it will not be necessary for you to nip their clocks–they will give you anything you want.’

“That set Sophie to thinking, and she concluded the old mother of crooks was right. So from that time on she began to play upon the sympathies of men, and it is on record that she was never once known to fail.

“She was in the hey-day of her youth and beauty when she met Ned Lyons, the man who was destined to become her husband–the man who stole millions and who eventually drifted into the worst kind of poverty; the man who was as handsome as an Adonis, but who lost his looks with his luck.

“Lyons’ father was an honest weaver, who came to New York with his family in 1850 from Manchester, England. The boy fell among among thieves and it wasn’t long before he was working with them and turning a trick as good as the best of them. At the beginning of the war he was a young man, handsome, daring and athletic, and he turned his talents to robbing drunken soldiers until the game became risky and then he became a full-fledged bounty jumper. It was his boast that he enlisted and deserted in New York alone eighteen times within one month. That was pretty fast moving, and so, in order to escape the bullets they generally throw into a captured bounty jumper, Lyons moved westward.

“He did not return east until 1866, and then it was known that he had turned off altogether about $150,000, most of which had gone into the faro bank, for which he was a good thing. But when he struck New York he was still ‘flush’ enough and was far from broke. With the rest of the criminal push he wandered to Mother Mandelbaum’s.

“One night he was sitting there when a handsome young woman came in. ‘Who’s the moll?’ he asked.

“‘Sophie Levy,’ was the answer.

“‘I think I’ll make a play for her,’ he remarked, as he walked over to where she was. He was introduced by Mrs. Mandelbaum and he began his courting by saying to her, ‘I rather like your looks. What do you think of me?'”






#197 Walter Price

Walter D. Price (Abt. 1830-1894), aka George W. Henry, Charles Rodgers — Pickpocket, Policy Writer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Sandy hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Sometimes wears a light beard; generally shaved clean. Quite a clerical-looking old fellow.

RECORD. Price is no doubt one of the most expert old pickpockets and shoplifters in America. He is known from Maine to California, and has served terms in prison in almost every State in the Union. This man generally works with a smart woman, doing the “stalling” for her; he, however, is quite handy himself, and does considerable work alone.

He was arrested in New York City, in company of one George Williams, for shop-lifting. He was charged with the larceny of a silver watch from a jewelry store. In this case Price and Williams, on a plea of guilty, were sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on February 18, 1875, in the Court of General Sessions. Price gave the name of Louis Lewis.

After this he is credited with serving another term in Sing Sing prison.

He was arrested again in New York City, on November 24, 1879, under the name of George W. Henry, in company of Mary Grey, alias Ellen Clegg (115), another notorious female pickpocket and shoplifter. The complainant testified that Price and Ellen visited his establishment on November 24, and while Price engaged the attention of one of the salesmen by exhibiting a sample piece of silk, stating he wanted a large quantity of the pattern, Ellen, who carried a large bag or “kick,” quietly slipped into its recesses $120 worth of silk which lay on the counter. As they were leaving the store, which was at No. 454 Broome Street, New York City, one of the salesmen missed the goods and caused their arrest. On the way to the police station, Ellen tried to drop the bag which was under her dress, but she was detected in the act. Both pleaded guilty in the Court of General Sessions, before Judge Gildersleeve, on December 16, 1879, when Price was sentenced to three years in State Prison at Sing Sing, and Clegg to three years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York City. Price’s picture is a very good one, although taken ten years ago.

Little can be said about Walter Price that would improve upon his obituary printed by the New York Herald, which shines a light onto aspects of New York City history that have faded into the shadows:

“This notice, which appeared in the Herald yesterday, tells of the death of one of the most remarkable criminals with whom the police of this and other cities have had to deal: ‘PRICE–On Monday, August 6, Walter D. Price, beloved husband of Margaret McKiernan, in his 65th year. Funeral from his late residence, 305 W. 126th St., on Thursday, August 9, at one o’clock. Relatives and friends invited. Interment in Woodlawn.’

“Price was born here, and grew up a Bowery boy in every sense of the word, except so far as outward appearances are concerned. He slipped into crime naturally.

“He was considered, in his prime, one of the most dangerous pickpockets living. He had a dozen aliases and had undergone arrest many times. Then, for a dozen years he made a princely income by conducting a policy shop [numbers lottery] in Vesey street, near Washington, and directly across the way from the market, until a few weeks ago, when his place was closed by the proprietor, who remodeled the building.

“The funeral party is expected to include many of the old ‘Gilhoolies and Rileys’ as they fondly term themselves, a group of whom were on the sidewalk in front of McKeever Brothers’ saloon, at 98 Vesey street, last evening, and talked over old times. Prominent among them was T. J. Gowan, head bartender, who used to be treasurer for both of the clubs. He was applauded vigorously when he remarked: ‘Any Gilhooly or Riley that don’t help bury him deserves to be buried, too.’

“Their feeling of friendship to Price, who was regarded by society at large as a most dangerous character, dates back a decade and a half, when he was conducting his policy shop, in the rear of a supposed hairdressing salon. Price didn’t make himself unduly conspicuous in those days, or in any others when he could help it.

“He was five feet, eight and one-half inches in height and weighed 180 pounds. His light complexion and smooth face went well with carefully-brushed sandy hair, and his gray eyes had a kindly expression. He always dressed in black, the cut of his clothing, especially about the collar, leading all but his intimates to suppose him to be a clergyman. Sometimes he wore a light beard, but nearly always his face was clean shaven.

“The police say his principal characteristic was ability to pick almost any pocket without being detected. Gowan, his friend, described him in these words: ‘When some married man died, he was always the first to ask, “Is the widder broke?” And then, he would go down into his clothes for a tenner or for twenty-five either. Many a poor woman will cry when she hears the news of him being dead, and so will men he has fed and kept alive until they got work.’

“The other old Gilhoolies and Rileys murmured assent at this, and to a question then asked Gowan replied: ‘Was he liberal? Well, he was. In the good old days, if you had a chowder he would take two tickets, or four, or six most likely, whether he intended to go or not. He got to be sorry for his pocket picking, but never denied it. I’ve heard several ask him about that life, and he’d say back, “Yes, I was a foolish young feller then. I done the things you spoke of.”‘

“‘But remember,’ chimed in another Gilhooley close by, ‘he reformed later and conducted a perfectly respectable policy shop next door.’

“‘Yes,’ added Gowan, ‘for years and years he did a tremendous business and was known as the King of Policy Shops. All the best butchers and other men in Washington Market played there regular. Then others crept in and cut up the business, so I don’t believe he left a dollar. It was all he could do to navigate around the last few months. Poor fellow! He was good and kind and nobly liberal.’

“‘So he was!’ chorused the others.

“It is said that Price never drank or gambled or cursed or smoked in his life.

“Superintendent Byrnes, however, placed a different estimate on Price’s value to the community. In a book he says Price was known as Henry, alias Lewis, alias Gregory, lifelong pickpocket and shoplifter, from Maine to California, as a dangerous character, and served terms in prison in almost every State in the Union. He generally worked with a smart woman.”





#124 Elizabeth Dillon

Bridget Cole (Abt. 1844-192?), aka Elizabeth Dillon, Bridget McNally, Bridget Rafferty, Bridget Corrigan, Mary Ryan – Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Married. Housekeeper, Slim build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Brown hair, dark brown eyes, swarthy complexion, high cheek bones. A remarkably tall, thin woman; big lips.

RECORD. Elizabeth Dillon, or Cole, is a well known female pickpocket. She has been arrested in almost every city in the Union, and has done considerable service in State prisons and penitentiaries throughout the country. She is well known in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Providence, R.I., and several other Eastern cities. She is very quick in her actions and difficult to follow. She was arrested in Providence, R.I., on February 1, 1879, charged with picking pockets, and sentenced to two years in State prison on March 11, 1879. Since then she has served two terms in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York. Her picture is a very good one, taken in March, 1879.

Though Elizabeth Dillon (the name she often favored when arrested) did roam eastern cities picking pockets, her home was Boston, Massachusetts. She said she had come from Ireland as a young girl, and had not started stealing until an adult. Her first known arrest was in Boston in April 1876, working crowds with another pickpocket named Patrick McNally. She used the name Bridget Cole, which may have been her real name. In the following years, her arrests came under the name Bridget McNally–which was also the name used when she (re)married in 1894 to Francis Corrigan.

In 1883, she was still using the name Bridget McNally, but was no longer working with him. Instead, she traveled with another male pickpocket named Martin Rafferty. They were arrested together in Buffalo, New York in August 1883. By the next year, 1884, she was using the name Bridget Rafferty.

There was a long gap in her career between 1884 and 1895, likely signifying one or more long sentences, before she reappeared in Boston in 1894. Her mate, Martin Rafferty, was said to have died many years earlier. In June 1894, she married another pickpocket partner, Francis Corrigan, in a Catholic ceremony.

A May 1895 arrest of Bridget interrupted their marriage. A Boston police detective recognized her, trailed her movements, and caught her stealing a pocketbook. She was sent to prison for two years. She was arrested again in 1898 and served another year. In January 1900, she and Corrigan were arrested together. They were released for lack of evidence. Several months later, in May, she was stopped by a store detective while picking the pocket of a customer. Again, she was not convicted.

In August 1901, “Liz Dillon” was caught while picking pockets at a funeral. As an excuse, she said she liked to cry, and could do so as easily for a stranger as a friend; and that no one suspected a person who cries. At her trial, the judge heard a recitation of her record, and remarked, “Truly, she is beyond redemption.” She was sentenced to three and a half years in the House of Correction.

After her release she went to New York and was caught working the passengers on a ferry. For this, she was put away another three years.

In September, 1908, she was arrested in Boston for picking pockets at the Dudley Street streetcar terminal, and described by her real married name, Bridget Corrigan. A year later she was picked up again, this time for vagrancy. Bridget was, in 1909, between 56 and 66 years old. She was sentenced to four months in jail–the limit for vagrancy.

Boston, August 1912: Six months, attempted larceny. Her appearance in court was quite feeble, and opinion was that she would be serving her last sentence.

April 1913: Three months for picking pockets at Revere Beach.

September 1913: Arrested in Boston as a vagabond: four months to a year.

October 1918: Eight months in Boston’s House of Correction.

October 1919: One year, picking pockets in a department store.

In May, 1920, Bridget was arrested for vagrancy. Judge Michael J. Murray, Sheriff John A. Keliher, and a female probation officer sat her down and made her an offer: she was known to be an excellent seamstress, having done very high-quality work while confined in various prisons. Judge Murray told Bridget that he had arranged for her to get a job and a place to live as a seamstress, and that if she kept honest, she would soon be able to live on her own. He suspended her six-month sentence if she would agree to try to live honestly.

No further arrests were recorded.





#186 William Dougherty

William Dougherty (Abt. 1845-????), aka William Gleason, William Davis, Big Dock — Burglar, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, about 180 pounds. Dark brown hair, dark eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a brown mustache. Hair worn long and inclined to curl. He is a tall, fine-looking man. Dresses well.

RECORD. “Big Dock” is an old Eighth Ward New York pickpocket and sneak thief. He is well known in a number of the principal cities in the United States and Canada, and is an escaped prisoner from Sing Sing prison, New York. There is a standing reward of fifty dollars for any officer in the United States who arrests and holds him until the prison authorities can come for him. He is a big, desperate fellow, and requires watching before and after arrest. Dougherty has served terms in Sing Sing prison (New York), and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island; also, in Canada. He is an associate of “Curly” Charley, “Big Dick” Morris (141), “Jimmy the Kid” (143), Freddie Louther (161), “Aleck the Milkman” (160), and several other first-class pickpockets.

He was arrested in New York City on October 7, 1875, for grand larceny and felonious assault. Mr. Joseph Wolf and his wife got on board of a Third Avenue car in Park Row, intending to go up-town. Before the car had proceeded far, his watch was torn from his pocket by Dougherty, who then jumped off the platform and ran away. Mr. Wolf gave chase to the fugitive, and overtook him in Nassau Street. The thief struck him a blow in the face, and continued his flight, still pursued by Mr. Wolf. The latter again overtook the runaway, in Theatre Alley, when Dougherty turned upon him, knocked him down, and while he was lying upon the ground fired a shot at him from a revolver. When Mr. Wolf came to his senses the thief was out of sight. An officer who was in the vicinity heard the shot, and arrived on the scene in time to pursue the culprit, whom he captured. Dougherty was tried, found guilty, and sentenced, on November 11, 1875, to ten years in State prison for the larceny, and five years for the assault, making fifteen years in all, by Recorder Hackett. He gave the name of William Gleason.

“Big Dock” escaped from Sing Sing prison on January 30, 1876, and is now wanted by the prison authorities. The white affair on his breast is a pocket-handkerchief which he placed there to hide a bloody shirt when his picture was taken. Dougherty’s picture is a good one, although taken fifteen years ago.

Dougherty was an accomplished burglar as well as pickpocket. In April 1872, he and another noted burglar/pickpocket, James Munday, were caught on the premises of Stewart & Corbett’s hobby-horse factory. Though one can easily imagine these villainous rustlers making their escape on hobby-horses, the drab reality is that they were after carpenter’s tools. Alternate reports of the same incident said the factory made pianos or chairs, and that a night watchman was bound, gagged, and tied up to a piano leg.

Dougherty was released on bail, which he jumped, reportedly fleeing to Boston. He got into trouble there, and spent much of 1872 and 1873 in the Massachusetts State Prison.

While still under indictment for that crime, two years later, in May 1874, Dougherty was back in New York City and was caught with “Albert Wilson alias Jim Wilson” while at a beer garden dividing the spoils of a burglary of a lace importer. [It is unclear if the partner was Jimmy Wilson the pickpocket; or Albert Wise alias Al. Wilson; or a different man].

For reasons unknown, Dougherty was able to escape the consequences of the 1872 robbery and the lace robbery, and was set at liberty. In August 1875 he was arrested for selling fine linen napkins (with the owner’s name embroidered on them) that had been reported stolen. Once again he avoided lockup, until two months later, when the street-car robbery described by Byrnes went awry.

Facing a fifteen year sentence in Sing Sing, Dougherty resolved to escape. In late March, 1876, he hid outside while his work crew returned to their cell block; and his cellmate answered roll call for him later that evening.

Dougherty’s escape came ten years before Inspector Byrnes wrote his book; and no word had been heard of “Big Dock” in the intervening years. Most people likely assumed he was dead, but Byrnes appeared to suspect otherwise.