#61 Thomas O’Connor

Thomas O. Connors (Abt. 1860-????), aka Tommy Connors — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. Teamster. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 3/4 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Dark hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion, freckled face. Has a star in India ink on right hand, and letters “T. O. C.” in a circle on left arm.

RECORD. “Tommy Connors,” the name he is best known by, is a desperate west side New York burglar. He is well known in the Eastern States as the former partner of Clark Carpenter, alias Clarkey (deceased), and James McDonald, alias Milky McDonald, two other notorious west side burglars. He has served a term in Sing Sing prison and in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, New York.

He first came into prominent notice when arrested in New York City on December 2, 1884, in company of John McKeon, alias Kid McKeon, alias Whitey, and William Pettibone, for robbing a safe in the Bay State shoe-shop, in the Kings County Penitentiary of New York. Pettibone was at the time in the employ of the company. McKeon had served a term in the penitentiary, and worked in the shop. These two, in company of Connors, tore the safe open, and secured $3,104 in money in November, 1884. Pettibone was arrested and used by the people as a witness to convict McKeon, who was sentenced to six years and six months in State prison. Connors escaped conviction in this case.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 14, 1886, in company of Clark Carpenter, alias Clarkey, and James McDonald, alias Milky McDonald, and delivered to the police authorities of Boston, and taken there to answer for a series of burglaries. One of the burglaries occurred on October 1, 1885, at No. 470 Harrison Avenue; another on Thanksgiving morning, 1885, at No. 428 Tremont Street; another on December 26, 1885, at No. 390 West Broadway, South Boston, and several others in the city of Boston and vicinity. Connors, McDonald, and Clark were tried in Boston on February 11, 12, and 13, 1886, and the jury disagreed; they were remanded to Charles Street jail to await another trial. This case was finally brought to a close on April 15, 1886, when Thomas O’Connor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in State prison. Milky McDonald was discharged on April 15, 1886. Clarkey was also discharged on the same day, but, being very sick, died in Charles Street jail on the following day, April 16, 1886. O’Connor’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1886.

Byrnes’s entry for this criminal is maddeningly unclear. None of the accounts of the two crimes Byrnes lists mention the name “O’Connor,” only “Connors.” The accompanying photo for Byrnes’s entry labels the man’s name as “Thomas O. Connor,” and his physical description mentions a tattoo with three initials: T.O.C.  Byrnes also mentions that Tommy had been in Sing Sing, but no Connors or O’Connors match the description given by Byrnes.

Many criminal court entries and Blackwell’s Island jailings can be found for men named Thomas O’Connor or Thomas Connors, but without further clues, there is no way to tell if any of those are the same man. So while not much more can be discovered about Tommy, there’s more that can be said about the two crimes listed by Byrnes.

The robbery of a safe inside the Kings County Penitentiary was a huge embarrassment to the county sheriff and prison warden, made worse by the fact that the suspects were soon corralled by New York City detectives, not Brooklyn detectives (the cities had not yet merged).

Connors was arrested only upon being implicated by McKeon, who had confessed his guilt. With no other evidence against him, Connors was released. 

Byrnes’s detectives also captured the three men accused of a string of burglaries that took place in Boston in the fall of 1875: Connors, James “Milky” McDonald, and Clark W. “Clarkey” Carpenter. They were transported to Boston, and were charged with three counts of burglary each.

A trial on one of the counts took place in February 1886, and resulted in a hung jury. The three men were then tried on the other two charges. Clark Carpenter, by that point, was near death from consumption. It was reported that even if found guilty, he would never be sent to prison. McDonald’s mother was also deathly ill back in New York, and sent messages begging to see her son. The Boston Herald reported that, out of sympathy for his two partners, Tommy Connors agreed to plead guilty so that charges against the others would be dropped. If true, the burglar had a bit of nobility in him.

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes only update was a mention that Connors was then working on the ships that transported cattle from New York to Liverpool.

#46 Frank Auburn

John Francis Aborn (1857-1932), aka Frank Aborn/Auburn/Auborn, John F. Austin — Seducer, Hotel thief, Theater ticket swindler, Process Server

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Medium build. Single. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. No trade. Has busts of boy and girl, and two hearts with words “You and me” on them, in India ink, on right fore-arm.

RECORD. Auburn is quite a clever boarding-house thief, but does not confine himself to that work entirely. He is well known in New York and Boston.

He was arrested in New York City on November 1, 1883, for petty larceny from a boarding-house, and convicted and sentenced to five days in the Tombs prison on November 28, 1883, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions. His light sentence was the result of the intercession of some good people, and on account of its being his first appearance in court.

He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., on April 28, 1884, in company of Joseph W. Harris, alias Wm. J. Johnson, for picking pockets in the churches of that city. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to four years in Concord prison on May 16, 1884. His time will expire in November, 1887. Auburn’s picture is a good one, taken in 1884.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

He is said to be the son of a wealthy widow who lives in the vicinity of New York. He earned some fame as a process server by putting on a district messenger’s uniform and serving a summons on the late Jay Gould, in 1891.

He was arrested again in New York City on January 18, 1893, charged with forgery. He plead guilty to petty larceny, and was sent to the penitentiary on February 7, 1893, by Judge Cowing, Court of General Sessions, under name of John F. Auburn.

Sentenced again to one year penitentiary on July 5, 1894, for forgery, from the Court of General Sessions, New York City, under the name of Frank Auburn.

John F. “Frank” Aborn was a much more fascinating character than Inspector Byrnes conveys, owing not only to actions that took place after Byrnes published his 1886 edition, but also to pre-1886 incidents that Byrnes failed to mention. Aborn’s parents were respectable, but not rich. His father George was a seaman, and the family lived in Sag Harbor, Long Island, a whaling port.

Frank left home at age 20 and went to Philadelphia, gaining employment with a cigar manufacturer. He was said to spend all his earnings on fashionable clothing; and was flirtatious with young women to an extreme. His hometown newspaper in Sag Harbor printed an announcement in April 1879 to the effect that he had married Sadie M. Brown in Philadelphia. The marriage, if it existed, was either quickly annulled or dissolved.

Frank rebounded quickly, wooing another young woman before being beaten up by her betrothed; he was put under bonds (a restraining order) to stay away from her.

Back in New York city by April 1880 (a year after his marriage to Sadie Brown), Frank met 16-year-old Bertha Potigney-Meurisse, the daughter of a flower importer, at a church fair. She had just left a boarding school, and was dazzled by Frank’s attentions. He convinced her to elope; the pair showed up at a church and were interviewed by a veteran minister, who sent the young woman home and then visited her family the next day. Her father was outraged. Though Frank was forbidden to communicate with Bertha, the two found a way to exchange letters, in which they addressed each other as “husband” and “wife.” Alarmed, her father took Frank to court and once again he was placed under a restraining order.

Frank began moving from one Manhattan boarding house to another, often leaving his bill unpaid. He made friends with the scion of a wealthy family, Mason P. Helmbold, who had just returned from Europe. The two young men started to make a habit of ordering goods without paying for them, arranging for their delivery to their soon-to-be-abandoned boarding house. Helmbold was caught and persecuted, but blamed Frank Aborn for corrupting him. [It should be noted that Helmbold went on to have a long career as a forger.]

Frank traveled to Boston, where he continued his new habit of cheating boarding houses by not paying his bill. Once caught, he was sentenced to nine months in Boston’s House of Corrections.

In November 1883 Frank was back in New York and was caught stealing valuables from a fellow-boarder’s room. Several character witnesses came forth on his behalf, and he was given a slap on the wrist: five days in the Tombs, the city jail. The court was unaware of his Boston hijinks.

Frank next returned to Boston, and tried his hand at picking pockets, working the crowd at a church funeral service with another very amateur pickpocket. Apprehended again, he was sentenced to four years in the Concord, Massachusetts prison.

After his release in 1887, Frank returned to New York. He presented a bogus check, which resulted in a short sentence at the Elmira Reformatory. Considering that Frank was now thirty years old and an ex-convict, this was a pittance of a punishment; the court was obviously unaware of his record in Massachusetts.

After the reformatory doors were opened for his exit, Frank opted to stay in Elmira and take a job in a clothing store. He claimed to be a Yale graduate and a Boston newspaper correspondent who was sent to Elmira to cover the New York State Fair; and he sought a temporary job to fill his spare time. While in Elmira, Frank found a new focus for one of his trademark romantic onslaughts, Miss Catherine Dee. They were married in October 1888 and moved back to New York.

Frank had acquired a new means of gaining cash: conning theatergoers and theater employees for free tickets and passes, and then reselling them. One complaint was lodged against him in September 1889, but he was given nothing more than a reprimand. However, when he continued the practice, he was arrested once more in January 1890. These arrests did not go unnoticed in his wife’s home town of Elmira. There, the newspaper branded him a scoundrel; and moreover accused him of physically abusing his new bride before their honeymoon period was hardly begun. The Elmira opera house also recalled his habit of cadging passes.

It was later in 1890 that Frank Aborn stumbled onto a vocation in which his talent for sneakiness, deception, lying, and disguise transformed him into something akin to a hero. He became a process server, i.e. a messenger tasked with putting a court order directly into the hands of a defendant in a lawsuit.

Frank quickly gained renown for his cleverness in tracking down his elusive targets. None was more difficult than robber-baron Jay Gould, but Frank Aborn was up to the task:

Newspapers around the country started running stories about the famous and infamous public figures that Aborn was able to confront with papers: one of the four nearly identical Rich sisters, who lived together; Cornelius Vanderbilt’s attorney, Chauncey Depew; Police Commissioner Charles MacLean; the trustees of the Standard Oil Trust, including William Rockefeller, actress Lillian Russell, etc. Aborn found himself sought out by New York’s leading law firms.

However, his worst habits had not died out. In January 1893, and again in July 1894 he was caught trying to obtain free passes at different theaters, and was jailed in each instance. While he was in jail between 1894 and 1895, his mother passed away. Upon his release, Aborn showed up in Sag Harbor and had the local paper print an item to the effect that he had been in South America when his mother had died.

The next year, 1896, Aborn’s wife Catherine passed away. These two deaths seem to have sobered Frank’s impulses. He resumed his career as a sought-after process server and collection agent.

Frank remarried in 1898, and over the next decade had six daughters. He served process papers on behalf of many lawyers and city departments, including the New York Police Department. He was put on the payroll of the City Tenement Commission, and spent his last decade as a deputy commissioner.





#95 Joseph Lewis

Joseph Elzas (1854–19??), aka Hungry Joe Lewis, Francis J. Alvany, Henry F. Post, W. C. Howard, Joseph Abzes/Elsas, etc. — Bunco steerer

Link to Byrnes’s text on # 95 Joseph Lewis

Hungry Joe Lewis was one of the most celebrated criminals in Inspector Byrnes’s collection. Among his accomplishments, he was credited with (nearly) swindling Oscar Wilde; and of coining the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He can be found in any history of swindlers and con men, and has an extensive entry in Wikipedia. He had the distinction of being the only member of Byrnes’s Rogues Gallery that was profiled in a dime novel (which is little more than a tissue of fabrications and imagined dialogues):


Hungry Joe was known as a bunco operator as early as 1875, in Chicago. An 1888 article from the Chicago Tribune included some credible insights:


The same article explains that Hungry Joe acquired his nickname from his prodigious appetite: “When he was in Chicago it was nothing unusual for him to go into Billy Boyle’s a half dozen times a day and each time eat a hearty meal. Paddy Ryan says he has seen Joe eat a double porterhouse steak, a whole chicken, and a full portion of ham and eggs in a single night, and when Mike McDonald ran a gambling house over ‘The Store,’ Joe is said to have eaten an entire luncheon that had been prepared for thirty men. These and even worse stories are related about his gluttonous appetite by the men about town.”

Hungry Joe and Grand Central Pete Lake were the nation’s acknowledged best bunco steerers, though Joe was known to be less patient with his victims. This led to his downfall, resulting in an 1885 arrest and imprisonment in New York, after he simply grabbed a wad of cash out of the hands of his English victim.

It was Joe’s 1888 arrest in Baltimore that turned him bitter. Though he pleaded guilty at the time, after he was sentenced to nine years in prison he complained that he had been railroaded–and blamed Inspector Byrnes:

“Byrnes has a grudge against me which dates back some years. It was on account of some money matters. I had made some $15,000 in Chicago–but never mind that. If I was disposed to tell all I knew the public would have less confidence in Inspector Byrnes. If he had received all he deserves, he, and not I, would today be serving time. He made his reputation by sending John Hope to prison for twenty years for robbing the Manhattan Bank, and I know that Hope is innocent of that crime. It has long been Tom Byrnes’ aim to do me, and this was his opportunity. It was he who prevented me from engaging in a legitimate business…I had been offered $25,000 to go into the bookmaking business, but Byrnes stepped in and broke me up. He pulled me down at every turn.”

In most published accounts of Hungry Joe’s life, it will note that he died on March 22, 1902, as reported in many newspapers. A few newspapers, like the New York Sun, reserved some skepticism:


However, the Baltimore Sun correctly identified the rumor to be untrue:


The Baltimore Sun also ran a second article, six years later, in 1908, saying that Joe was still very much alive, and had been living honestly for the past six years. In this second article, the paper gave his name as Joseph Abzes–in the 1902 article, they used the spelling Elsas. The Sun was very close: Hungry Joe was born in Baltimore in 1854 as Joseph Elzas, son of Lewis and Emma Elzas. The Elzas family moved to Chicago in the late 1860s or early 1870s, where Joe started his criminal career.

Joe’s resurrection was confirmed by his old friends in New York in 1908 when they spotted him on Broadway. Joe had a personality quirk that made him immediately recognizable: he refused to walk close to building lines on a sidewalk, instead always walking on the outside curb–and detoured his stride far away from the mouths of alleyways.





#76 Billy Forrester

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

Link to Byrnes’s text for #76 Billy Forrester

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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













#49 George W. Gamphor

George Washington Gampher (1847-1927), aka  James F. Rogers — Hotel thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-eight years old in 1886. Born in Philadelphia. Medium build. Clerk. Not married. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, about 148 pounds. Blonde hair, dark gray eyes, sandy complexion and mustache.

RECORD. Gamphor was arrested in New York City on February 1, 1876, for the larceny of a gold watch and chain, valued at $100, from one E. W. Worth, of Bennington, Vt., at one of the hotels on Cortlandt Street. He was convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in State prison in the Court of General Sessions, on December 20, 1880, by Recorder Smyth.

He is a clever hotel thief, and has traveled all over this country, robbing hotels and boarding-houses, and is regarded as a first-class operator. He is well known in a number of large cities. Gamphor’s picture was taken in 1876.

Inspector Byrnes correctly identifies George Gampher’s first known arrest, which took place in New York City in 1876. [The victim’s name was Charles E. Welling, not E. W. Worth]. However, Gampher was not convicted in this case; his conviction came two years later, in a totally unrelated case. In October, 1880, Gampher was caught drilling holes next to door locks of rooms of the Astor House hotel, to be used to insert wire loops to pull open bolted doors. He was caught with other burglary tools.

George was the son of a Philadelphia cooper of the same name, George Washington Gampher. His father had been a volunteer in the Civil War, and for a time was also on the Philadelphia police force. George Jr., on the other hand, seems to have been a habitual customer of saloons and gambling joints, and a store thief as well as a hotel thief.

By the late 1880s, George Jr. managed a “disorderly house,” i.e. a brothel in Philadelphia, along with a woman named Lucy Simpson. They appear to have been operating it as a panel thieves.

Whatever other character faults George W. Gampher had, he remained devoted to his tight-knit family, who apparently put up with his missteps. He lived with his parents their entire lives, moving from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1880s. There, George Jr. seems to have settled down a bit, listing his occupation as real estate agent.

The family allegiance went so far as to collectively sue the husband of George’s sister, Marie Gampher. Marie had died in her forties, and before her husband, Alexander Poulson, could have the body buried in a plot he had purchased, the Gamphers took it and buried it in their family plot. Poulson had it moved, and the Gamphers sued (unsuccessfully).

For the last three decades of his life, George W. Gampher stayed out of trouble–except for one instance in 1905 when he collected $600 from the friends of a jailed pickpocket, whom he promised he could get out of jail; and then took no action.

#102 Edward Lyman

Edward J. Lyman (1844-1917), aka Boston Ned, Frank E. Parker, Edward Lovejoy, George Atkinson, George Ackerson, Edward Keenan — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in Boston, Mass. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, light complexion, full face. Married, Painter by trade. Has “E.L.” in India ink on his arm; scars on three fingers of right hand and on under lip.
RECORD. Ned Lyman is probably one of the cleverest general thieves in America, and is well known in all the principal cities East and West, especially in Boston, where he makes his home. Lyman, under the name of George Ackerson, was convicted in the Superior Court of Boston, Mass., on January 17, 1863, for larceny from the person, and sentenced to the House of Correction for four months. Discharged May 15, 1863.
He was convicted again in the same court on May 19, 1864, for larceny from the person, and sentenced to the House of Correction for six months. He was discharged September 14, 1864.
Again convicted in the same court on May 25, 1868, for assault and battery with a knife, and sentenced for two years in the House of Correction. Discharged December 23, 1870.
There is evidently some mistake in the date of Lyman’s discharge from the House of Correction in Boston, as the record shows that he was arrested in New York City on July 22, 1870, for till-tapping, and committed in $1,500 bail by Judge Cox.
The records also show that he was arrested and convicted of larceny from the person in Philadelphia, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary on March 27, 1880. Again, in the Superior Court of Boston, Mass, April 17, 1884, he was convicted of an attempt to commit larceny from the person, and sentenced to the House of Correction for twelve months. Discharged March 12, 1885. This last time he gave the name of George Ackerson.
Lyman was arrested in Boston again in June, 1885, for larceny from the person, and gave bail, which was defaulted. In August, 1885, he was arrested in Providence, R.I., for larceny from the person, and was sentenced to one year in prison there. When his time expires, he will be taken back to Boston and tried on the complaint he ran away from. Lyman’s picture is an excellent one, taken in Boston in 1884.
What is it that causes a hardened criminal to reform? Fear of dying in prison? The love of a family that encourages them to be better? An old promise to a dead parent? Something made Ned Lyman reform, against all odds, given his record.
Byrnes begins the recitation of Lyman’s record at an early year, compared to most of his other entries, which usually started in the late 1870s. Byrnes begins his account of Lyman in 1863; but Lyman had already made a mark three years earlier, at age 16, when he was arrested in Boston for rioting (a charge usually leveled at street gangs fighting among themselves). He was given the choice of a fine of $60 and court costs or six months in jail. Lyman was the only son of an Irish widow, so he likely served the time.
In May, 1861 he enlisted for a year’s duty in the Navy. He was aboard the USS Colorado, which saw blockade duty in the Gulf of Mexico.
By 1862, Ned Lyman had embarked on his career as a pickpocket. He was arrested on October of that year, and sentenced to four months in the house of detention. As Byrnes indicates, he was right back at it when released, but was caught immediately, sending him back to confinement until May 1863. Ned was caught picking pockets again in May 1864. He was discharged in September.

After a gap of several years in his known record, he was arrested for stabbing a man in a knife fight in May, 1868. The disagreement was over a woman. This incident put Lyman on ice until December, 1870.
In February 1871, Ned married a Boston Irish girl, Catherine Scanlon, aka Kate Moran. They started working crowds together as pickpockets. Ned was arrested several times later that year: in July, August, and November. His August arrest was under the name Frank E. Parker, and he was found to be carrying a ledger book which supposedly showed his criminal income and expenses. Kate was arrested with him in November, and again on her own in December.
In January 1872, Ned and Kate were arrested for picking pockets on the Fitchburg Railroad. They were indicted and let out on bail of $1000 each. They defaulted and took a ship to London and then on to Paris, where they resumed their crimes. They were both caught while in France, and Kate was given two years while Ned was given three years. Kate returned to Boston after her sentence expired, and while waiting for Ned to be set free, she died.
After Ned was released in France, he returned to the United States and was soon arrested for picking pockets in Brooklyn. He was sent to the Kings County prison at Crow Hill on a sentence of two years. Boston authorities heard he was there, and he was sent back to Boston in March, 1878 to face charges dating back to 1872.
In March 1880, Ned was arrested in Philadelphia for picking pockets and sentenced to four years at Eastern State Penitentiary. While in his cell in Philadelphia, stories appeared in newspapers suggesting that he took part in bank check forgeries in Vermont; however, these accounts were confusing him with a different man, a well-known forger named William H. Lyman.

Ned returned to Boston in 1884 and was arrested as George Atkinson for his usual crime, and spent the next eleven months in jail. He repeated his offense in May as Edward Keenan; and in Providence, Rhode Island in August 1885.
In 1887, he went roving with two other well-known pickpockets, Ned Lyons and Shang Campbell. The three were captured in Kent, Ohio. Ned received a sentence to the State Prison in Columbus for five years.
After getting out of prison in Ohio, Ned returned to Boston, now nearly fifty years old. It was then that he turned his life around. He married for the second time, to Mary A. Murphy, and started to raise a family. Ned got a job as a clerk at the Edison Electric Works, a job he held for many years. He and Mary had four children, a last being a son, George, born in 1906 when Ned was sixty-two. Ned passed away in 1917 at 73.

#90 Peter Ellis

Peter Ellis (Abt. 1844-1919), aka Banjo Pete, Long Pete, Luthey, Pete Emerson/Emmerson, John J. Smith, Jack Welch — Bank robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-one years old in 1886. Born in New York City. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Light complexion, brown hair, stooped shoulders, thin face, high cheek bones, dark eyes. Generally wears a brown mustache.

RECORD. Banjo Pete, the name he is best known by (Peter Ellis being his right name), was formerly a minstrel, but drifted into crooked channels about eighteen years ago. He was considered a good man, and was generally sought for when a job of any magnitude was to be done. He was an intimate associate of all the great bank burglars in America.

He was arrested with Abe Coakley in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 28, 1880, charged with robbing the Manhattan Bank in New York City, on October 27, 1878. It was claimed that Emmerson was the man who carried out the tin boxes from the vault, and sorted the bonds, etc.; that Coakley was the man who wore the whiskers, and dusted off the shelves in the bank while Johnny Hope and his father were in the vault with Nugent; that Billy Kelly stood guard over the old janitor; and Johnny Dobbs, or Kerrigan, and Big John Tracy, who was a friend of Shevelin, the watchman of the bank, were supposed to be the men who planned the robbery; while Old Man Hope was the man who did the work. Johnny Hope (19) was convicted, and sentenced to twenty years in State prison for this robbery. Kerrigan, alias Johnny Dobbs, was arrested while negotiating one of the stolen bonds in Philadelphia, and was turned over to the Sheriff of Wethersfield, Conn., who took him back to Wethersfield prison, to serve out an unfinished term of seven years. John Nugent was tried and acquitted. Patrick Shevlin, the night-watchman, was used to convict the others, and was finally discharged. Jack Cannon was also arrested in Philadelphia trying to dispose of some of the stolen bonds, and was sentenced to fifteen years there. Old Man Hope (20) went to California, and was sentenced to seven years and six months for a burglary there.

Pete Emmerson was discharged from the Tombs, in the Manhattan Bank case, on October 4, 1880. He traveled through the country with John Nugent and Ned Farrell, a notorious butcher-cart thief, and was finally arrested in the Hoboken, N.J., Railroad depot, on Saturday, July 28, 1883, for an attempt to rob Thos. J. Smith, the cashier of the Orange, N.J., National Bank, of a package containing $10,000 in money. Nugent and Farrell were arrested also. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to ten years in Trenton State prison, on July 30, 1883. Emmerson stood trial, was convicted,, and sentenced to ten years also, on October 30, 1883.

Emmerson’s picture is not a very good one, although recognizable. It was taken in 1880.

If Superintendent Thomas Byrnes had written his book about famous professional crimes rather than criminals, the October 27, 1878 robbery of the Manhattan Savings Institution would likely have been his centerpiece. Not only did it involve several of the most skilled, veteran thieves of the age, but the planning of the crime involved mastermind George Leslie, who was murdered before the attempt was finally made; and the consequences of the robbery had lasting effects on the careers of all involved. It was never fully revealed; and so it was talked about and rehashed for a generation.


Banjo Pete Ellis’s adult life centered around the Manhattan Savings Institution robbery, and he died an old man in the company of others involved in that crime. Byrnes was correct about Pete’s real name, but off the mark about his origins. He was born near Kennebunkport, Maine to Thomas and Sophia Ellis, who maintained a large family that dispersed during the Civil War years. Pete Ellis joined the 1st Maine Volunteers in 1864 as a sharpshooter, and saw nine months of action, rising from a private to a corporal.

After the war, Ellis gravitated toward Philadelphia and New York, and by all accounts he became a minstrel performer, eventually joining a famous minstrel act, Sam Devere’s company. There’s no evidence that Ellis ever rose to the level of being a billed name. Devere happened to have an apartment in New York next to the budding criminal genius, George L. Leslie, and the two often socialized together. It can be assumed that it was through Devere that Pete Ellis was introduced to George Leslie; and through Leslie, to Marm Mandelbaum and other veteran bank thieves, like Jimmy Hope and Abe Coakley.

Pete was said to have been in on the 1869 Ocean National Bank robbery in New York, organized by Leslie and Mark Shinburn, and executed by Jimmy Hope, Abe Coakley, Johnny Dobbs, Shang Draper, and Red Leary. Pete’s name was never associated with this crime until years later.

In Byrnes’ entry for thief Dave Cummings, Byrnes mentions that Banjo Pete and George Leslie joined Cummings for an 1873 robbery of a bank in Macon, Georgia; and that they were arrested in Washington, D.C. and forced to return the $50,000 taken. This event can not be found in any newspaper archives.

Pete and Abe Coakley were arrested by Byrnes in Philadelphia in April, 1880, for the Manhattan Savings Institution robbery of 1878. Byrnes had been under intense pressure to make more arrests in the case, and knowing that elements of the Philadelphia police were protecting Jimmy Hope, he took the drastic measure of making the arrest of Coakley and Ellis himself while in Philadelphia, accompanied by a local officer he trusted. Ellis was identified as the man who carried deposit boxes from the vault; though years later, Sophie Lyons wrote that Pete’s role had been to put on the fake whiskers and imitate the night watchman. When arrested, newspapers commented that Ellis had no known history. After being detained for five months in the Tombs (New York City’s Detention Center), Ellis was released.

According to Byrnes, Ellis committed a string of robberies between 1881 and 1883 with John Nugent (an ex-policeman also involved with the Manhattan Savings job) and Ned Farrelly. However, the only time he was caught was in July, 1883, when he, Nugent, and Farrelly attacked a bank cashier transporting a satchel of money while he was seating himself on a train in Hoboken, New Jersey.


Pete Ellis received ten years in New Jersey’s State Prison for this crime, and the public never heard from him again. After his release in the late 1890s, Pete returned to New York City and in 1898 married Jimmy Hope’s daughter, Ellen “Nellie” Hope. In 1900, he listed his occupation as “dry goods.” In 1910, he was an agent for the water company, and lived in the same house with Jimmy Hope’s sons, Johnny and Harry–a situation that continued for many years, until Pete’s death in 1919 at about 75 years of age. By that time, Pete had been the de facto leader of the Hope family for a dozen years, model citizens all.

#86 John T. Irving

John Thompson Irving (Abt. 1835-1922), aka Old Jack, John Irwin, John Thompson, George Mason — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 4 inches. Weight, about 130 pounds. Gray hair; generally wears a gray mustache. He shows his age on account of his long prison life, but is still capable of doing a good job.
RECORD. “Old Jack,” as he is called, is one of the most celebrated criminals in America. He was born and brought up in the Fourth Ward of New York City, and has, for some offense or other, served time in State prisons from Maine to California.
He created considerable excitement in the early part of 1873, while under arrest for burglary in San Francisco, Cal., by declaring himself the murderer of Benjamin Nathan, who was killed at his residence in Twenty-third Street, New York City, on Friday morning, July 29, 1870. He was brought from California on an indictment charging him with burglarizing the jewelry store of Henry A. Casperfeldt, at No. 206 Chatham Street, on June 1, 1873, and stealing therefrom eighty-seven silver watches, four gold watches, and a number of gold and precious stone rings. Irving and another man rented a room at No. 3 Doyer Street, and forced an entrance into the store from the rear. After his return from California he was confined in the Tombs prison, and while there, on November 22, 1873, he made another statement in which he alleged that he was one of the burglars who robbed Nathan’s house, and offered to tell who it was that killed the banker. The matter was thoroughly investigated by the authorities, who concluded that Irving was only trying to avoid the consequences of the two burglaries he was indicted for. He was therefore placed on trial in the Court of General Sessions, in New York City, on December 8, 1873, and found guilty of the Casperfeldt burglary, and also for another one, committed in the Fifth Ward. He was sentenced to five years on the first charge and two years and six months on the second one, making seven years and six months in all.
Irving, some years ago, was shot while escaping from a bonded warehouse in Brooklyn, N. Y., and believing himself about to die, betrayed his comrades. He recovered from his wounds, and was discharged from custody. After that, in company with others, he attempted to rob Simpson’s pawnshop, in the Bowery, New York City. The burglars hired a suite of rooms in the adjoining house, and drilled through the walls into the vault. The plot was discovered by the police, who, however, were unable to capture them, as the cracksmen were frightened away by a party living in the house.
He was arrested again in New York City on April 26, 1881, under the name of George Mason, in company of another notorious thief named John Jennings, alias Connors, alias “Liverpool Jack,” in the act of robbing the tea store of Gerhard Overhaus. No. 219 Grand Street. They were both committed in $3,000 bail for trial by Justice Wandell. Both pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree, in the Court of General Sessions, and were sentenced to two years and six months in the penitentiary, on May 10, 1881, by Judge Gildersleeve.
Irving was arrested again in New York City on suspicion of burglary, on April 22, 1886. The complainant failed to identify him, and he was discharged. He is now at large. Irving’s picture resembles him to-day, although taken some fifteen years ago.
The burglar, John T. Irving, lied about himself too often for his own good. He also suffered somewhat from being confused with two other men far apart on the spectrum of society: John T. Irving, Jr., the nephew of writer Washington Irving and son of Judge John T. Irving, Sr.; and Johnny Irving, a much more celebrated bank robber and member of the Dutch Mob gang. The latter Irving, Johnny, was killed by another crook in Shang Draper’s saloon in 1883, and therefore is only mentioned briefly in Byrnes’ book.

Byrnes’s account of John T. Irving’s criminal resume is a bit disjointed. In proper order:

  • Around 1864, Irving was arrested for burglary and sent to Sing Sing for five or six years. While there, he wrote the the New York District Attorney and offered information about those involved in the murder of a policeman. Detectives were sent to interview Irving, but it turned out he had no credible information, and the detectives concluded he was fishing for a pardon.
  • In January, 1870, the premises of Barton & Co. on Beekman Street in New York City were burgled of property valued at $1400, mostly cutlery and pistols. The thieves were discovered to be Patrick McDermott, James Clarke, William Pierce, Richard “Dickie” Moore, Charles Carr, and John Thompson [Irving]. Thompson was released for lack of evidence.
  • In May, 1870 he was caught in possession of burglar’s tools, but was again released. Irving later confessed that he and Carr had broken in the premises of Robert Green & Co., pawnbrokers, of the Bowery, on May 18th, but were frustrated by the safe.
  • In July of the same year, 1870, Irving and Charles Carr were arrested for the burglary of a store on Lispenard Street in New York; they were found with the stolen goods in Hoboken, New Jersey. Carr was convicted and sent to prison, while Irving was released on bail, which was forfeited.
  • On January 1, 1871, Irving and his partners attempted to rob the safe of Arbuckle & Co’s coffee and spice mill in Brooklyn. They were caught in the act, and while attempting to flee, Irving was shot in the shoulder.
  • The surgeon couldn’t extract the ball from Irving’s shoulder, and he was not given good odds of survival. Under these circumstances, he gave police the names of his accomplices. For this information, he was kept in a lightly-guarded cell at Raymond Street in Brooklyn. Within four weeks, he reconsidered his position and was able to break out of jail. Most blamed lax security, while the jailers blamed Irving’s visitors.
  • Irving laid low from January, 1871 until June, 1873. On the first on June, the jewelry store of Henry Casperfeld of 206 Chatham Street was robbed of dozens of watches and other jewelry. Fearing arrest, both for this robbery and past ones for which he was wanted, Irving lit out for California.
  • Irving must have taken the new transcontinental railroad, for he arrived in Sacramento on around June 25th. Three weeks on the run, separated from his wife and daughter by 2000 miles, broke Irving’s resolve. He approached a police officer in Sacramento and confessed to the robbery of Casperfeld and also to the May, 1870 Bowery robbery. Sacramento authorities wired New York, but Chief Matsell had no interest in laying out the expense of retrieving Irving, and so told them to cut him loose. Irving tried walking east to Auburn, California, thirty miles from Sacramento, to present the same confession. There, he was held for another couple of weeks, before being cut loose once again.
  • Irving backtracked west, past Sacramento, and arrived in San Francisco in late August, 1873. He signed on as a crew member of the British merchant ship, Coulnakyle, but before the ship left port, Irving went to the San Francisco police and confessed to the July 28, 1870 murder of Jewish financier Benjamin Nathan–a highly publicized murder that had gone unsolved for three years, and carried a reward of $50,000 to whoever captured the murderer. San Francisco police at first thought him insane, and subjected him to questioning by a lunacy panel.
  • At first, Irving confessed to being the murderer, but later changed his story to assert that he was one of three burglars who had entered Nathan’s home, in a plot set up by Nathan’s son and housekeeper. Irving knew many details of the murder–many of which had been publicized years earlier. He also provided a few details that had not been publicized; but also offered many particulars that were demonstrably wrong. New York authorities believed Irving was either trying to get a free ride east or immunity from his past burglaries, or both.
  • Irving also told San Francisco authorities that he was a relative of the great writer, Washington Irving. The claim was easily debunked in New York.
  • Public pressure finally forced Chief Matsell to have Irving brought back to New York, where it some became apparent that he had nothing of substance to offer about the Nathan murder. Irving was tried in November for the Casperfeld robbery and was found guilty. He immediately went to trial for the May, 1870 pawnbroker robbery, and was convicted again. His total sentence was seven and a half years.
  • Not long after his release from prison, Irving was arrested for the robbery of a tea store in late April, 1881. This resulted in Irving’s being sent to the penitentiary for two years.
  • In March, 1884, Irving was caught with three others in Lawrence, Massachusetts, as they were planning a robbery there.
  • He was arrested in New York in 1886 on suspicion, but was released for lack of evidence.
  • Finally, in December he was picked up for the robbery of a grocery store in Long Island City in October, 1888. However, testifying in his defense were Charles Stewart of the School of Industry and J. Ward Childs of the Bowery Mission, a famous refuge in the middle of a depraved neighborhood. They swore that Irving had been sleeping in hallways and begging for bread, and was making a genuine effort to reform.

Even in 1895, Chief Byrnes was still skeptical that Irving had given up burglary, but his 1888 arrest was his last brush with police. Irving went on to live a long life in Brooklyn and Queens, for many years working as a janitor at the Queens Library.

#22 Langdon Moore

Langdon W. Moore (Abt. 1833-1910), aka Charley Adams — Bank robber, counterfeiter

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #22 Langdon Moore
Along with Sophie Lyons and George Bidwell, Langdon Moore was one of the most recognizable names in Chief Byrnes’ Professional Criminals of America. These three produced autobiographies detailing their careers. Moore’s was titled: Langdon W. Moore: His Own Story of His Eventful Life, initially published in 1893 by Moore himself. It was an greatly expanded version of: Life, deeds, and wonderful escapes of Langdon W. Moore, the world-renowned bank robber, published in 1891 by Boston Enterprise Pub. Co. Both of these publications followed Byrnes’s book (1886); and, indeed, may have been written as a response to a couple of insulting assertions made by Byrnes.

One of those statements was in regards to Moore’s actions following his most famous adventure, the robbery of the Concord (Massachusetts) National Bank on September 25, 1865. A slightly romanticized version of that crime was related by storyteller Alton H. Blackington in one of his “Yankee Yarns” broadcasts from October 9, 1947. Blackington portrays Moore as a master thief. On the flip side, Max Shinburn wrote an account of the Concord robbery in 1913 that portrayed Moore as a lucky fool.

Byrnes’s entry on Moore states that, upon arrest, Moore agreed to return his share of the Concord loot, and to divulge the whereabouts of his partner, “English Harry” Howard. However, whereas Byrnes says that Howard was never captured because he missed the meeting signal left by Moore, Moore relates that his bargain to give up Howard was all a ruse:

“Twenty-five years after this incident, it was said by some small detectives who knew nothing of the facts of Woolbridge’s three days’ stand-up in the snow [waiting for Howard to appear], that I tried to give Howard up, but he was too smart for me. To those detectives and all others interested, I have only to say that the time gained in that way served all the purposes I wished it to. Howard has ever since been satisfied, and so have I.”
Moore’s goal in delaying the police was to allow time for a requisition to be issued by Massachusetts, and for the Concord National Bank to send a representative that Moore could bargain with directly.Capture
The other slight made by Byrnes concerns Moore’s 1880 conviction for both possession of burglar’s tools and for the robbery of the Warren Institution of Savings in Boston. Byrnes states that Moore was convicted on the testimony of his recent partner, George Mason, who turned on Moore after Moore neglected to provide him (Mason) and his family aid and a lawyer after his arrest.

Moore’s version of these events suggests that during an earlier bank robbery that they committed together, he suspected Mason had pocketed a valuable diamond and some bonds at the crime scene, and did not later include those in the total bag of loot to be divided. Moreover, Moore writes that Mason was arrested for a post office robbery in which he (Moore) was not a participant; and that at the time of Mason’s arrest, he (Moore) was also detained, and did not have access to funds, even to help himself. However, although Moore points out that Mason’s testimony put him in prison, Moore held a greater grudge against some other men involved, including a corrupt Boston police detective.

In general, Langdon W. Moore: His Own Story of His Eventful Life attempts to portray Moore as a rarity, an “honorable” thief who always treated his partners fairly, though they often acted treacherously in return. At the same time, his autobiography details several episodes in which Moore unhesitatingly deceived gamblers, citizens, and policemen. His book is a fascinating window into the life of a professional thief–but is more than a bit self-serving. Even so, proceeds from the publication of his book might have gone a long way towards keeping him honest in the last fifteen years of his life; and several sections of the text detail the treatment he received in prison and his ideas for prison reform.

Moore was born in northern Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, to parents Jonathan Moore (1796-1879) and Dolly Whitney (1796-1848). Langdon married Rebecca Sturge, widow of Daniel “Dad” Cunningham, in 1866. In the 1870 federal census, Langdon, Rebecca, and a 6-year-old boy named John are found living in New York. The boy, who likely was fathered by Dad Cunningham, has not been found in later censuses. Langdon and Rebecca did have one child of their own, a daughter, Nellie B. Moore, who grew to adulthood and married a man named Adler, but her fate is also unknown. Langdon and Rebecca divorced–acrimoniously–in 1891. Rebecca took up with another man while Moore was serving his lengthy sentence in Massachusetts throughout the 1880s; Moore, upon his release, sought the couple out and viciously attacked the man with a knife. Langdon later filed for the divorce. Rebecca sued for alimony, though Moore–quite naturally–claimed he had no source of income.

#19 John Hope

John H. Hope (1856-1930), aka John Watson, John Warren — Pardoned for bank robbery

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #19 John Hope

Johnny Hope, the son of Jimmy “Old Man” Hope, was not a professional criminal, and may have been framed through the efforts of Chief Byrnes in order to exert pressure on his father. In early 1877, at age 21, John–who was raised with his family in Philadelphia under the name Watson–was arrested under that name for stealing a watch. He was sentenced lightly as a first offender. The arrest likely upset his father, who wanted his two sons to attend college.

In October 1878, Jimmy “Old Man” Hope led one of the most spectacular back robberies in 19th century: the robbery of $3,000,000 in cash and bonds from the Manhattan Savings Bank. Old Man Hope was, at that time, a fugitive from New York State, having escaped from Auburn prison in 1873. Chief Byrnes not only suspected that Hope was the mastermind of the Manhattan Savings Bank job, but also of a bank robbery in Dexter, Maine, that resulted in the death of a cashier. [It was later shown that James Hope was not directly involved in the Dexter job, although he may have helped plan it.]JimmyHope
For several months following the Manhattan robbery, the only leads that Chief Byrnes had led to the bank employees who provided assistance to the principal thieves. Those professional thieves were: Jimmy Hope, Eddie Garing, Johnnie Dobbs, Banjo Pete Emerson, Sam Perris, and Abe Coakley. The robbery had been planned by George Leslie, prior to his murder. However, although Byrnes learned the identity of the principals, he had little evidence against them–and he did not know where Jimmy Hope was hiding.

Byrnes was able to obtain the testimony from several witnesses that a man resembling John Hope had been situated on the street outside as a lookout while the Manhattan Savings Bank was being robbed. Having failed to locate and convict the principals, Byrnes arrested John Hope. John’s series of legal proceedings lasted two years, from 1879 to 1881, concluding with his conviction and sentencing to a twenty year sentence in Sing Sing. Whether John was involved as a lookout or not, the harsh sentence was clearly meant to flush out his father Jimmy, and to encourage the return of the stolen bonds.

Philadelphia columnist Louis Megargee, who was on familiar terms either with Old Man Hope’s longtime lawyer or with Hope himself, explained the animosity that existed between the father, Jimmy “Old Man” Hope, and Chief Byrnes in one of his classic columns:

From Knoxville, Tenn., comes a newspaper clipping that tells of the death of Patrick Dolan, who is handed down to typographical history as having arrested Jimmy Hope for the robbery in October, 1878, of more than one million dollars in cash and negotiable securities from the Manhattan Savings Institution, in New York City; a felony for which his son, John Hope, served nine years in prison, though not being concerned in it, in order to serve the personal purpose of a crook Superintendent of Police known as Thomas J. Byrnes; a crime for which he was pardoned by Governor Hill; a crime the usufruct of which has not been disclosed until this day.
Newspapers have referred to Johnny Hope as having been released after conviction for the Manhattan Institution robbery from the New York State Penitentiary through “commutation for good behavior.” This is absolutely untrue. He was sent to prison by a man who knew that he was innocent, and he was released from that incarceration by the admission to the Governor of New York by that man that he was satisfied of the boy’s innocence of the crime for which he had suffered a felon’s doom. The man who did this deed was Thomas Brynes. The man to whom he made the admission was David B. Hill, then Governor of the Empire Commonwealth.
Young Hope was pardoned—there was no commutation for good behavior—there was an absolute disavowal on the part of the Commonwealth that he had been guilty of crime. These are stern, unrelenting facts. Young Hope is a Philadelphia boy. His father was one of the most accomplished criminals in the history of the world—he is now out of that line of business, but young Hope never committed a crime.
Now let us go back to the robbery of the Manhattan Savings Institution. James Hope, the father of John, was the head of that combination of clever cracksmen who succeeded by a quiet midnight raid in becoming the possessors of valuables amounting to $2,740,700. Thomas Byrnes, then a captain of police, did much to discover the identity of the robbers, and for that work and on his confidently-made promises of the recovery of the stolen property, he was subsequently elevated to the position of Inspector of Police.
But he could not at that time find Jimmy Hope, and never to this day has he or any one else discovered the whereabouts of the missing fortune. With the hope, however, of making good the promise of his ability, Byrnes arrested John Hope, knowing, as he has since publicly admitted, that he was innocent of the crime, but in the expectation that the imprisonment of the boy would bring from the father an admission of guilt and a revelation as to the hiding place of the valuables. Byrnes at that time was all-powerful, even in the courts of law, and John Hope was sentenced to an imprisonment in the Sing Sing Penitentiary for twenty years. He was released about sixteen years ago, after having been in durance vile for nine years and eight months. But how did he escape from his penal condition?
Here again are facts: His father had been in prison in San Quentin, which is a penal establishment in California. After legal release from there, he was coming East. He voluntarily threw himself into the arms of two of Byrnes’ detectives, who did not know him, and went into voluntary imprisonment in the city of New York to answer for the Manhattan Savings Institution robbery. There was an attempt to subject him to what was then known as “Byrnes’ Fifth Degree,” a sort of mental thumb screw. But Hope, the burglar, was a bigger man than Byrnes, the detective, and the former said to the latter—and the writer knows what he is talking about—”Whether or not I know where the missing securities of the Manhattan Bank are is a matter we will not now discuss. You know my boy John is innocent. Put him upon the street a free man and withdraw your calumny against other members of my family, and I may talk to you. Until that is done it is idle to converse with me. You have no threat which can change my purpose, for remember that prisons have no longer any terrors for me.”
What was the result? Byrnes went before Governor Hill and openly stated that a mistake had been made in the conviction of the boy who had been immured in a felon’s cell for nearly ten years, and upon that representation the young man, whom it was admitted had been guilty of no offense against the law, was released; free, clean, innocent; not escaping through any commutation.
You may naturally ask why James Hope should have voluntarily thrown himself in the way of the New York detectives if he was guilty of the Manhattan Institution robbery. Of course, it was not done unthinkingly. Hope is a man of rare ability, and he knew exactly what he was doing. Inspector Byrnes had never laid eyes upon this remarkable criminal until after his voluntary surrender.
There is a remarkable incident connected with this statement which the narrator had from the lips of the late Charles W. Brooke, who was the elder Hope’s attorney from the time he saved him from an undeserved hanging in front of the Union Army, near Alexandria, in 1863, until the day of the famous lawyer’s death. During the excitement following the robbery of the bank, Byrnes, then a captain of police, in public interviews spoke freely of his knowledge of Hope, who, he said, could not escape him, and told the most marvelous but cruel tales about the members of his family.
During the excitement following the great robbery and when scores of detectives surrounded the offices of Mr. Brooke, who was known as Hope’s attorney, that famous robber, disguised as a laborer, walked coolly between them and into his lawyer’s office. He left there with his counsellor in the dusk of the evening and openly walked up Broadway. At the corner of Canal street he saw Captain Byrnes on the other side of the street, and saying to his companion, “That fellow says he knows me; let us see if he does,” walked across Broadway.
Byrnes was smoking. Hope drew a cigar from his pocket and stepping up to the chief of his pursuers, said, as he looked him in the eyes, “Will you be kind enough to give me a light?” The captain of police filliped the ashes from his weed and extended it to the burglar. Hope slowly lighted his cigar, thanked the police official and recrossed the street to the side of Mr. Brooke, who was trembling with apprehension. As they continued their walk up Broadway, the robber said to the lawyer, “That fellow says he knows me. You have seen how true that is. But I can tell you one thing; he was never nearer death in his life than he was a moment ago. I have never carried a weapon when engaged in a robbery, but I have one with me now, and if Byrnes had recognized me, I would have shot him dead as a fit reward for the lies he has told about the members of my family, who, no matter what I may be, are all honest people, and Byrnes knows it.”
But why did he surrender himself returning from California? Well, he knew that on account of the death of some witnesses, and on account of the absolute lack of knowledge on the part of the police regarding the real inside history of the great bank crime, he could not be convicted for that offense, and he was really desirous of settling some unpaid scores of imprisonment in New York State in order that he might quietly settle down and enjoy his declining years with his family. The officers, however, to whom he surrendered were on their way to California with a writ of extradition from New York State.
When placed on trial, however, the prisoner was discharged. He was immediately rearrested on an extradition from the State of Delaware, where he had broken jail. By this act bad faith had been practiced. Delaware did not want him back in New Castle Jail. When there, he was always a white elephant on the hands of the prison authorities. It is a well known fact that economical Delaware prefers that prisoners should escape if they will only remain without her boundaries; she thus avoids the cost of their support and the expense of repairing broken walls and locks. Then why did she send for Hope? Ah, there is where Mr. Byrnes’ fine Italian hand appeared. He had pledged himself to the return of the Manhattan securities, and he believed, whether lightly or not, Hope to be the only man who knew their whereabouts.
When the burglar was brought for the first time in his presence, he attempted to frighten his prisoner. Hope laughed at him, and bluntly told him that he was dealing with a smarter man than himself. The conversation lasted two hours, and Byrnes at its conclusion frankly admitted that he had met the greatest criminal of the age, and one possessing a character which he did not suppose existed in fiction or reality. After that, the screws were twisted. Hope was started back towards Delaware, simply in the expectation that he would throw up his hands in despair and tell where the missing securities could be found. But he did no such thing.
Counsellor Brooke, however, had a writ of habeas corpus promptly issued, and he made a novel legal plea before Governor Hill, completely upsetting the Delaware programme, and as a result it was legally determined that Hope should be given time to return to California, whence he was summoned on extradition. He was given forty-eight hours to leave the jurisdiction of New York City, and promptly went to Canada.
This was a dreadful blow to the ambition of Thomas Byrnes. Hope subsequently returned to the Metropolis, and was judicially freed from all responsibility for the Manhattan robbery. He is still living in retirement in that city, and his son is prosperously engaged there in business. The vast fortune craftily purloined nearly twenty-seven years ago from the Manhattan Savings Institution has never been returned.
After John Hope was pardoned, he resumed his livelihood as a liquor dealer in New York City. He had no further run-ins with the law, with the exception of being cited for failure to display an excise certificate properly. He was with his father when Old Man Hope died in 1905. Several reports (currently cited by Wikipedia) suggested that Johnny died a year after his father, but in fact, John Hope lived until 1930.