#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.









#92 Charles Mason

Charles Henry Marion (Abt. 1840-19??), aka Boston Charley, Charles Mason, Charles Marsh, Charles Merrion/Marrion, Charles Mortis/Martis, Charles Whiteman, Charles Lloyd — Swindler, Bunco Steerer, Pickpocket, Political Fixer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Heavy build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 200 pounds. Dark-brown hair, turning gray; brown eyes, fair complexion. Generally wears a heavy, reddish-brown mustache; rather fine features. A very active man for his size.

RECORD. “Boston” Charley’s principal occupation is “banco.” He has been in several jails in the East and West, and has traveled from Maine to California working various schemes. In New York he worked with Jimmie Wilson (143) and Shang Campbell (107), picking pockets; also, with Jack Strauss, on the sneak.

He worked in the winter of 1876 in Boston, Mass., with Charlie Love, alias Graves, alias Scanlon, and was in the scheme to rob a man named Miller out of $1,200 by the banco game. Charley fell into the hands of the police, and Love escaped. He was afterwards implicated in a robbery in the Adams House, where Mrs. Warner, of St. Paul, Minn., lost considerable property.

He then left Boston, and remained away until 1881. During the interval he is credited with having served five years in Joliet prison. Mason was arrested again in New York City, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison on December 20, 1881, by Recorder Smyth, for robbing one John H. Lambkin, of Cork, Ireland, out of $1,139, at banco. His time expired, allowing full commutation, on May 19, 1885. Mason’s picture is a good one, taken in 1881.

Boston Charley volunteered to the Sing Sing registrars that he was born in Boston about 1840, and that his real name was Charles H. Marion–information confirmed in city directories from San Francisco and Butte, Montana. However, Charley’s family and early years have not yet been traced. The earliest mentions of him come from the early 1870s, when he was rumored to have been an assistant to William “Canada Bill” Jones, the greatest three-card monte player in history.

Canada Bill plied his trade on Kansas and Missouri passenger trains, and one of the things that Boston Charley learned from him was that that a con man could offer bribes to receive a level of protection from authorities. Canada Bill paid conductors to look the other way; and once (famously) tried to offer a railroad’s management a “license” fee to operate freely on their trains. This was the start of Boston Charley’s political education.

Canada Bill ran into a series of arrests in 1875, which was about the same time that Boston Charley opted to head further west to San Francisco with a gang of bunco steerers. They successfully set up shop, but Charley was arrested twice between September and November, 1875.

As Byrnes indicates, Charley returned to Boston and tried running a bunco operation there, but had no influence to prevent being shut down, and was forced to flee. He returned to San Francisco and formed a new bunco gang with Jack Dowd and Doc Boone. Though they had paid bribes to police officials, the gang was arrested several times, and eventually realized that others on the police force were acting on behalf of a rival gang of bunco artists. This was Charley’s next lesson in politics.

He married a woman in San Francisco named Hazel, but after he was indicted once more, he and Hazel fled to Panama. There, he deserted his bride after less than a year of marriage.

Charley then headed eat to New York City and picked pockets and ran con swindles with Charles Allen, Jimmie Wilson, and Shang Campbell. He was arrested in December 1881 and sentenced to 4 and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Charles Mason. While he was in jail, Hazel got a divorce.

Charley returned to San Francisco when he got out of Sing Sing, but did not tarry long there. By 1887, he decided to head somewhere where other gangs and corrupt officials had not yet taken control; he wound up in Butte, Montana.

In Butte, Charley posed as Col. Charles Lloyd and ran a dance hall/gambling joint. His gambling den featured his customized faro tables (rigged to cheat). He also ran faro games at the local race track that were exposed as crooked. Still, he eluded any penalties for three years, mainly because he was a political kingmaker.

In 1890, Charley Marion returned to New York, and made a woeful attempt to join the Salvation Army to reform himself, producing what may be the funniest incident involving any professional criminal:

“Charles H. Marion plays the accordion with much religious fervor and muscular energy in a Salvation Army band. He played with such vigor and he sang so loud at the barracks, No. 10 Horatio street, on Sunday night that Lieut. David L. Bossey, of the army, tried to restrain him. Marion, however, played and sang even while the preaching was going on, so Bossey had him arrested. ‘He almost breaks my heart,’ complained Lieut. Bossey in the Jefferson Market Court yesterday. ‘He insists on singing the wrong verses.’

“‘That’s serious,’ said the Justice. ‘Ten dollars fine.’ Marion was locked up. An hour later, someone paid the fine for him.”

Charley’s efforts to reform ran against his character. A fellow mission worker invited Charley and another man over to his place for a drink, and when he went out to get more beer, came back to discover that Charley and the other man had pilfered valuables from his house.

Charley drifted back to Butte and returned to running his dance hall and sponsoring politicians. In 1895 he convinced a couple of local young men to try to pass a forged check in Chicago. When that brought him unwanted attention from the Pinkertons, he came back east to Washington, D. C. and tried a similar scam, selling bogus mining stocks to a Butte mine. When detectives closed in, he left for New York City.

While cooling off in New York, Charley and old con man Ike Vail were arrested for running a swindle in Hoboken. Realizing it was time to flee again, Charley went to Detroit, was run out of town, and then went south to Kansas City, Missouri. There he impersonated a Treasury officer and confiscated alleged counterfeit bills from victims, threatening them with prosecution. He was captured and sentenced to three years in the Missouri State Prison.

After serving his time, Charley returned to Butte and picked up his former life there. By now, all the local newspapers in Montana had run stories giving his history, so his character was no secret. Still, was was able to remain a force in Butte politics.

From 1901 until his demise–date unknown–he kept his name out of the papers.






#138 George Milliard

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

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




#161 Frederick Lauther

Frederick R. W. Lawther (Abt. 1845-19??), aka Freddie Lauther/Louther, Frederick R. Watson, Robert Shaw, Robert Campbell, George Dussold, Light-Finger Fred, Matthew Clark, Fritz Lawther, etc.–Burglar, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Dark hair, dark gray eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a heavy sandy beard; sometimes dyes it. Has numbers “33” in India ink on his left fore-arm.

RECORD. Lauther is an old New York sneak thief and pickpocket. He formerly kept a drinking saloon in the Tenth Ward, New York City, which was the resort of a large number of the professional thieves in America. He is the husband of Big Mag Shaffer, a very clever old-time shoplifter and pickpocket.

Lauther was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to Sing Sing prison for two years and six months on April 20, 1874, for grand larceny under the name of Robert Campbell.

He was arrested again in Philadelphia, Pa., on February 21, 1878, under the name of Shaw, his picture taken, and discharged.

Arrested again with George Milliard (138), and Tommy Matthews (156), in New York City, on the arrival of the Fall River steamer Newport, on April 12, 1879, for the larceny of a watch and $12 in money from Daniel Stein, during the passage from Boston to New York. So cleverly was the robbery committed that Judge Otterbourg was forced to discharge them.

He was arrested and convicted in Harrisburg, Pa., in June, 1879.

Again, on April 3, 1880, in Philadelphia, in company of Will Kennedy, for larceny from the person, and sentenced to eighteen months’ solitary confinement in the Eastern Penitentiary.

He has been arrested from time to time in almost every city in the Union. He has served terms in Sing Sing prison and the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, N. Y., and is a man well worth knowing. His picture is an excellent one, taken in June, 1885.

Fred Lawther was an atypical career pickpocket, in that he came from a close family, married and sired a family, and operated a business (a saloon) for several years. This despite the fact that he was sent to Sing Sing four times, and had stints at Eastern State Penitentiary and the Ohio State Penitentiary.

His wife, “Big Mag,” Margaret Dussold, may have had as many as seven children, though some apparently died as infants. Lawther was arrested on one occasion for beating his wife, but the marriage survived–at least until the late 1890s, when Lawther was behind bars in Columbus, Ohio–and his family thought him dead. At that juncture, Big Mag moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, and was known as Mrs. Eitel, the proprietor of a “disorderly house,” i.e. brothel.

Fred Lawther’s first brush with the law came in 1867, when he took part in a bungled burglary and was arrested under the name Robert Shaw:


This misadventure sent Lawther to Sing Sing for 5 years and 11 months. In April 1874, he committed another burglary under the name Robert Campbell, and was sentenced to a further two and a half years at Sing Sing.

In September 1877, Lawther assaulted a police office that came into his saloon and was bothering his sister-in-law.

Byrnes notes that Lawther was captured and later discharged in 1878 and 1879 in Philadelphia and New York, but he was caught in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in June 1879 and convicted on a light sentence. The next spring, 1880 found him in Philadelphia, where was was caught dipping again and sentenced to 18 months at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Lawther then headed to Windsor, Ontario, where he joined forces with Tom Bigelow and his wife, Louise Jourdan. In October 1884, he was arrested in Detroit under the name George Dussold for picking pockets.

Back in New York by 1888, Fred was arrested in New York with saws and wax key impressions that he intended to use to break friends out of jail in Bangor Maine. By Fred’s account, he was simply being a good friend:


In 1896 he was caught picking pockets in Cleveland, and sentenced to five years in the Ohio State prison. Released in May 1899, Lawther was immediately taken back to New York to face trial for lifting a diamond pin from a man on a street car in 1895.

In June 1899, Lawther was sentenced to five years and eight months in State Prison, going first to Sing Sing as Frederick R. Watson. He was later transferred to Clinton, where he was released in June, 1903.



#145 James Johnson

James Johnson (1844-19??), aka Jersey Jimmy/Jimmie, James Eagan – Pickpocket, Saloon Owner

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 4 1/2 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Dark brown hair, gray eyes, florid complexion. Whiskers, when worn, are light brown.

RECORD. “Jersey Jimmie” is one of the luckiest thieves in America. He is known from Maine to California, and has had the good fortune to escape State prison many a time. He works with Joe Gorman (146), Boston (144), Curly Charley, Big Dick (141), and nearly all the Bowery “mob” of New York, where he makes his home. He was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, under the name of James Johnson, on April 22, 1869, for an attempt to pick pockets. He was sentenced again to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on February 7, 1878, for picking pockets, and pardoned by Governor Robinson on May 8, 1878. Since then he has been arrested in almost every city in the Union, but his usual good luck stands to him, and he succeeds in obtaining his discharge. Johnson’s picture is an excellent one, taken in August, 1885.

Jimmy Johnson had a long career as a pickpocket, starting in the mid-1860s. In 1865, he saw his older brother John confront a Jersey City detective on a Manhattan street, only to be shot dead. From that point forward, he never trusted law officials, and they sometimes harassed him for no other cause than his (well-deserved) reputation.

However, Jimmy’s impact on society was not so much found in his petty crimes as it was in his management of an infamous dive, Jersey Jimmy’s. The site of his saloon was relocated a few times, but settled at First Street and the Bowery. Jimmy ran his saloon for nearly thirty years (excepting his jail sentences, when he handed off the day-to-day management to others.)

“Jersey Jimmy’s” thrived as an all-night dive through the 1890s and early 1900s, thanks to loopholes in a poorly-conceived blue law, the Raines Law. Reformers believed that an early-closing time imposed on bars and saloons would curb many ills, but ran into the resistance from the many legitimate uptown hotels that catered to tourists and business travelers–their lounges were an important source of income. Therefore the Raines Law carved out an exception for establishments that offered both rooms and food to their clients. Realizing this loophole, all-night saloons set aside a few rooms on an upstairs floor–and the bare minimum of food offerings. The rooms usually went unused–or were used for activities other than sleeping. These joints became known as “Raines-Law Hotels,” and Jersey Jimmy’s was the prime example.

In December, 1896, the New York World took readers into Jersey Jimmy’s dive, which resembled a stage set for The Iceman Cometh:

“A Night at Jersey Jimmy’s : New York’s Most Notorious Pickpocket Manages a Raines-Law Hotel at No. 14 First Street

“Jersey Jimmy,” whose real name is James Johnson, first opened his new Raines-law hotel about four months ago. It is true the license for the place is not in his name, but Jimmy boldly told the detectives of Capt. Herlihy’s command when they visited the place a few nights ago that he was the manager and proposed to be such.

“Jersey Jimmy’s” place is at No. 14 First street, just a few doors east of the Bowery. It is a small place, but Jimmy is evidently doing a thriving business. There is a little bar and back room where there a number of tables and chairs. The rear is very dark, so that people passing on the street cannot see the faces of Jimmy’s guests.

“There is a large sign on the mirror directly behind the bar which reads “Jimmy’s.” Jimmy is evidently anxious that all hands know that he is the boss of a saloon on the east side.

“Jimmy is at his hotel every night. He was there last night when a World reporter and a World artist called. It was shortly before 1 a.m. He was doing a rousing business. Jimmy was behind the bar in a corner near the front window–a short, undersized man about fifty-five years old, his face seamed with hard lines. From his position he could command a full view of all that occurred in the back room, and at the same time not be seen by any stranger who entered unless he chose to come to the front. Although there is a bartender, when a bill is to be charged by one of the customers then Jimmy step up and makes the necessary change. Jimmy’s is not a trusting disposition.

“Jimmy has always been considered one of the most daring pickpockets and all-around thieves in the country. He makes it a specialty to rob women. He goes to church now and then to commit a robbery, but principally he does his business on the street cars…

“Jersey Jimmy has a new barkeeper. His old one is in trouble just now. He was known to police as ‘Humpback Tommie’ Martin, a former convict, whose picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery. Martin was arrested in Long Island City some weeks ago and Jimmy had to look about for a substitute.


“Among the most welcome of the friends of Jersey Jimmy is Ike Vail, the most noted confidence man of the country. He may be found there almost any night.

“Then there is Jersey Jimmy’s old friend, ‘Pete’ Smith, also a former convict. Pete’s specialty is till-tapping. Another guest is known to the police as ‘Roaring Bill.’ His real name is William Wright. He is called ‘Roaring Bill’ because, the police say, he roars like a lion when under the influence of liquor.

“Some years ago ‘Roaring Bill’ went to Albany and there stole the coat of an assemblyman. Bill was tried, convicted, and sent to State Prison for ten years.

“Then there are ‘Mat’ Downey, a former convict and expert pickpocket; ‘Hank’ Vreeland, a former convict and pickpocket; his partner ‘Jim’ Davis, who is also a pickpocket and served time; ‘Red’ Farrell; William Schafer, alias ‘Horseface;’ ‘Joe’ Gorman; ‘Pete’ Berman; and ‘Johnnie’ Gorman.
“Among the other men known to the police who frequent ‘Jersey Jimmy’s’ place are Charles Backus, alias ‘Old’ Backus, the bunco man and former convict; ‘Dick’ Morris alias ‘Broken-nose Dick,’ another confidence man; Mike Donovan, alias ‘Wreck,’ a notorious highwayman; ‘Joe’ Morton, alias ‘Lover Joe,’ a former convict and expert shoplifter; ‘Reddie’ Galligan, another old timer and a jail bird; ‘Teddy’ Kelly, alias ‘Little Kelly,” whose picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery, and who, according to the records, has been in State Prison for picking pockets. Also may be found in Jimmy’s ‘Ed’ Tully, alias ‘Broken-nose Tully,’ a former convict and pickpocket, whose picture is in the Rogues’ Gallery, and ‘Jimmy’ Harris, the burglar.

“An occasional visitor at Jimmy’s was William Johnson, alias ‘The Count.” His absence is mourned. Jimmy says his hard luck details are not known, but the Count appears to be detained in Philadelphia because of [being found with] too great a quantity of a base-born shopkeeper’s ware.

“There was a reception at Jimmy’s last week. There was an affair in honor of Max Davis, alias “The Rabbi.” Max is a burglar by profession. Unlike the Count, Max is said to be in good luck, for he has just returned after a prolonged visit to Sing Sing.

“Lizzie Peck, the notorious badger woman and thief, is also a friend and admirer of Jersey Jimmy, and visits his new Raines law saloon.

“Jersey Jimmy does not like Capt. Herlihy. The old pickpocket says the Captain is down on him. When Jimmy first opened his place he gave a concert, that is, he had a violin player in the place. When Capt. Herlihy heard of this he told the former convict that he would close his place if he did not stop playing music [as stipulated by the Raines definition of a hotel.]

“‘We are only playing a little sacred music,’ said Jimmy.

“‘I am the Captain,’ said Capt. Herlihy, ‘and there is going to be no music in your place or in any other place in this precinct, unless the mayor grants you a concert license.’

“Jimmy has not applied for one yet. He probably would have done so if there was just as little difficulty experienced in obtaining a license from the mayor as there is from the Excise Commissioner [for a liquor license.]

Jersey Jimmy’s had a reputation as more than just a gathering place for colorful characters. Several young prostitutes, after two years or so on the street, committed suicide inside or just outside Jimmy’s doors. Visiting sailors and tourists were given knockout drops and rolled. In 1958, writer Gay Talese interviewed a 93-year-old former bare-knuckle fighter, who told an anecdote about cadavers being carried into the saloon from a wake, and when Jimmy called for the bill and asked who was paying, all those at the bar pointed to the man with his head down on a table.

#84 Joseph Parish

Joseph C. Parish (183?-1890), aka Sealskin Joe, Joe Parrish — Pickpocket, Watch Stuffer, Bank Sneak

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in Michigan. An artist by trade. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 164 pounds. Hair black, mixed with gray; bluish-gray eyes; large and prominent features; dark complexion. Generally wears a full, dark-brown beard, cut short. High, retreating forehead. High cheek bones and narrow chin.
RECORD. Joe Parish is a Western pickpocket and general thief, and is one of the most celebrated criminals in America. He has been actively engaged in crooked work for the last twenty-five years, and if all his exploits were written up they would astonish the reader. In his time he is said to have had permission to work in many of the large cities in the West. He attempted to ply his vocation in New York City a few years ago, but was ordered to leave the city. Several Southern cities have suffered from his depredations.
He is said to have been with General Greenthal and his gang, who were arrested at Syracuse, N.Y., on March 11, 1877, for robbing a man at the railroad depot there out of $1,190, on March 1, 1877. Parish is well known in Chicago, Ill., where he has property and a wife and family of three girls and one boy. He at one time kept a large billiard parlor in Davenport, Iowa, but, being crooked, he was driven out of the town.
He was finally arrested in Chicago, Ill., on February 13, 1883, and delivered to the chief of police of Syracuse, N.Y. He was taken there, and sentenced to eight years in Auburn prison, N.Y., on April 29, 1883, for robbing one Delos S. Johnson, of Fabius, N.Y., on the Binghamton road. Parish’s picture is an excellent one, taken in May, 1883.

Joe Parish once claimed that “Parish” wasn’t his real name, and that even his wife and children weren’t aware of his real name. However, it was a name he early adopted and was known by all his life. One source said that his father was English and his mother French, and that he had been born and raised in Michigan, but none of that has been confirmed.
He first appeared in Detroit in the late 1850s. He was a sporting man, and in October, 1858 at London, Ontario, fought a boxing match against English lightweight Mike Trainor. Trainor was twenty pounds lighter, but a much more skilled fighter. They went nineteen rounds before Parish slipped to one knee and Trainor hit him, a disqualifying foul. Although Parish won the purse, he acknowledged Trainor as the better fighter, split the purse with him, and shared a tankard of ale afterwards.

By 1860 he had migrated to Chicago, his on-and-off home for the rest of his career. He had married an older English woman, Sarah E. Davis, who was said to weigh much control over Joe. In Chicago he gained a reputation as a pennyweight specializing in watches, i.e. a “watch-stuffer”, one who substitutes a cheap watch for a superior one.

He was also an aggressive, mob-style pickpocket, working with other men to jostle people in crowds: on streetcars, outside of theaters, and at baseball games. In the latter part of the 1860s, he worked with a pickpocket mob that traveled around the country, with partners Willy Best, Denny Hurley, Johnny Burke, Chicago Bob, and Tommy Maddox. They were working in New York when they interrupted their efforts to attend the Barney Aaron-Sam Collyer prizefight.

One doubtful tale told about Parish was that he was such a skilled pickpocket that he was hired by the French government during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 to steal papers carried by Prussian officers.
In November, 1874, Parish made an attempt to earn an honest living by opening a grand billiard room and saloon in Davenport, Iowa. However, within a few months, reporters from Chicago ran stories informing the citizens of staid Davenport of Parish’s background. He was forced to sell out and returned to Chicago.

In December, 1876, he was arrested for stealing sealskin sacques (light jackets) in Chicago, earning him the nickname, Sealskin Joe. Ironically, he was acquitted of that charge by proving that the garments belonged to his wife.

In early 1877, he joined Abraham Greenthal‘s mob of roving pickpockets, who used similar techniques to manhandle their victims. Several of them were arrested in upstate New York in March, 1877, including Parish and Greenthal. It was rumored that Parish informed against Greenthal, sending the later to prison.

Back in Chicago, Parish continued to pickpocket, but paid off so many detectives that he was never convicted. Instead, just to keep him off the streets, judges fined him for vagrancy.
Parish faced arrests in Omaha in 1878 and in Denver in 1879, but always seemed to merit a discharge; he soon gained a reputation as one who was always willing to “squeal” on his partners in order to save his own skin. Still, he found willing partners to sneak money from banks with Billy Burke and Eddie Guerin.

Finally, in April 1883, he was arrested in Syracuse for a train station pickpocket theft. He was convicted and then held in jail for sentencing, but realizing that he was facing a long sentence at Auburn State Prison, where a vengeful “General” Greenthal awaited him, Parish went raving mad and attempted to have poison smuggled to him so that he could commit suicide. The poison was intercepted, but his jailers wondered if it was all an act in order to be sent to the hospital, from which friends could help him escape.

Ruse or not, the judge did take mercy and gave him a generous sentence. Even so, Parish emerged from Auburn in September 1888, a broken man. He returned to Chicago and his family, who had done fine generating income from their property. Parish opened a small grocery store on the South Side to keep busy, but later in 1889 was committed to the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, where he passed away early in 1890.

#154 James Price / #158 Thomas Price

James C. Price (1838-????), aka Jimmy Price, James A. Hoyt — Pickpocket, burglar; Thomas Price (1842-1889), aka Deafy Price, Thomas McCormick — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:
#154 James Price
DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 170 pounds. Brown hair, dark eyes, thick nose, dark complexion.
RECORD. Jimmy Price is an old New York pickpocket. He has been a “Moll Buzzer” (one who picks a woman’s pocket) ever since he was a boy, and confines himself generally to that particular branch of the business. This big, lazy thief has sent many a poor woman home minus her few hard-earned dollars, after her visit to a crowded market, fair, or railroad car. He is a brother of Tommy Price, alias ” Deafy ” Price, the pickpocket (158), and Johnny Price, the bank sneak. He is well known in all the principal cities in the United States and Canada. He has served terms in Sing Sing prison and on Blackwell’s Island.
He was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to one year in Sing Sing prison, on October 20, 1876, under the name of William A. Hoyt, for grand larceny from the person. Since then he has done service for several States, and is now at large. Price’s picture is not so good as it might have been, on account of some difficulty he had with the officer, at the time of his arrest, in 1877.
#158 Thomas Price
DESCRIPTION. About forty-four years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Brown hair, dark eyes, sallow complexion, high forehead, an Irish expression, and is very deaf.
RECORD. “Deafy Price” ought to be well known all over America, as he has been a thief for at least twenty-five years. He is one of the old Bowery gang of pickpockets, and an associate of Old Jim Casey, “Jimmy the Kid” (142), “Big Dick” Morris (141), “Pretty Jimmy” (143), “Jersey Jimmy” (145), “Combo” (148), “Nibbs” (137), “Funeral” Wells (150), and, in fact, all the old timers. He is a brother of Jimmy Price, the “Moll Buzzer” (154), and Johnny Price, the bank sneak. He is a saucy, impudent thief, and wants to be taken in hand at once.
He was arrested in New York City and sent to the work-house on Blackwell’s Island, N.Y., on July 3, 1866. He was arrested again in New York City, in company of another man who has since reformed, for an attempt to pick pockets, and sentenced to four months in the penitentiary, on October 17, 1866, by Judge Dodge. He was arrested in New York City again on July 21, 1875, charged with violently assaulting Samuel F. Clauser, of No. 38 East Fourth Street, New York, while that gentleman was walking down Broadway. He was placed on trial on July 27, 1875, in the Court of Special Sessions, in the Tombs prison building, on a charge of assault with intent to steal, as a pickpocket. The evidence of the complainant was not strong enough to convict him of the intent to steal, and he was discharged.
He was arrested again on September 8, 1876, in company of George Williams, alias “Western George” (now dead), at the Reading Railroad depot, near the Centennial Exhibition Grounds, in Philadelphia, Pa. They were taken inside the grounds, and sentenced to ninety days in the penitentiary on September 9, 1876, under a special law passed to protect visitors to the Exposition from professional thieves. He was arrested again in New York City on December 25, 1879, charged with attempting to rob one Marco Sala, an Italian gentleman, while riding on a horse-car. He was committed for trial by the police magistrate, and afterwards discharged by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions, on January 30, 1880. Price’s picture is a good one, although taken fifteen years ago, in New York City.
While it’s no surprise that Chief Byrnes included the profiles of lifelong New York pickpockets Jimmy and Tommy Price in Professional Criminals of America, it is a minor mystery that he did not profile brother Johnny Price, a first-class bank sneak thief on par with his frequent partners Rufe Minor, George Carson, Frank Buck, Peppermint Joe Buford, Billy Coleman, etc. Though Byrnes does mention Johnny Price in the profiles of some of the above, he is not merited his own short biography. The reason for this appears to be Byrnes devotion to his format, which required a rogue’s gallery photograph for each criminal. Apparently, Johnny was never photographed (or he was and it was mislaid.)

                        Jimmy Price

The Prices came from a large Irish family, with no father present by the time the boys were teens. The oldest brother, William, born in 1838, was never a criminal; and in fact appears to have been employed as a broker at New York’s Custom House his entire career. There were two daughters, one of whom married a New York police sergeant. However, the three younger brothers fell into crime at an early age, likely through association with the Nineteenth Street gang, led by Stephen Boyle. Jimmy and Tommy were hard of hearing–Tommy profoundly so–but both were called “Deafy” at one point or another. The nickname stuck with Tommy.

            Thomas “Deafy” Price

As pickpockets, Jimmy and Tommy were highly-skilled. Byrnes indicates that the Prices were known all over the country, but there are few mentions of them in other cities, aside from Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876, which attracted pickpockets everywhere.
Jimmy was released from Sing Sing in 1895, when he was about 57 years old. He fate from that point is unknown.
Tommy “Deafy” Price, when he wasn’t picking pockets, tended bar and ran a seedy saloon in SoHo. Years later, a police captain recalled Deafy:

From the autobiographical notes of Captain Charles Albertson regarding the time he served in the New York City Police Department 8th Precinct:
Informant Deafy Price
When I was first appointed there was a dance hall of questionable reputation on the south side of Prince Street between Greene and Mercer Streets, kept by a peculiar and notorious crook known as “Deafy Price” who was the most versatile all round thief I ever knew. I came to know him quite well as his place required considerable attention. The hall was soon closed and for several years I used to see Deafy standing in front of Alderman Joe Welling’s liquor store on the corner of Houston and Sullivan Streets as I passed there from time to time. One afternoon about 1885 I went over the Chamber Street ferry to see an uncle and aunt off on the Erie on their way home. As I was getting on a Belt Line car on my way home I felt my watch being lifted from the fob pocket of my trousers. I grabbed the hand attached to the watch and discovered that it belonged to Deafy. He started to apologize, when I said, “Deafy you get off and work the next car, I will work this.” He got off.
Several months after the above mentioned event I met Deafy on Broadway when he thanked me for overlooking his former indiscretion and said he would be pleased to help me solve any criminal mystery that I had to work out from time to time and directed me where to write so that he would not be known as my “stool.” He was of great service to me in many important cases, obtaining information I would not have been able to obtain otherwise. He was said to be so expert as a pickpocket that he taught novices or new beginners his art.
I met Deafy after not having seen him for some years and when I asked him who he was doing now he said,, in a joking way that he was working a large department store that had recently opened. This store had a very opinionated detective whom I wished to try out. When I said to Deafy that I had my doubts of his being able to shop lift anything from there he said, “You get a sample of goods from there, send me that sample and I will send to you at your station the piece of goods it is curt from.” I went to the store, selected a sample of very small black and white checked silk which was very fashionable at the time and sent this to Deafy. About a week later the piece of silk was left at my station. I sent for my friend the detective and when he called said to him “your store is being worked by shoplifters.” He insisted that it was impossible. I then told him what had occurred, he insisted that my informant must have purchased the goods. We cut a sample from the piece and went to the store. I went to the silk counter at which time he came from the opposite direction. I gave the saleslady my sample, requesting to know if she could match it. She said, “Yes”, and commenced searching and after some time remarked, “I am quite sure it has not been sold” which was a fact. I believe the effect of this escapade was beneficial as it caused the detective to get busy and Deafy some time after informed me that he had been compelled to seek new fields for his efforts.
In 1889, Deafy was living with his sister on E. 136th Street, not far from the East River. His sister said that he was despondent and wandered off one day in late March. His body was found in the river a month and a half later, just a block away.

#20 James Hope

James Joseph Hope (1837-1905), aka Jimmy Hope, Old Man Hope, James J. Watson — Bank robber

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #20 James Hope
Chief Byrnes begins his profile of Jimmy Hope with the Philadelphia Navy Yard robbery attempt of June 1870; but elsewhere in the text of Professional Criminals of America, Byrnes cites other crimes that Hope participated in prior to that date. However, he gets the years and chronological order of these confused; and mentions a robbery that can’t be identified. These errors were compounded when newspapers and other writers accepted Byrnes as gospel and reprinted his “facts” in their articles on Hope.
Those early crimes represent the beginnings not only of Hope’s career as a bank robber, but also those of George Mason and Ned Lyons; therefore it is important to straighten out the record (as much as is possible, given the fact that Hope, Mason, and Lyons never offered full confessions of their bank robberies).
In 1863, James Hope was operating a “disorderly dance house” in Philadelphia that was known as “a resort for many disreputable persons.” His father had wanted him to become a machinist, and therefore he might have had some mechanical training. Several sources suggest that Hope was one of the ringleaders of the Schuylkill Rangers gang of southwest Philadelphia, which was led by Jimmy Hagerty. Hope married Hagerty’s sister, Margaret T. Hagerty.
There is no published evidence that Hope was involved in bank robberies prior to the April 1868 attempt on the Fairhaven (Massachusetts) National Bank. Hope and John Hughes were caught after the bank clerk discovered them inside the bank at night; but there were others involved, likely Lyons and Mason. Both were released on bail and then jumped.
In late November, 1868, Hope was arrested under the name James Watson in Philadelphia while coming out of the offices of the Franklin Institute building, where he had attempted to open the safe of the Mine Hill and Schuylkill Railroad. The newspaper report stated that police knew him as James Hope and that he “has the reputation as being a safe blower.”
In April 1869, Hope was rumored to have been an architect of the robbery of Philadelphia’s Beneficial Savings Fund Society. However, many years later, legendary Philadelphia columnist Louis Megargee penned a column in which he related what Hope had told him about his role:
Now, another tale regarding him that will tax your belief. When a so-called Philadelphia detective had become a statesman—a Harrisburg statesman— a Speaker of the State Senate of Pennsylvania, and then went the way of all flesh, it was stated in the public prints that he and another of his kind had through their work and instrumentality restored to the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund $850,000 of bonds which had been stolen from that institution.
This is an error.
Neither of these corrupt officers of the law restored to the robbed bank one dollar out of the stolen money. It was returned through James Hope, a professional criminal, and who had not taken the treasure.
He who tells this tale knows whereof he talks; otherwise it would not be narrated. At the time of the robbery of the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund it was located in a ramshackle building at the southwest corner of Twelfth and Chestnut streets, where its more imposing and substantial place of habitation now presents its granite visage. James Frederick Wood was then the revered Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia, and owing to his protecting care the savings bank at Twelfth and Chestnut streets was made the depository of the pennies and dimes of the Catholic servant girls of Philadelphia.
These in the aggregate amounted to a large sum of money. Bishop Wood was looked upon as the protector of the honor of the institution, but the physical protector was an old watchman, who every Sunday morning went to early Mass in St. John’s Church, on Thirteenth street below Market—the church that was the archiepiscopal residence of the Philadelphia Catholic diocese prior to the building of the Cathedral on Eighteenth street—and while he was away, there was no one left in the fragile structure to guard the pennies and the dimes of the good Irish servant girls; the pennies and the dimes that they were accumulating to bring the old folks from Ireland to the Land of the Free; the pennies and the dimes that they were hoarding not with a miser’s care, but with a thought that in their old age they might not, through the protecting care of money, go to the Poor House. In charge of this money, and in charge of these thoughts and sentiments, was the decrepit watchman, who on Sunday morning thought alone of his religious duty.
Thieves, regardless of the old man’s religious duty, and regardless of the heart throbbings they might cause, went into the easily-broken savings fund at Twelfth and Chestnut streets, while the old man was on his knees in the nearby church, and with the expedition born of practice purloined of the treasures accumulated in the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund the enormous sum of $1,250,000. In that enterprise they had the assistance of some of the so-called police officials of the city of Philadelphia.
That is no idle statement. They were aided by the men employed by the city to defend its people and its property. Again let it be said that he who tells you this is not repeating idle gossip. He can give you the name of every man concerned in the crime.
Well, of course, there was a hullabaloo. The so-called detectives of those days knew who had taken part in the robbery, but expected to participate in the proceeds. It was necessary, however, in order to allay popular excitement that a prisoner should be found on whom the crime could be temporarily fastened. The game was old then, and it is sometimes practiced now. It consists in having a well known thief brought before the magistrate at the Central Station, held for a hearing on suspicion and then, when popular excitement has died out, to have him quietly discharged. Then the story is ended.
At the time referred to, the most prominent robber, not only in this community, but possibly in this country, was one James Hope, a Philadelphian born and bred, of whom more entertaining matter could be written than ever Jack Sheppard’s episodes graced a book with. The morning of the robbery at Twelfth and Chestnut streets Hope was on his way in a sleeper of a fast train from Pittsburg, occupying a palatial birth, as he was afterwards able to prove by the Pullman porter to whom he had given a tip.
He reached Philadelphia after the robbery had been committed, and knew nothing of it, and went directly to his home in the western part of the town. He remained with his wife and children and retired to his bed early, having no knowledge of what had happened to the pennies and dimes of the poor folks who had left their money at Twelfth and Chestnut streets. It was Sunday, mind you, and no afternoon newspapers published.
About 10 o’clock in the evening there was a ring at the door bell at his house. His wife answered it, and, returning to his bedside, said rather angrily: “There’s a woman down there who wants to see you. I do not see why she comes for you at this hour.” Hope, not fully dressed, went to the door and found there a woman whose story he knew.
A word as to the woman. She was highly educated, of refined appearance, of lady-like demeanor. She could move along Chestnut street without exciting the suspicion of anyone that she was not of high social rank. She was devoted to a man, himself well educated and of fine appearance, but a bank robber. She knew he was a robber. She lived quietly in a well appointed house in the northwestern portion of the city, and her neighbors believed that her husband was a traveling salesman. She lived among nice people; honest people. She asked only of her husband—for, mind you, she was married to the man—that he should be true to her. She believed that he was. She had discovered that he was not.
The Sunday of the robbery at Twelfth and Chestnut streets he had returned home with a small trunk, in which were contained the $1,250,000 stolen from the Irish servant girls, had quickly put it under her bed, had told her of the robbery in hurried tones and then fled, saying she would not see him until the storm had blown over. She said not a word. The man left. She meditated revenge. She knew the man had been false to her. She would not betray him into the hands of the police, but she was determined that he and his confederates should not profit by the robbery.
She went to Hope’s house, called him out, brought him to her house, showed him the treasure and told him the story, and asked him to take the money. When James Hope heard this tale, it was the first knowledge he had of the robbery. But he knew at once that he would be arrested in the morning, because the Philadelphia detectives—the so-called detectives—would apprehend him in order to protect themselves.
He said to the woman, “Leave that trunk under your bed and don’t speak a word to a soul about it. You will hear from me again.” Then he returned to his home and allayed the jealousies of his wife. The next morning Jimmy Hope was arrested, charged with the robbery of the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund. The detectives on the witness stand stated that they expected testimony to prove his guilt, and asked that he be held for a further hearing. This was done; the old story. Without bail being given he was sent down to Moyamensing Prison. Among the solicitors of the Savings Fund was the late Lewis C. Cassidy. Mr. Cassidy knew Hope, and visited him.
To the greatest criminal lawyer of our generation Hope said, “I had nothing to do with this robbery. I know who committed it. I know where the stolen property is. I can restore it to you if you promise me that those engaged in the robbery will not be prosecuted.” To this Mr. Cassidy—so Hope told the narrator—said, “Jimmy, I always believe what you tell me, but what do you want out of this?” To this the robber replied, “I don’t want any money, because no matter what I have done regarding banks I have never yet got to a condition of robbing servant girls and orphans. I’ll leave that to my friend Jay Gould. However, if you can give me a promise that the men engaged in this shall not be arrested and I restore this money and these securities to you, I think I would be entitled to a suit of clothes, and it need not cost more than thirty-five dollars.” There are grades even among criminals.
Hope returned $1,250,000 of property and received a thirty-five dollar suit in return.
Megargee may allowed Hope too much credulity in the Beneficial Savings robbery, but there is little doubt that Hope was in the midst of a bank-robbing storm at the time. A little more than two months after the Beneficial Savings robbery, New York’s Ocean Bank was robbed and showed the same handiwork in its execution. This time, the robbers offered a return of only part of the booty–the numbered bonds they would have difficulty exchanging.
After another two months, two attempted bank robberies were frustrated by miscalculated explosive charges. One was in September, at the Rochester (New Hampshire) Savings Bank; and the second was in October at the Townsend (Massachusetts) Bank. In both cases, explosions woke the town, but did not breach the inner vault door. The same thing happened a third time, in December 1869, when the vault of the Lumberman’s Bank in Oldtown, Maine, was dynamited. This time, the outer door of the vault lodged itself to block the inner door, once again stymieing the thieves. They escaped via a railroad handcar–a device used by many different gangs when entering and leaving small towns.
In May, 1870, the Lime Rock bank was robbed, and noted thief Langdon Moore was captured and prosecuted. Several years later, Jimmy Hope would also face arrest for being involved in this crime–but Langdon Moore later wrote an account admitting his gang did that job, and portrayed Hope as the leader of a competing gang. Hope would eventually be cleared of having any hand in this robbery.
Instead, Hope was busy planning the August 1870 robbery of the Philadelphia US Navy Yard paymaster’s office along with Ned Lyons and John A. Hughes. They were interrupted just as they had moved the safe into position to pry it open. Jimmy Hope and Hughes escaped, but sentries stopped and held Lyons at gunpoint. Lyons was arraigned and allowed out on bail, which he wasted no time in jumping.Capture
Lyons headed north from Philadelphia and in early September, 1870, met Hope and Hughes in Perry, Wyoming County, New York. They had already scouted Smith’s Bank as a target. While the robbery was underway, Hope and Hughes were arrested. Hope was tried and convicted under the name James A. Watson, and sentenced to Auburn prison.
While Hope was behind bars in Auburn, the Kensington National Bank of Philadelphia was robbed by an ingenious plan in which two of the thieves impersonated police officers to gain the trust of bank clerks. Hope is often mentioned in connection with this robbery, although he could only have participated in the early planning stages.
The remainder of Hope’s known career is outlined by Byrnes, including a mention that Hope was implicated in the Wellsboro bank robbery of 1874. Once again, Philadelphia newsman Louis Megargee had Jimmy Hope’s own account of that misadventure:
In this quaint little old “Sleepy Hollow” there had been for many years prior to 1877 a banking establishment known as the “Wellsboro Bank.” Through it the financial affairs of the little community and its surroundings were conducted. Its management represented the combined ability of two generations. The president was the father of the cashier, and with perhaps one clerk, represented the entire working force of the institution. The two officers lived in the building of which one portion was occupied as the bank. The family occupying the residence portion of the Wellsboro Bank Building consisted of the president and his wife, a very pleasant and intelligent old lady, and the son referred to, with perhaps one other member of the family.
In the spring of 1877, or thereabouts, when the frost was emerging from the ground and made the roads soft and muddy, one evening a vehicle to which two horses were attached, containing five men, drove quietly under the wagon shed of the church opposite the bank mansion, and in a half hour thereafter the various inmates of the house were aroused and beheld themselves surrounded by four masked strangers, who held in their hands pistols apparently loaded, and commanded them to utter no sound, but to implicitly obey the 1nstructions given them.
Chairs were placed together back to back and the members of the household were securely bound and gagged; then he who appeared to be the leader of the intruders, at the point of the pistol, demanded that the old gray-haired president should descend with them to the banking room below and open the safe which contained the treasure, or there furnish one of their number with the combination of the lock, promising that if this demand were complied with no other harm should befall him save the loss to the bank of the valuables contained in its vaults; but if the demand met with refusal, then the life of the president should be the penalty.
The conscientious and heroic old gentleman, in the dignity and fidelity to his trust, which he regarded as sacred and who believed the faithful discharge of his duty was of more consequence than the preservation of his life, refused positively to do anything which should enable them to obtain possession of the treasure which he was entrusted to guard. The twist of the rope and the tightening of the gag caused the poor old man to cry out involuntarily with physical pain. His aged wife and his son were filled with sympathy for his sufferings. The son made a sign to the man holding especial guard over him to remove for an instant the gag from his mouth.
When this was done the son said: “I am not going to sit here quietly and see my father murdered, but to save his life and that of my mother I will go with you to the banking room and do what you demand.” The leader dropped the point of his pistol, all this time leveled at the old gentleman’s head, and loosened in a measure the cords and the gag. At the request of the son, who gave his assurance that he would not cry out or speak, the gag was removed from the mouth of the old lady. As the leader stooped down and leaned over to remove it she said, with her eyes fixed upon her son (evidently referring to the fact that he was about to leave her sight in the company of the armed men about him), in an undertone and pleadingly, “For heaven’s sake, don’t hurt him!” The leader stooped lower, kissed her upon the cheek, and said, “Poor, dear old mother, don’t be alarmed; we are thieves, not murderers!” and the old lady felt trickling upon her cheek the tears from beneath the mask of the apparent assassin, who but a moment before held his weapon at the head of her husband.
The son accompanied the robbers to the bank below; the safe was opened and $275,000 in money and valuable securities taken therefrom. The cashier, who was escorted back to the room where the other members of his family were, was re-seated as before in the chair, again subjected to the discomfort of the gag, as was the old lady, to whom an apology was made for the necessity, and then, with a few words of warning and the assurance that they had confederates outside of the building who would remain and enter upon the slightest outcry or noise, the masked men departed. Hastening with their booty across to the wagon under the church shed, they were soon driving as fast as the heavy condition of the roads and of the load drawn by their horses would permit them to Elmira.
For an hour or more the miserable and frightened occupants of the house sat enduring their tortures without daring to move lest they should induce the return of their dread assailants. At length the son, after repeated struggles, succeeded in disengaging his hands from the cords and proceeded to loosen those which bound the others and to remove the gags; and quietly stealing his way down the stairs and traversing the rear of the building, he peered out at the faintly-glimmering dawn which was just approaching. Seeing no human form and hearing no voice or tread, he speedily made his way to the home of his nearest neighbor. Within an incredibly short space of time the little town was alive with excitement, the people running hither and thither, men hurriedly harnessing their horses and preparing to follow in pursuit of the fleeing thieves. As the day broke more brightly an examination of the ground about the shed leading to and from it, disclosed an impression in the soft road which furnished a sure track over the route and to the destination of the robbers.
In all that country where men live in the saddle or in vehicles of some sort, and where horses are the most prevalent possession of all, and naturally, for this reason, where thoroughly well-informed horsemen abound, no one had ever seen a “bar shoe” nor heard of the existence of such an article of horse wear. In describing it thereafter (ignorant even of its designation) they referred to it as the “circular shoe;” but there in the track of the road with the toe pointing directly toward the distant city of Elmira, was the plainly discernible impression of the strange and unknown shoe.
The Sheriff, with a hastily summoned posse and a dozen vehicles drawn by horses fleet of foot, started off at top speed in pursuit of the team, thus so unconsciously to those it contained leaving the traces of the direction it traversed in its path. The fresh and speedy horses of the pursuers soon lessened the distance between them and the objects of their chase, and at length, as they entered Elmira, from the hilltop behind them, they were in full view of the Sheriff and his posse. The robbers had been conscious for some little time that they were pursued, or, at least, they believed such to be the fact, and descried the rapid paces of the pursuing force almost as soon as they themselves were discovered. Pushing and urging their jaded horses on, they reached by a short cut down a side street the livery stable from which they had been procured the evening previously.
A sudden turn of the vehicle which contained the robbers hid it from the sight of the pursuing party and baffled them for a moment; they took for a short distance an opposite direction, but soon discovered their error. The thieves, immediately upon reaching the stable, jumped from the vehicle and, separating, sought safety by flight in contrary directions. The officers of the law raised a hue and cry, and a hundred of the citizens of Elmira joined in a promiscuous chase after the thieves. At length they were close upon the heels of one of them, who, jumping into the buggy of some one evidently waiting for him, himself took the reins from the hands of the man who was holding them and whipping up the horse started at breakneck speed in the direction of the adjoining town of Waverly.
Then commenced a most exciting chase. The Sheriff and his deputy, in a buggy and with a fleet horse, continued the pursuit. The horses were whipped to a gallop, then to a dead run, and thus pursuer and pursued reached the town of Waverly, where the vehicle was abandoned by the flying thief, a dash through the streets made, and an asylum found where, until the next day, he succeeded in evading capture. One other of the fugitives was run down in the streets of Elmira by the hallooing crowd.
The leader at times running and apparently unobserved; at other times rapidly walking, turning up one street and down another, striving to make his way to the outskirts of the city and beginning to feel assured that he would succeed, when suddenly turning, and coming to the crossing of a street within half a block from him, he heard and saw the excited crowd eager for his capture. Walking indifferently across to the opposite side, when the corner of a house for an instant obscured him from his pursuers, he darted with the nimbleness of a deer and before the crowd following had turned the corner, he had entered at the doorway of an humble house which he found to be open.
Walking directly through the hallway and back into the kitchen, he there saw an old Irish woman engaged in ironing the family linen. The house was evidently the home of some prosperous mechanic or foreman in one of the numerous shops abounding in that region. Instantly entering into conversation with the old woman, offering her his hand as if well acquainted with her, which she in her surprise accepted and shook, he rapidly put a series of questions which were inquiries as to whether she remembered him? If she was sure she had forgotten him? Could not she, after steadily looking at him, recall him? Didn’t she remember the family who lived three doors from her twenty years before, and thus piecemeal consuming a half hour’s time and extracting from the old woman the information that a family of neighbors named Maguire had moved to Binghamton some twenty years ago; that they had a son named James, who might be, if he were alive, about the age of her visitor, but whom she assured him was a wayward, wandering boy and she didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. Whereupon the visitor assured her that he was the missing and the wandering James; the old woman immediately commenced a volume of inquiries as to the members of his family.
Desiring to evade this questioning, which might lead to unpleasant consequences, the intruder asked for a glass of water. The old lady took a pitcher from the sideboard near by and was starting apparently to draw some water from the hydrant in the yard, but politely and quickly arising from his chair, he took the pitcher from the old lady’s hand–said he could not think of permitting her to wait upon him—that he himself would go to the hydrant. Passing out from the door into the yard he saw a gateway, and upon opening it found that it led through a long alleyway into an adjoining street. A half hour before he had heard the voices of the pursuers dying away in an opposite direction.
Setting the pitcher down upon the pavement he quickly passed through the alleyway, thence into the street, and leisurely continued his walk toward the outskirts of the city. Evading as much as possible all observation and thus wandering about during the entire day through the deserted portion of the town, he directed his steps in the early evening toward some sheds which previously he had noticed from a distance, and which proved to be tool houses of workmen engaged in the construction of a railway extension in the vicinity.
Easily forcing his way into one of these shanties, he fortunately found a pair of soiled and filthy overalls, an old jacket, ragged and equally filthy, a cap without a face, which had been thrown aside, and taking off his own coat and outer clothing, begriming his face and his hands with soot and dirt, matting and tangling his hair and likewise plentifully rubbing into it the unattractive mixture which disfigured his features, he put on the overalls, the jacket, and the cap, fastening the jacket up closely about his neck, and luckily finding inside its pocket the broken-stemmed remnant of an old black “dudeen.” He gathered up the clothing which he had just discarded and taking up a shovel from the tool house cautiously sought the shelter of a large tree in the vicinity, at the foot of which he dug a hole and buried the clothing. His own boots needed no changing—his tramp through the mud and mire had soiled them sufficiently. Taking his penknife he slashed them to correspond with the dilapidation of his other garments.
He had eaten nothing all day, so he wandered on his way, hunting for some cheap place to which workmen would naturally resort, but sufficiently remote from the shanty he had lately visited to insure against the probability of encountering any one who might possibly recognize some of his newly-appropriated garments. After a time he found such a place where he deemed himself safe. His principal desire seemed to be to put himself in a situation to repel the advances of any who might otherwise be disposed to come near, and he added to the repulsiveness of his appearance an element of supreme unattractiveness.
He reveled in a meal of raw onions and ate them most plentifully, washing them down with occasional drafts more or less copiously of the “shebeen shop” gin. Then procuring a paper of tobacco, the offence of which smelled to heaven as rank as that of the King in Hamlet, he loaded his “dudeen,” lighted it with a paper from the stove, and started for the railway station in the heart of Elmira.
In the course of a little while he reached there. The station was filled with Sheriffs, detectives, and officers of the law in search of him. He became to them an incessant source of annoyance, and three times did the chief of police take the apparently drunken laborer by the arm and put him off the station platform. At length a New York bound train came along. Straggling up to the steps of the smoking car he, in a seemingly intoxicated way, tried to get aboard. His feet slipped, and it looked as if he were about to fall between the cars, but the officers of the law again protected him, addressing him with expletive adornments and asking him if he wanted to “break his infernal neck,” an inquiry to which he responded in a most unintelligible way.
They took him by the arm and helped him to a seat in the smoking car, where he almost instantly seemed to fall into a deep and drunken slumber, and thus the leader of the midnight robbers, who in a moment of chivalrous feeling had watered the cheeks of the old lady with his tears, bound his way far from the vicinity of his crime to a place of safety.
In subsequent experiences he was not quite so fortunate. Justice may be baffled for a time, but she will overtake the guilty sooner or later.
A few months thereafter, in the city of Pittsburg, a professional criminal named George Mason was arrested on suspicion of being the wily leader of the Wellsboro robbery. The identification of him by the various witnesses seemed to be thorough and reliable. The circumstances pointed to him with what seemed to be great precision. He was taken from the place of his arrest and lodged in the jail of the town of Wellsboro.
In the meanwhile the cashier of the bank (the son, who to save his parents had opened its vaults on the memorable night) met with a sudden and accidental death. The other members of the family visited the arrested person in the jail at Wellsboro; indeed, the dear old lady was kindly and motherly in her constant attention to him while he was in prison. She visited him frequently, talked with him, advised him as to his future welfare, spoke to him not only as to the consequences a criminal career would bring in this world, but urged him to reform his life and repent of the sins he had committed in order that he might insure the salvation of his soul in the world to come.
She supplied him with delicacies from her own table; indeed, with her own hands, purposely made them up for him. She gave him books, newspapers, and did all that was possible to deprive prison life of its pangs and discomforts, yet she protested with a positiveness which no argument could shake, which no reasoning could induce her to abandon, that he was the leader of the band of robbers upon that autumn night; and that his lips touched her forehead, and his tears fell upon her cheek; that he was the only one who had spoken a word among them all, and that the sound of his voice still rung in her ears; not a tone of it had left her memory, and by that very voice alone she was assured of the certainty of her identification.
Matters wore a gloomy look indeed for the prisoner; clouds gathered around upon every side; he looked forward with almost a certainty of passing a greater and better part of his days in a convict’s cell.
The leader of the band, however, in a distant city—who did not know him—heard of the situation of the man whom he knew to be innocent. He appreciated the force of the circumstances which seemed pointing to an inevitable fate unjust and most undeserved. With two or three companions, daring and reliable, he again sought the neighborhood, where, if his presence were known, punishment would surely befall him.
A little beyond the limits of the town of Corning and upon the line of the short lateral road running to Wellsboro these adventurers broke open one of the car shops of the railway company, and taking therefrom a laborer’s hand-car, propelled themselves for thirty miles along the track to the town of Wellsboro. Turning the car off the tramway, secreting it behind a woodpile, they made their way to the jail.
Arranging a dynamite cartridge without its walls and with one low whistle as a signal, an explosion occurred, which once again, in a few moments, suddenly called the excited inhabitants of the town in the most picturesque kind of night apparel into the streets, fearing they knew not what and apprehending anything which was more terrible than everything else had been before. The part of the jail sought for destruction was an unused and remote portion, but the prisoner having had accorded to him entire jail liberty could well reach it at any hour of the day or night.
The noise, of course, startled and aroused hastily those within the prison, who rushed to the point where the noise indicated the explosion had taken place. The prisoner himself had been apparently not startled, for he was found in that vicinity full dressed and with a candle in his hand. He explained that he had been sitting up late reading and ran to discover the cause of the explosion, believing at first it was occasioned by the bursting of the boiler.
As soon as the explosion occurred, those who were its cause swiftly found their way to the place where their car was concealed, and with all the muscular force that could contribute to their speedy exit from Wellsboro and its surroundings, they fled. It was suspected for some time that the prisoner not only knew of the attempt upon the jail, but that he was in collusion with those who had caused it, for the purpose of enabling him to make his escape.
These suspicions, however, gradually died away, and in a short time his trial took place. The circumstantial evidence against him was constantly suggestive of his guilt. The old lady, with tears streaming down her face, reasserted her belief in his identity as the leader of the masked men upon the night of the robbery. He was, however, enabled to present the most conclusive and irrefutable proof of his innocence, and after a trial which lasted for nearly two weeks, the door of the Wellsboro prison opened for him and he walked forth a free man.
Indicative of the inexplicable reaction and change which at times take place in the dispositions and feelings of people, the next morning a large proportion of the population of the town, men, women, and children, followed and escorted George Mason to the railroad depot. He was the lion of the hour, and he departed not only amid cheers from the assembled populace, but was escorted by a large representative body as an apparent guard of honor on his journey as far as Corning. He afterwards found a temporary haven in Portsmouth jail.
Who was the leader of the robber band? James Hope, born in Philadelphia. Did the Wellsboro Bank get back the stolen money? No.

Following his imprisonment in San Quentin, Jimmy Hope returned east and lived out the rest of his years in New York City and on a farm property in Connecticut. He died in 1905.

#15 Joseph Cook

George B. Havill (1836-1913), aka Joseph/Joe Cook, Harry Thorn(e) — Burglar, Sneak thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1886. Born in Canada. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 145 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, light complexion.

RECORD. “Cook,” or Havill, which is his right name, is a Chicago sneak thief. He came East with Brockway in 1869. Brockway used him in a few transactions in New York, and afterwards in Providence, R.I., where he was arrested with Brockway and Billy Ogle on August 16, 1880, for attempting to pass two forged checks, one on the Fourth National Bank and another on the old National Bank of that city. Havill was convicted under the name of Joseph Cook for this offense, and was sentenced to four years in State prison at Providence, R. I., on October 2, 1880.

His time expired March 14, 1884. Havill was arrested near Elmira, N.Y., on February 14, 1885, in company with John Love (68), Charles Lowery, Frank McCrann and Mike Blake, for robbing the Osceola Bank of Pennsylvania, and sentenced to nine years and nine months in State prison on April 9, 1885, under the name of Harry Thorn. His picture is a good one, taken in 1880.

George B. Havill was born in Paris, Brant County, Ontario in 1836 [ten years earlier than Byrnes date] to William and Mary Ann Havill. He later used “Jr.” as part of his name, likely in honor of an uncle. In the mid 1860s, he migrated to Chicago, Illinois, and became the proprietor of one of Chicago’s infamous dives, Havill’s. His saloon was the scene of many violent incidents: shootingss, stabbings, and fistfights, involving both men and women. At the same time–perhaps bolstered by his bar’s clientele, Havill fostered a career as a thief. A slim, athletic man, Havill was known as a “climber,” or, what would later be called a “second-story man,” i.e. a burglar specializing in entering a building through upper windows and balconies.

He was arrested multiple times in the late 1870s, but never in the act of breaking in–only charged with possession of stolen items. Because of this, he escaped long sentences for many years; and likely had connections among Chicago’s politicians. He was also adept at shifting blame to other parties, whom he claimed had paid him to confess to robberies he did not commit. In the late 1870s, he was living with one of Chicago’s most notorious prostitutes, Ruby Bell, the “pet of Biler Avenue.”

At around the same time, Havill’s sister, Mary Jean Havill, was making a name for herself as one of America’s first and most noted burlesque actresses, under the stage name May Howard. She toured with the most famous burlesque troupes of the age, and had a long and successful career.

In 1879 [Byrnes incorrectly uses the year 1869], Havill met forger Charles O. Brockway, who had recently been captured in Chicago along with a partner, Billy Ogle. Brockway and Ogle were able to get off easy after providing evidence against a former government detective. Brockway, Ogle and Havill headed to New York in 1880, where Havill learned how to present forged checks and bonds. The gang was captured in Rhode Island, where Havill was imprisoned until 1884.

Upon his release, he fell in with the gang that attempted the robbery of the Osceola Bank in Pennsylvania in February 1885, including Johnny Love, Charles Lowery, Michael Blake and Frank McCran. The gang was discovered while working at night on the vault, and captured after a long chase of each individual. Havill was sentenced to nine years and nine months, but was released early on good behavior.

George Havill returned to Chicago in the early 1890s, reunited with his wife, Teresa Kinzig, and daughter Cora. His name was never mentioned in association with crimes again, and he rebuilt a career in real estate. In the 1900 federal census, he declared his occupation as “capitalist.” He died in 1913, leaving a small fortune to his wife and daughter. The will was contested by an illegitimate son, whose case was thrown out.


#122 Bertha Heyman

Bertha Schlesinger (Abt. 1853-1901), aka Bertha Heyman, Bertha Kerkow, Bertha Stanley, Big Bertha, etc. — Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-five years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Very stout woman. Height, 5 feet 4 inches. Weight, 245 pounds. Hair brown, eyes brown, fair complexion. German face. An excellent talker. Has four moles on her right cheek.

RECORD. Bertha Heyman’s maiden name was Bertha Schlesinger. She is a native of Koblyn, near Posen, Prussia. Her father served five years in prison there for forging a check. She was married twice, first to one Fritz Karko, when she first came to this country in 1878. After living in New York a short time they went to Milwaukee, where she was afterwards married to a Mr. Heyman, although her first husband was still living. She has been concerned in a number of swindling transactions, and has the reputation of being one of the smartest confidence women in America. In September, 1880, she was sued in the Superior Court of New York City for obtaining by false pretenses $1,035 from E. T. Perrin, a conductor on a palace car, whom she met in traveling from Chicago. She was arrested in London, Ontario, on February 8, 1881, in company of one Dr. J. E. Cooms, charged with defrauding a Montreal commercial man out of several hundred dollars by the confidence game.


Bertha, in her last years, preferred to be known by her nickname, Big Bertha, and used it to publicize her stage appearances and the honky-tonks that she managed in Spokane, Butte, and other cities. One reason for that decision is that it eliminated the necessity of having to explain the many married names she had accumulated. She was born in Kobylin, Prussia (now Poland), not far from Breslau. On one marriage record she listed her parents as David Schlesinger and Ernestine Frankel. She once gave an interview that offered a version of her early career, much of which can be verified:


“Fred” was Friedrich Kerkow, a partner in a very small bank in New York that served German-speakers. Fred’s story is that he first saw Bertha working as a cleaning woman, and was entranced by the pretty young girl. They married in November, 1870, when Bertha was still a teen. The marriage lasted many years; they moved together to Milwaukee in 1875 to open a millinery store–likely an ambition of Bertha’s more than Fred’s. Did Fred abandon her in Milwaukee? He never offered his version of events. In 1877, Bertha remarried to a traveling suspender salesman, John Heyman. They maintained the millinery store in Milwaukee for a short while, but Bertha and Heyman moved to a more expensive residence, where Bertha soon gained a reputation for entertaining young German actresses and the men wishing to meet them. Unpleasant rumors caused Bertha and Heyman to decamp to New York City in the spring of 1880.

On the way to New York from Chicago, Bertha struck up conversation with a Pullman palace train car conductor, and convinced him that she had many wealthy assets in need of management, and enticed him to quit his job and take over as her estate manager–but first she needed $1000 in cash to settle some matters. The conductor, Mr. Perrin, thought it was a good opportunity, and lent her the money. Upon arrival in New York, Bertha encamped in a series of luxury hotels and ran up bills, retaining a respected lawyer to advise her. Soon both the conductor, Mr. Perrin, and the lawyer, Mr. Botty, were forced to take legal action to recover the money and services they had invested in the pretend-millionairess. Mr. Botty was the person that Bertha later claimed had informed her that she was an heiress; while Mr. Botty claimed that she was the one that first contacted him.

It was at the onset of this imposture and legal woes that husband number two, John Heyman, left Bertha. As Chief Byrnes mentions, there always seemed to be a shadowy male con man feeding Bertha’s ambitions by providing forged checks and phony bonds offered in security for cash; in New York, this figure had the name of “J. E. Cooms” (aka Coombs, Combs). When the pleas of Mr. Perrin and Mr. Botty were joined by a Mrs. Schlaarbaum of Staten Island, who claimed that Bertha had stolen jewelry from her boarding house, Bertha and Cooms fled to Canada. They were arrested there for perpetrating a fraud and retreated back to New York.

Once again in New York, Bertha took rooms in a boarding house on Staten Island, where she was arrested for stealing a watch from her landlady. She was tried and convicted in October, 1881 for the watch theft, a term she served in the New York Penitentiary. She was freed in June of 1883. Bertha was then put on trial for her earlier swindles in New York, and was returned to prison on August 30, 1883. Finally, the time she owed New York authorities expired in April, 1887.

Within a year, Bertha reappeared in San Francisco as “Bertha Stanley,” accompanied by a young man she introduced as a son, William H. Stanley (who may have been the same person as Dr. J. E. Cooms). In San Francisco, she approached a leader among the Jewish community, Rabbi A. J. Messing, whom she had known as a child in Prussia. She explained to the Rabbi that she had married a gentile, a Mr. Stanley of LaSalle, Illinois, now deceased. Mr. Stanley had left her a fortune, but she now desired to marry within her faith and asked the Rabbi’s help in finding a suitable husband. Messing introduced her to members of the Beth Israel synagogue, including his unmarried brother-in-law, Abraham Gruhn. Gruhn was entranced by Bertha, despite her now-ordinary looks and heavy girth.

Within days, Gruhn and Bertha were heading a lavish engagement party, at which Bertha’s fake son “Willie” asked Gruhn for $500 to overcome his objections to his mother remarrying. Bertha wore a great quantity of diamonds, which were paste; but their display gave “Willie” the opportunity to suggest to several women that he could take their jewelry and reset the stones in the latest fashion, such as those Bertha wore. Gruhn also presented his betrothed with more jewelry. Within days, Bertha and Willie had pawned all the jewelry they had received, along with Gruhn’s cash, and headed south toward Los Angeles. Gruhn and Messing, after a day or two, slowly realized they might have been swindled. They approached the San Francisco police, who showed them Bertha’s picture in Byrnes’ book.

Detectives traced Bertha and Willie to San Antonio, Texas, where the pair was arrested. They were brought back to San Francisco to stand trial for larceny. Gruhn, who still had a soft spot for Bertha, tempered his testimony against her, forcing the prosecution to focus their efforts on Willie Stanley. The court proceedings attracted overflow crowds–a fact not unnoticed by Bertha. In the end, after prevailing in both a civil and criminal suit, she was acquitted; while Stanley was found guilty of obtaining goods under false pretenses, and was sentenced to just six months.

Bertha considered opening another millinery shop, but instead accepted an offer to appear on the stage of a low-brow opera house.  Her act consisted of posing in scenes recreating her scandals in San Francisco; followed by her posing in classical scenes in flesh-colored tights. She attracted larger-than-usual crowds eager to see “Big Bertha.” Over the next year, she took her act on the road throughout the West Coast, sometimes adding an appearance as a collar-and-elbow wrestler, willing to take on any comer. As she traveled, she attracted new admirers who presented her with gifts and offers of marriage.

During this period, reporters tracked down her first husband, Fritz Kerkow, who was now operating a popular cafe in Los Angeles. Bertha went to the cafe to meet him, and later only said that Kerkow had broken down in tears.

By 1893, Big Bertha was not only appearing on stage, but also managed honky-tonk theaters in Spokane, Washington; Bakersfield, California; and Butte, Montana. These dives presented entertainments that are hard to imagine today:


Bertha died in Chicago in May, 1901, while managing a similar type of dive in that city.