#112 Charles Smyth

Alias David Howard (Abt. 1843-????), aka Smythe, Richard Roe — Bogus Express Company operator, Green Goods Operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Light hair, blue eyes, fair complexion. Wears glasses, and a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. “Doc” Smyth is a well-known Bowery, New York, confidence and sawdust man. He generally works with Charley Johnson and Freddie Reeves, and is an old offender. He is also well known in a number of other cities, having been arrested several times, and is considered a clever man at his business.

He was arrested in New York City on December 1, 1885, charged with using the United States mails in flooding the Western States with circulars offering “Green goods, in samples of $1, $2, $5 and $10,” to farmers and others, assuring them of a safe and rapid fortune by dealing in the stuff, which was understood to be counterfeit money. The “Doctor” pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Judge Benedict, of the United States Court, in New York City, on December 17, 1885. Smyth’s picture is a very good one, taken in March, 1878.

Perhaps it is little surprise that one of Byrnes’s criminals about whom the least can be discovered may have been one of the most clever. “Smyth” was the alias this man was known by to his ad hoc partner in the December 1885 green goods operation, but in earlier years he had gone by the name David Howard. The green goods (bogus counterfeit money) circulars he mailed out en masse used dozens of other aliases (usually including the first name William), and dozens of New York mail drop addresses.

His first known operation, though ingenious, was a bust. In February 1874 David Howard and two partners set up a fake express company, “Roger’s Express,” complete with an impressive storefront, signs, a delivery van, and several horses, on a busy Lower Manhattan commercial street. They then presented fake orders to local merchants for goods to be delivered to Brooklyn and Queens. However, a few suspicious storekeepers alerted police, and the gang was arrested before they could start to collect the goods. If not interrupted, the operation would have reaped thousands of dollars in goods within just a few days.

In March 1876, again using the name David Howard, this man was caught operating one of the first known “green goods” operations. From the late 1870s through the early 1880s, the more common name given to this confidence game was the “sawdust game,” owing to the fact that the victim ended up with a satchel of worthless paper or sawdust instead of high-quality counterfeit bills. Howard’s 1876 operation was treated as a novelty by the New York press–in fact one newspaper, the New York Herald, in an editorial wondered if such an operation was more of a public service than a crime: “Instead of being sent to State Prison, the government ought to pay Howard to continue in the business,” since the long-term result would be to discourage anyone from thinking about buying counterfeit money.

That benign attitude quickly changed as dozens of green goods operations sprang up over the next three decades, resulting in complaints that poured in from all over the country where the circulars were distributed.

Howard likely reaped a small fortune running green goods operations between 1877 and late 1885. When arrested in December, he only offered the name “Richard Roe.” However, his partner named him as David Smith/Smyth/Smythe, and it under that name that he was convicted. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison; his fate after his release is unknown.


#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.






#46 Frank Auburn

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

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

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

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

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

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

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





#42 Edward A. Condit

Edward Augustus Condit (1848 – 1931), aka Robert S. Corning, Edward A. Cranston, W. S. Carson, Sterling, Cornell — Forger, Passer of Bad Checks

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-one years old in 1886. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 167 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, long pointed nose, sallow complexion. Has a scar on right side of neck. Small dark mole on left cheek. Prominent eyebrows.

RECORD. Edward A. Condit, a swindler who had a peculiar method of dealing in worthless checks, was arrested in New York City on March 2, 1883. Condit’s manner of doing business was to inquire by letter the terms upon which a broker would deal in a stock, and then ordering him to buy or sell, giving as margin a check on the Orange (N.J.) Savings Bank. Condit had only a small amount on deposit in that bank, but owing to the time required for the passage of the check through the Clearing-house, and other delaying causes, several days elapsed before its worthless character was exposed, and he was enabled to reap the benefit of the fluctuations in the price of the stock within the time required to collect the check. If the stock moved to his advantage, he contrived to meet or intercept the check, and take the benefit. If the transaction went against him, he allowed the check to go to protest, so that the broker was the loser.

Condit has a pleasing address, and is apparently a man of some education. He gave a short history of his life after confessing his operations. He said that he inherited a small fortune in 1869, which in the course of the next two years he increased to $100,000. He began to speculate in Wall Street in 1872. At first he was successful, but after the “panic” he began to lose, and by 1876 he was a beggar.

Then it was that he attempted to retrieve his losses by the mode described above. When arrested on March 2, 1883, he was committed for trial by Judge Cowing, but was turned over to the Jersey City police authorities in October, 1884. On December 1, 1884, he made a nearly successful attempt to escape from the Hudson County Jail, on Jersey City Heights, where he was confined awaiting trial for swindling several storekeepers in Jersey City by worthless checks. He was convicted on December 24, 1884, and sentenced, January 23, 1885, to four years in State prison at Trenton, N.J., where he was taken on June 28, 1885. Condit’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

Edward A. Condit came from a privileged family, and was gifted with many head-starts in life: family wealth, goods looks, athletic ability, intelligence, and a fine education. His schooling ended with a degree from Princeton. While attending college, Condit was a fine first baseman for the Nassau Club of Princeton, one of the country’s best amateur teams (in the years 1862-1866, just before the first professional clubs). He graduated college prepared to make his own fortune–and he was ready to cut corners to do so.


Condit began his career was a Wall Street speculator after inheriting a substantial amount of money in 1869. One of his first ventures was the Enterprise Slate Company of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. In 1870, Condit and partner H. W. H Fitzgerald were sued by a third partner, Henry Kern, for breach of promise. Condit and Fitzgerald were in court a year later on charges of forging a check; it is unclear whether this was related to the slate company venture or a different incident. Condit defended the charge by arguing that there was no forgery, merely the issuance of a check from an account that temporarily had insufficient funds.

In 1876, Condit made a desperate attempt to manipulate stock prices by sending a fake telegram to Wall Street announcing the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt (who did pass away a year later). Condit’s deception was exposed, but he escaped punishment.

By 1883, Condit had refined his trick of purchasing margins from brokers with worthless checks, and then reaping the profits and quickly covering the checks; or, if the investment didn’t work out, allow the checks to be protested. This worked until he tried the same trick on storekeepers in New Jersey, who brought a civil suit against Condit. Confined to a Jersey City jail, Condit made a foolish attempt to escape. He was eventually sentence to four years in the New jersey State Prison.

In 1891, Condit traveled to Holyoke, Massachusetts and attempted to cash four checks under the name Robert S. Corning. He was arrested and released on bail, which he defaulted. He was captured again in Madison, Wisconsin in December 1892 under the name W. A. Carson. This time he was sentenced to three years of hard labor at the Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun. He was caught once more in Chicago in October 1898 under the name W. A. Cornell, but was released on his own recognizance.

Condit unwisely returned to Massachusetts and was soon identified as a forger and swindler, and was sentenced to ten-fifteen years in State Prison under the name Edward A. Cranston.

Condit’s last travail occurred in Tiffin, Ohio, in October 1919. His long-suffering wife Addie had passed away a few months earlier. Now an old man, Condit was worn down by the struggle:


After his release from Ohio, Condit returned to Newark, New Jersey to live with his daughter. He died there in 1931 at age 82.

#104 Charles Ward

Charles W. Hall (Abt. 1833-19??), aka Charles E. Stewart, Charles E. Ward, Charles Vallen, J. C. Massie, William Edwards, William Hall. E. C. Stewart, Charles D. Stewart, etc. — Swindler, Check forger, Hotel Thief, Sneak Thief

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States. Book-keeper. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 159 pounds. Brown hair, mixed with gray, wears it long; blue eyes, light complexion. Generally wears a full, heavy gray beard and mustache. Dresses well, and has an extraordinary gift of the gab.

RECORD. Charley Ward, whose right name is Charles Vallum, is one of the most noted confidence operators in America. He enjoys the distinction of being the only man in his line who can play the confidence game successfully on women. His principal forte, though, is collecting subscriptions for homes and asylums.

He was arrested in New York City on April 6, 1877, for collecting money for the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City without authority. For this he was sentenced to five years in State prison, on April 12, 1877, by Judge Sutherland. He was pardoned by Governor Cornell in 1880.

He was arrested again in New York City on August 4, 1881, for collecting considerable money, without authority, in aid of the “Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind,” of New York City, and appropriating it to his own use. In this case, owing to the efforts of a loving wife, he escaped with eighteen months’ imprisonment in State prison, on September 7, 1881, being sentenced by Judge Cowing. Ward’s picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1877.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Ward was arrested at Cincinnati, 0., in August, 1889, charged with having stabbed a woman that he was boarding with. For this offense he was sentenced to four years in the penitentiary at Columbus, 0. He was discharged from there on April 15, 1892.

Arrested again at Rochester, N. Y., on July 26, 1894, for the larceny of a satchel from the N.Y. Cen. & H.R.R. Depot. For this offense he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the Munroe Co., N.Y., Penitentiary, by Judge Chas. B. Ernst, on July 27, 1894, under name of Wm. Edwards.

He was arrested again at Niagara Falls, N.Y., under the name of Wm. Hall, alias, E. C. Stewart, on November 28, 1894, charged with passing a worthless check on the proprietor of the Prospect House; he refused to prosecute him. He was, however, sentenced to twenty-five days imprisonment in the Niagara County Jail at Lockport, N.Y., for the larceny of a satchel from the New York Central Railroad Depot, by Judge Piper, on November 30, 1894.

Arrested again on January 31, 1895, at Dunkirk, N.Y., under the name of Wm. E. Miller, charged with defrauding the Hotel Gratiot out of a hotel bill. He sold his overcoat, settled his bill, and was discharged.

Ward was arrested again at Philadelphia, Pa., on October 28, 1895, for the larceny of an overcoat containing valuable papers from a guest of the Waldorf Hotel, New York City. He was brought back to New York, and was sentenced to three years and three months on this charge, on November I5, 1895, by Recorder Goff.

While detained by police in Cincinnati in May of 1889, the criminal popularly known as Charles Ward spoke with a reporter and offered a confession of his criminal career. He claimed to be sixty-three years old, though other records indicate he was only fifty-six. Still, by appearance he looked like a man living his final years. Neither Ward nor the reporter could have predicted that Ward’s confession was a bit premature, for many arrests and jailings were still to come.

“My life has a tinge of romance in it,” said Ward, as he chatted with the reporter last evening. “It’s no matter what my right name is. But one man knows, and he is my brother, a prosperous merchant in a South American country.

“Years ago I went wrong. What led me to a life of crookedness I can’t say, for I believe I was cut out for something better than a thief. Some dozen years ago I landed in St. Louis with a mob of crooks. We put up at the Lindell Hotel, but our headquarters we made at a well-known house of ill-fame. We were flush, and spent our money like princes for two weeks. Then a big trick was turned, and we scattered. My share was $4,000. At the house mentioned I became infatuated with a girl named Doris Meyer. She told me her story. When scarcely seventeen years old she had been brought to this country by her aunt, a Madame Schimmel, who then kept a den of infamy at 537 Race street in Cincinnati.

“This innocent, pretty girl’s honor was deliberately sold by her aunt to the highest bidder. Subsequently Doris married a captain in the army name Bookwood. The husband went wrong, and was dismissed from the army in disgrace. He was no better than the relative who had ruined the girl, for he forced his wife to return to a life of infamy, and lived on the proceeds of her shame.

“It was then I met her. I pitied Doris, and loved her as man ever loved woman. Well, I took her with me to Chicago. She did not know I was a crook, for I led her to think I was a gambler. Leaving her in Chicago, I went east; in Buffalo I ‘fell.’ I telegraphed Doris, and she came on. It was a bad case. Grover Cleveland was my lawyer, and although we made a vigorous fight, I went up for five years. Doris went to work,and, after I had spent half my term at Auburn, she secured my pardon.

“I found that Doris had become a city missionary in New York. The graduate of a St. Louis den had become an angel of mercy. Well, I married her in Brooklyn. Through her influence I secured work as a collector for a charitable institution. I received only $12 a week, but it was honest, and I felt better than when I had thousands I had stolen. Frequently  have turned over at then end of a week as much as $2000. That shows how easy it is to get money from the rich, and it was this fact that accomplished my final ruin.

“I was given a prominent position under the society, and my annual income was between $4000 and $7000. I seemed to have a peculiar faculty for the work. Through my own exertions the contributions had increased nearly $50,000. My besetting sin has been drink. I began to squander my money for wine, and, forgetful of my faithful Doris, I became infatuated with a shameless woman. In the mean time, my wife and I had made a trip to Europe. I had a comfortable bank account, and nobody was better thought of. But the climax came. I remained away from the office for an entire week. I was permitted to resign.

“My money went fast in dissipation, until I awoke one morning and realized that I hadn’t a dollar in the world. Then the idea seized me that I would work the collection racket. My success astonished me. Soon thousands of dollars were pouring in on me…and so it went on for weeks. I had returned to my old life and was again the associate of thieves and one of them.

“One day I called on wealthy Miss Catherine Wolf…I represented myself as from a prominent institution and left my book. Unfortunately for me Miss Wolf was on friendly terms with the president of the concern, and when he called the next day she broached the subject and showed the book. When I called three days after recovering from a spree a servant handed me the book with the ends of several bills sticking ut. The next instant a detective laid his hand on my shoulder and I was a prisoner. This time I also got five years for forgery.

“My wife again went to work and finally, after I had served nearly three years at Sing Sing, she secured my pardon from Governor Robinson. New York was now closed to me; I was too well known. I went to Baltimore with several crooks. One night while playing billiards we were pinched. Some gilly had been robbed. He identified all of us, though on my word we were innocent. Again I went to the Penitentiary, and again my wife began to intercede for me. She was finally successful, but before the doors opened, I received a letter announcing the death of my devoted Doris. She had caught cold while at her missionary work, and death had quickly followed.

“I began to drink, and, within a week, was again pinched.I had attempted a little crooked business at a hotel wand was caught. Again I went up. Doris’s death made me desperate and despondent. I cared for nothing. A year ago last February I was released from the Maryland Penitentiary.”

It appears that Ward was being very honest in his account: he did marry Doris Meyer, who had been married to a Charles Bookwood. Ward was pardoned out of Auburn Prison in 1874, after entering it as Charles W. Hall in March 1872. He was also pardoned from Sing Sing in October 1879 after entering as William H. Hall in April, 1877. Doris Ward roomed for many years at the Bible House, the mission of the American Bible Society.

Ward went to Cincinnati in 1879 to seek out Madame Schimmel, who was running a sketchy boarding house under the name Helene Krolage. They got along together at first–and in fact helped her con another woman in town that was her enemy. However, by July, Ward confronted her about her ruination of 17-year-old Doris, and became enraged. He tried to stab her with a penknife; she survived, but Ward was arrested and convicted of assault, sending him to the Ohio State Penitentiary for five years.

Upon his release, Ward wandered through upstate New York, committing small robberies of coats, satchels, etc. from train depots and hotels.  In Niagara Falls, when an officer attempted to arrest him in his hotel room, he tried to put a gun to his own head and commit suicide. Later that same year, 1895, he was arrested in Philadelphia for a hotel robbery he had committed in New York and sent back there. This episode earned him another three year sentence in Sing Sing as Charles Vallen.

Again regaining his freedom, he joined a gang of forgers led by an interesting figure, former timber magnate, lawyer, and State Senator, Alonzo James Whiteman.

The last reference to Ward dates to 1906, when he was arrested by a Manhattan hotel detective for stealing into someone else’s room.

In his last decades, Ward was often confused by amateur sleuths for another criminal in Byrnes’s book, the horse-trainer and sometime-forger Lewis Martin. They were similar in appearance when both were wearing long, gray beards.

#60 John O’Neil

W. J. McNeill (Abt. 1841-????), aka John Hughes, William H. Thompson, John O’Neil, David W. Engle, Jason Smith, Thomas O’Donnell, etc. — Pawn Ticket Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Slim build. Painter by trade. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 140 pounds. Dark hair, turning gray; light eyes, dark complexion, cast in one eye. His hand is drawn up from a gunshot wound, and he is paralyzed on one side of his body, drawing one leg somewhat after him.

RECORD. John O’Neil, alias Hughes, alias Jason Smith, has a method of working which is entirely his own. Whenever a robbery or burglary has been committed, the victim receives a poorly spelled and written note from O’Neil, stating that “although he is a thief, so help his God he had nothing to do with the burglary” of your residence, or whatever it may be — he has, however, pawn tickets representing the property stolen, which he will sell you. An interview is arranged, and during the conversation he remembers a few descriptions that you give of your property, and says that he has pawn tickets representing so-and-so. “Why did you not bring them with you?” is the question naturally asked. “Oh, no; I did not know whether I could trust you or not.” Being assured that he can, another meeting is arranged for the purpose of going and redeeming the property, which is done in the following manner: a cab is hired, “as he is a thief, and it would not be safe for you to be seen walking with him,” and both are driven to the pawnbroker’s shop, which always has two entrances. Before the cab arrives at the place, he will say, “It will cost so much to redeem the goods,” showing you the tickets and counting the amounts up, “give me the money, you remain in the cab at the door, and I will go in and redeem them, and bring them to you, when you can pay me for my tickets.” He enters the pawnshop and passes out the other door, and you, after waiting some time in the cab, realize that you have been swindled, enter the place, but fail to find your man.

O’Neil was arrested at Staten Island, N.Y., by the police and brought to New York City on April 4, 1879, under the name of John Hughes, charged with swindling one Zophar D. Mills out of $172, as above described. O’Neil represented that he had pawn tickets, for seven pieces of silk stolen from Mr. Mills on November 30, 1878. O’Neil, alias Hughes, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in State prison in this case on April 23, 1879, by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City.

He was arrested again in New York City, under the name of John O’Neil, on September 12, 1885, for swindling several people in the same way. This time he also pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to one year in State prison on September 17, 1885, by Judge Cowing, in the same court. Several of O’Neil’s victims refused to prosecute him on account of his infirmities, and the fact that he had served twelve years of the last fifteen of his life in prison. O’Neil’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1870.

One might think that if a name was tattooed on a man’s body, it would be a clue to his identity. The only problem is that in 1874, Sing Sing examiners saw that tattoo as “W. J. McNeill”; and a different Sing Sing recorder saw the tattoo in 1879 as “W. J. O’Neille.” Byrnes stated his name as John O’Neil only because that was the alias employed by this swindler in 1885, the last arrest known.

McNeill/O’Neil was first caught employing a variation of the robbery-victim swindle on several New Yorkers in May 1874. As Byrnes indicates, he found his targets by perusing the classified notices that recent robbery victims posted seeking the return of their valuables. In this instance, he used the alias William H. Thompson–but unlike later, there was no mention of pawn tickets. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing for conspiracy to commit grand larceny.

In April 1879, police captured him again, this time for attempting to break into hotel rooms. His alias this time was John Hughes. He was returned to Sing Sing for three years.

In March of 1885, he was arrested for once again suggesting that he could arrange the return of stolen goods, and as the go-between he would exchange pawn tickets for cash. This time he employed the alias Thomas O’Donnell. However, for some reason, the prosecution failed to find him guilty (perhaps, as Byrnes suggests, out of pity for his physical disabilities?)

Six months later, in September 1885, he was caught playing the more elaborate pawn ticket swindle described by Byrnes. Although many victims came forth, and McNeill/O’Neil was recognized as a repeat felon, his punishment only amounted to three months at Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary (not one year in State Prison, as Byrnes wrote).

The pattern of McNeill/O’Neill’s peculiar swindle disappeared after this 1885 arrest.



#55 Stephen Raymond

Stephen George Francis Rayment (1835-1909), aka Stephen Raymond, Stephen Handsworth, Frank Stewart, George Morgan, Charles Seymour, Robert Maguire — Forger, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-four years old in 1886. Born in England. Stout build. Married. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Has considerable English accent when talking. Gray mixed hair, blue eyes, dark complexion. Mole on the upper lip, right side. The right eye is glass.

RECORD. Steve Raymond has a remarkable history as a forger and negotiator of forged bonds and securities. He had only left Sing Sing prison, where he had been confined for forgery, a few months, when he was arrested in London, England, on January 8, 1874, charged with being implicated in the great Buffalo, Erie and New York Railroad bond forgeries. Over $400,000 of fraudulent bonds of these railroads were sold in New York City, and an equal amount in other places, before their genuineness was doubted. They were so cleverly executed that one of the railroad companies accepted $40,000 of them without suspicion. These forgeries were the largest that were ever committed and successfully carried out in this or any other country. The capital to carry this scheme was said to have been furnished by Andrew L. Roberts and Valentine Gleason. Raymond’s share was $40,000 cash, the larger part of which was stolen from him before he left for Europe in July, 1873. Raymond was taken before Justice Henry, a London magistrate, and remanded for extradition on January 16, 1874, and was shortly after brought back to America.

While awaiting trial in the Tombs prison in New York, with his confederates, Walter Sheridan, alias Ralston (8), Charles Williamson, alias Perrine (202), Andy Roberts and Valentine Gleason, Raymond was taken to Elmira, N.Y., on habeas corpus proceedings, to be examined as a witness in some case, and while there he succeeded in making his escape from the Sheriff. He was arrested some time afterwards and committed to the Eastern Penitentiary on Cherry Hill, Philadelphia, for fifteen months, under the name of Frank Stewart, for a petty pocketbook swindle, which he carried on through the newspapers, and remained there without recognition until a short time before his release, when the fact became known to the New York authorities, who arrested him at the prison on January 27, 1877 (just two years after he had left the Tombs for Elmira), and brought him back to New York.

Raymond was convicted of forgery in the third degree and sentenced to State prison for five years on March 20, 1877, and was discharged from there in October, 1880. The list of the forgeries he was implicated in is as follows : New York Central Railroad bonds, $250,000 ; Buffalo, New York and Erie bonds, $200,000 ; Western Union Telegraph Company bonds, $200,000 ; New Jersey Central Railroad bonds, $150,000. A total of $800,000.

Raymond was arrested again in New York City on July 3, 1882, charged with the larceny of a watch on a street car. He could not be identified as the party who stole it, but a bunch of keys was found upon his person and the magistrate construed these keys as being equivalent to burglars’ tools and committed him in $1,500 bail for trial. This was reduced to $500 by Judge Haight, of the Supreme Court, and Raymond was shortly after discharged.

Raymond was arrested again in New York City on September 1, 1883, charged with altering the numbers and cashing coupons of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, which had been stolen from the Northampton Bank in Massachusetts, in 1876. He presented at the office of the Union Pacific Railroad Company on September 1, 1883, twelve coupons and received a check for $480 in payment. When placed on the stand at the time of his trial, he said:

“I met a man named George Clark, with whom I had been acquainted for years, in a liquor store on Eighth Avenue, about two years ago; during the conversation he asked me if I would cash some coupons; I was promised a percentage of $50 on $480, the amount of interest; Clark said to me, ‘You can’t expect the coupons to be straight; they are cut from stolen bonds.’ I cashed several lots of coupons; I never suspected that the numbers of the coupons had been altered or I would not have had anything to do with them; I saw three detectives near the bank when I entered it, but they were looking in another direction. In my extensive experience with crooked bonds I never before heard of the numbers of the coupons being altered. If I had had plenty of money I would not have touched the coupons, but as my wife was sick I wanted money. When I came out of prison in 1880 I sold directories and afterwards gambled.”

Raymond was convicted of forgery (second offense) and sentenced to State prison for life on October 22, 1883. The law under which he was sentenced reads as follows : “If the subsequent crime is such that upon a first conviction the offender might be punished, in the discretion of the court, by imprisonment for life, he must be imprisoned for life.” The Court of Appeals of New York State confirmed Raymond’s sentence on April 29, 1884. Raymond’s picture is a good one, taken in 1882.

This forger was baptized as “Stephen George Francis Rayment,” but at an early age the family reverted to the spelling Raymond. He was first arrested at age 12 for stealing a tea kettle, and was sentenced to six days in jail. He was apprenticed in his father’s trade of type foundry, but later in life identified himself as a jeweler. One mention suggests he was a “Botany Bay convict,” i.e. had been sent from England to an Australian penal colony.


Raymond arrived in the United States in the late 1860s, having already married and divorced in England before 1862. In New York City, he was recruited by some unknown gang of Wall Street forgers to help them secure bonds from a bank messenger. He was caught stealing gold certificates from a messenger in October 1868 and sentenced the next February to four and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Stephen Handsworth.

In Sing Sing, Raymond became friends with Dr. Alvah Blaisdell, a New York whiskey distiller who had attempted to remove a zealous tax collector by paying witnesses to testify that the taxman took bribes. The “Whiskey Ring” plot was uncovered, sending Blaisdell to Sing Sing.

When Blaisdell was freed, he was anxious to recoup his losses via the shortcut of forged bonds, and joined with a gang of professionals to help him: Andy Roberts, Valentine Gleason, George Engels, George W. Wilkes, Walter Sheridan, Charles Perrin (Williamson), Spence Pettis…and Blaisdell’s jail pal, Stephen Raymond. The efforts of this impressive collection of men resulted in–as Byrnes states–the largest successful forgeries ever committed up to that time. It became known as the Roberts-Gleason gang.

Nearly all of Raymond’s share of the loot was stolen from him in a saloon by pickpockets Red Leary and Jim Hoey. Seeing other members of the Roberts-Gleason gang being arrested, Raymond fled to England in July 1873 along with “Mrs. Bowden” nee LaGrand, the mistress of Alvah Blaisdell. William A. Pinkerton tracked him down in England and had him arrested and extradited back to the United States. While awaiting trial, he was sent to Elmira in order to testify in a case, and managed to escape from an escorting sheriff.

Raymond adopted the alias “Frank Stewart” and made Philadelphia his base for a mail-fraud known as “the pocket-book swindle.” It was fairly simple–he placed ads in newspapers around the country announcing that the Union Pocket Book Company of Philadelphia would send a fine morocco pocket-book to all who remitted them the sum of one dollar, with the pocket book containing a coupon for a lottery drawing of $100,000. These ads were to be paid for after they were run (but never were). No pocket-books were ever sent out. Raymond was caught for this scam and sentenced to three years in the Eastern State Penitentiary.

In 1877, visiting detectives to the prison recognized Raymond and he was returned to face trial for the Roberts-Gleason gang forgeries. In March 1877, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing.

Raymond got out in 1882, and–as Byrnes notes–was harassed with a charge of carrying burglars’ tools, when all he had was a bunch of keys. However, in 1883, he tried to cash a check for coupons taken from stolen bonds–coupons given to him by other thieves who had altered the numbers. Whether Raymond was cognizant of the forgery or not, he was found guilty; moreover, a recently enacted law required anyone found guilty of forgery a second time was to be imprisoned for life.

It took nine years, but this injustice was resolved with a pardon from New York Governor Flower in 1892.

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes states that “Steve” Raymond was next heard from in 1895, when he ran a “panel room” operation against a man named Louis Oppenheimer.

By 1906, Raymond was over seventy years old and nearly blind, and was forced to take refuge in the New York Almshouse. He died in March 1909 at the New York City Home for the Aged, with his burial there funded by the Episcopal City Mission Society.





#33 Timothy J. Gilmore

Timothy G. Gilmore (Abt. 1838-18??) — Check forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-eight years old in 1886. Born in United States. Widower. Clerk. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 175 pounds. Dark brown hair, brown eyes, ruddy complexion, high forehead. Generally wears brown mustache, cut short. Gilmore has three young sons who are now in an orphan asylum.

RECORD. Gilmore is a professional forger, well known in New York and several of the Eastern cities. He is said to have formerly lived in St. Louis, Mo., and has served time in prison there.

He was arrested in New York City on June 24, 1878, and sentenced to four years and six months in State prison for forgery.

He was arrested again in New York City on February 7, 1884. Mr. Goodwin, a baker, of No. 228 Front Street, New York, identified Gilmore as the man to whom on July 30, 1883, he had sold ten barrels of bread for $25.22, and who gave him a check for $70 in payment. The check was worthless. Thomas A. O’Brien, bookkeeper for Fitzpatrick & Case, spice dealers, of No. 7 James Slip, New York, said that on December 11, 1883, Gilmore paid him a check for $80, signed ” R. H. Macy & Co.,” for $45 worth of tea. In this case he obtained $35 change. Gilmore pleaded guilty to both complaints, and was sentenced to eight years in State prison on March 5, 1884, in the Court of General Sessions, New York. Gilmore’s picture is a good one, taken in 1878.

Timothy J. Gilmore’s habit of writing bad checks appears to have been more mental illness than criminal ambition. He came from a good family, and when his father Martin died in 1849, he was provided for in the will, along with his mother and brother. He settled down to life as a clerk, and married Catherine Lyons around the year 1860. They had two sons, Martin in 1863 and Edward in 1867–and then Timothy went off the rails.

He was caught in late May 1868 passing worthless checks, signing them with fictitious names and presenting them to gullible merchants. Newspapers did not record his sentencing, but he was not sent to State prison. He appeared to have operated strictly on his own. The Gilmores had a third son Albert,  born a year later, in 1869.

Timothy’s mania returned in August 1873. This time, he was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing, and was later transferred to Auburn. Though no details can found, apparently his imprisonment drove his wife temporarily insane:


After a brief year of freedom, Gilmore continued to lay down a flurry of bad checks in June 1878. He was sent back to Sing Sing for another sentence of four and a half years.

He was released in 1882, long enough to see his wife, Kate, pass away, leaving Timothy alone to raise three boys. That responsibility did not deter Gilmore: he was arrested for the same crime, using the same methods, in December 1883. Merchants were shown Gilmore’s photograph, taken in 1878, and identified him quickly. Gilmore’s sons were placed with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; Gilmore was sent to Sing Sing a third time, this time for eight years.

When Gilmore was processed back into society yet again, his found his sons were grown, and there was no reunion. In February 1892, he spread bad checks throughout Brooklyn, and was returned to Sing Sing to do another eight years. There are no records indicating that he emerged from his fourth obligation to the State of New York.





#108 James Lee

James Lee [Kohln/Kohlen/Kölhen] (Abt. 1841-1904), aka B. Sharp, August Ortman, C. M. Tingle, Charles H. Ray, Frank Bell, David Cartwright, Morris Fleckenger – Custom House Officer Swindler

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in United States. No trade. Single. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 9 3/4 inches. Weight, 175 pounds. Hair sandy, eyes gray, sandy complexion, reddish-brown mustache. Has a naval coat-of-arms, anchor and eagle, in India ink, on right arm.
RECORD. James Lee was evidently in the government employ, so well is he posted in custom-house matters.
He was arrested in New York City on April 23, 1882, charged by Mrs. C. F. Chillas, of Livingston Place, with defrauding her and thirty others out of $9.98. Lee claimed to be a custom-house collector, and would collect this amount and give the parties an order on the custom-house stores for a package which he claimed was consigned to them from Europe. In this case Lee was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison on May 5, 1882, by Judge Gildersleeve. His sentence expired on May 5, 1884.
He was arrested again in Baltimore, Md., on September 17, 1884, charged with swindling eight persons in that city under similar circumstances. In several instances Lee sat at the piano and played “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” while the ladies left the parlor to procure the money for him. He was again sentenced to three years in State prison on October 15, 1884. His sentence will expire April 14, 1887. Lee’s picture is an excellent one, taken in April, 1882.

Lee is first found in New York City in 1871, as a cited example of a rare species, a Tammany Hall Republican. Tammany Hall was the Democratic political machine that dominated New York City politics, but Lee was given a patronage job as a Custom House officer. Items in the New York Times suggest that he resigned from the Custom House to become a “henchman” of Police Commissioner Henry Smith. After Smith left his position as head of the police, reports began to surface about a swindler misusing the badge of a custom house officer: he would accost travelers disembarking from a ship with their baggage and demand that their baggage be surrendered to be taken away to be reinspected; and would inform the owners that they could call at the Custom House to retrieve their belongings. Of course, the baggage was never seen again.

By 1879, he swept through Brooklyn, going to targeted homes and informing the residents that packages from overseas were being held at the Custom House for them, but that duty taxes were owed. He often received about $10 per victim from this ruse. In 1881, he used his badge to impress a Brooklyn Customs officer coming from work; Lee claimed he was a ranking Customs House Inspector from Washington, D.C., and that many officers in Brooklyn would soon be laid off. Over drinks in a bar, Lee would suggest that he could use his influence to save the jobs; and incidentally, he needed a temporary small loan of $10. Lee was arrested and spent two years in the Kings County Penitentiary.
In August 1881, Lee flashed his badge at the New York residence of Surgeon-General William Hammond, with urgent news that First Lady Garfield insisted he come at once to Washington to take over care of the mortally wounded President. While breathlessly delivering this news to Hammond in the doctor’s study, Lee asked the doctor for a glass of bromide. Apparently, Lee’s plan was to steal valuables from the study while Hammond retrieved the glass, but Hammond never left Lee alone in the study.
In addition to using his Custom House badge, Lee’s other trick was to go to a new city and claim that he was a writer from a leading New York newspaper, and would appreciate if local theater managers and rail ticket offices could “accommodate” his needs for gratis services.
Back in New York in 1882, Lee went back to bullying residents in their homes over unclaimed packages from the Continent. This time, he was arrested by Byrnes and his detectives, after first giving aliases of “B. Sharp” and “Frank Bell.” Byrnes discovered that he had bilked as many as twenty people with the fake bills of laden between mid-1881 and April, 1882. James Lee was sent to Sing Sing to serve two and a half years, commuted to May, 1884.
As Byrnes indicates, upon his release, Lee went to Baltimore and played the same game, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment in Maryland. Once he regained his freedom in 1887, he moved to Milwaukee and added a new twist to his game; now he used bogus telegrams to inform people that packages awaited them. In September, 1887 he was caught at this practice and sentenced to 18 months in Milwaukee’s House of Corrections.
Undaunted, Lee merely slipped down to Chicago after his confinement in Milwaukee ended. He victimized many well-to-do residents there with his routine, which cleverly included approached newly-married rich women, suggesting a gift of vases was being sent to them from Europe. Thinking it to be another wedding gift, the women would gladly pay the duties on the receipt Lee handed them. Lee was arrested, but later released after his victims failed to positively identify him.
Lee next went to Cincinnati, Ohio, and posed as August Ortman. After playing his con on many people, he was finally capture. Interviewed, he gave this account: “I served in the Eighty-Seventh, New York, in the Twenty-Fifth, New York, and in the Fourth, New Hampshire. I was in the Union army for four years and was made a sergeant. For sixteen years I lived the life of a sailor. I was a custom house inspector in New York under the late ex-President Arthur for three years and nine months.”
Inspector Byrnes cited the above in his 1895 edition, but it’s likely a fabric of lies. Lee spent only a few months in 1871 as a Customs House inspector, not years–and not during President Arthur’s tenure. He could not have served in the Civil War and have spent sixteen years as a sailor–he had been thieving continuously since 1871.
Moreover, his name was not Ortman. When sent to Sing Sing in 1882, he listed a family contact: a brother-in-law, Louis Bickel of Alton, Illinois. Bickel’s wife was Mary, nee Maria Norberta Kohln, according to her son’s birth record. A baptism record from Germany exists for a female with the same birth date from the same village, with the name Maria Josepha Kölhen. In both cases, these records may have been transcribed in error or based on phonetic spellings; but the family name was likely Kohln/Kohlen/Kölhen (which perhaps was Byrnes source for saying one of Lee’s aliases was “Coleman,” an alias that never appeared in print.)
After serving time in Ohio, Lee gravitated back to Chicago, keeping his last alias, August Ortman. He left the world with a mystery as his legacy:
Lee’s murder was never solved.

#105 Solomon Stern

Solomon Stern (1854-19??), aka Samuel Stern, Saul Stern, William Stern, William Stearns, William Stone, Isaac J. Stern– Bogus check swindler

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-two years old in 1886. Jew. Born in United States. Single. Book- keeper. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, sallow complexion.
RECORD. Solomon Stern is the son of very respectable parents. He was arrested in New York City on June 29, 1883, charged with obtaining large quantities of jewelry, etc., from merchants by means of bogus checks.
The story of Stern’s downfall is interesting. In the spring of 1882 he became attached to a woman in an up-town resort in New York City. He was then a salesman in his father’s store, and resided at home. His salary was small, his father being a strict disciplinarian and an unbeliever in the fashionable follies of young men. Young Stern had little spending money, and in order to gratify his inamorata began stealing from his father. He purchased diamonds for her and paid her board at a seaside hotel. Her tastes were very expensive, and her demands on Stern for money very frequent. He began going every Sunday morning to his father’s store, and always went away with a roll of costly woolen cloth. An inventory of stock was taken, and the father discovered that he was being systematically robbed. More than $5,000 worth of woolens had been stolen. Mr. Stern soon found that his son was the thief, and discharged him. He also turned him out of his home. When this occurred the young man had become a confirmed drinker. Stern was still infatuated with the woman, and was determined to get money to supply her demands. He endeavored to borrow from his acquaintances, but without avail. Then he went to his mother, but she discarded him, and his paternal uncle also gave him the cold shoulder.
It was then he resolved upon a career of crime. He wrote his mother’s name to a check of $650 which he gave in payment for some diamonds to C. W. Schumann, of No. 24 John Street, New York City, on September 24, 1882. The check was on the Germania Bank. He sold the diamonds, and with his companion went to Baltimore, where he stayed until all his money was spent. When the woman wanted more he returned.
On December 16, 1882, he obtained a sealskin sacque with a $250 worthless check from Henry Propach, a furrier, at No. 819 Broadway, New York, and three days later a precious stone worth $525 from A. R. Picare, a jeweler, of Fifteenth Street, New York, whom he paid in similar fashion. When the police got on his track he went out of town again. He didn’t return to New York until January 6, 1883, when he swindled Joseph Michal, of No. 150 Ewen Street, Brooklyn, out of $800 by giving a worthless check in payment for jewelry. There were four complaints against Stern. He pleaded guilty to one of them, and was sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Gildersleeve, on August 3, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. His sentence will expire on March 3, 1887. His picture is a good one, taken in June, 1883.
In recounting the crimes of Solomon Stern, Inspector Byrnes presents a human story of character shortcomings, in which a wayward youth is lured into crime to satisfy the wants his demanding mistress. While it’s possible that the gist of this story may true, its plausibility recedes when considering facts of which Byrnes was unaware: Solomon Stern had been presenting bogus checks starting (at least) four years earlier. He had been arrested in both Hartford, Connecticut and Buffalo, New York; and had been sentenced in 1878 to three years in the Connecticut State Prison.
Given these facts, it seems more likely that Solomon Stern’s compulsion to lay down bad checks had other causes, such as a gambling addiction. There’s no evidence that he had any training from professional check forgers. Indeed, his efforts seemed pretty clumsy, did little to hide his identity, and were fairly sure to result in his capture.
In November 1878, Solomon went to Hartford, Connecticut, for the alleged purpose of representing his father’s clothing firm as a salesman. He was introduced to several businessmen there, and returned a week later to resume his activities. He went to one of his new contacts, a jeweler, and showed him a check written out to his father’s firm from one of their clients, and explained that he needed this check cashed there in Hartford in order to conclude a separate business deal. His new friend obliged, and Stern took part of the payment in cash, part in diamonds, and part in a new check for the remainder. After Stern left, the jeweler’s suspicions were aroused, and he investigated. Stern was tracked down, arrested, and jailed. In December 1878 he was sentenced to three years in the State prison for fraud.

Stern learned little from that experience. After his release from Connecticut, he returned to employment in New York, and made the acquaintance of a tailor hailing from Buffalo, New York. In November, 1881, Stern went to Buffalo and looked up this tailor. He went to his store and ordered a fine suit, to be delivered to his New York address, paid with a forged check. The tailor’s bank required him to verify the check, and the fraud was uncovered. Buffalo authorities believed that Stern had been active in other cities, such as Chicago, under the aliases William Stern, William Stearns, William Stone, and Isaac J. Stern, Jr. Since the check that was forged was on a New York City bank, a New York City detective was sent to Buffalo to take him back to face charges.
It appears that those charges were dropped, and young Solomon was free to continue his exploits, which pickup up with Byrnes’s recitation of his crimes in 1882-1883. Byrnes, writing in 1886, indicated that Stern had been sent to Sing Sing on a five-year sentence and would be released in 1887.
Alas, upon his release, Solomon went straight back to swindling. He took $2000 worth of jewelry from a store in New York using a bad check, and then went to Baltimore to try to exchange some of the stones. He was captured in that city and returned to New York, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in Sing Sing beginning in January 1888.
Stern was released in October 1894. Now finally, Solomon Stern appears to have quelled his demons. He married Rachael Block in 1897, and re-entered the specialty clothing business. After the death of his wife (after 1915), Solomon lived with his younger brother Jacob, and they continued together in the necktie business.