#171 Theodore Wildey

Theodore Wiley (Abt. 1843-????), aka “The.” Wildey, George Van Dugan, George Davis, George Marsh — Sneak Thief, Till Tapper

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Printer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 166 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion, dark brown mustache, high forehead. Two joints off fingers of right hand. “Josephine,” and numbers “1858,” in India ink on left fore-arm.

RECORD. “The.” Wiley is a clever sneak thief, burglar and pickpocket. He is what might be called a good general thief, as he can turn his hand to almost anything. He is well known in New York and nearly all the principal cities in the United States. He is an old criminal, and has served terms in Sing Sing and other prisons.

He was arrested in New York City on August 14, 1875, and delivered to the Brooklyn (N.Y.) police authorities, for robbing a safe in Calvin Cline’s jewelry store on Fourth Street, that city, of $5,000 worth of diamonds, on August 12, 1875. He was tried in the Kings County Court of Sessions in Brooklyn, on October 6, 1875, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary by Judge Moore, for burglary in the second degree, under the name of George Marsh. He cut off the fingers of his right hand, while confined in the Kings County Penitentiary, so he would not have to work. His sentence expired on April 5, 1882.

He was arrested again in Syracuse, N.Y., on January 4, 1883, in company of Timothy Oats (136) and William A. Brown, alias “The Student,” charged with stealing a tin box containing $250 in money from a saloon there. (See record of No. 136.) Wiley gave the name of George Davis, alias George Marsh, and was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in Auburn (N.Y.) State prison, on March 1, 1883. His sentence expires October 1, 1886. Oats pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years on the same day in this case. Russell also pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to five years in Auburn prison at the same time. Wiley’s picture is an excellent one, taken in September, 1882.

Inspector Byrnes briefly mentions a gruesome anecdote about the thief Theodore Wiley: that Wiley cut off his own fingers in order to avoid prison labor. This event occurred in October 1876, when Wiley was a convict at the Kings County Penitentiary. A firm called the Bay State Shoe and Leather Company had a contract with the county to use convicts to make shoes in the prison workshop. Wiley had three fingers of his right hand cut off by a hide-cutting machine. Authorities thought he did this on purpose to avoid work, but Wiley later tried to sue the company for personal injury.

However, there’s more to the story…

Earlier that same month–October 1876–The.’s older brother, Peter Wiley, died from consumption (likely tuberculosis) while an inmate of Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison. Peter Wiley and a partner had arrived in Philadelphia in September on a train from New York, and within a few hours found themselves under arrest for attempting to snatch a handful of gold lockets at a jewelry store. Peter was sentenced to two years.

He was likely already ill when arrested, and in the weeks he was incarcerated taken to the prison hospital several times. According to the prison officials there, despite his sickness, he remained “bold, defiant and hardened,” refusing to see a priest or to receive visits from family and friends. One of his last requests was: “Gimme some chloroform. Let me die game,” i.e. give him a fatal overdose, he was ready to die.

Peter Wiley had come to Philadelphia only a short time after being released from New York’s Sing Sing prison. At Sing Sing, Peter distinguished himself as being a difficult and troublesome convict. When told that he was slacking at his workshop job and had to comply or face punishment (torture), Peter Wiley snatched a hatchet and chopped off four of his fingers.

And so, just days after Peter Wiley died in Philadelphia, his brother Theodore paid tribute to him. People grieve in different ways.




#72 William Morgan

William B. Morgan (1852-1887), aka Billy Morgan, William Moran, William Brown, James Sweeney — Sneak thief, Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-three years old in 1886. Born in New York. Medium build. Single. No trade. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 142 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, florid complexion. Has “W. B. Morgan” in India ink on his right arm; one dot of ink on left hand.

RECORD. Billy Morgan is considered one of the smartest till-tappers and shoplifters in the business. He has confined himself to till-tapping and work of that description of late years, and has been arrested in several of the principal cities in America, and is well known in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He has worked with the best people in this line, and thoroughly understands his business.

He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 16, 1880, with “Marsh Market Jake” (38), Little Al. Wilson, and George Williams (194), for the larceny of $2,200 in bank bills from one Henry Ruddy of that city. The whole party were convicted and sentenced to eighteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia on April 26, 1880.

Since his release he has been traveling through the country working almost every kind of schemes to get money. He has been arrested in New York several times. An account of all his arrests would fill many pages. His picture is a very good one, taken while under arrest, in August, 1882.

Billy Morgan was a habitual, but not particularly notorious thief. He was arrested for grand larceny in 1870, at age 18, and sent to Sing Sing on a two-year sentence under the name William Brown in December 1870.

He was arrested again for attempted larceny, shoplifting clothing, in October 1874 and sentenced to Sing Sing again for another two years.

The April 1880 sneaking of bank bills in a gang led by Marsh Market Jake resulted in his arrest in Philadelphia under the name William Moran. [Charles J. Everhardt, on this occasion, used a little wit in giving his alias as “William Helburne.”]

No further criminal activities of Morgan are documented. In his 1895 edition, Byrnes indicates that Morgan died suddenly in New York City on November 5, 1887, at age 35. He left behind a wife, Hester Logan, and a daughter, Hester Morgan.

#151 Oscar Burns

Oscar Burns (Abt. 1843-????), aka Willis Homer, John L. Harley — Store thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Cigar maker. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 162 pounds. Dark brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion, heavy nose-lines. Generally wears a heavy brown mustache. Looks like a man that dissipates. Has a pearl in his right eye.

RECORD. Oscar Burns is well known all over the United States. He is known out West as a “stall” and “hoister”—a Western term for a shoplifter. He works with Jim Barton, who is well known in Boston and Medford, Mass. They were both arrested in Springfield, Mass., for burglary. Burns gave bail, which was forfeited, and Barton was discharged from custody in February, 1881.

Burns was arrested again in New York City, on December 23, 1881, for a burglary committed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was delivered to the Michigan officers, taken there, and pleaded guilty to the crime, and was sentenced to ten years in State prison on December 29, 1881, by Judge Parrish, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. See Michigan Commutation Law for expiration of sentence. Burns’s picture is an excellent one, taken in Buffalo, N.Y.

Oscar Burns, according to information compiled on him by Pinkerton detectives, was much older and had a much longer criminal record than Thomas Byrnes suspected. During the Civil War, Burns was convicted of forging government vouchers in Tennessee and jailed there, and was wanted in Indiana for the same crime. By 1865, Burns had migrated to Chicago and was arrested for larceny.

In 1868, Burns, under the alias Willis Homer, was discovered stealing from a till of a butcher shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan, after distracting citizens by setting a fire. While awaiting trial, he broke out of the county jail and fled to Windsor, Ontario. While in Canada, he worked as a railroad brakeman, but shortly afterwards set fire a railroad warehouse. He was convicted and sent to the provincial prison in Kingston. Either his sentence was short, or he escaped, and fled back across to Detroit. In Detroit he joined a gang of thieves, but was finally caught in December, 1872 for a boarding house robbery.

Oscar resurfaced in Chicago in 1877, where he joined a ring of burglars and fences led by George Eager. When detectives began to round up that ring, Burns was among those captured and offered testimony against Eager, escaping prosecution. He continued to commit burglaries in Chicago with some other young thieves, including Joseph Cook (George S. Havill). However, Burns had made enemies by “squealing” in Chicago, and decided to look for greener pastures.

He headed to Cincinnati with two partners, and committed a burglary of a fur warehouse. He and his partners were arrested. While detained in Cincinnati, other prisoners there offered testimony against Burns (giving him a taste of his own medicine), but it wasn’t enough to convict him.

Burns headed east, stopping at Fort Wayne, Indiana; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and later in Springfield, Massachusetts, to commit warehouse burglaries. He was picked up by Inspector Byrnes’s men in New York City in 1881 and delivered to Michigan authorities.

In December, 1881, Burns was sentenced to ten years’ hard labor at the Ionia State Reformatory. Burns proved to be a model prisoner, and earned a sentence commuted to June, 1889–and was released fours months early in February, to allow him to plant a crop on a truck farm.

Burns’s reform appears to have been real. Byrnes had no update on him by 1895; and his name never surfaced in newspapers after 1889.

#172 Wm. H. Little

William Henry Little (Abt. 1841-19??), aka Tip Little, William Johnson, Henry Osgood, William Thompson, George Thompson, William B. Austin, George F. Clark, George Little — Pickpocket, Panel House thief, Shoplifter, Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-five years old in 1886. Born in New York, Married. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 140 pounds. Dark curly hair, gray eyes, dark complexion. Generally wears a black curly beard. Has a peculiar expression about the eyes.

RECORD. “Tip” Little is an old New York “panel thief,” confidence man, sneak thief and forger. He is well known as the husband of Bell Little, alias Lena Swartz, alias Eliza Austin, a notorious pennyweight worker, shoplifter and “bludgeon thief.” This team is well known all over the United States. They worked the “panel game” in New York and other cities for years, and their pictures adorn several Rogues’ Galleries. Of late they have been working the “bludgeon game” or “injured husband racket” with considerable success, as their victims are generally married men and will stand black-mailing before publicity. “Tip” and “Bell” have been arrested in New York City several times, but with the exception of a few short terms in the penitentiary, they have both escaped their just deserts (State prison) many a time.

Little was arrested in New York City on November 28, 1885, in company of a negro accomplice named Isaac Hooper, for attempting to negotiate a check that had been raised from $4 to $896. About one week before the arrest Hooper obtained a check for $4, on the Nassau Bank of New York, from Henry Carson, a grocer, of Fulton Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., by pretending that he wanted to send money to a relative, and that he had only silver dollars. He raised the check himself from $4 to $896, and also made a spurious check for $1,200, on the Nassau Bank of New York, and signed Carson’s name to it. With the $1,200 check. Tip Little, on November 25, 1885, went to Wm. Wise & Son’s jewelry store on Fulton Street, Brooklyn, and selecting articles worth $400, tendered the check in payment. He was so indignant when it was suggested that it would be nothing more than a common business transaction to ask Mr. Carson if the check was all right, that he snatched it up and left the store. Then he planned to swindle Daniel Higgins, a furniture dealer on Eighth Avenue, New York City, with the raised check of $896, which had been certified by the cashier of the Nassau Bank. He visited Mr. Higgins on November 27, 1885, and selected furniture worth $300. Higgins went to the West Side Bank, which was close by his store, and its cashier ascertained by telephone that Mr. Carson repudiated the check. When Mr. Higgins returned to the store, “Tip” had left without his change. Hooper (the negro) was tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in State prison on January 15, 1886, by Recorder Smyth, in the Court of General Sessions, Part L He had been previously convicted and sentenced to State prison for forgery in Providence, R.I. “Tip” Little pleaded guilty on January 15, 1886 (the same day), and was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions, Part H. ” Little’s” picture is a very good one, taken in April, 1879.

William Henry Little was born about 1841 in Goshen, New York, about sixty miles northwest of New York City, to a respectable family including his mother, Mary and father, William C. Little, a butcher. It is not clear if he enlisted in the army during the Civil War, but by 1866 he was living on his own in New York City. In August of 1866, he was rounded up with other “well-known pickpockets” under the name William Johnson. By 1870 he had gained the honor of being #3 in the New York police department’s Rogue’s Gallery of photographed criminals, and was described as a shoplifter and pickpocket.

In 1871, Tip was found running one of New York City’s “panel-houses,” into which men were lured by a woman, distracted by foreplay or sex, and robbed by hidden accomplices. Tip’s house was in the Eighth Precinct at 476 1/2 Broome Street; the whole surrounding area was infamous for allowing these operations to continue (likely through pay-offs to the precinct captain).

In 1873, Tip married one of the woman with whom he conducted the panel-house business, Elizabeth Bropson, who later became known to the public as Lizzie Little, Belle Little, Martha Ward, Clara Morris, Mary Hart, Eliza Austin, or, more colorfully, “The Whale.” Mrs. Little was plump, but had a pleasant face, creamy white complexion, and an engaging manner. However, Tip also worked with other women: he employed the noted panel-house thief, Mollie Rush; and in the 1880s worked as a shoplifting partner of Lena Kleinschmidt, aka Black Lena. On several occasions, Lena was misidentified as Mrs. Tip Little (who also sometimes partnered with Lena on shoplifting expeditions).

In December of 1884, Mrs. Little got into a argument with Johnny Jourdan, the noted thief, over a $100 loan that he supposedly owed her. She called in the police to have Jourdan arrested; one of the results was that she and Jourdan were identified in public as lovers, and it was suggested the fight was over Jourdan’s other women, not money. That may or may not have been true; and moreover, Tip Little may or may not have cared about her romantic entanglements. Perhaps he cared more about coming under the scrutiny of the police. Whatever the cause, he arrived home and started to beat and kick Mrs. Little, to the extent that the police were called in again.

Tip fled the scene. Several months later, it was reported that Mrs. Little was no longer associated with Tip, but instead had taken up with her shoplifting partner, George Williams, aka Pettengill. However, by July 1885, the Littles had reconciled.

In late 1885, Tip tried passing altered checks made by Isaac Cooper [not Hooper, as Byrnes cited]. Cooper was an ex-convict, having already seen one term in Sing Sing. Cooper stands out as the only African-American criminal mentioned by Inspector Byrnes; and newspapers cited him as the only black convicted in New York state for forgery. Both Tip and Cooper were convicted of forgery; Tip got five years while Cooper was sentenced to seven and a half years.


While Tip was locked up at Sing Sing, Lizzie Little died; by most accounts, she was only forty-five years old. After his release, Tip took care of his mother, Mary, who now resided in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He also spent time at racetracks, working the crowd with small cons. In 1993, he chose the wrong victim: a prominent politician. Instead of being too embarrassed to press charges, the politician instead exerted his influence to keep his name out of the papers while still prosecuting Little. Tip, under the name Henry Osgood, was sentenced to another five years in Sing Sing, the latter portion of which was served in Dannemora.

After two years of freedom, from 1897-1899, Tip was caught till-tapping, a crime usually performed a young, agile thieves. He was given a term four years and two months in Sing Sing, once again under the name Henry Osgood. A news item from 1907 claimed that he had died in prison, sometime between 1899 and 1903.


#45 Edward Sturgess

Edward Hoyt (Abt. 1851-????), aka Edward Sturges/Sturgess, John Burke — Thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Slim build. Claims to have been born in Havana, Cuba. Married. No trade. Height, 5 feet 9 1/2 inches. Weight, 137 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, light complexion. Full, light-colored whiskers and mustache. Two dots of India ink on left fore-arm.

RECORD. Sturgess is a very clever hotel worker, well known in most of the large cities in the United States. He was at one time a pickpocket, but now confines himself to hotel work. He was sentenced to three years and six months in State prison in New York City, on February 20, 1871, for larceny from the person, under the name of Edward Hoyt. He was was again sentenced in New York City on June 2, 1873, to three years in State prison, under the name of Edward Sturgess, for a hotel robbery. While confined in prison in 1873, Sturgess escaped in a swill barrel, but was recaptured the same day and taken back. Nothing has been heard of him lately, having gone West in October, 1877, when he escaped from an officer in New York City, who was arresting him for forfeiting his bail in an old case. His picture is an excellent one, taken in 1877.

Hoyt/Sturges/Burke hid his identity much too skillfully to be traced by family; and also changed his name with each crime, so very little of his criminal career outside of Byrnes’s reporting is known. In Byrnes’s 1895 edition, he refers to one further crime committed under the alias John Burke: he was arrested in Baltimore and in Washington D.C. with George Carson and Joseph McCloskey, for till tapping.

However, as a legacy, Hoyt/Sturgess/Burke left behind an anecdote about an attempted escape from Sing Sing that deserves retelling:


#136 Timothy Oats

Timothy Oakes (1848-1907), aka Tim Oates/Oats, Timothy Ryan, Timothy Clark, Charles Oats, Thomas Bradley, etc. — Pickpocket, Till Tapper, Badger-Puller, Con Man

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Speculator. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 198 pounds. Sandy hair, blue eyes, sandy complexion. Generally wears a light-colored mustache.

RECORD. Tim Oats is an old New York panel thief and pickpocket. He was arrested in New York City in 1874, with his wife Addie Clark, charged with robbing a man by the panel game. They escaped conviction on account of the complainant’s departure from the city.

He was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Timothy Ryan, charged with robbing William Vogel, on July 30, 1875, of a diamond stud valued at $200, while riding on an East Broadway railroad car. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing prison, on September 17, 1875, by Recorder Hackett.

Tim was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Timothy Clark, on January 11, 1879, in company of James Moran, whose name is Tommy Matthews (156), charged with robbing a man named Michael Jobin, of Mount Vernon, N. Y., of $200, on a Third Avenue horse-car. Both were committed in default of $5,000 bail for trial by Judge Murray. They pleaded guilty to larceny from the person and were sentenced to two years in the penitentiary on February 6, 1879, by Judge Gildersleeve.

Tim Oats, Theodore Wiley (171) and William Brown, alias Wm. H. Russell, alias “The Student,” were arrested at Syracuse, N. Y., on January 4, 1883, charged with grand larceny. They stole a tin cash-box from behind a saloon bar, containing $250, the property of Seiter Brothers, No. 99 North Salina Street, Syracuse. Two other people were with the above party but escaped. Oats played the “fit act” in the back room, kicking over chairs and tables. The proprietor and all the parties in the store ran into the back room to help the “poor fellow,” when one of the party sneaked behind the bar and stole the cash-box. Tim Oats gave the name of Charles Oats, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Auburn State prison, on March 1, 1883. His sentence expired November 1, 1885. “The.” Wiley gave the name of George Davis, alias George Marsh, and was tried and convicted also. (See No. 171.) Brown, alias Russell, alias “The Student,” pleaded guilty in this case and was sentenced to five years in Auburn prison, on March 1, 1883. Oats’s picture is a very good one, taken in January, 1879.

Timothy Oakes died in 1907 under his real name, but for most of his life he was known as Tim Oates/Oats. He married Ada Clark when both were 20 or younger. Addie was his partner in crime through the early 1870s, and likely is the same woman later identified as his wife in the 1880s and 1890s, Alice Oates.

Tim made his name as a New York pickpocket, but was involved off-and-on between 1874 and the late 1890s as a panel-thief/badger game operator. Panel thieves hid behind a curtain or thin partition in a room in which a co-conspirator woman has lured a man into a sexual tryst. In some cases, the robbery occurs during sex with a prostitute, by sneaking wallet contents from the man’s discarded clothes. Tim Oats preferred to interrupt the scene before any physical intimacy took place by stampeding through the door as an enraged husband. He then would threaten violence on his pretend wife, and the victim was supposed to smooth things over by offering money to stop any beating. This variation was known as the badger game.

Panel thieves were sometimes found in brothels, but that soon gave a bad reputation to those businesses. Panel thieves and badger games were much more effective when the premises were rented on a short-term basis; and when the woman lured the victim through an impromptu meeting. The woman usually presented herself as high society: elegantly dressed, wearing expensive jewelry, well-spoken, etc. The victims were targeted as being wealthy, respectable men–and unlikely to be armed or pugnacious.

Following his 1870s arrests for picking pockets (listed by Byrnes), in early 1882, Tim Oats tried operating a saloon in Philadelphia. A Philadelphia detective made a deal with Tim to protect a badger-game operation run by Tim, but reneged on the deal and arrested Addie. Tim got his revenge by selling the saloon and testifying against the detective on corruption charges.

Byrnes got some facts wrong about Tim’s 1883 arrest in Syracuse: he was sentenced April 1, 1883, and was only given two years, regaining his freedom long before November 1885; in fact, he was picked up and later released for picking pockets in Philadelphia in September, 1885. The 1883 arrest helped Timothy Oats to get credit for the “Fainting-Fit” deception, practiced mainly in saloons, where an accomplice feigning a fainting or epileptic fit distracts the counter man or bartender, leaving the sneak thief easy access to the till.

Byrnes does not mention in his book Tim’s next vocation, but in newspaper interviews, he suggested that he devised a con in which he advertised for tutors to be assigned to jobs in other cities, and took deposits from his applicants to assure their position. Then he would disappear with the deposits.

One of the women he interviewed was Jennie McLean, from Passaic, New Jersey, who was so charming that she was able to turn the tables and get a loan of $25.00 from Tim. Time recognized talent, and this was the supposed start of his badger game operation. He employed Jennie, Mamie St. Charles, Kitty Hester, Louise Loflin, and “Essie” to bait targeted men. They were all described as pretty, intelligent, and criminally clever. Tim paid them a weekly salary and assigned them different territories in Manhattan.
By late 1888, Tim Oats had a virtual monopoly on the badger-game business in New York. However, by 1889 authorities finally recognized all his women and their methods, and Tim left New York for Cincinnati. After a year or so in that city, they returned to New York.

Rather than trust another team of sometimes rebellious female recruits, this time Tim relied on the charms of two women: his wife, Alice Oates, aka Addie Clark or Anna Davis; and her alledged sister Jenny Jones, aka English Jen (who was perhaps, Jennie McLean). As muscle, Tim employed William Ferguson, aka Billy Devere, Joe “Jimmy” Walsh, and Mike McCarthy, aka Wreck Donovan. The gang was arrested in New York in November, 1891, but none of their victims appeared to press charges. Still, authorities convinced them to leave town.

At that point, the gang split up. There may have been a marital split-up between Tim and his wife. Alice Oates and William Ferguson went on to Boston and then to Washington, D. C. to ply their badger game. Tim Oates opted to go to England with a man named William Shaw and two women, one of whom was likely English Jen and the other Rachel Hurd, the wife of forger Charles Fisher. In England, Tim went by the name Thomas Bradley, and his associate sailed by as James Bradley. Within a short time, the two men argued, and Tim assaulted his partner. Tim was charged with this attack and sent to jail for two years.

In 1895, Tim returned to the United States, and was soon back in the badger-game business in Washington, D.C. and in New York, teaming up with some of his former gang.
Late in the 1890s, Tim Oakes teamed up with Larry Summerfield to create several “big cons,” elaborately scripted con games targeting rich men, and involving teams of role-players. One con involved selling a huge number of Standard Oil stocks that were supposedly being hoarded by an old miser in England.

But undoubtedly the most famous “big con” developed by Summerfield and Oakes was the “wireless wiretap,” in which a team of con artists set up what was supposed to have been an illegal wiretap that obtained horse race results before they were received by bookies. The victims of the con were gamblers who believed that they had advance knowledge of the race results; therefore these victims could never complain about their losses without admitting that they themselves had tried to cheat. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the plot of the Robert Redford/Paul Newman movie, The Sting. Some sources, like the New York Times, gave most of the credit for the invention of this con to Oakes.
In August, 1905, New York police got wind that a “wireless wiretap” con was being run in the Tenderloin district, and raided the lair. They were surprised to find such an operation being run, since Larry Summerfield was already behind bars in Sing Sing, but they found the rest of his gang–including Tim Oakes.

Two years later, in September 1907, the New York Times announced that Tim Oakes had died at the Ward’s Island Asylum for the Insane, where he had been incarcerated for over two years.

#102 Edward Lyman

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

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

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

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

#5 Phillip Phearson

Philip Pearson (1832-Aft. 1907), aka “Philly” Phearson, Dr. White, Charles Bushnell–Bank sneak thief, Abortionist

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-four years old in 1886. Height, 5 feet 5 1/2 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Hair mixed gray. Eyes, blue. Complexion, sallow. Ink marks: Eagle wreath, American flag, square and compass, an Odd Fellow’s link, also “J. Peck,” with face of woman underneath the name, all the above on left fore-arm; star and bracelet on left wrist; star between thumb and forefinger of left hand; figure of woman on right fore-arm; above the elbow is a heart, with “J. P.” in it; shield and bracelet with letters “W. D.” on same arm.

RECORD. Phearson, or Peck (which is his right name), is one of the oldest and smartest sneak thieves in this country. He has obtained a good deal of money in his time, for which he has done considerable service in State prisons. He comes from a respectable Quaker family of Philadelphia.

Phearson, Chas. Everhardt, alias Marsh Market Jake (38), and George Williams, alias Woodward (194,) were arrested in Montreal, Canada, in 1876, for sneaking a package containing $800 in money from a safe in that city. Williams gave bail and jumped it, and Phearson and Everhardt stood trial, and were sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

On June 16, 1879, shortly after his release in Canada, he was arrested in New York City for the larceny of a $1,000 4-per-cent bond from a clerk of Kountze Brothers, bankers, in the general Post-office building. To this offense he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three years and six months in State prison, on June 26, 1879, under the name of George W. Clark.

Phearson was again arrested in New York City in October, 1885, for the larceny of $85, on the till-tapping game. He claimed to be a health officer, and while he had the proprietor of the store in the yard, his accomplice carried away the drawer. For this offense he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in State prison by Judge Cowing on November 5, 1885, under the name of Daniel Kennedy. Phearson’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1885.

Phillip Phearson. Illus. by David Birkey http://cargocollective.com/dbillustration

Thomas Byrnes lists several facts about the bank sneak thief known as Philly Phearson, many of which seem to be untrue (or at least suspicious). Byrnes cites his birth year as 1832, which matches an exact date of March 12, 1832 that appeared in one of his arrest records. However, Byrnes also says that Phearson came from a good Quaker family, and that his real name was Peck. Phearson (who was usually named in newspapers and prison records as Pearson/Pierson/Peerson, without the “h”) had many tattoos on his body, one of which was a heart with the the letters “J. Peck” and a figure of a woman with the initials J.P. He had other tattoos that bore symbols of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Tattoos and Odd Fellows membership do not jive with a Quaker background; and having a woman named “J. Peck” in his past does not mean that was his given name–but perhaps Byrnes had other sources for his assertions.

The major crimes that Pearson was known to have been involved in include:

  • In early 1873, with associates Horace Hovan and Johnny Price, Pearson hit banks in Berks County and Dauphin County, Pennsylvania using their bank sneak techniques.
  • According to Byrnes, Pearson was with Charles Everhardt (aka Marsh Market Jake) and George Williams in 1876 when a safe containing $800 was robbed in Montreal, Quebec. Byrnes states that Pearson was sentenced to a term of three years and six months, but he obviously was released early, since he definitely resurfaced in New York in 1878.
  • In June, 1878, Pearson was caught stealing in New York. He did not give up the names of his partners, but did inform police where their next planned robberies were to occur. For this cooperation, his sentence was commuted by the New York State Senate to one year, and further reduced by good behavior and a promise to stay out of New York.
  • A year later, in June 1879, Pearson was caught robbing a $1000 bond from Kountze Bankers. He was sent back to Sing Sing under the name Geo. W. Clarke to serve 3 years and six months.

Nothing more is heard of him until 1884, when there are conflicting reports: Byrnes states that he was in a gang with Old Bill Vosburgh and Kid Carroll, touring the western states to do bank sneak thieving. However, another source says that he was in prison in Toronto.

An even more stark example of conflicting reports occurs in late 1885. Byrnes says that Pearson was arrested in October, 1885 and sent to Sing Sing for five years under the name Daniel Kennedy. However, a Philadelphia paper says that he was arrested in that city in December, 1885, in the company of Marsh Market Jake.

In his 1895 revision, Byrnes states that Pearson was arrested again in February 1888 for stalling a shop owner while the cash till was robbed. However, the newspaper accounts and prison records say that the man arrested was 73-year-old William Pearson, a long-time felon known as “Funeral” Pearson. Philly Pearson, in contrast, was 56 in 1888–he appeared old, but not 73. So Byrnes, it seems, had the wrong information.

Byrnes, writing in 1895, concluded, “He is a pretty old man now, and has outlived his usefulness as a thief.” In these words, Byrnes was correct–Pearson stopped thieving…and became something much worse.

Using his scholarly appearance and assuring banter, Pearson set himself up in Philadelphia as an abortionist–deemed a “malpractitioner” in the parlance of the times. There is no evidence that he had any medical training. In 1904, one woman he operated on (as “Dr. Clarke”) was later hospitalized near death, and another–Ada Greenover–died from peritonitis after Pearson worked on her. He should have been prosecuted for murder, but was instead lightly slapped with the charge of practicing without a license.

The legal cases against him were no deterrent. A few months later, his butchery caused the death of a black child and the near-death of the mother. The Philadelphia Coroner believed that Pearson was running an abortion syndicate responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of three other women.

With attention on him, Pearson curtailed surgical operations and instead began selling abortion nostrums through the mail. Whether the mixtures he sold were harmless placebos or toxic poisons is not known, but his use of the mails under the name “Charles Bushnell” finally provided the leverage to shut him down.


The “sympathies of the jury” might have been better spent on the women he maimed and killed.