#96 William J. Johnson

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

#175 William Perry

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#59 Charles McLaughlin

Edward McLean (Abt. 1833-19??), aka Eddy McLean, Charles McLean, Charles McLaughlin, Charles J. Lambert, A. C. Johnson, T. W. Seaman, C. H. Davis, Edward McLane, etc. — Sneak thief, Hotel thief, Cabin thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Stands his age well. Born in Troy, N.Y. Is a saddler by trade. Well built. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 160 pounds. Brown hair. Wears full, dark, sandy whiskers and mustache, turning gray. He has quite a respectable appearance, and is a good talker.

RECORD. McLaughlin is one of the cleverest hotel workers in the country, and is said to be the son of a planter in Louisiana. He was a book-keeper, but lost everything during our civil war and became a hotel thief.

On April 3, 1875, he robbed a room in the Westminster Hotel in New York City of a watch and chain and some diamonds and money. As he was leaving the hotel with his booty, his victim came downstairs and reported his loss to the clerk, who followed McLaughlin and had him arrested, and found the property upon his person. McLaughlin was tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years in Sing Sing prison for this robbery. It is said that the day he was sentenced his father was shot and killed by negroes in Grant Parish, La.

He was convicted and sent to prison in Quebec, Canada, for a hotel robbery in January, 1881.

He was arrested again in New York City on June 10, 1884, for entering three rooms in the Rossmore Hotel. A full set of hotel-workers’ tools was found on his person at the time of his arrest. He had robbed two rooms in this house some time before and secured $400 in money and two watches. In this case McLaughlin pleaded guilty to burglary, and was sentenced, under the name of Chas. J. Lambert, to two years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, in the Court of General Sessions in New York City, on June 25, 1884, by Judge Gildersleeve. His sentence expired February 24, 1886. McLaughlin’s picture is a fair one, taken in 1875. He looks much older now.

When Edward McLean was arrested in New York in April 1875, the newspapers were full of reports concerning a Supreme Court case relating to the Colfax Massacre, an outrage that had occurred in Grant Parish, Louisiana, in which three white men and about 150 black men were killed. During the time he was jailed, McLean linked his background to this bloody event. McLean never offered any details that could not have been picked up from New York newspaper; and the none of the three white men that died in the Colfax Massacre had names that matched McLean (or his aliases). McLean apparently believed that the story would gain him sympathy.

McLean was, instead, a long-time New York City resident, who began his career as a sneak thief in the early 1870s, along with Joe Howard, aka Joe Killoran. He soon became known as an accomplished hotel thief, but always had an eye for jewelry. After the Sing Sing sentence that followed his April 1875 arrest, McLean next was heard from in 1881 in New York, when he was suspected of stealing stones from Levy & Picard, Jewelers. While released on bail he went to Boston and snatched a handful of diamonds from Henry Morse, jeweler.

It appears this resulted in jail time in Massachusetts, because McLean wasn’t heard from again until the 1884 hotel robberies mentioned by Byrnes. These resulted in a two year sentence on Blackwell’s Island.

McLean spent over a dozen years robbing hotel rooms and passenger ship cabins from the late 1880s through the early 1900s, moving between Europe and America. In July 1890, he was arrested in London under the name Charles McLean and sentenced to six months in Clerkenwell Prison.

In 1892 he was captured in Paris as Edward McLean and sent to a prison for six months.

In August 1893, he was caught in Brussels, Belgium and lost another six months of freedom. In 1894, as George Hamilton, he was found robbing in Southhampton, England, and given three months. He returned to Belgium in September 1895 and was nabbed again, and sentenced to one year.  In January 1898, he was briefly detained in Frankfort, Germany.

McLean arrived back on the east coast of the United States shortly afterward, eluding authorities in Philadelphia and Washington DC before being stopped in Baltimore. There, he was sentenced to three years as Charles McLaughlin alias Charles H. Davis.

With time reduced, McLean was out of prison by 1900 and returned to England, where he was captured robbing rooms in York in July. He was sentenced to three years in prison, then issued a ticket to leave the country. It was suggested that this trip to England had been made in the company of a gang led by his old pal Joe Howard, aka Killoran. McLean was arrested on suspicion as soon as his ship docked in Brooklyn. He was then photographed, and the grainy picture appeared in newspapers:

Not much was heard from him until 1907, when once again he was arrested on suspicion in New York City in the aftermath of robbery at the Hotel Astor. McLean denied any involvement: “I never robbed a woman in this country,” he explained. “They haven’t anything worth while. Outside of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, there are not ten women who have $30,000 worth of jewelry. I have robbed all over the world, I will admit, but I will attempt no crime in this country.”

McLean died poor in New York City on January 24, 1909. His death was recorded under the spelling Edward McLane.

 

 

 

#128 Sophie Lyons

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

Link to Byrne’s text on #128 Sophie Lyons

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

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

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

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

“FAMOUS SOPHIE LYONS, PRINCESS Of CRIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Sophie Levy.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Sophie Levy,’ was the answer.

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

End of FAMOUS SOPHIE LYONS, PRINCESS Of CRIME

 

 

 

 

#197 Walter Price

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘So he was!’ chorused the others.

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

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

 

 

 

 

#61 Thomas O’Connor

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#78 Andrew McGuire

Alias Fairy McGuire (Abt. 1838-????), aka Ferris McGuire/Maguire, Eddie Watson, Andrew Connors, Edwin/Edward McGuire/Maguire — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Slim build. Married. Cigar-maker. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, bald head. Generally wears a full reddish-brown beard and mustache.

RECORD. “Fairy” McGuire is probably one of the most daring and desperate thieves in America, and is well known in almost all the large cities. He served a fifteen years’ sentence in Bangor, Maine, for highway robbery; also a term in Clinton prison, New York State, for burglary.

He was arrested in New York City on March 6, 1881, in front of No. 53 Nassau Street, occupied by L. Durr & Bro., assayers and refiners of gold and silver. An officer discovered the burglars at work in the store, and while looking in the window was approached by McGuire, who commenced talking loudly, thereby giving the men on the inside a chance to escape. McGuire was arrested, and upon the premises being examined it was found that three safes were partly torn open; they also found a full set of burglars’ tools. As no connection could be made with McGuire and the people on the inside, he had to be discharged.

He was arrested again in New York City on March 17, 1881, and delivered to the Brooklyn police authorities, charged with robbing Miss Elizabeth Roberts, of Second Place, in that city. Four men entered the basement door of the house, bound the servant and tied her to a chair; then went upstairs, bound and gagged Miss Roberts, and took $3,000 in Cairo City Water bonds, numbered respectively 52, 71 and 72, also about $500 worth of jewelry. Although there was no doubt that McGuire was one of the four men engaged in this robbery, he was discharged, as the parties could not identify him, on account of being disguised on the day of the robbery.

He was arrested again in Newark, N.J., on July 5, 1881, charged with “blowing” open the safe in James Traphagen’s jewelry store on Broad Street, that city. When the officers pursued McGuire, he turned and fired several shots at them. A party giving the name of George Williams, alias Dempsey, was arrested also. McGuire was tried and convicted on three indictments on October 18, 1881, one for burglary and two for felonious assault. He was sentenced to ten years in Trenton prison on each indictment, making thirty years in all, on October 19, 1881. Williams was sentenced to two years for burglary the same day. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1881.

Fairy McGuire was only arrested a handful of times, but the nature of his crimes combined with appearances before hard-nosed judges put him behind bars for over thirty years.

    Fairy McGuire, 1881 and 1897.

 

McGuire was sent to Sing Sing in the early 1860s for four and a half years, though the circumstances of his conviction aren’t known. In prison he met a veteran burglar named David Bartlett, with whom he would later collaborate.

In January 1866, McGuire participated in the robbery of an Adams Express car on the New Haven Railroad, getting away with over a half a million dollars–a crime many recognize as the first train robbery in America. The other gang members included Gilly McGloin, Martin Allen, Jimmy Wells, and John Grady. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, and within six months had tracked down all the gang members.

However, Fairy McGuire was not captured until after committing another robbery in Maine of the Bowdoinham Bank, in June 1866. This robbery represented another first: the first one committed by masked bandits, and the first where the bandits called each other by number. The other gang members were the aforementioned David Bartlett, George Miles White (aka George Bliss), and Owen “Rory” Simms.

When McGuire was captured in New York in October 1866, he was handed over to Maine officials for prosecution–a misfortune for him, since Maine sentencing laws were much harsher than those he would have faced if handed over to Connecticut. He was sentenced to twenty years in the Maine State Prison and released after fifteen.

Fairy (named for his high-pitched, squeaky voice) wasted little time getting into trouble again; Inspector Byrnes gives a good summary of his 1881 missteps, which culminated with his conviction in New Jersey, and the hard sentence of thirty years.

McGuire appealed the extreme term, and eventually he was released after serving fourteen and a half years in Trenton.

McGuire was arrested twice in 1897, both times on suspicion that he was about to commit a burglary. He appears to have escaped more prison time, but perhaps these scare finally discouraged him. Nothing more is known about his fate after 1897 when he was fifty-nine.

 

 

#124 Elizabeth Dillon

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No further arrests were recorded.

 

 

 

 

#192 John Carroll

John Carroll (Abt. 1863-????), aka John F. Barnes — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-three years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, straight nose, slim face, light complexion. Has India ink spot on left arm.

RECORD. Young Carroll is a first-class bank sneak. He traveled through the country with Charles J. Everhardt, alias Marsh Market Jake (30), working the banks. Carroll was known as “Marsh Market Jake’s Kid.” A number of people claim that this is the boy that used to work with Rufe Minor, alias Pine (1). Such is not the case, as Jake brought this boy out and left him behind him in Baltimore. He is not the first man that Jake left behind.

Jake and “The Kid” entered the Citizens’ Bank in Baltimore, Md., on October 22, 1885, and did what is called a “turn trick.” A citizen, named Jeremiah Townsend, had drawn some money and was in the act of counting it, when Carroll, who gave the name of James F. Barnes, called his attention to some bills on the floor. While Mr. Townsend was in the act of picking up the money from the floor, Carroll snatched $525 of the money from the desk. He was not quick enough, however, as Mr. Townsend caught him and held him until he was arrested. Jake, as usual, made good his escape. Carroll, alias Barnes, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years and six months in the Maryland penitentiary, at Baltimore, on October 24, 1885. See Commutation Laws of Maryland for expiration of sentence. Carroll’s picture is an excellent one, taken in October, 1885.

There is little to distinguish John “The Kid” Carroll from dozens of other men of the same name, age and larcenous tendencies, and the crimes mentioned by Byrnes in his 1886 and 1895 editions offer few clues to Carroll’s origins, fate, or full career.

But that does not mean that nothing can be said about “The Kid.” In fact, John Carroll was singled out for special mention in connection with the theories Havelock Ellis, the famous writer, physician, and proponent of the scientific study of human sexuality. Before turning his attention to subjects such as social reform, sexuality, procreation, eugenics, and hallucinogens, in the late 1880s, Ellis was an authority on criminal anthropology.

Following years of study, Ellis reached a conclusion, published in his 1890 book, The Criminal:

“Large voluminous ears are the most marked characteristic of the criminal,”Ellis declared.

In a feature article on Ellis’s book, the St. Louis Post Dispatch put his contention to the test by examining the rogues gallery photos in Byrnes’s book.

“Of all the men whom Inspector Byrnes has selected probably the most peculiar and in many respects the worst is Eddie McGee. His offenses were manifold and daring. He was finally sent to prison for burglary in Brooklyn. He carries with him the largest ears in the rogues’ gallery. The lobe must be an inch long and the whole ear four inches. They branch from the head at a right angle.

“One more portrait is worth attention. It is that of John Carroll, alias ‘Kid Carroll,’ the bank sneak. His ears are nearly as long as McGee’s, but are narrow and pinched laterally and come out straight from the head.”

While the idea that large ears are somehow related to criminality is ridiculous, the study of ear measurements and shapes remains a crucial component of facial recognition–and was credited by several detectives as the trait they used to spot criminals they had not seen in years.