#146 Joseph Gorman

Joseph Patrick Gorman (1849-1903), aka Joe Gorman — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. Carpenter. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, about 130 pounds. Sandy hair, blue eyes, small nose, thin face, light complexion. Has letter “J.” in India ink on left fore-arm; dot of ink on left hand.

RECORD. Joe Gorman is a very clever pickpocket. He generally does the work. He is well known in all the large cities of the Union, and is as likely to be found, with two or three other clever men, in Maine or California, as he is in New York, working the cars, fairs, conventions, or any crowded place. He comes of a family that is criminally inclined, as he has two brothers, Tom, a sneak and till-tapper, and John, a clever general thief. Joe was born in New York, and makes it his home. Although arrested several times of late years he has escaped State prison. He is one of the smartest pickpockets in America, and a man well worth knowing. He was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment in Auburn prison, from New York City, several years ago, for highway robbery, and was pardoned after serving six years. Gorman’s picture is a very good one, taken in September, 1885.

The full litany of Joe Gorman’s crimes is insignificant compared to the manner in which he lived his last fifteen or so years. He moved away from New York City to a corner of Coney Island, taking advantage of the protection offered to criminals by the corrupt kingpin of that resort, John Y. McKane. For several years Gorman was a special officer of the local police force, charged with spotting his former comrades and turning them away from the resort town.

Gorman’s life in Coney Island was immortalized by writer James Lauren Ford in an essay for Metropolitan Magazine, published in 1905. The title was “The Old ‘Crooks’ Colony of Coney Island,” and it may be the most beautiful piece of prose written about any of the Professional Criminals of America:

“Out on a desolate waste of sand, coarse grass and stunted trees, within sound of the ocean’s roar, and less than a quarter of a mile from the heart of that most boisterous and picturesque of watering places, Coney Island, there stands a weather-beaten cabin to which a kind of sentimental interest still attaches itself.

“For many years the Hermitage, as the old cabin was called, was the home of one Joe Gorman, famous in his day as a pickpocket, and of his wife, Mollie, the expert shoplifter. The pair had come down to Coney Island on the same wave of immigration that followed the late John Y. McKane’s offer of hospitality to such crooks as were willing to regard his domain as a place of residence rather than a field for the exercise of their professional skill.

“It was this invitation, coupled with the promise to get Joe employment on the detective force, that led the Gorman family to settle in a community that has always possessed a peculiar charm for New York ‘oldtimers’ of all sorts, and especially for those unfortunates who have foundered on the rocks of crime or dissipation or ill luck. And, having set up their household gods in the Hermitage, the Gormans soon made themselves the center of a society that was interesting and agreeable and, although broken down rather than opulent, not unlike in a moral sense that which the emigres from various metropolitan positions of trust have established in Montreal.

“For nearly half a century this old time colony of more or less incapacitated crooks, gamblers, prize-fighters and suspicious characters have found a haven of rest just beyond the merry-go-rounds, dancing pavilions and hot corn pops of this bizarre city by the sea. During all these years their proudest boast has been that not one of their number has ever been carried to the Potter’s Field. At all times and under all circumstances, Coney Island has buried its own dead, and the passing of each veteran is almost invariably followed by the passing of a hat among the survivors for the purchase of a sepulcher. On such occasions the contributions range from a ten dollar note tossed in by the well-to-do saloon keeper or racing man down to a dime or nickel offered by the human wreck who knows that his own turn is not far off; and when old Joe Gorman died there were flowers on the coffin lid and a few sincere tears as well, for Joe had been for nearly a quarter of a century a popular and noteworthy figure in the Island’s sin-stained colony.

“Long before the arrival of the Gormans, Coney Island had figured in the criminal history of New York. It was from its western shore that the murderer Sharkey, who escaped from the Tombs in woman’s clothes, embarked on the coasting vessel that bore him to Cuba. It was from the same beach that Tweed, who had lain hidden in Mike Norton’s old hotel for weeks after his escape from his Fifth Avenue house, was carried away one dark night and put aboard a sailing vessel bound for Porto Rico; and it is a matter of record that although scores of Coney Islanders were fully aware of Tweed’s presence on the island, not one of them betrayed him, for the great robber was a man entirely after their own hearts.

“These and many other stories of by gone days were staple topics of conversation whenever half a dozen kindred spirits, grown old and gray and poor in the paths of sin, were gathered together in Gorman’s little bar to talk over old times. To these the Hermitage was a convenient place of rendezvous, for very few of them cared to test their lungs or throw rings around canes, while scarcely one but had already been photographed-and that, too, at the cost of the city and not in a bathing suit. It was much pleasanter for these old-timers to fore gather on winter days and sit by the stove listening to the moaning of the wind across the marshes while they harked back to the days when crib-cracking was a learned profession and its votaries men of note, honored in bar-rooms and pointed out to strangers as they walked proudly down Broadway.

“It was whispered from time to time during the years that they passed within the walls of the Hermitage that neither Gorman nor his wife had entirely dissolved all connection with the vicarious profession which they adorned in their separate ways, but they had the virtue of charity, and it was they who came to the front when Kate Leary was about to be sent to the Almshouse and offered her a shelter for her remaining days.

“Kate Leary, known to the police and the members of her own profession, as ‘Red’ Kate, the shoplifter, had been in her day the nine days’ talk and heroine of New York, and was entitled, according to the philosophy of the Gormans, to a better ending than that of a common pauper. The devoted wife of ‘Red’ Leary, one of the most daring and skilful burglars of his time, she determined when he was shut up in Ludlow Street jail, that she would rescue him with her own hands. With this end in view she leased a tenement abutting on his cell and set about the task of digging through the two walls of brick and mortar that separated them. All day long she worked with her own hands and a rod of finely-tempered steel which she took from her husband’s collection of professional instruments; at night she carried out great bags filled with bits of mortar and broken brick, and threw them into lonely ash barrels. At length, after weeks of labor on her part, the morning came when ‘Red’ Leary failed to answer to the breakfast call. His cell was empty and the jagged hole through which he had been pulled was a mute witness as to the manner of his escape. By nightfall the town literally rang with ‘Red’ Kate Leary’s fame.

“But hers was not a profitable kind of renown, and when, many years afterwards, she came down to Coney Island on the same wave that brought Gorman and the rest of his fraternity, she found it a hard matter to make both ends meet. For a time she kept a little bar-room called the ‘Red Light,’ but at last ill health, ill fortune and a failing mind left her penniless, and it was only the charity of the Gormans that saved her from death in the workhouse and burial in the Potter’s Field.

“So at the last it was the Gormans who took her to their little cabin on the marsh, not fifty yards away from the spot where poor old Jennie Worrall, in her day one of New York’s favorite actresses, fell down in a drunken sleep, set fire to the dry grass with the stump of her cigarette and was burned to death. Here, in the Hermitage, the two wayworn sinners cared for the feeble, demented old woman, and here one blustering night, with the ocean wind sweeping cold and strong and damp across the marshes and round their lonely home, this one-time heroine breathed her last. Let us hope that in the book of the recording angel the deed has been entered to the credit of the two gray and grizzled law-breakers…

“…Mollie Gorman died many seasons past, and Joe, the old pickpocket, followed her two years ago, cared for by the charity of those who knew his history. He was greatly beloved by the children of the Island where his last years were spent. When he died the old-timers, remembering what he and Molly had done for Red Kate, the shoplifter, gave him a regular funeral that would have delighted his heart could he have seen it. They turned out, too, in full force for the ceremony and their children and grandchildren to whom he had been kind, strewed flowers on his last resting place and gave to his final passing a touch of homely tenderness that many a better and richer man might envy.”

#155 John McGuire

John F. McGuire (1848-19??), aka Shinny/Sheeny McGuire/Maguire, John Watson, James Clarke, David Smith, George Russell, Edward Leland, etc. — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-four years old in 1886. Born in New York. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, about 145 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes. Ruddy complexion. Has letter “F” in India ink on left arm. Generally wears a dark brown beard.

RECORD. “Shinny” McGuire is considered one of the cleverest pickpockets in America. Tom Davis, the sawdust swindler, who was shot and killed in New York on August 31, 1885, by T. J. Holland, of Abilene, Texas, married two of McGuire’s sisters. He is an associate of Joe Gorman (146), Jersey Jimmie (145), Charley Allen, and several other New York pickpockets, and is well known in all the principal cities.

He was arrested in New York City on October 11, 1878, charged with the larceny of a pocket-book from a man who had just left the Seaman’s Savings Bank, corner of Pearl and Wall streets, and was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on July 2, 1879, by Recorder Hackett. He escaped from the penitentiary library, where he was engaged as librarian, on July 1, 1879. He gave New York a wide berth, working the other cities, until September 21, 1885, when he was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., and returned to Blackwell’s Island to finish his unexpired time. He will be discharged on December 20, 1886. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1876.

John McGuire was one among a handful of Bowery gang members turned pickpockets, who later became operatives of “green goods” rings, a highly lucrative con game. His nickname of “Sheeny/Shinny” is a minor mystery, as that was a derogatory slur word used against those of Jewish descent–and McGuire was Irish in heritage and appearance.

McGuire’s extended family relationships are fascinating–an example of how tight-knit some criminal associations were in lower Manhattan. As Byrnes mentions, two of McGuires sisters, Isabelle and Julia, claimed to be the wife of green goods operator Tom Davis, who was a member of the notorious Davis family. John McGuire was a partner during his pickpocket days of Tom Davis’ brother, Theodore “The.” Davis. McGuire himself was said by the New York Herald to be married to a Davis sister, “Henrietta”–but no record of this marriage has surfaced; and no sibling named “Henrietta” can be found in the census records of the Davis family. Mary Davis, who was a sibling of this family, married the famous bank thief Dutch Heinrich (Edwin Newman). The Davis brothers, as well as Dutch Heinrich, had their careers ended before Inspector Byrnes wrote his book; otherwise their profiles surely would have merited inclusion.

John McGuire was picking pockets as a teen in the late 1860s. He was caught in 1867 and–because of earlier arrests–sent to State prison for four years. McGuire was caught again in 1878; and again in October 1879, when he was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary for two years. McGuire had such clean, innocent looks and a pleasant, insinuating manner that he was given the job of librarian of the prison. He was also rewarded for his good behavior by being given the responsibility of driving a mule cart used to make deliveries between buildings on Blackwell’s Island. One day in July, 1880, the cart was found in the warden’s flowerbed, alongside the East River, without its driver. McGuire had apparently been picked up by a waiting rowboat.

He was not heard from again for five years, when he was arrested in Philadelphia and recognized. McGuire was returned to New York to serve out the remainder of his sentence on Blackwell’s Island.

This was followed by a gap of over a dozen years when McGuire was not heard from.

In the late 1890s, McGuire reappeared as a member of Mike Ryan’s “green goods” operations, otherwise known as the Westchester Depot gang. When Ryan himself was arrested, it appears that his main lieutenants, John McGuire and Joe Baker, moved the ring to two locations: Allentown, Pennsylvania and Fishkill, New York.

McGuire was seen several times in Allentown in the late 1890s, where he used the name George Russell. However, he was not arrested until 1902, in a raid that included New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

McGuire’s fate after that point is unknown.


#157 William Peck

William Peck (Abt. 1860-1888), aka William Parker, John Bishop — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in New York. Single. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 140 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, light complexion. Has two moles, and two scars from burns, on his right arm. Generally wears a small brown mustache and side-whiskers.

RECORD. Billy Peck is one of a new gang of pickpockets which are continually springing up in New York City. He is an associate of all the Bowery (New York) “mob” of pickpockets, and is considered a promising youth. He is known in Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Boston, and several other Eastern cities. With the exception of a short term in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, nothing is known about him, except that he is a professional thief.

He was arrested in New York City on January 3, 1885, in company of another pickpocket, named William Davis, for attempting to pick pockets on one of the horse-cars. No complaint was obtained against him, and he was discharged, after his picture was taken for the Rogues’ Gallery.

He was arrested again in Albany, N. Y., in August, 1885, during Grant’s obsequies, in company of a gang of New York pickpockets, locked up until after the funeral, and then discharged. He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., on December 21, 1885, in company of James Wells, alias Funeral Wells (150), and Jimmie Murphy, two other New York pickpockets, attempting to ply their vocation in Mechanics’ Hall, during one of Dr. W. W. Downs’s sensational lectures. He was in luck again, for, after having their pictures taken, they were escorted to the train and ordered to leave town.

This is a very clever thief, and may be looked for at any moment in any part of the country. He was arrested again in Hoboken, N.J., under the name of William Parker, on February 16, 1886, charged with attempting to pick a lady’s hand-satchel, and sentenced to three months in jail there. His picture is an excellent one, taken in December, 1885.

Little more is known about William Peck than is listed in Byrnes’s entry. A man identified as Peck was captured in Bennington, Vermont in September, 1887, and jailed for picking pockets. This man, and two other prisoners (pickpocket William Perry and a local man–a rapist) confined in the city jail sawed off their cell door and dug a hole through a brick wall. That was the last heard of Peck, until Byrnes noted in his 1895 edition that there was a report that Peck had died in September, 1888–a year after his alleged escape. But in the Fall of 1887, a different criminal, Michael Hurley, was identified as the escaped pickpocket, not Peck.

Peck’s nickname–“Peck’s Bad Boy” was taken from the humorous novels of George Wilbur Peck, starting with Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa in 1883. The stories centered around the pranks played by Hennery Peck on his father and others. Many of the episodes were more mean-spirited than harmless, and made references that were racially or ethnically biased. They were adapted as stage plays that were running continuously around the country throughout William Peck’s brief career.

However, within the criminal underworld, William Peck had another nickname: “Earsey.” A look at his Rogues’ Gallery photograph will explain why (note the shape of his hat brim):

Peck’s two nicknames are both interesting. Many people who pick up Chief Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America find the criminal nicknames to be one of the most memorable things about the book. There is a reason why Byrnes recorded many of the nicknames–they were used within the underworld to identify fellow criminals, when real names often were never known, and aliases changed at will. To get information from informants and witnesses, the authorities had to know whom these nicknames referred to. New York State finally began collecting criminal nicknames in an index file in the 1890s. By the late 1930s, the FBI had a criminal nickname database said to contain 80,000 names.

There was a logic to many criminal nicknames, and it was not complicated. Many nicknames focused on a defining physical characteristic, even if it was a physical handicap:

  • Broken-Nose Tully
  • Deafy Price
  • Blink Kelly (one-eye missing)
  • Titters (James Titterington, a stutterer)
  • Brocky George (dirty or pock-marked face)
  • Four-Fingered Jack
  • Black Lena (dark-complexioned)

Or their notable behavior:

  • Roaring Bill (for his laughter)
  • Nibsey (for his self-importance)
  • Mysterious Jimmy (a man of few words)
  • Peppermint Joe (for his fondness of mints)

Or simply by height or girth:

  • Big Bertha
  • Big Tom
  • Little Horace
  • Little Rufe
  • Little Louisa
  • Long Doctor
  • Shang Quinn (or Campbell, or Draper; from Shanghaes, long-legged roosters)
  • Squib Dickson

Others used age to differentiate criminals:

  • Old Ike Vail
  • Young Julius
  • Old Bill Vosburgh
  • Old Man Hope
  • Pop White
  • Kid Affleck
  • Billy the Kid Burke
  • Kid Leary

Some were identified by where they came from or made their home:

  • Jersey Jimmy
  • Cincinnati Red
  • Boston Ned
  • Albany Jim
  • Worcester Sam
  • Dayton Sammy
  • Brummy (someone from Birmingham, England)
  • Cockney Jack

Others were identified by common ethnic slurs, even if misapplied:

  • Sheeny Mike
  • Dago Frank
  • Nigger Baker (not African-American)
  • Chink Mandelbaum (not Chinese)

Or by ethnicity:

  • French Louis Brown
  • French Gus Kindt
  • Dutch Pete
  • Irish Kate

A few were named for folkloric figures:

  • Old Mother Hubbard
  • Jack Sprat
  • Jack Sheppard
  • Peck’s Bad Boy

Some names refer to a certain criminal trait or incident:

  • Sealskin Joe (who was arrested with several furs)
  • The Diamond Swallower
  • Mollie Matches (who imitated a girl matchstick vendor to pick pockets)
  • Kid Glove Rosie (for her favorite shoplifting target)
  • Moccasin John (a house thief who used moccasins)

…or another talent:

  • Piano Charlie
  • Banjo Pete

#143 James Wilson

James P. Wilson (Abt. 1844-19??), aka Pretty Jimmy, James Watson, James Anderson — Pickpocket, Green Goods operator

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in United States, Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, florid complexion. Has the following India ink marks on his person: a woman, in short dress, in red and blue ink, with bow and staff in hand, on right arm; another woman, in short dress, holding in her left hand a flag, on which is a skull and crossbones, on left arm; anchor on back of left hand; a shield between thumb and forefinger of left hand.

RECORD. “Pretty Jimmie” is an old New York pickpocket, and partner of Terrence, alias Poodle Murphy (134). He was arrested in Montreal, Canada, during the Marquis of Lome celebration, with a gang of American pickpockets, from whom a box of stolen watches was taken. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment there.

He was arrested again in New York City, and pleaded guilty to an attempt at larceny from the person of Stephen B. Brague, and sentenced to one year in State prison, on July 12, 1875, by Judge Sutherland, under the name of James Anderson.

Since 1876 Wilson and Murphy have robbed more people than any other four men in America. He was finally arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on January 16, 1885, with Poodle Murphy (134), charged with robbing one Shadrach Raleigh, of Delaware, of $526 in money and $3,300 in notes, etc., on a Columbia Avenue horse-car, on December 24, 1884. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years and six months in the Eastern Penitentiary, on March 16, 1885. Murphy, his partner, who did the work, was sentenced to three years. There were four other charges against this team, which were not tried. His picture is a good one, taken in January, 1885.

Few clues exist that point to the origins and final fate of Pretty Jimmy Wilson, but his career centered around the East Side of Manhattan; and later in life, the Stuyvesant Heights section of Brooklyn. Wilson may have once been a handsome boy, but as he aged, his hair thinned and he cultivated an enormous walrus mustache that covered his mouth, so that in adulthood the “Pretty Jimmy” name was a mockery. His tattoos were more elaborate than most criminals’, so he may have been a sailor at one time–or at least a river pirate.

As Byrnes indicates, he was a senior member of the Bowery pickpocket gang led by Poodle Murphy. Murphy eventually branched out to be a major operator of the “Green Goods” confidence game. Not long afterwards, Pretty Jimmy also shifted his efforts in that direction, though it is not clear whether he was still partnering with Murphy.

In 1906, when Jimmy was over 60 years old, federal Post Office Inspectors had him arraigned of charges of conspiracy to commit fraud via the mails. Two months later, the Washington Post published a long article (abridged here) mentioning that arrest under the headline “Green Goods Game is Melting Away Into the Misty Distance of the ‘Con Man’s’ Golden Age.” It offered a detailed overview of how that con game had evolved:

“According to the police and the post-office inspectors, the green goods game is one of the few new things under the sun. It only came into being, they say, around the year 1870.

“To make the man swindled an intending criminal himself by inducing him to buy supposed counterfeit money to pass on to his neighbors was the essence of the new scheme. And it was not long in developing into one of the most lucrative and persistent swindles ever known.

“The most striking feature of the business during its early years was the ease with which its victims were swindled. There were no postal regulations then to prevent the operators from using the mails, and it was almost impossible to punish them under State laws. In consequence, the business progressed with an old-fashioned simplicity, grimly amusing to contemplate from a viewpoint twenty-five years distant.

“The circulars advertising for sale counterfeit money, not to be distinguished from the genuine, were simply dumped into the mails by the hundred. The addresses of the leading lights of hamlets and towns not-too-distant from New York were bought by brokers, who then, as now, did a regular business in procuring them from patent medicine houses and other mail-order concerns.

Collection of Shayne Davidson

“Then thirty circulars out of a hundred, as against twelve today, elicited replies. To these a second circular was mailed, enclosing a sample of the alleged counterfeit money, invariably a genuine $1 bill, with a recommendation that the customer test it on his friends and make sure that ‘it is as good as the genuine.’ He could buy counterfeit money just as good as that, $3000 worth for $500, $7000 worth for $750, and so on. Then all that remained for the victim was to come to New York and be robbed. [Usually by a sleight-of-hand substitution of a satchel full of real money for an identical satchel full of plain paper or sawdust.]

“Not only ignorant country bumpkins, but intelligent men in every walk of life bit at the hook of the green goods men…the annual income of ten groups of them, operating from New York in the early 80’s, has been estimated by the police at upwards of $900,000…

“Then, about 1886, came the passage of the Federal enactment making use of the mails with intent to defraud an offense punishable by eighteen months in jail and $100 fine; likewise, by giving the Postmaster General the power to issue  fraud orders. This was the first real blow, and up to a few years ago the only effective one, that had ever been struck at the game.

“For a time it made all the operators practically give up business…The real effect of the new Federal law..was merely to invent a more ingenious scheme than ever. The chief new feature of the game was the use of the telegraph. This new feature was simply to arrange that the come-on should send his answers to the swindlers by wire instead of by mail.


“The other radical improvement over the old scheme provided for a division of labor. Instead of being worked by one man or group of men in the good old fashion, the new scheme fell into the hands of two different parties of operators, quite unconnected, and headed by two men called in the parlance of the underworld the writer and the backer.

“The writer first got up the circulars and sent them out by the hundred. He kept the venal telegraph operators on his payroll to receive the telegrams from the victims. He arranged with other tools to get these dispatches, with the steerers to meet the victims. With that, his part of the game was finished. The backer now took hold.

“He was the man who provided the roll of from $2000 to $10,000 in good greenbacks used as a bait. He hired the turner, the man to whom another steerer, also hired by him, brought the victim from the writer’s steerer to be swindled. The backer likewise hired the ringer who affected the rapid substitution of the green paper for the good money, if that was done, in the turning joint. He also engaged the tailers, who kept watch outside the turning joint while the victim was being fleeced, and the one who put him on a through train for home afterward.

“Say the come-on was robbed of $1000. Half went to the writer, half to the backer. The backer paid a good rent for the turning joint, gave the turner who did the actual swindle a quarter of his pile, and his steerer, tailers, and ringer $5 or $10 each. The writer gave his telegraph operator $25 a month right along, and the steerers, usually broken-down crooks like the turner’s minor assistants, $5 apiece.

“Thus writers and backers each made from $340 to $375 on the turn without coming anywhere near the reach of the arm of the law themselves. Both kept out of sight at all stages of the swindle”

The only way that authorities could crack down on the practice was by attacking the practice from two directions. Undercover policemen were used to reply to the circulars and get as far as meeting the turner. They then arrested the turner (and, if lucky, the ringer, tailer, or steerer) and confiscated the roll of genuine money, dealing the backer a blow far greater than the profit he might have received.  To get to the writers, however, authorities had to track down the corrupt telegraph operators. From them, they could identify the address or person to whom the telegrams were delivered–and from that person, identify the writer.

Pretty Jimmy Wilson was caught three times: in 1903 he was caught as a writer, traced to the address of a saloon where he telegraph messages were dropped. In 1905 he was captured as a turner; and in 1906 he was found with evidence suggesting he was playing both roles, exposing himself to more risk–perhaps more desperate for money. After serving a sentence of two and a half years, he was freed in the fall of 1908. Without an income or savings, Jimmy reverted to picking pockets. He tried his luck on a subway car, but when a victim felt his hand, other passengers leapt in to hold him. Unlike a streetcar where he might jump off, Jimmy had no avenue of escape on the subway–a contrivance that was just four years old. He was sent to the workhouse and was not heard from again.

Pretty Jimmy had tried to adapt his practices to a changing world, but was a step behind.





#140 Edward Tully

Edward Tully (Abt. 1845-19??), aka Broken-Nose Tully, Ned Tully, Eddy Tully, Charles Edwards, Charles Tynas, Edward Wilkes/Wilks, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION Forty-one years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Dark hair, gray eyes, dark complexion, broken nose. Rather large, long head. Wears a brown mustache. Easily recognized by his picture. Has an Irish brogue and face.
RECORD. “Broken-Nose Tully” is an old and expert New York pickpocket, and is well known in every large city in the Union. He travels with the best people in the business, and is considered a clever pickpocket. He has a remarkable nose, which he claims always “gives him away.”
Tully was arrested in Philadelphia and sentenced to fourteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary, on June 29, 1880, for picking the pocket of a small boy of $83. He was arrested again in Boston, Mass., with Shinny McGuire (155), on July 16, 1881, awaiting an opportunity to do a “turn trick” in the Naverick National Bank. After getting a good showing up they were escorted out of town.
He was arrested again in Lancaster, Pa., for picking pockets, and sentenced to eighteen months in the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia, on November 18, 1884. He is now at large. Tully’s picture is an excellent one, taken in Buffalo, N.Y.
Eddie Tully was active as a pickpocket from the mid-1860s until the end of the century, when reports concerning him stopped. He usually worked crowds in coordination with one or two other pickpockets, favoring: gatherings of fraternal organizations; fairs & expositions; beach resorts; presidential inaugurations and political rallies; and shopping districts.

One of his frequent partners was Dick Lane, a pickpocket who reformed and wrote a book about his experiences, Confessions of a Criminal. Chief Byrnes did not include a profile of Lane in his book, likely because Lane had already given up his career by that time. Lane’s engaging book is full of the street slang of petty criminals that had evolved from the “flash” slang of English and American criminals of the first half of the 19th-century. One chapter relates an anecdote about how he, another pickpocket named Baltimore Pat, and Eddie Tully saw the score of a lifetime slip from their grasp:

“A Lucky Old Lady: How She Gave Dick’s Gang the Slip
“You know when a party of sneaks or dips travel together they have to split up their work. The man that does the actual job is called the tool and the ones that watch out and draw the victim are called stalls. A favorite game used to be the bank deal. One of the stalls goes into a bank and stands around like a business man waiting for somebody until some chap gets a check cashed. Then the stall goes out and tips the sucker off to the tool, who goes after him and touches him for the swag, if the outfit is playing in luck.
“One time me and Eddie Tully and Baltimore Pat was working together in Philadelphia for six or eight months and we were pulling off some pretty big money. I was to do the stalling and Tully and Pat was the tools. A better bunch of tools never worked the country than them two, and any old-time crook will tell you the same thing. One fine morning the three of us was out bright and early, trying to turn a trick and in one of the big banks I stalled to an old lady who drawed out $3,000 in nice new long green. It was better than a theater to see her plant it carefully in one of these here little hand bags we crooks used to call a “cabbie.” I don’t know where the name came from, but all the old-timers used to call them hand satchels “cabbies.”
“Now, in doing this kind of sneak and dip work, we always used to carry a “cabbie” of our own so we could make a quick shift and leave our dummy in place of the one with the goods in it. We used to carry ours wrapped in newspaper and we always had it ready for business. Well, after I tipped Tully and Pat to the old girl with the wad of cash, we started out to trail her and you can bet she walked us all over the district where the stores were. It was the toughest kind of work for the three of us to go zigzagging around them bargain counters and butt into places where the floorwalker was liable to have you threw out any minute. But we was well togged out and looked like the real article and I guess that saved us. You see the dip and sneak men had to be there with the good clothes so that they could mosey into big hotels, banks and other places where the fall guys was liable to lead the way.
“Well, the old lady gets hungry along about 12 o’clock and she sails into one of the swellest grub shops on the town. You could see that she was a thoroughbred all right, and when she went into this place on Eighth Street it was us in after her. You’ve got to do these kind of jobs right on the jump and don’t lose any time in monkeying around for a better opening than the first one. If you do, nine times out of ten you’re going to lose out by having the sucker pay a bill or make a getaway in a cab.
“So we hopscotches in after her wealthy nibs and our good togs don’t put any one wise to us. There wasn’t appetite enough in the bunch to get away with a red herring, but we makes a bluff at it all the same and grabs one of the tables near the old lady, where we can keep an eye on the “cabbie.” Well, she lays the handbag on the table and gets ready to order some grub, and you can bet the gang had their lamps glued on that bunch of leather with the long green inside it. I moves down the line a little way to get a newspaper that was on one of the tables and I was just getting ready to say something to her so she’d screw her nut around and look at me. When she did this Tully was going to lift the “cabbie” and leave ours in its place.
“She monkeyed around for a few seconds, then she grabs the purse and fishes around in it until she pulls out a pair of eyeglasses. Then she read over the grub list and has seventeen duck fits trying to make up her mind what to eat. The waiter blows along about this time and he stands there like a dummy. I stall with the newspaper gag until I have to go back to the gang, and then something happened that liked to knock us off our chairs. After she gave her order she gets up and changes her place to another table and I’m blowed from Sing Sing to Joliet if she didn’t leave the “cabbie” where she’d been sitting. Well, anybody’ll be next to the way we felt just about that time of day. There was the “cabbie” at one table and the old lady at another and we—-
“Say, do you s’pose we got it? Well, this is what happened. Another old hen who had been chewing angel-food and flirting with weak tea at one of the tables gets her lamps on the pocketbook and sings out at the top of her voice to our old girl: ‘Madam, you’ve left your purse on the table.’ Then she scrambles over to the cabbie and hangs it around her wrist, while we drink coffee and say things to ourselves that might have cleaned out the restaurant if they’d heard us.
“That kind of gag made us sore and we weren’t going to be dished again if she gave us another chance, so we trailed her after she got out of the restaurant. She took a Ninth Avenue car to Twenty-second Street and went into a house up there. We stalled around till our whiskers got gray and then we knows that is where she lived and the money was out of sight. That time we got dished because we tried to be too sure of our game. I always liked to do them jobs right off the reel.”

#145 James Johnson

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

From Byrnes’s text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#137 James Lawson

James Lawson (Abt. 1843-19??), aka Nibbs, Nibsey, James W. Williams, James Fitzgerald, William J. Maloney, James Tuoney, James W. Maloney, James W. Meyers, James W. Myers, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Single. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, about 160 pounds. Black hair, gray eyes, dark complexion; generally wears a full black beard. Has a vaccination mark on his right arm.

RECORD. “Nibbs” is an old-time Bowery, New York, pickpocket; he is as well known in Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston as he is in New York. He has been arrested in almost every large city in the Union, and is considered a clever thief. He travels all over the country, and can generally be seen with some of the local thieves. He is an impudent fellow, and wants to be taken in hand at once.

He was arrested in New York City for attempting to pick pockets, and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, on March 18, 1875. He was arrested in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 24, 1876, charged with picking a man’s pocket; his picture was taken, and he was discharged.

He was arrested again in Jersey City, N.J., on December 20, 1876, charged with robbing a German farmer of his pocket-book and money in the Pennsylvania Railroad depot. When searched at Police Headquarters, a kid glove was found in his pocket; in the finger of the glove was a large and beautiful diamond, valued at $1,000. In his vest pocket was found the setting of the stone, a stud for a shirt front. It was advertised, and turned out to be the property of Captain Wilgus, of Lexington, Ky., who had been robbed of the stone by a mob of pickpockets while getting on a train in Louisville, Ky.

“Nibbs” was convicted of robbing the German in the depot, and sentenced to five years in Trenton, N.J., State prison, on January 27, 1877. He was arrested again in New York City on February 11, 1882, for robbing a man on a Grand Street horse-car of his pocket-book. For this he was sentenced to three years and six months in Sing Sing prison, on March 8, 1882. Lawson is now at large.

As is the case with many of the pickpockets of Byrnes’ era, determining James Lawson’s real name and origins is nearly impossible. Pickpockets led far more transient lifestyles than other types of thieves, were well-trained in dropping aliases, and never merited the more thorough intake registrations found at several State Prisons (they were usually relegated to brief terms in county and municipal jails).

Lawson’s nickname, “Nibbs” or “Nibsey,” is of some help in tracing his career. As usually applied, “his nibs” is a mocking term aimed at a self-important person, one who thinks he is better than others.

In Lawson’s case, researching his career backwards–from most recent to oldest–connects events and identities. In March 1901, four men with criminal records sauntered into New York’s Union Square Bank and loitered in the lobby for a couple of hours. They were arrested on suspicion. One was identified as James Tuoney, age 60, nicknamed Nibsey. The New York Sun recalled that “in Chief Byrnes’ time,” Nibsey and a much more famous thief, Abe Coakley, had been caught stealing a man’s wallet on a Grand Street streetcar. That links Lawson to another of his aliases, James Williams; that crime is described further below.

On February 14, 1894, a pickpocket nicknamed Nibsey was arrested in Hoboken, New Jersey, along with two other longtime dips, “Skinner” (aka H. Williamson, Clark King) and Jimmy Keenan. They were accused of jostling passengers entering rail cars and then stealing their pocketbooks or wallets. In Chief Byrnes’ 1895 revised edition, he indicates that this Nibsey was, indeed, James Lawson. At the time of this 1894 arrest, Nibsey gave his name as James Fitzgerald. The Jersey Journal, while reporting this same 1894 arrest, said that James Fitzgerald was also known as James W. Meyers and James Lawson. It also referred to an arrest of the same man in Jersey City’s Pennsylvania Railroad depot in 1876.

The February 1894 arrest resulted in a conviction, and Nibsey was sent to the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton to serve an eight-year sentence; which explains where he was between 1894 and 1901.


In January 1892, the New York Tribune reported that Nibsey Williams, aka William J. Maloney, had just been released from the Tombs (New York City’s municipal prison) after nearly three years, following his 1889 arrest with Abe Coakley.

That 1889 arrest in resulted from a New York streetcar robbery in which a Israel Hirshkowitz was robbed of $545. The man arrested and put on trial gave the name James Williams. He had partners who escaped. At Williams’ trial, one of those partners, Abe Coakley, a bit drunk, decided to show up as a courtroom spectator to show his support. The victim, Hirshkowitz, saw Coakley and immediately identified him as one of the men who robbed him. Coakley was arrested, but was released on bail. He promised Nibsey that he would give Hirshkowitz his money back in return for dropping all charges. However, weeks passed and Coakley did nothing–Nibsey Williams realized that Coakley was spending the money and had no intention of getting him out. In return for this treachery, Nibsey offered to testify against Coakley. Prior to this, Coakley had never been jailed since he was a teen. Coakley was tried, convicted, and sent to prison on a long term; while Nibsey earned a bad reputation as a squealer.

Prior to this misadventure, in May 1888, “James W. Myers” aka James Lawson was locked up in Albany, New York, with three other pickpockets. They were accused of working the crowd attending a eulogy speech given by the famed orator, R. G. Ingersoll.

In early January 1882 (not February 11, as Byrnes says), “James C. Meyers alias Nibsey” was caught in New York robbing a passenger on a Grand Street streetcar. Byrnes says that Nibsey was sent to Sing Sing for this crime–which would explain where he was between 1882 and 1888–but the Sing Sing registers do not list any man matching his description or any of his aliases being incarcerated in 1882. However, he may have just been sent to a different prison. Hence his lack of criminal activity from 1882 to 1888.

Going back further into Nibsey’s history, we find that in April 1877, under the name James W. Myers, he was sentenced in a Hudson County, New Jersey courtroom for picking pockets on the Pennsylvania Railroad. The crime occurred in December 1876–at which time the Brooklyn Eagle identified the suspect as Henry Myers, alias Lawson, alias Nibbs. The sentence was four years’ hard labor, bridging the gap from 1877 to 1881. When he was first held in the Jersey City cell, Captain Walling of the NYPD visited him, and identified him as “the notorious pickpocket, Nibsey.”


This ends the demonstrable events of Nibsey’s career, from 1876-1901. However, New York papers from the mid-1860s through to 1875 refer to a famous pickpocket nicknamed Nibsey. His given name was mentioned several times as Charles Wilson, an Englishman. Wilson was not only a pickpocket, but also a Tammany Hall thug recruited to vote multiple times in 1868. He was mentioned as a resident of Reddy the Blacksmith’s saloon, the most notorious criminal hangout prior to Shang Draper’s saloon.

As yet, no link has been found indicating that Nibsey Wilson was the same person as Nibsey Lawson/Meyers/Williams.