#74 William O’Brien

William O’Brien (1850-1892), aka Billy Porter, Leslie L. Langdon, William Davis, William Morton, etc. — Bank robber, burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #74 William O’Brien


Billy Porter was one of the most celebrated criminals of the late 1870s and 1880s, with a career that coincided with the prime of Inspector Byrnes’s authority, though the two rarely intersected. Although a thief, Porter was admired by many for his fearlessness and willingness to stand up for his friends, as he did when thief John Walsh shot Porter’s friend and partner John Irving in Shang Draper’s saloon. Walsh also died of a bullet wound, and Porter was tried and acquitted for his killing; but nearly everyone believed that Porter was responsible.

Porter was also a great friend to the hero of the age, boxer John L. Sullivan. Sullivan had visited Billy in his cell when Billy had been jailed in the Kings County Penitentiary in the early 1880s. Porter later accompanied Sullivan as his guard during Sullivan’s legendary prizefight against Charley Mitchell in Chantilly, France in 1888. Porter hovered in Sullivan’s corner with revolvers in each of his coat pockets, which were later needed to clear the crowd so that he could help Sullivan evade the gendarmes that dispersed the gathering (after the match had been fought to a bloody draw).

Billy Porter was raised in Boston, but there are few anecdotes about his early years, other than this revealing item from an 1886 article in the Boston Globe:


For anyone who considers looking at the family history of criminals to be an idle waste of time, consider this: it was genealogical research that proved to be Billy Porter’s salvation; and then later led to the downfall that killed him. Therein lies a story.

In 1886, Porter traveled to Europe, where, under the direction of Adam Worth, he traveled from country to country pulling off large burglaries with other American thieves. In July 1888, Scotland Yard arrested Billy and Frank Buck on suspicion of a huge jewelry robbery committed in Munich. In their residence, authorities found some of the stolen German gems, as well as uncut diamonds. Buck and Porter were detained pending the arrival of extradition papers from Munich.

However, the small print of the extradition treaty that existed between Great Britain and Germany stipulated that British citizens were not subject to extradition. When the two thieves were called for their hearing in London, they made the claim that they were British subjects. Buck maintained that he was Canadian, but had little proof. However, Porter’s lawyer called Billy’s Irish uncle as a witness. The uncle swore that his sister (Billy’s mother) left for American right after her marriage, and had a son born at sea on a British vessel. A marriage and birth certificate were submitted in support of the story.

The chief magistrate of the police court hearing the case had heard similar claims before, and rejected their argument. Frank Buck was sent to Germany and was later sentenced to a ten-year term. Many newspapers in the United States reported that the claim of both of the thieves had been rejected, and assumed that Porter was shipped to Munich along with Frank Buck. However, Billy Porter appealed the magistrate’s decision; over a period of months Porter’s representatives made their case, and in the end he won his appeal and was freed.

Though he had lost one partner, Billy was eager to resume his career with another old friend, Horace Hovan. In 1890, Billy and Hovan were caught attempting a burglary in Bordeaux, France. Porter knew that if he was forced to serve a sentence in France, he would subsequently be taken to Germany to stand trial there. For the burglary in France, Porter was found guilty and given a light sentence: two years; still, because of the threat of then being taken to Germany, he appealed his French sentence. Billy appealed  on the basis of once again claiming to be a British subject, and submitting the same proofs that he had been born in the Atlantic Ocean on a British ship.

The French magistrate before whom Billy made his appeal listened to his argument, then offered his reaction. The judge conceded that there had been a mistake in Billy’s sentence of two years. But the mistake was in being too lenient. Instead, he ordered Porter to serve twenty years at the French penal colony on New Caledonia, off the coast of Australia.

This is one of the last anecdotes told about Billy Porter’s fate. Earlier reports suggested he had been freed in France, and was in hiding in London. One New York reporter swore that he had seen him on the streets of New York. A flurry of anonymous reports surfaced in August 1892 asserting that he had died in Bordeaux from heart disease. These seem to be the most credible accounts, though they are unclear as to whether he was serving a sentence or detained on an appeal of being transported to New Caledonia. Definitive proof of Billy’s death likely exists in French judicial files.





#84 Joseph Parish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#66 Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly (Abt. 1858 – 18??), aka Tommy Kelly, Blink Kelly, Blinky Kelly, Thomas Jourdan — Burglar, safe-breaker

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York. Waiter. Single. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 134 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Right eye out.
RECORD. Kelly is a young New York burglar, and is credited with being able to handle a safe with some of the older ones. He was born and brought up in the Seventh Ward of New York City, and is a member of Patsey Carroll’s gang. He was sentenced to two years in State prison on April 13, 1879, for grand larceny in New York City; again, on December 23, 1880, for two years and six months for grand larceny under the name of Thos. Jourdan, just ten days after his release on the first sentence.
He was arrested again in New York City on August 21, 1883, in company of Patsey Carroll, John Talbot, alias the Hatter, Clarkey Carpenter (now dead), and Wm. Landendorf, “Dutch Harmon’s” brother, at Martin Reeve’s saloon, No. 38 Forsyth Street, New York City, a resort for thieves, charged with burglarizing the premises of Geo. Tarler & Co., manufacturing jewelers, at No. 7 Burling Slip. The premises were entered on the night of August 20, 1883, and jewelry, plated ware, etc., carried away valued at $1,379. Patsey Carroll and John Talbot pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree in this case and were sentenced to four years in State prison on October 22, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. Kelly was discharged.
Kelly’s picture is a good one, taken in 1883.

There is little surprising in Chief Byrnes’ entry for Blink Kelly, a young New York gang member who was coached by his peers in the skills of burglary. Byrnes states that Kelly was brought up in the Seventh Ward; but by 1881, when he was 23, he was called by newspapers “the Terror of the Fourteenth Ward.”

Blink Kelly was an example of one of the young toughs often recruited by political factions to suppress voters or to vote multiple times. Kelly did not seem to adhere to any one faction: in 1876, he supported boxer-politician John Morrissey, who had split from Tammany Hall to lead a different Democratic faction, Irving Hall. Later, in the 1880s, Kelly took payments to vote Republican.
Kelly’s family antecedents have not been traced; nor is it known when and where he died, though one paper indicated in 1896 that he had already expired.
Just when one thinks there is little more to say about the violent, short, felonious life of Blink Kelly, the world of gilded-age New York City finds a way to surprise you.
Theater-goers of this era loved campy melodramas supported by clever stage effects. For the new fall season of 1888, New York producer Thomas M. Davis planned to import a successful British melodrama written by Tom Craven, called The Stowaway. As the New York World later noted, “The success of the play is mainly due to its effective mounting, and its intense realism. The plot is the old conventional one, introducing an erring, but repentant old man; his son, whom he mourns as dead, but who is alive, leading a Bohemian life; a faithless villain; his faithful wife; a good young heiress; three or four toughs; a funny little girl in boy’s clothing, who plays successively a ragged newsboy, a bellboy, and a cabin-boy; a howling swell; and the stowaway, whose business it is to turn up just in time to thwart the villain at every stage of the game.”
Producer Davis had an idea how one part of the play could be improved for New York audiences to sensational effect: in a scene where burglars break open a safe, Davis thought it would generate buzz if he hired two ex-convicts to break open a real safe onstage at every performance, using real flash-powder. The criminals he found were Mike Kurtz and Blink Kelly.
The Stowaway opened at Niblo’s Garden theater in October, 1888, and was an immediate success. How did Chief Byrnes and the NYPD react to the burglary scene?18881016newyorkeveningworld
The Stowaway went on to run for many years, becoming a staple of American theater of the late 19th century. How long Blink Kelly lasted in his role is not known; but in later productions other former criminals took the same role.

#75 George Lockwood

George Lockwood (Abt. 1843-????), aka George Livingston, Cully, John McDonald — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in New York. Medium build. Married. Plumber. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 153 pounds. Reddish brown hair, brown eyes, sandy complexion; generally wears a sandy mustache. Has pistol-shot wound on his arm.

RECORD. George Lockwood, or “Cully,” the alias he is best known by, is a professional safe-burglar, and a son of respectable parents who reside in New York City. His father, a boss plumber, learned Cully his trade. When but a boy he became entangled with a gang of thieves who frequented Mrs. Brunker’s basement, on the corner of Wooster and Houston Streets, New York City, and was arrested for robbing a pawnbroker in Amity Street, and again in the Eighth Ward, in November, 1873, for having a set of burglars’ tools in his possession, one hundred and eight pieces in all. Later on he was arrested on suspicion of robbing the premises of Brougham & McGee, gold pen and pencil manufacturers, Nos. 79 and 81 William Street. He was also arrested for attempting to assassinate Charles Brockway (14), the forger, in West Houston Street. Lockwood, as Brockway was passing by, jumped out of the hallway of his wife’s (Mrs. Brunker’s) residence, and shot Brockway in the back Brockway turned and shot him through the arm. He was not prosecuted, as Brockway refused to make a complaint.
He was arrested in New York City in January, 1871, in company of Pete Burns, alias McLaughlin, for an attempt at burglary and carrying burglars’ tools. Judgment was suspended in this case. He was arrested again in January, 1874, with Pete Burns, in a thieves’ resort that had been raided by the police. They were both arraigned on the old suspended indictment on January 14, 1874, and Burns pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison. Lockwood was remanded until January 21, when he also pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, under the name of George Jackson. He was arrested in the Eighth Ward, New York City, on December 1, 1878, on suspicion of a burglary, but was discharged. Next he was arrested in New York City on January 8, 1880, with Charley Woods, alias Fowler, on suspicion of robbing Station F, New York Post-office, but was discharged by Justice Bixby for lack of evidence. Arrested again in New York City on January 1, 1880, and tried in the Court of Special Sessions, on June 15, 1880, for assaulting a man named James Casey, of New Jersey, whom he mistook for an officer who had arrested him some time before for burglary. He succeeded in keeping Casey out of court on the day of his trial, and the court, being in ignorance of his character, discharged him.

He was afterwards arrested in New York City with Jim Elliott, the prize-fighter (now dead), on June 24, 1880, secreted in the cellar of Cornelius Clark’s saloon, at No. 86 Henry Street. They had bored through the floor with the view of robbing a safe containing about $500 in money, and some jewelry that was in the store. A full set of burglars’ tools was found with them. In this case they pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to two years each in State prison, on June 30, 1880, by Judge Cowing. Lockwood was arrested again in New York City on October 14, 1884, in company of Frank Russell, alias Little Frank, another sneak and burglar, for the larceny of three watches from the store of Conrad Baumgarth, No. 16 Sixth Avenue, in July, 1884. “Cully” was committed for trial in $1,000 bail, by Judge Patterson, but discharged in the Court of General Sessions, by Judge Cowing, on November 7, 1884. He was arrested again in Albany, N. Y., in company of Andrew McAllier, for attempt at burglary. They were sentenced to eighteen months in the Albany Penitentiary, on June 26, 1885, by John C. Nott, County Judge, and his sentence will expire on September 25, 1886. Lockwood ten years ago was considered a very skillful and nervy burglar. It is claimed that he is a first-class mechanic and manufactured all his tools. He and Johnny Coady generally use the wood screw for forcing in an outside door. A hole is bored with an auger in the jamb of the door, exactly behind the nosing of the lock, after which a wood screw is inserted into the hole, and with the aid of a good bit- stock or brace, the nosing of the lock is easily and quietly forced off. Of late he has become somewhat dissipated, and is not rated now as a first-class criminal. His picture is a good one, taken in November, 1877.

While Chief Byrnes entry for George Lockwood is one of his most extensive, parts of it are muddled by citing events out of order, name errors, and a few omissions. When it comes to determining Lockwood’s family history, the references to his wealthy, respectable plumber father seem to lead nowhere. New York City directories offer no instances of plumbers named Lockwood (or Livingston, Lockwood’s favored alias). The best evidence of his identity was a tattoo on his body, reading “Lockwood.”


Lockwood’s first brush with the law came years earlier than Byrnes indicates: In September, 1865 he was sentenced (as George Lockwood) to Sing Sing for a term of two years and six months for burglary. He was released and soon caught again, reentering Sing Sing as “John McDonald” in April, 1868; unfortunately, the Sing Sing registers for that period do not exist, but this term is referred to in a later Sing Sing entry.

As Byrnes indicates, Lockwood was arrested in January, 1871 for an attempted burglary. His partner was William Burns (not Pete Burns). As Byrnes relates, Lockwood frequented Bunker’s (sometimes spelled as Brunker’s) at the corner of Wooster and Houston Streets–a notorious criminal hangout. Lockwood gave up on one girlfriend, Maggie Lockwood, who was said to be his wife–in favor of the widowed Mrs.  Minnie Bunker. The cause of his attack outside the Bunker saloon on forger Charles O. Brockway (Vanderpool) is not known.


Lockwood was suspected of stealing from the premises of Starr’s pawnbrokers in early 1873, but no case could be made against him. George was caught with a valise full of an impressive collection of burglar’s tools in mid-November, 1873; judgement was suspended in that case, but a week later, Lockwood was accused of the burglary of Brougham & McKee, gold pen dealers, on William Street. Evidence was lacking, so he was prosecuted on the charge of having burglar’s tools. He was sentenced to two and a half years at Sing Sing under the name George Livingston.

In February, 1876–just a month after his release from Sing Sing, he was caught again carrying burglar’s tools; and again in July of 1877. In both instances he claimed he had reformed, and was discharged. In 1880, Lockwood and a partner, Jimmy Elliott (a former heavyweight boxing champion) was caught breaking in to a saloon. Consequently, Lockwood wound up in Sing Sing again.

Lockwood’s final jail term began in 1885 in Albany. Lockwood had been ranging around the country with several partners, conducting burglaries in Montreal, Cleveland, and Luray, Virginia.

After his release in 1886, George and Minnie migrated west, and apparently escaped further trouble with the law.






#131 Louise Jourdan

Louisa Farley (184?-19??), aka Little Louisa, Louisa Jourdan, Louisa Bigelow — pickpocket, moll

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. Born in England. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, about 135 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, dark complexion, round face. Is lady-like in manner and appearance. Wears good clothes.

RECORD. Louise Jourdan, alias Little Louise, is an expert female thief, well known in New York, Chicago, and all the principal cities in the United States as the wife of Big Tom Biglow, the burglar. She was born in England. Her father once kept a public-house in Manchester, England. She served a term in an English prison for larceny. Upon her release she went to Brazil as a companion of a wealthy Spanish lady. While in that country she stole all her mistress’s diamonds, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to receive forty lashes at the whipping-post, and was condemned to have the lower part of her right ear cut off. She wears her hair over her ears to cover this deformity. Louise afterwards appeared in New York City as the mistress of Billy Darrigan, a New York pickpocket. She was arrested for shoplifting at A. T. Stewart’s dry goods store, and sent to Blackwell’s Island.

After her release she operated in Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities. She was married several times after leaving Darrigan; first to Tom McCormack, the bank burglar, who killed Jim Casey in New York, some years ago, while disputing over the proceeds of a robbery. After him, she took up with Aleck Purple, an Eighth Ward, New York, pickpocket; then with Dan Kelly, who was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in State prison for a masked burglary, with Patsey Conroy and others. After that she lived with a well-known New York sporting man, and finally married Big Tom Bigelow, and has been working the country with him since. She has been in several State prisons and penitentiaries in America, and is considered one of the smartest female pickpockets in this country. Louise Jourdan was arrested again in Cincinnati, Ohio, under the name of Mary Johnson, on May 19, 1886, in company of Sarah Johnson, a tall, blonde woman, charged with picking the pocket of a woman named Kate Thompson of $90, in one of the horse-cars. They both gave bail in $1,000, and at last accounts the case had not been disposed of. Her picture is an excellent one.

Chief Byrnes’ profile of Louisa prefers the last name Jourdan, but she adopted that name in the late 1860s, when she was the companion of sneak thief Johnny Jourdan. A few facts are known about her origins, but there is (as yet) no definitive proof of her real name. Though she traveled with many different men, her only documented marriage was to the bare-knuckle champion prizefighter, Young Barney Aaron. On that Chicago marriage application, she gave her last name as Farley–a name which is not in any of her arrest records or newspaper mentions as an alias. This might lend credence to “Farley” being her true name.

In her younger years, she was described as being very attractive, and dressed stylishly. In her later years, she cultivated comparisons to the elderly Queen Victoria–and may have assumed that as a style.


According to several reports, Louisa was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England–sometime between 1842 and 1844. Byrnes indicates that she was 42 in 1886; however, an earlier article from 1878 said that she was then 36. There are apocryphal tales of her early years in England: she began stealing at 10; married a burglar at an early age and was imprisoned; after her release, she became a maid to a wealthy Brazilian woman. In Brazil, she stole the woman’s diamonds and was caught; her punishment included “ear-cropping,” i.e. the cutting off of the lower part of her right ear–a mark that police detectives in the United States delighted in discovering, knowing who they had captured. [Note that ear-cropping was not a standard form of punishment in Brazil, so that story is suspicious.]

She arrived in the United States in the mid-1860s. An 1867 Philadelphia newspaper indicates that she was already recognized by police as a professional pickpocket. However, as Byrnes’ profile suggests, what distinguishes Louisa’s career is her talent for hooking up with bad men. Starting in the mid-1860s, she was associated with:

  • William “Billy” Derrigan/Darrigan (#180 in Byrne’s book), a New York pickpocket known to have mistreated another woman in his life.
  • Tom McCormick, a bank robber
  • William J. Sharkey, an infamous burglar, pickpocket, and gang leader who committed murder in 1872 and escaped from jail with the assistance of Johnny Jourdan’s sister, Maggie Jourdan. Sharkey fled to Cuba, abused Maggie (who fled back to the US), and was never heard from again.
  • Aleck Purple, a colorfully-named New York pickpocket
  • Dan Kelly, aka “Dan the Rioter,” a masked house burglar.
  • Patsey Conroy, another masked burglar.
  • Johnny Jourdan, the bank sneak thief often seen with Rufus Minor and George Carver.

After Johnny Jourdan was sent to prison in the early 1870s, Louisa migrated to Chicago and married the English bare-knuckle prizefighter, Barret “Barney” Aaron. Claiming abuse, she divorced him in 1878. She quickly rebounded by becoming the common-law wife of Big Tom Bigelow, a bank thief. She lived a comparatively quiet life with Bigelow in Windsor, Ontario, until his death in New Orleans in 1886.

Louisa’s final known paramour was a villain of many names, known in the east mainly as James Maguire. Maguire tried to possess Louisa’s properties in Windsor, and was said to have abused her. However, it was an assault on a man that sent Maguire, aka Frank West, to a prison in Canada. He escaped, fled to Australia, and for several years committed robberies under the name George Walter/William Russell aka W. G. Burton.

Louisa made a habit of combing the crowds at World’s Fair exhibitions as a pickpocket. She was arrested a final time in 1899 on suspicion, but was released, claiming that she had retired from crime sixteen years earlier.