#156 Thomas Matthews

Thomas Matthews (Abt. 1837-????), aka Tommy Matthews, James Turner, Thomas Morgan, Joseph Morton, Thomas Williams — Burglar, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION, Forty-seven years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Cooper by trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, 133 pounds. Hair gray, eyes gray, nose a little flat, ruddy complexion. Generally wears a full, dark beard and mustache, turning very gray.

RECORD. Tommy Matthews is an old and expert thief. He has been on the road for at least twenty years, and has served terms in a dozen prisons throughout the United States. He is known in all the large cities from Maine to Colorado, and although getting old, is quite clever yet. He generally associates with the best local talent, and is a very careful worker of late, preferring to lose a “trick” than to take any chances of going to State prison.

Matthews was arrested in New York City, on January 11, 1879, in company of Tim Oats (136), charged with robbing a man named Michael Jobin of $200, on a Third Avenue horse-car. Both were committed in $5,000 bail for trial. They pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to two years each in the penitentiary on February 6, 1879, by Judge Gildersleeve, in the Court of General Sessions. In this case he gave the name of James Moran.

Matthews was arrested again in New York City, under the name of Morgan, for picking pockets. He pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, on October 29, 1885, by Recorder Smyth. (See records of Nos. 136, 161.) Matthews’ picture is a pretty good one, taken in January, 1879.

Inspector Byrnes characterized Tommy Mathews primarily as a pickpocket, but he had a more versatile criminal career, dating back to the 1850s. He was sent to Sing Sing three times and to Blackwell’s Island at least four times. Byrnes and the Sing Sing registrars believed his real name to be Thomas Matthews/Mathews, but on one occasion his listed his parents as William and Mary Morton.

His first known offense was in December 1857, under the name Thomas Williams, when he was convicted of stealing watches from a New York City jeweler. His 1862 he was arrested twice in “Dad” Cunningham’s gambling room on Broadway; he was assisting the faro games as a cuekeeper. He was convicted of an offense in 1862 under the name he gave on these occasions–James Turner–but it is unclear what the charge against him was.

In August 1867 he was sentenced to Blackwell’s Island for six months for an attempted burglary. In 1868 he was sent back for another two and a half years for burglary.

In 1875, he was arrested once again under the name James Turner along with two others, all captured while in the middle of burglarizing a warehouse of cashmeres, satin, and velvet. They were released on bail and did not reappear for their trial, but were rearrested several months later. This time, he was sent to Sing Sing for four years. He was described as an old member of Wes Allen‘s gang.

As Byrnes mentions, Tommy was caught in 1879 working as a pickpocket with Tim Oates. Upon arrest, Tommy used the alias James Moran while Oates used Timothy Clark. They both got two years at Blackwell’s.

In 1881, under the alias Joseph Morton, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing for another burglary.

He had only been out a small while before being caught picking pockets at Coney Island with Roaring Bill Wright. He was sent back to Sing Sing in October 1885 under the name Thomas Morgan.

In 1890 he was picked up in Brooklyn for carrying burglar’s tools and sent to King’s County Penitentiary for four and a half years.

Finally, in 1896, Tommy suffered the same fate as many Bowery pickpockets: he was arrested in New Jersey for being a member of a “green goods” operation based in Brooklyn.


#30 David Goldstein

David H. Levitt (Abt. 1844-18??), aka Sheeny Dave, Daniel H. Levett/Leavitt/Lovett/Leavett, James Lewis, Louis Lewis, Herman Lewis, Louis/Lewis Ruebenstein, David Goldenberg — Smuggler, Sneak thief, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-two years old in 1886. A Jew, born in Poland. Married. No trade. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Dark complexion, black hair, dark eyes, cast in left eye. Black beard, when worn. Dresses well. Is very quick in his movements.

RECORD. “Sheeny Dave,” whose right name is David Levitt, is an old New York thief, and is pretty well known in all the principal cities of the United States. He has served time in State prison in a number of States.

He was arrested In Buffalo, N.Y., on January 26, 1878, in company of a man who reformed about six years ago, for shoplifting (working jewelry stores), and both sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in Auburn (N.Y.) prison.

When his time expired he was taken to Baltimore, Md., for a crime committed there, but was not convicted.

He was arrested again in New York City, under the name of James Lewis, on January 15, 1881, for the larceny of two pieces of blue silk from the store of Edward Freitman & Co., No. 473 Spring Street, valued at $140. For this offense, upon his plea of guilty, he was sentenced to two years and six months in State prison at Sing Sing, on April 12, 1881, by Judge Cowing.

He was arrested again in New York City on December 21, 1883, under the name of Samuel Newman, for the larceny of a diamond bracelet, valued at $500, from Kirkpatrick, the jeweler, on Broadway, New York. He was indicted by the Grand Jury on January 10, 1884, and forfeited his bail on January 15, 1884.

He was arrested again on September 30, 1884, in York County, Maine, for picking pockets, and sentenced to three years in prison at Alfred, Maine, under the name of Herman Lewis. For expiration of sentence, see commutation law of Maine. He is still a fugitive from justice, and is wanted in New York City. His picture is an excellent one, taken in January, 1878.

So successful was this felon in issuing aliases that his real name is only suspected to be David H. Levitt, determined by a consensus of arrest and prison records.

Dave’s traceable career begins in April 1874, when he and pickpocket Tilly Miller were caught on the Niagara Falls suspension bridge smuggling silks from Canada. He was taken to Rochester, New York, where he faced trial in a U. S. District Court and was sentenced to six months and a $500 fine, with the time to be served at the Monroe County Penitentiary. However, while waiting to be transported to the Penitentiary, he escaped from the Monroe County Jail with the help of a female accomplice, known on this occasion as “Julia Reilly”. Why Dave chose to be a fugitive rather than take a light sentence is a minor mystery.

Tilly Miller was separately detained. She had been in Canada after fleeing from New York authorities for her role in helping her husband, Billy Miller, escape from Sing Sing with the assistance of bribed guards. The other woman “Julia Reilly,” was likely Mary Ann Watts, a shoplifter that had taken up with Dave Levitt after the death of her common-law pickpocket husband, Joe Wilson. Mary Ann Watts had been residing in Sing Sing until March 1874 (just a month before the smuggling episode), when she escaped using the same accomplices that Tilly Miller had used to free her husband.

Dave Levitt enjoyed his freedom for over a year, probably in the company of his fellow fugitive, Mary Ann Watts. However, in November 1875, he was caught trying to sneak watches off a jeweler’s tray in New York City. He first gave his name as Louis Lewis, but was later recognized as the fugitive David H. Levitt. He was handed back over to U. S. Marshals, and was sent to Auburn prison to serve his time for smuggling.

After being released, Dave was on his own again (Mary Ann Watts had, in the meanwhile, been arrested and sent back to Sing Sing). Dave soon took a new mistress, known only as Teresa. He continued shoplifting from jewelry stores, making a successful raid in early January 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. He sent the loot to Teresa in New York for safekeeping. In late January 1878, he was apprehended in Buffalo after sneaking valuables out of  a jewelry store and was sentenced to one year in Auburn State Prison.

While Dave was in Auburn, Teresa’s step-father stumbled across the hiding-place where she had stored the stolen valuables from Baltimore. He took the loot for himself; Teresa discovered it gone and confronted him, and another man overheard the argument and went to police. After interviewing all the participants, Baltimore officials now had the circumstantial evidence they needed to charge Dave with the robbery. After his time in Auburn expired, he was taken to Baltimore, but the case against him was weak enough to secure his acquittal.

He was caught shoplifting silk in New York City in January 1881, resulting in a two and a half year sentence in Sing Sing. Soon after getting out, he was caught again sneaking objects from a jewelry store in December 1883. He jumped his $500 bail and once more became a fugitive.

Dave then went to Maine, where he was arrested for picking pockets in September 1884. Consequently, he was sent to Maine’s state prison for a three year term.

In the late 1880s, Dave somehow resolved his debt to New York courts, but how this was done remains unknown. In the 1890s, he became a special detective hired, as Byrnes indicated in 1895, “by a major sea resort near New York City.” This was almost certainly John Y. McKane’s Coney Island police force, which was notorious for hiring ex-convicts.

A newspaper item from 1897 mentioned that Dave was no longer alive; the exact date of his death and the name he was using at the time are not known.

#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.”

#129 Kate Ryan

Catherine Ryan (Abt. 1836–19??), aka Kitty Ryan, Kate Ryan, Catherine Mantell, Ellen Mantell, Ellen McCarthy, Ellen Murray, Kate Murray, etc. — Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty years old in 1886. Born in Ireland. Seamstress. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Dark brown hair, light hazel eyes, dark complexion.

RECORD. Kate Ryan is an old New York pickpocket and shoplifter. She works parades and stores, and is known in Philadelphia and New York, and some of the Western cities.

She was arrested in New York City on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1876, charged with picking pockets during the parade. She was convicted and sentenced to four years in the penitentiary on March 28, 1876, by Recorder Hackett, in the Court of General Sessions.

Kate has served time in State prison and in the penitentiary since the above. Her picture is a good one, taken in March, 1876.

In his 1895 edition, Inspector Byrnes merely added, “Reported dead.” Perhaps he just lost track, considering that Kate was sent to prison in 1876, 1883, 1886, 1888, 1890, 1891, and 1894–and these are the convictions that are known of, in New York City and Brooklyn alone.

Kate specialized in stealing from women’s pocketbooks–in parades, in stores, at funerals and weddings, etc.

Kate was not dead by 1895, but she was about to be caught in the worst mistake of her life. She had been arrested in Brooklyn in June, 1893, for picking pockets. Before she could be tried, she was released on bail of $1000 put up by Henry Hamilton, a Brooklyn livery stable keeper. She jumped bail, returned to Manhattan, got arrested for shoplifting, and was sent to Blackwell’s Island penitentiary. In 1896, Hamilton, who had forfeited the $1000 he offered as bail, discovered that Kate was in Blackwell’s Island. He informed the Brooklyn District Attorney, who arranged for a detective to greet Kate upon her release from Blackwell’s. Kate was outraged to discover that she was being rearrested. She claimed that she was being persecuted. Judge Aspinall of Brooklyn showed Kate no mercy; she was sent to Auburn State Prison on a sentence of ten years.

At that point, Kate was already 60 years old, so many doubted she would survive her stretch at Auburn.

She was back in Brooklyn in 1907, and was caught picking pockets under the name Ellen McCarthy. No one appeared to testify against her, but she was jailed for vagrancy. As similar episode occurred in 1908–she was spotted jostling customers in line in a butcher shop, and was detailed for disorderly conduct.

In 1912, Kate (still using the alias Ellen McCarthy) was spotted opening clasp pocketbooks on Coney Island. She claimed to be 59, but police knew that she frequently shaved decades off her age–she was closer to being 77. She was handed over to a probation officer.

A year later, under the name Ellen Mantell, she was caught in a New York department store attempting to reach into the purse of a female store detective. As she was being booked, the police lieutenant looked at her and asked, “You must be nearly 80 now?”

“Seventy-five,” Kate replied in a broken voice.

The officer looked over her record: she had been arrested 14 times since 1886, and had served fifteen and a half years in prison. He leaned over in front of her face, “And you came back?”

“Yes,” she said, her head drooping. “They put the temptation in my way.” Kate was referring to the fact that the store detective had been walking around the displays with an open purse, and bills visible inside.

At her trial, Kate plead guilty. “I’m all in judge,” she said, “and I want to go to Auburn prison for a long time. There ain’t nothing much more for me and its too late for me to try to get anything more than a place to sleep and three meals a day. I’m hungry and tired and broke.”

Judge Swann, realizing that prison was unnecessary, sent Kate to the Reformatory.