#80 Michael Kurtz

Michael Kurtz (1846-1904), aka Sheeny Mike, Michael Sheehan, James Morgan, Charley Miller, etc. — Burglar, Safe-Blower

Link to Byrnes’s text on #80 Michael Kurtz

Chief Byrnes did a good job of summarizing “Sheeny Mike” Kurtz’s major crimes from 1877 forward. An April, 1876 article from the New York Times gives a better idea of his activities up to that point (which Byrnes might have wished to overlook):
Byrnes updated his entry on Kurtz in his 1895 edition, which is included in the linked page above. Kurtz was not a major criminal after 1895; he was arrested a few times in the late 1890s for small thefts, and was typically released for lack of evidence.

The nickname “Sheeny” is an ethnic slur. In the 1890s, there was another criminal, a confidence man named Max Cohen, who was also given the nickname “Sheeny Mike.” Doubtless it was applied to others, as well. Michael Kurtz slyly turned the slur on its head by often giving the alias when arrested of “Michael Sheehan.”

It would be fascinating to learn more details of Kurtz’s years as a Florida orange grower. Byrnes mentions that Kurtz had a wife at this time, but the only official marriage record for Kurtz dates from 1892–years after his Florida adventures. Did he have any children from this earlier liaison?
Chief Byrnes and others who wrote about Kurtz’s career agree that his most audacious crime was the Marks jewelry store robbery in Troy, New York in February, 1884. At the time it occurred, few details were published about that crime. However, many years later (in 1912), a post-humus publication of a serialized book by Philadelphia thief Edward W. Dunlap devoted a chapter to this robbery [Dunlap himself had died in 1906]. Dunlap, from the Philadelphia area, was not a reliable source about New York criminals. In his retelling of the Troy jewelry robbery, he portrays Kurtz as an extraordinarily cunning thief who used a trick worthy of a magician. It sounds outlandish enough to be true:

Chapter XX: The Robbery of the Jewelry Store of Marks & Son, at Troy, N.Y.
The method adopted to rob this establishment was of the most ingenious and original description. The robbery was effected in February, 1884, and the men that did the work were Billy Porter, Sheeny Mike and Jimmy Irvin[g], who was afterward killed by Porter. [Note: Dunlap is wrong on this point–Jimmy Irving was killed by John Walsh in Shang Draper’s saloon in October, 1883, months before the Troy robbery. Billy Porter was present and killed Walsh. As Chief Byrnes indicates, the third man in the Troy jewelry robbery was likely Joe Dubuque, not Jimmy Irving. Dunlap does mention further down that Dubuque was involved.]
The jewelry store was situated at the busiest part of the main street of Troy, and its proprietors believed it to be burglar-proof. It was a large double store, having showcases on each side. This establishment contained valuables to an extent that would not seem probable in such a small city. Between the two counters, at the rear of the store, was a railing, and about six or eight feet back of this railing and against the wall stood a large Hall safe. The office of the firm was at a room at the rear of the store, and this room was protected by heavy iron shutters and an iron door. The safe contained the valuables of the firm during the night.
The younger of the brothers always saw to it that the goods were placed in the safe personally at night. He alone knew the combination; consequently he himself always unlocked the safe in the morning. When all was ready to close the store for the night, a large locomotive headlight, containing a big reflector, was placed on the end of one of the counters. This was not an oil lamp, but was supplied with gas from a nearby burner. The light was reflected directly upon the safe, and the back of the store was in gloom; but the big safe stood out clearly exhibited by the beams of light from the lamp and was distinctly visible from the street. The outside watchman, a most faithful man, made his rounds every half hour, and at each round he would look through one of the glass windows, would see the safe, and would then, of course, believe everything to be right. One would suppose that it would be impossible to beat a safe that was so protected, yet it was beaten in a very few minutes, and the watchman knew nothing until the next morning.
Both Porter and Mike visited the store several times, and at each visit made a trivial purchase. They were thus able to get an accurate mental picture of the safe, its size, its color, the plates upon it, the exact position of the handle, knob, etc. On a piece of heavy canvas the ingenious Sheeny Mike painted an excellent representation of a safe. This canvas was taken to a French locksmith and toolmaker in New York City, and he made a mount for the canvas so that it could be put together in a few minutes. This pretended safe had real handles and knobs, which were to be placed on the outside once it was set up.
It was quite certain that the store could not be entered from the rear; the only way to enter it was by the roof. A store three or four doors below was “cracked” from the rear. The burglars went to the roof, and from there passed to the roof of the Marks store and entered through a trapdoor. After an entrance had been made, the tools and the dummy safe were carried in.
Porter and Mike were to do the actual work; Irvin was the outside man. Just a few minutes before the watchman came around Irvin would tap upon the window so the inside men could hear, and they would at once set up the dummy. It was agreed that in case the watchman should give trouble, Irvin was to convey information by rapping loudly upon the door, or, at least, making a loud noise in the street.
Nothing took place to disturb the work. As soon as the watchman departed the frame was taken down and work was begun anew. The safe was beaten by smashing the knob and driving in the spindle. This so disarranged the lock that a simple haul at the handle would open the doors. This old way of beating a safe is no longer possible. The makers now know too much and have provided against it. After the safe was beaten Mike took down the framework and closed up the smashed safe, and the robbers went away, taking the counterfeit safe along with them [except one piece; see below]. During the remainder of the night the watchman passed and re-passed, and every time he looked in he saw the safe, apparently as it should be, and went comfortably on his way.
This job netted about $40,000, mostly in diamonds and precious stones. The pluder was taken to a roadhouse about four miles below Albany, kept by Joe Dubuque, an all-around sport and a clever man. I do not know how or where the swag was disposed of. Shortly afterward Porter went to England. Mike went to Florida and bought an Orange grove.
Billy Pinkerton had been put on this case. He made some very correct inferences from a study of the big plate of the fake safe, which had been left behind by accident. Pinkerton learned that both Porter and Mike had been at the roadhouse below Albany before the robbery, and again afterward; so he procured warrants for them and made every effort to locate them, but was unsuccessful. Eighteen months after the robbery Porter returned to New York and was arrested by central office detectives, who, of course, knew that he was wanted. The Pinkertons were so convinced of the rottenness of the New York force that they watched the place of Porter’s confinement so that if he should be turned out they would be able to pinch him again right away. He was turned over to the authorities of Troy, where he was indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to ten years in Dannemora prison. Mike was located in Florida, was brought back and received a similar sentence.
As a matter of fact, the evidence upon which they were convicted was of the flimsiest sort. There was no evidence at all, except that they had been at the roadhouse before and after the robbery; but, as they were crooks and good burglars, it was decided that they must be guilty. Sheeny Mike’s case was appealed at once. In about six months it was heard by the supreme court, and Mike was discharged. Porter remained in prison about three months after Mike was liberated, when he also was set free by order of the supreme court.
I knew Sheeny Mike well. He was one of the greatest crooks of the country. He never beat a bank, but his peculiar graft was store safes, and many a one of them he opened. He made money rapidly, and spent it freely. He was a short, slender man, and at the time of committing the Marks robbery was about 35 years of age. With his clear-cut features, large nose and high forehead he had an intellectual and scholarly appearance. A book could be written about this remarkable Jew’s career. He had a taste for jewelry and a knowledge of silk and fabrics. He was not only a master in executing a robbery, but also an artist in planning one. He died a few months ago [Dunlap was writing in 1904-05], leaving a widow and three children [no records have been found of children], with not a cent to support them.
I have not seen Porter for a long time and have no notion what has become of him. He was undoubtedly a first-class man. When Porter, Mike, Irvin, and Pat the Mick were together it was a wonderful combination and was very hard to beat.

#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.

#119 Lena Kleinschmidt

Magdalina/Madaleine Warner [or Levi] (Abt. 1830-????), aka Black Lena, Lena Kleinschmidt, Bertha Kleinschmidt, Bertha Kleinsmith, Betty Smith, Mary Morris — Shoplifter

From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Fifty-one years old in 1886. Born in Germany. Married. Housekeeper. Stout build. Height, about 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 150 pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark complexion. Wrinkled face.
RECORD. Lena Kleinschmidt, or “Black Lena,” is a notorious shoplifter. She is well known from Maine to Chicago, and has been arrested and sent to prison several times, three times in New York City alone.
She was arrested in New York City, in company of Christene Mayer, alias Mary Scanlon, alias Kid Glove Rosey (118), on April 9, 1880, for the larceny of 108 yards of silk dressings, valued at $250, from the store of McCreery & Co., Broadway and Eleventh Street. The property was found on Lena; and other property, stolen from Le Boutillier Brothers, on Fourteenth Street, New York, was found on Rosey. Kleinschmidt gave $500 bail, and left the city, but was re-arrested and brought back, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years and nine months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island on April 30, 1880, by Recorder Smyth. Rosey was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years, the same day. Lena’s picture is a good one, taken in April, 1880.
“Black Lena” Kleinschmidt (so-called for her typical dark garb and black hair) was famous for being one of Marm Mandelbaum’s favorite shoplifters (along with Sophie Lyons). Marm Mandelbaum and Lena likely came to New York from Germany within a year of one another, in 1850-51, if Lena’s account is to be believed. Lena said that she, at age 16, arrived on the same ship, the bark Salon, as her soon-to-be husband, Adolph Kleinschmidt. However, there is no woman on the passenger list that seems to fit that age; and in several later occasions, she indicated her birth year as 1829, not 1835.
Lena’s marriage record for her union with Adolph Kleinschmidt has not surfaced, though her 1867 divorce announcement was printed in the newspaper. Adolph was a peddler/tinsmith by profession, and apparently did not join Lena’s shoplifting outings. However, Adolph, Lena, and Marm Mandelbaum were all arrested together in Brooklyn in December, 1859 in a house full of stolen items. Lena’s shoplifting forages were already far-flung; two months earlier, in October 1859, she was taken by detectives from her property in Hackensack, New Jersey and sent to Chicago to face grand larceny charges. She escaped conviction in that instance, too.

An anecdote about Black Lena’s exploits in Hackensack was first related by Detective Phil Farley in his 1876 book, Criminals of America, and then reprinted many times: by NYPD Chief Walling in his book of reminiscences; by Herbert Asbury in Gangs of New York; and in a 1932 New Yorker feature article. These stories do not place Lena in Hackensack until 1863/64, which is at least five years off the mark. Also, the premise of these stories is that Lena had hoodwinked the whole town into believing her feigned respectability; in fact, she had been exposed as a notorious shoplifter in local newspapers by 1859, if not earlier.
Lena’s lifestyle wore on Adolph. In 1866, while Lena was out on a $2000 bail for shoplifting, and they had a dispute: she accused him of abuse; he accused her of running off to Charleston with a man named John Joseph Heinrich (likely a shoplifting partner of Lena’s). Adolph had the bondsman revoke her bail, and she was taken to New York City’s Tombs detention center. Following this misadventure, Adolph instituted divorce proceedings against Lena. The divorce was finalized in June 1867, but Adolph had already taken the liberty of marrying another woman in March, 1867.
In July, 1870 Magdalina Kleinschmidt remarried to John Schneider. Their marriage record gives a possible clue as to her birth name: Magdalina Warner, daughter of Georg and Rosina Warner. However, there is no corroborating evidence; and counter to this, other evidence exists suggesting her maiden name was Levy/Levi. By this time, Lena was known to be working with her alleged sister, Amelia Levy, who later became known as “Black Amelia.”

            “Black Lena” Kleinschmidt

In 1875, Lena and a young “English” (as opposed to German) shoplifter named Tilly Miller were arrested for shoplifting in Brooklyn and locked up in the Kings County jail. They were said to be working on behalf of a “male firm” of receivers, not Marm Mandelbaum. Before they could be examined by a grand jury, they were smuggled tools and a rope, and escaped from the jail. Aiding them was Charley Perle (husband of Augusta Harris of the Greenthal gang of fences) and John Nugent (perhaps the same man as husband #2, John Schneider). Brooklyn detectives chased them to Montreal and attempted to arrest them, but they refused to budge–no extradition treaty existed with Canada that covered larceny.
With Brooklyn and New York City detectives held at bay, Lena and Tilly Miller ventured into New York state on shoplifting visits. Meanwhile, Charley Perle and John Nugent were caught trying to sneak $1000 from a Canadian bank. John Nugent reportedly died after six months in prison.
In December 1876, Lena, Tilly Miller, and alleged sister Amelia were among a host of noted female shoplifters that convened in Boston, apparently drawn by assurances of a corrupt detective that they would be unmolested. Instead, Lena and Tilly were arrested and sent to Brooklyn to face charges they had escaped from more than a year earlier. In Brooklyn, they were sentenced to four and a half years in the penitentiary. Lena was released on bail pending an appeal of her conviction in August 1878 (an unusual occurrence); to everyone’s surprise, she showed up at her appeal, only to have it denied. However, the governor of New York pardoned her in December, 1879.

            “Black Amelia” Levy

Just four months later, Lena was caught shoplifting along with another infamous figure, Mary Scanlon, alias Kid Glove Rosie. Lena was sentenced to Blackwell Island for a term of four years and six months. She was released early for good behavior, and left the east coast for Chicago, where she teamed up with members of the Reinsch-Weir gang of shoplifters.
Lena Kleinschmidt was mentioned as being a sister of the matriarch of the Reinsch family of thieves, Henrietta Reinsch, whose maiden name was Levi/Levy. Another member of the Reinsch gang, the same generation as Henrietta, was Eva Geisler, whose maiden name was also Levi/Levy. Were the four professional shoplifters: Pauline Reinsch, Eva Geisler, Amelia Levy, and Bertha Kleinschmidt all sisters? It is a tempting theory, but not one without issue.
Amelia Levy’s ethnicity was often described as Jewish. Black Lena, too, was sometimes described as Jewish, but not as often. The Reinsch and Weir families were not Jewish; Pauline Reinsch was buried in a German Lutheran cemetery. In one interview, Black Lena recounts growing up in a German Catholic village, and feeling guilt from the presence of statues of Jesus. She also related that she had conversations with the prison priest. Possibly the four sisters named Levi/Levy came from a family that no longer identified as Jewish; but that in itself would be outside the norm.

The identification of Lena and Amelia–and other professional criminals–as Jews served as fodder for antisemitism.

Lena was arrested in Chicago along with Emma Weir (nee Reinsch) In November 1883; and again in December. Her trial was delayed, but in March 1884 she was sentenced to three years at Joliet for larceny. Another five years was tacked on later, which kept her in Joliet until July 1889. A month later, in August, she was caught again; and in October sentenced to another four years at Joliet.
She was free again–for just two weeks–in March 1893. Once again she was captured stealing items in a store accompanied by Emma Weir. She escaped conviction but was nabbed in both Milwaukee and St. Louis within a few months, paying fines to avoid jail.
By 1896, Black Lena was back in trouble in Chicago. She was arrested for shoplifting, assisted by Martin Weir. She plead guilty and was sentenced to three months in Cook County jail, while Martin was sent to Joliet.
Lena joined Martin in Joliet in 1897, after once again failing to control her habits. While there, she was interviewed by criminologist J. Sanderson Christison, and named simply as “Bertha.” That interview has been reprinted on the Historical Crime Detective site. She expresses contrition, and admits she can’t help herself.
Lena was released from Joliet in 1899. By 1901, a Chicago detective spoke of her being dead, but no record has yet surfaced of when or where that occurred.