#148 Thomas Burns

Thomas Burns (Abt. 1836-1895), aka Combo, Thomas Hamilton — Pickpocket, Stall

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION Forty-nine years of age in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches. Weight, 165 pounds. Black hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Has scar on forehead; mole on right cheek. Generally wears a black beard, turning gray.

RECORD. “Combo” is a well known New York pickpocket. He works with “Jersey Jimmie” (145), “Nigger” Baker (195), “Curly Charley,” Dick Morris (141), “Aleck the Milkman” (160), and the best people in the cities he visits. He was considered second to none in the business; but of late years he has fallen back, and does only “stalling,” on account of his love for liquor. He is pretty well known in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Chicago, and, in fact, in almost all the large cities in the States.

He was arrested in New York City, for the larceny of a watch from one Lawson Valentine, on a Sixth Avenue horse-car, on February 8, 1875. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to four years in State prison, on March 9, 1875, under the name of Thomas Hamilton, by Judge Sutherland.

Combo was again arrested, at the Grand Central Railroad depot in New York City, on November 24, 1885, in an attempt to ply his vocation. He was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary on December 1, 1885, in the Court of Special Sessions, New York. Burns’s picture is an excellent one, taken in November, 1885.

Sometimes members of the underground fraternity of thieves would meet unexpectedly, as happened in the fall of 1872, in the Hudson County, New Jersey jailhouse in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Two veteran, hardened bank robbers, Ed. Johnson and Frank Dean, aka Dago Frank, were detained there so that they could testify on a sensational case of police corruption that implicated the city’s chief of police and senior detective. Johnson and Dean had been caught nearly a year earlier while attempting to break into the First National Bank of Jersey City. They had been working with two other seasoned pros, Dave Cummings and Moses Vogel.

Ed. Johnson was arrested under the alias Charles J. Proctor; Dean was jailed as Frank Denning. They were placed in separate cells in the first tier of the jailhouse, with an empty cell between them. Dave Cummings had escaped capture because he had been busy playing billiards while his partners did the hard work, but Cummings had vowed to spare no expense in getting Johnson and Dean out of jail.

One day, a new prisoner was escorted into the empty cell between Johnson and Dean. He was Thomas “Combo” Burns, age 36, a noted Bowery pickpocket. Burns may have recognized the two bank robbers, or, at the least, had heard of them. Burns frequented the same Lower Manhattan saloons as bank robbers and sneak thieves; he was even rumored to have played a role in one famous Philadelphia bank robbery of February 1871, the Kensington Savings Bank.

Burns could hear all the conversation that passed between Johnson and Dean, and in a way became their confidant.

Burns was visited in jail each week by his mother, who took the ferry over from New York. She brought him his favorite delicacies to make up for the drab jail meals. Johnson and Dean eyed Burns’s treats with envy, and asked Burns if they could arrange for his mother to bring them their favorite treats that their relatives in New York would bring to her. So soon all three men got an inspected parcel of goodies whenever Burn’s mother visited. Invariably, Johnson and Dean always received at least one can of peaches, their favorite.

On September 25th, Johnson and Dean had a visitor come. Combo Burns heard them whispering that something big was to happen on the next Saturday evening. That same day, Burn’s mother visited and once again brought food with her, including several cans of peaches. She gave cans to Johnson and Dean, but also gave one to Burns. Burns noticed that Johnson shook his can after receiving it. He shook his can, and heard a metallic click as he did so. He cut out one end of the can, but found only peaches. He then took off the other end and discovered a small flask filled with black powder.

It was then that Burns realized that Johnson and Dean had been collecting a store of gunpowder to use to bring down the rear wall of their cell and make a dash for freedom. Burns himself had no great motive to involve himself in a jailbreak; he was in on a charge of picking pockets, and might get acquitted–or, at worst, a light sentence. However, he likely did not even consider his own fate; what stirred his indignation was that Johnson and Dean used his mother as an unwilling accomplice. She was the go-between that had no idea what was in the cans of peaches.

Combo burns poured the gunpowder into his toilet pipe and started yelling at Johnson and Dean. They told him to pipe down, and then tried to bribe him to remain silent. Burns was having none of it. He called the guards and had them inspect the cells of Johnson and Dean, where matches, a fuse, and a rubber bag with five pounds of gunpowder were discovered. Their escape plan (doubtless coordinated by Dave Cummings) was foiled.

Do not come between an Irishman and his mother.

#196 William Hague

William Hague (Abt. 1844-1924), aka Curly/Curley Harris, John Hague, John Harris, Henry Abrams, Henry Miller, Jack Davis, etc. — Pickpocket, Burglar, Murderer

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1886. Jew, born in United States. Married. No trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 inches. Weight, about 140 pounds. Looks like, and is, a Jew. Dark eyes, black curly hair, dark complexion. Generally wears a black mustache. Four dots of India ink on left arm. Has a vaccination mark and mole on right arm above the elbow.

RECORD. “Curly” Harris is one of the most desperate thieves and ruffians in America. He is well known in all the large cities in the United States, especially in Philadelphia, where he makes his home.
Harris, with “Brummagen Bill” and James Elliott, two other notorious Philadelphia thieves, robbed Hughy Dougherty, the minstrel performer, in a saloon on Ninth Street, above Jayne, in Philadelphia, some years ago. The thieves subsequently, in passing the corner of Sixth and Market streets, were accosted by Officer Murphy, whereupon Harris deliberately drew his revolver and fired. The ball, fortunately for the officer, struck the buckle of his belt, which saved his life. “Brummagen Bill” and Elliott were arrested and convicted, and sentenced respectively to eleven and sixteen years’ imprisonment in the Eastern Penitentiary.

Harris escaped, but was afterwards arrested in Pittsburg, Pa. The authorities of Philadelphia chartered a special car, and traveled westward after the fugitive criminal. While returning, Harris, with his hands still manacled, escaped from his captors, and although the train was traveling at the rate of forty miles an hour, he jumped from the rear platform of a car, and a diligent search failed to reveal his whereabouts.

Nothing was heard of “Curly” for some years, and this was owing to the fact that he had been arrested and convicted in the northern part of the State of New York for a hotel robbery, and sentenced to six years in State prison. After his release he boldly went back to Philadelphia, and was arrested there for robbing the American Hotel. He was acquitted, however, and when the old charge against him for the Dougherty affair was spoken of, it was found that the minstrel performer and the officer could not be found to prosecute him.

Harris was arrested again in New York City on May 6, 1880, and delivered to the police authorities of Philadelphia, charged with the murder of James Reilly, alias John Davis, another hotel thief. The murder was committed on August 25, 1879. Reilly resided with his wife on Orange Street, Philadelphia. Upon the day mentioned he was picked up bleeding in front of a saloon at Eighth and Sansom streets. On September 13, 1879, the wounded man died from a fracture of the skull. From facts subsequently gathered it appears that Harris met Reilly and asked him for some money, and the latter replied that he had none. He was then told to go to his wife and obtain some, which he abruptly declined to do. Harris, in his usual cowardly manner, drew a revolver, aimed it directly at his partner in crime and pulled the trigger. The cartridge did not explode, and the desperado then pushed the barrel of his pistol with so much force into one of Reilly’s eyes as to fracture his skull and cause his death. Harris was tried and convicted in June, 1880, and sentenced to ten years in State prison on July 3, 1880, by Judge Yerkers, in Philadelphia. His sentence will expire on June 3, 1888.

From Byrnes’ 1895 Edition:

Harris was arrested again at Buffalo, N.Y., on September 7, 1888. He was found in the Mansion House, about to sneak into a room which had been left unlocked. He was held on a charge of vagrancy, and sentenced to thirty days in the Erie Co., N.Y., Penitentiary, on September 9, 1888.

Arrested again at Wilmington, Del., in company of Geo. Devlin, alias Broken-nose George. They were caught in the act of burglarizing a safe. Both were sentenced to six months imprisonment and received twenty lashes each at the whipping-post at Newcastle, Del., on February 9, 1889.

He was heard from again on May 30, 1890, when he was arrested for picking pockets at the Lutheran Cemetery. He escaped from the constable who was taking him to the jail in Long Island City, N.Y. He was captured attempting to cross the ferry at Hunter’s Point. For this offense he was sentenced to four years in Sing Sing Prison, on July 18, 1890, by Judge G. Garretson, County Judge, Queen’s Co., N.Y.

After his release he was employed for awhile at Gloster, N.J., race track. He finally came to grief again at Philadelphia, Pa., for the larceny of a watch. Judge Biddle sent him to the Eastern Penitentiary, for three years, on May 3, 1894.

Curly Harris first appeared under his preferred alias in 1869, as an associate of Philadelphia gang leader James Haggerty. In 1871, Curly was with a group of other Philly street toughs and participated in the mugging of Hughey Dougherty and the shooting of officer Murphy. Harris didn’t use the gun; that was done by a ruffian named Jim Elliott. Harris faced trial for these events six years later, in 1877, but Dougherty could not identify Harris as one of the muggers; and Murphy could not say if Harris was among those that shot him.

However, at the time that his friends were arrested for these crimes, Curly certainly feared he would be sent to jail, too; and left town to go to Pittsburgh. However, he might have had an additional reason for leaving Philadelphia: On February 2 1871, the famous Kensington Bank robbery occurred, and several sources suggest Curly Harris was involved. His daring escape from the moving train in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, won him grudging admiration for his courage from law officials and the general public.

Later that year, Harris was caught during a burglary in upstate New York, and was convicted and sentenced to seven years. The name under which he was imprisoned has not yet been uncovered, but part of his sentence was spent in Auburn and the other part in Sing Sing. He was released after five years.

 

He was rearrested in Philadelphia in 1877 on the old charges from 1871, but was acquitted of those after a trial. He was picked up in New York in May, 1880, and delivered to Philadelphia to face a murder charge, as Byrnes relates. Had the victim not been a notorious fellow thief, Harris might have faced a more serious sentence, but as it was, he was given ten years and was out in eight.

Curly’s brief stint at gainful employment at the Gloucester (NJ) Race Track may not have been any more commendable than his other activities: Gloucester was one of the shadiest racecourses ever run, and closed just three years after it opened. Curly’s role there was likely as security/house detective, to scare off pickpockets.

As Byrnes notes, Curly’s last known arrest and imprisonment occurred in 1894, for stealing a watch. He was released from Eastern State Penitentiary in 1896.

Over the next few years, Curly dropped his alias and resumed life under his given name, William Hague. In 1898, he married a respectable Jewish widow, Elmira Rice, who had three older children from her previous marriage to Aaron Kile Wismer, who belonged to a venerable Jewish family dating back before the American Revolution.

Byrnes may have intended to point out Hague’s appearance and Jewish origins as a slur; instead, Hague’s Jewish connections proved to be his salvation, even though there is no public evidence that Hague, Elmira Rice, or her Wismer children were active in the faith.
Hague continued to do security/detective work for a few years, but when older switched to less dangerous jobs, and was still working as a salesman into his seventies. The family moved to from Philadelphia to Atlantic City in the 1910s. Hague died there in 1924 and was buried in Philadelphia.

#20 James Hope

James Joseph Hope (1837-1905), aka Jimmy Hope, Old Man Hope, James J. Watson — Bank robber

Link to Byrnes’s entry on #20 James Hope
Chief Byrnes begins his profile of Jimmy Hope with the Philadelphia Navy Yard robbery attempt of June 1870; but elsewhere in the text of Professional Criminals of America, Byrnes cites other crimes that Hope participated in prior to that date. However, he gets the years and chronological order of these confused; and mentions a robbery that can’t be identified. These errors were compounded when newspapers and other writers accepted Byrnes as gospel and reprinted his “facts” in their articles on Hope.
Those early crimes represent the beginnings not only of Hope’s career as a bank robber, but also those of George Mason and Ned Lyons; therefore it is important to straighten out the record (as much as is possible, given the fact that Hope, Mason, and Lyons never offered full confessions of their bank robberies).
In 1863, James Hope was operating a “disorderly dance house” in Philadelphia that was known as “a resort for many disreputable persons.” His father had wanted him to become a machinist, and therefore he might have had some mechanical training. Several sources suggest that Hope was one of the ringleaders of the Schuylkill Rangers gang of southwest Philadelphia, which was led by Jimmy Hagerty. Hope married Hagerty’s sister, Margaret T. Hagerty.
There is no published evidence that Hope was involved in bank robberies prior to the April 1868 attempt on the Fairhaven (Massachusetts) National Bank. Hope and John Hughes were caught after the bank clerk discovered them inside the bank at night; but there were others involved, likely Lyons and Mason. Both were released on bail and then jumped.
In late November, 1868, Hope was arrested under the name James Watson in Philadelphia while coming out of the offices of the Franklin Institute building, where he had attempted to open the safe of the Mine Hill and Schuylkill Railroad. The newspaper report stated that police knew him as James Hope and that he “has the reputation as being a safe blower.”
In April 1869, Hope was rumored to have been an architect of the robbery of Philadelphia’s Beneficial Savings Fund Society. However, many years later, legendary Philadelphia columnist Louis Megargee penned a column in which he related what Hope had told him about his role:
Now, another tale regarding him that will tax your belief. When a so-called Philadelphia detective had become a statesman—a Harrisburg statesman— a Speaker of the State Senate of Pennsylvania, and then went the way of all flesh, it was stated in the public prints that he and another of his kind had through their work and instrumentality restored to the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund $850,000 of bonds which had been stolen from that institution.
This is an error.
Neither of these corrupt officers of the law restored to the robbed bank one dollar out of the stolen money. It was returned through James Hope, a professional criminal, and who had not taken the treasure.
He who tells this tale knows whereof he talks; otherwise it would not be narrated. At the time of the robbery of the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund it was located in a ramshackle building at the southwest corner of Twelfth and Chestnut streets, where its more imposing and substantial place of habitation now presents its granite visage. James Frederick Wood was then the revered Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia, and owing to his protecting care the savings bank at Twelfth and Chestnut streets was made the depository of the pennies and dimes of the Catholic servant girls of Philadelphia.
These in the aggregate amounted to a large sum of money. Bishop Wood was looked upon as the protector of the honor of the institution, but the physical protector was an old watchman, who every Sunday morning went to early Mass in St. John’s Church, on Thirteenth street below Market—the church that was the archiepiscopal residence of the Philadelphia Catholic diocese prior to the building of the Cathedral on Eighteenth street—and while he was away, there was no one left in the fragile structure to guard the pennies and the dimes of the good Irish servant girls; the pennies and the dimes that they were accumulating to bring the old folks from Ireland to the Land of the Free; the pennies and the dimes that they were hoarding not with a miser’s care, but with a thought that in their old age they might not, through the protecting care of money, go to the Poor House. In charge of this money, and in charge of these thoughts and sentiments, was the decrepit watchman, who on Sunday morning thought alone of his religious duty.
Thieves, regardless of the old man’s religious duty, and regardless of the heart throbbings they might cause, went into the easily-broken savings fund at Twelfth and Chestnut streets, while the old man was on his knees in the nearby church, and with the expedition born of practice purloined of the treasures accumulated in the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund the enormous sum of $1,250,000. In that enterprise they had the assistance of some of the so-called police officials of the city of Philadelphia.
That is no idle statement. They were aided by the men employed by the city to defend its people and its property. Again let it be said that he who tells you this is not repeating idle gossip. He can give you the name of every man concerned in the crime.
Well, of course, there was a hullabaloo. The so-called detectives of those days knew who had taken part in the robbery, but expected to participate in the proceeds. It was necessary, however, in order to allay popular excitement that a prisoner should be found on whom the crime could be temporarily fastened. The game was old then, and it is sometimes practiced now. It consists in having a well known thief brought before the magistrate at the Central Station, held for a hearing on suspicion and then, when popular excitement has died out, to have him quietly discharged. Then the story is ended.
At the time referred to, the most prominent robber, not only in this community, but possibly in this country, was one James Hope, a Philadelphian born and bred, of whom more entertaining matter could be written than ever Jack Sheppard’s episodes graced a book with. The morning of the robbery at Twelfth and Chestnut streets Hope was on his way in a sleeper of a fast train from Pittsburg, occupying a palatial birth, as he was afterwards able to prove by the Pullman porter to whom he had given a tip.
He reached Philadelphia after the robbery had been committed, and knew nothing of it, and went directly to his home in the western part of the town. He remained with his wife and children and retired to his bed early, having no knowledge of what had happened to the pennies and dimes of the poor folks who had left their money at Twelfth and Chestnut streets. It was Sunday, mind you, and no afternoon newspapers published.
About 10 o’clock in the evening there was a ring at the door bell at his house. His wife answered it, and, returning to his bedside, said rather angrily: “There’s a woman down there who wants to see you. I do not see why she comes for you at this hour.” Hope, not fully dressed, went to the door and found there a woman whose story he knew.
A word as to the woman. She was highly educated, of refined appearance, of lady-like demeanor. She could move along Chestnut street without exciting the suspicion of anyone that she was not of high social rank. She was devoted to a man, himself well educated and of fine appearance, but a bank robber. She knew he was a robber. She lived quietly in a well appointed house in the northwestern portion of the city, and her neighbors believed that her husband was a traveling salesman. She lived among nice people; honest people. She asked only of her husband—for, mind you, she was married to the man—that he should be true to her. She believed that he was. She had discovered that he was not.
The Sunday of the robbery at Twelfth and Chestnut streets he had returned home with a small trunk, in which were contained the $1,250,000 stolen from the Irish servant girls, had quickly put it under her bed, had told her of the robbery in hurried tones and then fled, saying she would not see him until the storm had blown over. She said not a word. The man left. She meditated revenge. She knew the man had been false to her. She would not betray him into the hands of the police, but she was determined that he and his confederates should not profit by the robbery.
She went to Hope’s house, called him out, brought him to her house, showed him the treasure and told him the story, and asked him to take the money. When James Hope heard this tale, it was the first knowledge he had of the robbery. But he knew at once that he would be arrested in the morning, because the Philadelphia detectives—the so-called detectives—would apprehend him in order to protect themselves.
He said to the woman, “Leave that trunk under your bed and don’t speak a word to a soul about it. You will hear from me again.” Then he returned to his home and allayed the jealousies of his wife. The next morning Jimmy Hope was arrested, charged with the robbery of the Catholic Beneficial Savings Fund. The detectives on the witness stand stated that they expected testimony to prove his guilt, and asked that he be held for a further hearing. This was done; the old story. Without bail being given he was sent down to Moyamensing Prison. Among the solicitors of the Savings Fund was the late Lewis C. Cassidy. Mr. Cassidy knew Hope, and visited him.
To the greatest criminal lawyer of our generation Hope said, “I had nothing to do with this robbery. I know who committed it. I know where the stolen property is. I can restore it to you if you promise me that those engaged in the robbery will not be prosecuted.” To this Mr. Cassidy—so Hope told the narrator—said, “Jimmy, I always believe what you tell me, but what do you want out of this?” To this the robber replied, “I don’t want any money, because no matter what I have done regarding banks I have never yet got to a condition of robbing servant girls and orphans. I’ll leave that to my friend Jay Gould. However, if you can give me a promise that the men engaged in this shall not be arrested and I restore this money and these securities to you, I think I would be entitled to a suit of clothes, and it need not cost more than thirty-five dollars.” There are grades even among criminals.
Hope returned $1,250,000 of property and received a thirty-five dollar suit in return.
Megargee may allowed Hope too much credulity in the Beneficial Savings robbery, but there is little doubt that Hope was in the midst of a bank-robbing storm at the time. A little more than two months after the Beneficial Savings robbery, New York’s Ocean Bank was robbed and showed the same handiwork in its execution. This time, the robbers offered a return of only part of the booty–the numbered bonds they would have difficulty exchanging.
After another two months, two attempted bank robberies were frustrated by miscalculated explosive charges. One was in September, at the Rochester (New Hampshire) Savings Bank; and the second was in October at the Townsend (Massachusetts) Bank. In both cases, explosions woke the town, but did not breach the inner vault door. The same thing happened a third time, in December 1869, when the vault of the Lumberman’s Bank in Oldtown, Maine, was dynamited. This time, the outer door of the vault lodged itself to block the inner door, once again stymieing the thieves. They escaped via a railroad handcar–a device used by many different gangs when entering and leaving small towns.
In May, 1870, the Lime Rock bank was robbed, and noted thief Langdon Moore was captured and prosecuted. Several years later, Jimmy Hope would also face arrest for being involved in this crime–but Langdon Moore later wrote an account admitting his gang did that job, and portrayed Hope as the leader of a competing gang. Hope would eventually be cleared of having any hand in this robbery.
Instead, Hope was busy planning the August 1870 robbery of the Philadelphia US Navy Yard paymaster’s office along with Ned Lyons and John A. Hughes. They were interrupted just as they had moved the safe into position to pry it open. Jimmy Hope and Hughes escaped, but sentries stopped and held Lyons at gunpoint. Lyons was arraigned and allowed out on bail, which he wasted no time in jumping.Capture
Lyons headed north from Philadelphia and in early September, 1870, met Hope and Hughes in Perry, Wyoming County, New York. They had already scouted Smith’s Bank as a target. While the robbery was underway, Hope and Hughes were arrested. Hope was tried and convicted under the name James A. Watson, and sentenced to Auburn prison.
While Hope was behind bars in Auburn, the Kensington National Bank of Philadelphia was robbed by an ingenious plan in which two of the thieves impersonated police officers to gain the trust of bank clerks. Hope is often mentioned in connection with this robbery, although he could only have participated in the early planning stages.
The remainder of Hope’s known career is outlined by Byrnes, including a mention that Hope was implicated in the Wellsboro bank robbery of 1874. Once again, Philadelphia newsman Louis Megargee had Jimmy Hope’s own account of that misadventure:
In this quaint little old “Sleepy Hollow” there had been for many years prior to 1877 a banking establishment known as the “Wellsboro Bank.” Through it the financial affairs of the little community and its surroundings were conducted. Its management represented the combined ability of two generations. The president was the father of the cashier, and with perhaps one clerk, represented the entire working force of the institution. The two officers lived in the building of which one portion was occupied as the bank. The family occupying the residence portion of the Wellsboro Bank Building consisted of the president and his wife, a very pleasant and intelligent old lady, and the son referred to, with perhaps one other member of the family.
In the spring of 1877, or thereabouts, when the frost was emerging from the ground and made the roads soft and muddy, one evening a vehicle to which two horses were attached, containing five men, drove quietly under the wagon shed of the church opposite the bank mansion, and in a half hour thereafter the various inmates of the house were aroused and beheld themselves surrounded by four masked strangers, who held in their hands pistols apparently loaded, and commanded them to utter no sound, but to implicitly obey the 1nstructions given them.
Chairs were placed together back to back and the members of the household were securely bound and gagged; then he who appeared to be the leader of the intruders, at the point of the pistol, demanded that the old gray-haired president should descend with them to the banking room below and open the safe which contained the treasure, or there furnish one of their number with the combination of the lock, promising that if this demand were complied with no other harm should befall him save the loss to the bank of the valuables contained in its vaults; but if the demand met with refusal, then the life of the president should be the penalty.
The conscientious and heroic old gentleman, in the dignity and fidelity to his trust, which he regarded as sacred and who believed the faithful discharge of his duty was of more consequence than the preservation of his life, refused positively to do anything which should enable them to obtain possession of the treasure which he was entrusted to guard. The twist of the rope and the tightening of the gag caused the poor old man to cry out involuntarily with physical pain. His aged wife and his son were filled with sympathy for his sufferings. The son made a sign to the man holding especial guard over him to remove for an instant the gag from his mouth.
When this was done the son said: “I am not going to sit here quietly and see my father murdered, but to save his life and that of my mother I will go with you to the banking room and do what you demand.” The leader dropped the point of his pistol, all this time leveled at the old gentleman’s head, and loosened in a measure the cords and the gag. At the request of the son, who gave his assurance that he would not cry out or speak, the gag was removed from the mouth of the old lady. As the leader stooped down and leaned over to remove it she said, with her eyes fixed upon her son (evidently referring to the fact that he was about to leave her sight in the company of the armed men about him), in an undertone and pleadingly, “For heaven’s sake, don’t hurt him!” The leader stooped lower, kissed her upon the cheek, and said, “Poor, dear old mother, don’t be alarmed; we are thieves, not murderers!” and the old lady felt trickling upon her cheek the tears from beneath the mask of the apparent assassin, who but a moment before held his weapon at the head of her husband.
The son accompanied the robbers to the bank below; the safe was opened and $275,000 in money and valuable securities taken therefrom. The cashier, who was escorted back to the room where the other members of his family were, was re-seated as before in the chair, again subjected to the discomfort of the gag, as was the old lady, to whom an apology was made for the necessity, and then, with a few words of warning and the assurance that they had confederates outside of the building who would remain and enter upon the slightest outcry or noise, the masked men departed. Hastening with their booty across to the wagon under the church shed, they were soon driving as fast as the heavy condition of the roads and of the load drawn by their horses would permit them to Elmira.
For an hour or more the miserable and frightened occupants of the house sat enduring their tortures without daring to move lest they should induce the return of their dread assailants. At length the son, after repeated struggles, succeeded in disengaging his hands from the cords and proceeded to loosen those which bound the others and to remove the gags; and quietly stealing his way down the stairs and traversing the rear of the building, he peered out at the faintly-glimmering dawn which was just approaching. Seeing no human form and hearing no voice or tread, he speedily made his way to the home of his nearest neighbor. Within an incredibly short space of time the little town was alive with excitement, the people running hither and thither, men hurriedly harnessing their horses and preparing to follow in pursuit of the fleeing thieves. As the day broke more brightly an examination of the ground about the shed leading to and from it, disclosed an impression in the soft road which furnished a sure track over the route and to the destination of the robbers.
In all that country where men live in the saddle or in vehicles of some sort, and where horses are the most prevalent possession of all, and naturally, for this reason, where thoroughly well-informed horsemen abound, no one had ever seen a “bar shoe” nor heard of the existence of such an article of horse wear. In describing it thereafter (ignorant even of its designation) they referred to it as the “circular shoe;” but there in the track of the road with the toe pointing directly toward the distant city of Elmira, was the plainly discernible impression of the strange and unknown shoe.
The Sheriff, with a hastily summoned posse and a dozen vehicles drawn by horses fleet of foot, started off at top speed in pursuit of the team, thus so unconsciously to those it contained leaving the traces of the direction it traversed in its path. The fresh and speedy horses of the pursuers soon lessened the distance between them and the objects of their chase, and at length, as they entered Elmira, from the hilltop behind them, they were in full view of the Sheriff and his posse. The robbers had been conscious for some little time that they were pursued, or, at least, they believed such to be the fact, and descried the rapid paces of the pursuing force almost as soon as they themselves were discovered. Pushing and urging their jaded horses on, they reached by a short cut down a side street the livery stable from which they had been procured the evening previously.
A sudden turn of the vehicle which contained the robbers hid it from the sight of the pursuing party and baffled them for a moment; they took for a short distance an opposite direction, but soon discovered their error. The thieves, immediately upon reaching the stable, jumped from the vehicle and, separating, sought safety by flight in contrary directions. The officers of the law raised a hue and cry, and a hundred of the citizens of Elmira joined in a promiscuous chase after the thieves. At length they were close upon the heels of one of them, who, jumping into the buggy of some one evidently waiting for him, himself took the reins from the hands of the man who was holding them and whipping up the horse started at breakneck speed in the direction of the adjoining town of Waverly.
Then commenced a most exciting chase. The Sheriff and his deputy, in a buggy and with a fleet horse, continued the pursuit. The horses were whipped to a gallop, then to a dead run, and thus pursuer and pursued reached the town of Waverly, where the vehicle was abandoned by the flying thief, a dash through the streets made, and an asylum found where, until the next day, he succeeded in evading capture. One other of the fugitives was run down in the streets of Elmira by the hallooing crowd.
The leader at times running and apparently unobserved; at other times rapidly walking, turning up one street and down another, striving to make his way to the outskirts of the city and beginning to feel assured that he would succeed, when suddenly turning, and coming to the crossing of a street within half a block from him, he heard and saw the excited crowd eager for his capture. Walking indifferently across to the opposite side, when the corner of a house for an instant obscured him from his pursuers, he darted with the nimbleness of a deer and before the crowd following had turned the corner, he had entered at the doorway of an humble house which he found to be open.
Walking directly through the hallway and back into the kitchen, he there saw an old Irish woman engaged in ironing the family linen. The house was evidently the home of some prosperous mechanic or foreman in one of the numerous shops abounding in that region. Instantly entering into conversation with the old woman, offering her his hand as if well acquainted with her, which she in her surprise accepted and shook, he rapidly put a series of questions which were inquiries as to whether she remembered him? If she was sure she had forgotten him? Could not she, after steadily looking at him, recall him? Didn’t she remember the family who lived three doors from her twenty years before, and thus piecemeal consuming a half hour’s time and extracting from the old woman the information that a family of neighbors named Maguire had moved to Binghamton some twenty years ago; that they had a son named James, who might be, if he were alive, about the age of her visitor, but whom she assured him was a wayward, wandering boy and she didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. Whereupon the visitor assured her that he was the missing and the wandering James; the old woman immediately commenced a volume of inquiries as to the members of his family.
Desiring to evade this questioning, which might lead to unpleasant consequences, the intruder asked for a glass of water. The old lady took a pitcher from the sideboard near by and was starting apparently to draw some water from the hydrant in the yard, but politely and quickly arising from his chair, he took the pitcher from the old lady’s hand–said he could not think of permitting her to wait upon him—that he himself would go to the hydrant. Passing out from the door into the yard he saw a gateway, and upon opening it found that it led through a long alleyway into an adjoining street. A half hour before he had heard the voices of the pursuers dying away in an opposite direction.
Setting the pitcher down upon the pavement he quickly passed through the alleyway, thence into the street, and leisurely continued his walk toward the outskirts of the city. Evading as much as possible all observation and thus wandering about during the entire day through the deserted portion of the town, he directed his steps in the early evening toward some sheds which previously he had noticed from a distance, and which proved to be tool houses of workmen engaged in the construction of a railway extension in the vicinity.
Easily forcing his way into one of these shanties, he fortunately found a pair of soiled and filthy overalls, an old jacket, ragged and equally filthy, a cap without a face, which had been thrown aside, and taking off his own coat and outer clothing, begriming his face and his hands with soot and dirt, matting and tangling his hair and likewise plentifully rubbing into it the unattractive mixture which disfigured his features, he put on the overalls, the jacket, and the cap, fastening the jacket up closely about his neck, and luckily finding inside its pocket the broken-stemmed remnant of an old black “dudeen.” He gathered up the clothing which he had just discarded and taking up a shovel from the tool house cautiously sought the shelter of a large tree in the vicinity, at the foot of which he dug a hole and buried the clothing. His own boots needed no changing—his tramp through the mud and mire had soiled them sufficiently. Taking his penknife he slashed them to correspond with the dilapidation of his other garments.
He had eaten nothing all day, so he wandered on his way, hunting for some cheap place to which workmen would naturally resort, but sufficiently remote from the shanty he had lately visited to insure against the probability of encountering any one who might possibly recognize some of his newly-appropriated garments. After a time he found such a place where he deemed himself safe. His principal desire seemed to be to put himself in a situation to repel the advances of any who might otherwise be disposed to come near, and he added to the repulsiveness of his appearance an element of supreme unattractiveness.
He reveled in a meal of raw onions and ate them most plentifully, washing them down with occasional drafts more or less copiously of the “shebeen shop” gin. Then procuring a paper of tobacco, the offence of which smelled to heaven as rank as that of the King in Hamlet, he loaded his “dudeen,” lighted it with a paper from the stove, and started for the railway station in the heart of Elmira.
In the course of a little while he reached there. The station was filled with Sheriffs, detectives, and officers of the law in search of him. He became to them an incessant source of annoyance, and three times did the chief of police take the apparently drunken laborer by the arm and put him off the station platform. At length a New York bound train came along. Straggling up to the steps of the smoking car he, in a seemingly intoxicated way, tried to get aboard. His feet slipped, and it looked as if he were about to fall between the cars, but the officers of the law again protected him, addressing him with expletive adornments and asking him if he wanted to “break his infernal neck,” an inquiry to which he responded in a most unintelligible way.
They took him by the arm and helped him to a seat in the smoking car, where he almost instantly seemed to fall into a deep and drunken slumber, and thus the leader of the midnight robbers, who in a moment of chivalrous feeling had watered the cheeks of the old lady with his tears, bound his way far from the vicinity of his crime to a place of safety.
In subsequent experiences he was not quite so fortunate. Justice may be baffled for a time, but she will overtake the guilty sooner or later.
A few months thereafter, in the city of Pittsburg, a professional criminal named George Mason was arrested on suspicion of being the wily leader of the Wellsboro robbery. The identification of him by the various witnesses seemed to be thorough and reliable. The circumstances pointed to him with what seemed to be great precision. He was taken from the place of his arrest and lodged in the jail of the town of Wellsboro.
In the meanwhile the cashier of the bank (the son, who to save his parents had opened its vaults on the memorable night) met with a sudden and accidental death. The other members of the family visited the arrested person in the jail at Wellsboro; indeed, the dear old lady was kindly and motherly in her constant attention to him while he was in prison. She visited him frequently, talked with him, advised him as to his future welfare, spoke to him not only as to the consequences a criminal career would bring in this world, but urged him to reform his life and repent of the sins he had committed in order that he might insure the salvation of his soul in the world to come.
She supplied him with delicacies from her own table; indeed, with her own hands, purposely made them up for him. She gave him books, newspapers, and did all that was possible to deprive prison life of its pangs and discomforts, yet she protested with a positiveness which no argument could shake, which no reasoning could induce her to abandon, that he was the leader of the band of robbers upon that autumn night; and that his lips touched her forehead, and his tears fell upon her cheek; that he was the only one who had spoken a word among them all, and that the sound of his voice still rung in her ears; not a tone of it had left her memory, and by that very voice alone she was assured of the certainty of her identification.
Matters wore a gloomy look indeed for the prisoner; clouds gathered around upon every side; he looked forward with almost a certainty of passing a greater and better part of his days in a convict’s cell.
The leader of the band, however, in a distant city—who did not know him—heard of the situation of the man whom he knew to be innocent. He appreciated the force of the circumstances which seemed pointing to an inevitable fate unjust and most undeserved. With two or three companions, daring and reliable, he again sought the neighborhood, where, if his presence were known, punishment would surely befall him.
A little beyond the limits of the town of Corning and upon the line of the short lateral road running to Wellsboro these adventurers broke open one of the car shops of the railway company, and taking therefrom a laborer’s hand-car, propelled themselves for thirty miles along the track to the town of Wellsboro. Turning the car off the tramway, secreting it behind a woodpile, they made their way to the jail.
Arranging a dynamite cartridge without its walls and with one low whistle as a signal, an explosion occurred, which once again, in a few moments, suddenly called the excited inhabitants of the town in the most picturesque kind of night apparel into the streets, fearing they knew not what and apprehending anything which was more terrible than everything else had been before. The part of the jail sought for destruction was an unused and remote portion, but the prisoner having had accorded to him entire jail liberty could well reach it at any hour of the day or night.
The noise, of course, startled and aroused hastily those within the prison, who rushed to the point where the noise indicated the explosion had taken place. The prisoner himself had been apparently not startled, for he was found in that vicinity full dressed and with a candle in his hand. He explained that he had been sitting up late reading and ran to discover the cause of the explosion, believing at first it was occasioned by the bursting of the boiler.
As soon as the explosion occurred, those who were its cause swiftly found their way to the place where their car was concealed, and with all the muscular force that could contribute to their speedy exit from Wellsboro and its surroundings, they fled. It was suspected for some time that the prisoner not only knew of the attempt upon the jail, but that he was in collusion with those who had caused it, for the purpose of enabling him to make his escape.
These suspicions, however, gradually died away, and in a short time his trial took place. The circumstantial evidence against him was constantly suggestive of his guilt. The old lady, with tears streaming down her face, reasserted her belief in his identity as the leader of the masked men upon the night of the robbery. He was, however, enabled to present the most conclusive and irrefutable proof of his innocence, and after a trial which lasted for nearly two weeks, the door of the Wellsboro prison opened for him and he walked forth a free man.
Indicative of the inexplicable reaction and change which at times take place in the dispositions and feelings of people, the next morning a large proportion of the population of the town, men, women, and children, followed and escorted George Mason to the railroad depot. He was the lion of the hour, and he departed not only amid cheers from the assembled populace, but was escorted by a large representative body as an apparent guard of honor on his journey as far as Corning. He afterwards found a temporary haven in Portsmouth jail.
Who was the leader of the robber band? James Hope, born in Philadelphia. Did the Wellsboro Bank get back the stolen money? No.


Following his imprisonment in San Quentin, Jimmy Hope returned east and lived out the rest of his years in New York City and on a farm property in Connecticut. He died in 1905.

#201 Thomas McCormack

Thomas Joseph McCormick (1844-1897), aka Tom McCormack — Bank Robber

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-three years old in 1883. Born in United States. Married. Machinist. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Hair black, turning gray ; dark gray eyes, very dark complexion. Looks like a Spaniard. Generally wears a full black whisker and mustache. Dresses well, and is a great wine drinker.

RECORD. Thomas McCormack has had a checkered career and is a desperate man. He was associated from time to time with all the first-class bank burglars, and was implicated in many important bank robberies. Several years ago he shot and killed Big John Casey, another burglar, over a quarrel on the division of the moneys stolen from the Kensington Savings Bank in Philadelphia, which they and others had robbed on February 4, 1871, of a large amount of money. The bank referred to was robbed by McCormack, Casey, Dobbs, Brady, Burns, alias Combo, and three others. One of them during the day went to the president and represented having been sent by the Chief of Police to tell him that information had been received that either that night or the one following the bank was to be robbed. That he must not impart this information to any one, but that the Chief would send three or four policemen in uniform that afternoon, who were to be locked in the bank, and that the president could leave a porter with them. This programme was followed out, and two watchmen were left. When night set in they sent one of the watchmen out for beer, and during his absence bound and gagged the other and tied him up in a back room. On the return of the other they served him the same way, and then proceeded to rob the bank. They secured between $80,000 and $100,000.

McCormack was arrested in New Haven, Conn., by Marshal Hamilton, on Sunday evening, December 9, 1882, for breaking open and robbing a safe in Walpole, N. H., on the night of December 8, 1882. When arrested in New Haven he gave the name James Crandell. He was taken to Keene, N. H., on December 21, 1882, and upon an examination he was committed to await the action of the Grand Jury. He was indicted on April 1, 1883. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in State prison on April 12, 1883. Sam Perris, alias Worcester Sam, was with McCormack in this robbery, but escaped after a desperate fight with the officers, who only succeeded in holding McCormack.

Chief Byrnes made at least one mistake in introducing the record of Tom McCormick, i.e. the notion that McCormick shot “Big John” Casey during a dispute over the spoils of the robbery of the Kensington Savings Bank of Philadelphia that took place in February, 1871. The fatal shots exchanged by McCormick and Casey actually took place in New York in August, 1870, six months prior to the Kensington Bank robbery.

In this instance and in other places in the text of Professional Criminals of America, Byrnes confuses facts of two separate Philadelphia bank robberies: the April 6, 1869 robbery of the Beneficial Savings Fund Bank; and the February, 1871 robbery of the Kensington Savings Bank. The perpetrators of both robberies were never conclusively identified, but most sources agree that a core group of men were behind both robberies: Frank McCoy, Jimmy Hope, and Joe Howard aka Joseph Killoran. [Though Hope’s name was often invoked in regard to these two jobs, he was lodged in Auburn prison when the Kensington robbery occurred; and–according to columnist Louis Megargee–denied involvement in the Beneficial Savings job, though he helped to recover the money. See #20 James Hope entry.]

Beyond those names, a plethora of other criminals have been cited as involved with one or the other of these crimes: Albany Jim Brady, John Kerrigan aka Johnny Dobbs; “Worcester Sam” Perris, John “Clutch” Donohue, Ike Marsh, Thomas Burns, Big John Casey, Curly Harris, Tom McCormick and John “Brockie George” Adams.

So while it is possible that McCormick and Casey argued over their shares of the Beneficial Savings robbery, the New York Herald suspected a more traditional explanation:

gunfight

The woman, if there truly was one behind the dispute, might have been Louisa Farley, who was said to be involved with McCormick at around this time.

McCormick was born in Troy, New York in 1844, and went to school to learn the trade of machinist. He became a skilled professional, which brought him to the attention of criminals who required his skills to penetrate vaults.

There is abundant evidence that McCormick was often involved in bank robberies with the most skilled thieves of that era. When McCormick shot John Casey, he was accompanied by veteran robbers Joe Howard (aka Joseph Killoran) and Henry Kelly (aka Charles Gleason.) In November, 1873, McCormick joined Frank McCoy, Jimmy Hope, Jim Brady, and George Bliss in an attempt to rob the First National Bank of Wilmington by holding the bank’s cashier hostage. They were captured before the attempt was made, and quickly tried and found guilty. They were sent to prison, but also suffered a public whipping as part of their sentence. Several of the gang, including McCormick, were able to escape.

In 1882, McCormick was arrested as one of the robbers of a Walpole, New Hampshire store safe. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to eight years at the New Hampshire State Prison.

Upon his release in the late 1880s, McCormick resolved to give up crime. However, trouble still found him; in 1890 he was accused of stabbing a thief/pickpocket named Alonzo Henn, aka Dutch Alonzo, on the street in front of his brother’s saloon. McCormick was reported to have opened his own saloon in the 1890s, as well as playing the horses and bookmaking, and was said to generously give money away as quickly as he earned it. His obituary reported that he dissuaded many young men from a life of crime. He died a poor man in 1897–but a reformed one.