#78 Andrew McGuire

Alias Fairy McGuire (Abt. 1838-????), aka Ferris McGuire/Maguire, Eddie Watson, Andrew Connors, Edwin/Edward McGuire/Maguire — Burglar

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Slim build. Married. Cigar-maker. Height, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Weight, 120 pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, bald head. Generally wears a full reddish-brown beard and mustache.

RECORD. “Fairy” McGuire is probably one of the most daring and desperate thieves in America, and is well known in almost all the large cities. He served a fifteen years’ sentence in Bangor, Maine, for highway robbery; also a term in Clinton prison, New York State, for burglary.

He was arrested in New York City on March 6, 1881, in front of No. 53 Nassau Street, occupied by L. Durr & Bro., assayers and refiners of gold and silver. An officer discovered the burglars at work in the store, and while looking in the window was approached by McGuire, who commenced talking loudly, thereby giving the men on the inside a chance to escape. McGuire was arrested, and upon the premises being examined it was found that three safes were partly torn open; they also found a full set of burglars’ tools. As no connection could be made with McGuire and the people on the inside, he had to be discharged.

He was arrested again in New York City on March 17, 1881, and delivered to the Brooklyn police authorities, charged with robbing Miss Elizabeth Roberts, of Second Place, in that city. Four men entered the basement door of the house, bound the servant and tied her to a chair; then went upstairs, bound and gagged Miss Roberts, and took $3,000 in Cairo City Water bonds, numbered respectively 52, 71 and 72, also about $500 worth of jewelry. Although there was no doubt that McGuire was one of the four men engaged in this robbery, he was discharged, as the parties could not identify him, on account of being disguised on the day of the robbery.

He was arrested again in Newark, N.J., on July 5, 1881, charged with “blowing” open the safe in James Traphagen’s jewelry store on Broad Street, that city. When the officers pursued McGuire, he turned and fired several shots at them. A party giving the name of George Williams, alias Dempsey, was arrested also. McGuire was tried and convicted on three indictments on October 18, 1881, one for burglary and two for felonious assault. He was sentenced to ten years in Trenton prison on each indictment, making thirty years in all, on October 19, 1881. Williams was sentenced to two years for burglary the same day. McGuire’s picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1881.

Fairy McGuire was only arrested a handful of times, but the nature of his crimes combined with appearances before hard-nosed judges put him behind bars for over thirty years.

    Fairy McGuire, 1881 and 1897.


McGuire was sent to Sing Sing in the early 1860s for four and a half years, though the circumstances of his conviction aren’t known. In prison he met a veteran burglar named David Bartlett, with whom he would later collaborate.

In January 1866, McGuire participated in the robbery of an Adams Express car on the New Haven Railroad, getting away with over a half a million dollars–a crime many recognize as the first train robbery in America. The other gang members included Gilly McGloin, Martin Allen, Jimmy Wells, and John Grady. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, and within six months had tracked down all the gang members.

However, Fairy McGuire was not captured until after committing another robbery in Maine of the Bowdoinham Bank, in June 1866. This robbery represented another first: the first one committed by masked bandits, and the first where the bandits called each other by number. The other gang members were the aforementioned David Bartlett, George Miles White (aka George Bliss), and Owen “Rory” Simms.

When McGuire was captured in New York in October 1866, he was handed over to Maine officials for prosecution–a misfortune for him, since Maine sentencing laws were much harsher than those he would have faced if handed over to Connecticut. He was sentenced to twenty years in the Maine State Prison and released after fifteen.

Fairy (named for his high-pitched, squeaky voice) wasted little time getting into trouble again; Inspector Byrnes gives a good summary of his 1881 missteps, which culminated with his conviction in New Jersey, and the hard sentence of thirty years.

McGuire appealed the extreme term, and eventually he was released after serving fourteen and a half years in Trenton.

McGuire was arrested twice in 1897, both times on suspicion that he was about to commit a burglary. He appears to have escaped more prison time, but perhaps these scare finally discouraged him. Nothing more is known about his fate after 1897 when he was fifty-nine.



#55 Stephen Raymond

Stephen George Francis Rayment (1835-1909), aka Stephen Raymond, Stephen Handsworth, Frank Stewart, George Morgan, Charles Seymour, Robert Maguire — Forger, Pickpocket

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Fifty-four years old in 1886. Born in England. Stout build. Married. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 180 pounds. Has considerable English accent when talking. Gray mixed hair, blue eyes, dark complexion. Mole on the upper lip, right side. The right eye is glass.

RECORD. Steve Raymond has a remarkable history as a forger and negotiator of forged bonds and securities. He had only left Sing Sing prison, where he had been confined for forgery, a few months, when he was arrested in London, England, on January 8, 1874, charged with being implicated in the great Buffalo, Erie and New York Railroad bond forgeries. Over $400,000 of fraudulent bonds of these railroads were sold in New York City, and an equal amount in other places, before their genuineness was doubted. They were so cleverly executed that one of the railroad companies accepted $40,000 of them without suspicion. These forgeries were the largest that were ever committed and successfully carried out in this or any other country. The capital to carry this scheme was said to have been furnished by Andrew L. Roberts and Valentine Gleason. Raymond’s share was $40,000 cash, the larger part of which was stolen from him before he left for Europe in July, 1873. Raymond was taken before Justice Henry, a London magistrate, and remanded for extradition on January 16, 1874, and was shortly after brought back to America.

While awaiting trial in the Tombs prison in New York, with his confederates, Walter Sheridan, alias Ralston (8), Charles Williamson, alias Perrine (202), Andy Roberts and Valentine Gleason, Raymond was taken to Elmira, N.Y., on habeas corpus proceedings, to be examined as a witness in some case, and while there he succeeded in making his escape from the Sheriff. He was arrested some time afterwards and committed to the Eastern Penitentiary on Cherry Hill, Philadelphia, for fifteen months, under the name of Frank Stewart, for a petty pocketbook swindle, which he carried on through the newspapers, and remained there without recognition until a short time before his release, when the fact became known to the New York authorities, who arrested him at the prison on January 27, 1877 (just two years after he had left the Tombs for Elmira), and brought him back to New York.

Raymond was convicted of forgery in the third degree and sentenced to State prison for five years on March 20, 1877, and was discharged from there in October, 1880. The list of the forgeries he was implicated in is as follows : New York Central Railroad bonds, $250,000 ; Buffalo, New York and Erie bonds, $200,000 ; Western Union Telegraph Company bonds, $200,000 ; New Jersey Central Railroad bonds, $150,000. A total of $800,000.

Raymond was arrested again in New York City on July 3, 1882, charged with the larceny of a watch on a street car. He could not be identified as the party who stole it, but a bunch of keys was found upon his person and the magistrate construed these keys as being equivalent to burglars’ tools and committed him in $1,500 bail for trial. This was reduced to $500 by Judge Haight, of the Supreme Court, and Raymond was shortly after discharged.

Raymond was arrested again in New York City on September 1, 1883, charged with altering the numbers and cashing coupons of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, which had been stolen from the Northampton Bank in Massachusetts, in 1876. He presented at the office of the Union Pacific Railroad Company on September 1, 1883, twelve coupons and received a check for $480 in payment. When placed on the stand at the time of his trial, he said:

“I met a man named George Clark, with whom I had been acquainted for years, in a liquor store on Eighth Avenue, about two years ago; during the conversation he asked me if I would cash some coupons; I was promised a percentage of $50 on $480, the amount of interest; Clark said to me, ‘You can’t expect the coupons to be straight; they are cut from stolen bonds.’ I cashed several lots of coupons; I never suspected that the numbers of the coupons had been altered or I would not have had anything to do with them; I saw three detectives near the bank when I entered it, but they were looking in another direction. In my extensive experience with crooked bonds I never before heard of the numbers of the coupons being altered. If I had had plenty of money I would not have touched the coupons, but as my wife was sick I wanted money. When I came out of prison in 1880 I sold directories and afterwards gambled.”

Raymond was convicted of forgery (second offense) and sentenced to State prison for life on October 22, 1883. The law under which he was sentenced reads as follows : “If the subsequent crime is such that upon a first conviction the offender might be punished, in the discretion of the court, by imprisonment for life, he must be imprisoned for life.” The Court of Appeals of New York State confirmed Raymond’s sentence on April 29, 1884. Raymond’s picture is a good one, taken in 1882.

This forger was baptized as “Stephen George Francis Rayment,” but at an early age the family reverted to the spelling Raymond. He was first arrested at age 12 for stealing a tea kettle, and was sentenced to six days in jail. He was apprenticed in his father’s trade of type foundry, but later in life identified himself as a jeweler. One mention suggests he was a “Botany Bay convict,” i.e. had been sent from England to an Australian penal colony.


Raymond arrived in the United States in the late 1860s, having already married and divorced in England before 1862. In New York City, he was recruited by some unknown gang of Wall Street forgers to help them secure bonds from a bank messenger. He was caught stealing gold certificates from a messenger in October 1868 and sentenced the next February to four and a half years in Sing Sing under the name Stephen Handsworth.

In Sing Sing, Raymond became friends with Dr. Alvah Blaisdell, a New York whiskey distiller who had attempted to remove a zealous tax collector by paying witnesses to testify that the taxman took bribes. The “Whiskey Ring” plot was uncovered, sending Blaisdell to Sing Sing.

When Blaisdell was freed, he was anxious to recoup his losses via the shortcut of forged bonds, and joined with a gang of professionals to help him: Andy Roberts, Valentine Gleason, George Engels, George W. Wilkes, Walter Sheridan, Charles Perrin (Williamson), Spence Pettis…and Blaisdell’s jail pal, Stephen Raymond. The efforts of this impressive collection of men resulted in–as Byrnes states–the largest successful forgeries ever committed up to that time. It became known as the Roberts-Gleason gang.

Nearly all of Raymond’s share of the loot was stolen from him in a saloon by pickpockets Red Leary and Jim Hoey. Seeing other members of the Roberts-Gleason gang being arrested, Raymond fled to England in July 1873 along with “Mrs. Bowden” nee LaGrand, the mistress of Alvah Blaisdell. William A. Pinkerton tracked him down in England and had him arrested and extradited back to the United States. While awaiting trial, he was sent to Elmira in order to testify in a case, and managed to escape from an escorting sheriff.

Raymond adopted the alias “Frank Stewart” and made Philadelphia his base for a mail-fraud known as “the pocket-book swindle.” It was fairly simple–he placed ads in newspapers around the country announcing that the Union Pocket Book Company of Philadelphia would send a fine morocco pocket-book to all who remitted them the sum of one dollar, with the pocket book containing a coupon for a lottery drawing of $100,000. These ads were to be paid for after they were run (but never were). No pocket-books were ever sent out. Raymond was caught for this scam and sentenced to three years in the Eastern State Penitentiary.

In 1877, visiting detectives to the prison recognized Raymond and he was returned to face trial for the Roberts-Gleason gang forgeries. In March 1877, he was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing.

Raymond got out in 1882, and–as Byrnes notes–was harassed with a charge of carrying burglars’ tools, when all he had was a bunch of keys. However, in 1883, he tried to cash a check for coupons taken from stolen bonds–coupons given to him by other thieves who had altered the numbers. Whether Raymond was cognizant of the forgery or not, he was found guilty; moreover, a recently enacted law required anyone found guilty of forgery a second time was to be imprisoned for life.

It took nine years, but this injustice was resolved with a pardon from New York Governor Flower in 1892.

In his 1895 edition, Byrnes states that “Steve” Raymond was next heard from in 1895, when he ran a “panel room” operation against a man named Louis Oppenheimer.

By 1906, Raymond was over seventy years old and nearly blind, and was forced to take refuge in the New York Almshouse. He died in March 1909 at the New York City Home for the Aged, with his burial there funded by the Episcopal City Mission Society.





#76 Billy Forrester

Alexander McClymont (1838-1912), aka Billy Forrester,  Frank Livingston, Frank Howard, Conrad Foltz, etc. — Thief, Burglar

Link to Byrnes’s text for #76 Billy Forrester

The story of Billy Forrester’s career is filled with misinformation: false stories of his origins; crimes that he likely did not commit; aliases which he may or may have not used; how he escaped prisons; women he married; and when and how he came to an end. The worst mistake occurred when New York detectives (before Byrnes’s time) accepted the word of a convict-informer and started a manhunt for Forrester, believing him to be the murderer of financier Benjamin Nathan. For many years, Forrester found himself branded as a killer, despite the fact that he proved he was in the South at the time when the burglary at Nathan’s mansion occurred.

When Billy realized that he was about to be railroaded for murder in 1872, he explained his history to the New York Herald: his name was Alexander McClymont, he was born in Glasgow, and served for a long period in the U. S. Navy, starting as a messenger boy in 1852.  [As late as 1907 or 08, Forrester was still trying to get past pay due to him, and in fact thought he was was owed decades of pay, since he had never been formally discharged. Detective William Pinkerton tried to dissuade Billy of that claim, reminding Billy that he had deserted.]

In 1872, Allan Pinkerton gave the Chicago Tribune an account of Forrester’s history, most of which can be verified from 1868 on. Forrester himself had once indicated he had been in Joliet from 1863-1867, but if so, must have been under a different name:


For the act of interceding, “The.” Allen was dragged through court proceedings for six months.

Pinkerton’s account continues on, but skips over an embarrassing episode. From New York, Billy went to Boston, where he romanced a young girl, Elizabeth Dudley, the daughter of a respected liquor merchant from a venerable family, James Winthrop Dudley. They eloped and were married in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in October 1869. [Though there are hints he had been married to others earlier.] “Lizzie” Dudley later claimed she only knew Forrester to be a gambler, but it is more likely that both she and her father knew exactly how Forrester earned his living. Forrester was arrested in Boston in November 1869, discharged, and then rearrested by detectives who had learned about the requisition issued for his return to Illinois. In December, he was put on a train to New York, linked to a detective by a cord. They got off for a drink in New Haven, and Forrester managed to cut the cord and escaped.

Two months later, Forrester and a gang tried a bank robbery in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Before they could crack the safe, they were spotted and had to flee. Billy headed to Pittsburgh, where he was seen by a Pinkerton operative and captured. In March, 1870, he was taken first to Philadelphia to face charges for the Wilkes Barre robbery attempt; while being measured at the station house there, he fled, wearing nothing but his underwear.

In April, Billy and his bride Lizzie Dudley were reunited in Baltimore. The Baltimore police learned of his presence in the city, and the couple were forced to flee south, taking a ship to Key West, then to Havana, and finally to New Orleans, arriving in early June 1870. New Orleans police had already been warned to lookout for Forrester, and he was soon arrested in mid-June, 1870. However, no requisition was yet in hand from Illinois, and so he was released on a writ of habeas corpus.

Billy lived in New Orleans without further harassment for a couple of months, during which time he was seen by many people. Meanwhile, in New York City, financier Benjamin Nathan was killed in his home during a bungled burglary on July 28, 1870.

After a gap of activity in the late summer and fall of 1870, Billy returned to New Orleans in December to coordinate the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store, which took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. While Billy was enjoying the spoils from this job, his one-time partner in the failed Wilkes Barre bank robbery, George Ellis, informed police from his cell in Sing Sing that Billy was responsible for the Nathan murder. This kicked off a nationwide manhunt.

He was run to earth in Washington, D. C. in September 1872 and taken by train to New York. There he was interrogated, and proved his alibi to the grudging satisfaction of prosecutors. The Pinkertons and others had been hoping to collect a $50,000 reward for Nathan’s killer, but instead were forced to send Billy back to Joliet to serve out his term.

Billy was freed in January 1880 and drifted to Philadelphia, where he was frequently seen in the new high-end saloon run by the Brotherton brothers, who themselves had recently been released from San Quentin. In April 1881, Forrester was captured during a house burglary in Philadelphia, resulting in his trial, conviction, and sentencing to Eastern State Penitentiary for five years. His term ended there in November 1885.

Byrnes picks up Billy’s history in his 1895 edition:

Shortly after Forrester‘s release from the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. (in November, 1885), he was arrested at Richmond, Va., as Frank Renfrew, charged with breaking into the residence of one A. L. Lee. He was indicted for burglary and carrying burglars’ tools. While in jail awaiting trial he escaped, and the next heard from him was his arrest at Chester, Pa., in 1887, under the name of James Robinson, for safe breaking and shooting at a police officer.

He was convicted at Media, Pa., and sentenced to four years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa. He was released from there on March 20, 1891, re-arrested, taken to Richmond Va., where he plead guilty to having burglars’ tools in his possession, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary on April 9, 1891. Forrester’s time expired at Richmond, Va., on August 17, 1895.

It should be noted that while Billy was devoting time to prison in Philadelphia and Richmond between 1885 and 1895, another criminal who took the alias “Billy Forrester” was active in Denver, Butte, and Chicago. His specialty was safe-cracking.

After Billy got out of prison in Richmond in 1895, he was taken in Washington, D. C. and held to account for a robbery there. He was sentenced to ten years, to be served in Albany County Penitentiary in New York.

Gaining his freedom in 1902, Billy went to New York City and lived for awhile with an old friend, Dan Noble. Flat broke, he approached the Pinkerton Agency in New York and asked for a loan to tide him over until he gained employment. They offered him a small amount in cash, and tried to recruit him as an informer. He declined.

He was never heard from again, until 1909, when he went to Buffalo to meet William A. Pinkerton. Though he tried to press Pinkerton to support his claim to back pay from the Navy, in truth he seemed just pleased to talk to his old adversary.

Billy was then working as a facilities superintendent for “a major Catholic institution near Niagara Falls,” described as a large monastery. This almost certain refers to the Mount Carmel monastery in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Billy managed a staff of seven there, working from 1903 until his death in 1912.













#31 Louis R. Martin

Lewis R. Martin (Abt. 1827-1894), aka Luther R. Martin, L. R. Martin, Lew Martin — Counterfeiter, Forger

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Sixty-three years old in 1886. Born in United States. Horse dealer. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 3/4 inches. Weight, 164 pounds. Gray hair, eyes dark gray and weak, complexion light. Is a fine, gentlemanly-looking man.

RECORD. Martin was believed to be the capitalist of the Brockway gang of forgers and counterfeiters. He was well known by all the reputable horse and sporting men in this country, as a man of means engaged in the transportation of cattle between the United States, England and Australia.

He was indicted in the United States Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania in 1875, with an accomplice named Henry Moxie, alias Sweet, for passing counterfeit $500 notes. He was never tried. Previous to that time he had been known as an expert engraver and printer of counterfeits, under the name of Martin Luther. He made and owned the plate with which the $500 notes for which himself and Moxie were indicted were printed.

He has been connected in several large counterfeiting schemes with William E. Brockway (32), J. B. Doyle, Nathan B. Foster, English Moore, and others. He is well known by the United States officers as a counterfeiter.

Martin was arrested in New York City, on November 10, 1883, with Brockway (32) and Nathan B. Foster, charged with having in his possession forged $1,000 bonds of the Morris & Essex Railroad of New Jersey. At the time of his arrest, in the St. James Hotel, New York City, there was found in two valises in his room fifty-four $1,000 bonds of the above road, thirty-three of which had been numbered and signed ready for use. For this offense Martin was convicted, and sentenced to ten years in State prison, on August 6, 1884, by Judge Cowing, in the Court of General Sessions in New York City. His counsel obtained a stay of proceedings, and he was granted a new trial, and admitted to bail; while confined in the Tombs prison from some cause he became totally blind. His picture is an excellent one, taken in November, 1883.

There is no doubt that Lew Martin was a central partner in several counterfeiting schemes; less clear is whether he was ever an engraver himself, or always worked with others. Whatever the case, his crimes appear to have been episodic, and fueled by his real passion: horse breeding. Martin’s known crimes occurred far from his adopted home, San Francisco. As a counter to his profile in Professional Criminals of America, consider Lew Martin’s obituary in Breeder and Sportsman:


Martin’s patron, starting around 1870, was one of California’s greatest businessmen, Lucky Baldwin. Not only did Baldwin stand by his friend in his last decade as an invalid, Baldwin surely must have been aware of Lew’s counterfeiting crimes. [Was Lew Martin the “broker” of these rings? Or was it his rich mentor?] Martin must have also rubbed shoulders with Baldwin’s friend and horse-racing enthusiast, Wyatt Earp.

In the 1860s, prior to his move to California, Lew Martin was a well-known trotting horse breeder living in Brooklyn. In the late 1880s, the head of the United States Secret Service, Andrew L. Drummond, claimed that it was during the 1860s that Martin first started working with William E. Brockway.

Martin’s downfall was his 1883 arrest in New York with Brockway and Nathaniel B. Foster. The events surrounding this arrest are more fully described in two sources: 1) Allan Pinkerton’s Thirty Years a Detective (published in 1884), in the chapter “Counterfeiters;” and 2) A. L. Drummond’s True Detective Stories, in the chapter “A Wonderful Man Loses His Luck.” Brockway, Foster, and Martin likely would have been daunted to learn that the forces of the Pinkertons, the Secret Service, and Inspector Byrnes were all aligned against them.


#50 David Cummings

David Cronin (1847-????), aka Little Dave Cummings, J. H. Smith, James Hogan, Harry Smithson, etc. — Sneak thief

Link to Byrnes’s text for #50 David Cummings

Inspector Byrnes not only devoted several pages to Dave Cummings, he also presented information about Dave’s early career that had never been published before 1886, and relating crimes far from New York. Byrnes undoubtedly received most of this information from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been tracking Cummings long before he showed his face in New York City.

There is one egregious error in Byrnes’s entry on Cummings: the robbery of Scooler’s jewelry store in New Orleans took place on the night of Dec. 31, 1870-Jan. 1, 1871. This robbery continued to generate headlines for many months, for two different reasons. First, it was suspected that Billy Forrester was among the gang that did the job–and Forrester was the prime suspect in the murder of financier Benjamin Nathan in July of 1870. Secondly, at about 6:00AM on the morning of Jan 1., a fire broke out on one docked steamboat at New Orleans, which spread to four other ships, destroying them all. There were persistent rumors that the fire had been started by the gang to occupy the police while they made their getaway. However, it does not make a great deal of sense that this would be done hours after the heist was completed; or that the fire would get so out of control from one start point.

The Scooler’s robbery had another detail of interest: as reported by Byrnes, Cummings used the trick of fooling a watchman on street patrol by moving a dummy facade of a safe in front of a window, so that the burglars could work on the real safe without being seen. The same trick was later attributed to Mike Kurtz in an 1884 jewelry store robbery in Troy, New York.

Byrnes (or rather, the Pinkerton Agency) was likely correct that Cummings’ real last name was Cronin. Chicago newspapers indicated that Cummings had been there as a youth; and there is an 1860 Census entry for a “David Cronan” (a common variant spelling of Cronin) born in 1847, and no entries for any David Cummings living in Chicago that was close to the same age. Cummings had initials tattooed on his arm, “D. C.”

Cummings worked with many of the best bank thieves of his era. However, it is doubtful that any criminal of his generation could equal the year that Cummings had in 1881–Byrnes’s information from 1881 bears repeating:

  • In January, 1881, he was arrested at the Sinclair House, New York City, a porter having caught him coming out of the room of a son of United States Senator Pinchback’s, with a full outfit of tools and some valuables of the guests. He was committed, obtained bail, and again went into hiding. [Byrnes later suggested that Cummings was able to get out on bail after playing sick–he ate brick dust while in the Tombs, and spit it up, suggesting that he was coughing blood.]
  • His next appearance was at Philadelphia, where he formed a partnership with Walter Sheridan, Joe McClusky, and other noted bank sneaks. Their first robbery was that of a diamond broker on Chestnut Street, near Twelfth, where Cummings and Sheridan engaged the attention of the clerk, and McCluskey secured about $6,000 worth of diamonds.
  • In May, 1881, Sheridan, Dave, and Jack Duffy made a trip to Baltimore, where they ran across a traveling salesman of the jewelry house of Enos, Richardson & Co., of Maiden Lane, New York. They followed him to the Clarendon Hotel, where they watched till he went to dinner, entered his room and stole his entire stock, valued at $15,000. The chase becoming hot for Cummings, he finally returned the proceeds of the robbery, and received $2,500 for it.
  • He then started for the Pacific slope with Old Jimmy Hope and Big Tom Bigelow, and after looking about, these enterprising burglars concluded to rob Sauthers & Co.’s Bank, a Hebrew institution, where there was $600,000. They again put into operation their favorite tactics of securing a vacant room over the vault. They had tunneled through four layers of brick and several tiers of railroad iron, when the chief of detectives learned they were in the city. He took possession of several offices in the vicinity of the bank with his men, and about 10:30 p. m., on the night of June 27, 1881, he made a raid on them. He found Jimmy Hope at work. Cummings heard them coming and ran to the roof, crawled through the scuttle, and running over the tops of several buildings, finally descended through a vacant store, and was once more at large. Bigelow, who was supposed to have been working inside with Hope, in some manner escaped also.
  • Cummings left his trail at every hotel where he stopped, in Southern California, New Mexico, Denver, Col.; and at a small town, twenty miles from Denver, he robbed a well known Chicago liquor dealer, named Al. Arundel, of $1,400 in money, a $500 watch, and a $400 diamond stud.
  • He then paid a flying visit to Chicago, then to Saint Joseph, Mo., from there to St. Paul, then to Oshkosh, Wis. where he was arrested under the name of J. H. Smith, for robbing a Chicago salesman of his watch, diamond pin, and $200 in money, at the Tremont Hotel in that town. Dave pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in State prison there on September 14, 1881.

Cummings career following his release from the Wisconsin State Prison was much more dismal. He went to England, and with Rufe Minor started to plan hotel thefts. However, they were advised against targeting hotels, as security in England was tighter than in the United States. Cummings ignored that advice, and for his trouble was arrested and imprisoned for five years.

He returned to the United States and was arrested for possession of burglar’s tools in New York City in February 1891. He was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing under the name Patrick Robertson.

Cummings was released in September 1894. From that point, little is known of his fate. A 1905 item in the National Police Gazette implied that he was alive and had moved to the Pacific Coast.

In 1912, newspaper columnist Henry C. Terry devoted one of his “Parallel Stories of Famous Crimes” columns to the foiled 1872 Jersey City bank robbery attempt, in which Cummings escaped arrest. Terry’s approach is interesting: he first lets one of the criminals tell his story; then lets one of the police detectives give his view of events:






#18 Charles Becker

John Charles Becker (1849-1916), aka Charlie Becker, Charley Becker, Dutchman Becker — Forger

Link to Byrnes’s entry on Charles Becker

John Charles Becker was not born in Germany, as Byrnes suggests, but in New York to parents who had long before arrived from Germany. His father, Valentin Becker, met and married Maria Margaretha Blinn in New York in 1838. John Charles was the fourth child born to the pair, arriving in 1849. Around 1856-7, the Becker clan (now numbering five offspring) moved to Chicago, but by 1865–with two more additions–they moved back to Brooklyn.

In his teens, John Charles (known to friends as Charlie) learned the printing trade and the process of lithography. He came in contact with another German lithographer living in New York, Clemenz Haering. Haering also operated a saloon on Stanton Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1871, 21-year-old Charlie married Haering’s daughter, Anna C. Haering, then just 16 or 17 years old. Charlie was not a drinker–he avoided bad habits that might affect his penmanship–but he did enjoy rubbing shoulders with criminals. Charlie’s knowledge of printing, lithography, and bank forms made him a target for recruitment by these shady characters. Moreover, his father-in-law, Clemenz Haering, was not above engaging in a bit of forgery/counterfeiting.

In August 1872, Charlie joined with Joe Chapman, Joe Elliott (aka Frederick Elliott/Little Joe Reilly) and Carlo Sescovitch to rob the Third National Bank of Baltimore. They entered the bank at night and cracked open its vault, taking away cash, bonds, and blank bank forms, totaling between $200,000 and $300,000–an enormous sum for the period. Many of the bonds were registered bonds, which thieves usually ignored because their numbers can be traced. The theft of these bonds, along with the blank forms, indicated to detectives that the robbers had a forger among them that could use the forms and change the numbers on the bonds. Witnesses had seen men around the bank in the days before the robbery, and were able to give descriptions of them. From those descriptions, detectives thought they knew who to look for–but Chapman and the others could not be found anywhere.

There was no rational reason that Charlie Becker, with his unmatched handwriting and engraving skills, needed to be involved in the heist itself; like other “penman,” he could have stayed safely in a studio with his pens, brushes, and inks. But he seemed to enjoy the thrill of crime.

The four thieves had already left the country before police could make those identifications. However, they realized the danger of traveling with the stolen bonds. Before leaving on a steamer to Europe, the stack of bonds was left with Chapman’s wife, Lydia, who was unknown to authorities. She was under instructions to bring the bonds to England in a trunk once the waiting thieves sent her the signal.

One of the reasons that the series of events from 1872-1873 involving Becker, Chapman, Joe Elliott, Sescovitch, and Adam Worth is so compelling is that it involves so many classic crime story elements: a huge bank heist; partners who distrust one another; capture and imprisonment; treachery; a prison escape; kidnapping; romantic rivals; an unsolved murder; a theft of a classic artwork; a criminal mastermind…and baffled authorities.

One of those frustrated lawmen was Andrew Lewis Drummond, operative of the United States Secret Service, who was assigned the job of finding and stopping the Baltimore bank thieves–not so much for the sake of the stolen items themselves, but to prevent Becker from becoming the most dangerous forger in America. Years later (in 1908), Drummond wrote about his role in the story–which was to follow the trunk of bonds that was in the possession of Lydia Chapman:



Early in August, 1872, the Third National bank of Baltimore was robbed. The vault was blown at dead of night and between $200,000 and $300,000 taken. A large part of this sum was in coin and currency. The rest was in registered bonds and coupon bonds. The robbers escaped without leaving a clew of their identity.

Coupon bonds can be cashed at any bank as readily as one government note can be exchanged for another. Registered bonds cannot. Ordinary thieves therefore do not take bonds the numbers and the names of the owners of which are matters of record. Forgers are the exception. With their secret chemicals for removing printing and writing inks without leaving a stain that even a magnifying glass will show, they can make use of registered bonds. The fact that a large lumber of blank drafts and checks had been stolen also indicated that one of the robbers was an expert forger.

From these bare facts it soon developed that the robbers were Joe Elliot, Joe Chapman, Charlie Becker and a Russian. Becker was the forger — one of the best that the world ever produced. Careful search revealed their movements for several days preceding the robbery. It was even found that men answering their descriptions were seen near the bank on the day it was rifled. But when all these facts became known the earth seemed to have swallowed the men who were wanted.

More than a month passed and nothing was heard of them. On September 17, the chief of the Secret Service called me to his office. Beside him sat a man with a long white beard. The chief introduced him to me as Clement Herring, father of Charlie Becker’s wife.

“This man runs a saloon on Stanton street,” said the chief. “He expects his daughter and Mrs. Chapman to call on him tomorrow morning. Be on watch outside, and if they come he will signal you. He says they are going to leave for Europe in the afternoon, and that among their baggage will be a small red trunk containing the registered bonds stolen from the Third National. Mr. Herring thinks they will get the trunk either on Lexington avenue near Twenty-second street or on Eighth avenue near Forty-eighth street.

“Here’s what I want you to do. Once you get sight of these women, follow them wherever they go. If they get the red trunk, follow them on to the ship and learn the number of their stateroom and the names under which they depart — they are not going to use their own names. When you get these facts put them in this letter that I have written to the chief of police of Southampton, and give it to the purser on the ship, who will deliver it to an officer waiting at the pier on the other side. He will be notified that you are coming and will know what to do. Don’t arrest the women; don’t seize the trunk.”

At 8 o’clock the next morning I took up the watch in front of Herring’s saloon. I waited more than an hour before anything happened. Then a stylish carriage drove up. Two women alighted, and in the moment that elapsed before they descended the three steps that led to Herring’s basement saloon I took careful note of their appearance.

Each woman was apparently 30 years old and strikingly handsome. Both were gowned in the height of fashion. The blonde woman, who I afterward learned was Mrs. Becker, was a trifle shorter than her companion. Mrs. Chapman, who was a statuesque brunette of perhaps live feet eight or nine. Both women were wreathed in smiles and apparently radiantly happy. They were going to Europe to meet their husbands, and evidently the prospect pleased them.

Two or three times while they were inside I walked past the place and caught glimpses of them through the window. The two women seemed to be sipping at glasses of Rhine wine, while they talked to the gray whiskered man who sat on the other side of the table. Mrs. Becker did most of the talking. The lightheartedness that marked her manner in the street had departed. She spoke earnestly and seriously. The man listened, almost sadly.

While I was waiting I sent a newsboy to call a hack driver who had often driven me on business trips, and when, about 11 o’clock, the women left the saloon, I was ready to follow them. But I had not taken into account the possibility that the driver might not come with the accustomed cab. He didn’t. He came with what was the most fashionable turnout of the time — a Clarence coach, drawn by two horses. This fact is of importance only because the semicircular front of the coach was glass and I was dressed like a stevedore — slouch hat, blue shirt, rough trousers and no coat or waistcoat. I had contemplated the possibility that my work that day might take me along the docks, and had dressed accordingly.

However, there was nothing to do but to jump into the coach and tell the driver to follow the women wherever they went. They cut in and out through side streets and finally turned into Lexington avenue. I remember with what amazement I was stared at by others who drove fashionable carriages like my own. Behind the semicircle of glass I sat like the modern “demonstrator” in a show window — apparently a stevedore seeing the sights at $8 a day!

Near the corner of Twenty-second street — at the number at which the aged man had said they might get the red trunk — the carriage containing the women halted. As they alighted and went up the steps to the house I saw that they were again the happy, frolicsome women who were overjoyed at the prospect of seeing their husbands. All of the earnestness, and the seriousness with which they talked to Mrs. Becker’s sad eyed father had been swept away in a swirl of smiles.

Ten minutes after the door closed upon them a servant came out with some hand baggage. He placed it on the carriage at the driver’s feet and went back after some more. I watched carefully for the red trunk, but it did not come. In a few minutes the women appeared, still smiling. They entered their carriage and were driven up •Lexington avenue to Twenty-eighth street, then over to and up Broadway.

I followed along in my Clarence coach, keeping half a block behind them. They went straight up Broadway to Eighth avenue, and from there to the Forty-eighth street house that Herring had told me about. About an hour after they entered the premises the red trunk was brought out. A few minutes later the women followed.

Telling my driver to be sure not to lose them, I resumed my pursuit. They drove straight to Cortlandt street and, still secluded in their carriage, went on the ferry. I let a few teams get in after them and then drove on the boat.

 I knew they were headed for the Cunard piers at Jersey City, which at that time were just below the present slips of the Pennsylvania railroad. I also knew they had taken passage on the old sidewheel steamboat Cuba. So while we were crossing the river I left my carriage to look for the ship. To my amazement I saw that it was not at the pier. The next instant I saw it lying in the middle of the river. The tide had gone out at noon and the dock, not having been dredged as deeply as docks are now, the ship had gone out into the stream. Late passengers would be compelled to go out on a tender.

This was a possibility that I had not contemplated. It is comparatively easy to board a ship lying at her pier and almost impossible to get aboard a tender. While I was wondering what I should do, the ferry boat nosed her way into the slip and I was compelled to do something quickly. This is what I did:

I had worked my way among the teams up to a point perhaps 50 feet behind the vehicle in which were the two women. When their carriage drove off I followed it. When they alighted, I was almost beside them, and when their handbags were put off the carriage I grabbed two of them and made for the gangplank leading to the tender.

Fortunately the crew of the tender thought I was a stevedore, and the stevedores thought I belonged to the tender. So nobody molested me and I got aboard. As soon as I could I looked for the women and was rejoiced to find that they had taken seats at the opposite end of the boat. I kept away from them all the way over and proceeded them up the ladder to the ship. Once on board the Cuba, I contrived to get behind them in order to let them lead the way to the stateroom. They walked down the starboard side of the cabin to a point half way between the middle of the ship and the stern and then turned in to a little hall. I knew their stateroom could be only a few feet away, so I asked them if the baggage I carried belonged to them. They looked at it and replied that it did. I asked where I should put it and they led me to their staterooms, the numbers of which I  noted. Then I held up a handbag which bore the name of “Mrs. Bruce Cutting” and asked to which of the women it belonged. Mrs. Chapman replied that she was Mrs. Cutting. The other bag was marked “Mrs. Steward,” which Mrs. Becker told me was her name. Mrs. Chapman was evidently impressed with my desire to make no mistake in delivering their baggage, as she gave me a 25 cent tip.

This part of the work over, I went to the writing room and, in the letter written by the chief of the Secret Service to the chief of police of Southampton, filled in the names under which Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Chapman had departed, together with the number of their stateroom. Then I sought the purser and presented my letter of introduction.

“Did you get track of them?” he asked.

I replied that I had and gave him their names. He consulted his passenger list and ran his forefinger down the column of names.

“You’re right,” said he. “Here they are, and the number of their stateroom is the same that you gave to me.”

I handed him the chief’s letter to the Southampton chief, urged him to deliver it before the women could leave the ship, and went aboard the tender just as the Cuba was preparing to get under way.

The rest of this narrative had to do with events that took place in Europe. And it should be borne in mind that in following the women and the red trunk the purpose was twofold— first, to learn the whereabouts of the band that robbed the Third National bank of Baltimore; and, second, to nab Becker if he should attempt to alter and sell any of the registered bonds. The women had committed no crime — we could not prove guilty knowledge on their part concerning the contents of the trunk — therefore we had no occasion to arrest them. And there was nothing to be gained by seizing the trunk, since the payment on all of the stolen bonds had been stopped. We wanted only Becker and his band.

When the Cuba reached Southampton, an officer representing the chief of police was at the pier. He read the letter that was handed to him by the purser and followed the two women ‘when they left the ship. Half an hour later he was on the same train with them, bound for London, where they remained a night. The next morning they went to Paris. And the red trunk was among the baggage that followed them to the hotel at which they stopped in the French capital.

The Southampton detective engaged accommodations at the same place and for a week nothing of importance developed. The women, who seemed to be plentifully supplied with money, went out every morning, evidently intent upon replenishing their already large stock of finery. In the evenings they went to the theaters.

One morning the Southampton detective waited in vain to see them go out for their accustomed shopping tour. An hour after the time when they usually entered the carriage he began to be nervous. Finally he went to the clerk and, after having led up to the subject gradually, made some reference to the “beautiful English women” whose beauty had been the subject of considerable comment. The clerk didn’t know whom he meant. The detective had purposely misstated their nationality in order not to display a knowledge of them that they might regard as suspicious if it should come to their ears. But in a moment the clerk realized the detective’s mistake and said:

“Oh. you mean Mrs. Cutting and Mrs. Steward. But they are not English women; they are Americans. They left the city this morning.”

The closing sentence jarred the detective to his boot heels, but he controlled his emotions.

“Where had they gone?” Oh, the clerk did not know. They left after midnight and another clerk was on watch. But he might be able to find out.

In a little while the clerk imparted the information that to the best of his knowledge and belief the ladies had gone to Berlin. Strangely enough, the detective was to depart for the German capital the same evening. Perhaps he would be fortunate enough to go again to the same hotel with them.

At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the detective, on his way to the train, stopped a moment at the clerk’s desk to bid him goodby. Pleasantries were exchanged, the two men had shaken hands, when the clerk hurled a parting bit of badinage.

“Too bad you will not meet the American ladles in Berlin.” he said. “They have gone to Genoa.”

The detective made enough inquiries to convince him that the information was undoubtedly correct and changed his own plans accordingly. On the way down to the Italian city he cudgeled his mind to determine how he should go about it to get track of his lost immigrants. They would reach Genoa several hours ahead of him and might even have sped on to another city before his arrival. There was only one chance by means of which he might get trace of them — the red trunk.

So when he reached Genoa he made anxious inquiries of the man who had charge of the baggage concerning two ladies whose present address he wished to learn. Speaking no Italian he had difficulty in making himself understood, but at last sought to identify his friends by explaining that among their baggage was a red trunk. The baggage hands were questioned, and at last a man was found who had sent the box that was covered with the hide of the brindle cow.

It had been transferred to the wharf of a steamship company that operated a line of boats between Genoa and Constantinople.

Again the detective resumed his travels, only to to find when he reached the city of the sultan that he had lost all track of the women. Nobody had seen the red trunk — nobody at any of the hotels had seen the women. And he was on the point of returning  to Southampton to report his failure when something happened.

Becker and Chapman were arrested by the Turkish authorities for selling forged bonds! Their trial brought their wives in public to their sides, and by shadowing them their new habitation was learned.

Becker and Chapman were quickly found guilty and sentenced to a long term of Imprisonment In Smyrna. The jail was a flimsy affair and in a few weeks they escaped. Simultaneously with their departure Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Chapman went to London, the detective following and tracking them to a boarding house in an obscure part of the city. Within a week their husbands joined them, together with the other two men who robbed the Third National bank of Baltimore, and within another week Mrs. Chapman was dead.

The cause of her death will perhaps never be known. The end came suddenly. It has always been supposed that she was poisoned by some member of the band.

After Mrs. Chapman’s death the party separated. Chapman came to the United States, robbed another bank, was caught, convicted and sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment. Becker came to Brooklyn, where a policeman arrested him in the act of making the plates for a 1000 franc French note. The red trunk was never found.

Others may wonder, as I did at first, why Mrs. Becker’s father betrayed her husband to the secret service. I put the question to the man flatly.

“Charlie didn’t treat me right.” he said. “He and I were in on a counterfeiting deal one time and he got all the best of it. I never could bear a dishonest man. And. besides, I didn’t want my daughter to go to Europe to meet him.”

Byrnes’ 1886 profile of Becker took his career up to his imprisonment in the King’s County Penitentiary, from which he was freed in 1887. In 1892 he roamed the upper midwest and northeast with forging partners Richard Lennox, Joe English, and Robert Bowman. He and his team then went to California, where they were captured and tried. Charlie was sentenced to seven years in San Quentin, but with good behavior was released in 1903.


Upon his return to Brooklyn, there were rumors that the American Banking Association offered Becker an allowance just to help keep him honest. Towards the end of his life, he was employed by the Pinkerton’s as an informant patrolling racetracks. He and his with lived as John and Anna Becker in Brooklyn. He died of diabetes in September, 1916. His wife Anna Haering, ever loyal, died just a couple of weeks after Charlie. They are buried in Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery.




#9 William Coleman

William Coleman (Abt. 1847-19??), aka Billy Coleman, Walter Williams, William Fanning, Eugene Johnson, George Watson, Henry E. Hill, William Frost, George Holden, etc. — Sneak thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. A fine, tall, smooth-faced fellow. Brown hair, blue eyes, fair complexion; wears a No. 9 shoe. Has W. C. and N. Y. in India ink on right arm, slight scar on the right side of face, mole in the centre of his back.

RECORD. Billy Coleman was born in New York, and is well known in all the principal cities in America, especially in Chicago, where he has lived. He was arrested in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and sentenced to Sing Sing prison for five years, on October 14, 1869, for burglary in the third degree. He escaped from Sing Sing on a tugboat on August 17, 1871. After his escape he went South, and was convicted and sentenced to three years in Pittsburgh, Pa., and served his time in the Western Penitentiary.

He was arrested again in New York City for attempting to pick pockets, and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary in the Court of Special Sessions, New York, on January 22, 1876, under the name of Thomas Moriarty. After his discharge he went West, and the record shows that he was arrested in Chicago, Ill., and sentenced to one year in Joliet prison on March 9, 1882. His time expired in January, 1883. Coleman then started around the country with Rufe Minor (1) and Johnny Price, sneaking banks. Coleman and Price were arrested in Augusta, Ga., on March 26, 1884, for sneaking a package of money, $2,700, from a safe in that city. After abstracting $150 from the package and dividing it, Coleman, Rufe Minor and Price parted for a few days. Two days afterwards Price and Coleman were arrested, and shortly afterwards tried and convicted; they were sentenced to seven years in State prison each on May 7, 1884. Rufe Minor came north and was arrested in New York City on June 28, 1884, and taken to Augusta, Ga., by a requisition. Coleman has been arrested and convicted of several other robberies throughout the country, under aliases. This fact makes it difficult to give data correctly. He still owes time in Sing Sing prison, N. Y. His picture is a good one.

Billy Coleman’s criminal career followed a depressingly familiar pattern: months of freedom interspersed by years of imprisonment. Chief Byrnes’ recitation stopped less than halfway through Billy’s cycle of prison sentences. After his release from the 1884 seven-year stretch handed down in Augusta, Georgia, Billy went to Cincinnati–only to be run out of town by the police there (who may have confused his record with that of a different Billy Coleman). In 1893, he was caught attempting the robbery of a Rochester, New Hampshire post office, an escapade that placed him in the State Prison at Concord for three years. In 1900, he was found inside the Internal Revenue offices in Washington, D.C. in possession of purloined revenue stamps. Because he did not escape the building, he was only given five months in jail.

By this stage of his career, among the few people that Billy brought joy to were the patrolmen and detectives that nabbed him–and then discovered what a famous criminal they had caught. However, these arrests paled compared to the publicity surrounding Coleman’s most famous caper.

In 1905, while casing out the rural, but relatively wealthy, community of Cooperstown, New York, Billy stumbled across the Clark family estate. The Clark family had earned its riches as partners of sewing-machine magnate Isaac Singer; and also through Manhattan real-estate deals. The 5000-acre Cooperstown property that Billy found was managed by F. Ambrose Clark, a noted equestrian and step-son of Bishop Henry Potter , leader of the New York City Episcopal diocese. When Billy first saw the estate’s office building–where accounts where received and paid–he believed it to be a local bank.

During a lunch break, Billy noticed all the office workers leave the building. Curious, he slipped in and saw the office contained a floor safe that had not been locked. He peered inside, but saw no cash–just a tin box. He took the tin box and went down to a basement room to break it open; it was a struggle to pry it open, and the effort gave Billy a nosebleed. But he eventually cracked open the box and inside he found the jewelry collection of Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark, including many diamonds. Billy beat a retreat, hardly believing his good luck.

The story of the lawmen’s chase after Billy Coleman was the subject of (at least) four different, widely-publicized, and sometimes conflicting accounts–each of which emphasized the role of different detectives. In an April 15, 1906 article written for the Chicago Inter Ocean, William A. Pinkerton presented a straightforward, neutral account of the tracking down and arrest of Coleman, in which a team of several Pinkerton agents (hired by the Clarks) took the lead. Pinkerton used the neutral “we” in describing the agent’s actions, leaving it to the reader to interpret whether that included William A. Pinkerton himself, or just the agency’s employees in general.


However, in 1908, a self-promoting former detective in Chicago’s police department, Clifton Wooldridge, published a book, Twenty Years a Detective, in which he claimed to have been in on the tracking down Coleman through the use of “we” :

“From descriptions of the thief we obtained from witnesses who had seen him loitering in the vicinity of the Estate office, and from the manner in which the robbery was
committed, we believed it bore the earmarks of Coleman’s work. Subsequent developments satisfied us that our conclusions were correct, and we caused Coleman’s arrest, two weeks after the robbery, in New York, by Police Headquarters’ detectives.”

Wooldridge’s bombastic book made many other suspicious claims to burnish his credentials; but there is no evidence at all that the Chicago Police Department or Wooldridge had any role in solving this crime, and therefore had no right to use the collective “we.” [Elsewhere in his 1908 book, Wooldridge indicates that he had been “released” of his detective job a year earlier.]

A few years later, in 1911, Walter G. Chapman of the International Press Bureau hired a hack writer, George Barton, to do a series of serialized articles on the “Adventures of the World’s Great Detectives.” One of these focused on Coleman, the Clark Jewels, and William A. Pinkerton. Barton cast Pinkerton as the lead actor in catching Coleman. According to Barton, Pinkerton realized that Coleman was responsible from the very start:

“After Mr. Pinkerton had obtained all of the details concerning the Cooperstown robbery, he mentally compared the circumstances with the methods of the great criminals he had known. Finally, he looked up with the light of discovery in his eyes. He spoke to one of his assistants. ‘There is only one man in American who could have had the nerve and ingenuity to do that job.’

‘Who’s that?’

‘Billy Coleman.'”

Barton’s fictionalized version also portrayed William Pinkerton on the scene to interrupt Coleman as he sought to dig up the ground where he had hidden the jewels; in reality, several Pinkerton agents watched as Coleman dug, and let him dig in the wrong spot uninterrupted. They later dug nearby and found the stash, and arrested him at his home. However, Barton’s version made a much more heroic tableau:


In a letter to publisher Chapman,  dated May 21, 1911, an irate William Pinkerton listed his objections to the Barton article, stating he did not know Barton, did not offer him an interview, and had no personal connection with the case, which was handled by his brother Robert A. Pinkerton and George S. Doughterty, who later joined the New York Police.

Ironically, one of the main Pinkerton agents involved in the case, the aforementioned George S. Dougherty, was not above touting his own role in the case. His version of events honed close to the truth, and appeared in a syndicated, full-page article that first appeared in 1913. It, too, had melodramatic graphics, but depicted the Pinkerton men digging up the jewels:


The headline of this article was “How I Solved a $100,000 Gem Robbery.”

Billy Coleman was still alive (and still thieving) when all these accounts were published. He must have been chagrined to see so many people making money off the episode for so many years, events which had brought him no benefit except more years in jail.

Arrested in 1918, now over seventy, Billy’s legacy caused one newspaper editor to reflect:

“Why does this man commend himself to our attention? Not because he is a great criminal, for he is in truth only a weak and pallid offender. His biggest robbery was a fiasco because he was so clumsy as to cache his jewels under the eyes of his shadows. Neither is he one of that type of successful criminals who achieve through their very lack of celebrity. Coleman has always been more widely known than any deed of his. And, where success is concerned, the man has spent the greater part of his time since 1869 in prison…What then is his eminence? Persistence, unchangeableness, frozen habit. For fifty years this pitiful old man has been going in and out of the portals of prisons. Not for one hour of breath has he been from under the shadow of the clutching hand of the law. He is at home only in the cell or its purlieus, the walks of crime.”










#25 Horace Hovan

Horace Hovan (1852-192?), aka “Little Horace” — bank sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-seven years old in 1886. Medium build. Born in Richmond, Va. Very genteel appearance. Height, 5 feet 8 inches. Weight, 150 pounds. Dresses well. Married to Charlotte Dougherty. Fair complexion. A fine, elegant-looking man. Generally wears a full brown beard.

RECORD. Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace, has associated with all the best bank sneaks in the country.

In 1870 Horace, in company of a man that has reformed and is living honestly, and Big Ed. Rice (12), stole $20,000 from a vault in a Halifax (N.S.) bank. Hovan and this party were arrested, but Rice escaped with the money. The prisoners were afterwards released, as the money was returned to the bank.

Horace was convicted under the name of W. W. Fisher, alias Morgan, for a bank sneak job in Pittsburg, Pa., and sentenced to two years and eleven months in the Western Penitentiary, at Alleghany City, on November 22, 1878. He was arrested on March 23, 1878, at Petersburgh, Va., with Rufe Minor, George Carson, and Charlotte Dougherty (Hovan’s wife). See remarks of picture No. 1.

Arrested again March 31, 1879, at Charleston, S.C., for the larceny of $20,000 in bonds from a safe in the First National Bank in that city. He dropped them on the floor of the bank when detected and feigned sickness, and was sent to the hospital, from which place he made his escape.

Arrested again October 16, 1880, in New York City, for the Middletown (Conn.) Bank robbery. See records of pictures Nos. 1 and 3. In this case he was discharged, as the property stolen was returned. Arrested again in June, 1881, at Philadelphia, Pa., with Frank Buck, alias Bucky Taylor (27), for the larceny of $10,950 in securities from a broker’s safe in that city. He was convicted of burglary, and sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa., on July 2, 1881, his time to date back to June 6, 1881. He was pardoned out October 30, 1883, on condition that he would go to Washington, D. C, and testify against some officials who were on trial. He agreed to do so if the Washington authorities would have the case against him in Charleston, S.C., settled, which they did. He then gave his testimony, which was not credited by the jury. He remained in jail in Washington until May 10, 1884, when he was discharged.

Hovan and Buck Taylor were arrested again on June 18, 1884, in Boston, Mass., their pictures taken, and then escorted to a train and shipped out of town. Hovan is a very clever and tricky sneak thief. One of his tricks was to prove an alibi when arrested.

He has a brother, Robert Hovan (see picture No. 179), now (1886) serving a five years’ sentence in Sing Sing prison, who is a good counterpart. The voices and the manners of the two men are so nearly alike, that when they are dressed in the same manner it is hard to distinguish one from the other. Horace has often relied on this. He would register with his wife at a prominent hotel, and make the acquaintance of the guests. About an hour before visiting a bank or an office Horace would have his brother show up at the hotel, order a carriage, drive out with his (Horace’s) wife in the park, and return several hours later. Horace, in the interval, would slip off and do his work. If he was arrested any time afterwards, he would show that he was out riding at the time of the robbery.

Horace Hovan is without doubt one of the smartest bank sneaks in the world. Latest accounts, the fall of 1885, say that he was arrested in Europe and sentenced to three years in prison for the larceny of a package of bank notes from a safe. His partner, Frank Buck, made his escape and returned to America. His picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

While there may be no “born criminals,” Horace Hovan did take up thieving at an early age. He was raised in Richmond, Virginia to Irish parents: John F. Hovan and Harriet B. Rowe. 1864 was a momentous year for the Hovans; John F. Hovan disappeared, perhaps into the maws of the Civil War; Harriet gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter, Gennet; and Horace Hovan, aged 12, was arrested for pick-pocketing.

Hovan was the scourge of Richmond for the next seven years, being arrested for: stealing soap; beating a black man; pick-pocketing; and robbing store tills. In 1868, at age 16, he jumped bail and fled the city. He and his two brothers stayed in Philadelphia for a while, but migrated back to Richmond in 1870. There, he married a local girl, Martha Abrams. By 1871, Horace had graduated to breaking and entering houses. Just days after his mother passed away, he was caught and held on $2500 bail–and likely jailed. Horace and Martha’s son, Horace Jr., was born in 1872, but died less than a year later. A daughter, Cellela, was born in 1873. Horace, by this time, was on the road working with other thieves, and sent back money to his wife who was living in Baltimore.


In early 1873, Hovan and three partners (two of whom were John Price and Philly Pearson) stole from banks in Berks County, Pennsylvania and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their method was “sneak thieving”–today known as “snatching,” i.e. a quick motion to grab objects and run away with them. In banks, this was done as bank customers placed bills on a counter; or as cashiers counted out money; or as distracted bank workers left papers unattended. Horace (unlike his brother Preston) never carried weapons, and never struggled when caught.

The gang moved westward, and in late March broke into the Pittsburgh Safe Deposit and Trust Company, where they hit the mother lode. Hovan walked out with $50,000 in railroad bonds. The gang immediately went to New York City, where Hovan–posing as a “curbstone broker” (a broker who makes trades on the street)–tried to negotiate the bonds for cash. He was arrested and taken to stand trial at Pittsburgh under the name Charles G. Hampton. Hovan was jailed from late April to late October awaiting his trial. Johnny Jourdan appeared to testify on Hovan’s behalf, offering an alibi that Hovan had been in New York–but the jury discounted that. Hovan was sentenced to two years and eleven months in Western (Pa.) Penitentiary.

Upon his release in 1876, Hovan partnered with “Big Ed” Rice and Bill “Snatchem” Henderson to rob the Bank of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Cleverly, they took advantage of an existing diversion–a circus parade:


The three were stopped and detained, but were later released. Chief Byrnes incorrectly dates this robbery to the year 1870 (when Hovan was still in Richmond); many other sources repeated this error. The 1876 crime was the first bank robbery in the history of Halifax.

Hovan may have spent 1877 at home with his wife–she passed away in April, 1877. His remaining daughter, Cellela, died a year later, in 1878, at age 5. Hovan returned to New York and began relations with a new woman, Charlotte Newman Dougherty. She was the wife of Daniel F. “Big Doc” Dougherty, a bank robber who was sent to prison in 1868 for a fifteen year term.

Charlotte Dougherty, Hovan, Rufus Minor and George Carson teamed up to steal over $250,000 in bonds from James Young, a Wall Street broker. They fled south, but were caught two months later in Petersburg, Virginia; some bonds in a tin box were found in Rufe Minor’s room. The quartet was brought back to New York, but all were released for lack of evidence.

Hovan returned south to Charleston, South Carolina, and was apprehended while taking $20,000 from a bank; he feigned illness, was taken to a hospital, and escaped.

He teamed up again with Minor, Carson, and Johnny Jourdan to steal a tin box containing over $60,000 from a Middletown, Connecticut bank on July 27, 1880. All were arrested by November, but tellers could only identify Jourdan.

Byrnes summarizes Hovan’s next years succinctly:

“Arrested again in June, 1881, at Philadelphia, Pa., with Frank Buck, alias Bucky Taylor (27), for the larceny of $10,950 in securities from a broker’s safe in that city. He was convicted of burglary, and sentenced to three years in the Eastern Penitentiary, at Philadelphia, Pa., on July 2, 1881, his time to date back to June 6, 1881. He was pardoned out October 30, 1883, on condition that he would go to Washington, D. C, and testify against some officials who were on trial. He agreed to do so if the Washington authorities would have the case against him in Charleston, S. C, settled, which they did. He then gave his testimony, which was not credited by the jury. He remained in jail in Washington until May 10, 1884, when he was discharged.”

Regaining his freedom, Hovan returned to New York and formally married Charlotte Newman Dougherty (though her husband Big Doc was still alive). In 1885 he traveled to England with Charlotte and Frank Buck. He was caught stealing bank notes there and was thrown into an English prison for three years. After serving his term, he returned to North America via Canada. He was caught stealing from a bank in Montreal, but was released on bail, and fled to the United States. A month later, in December 1888, he and Walter Sheridan attempted to rob the People’s Savings Bank in Denver, Colorado. They were caught, made bail, and fled.

Horace returned to Europe with his brother Preston in 1889. He and Preston had very similar looks, so one of their tricks was to have Preston publicly escort Charlotte around in hotels, at the same time that Horace was stealing from banks. Later, Horace could claim that he had been with his wife, a fact verified by many impeccable witnesses. In 1890, Horace and another American thief, Billy Porter, were arrested in Toulouse, France for burglary, but both only served a few months in jail.

Horace and Charlotte lived quietly in England for the next few years, but in 1895 he was arrested in Frankfort, Germany. Charlotte died in England sometime during this period. From Germany, Hovan’s activities are unknown–it may be he was imprisoned there for several years. He returned to the United States in bad health sometime after 1900. Upon meeting detective Robert Pinkerton, he begged for help in finding an honest job. Pinkerton helped set him up as an elevator operator–a job he held for at least six or seven years. He was exposed by William Pinkerton in a newspaper article, bragging about his brother’s role in Hovan’s reform; this may have brought Hovan unwanted scrutiny.

In 1913, newspaper reports claimed Hovan and his old partner Big Ed Rice were caught stealing from a bank cashier in Munich, Germany. Horace would have been 63, and Rice was older, 72. However, in 1923 an article appeared saying that Hovan was still in the elevator business, and was now a manager–and had been reformed for twenty years.

After that 1923 mention, Hovan’s name in public records disappears. He would have been about 70 years old in 1923.

#3 George Carson

George Carson (1855-19??) – Bank sneak thief

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-one years old in 1886. Born in United States. Clerk. Can read and write. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 5 1/2 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Hair,brown. Eyes, hazel. Complexion, florid. Dot of India ink on right hand. Blonde color mustache.
RECORD. Carson is a very clever bank sneak, an associate of Rufe Minor (1), Horace Hovan (25), Johnny Carroll (192), Cruise Cummisky, and other first-class men.

He was arrested at Petersburg, Va., on March 23, 1878, in company of Rufe Minor, Horace Hovan, alias Little Horace, and Charlotte Dougherty (Horace’s wife), charged with the larceny of $200,000 in bonds and securities from the office of James H. Young, No. 49 Nassau Street, New York City. They were all brought to New York, and subsequently dis- charged.

Carson was arrested in New York City on November 15, 1880, for robbing the Middletown Bank of Connecticut, on July 27, 1880, of $8,500 in money and $56,000 in bonds. Johnny Jourdan, Horace Hovan and Rufe Minor were also arrested for this robbery, Carson was tried in Connecticut, proved an alibi, and the jury failed to agree, and he was discharged on April 26, 1881. He then traveled around the country with Charley Cummisky, alias Cruise, and was picked up in several cities, but was never convicted.

He was again arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on August 2, 1883, with Billy Flynn (now in jail in Europe), and committed to the penitentiary for vagrancy. He was discharged on a writ by the Supreme Court on September 11, 1883. Carson and Flynn were seen in the vicinity of Raymond Street Jail on the night of July 31, 1883, when Big Jim Burns, the Brooklyn Post-office robber, escaped. This celebrated criminal has been concerned in several other large robberies, and has been arrested in almost every city in the United States and Canada. He is now at liberty, but may be looked for at any moment. Carson’s picture is a very good one, taken in 1885.

Professional Criminals of America (1886) devotes less than a full page to George Carson, but was written barely halfway into his criminal career. The Pinkertons had a more extensive file on Carson than Byrnes did. According to William A. Pinkerton, Carson first surfaced in Chicago in 1868 with a gang of New York thieves including Joe Butts, Bill Vosburg, Joe Barron, and Tim O’Brien. Pinkerton mentions that Carson was then a “young, rosy-cheeked lad” who was nicknamed “Little George.” If Byrnes’s birth year of 1855 is correct, Carson would have only been 13 at the time. They lifted $25,000 in bonds from a bank on Monroe Street and were later taken into custody, but were later released after the bonds were returned.

According to Pinkerton, Carson returned to the Chicago area in the early 1870s with Chauncey Johnson, Tom Mulligan, and others. They  stayed in the area about a year.

In the late 1870s, Carson teamed up with Horace Hovan and Rufus Minor. They were arrested together in March 1878 for the robbery of bonds from the office of James Young on Wall Street. This was the first crime that Byrnes noted in his profile.

On January 2, 1879, the Government Printing Office was robbed of $10,000 by James Burns and George Carson, with Minor suspected of having played a part. Immediately after the crime, Minor, Carson, Burns, and Horace Hovan went to Charleston, South Carolina, where Hovan was caught stealing $20,000 from the First National Bank. The other three escaped and went to New York, but Carson and Burns were arrested in June for the GPO robbery. Byrnes does not mention this; perhaps because the charges didn’t stick.

Minor, Carson, Hovan, and Johnny Jourdan stole a tin box containing over $60,000 from a Middletown, Connecticut bank on July 27, 1880. All were arrested by November, but tellers could only identify Jourdan. Minor and Carson were discharged.

Carson then traveled through the country and into Canada with Charles Comiskey, Alonzo Henn, and Walter Sheridan. Comiskey and Carson were caught in a Montreal robbery and sentenced to seven years at the penitentiary at St. Vincent de Paul.



After regaining his freedom around 1894-95,  Carson joined a gang that specialized in robbing post offices. Among this gang were Joseph Killoran, Harry Russell, Charles Allen, Sid Yennie, and Patsy Flannigan.

Carson and Yennie were arrested in January 1896 for the robbery of the Springfield, Illinois post office. Both were convicted and sentenced to five years. Carson spent his entire stretch at the Illinois State Penitentiary-Menard (Chester), while Yennie was transferred to Ohio. Both were released in 1900.

After being free just three months, Carson was seen across the street during the robbery of a bank in Evanston, Illinois. He was released on bail and fled. Two years later, in September, 1902, he was captured after the robbery of a Metropolitan Life Insurance office in Jackson, Michigan. The office cashier was tied up, and Carson and his accomplices tried to break into the safe; this was a departure from Carson’s usual “sneak thief” tactics, which were rendered obsolete by increased security techniques.

Carson was sentenced to seven years in the Michigan State Prison. One report suggests he was arrested in Cincinnati in 1909, but that represents the last that anyone ever heard of George Carson.

Unfortunately, Carson’s antecedents have not been traced, nor has his marriage.