Generations of readers have been captivated by Herbert Asbury’s descriptions of the violent street gangs of New York, culminating with formation of crime families and syndicates during Prohibition. However, he also devotes a few pages to the network of burglars and shoplifters maintained by the foremost fence operator of the 1860s-1880s, Marm Mandelbaum. In Chapter X, Section 2 of Gangs of New York, he mentions her most notable female proteges: Lena Kleinschmidt, Big Mary, Ellen Clegg, Queen Liz, Little Annie, Old Mother Hubbard, Kid Glove Rosie, and Sophie Lyons.
Several of the above names appear with hyperlinks, which point to companion blog entries created in 2018 as part of a project to re-research the 204 criminal profiles found in the first 1886 edition of Thomas Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America. “Queen Liz” was profiled in Byrnes’s 1895 edition, which wasn’t covered during that blog project.
Like “Black Lena” Kleinschmidt, and Lena’s sister “Black Amelia” Levy, Lizzie Meyer (perhaps not her real name, but the most cited alias) was a first generation immigrant from Germany who made shoplifting her vocation. One article suggested she was the wife of bank thief “Broken-Nose” George Devlin. In the late 1890s (when Devlin’s whereabouts are unknown), she made shoplifting forays accompanied by another veteran thief, George Morgan aka Thomas Martin. Queen Liz certainly had multiple connections to the most adept thieves of her day. Thomas Byrnes summarized her career up to 1895:
DESCRIPTION. Thirty-nine years old in 1895. Born in Germany. Married. Stout build. Height, 5 feet 3 inches. Weight, 165 pounds. Hair, dark, mixed with gray. Brown eyes, Grecian nose, full face, dark complexion. Marks, etc.: Decayed lower front teeth. Meyers has been known to the police of several of the principal cities as a professional shoplifter for nearly twenty years. She has served sentences in the Brooklyn, N.Y., Penitentiary, Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., and Philadelphia, Pa. She has worked with Amelia Levy, alias Black Amelia (No. 282), “Big Rosie,” and Little Lou Jourdan (wife of Big Tom Biglow, the bank sneak, now dead).
RECORD. LIZZIE MEYERS, under name of Annie Riley, was arrested at Philadelphia, Pa., for shoplifting, and sentenced to one year in the Eastern Penitentiary, October 25, 1886. She was arrested again at Philadelphia, Pa., on June 12, 1888, for shoplifting, and sentenced to six months in the County Prison, on June 28, 1888, by Judge Reed of that city.
Arrested again at Cleveland, 0., on December 29, 1888, in company of Amelia Levy, alias Black Amelia (No. 282), and sent back to the city of Buffalo, N.Y., where they were both wanted for the larceny of a diamond bracelet. They were both sentenced to five years in the Erie Co. Penitentiary, on February 16, 1889, for this offense. Their case was appealed, and she was admitted to bail pending a decision of a higher court. On June 14, 1889 (shortly after being admitted to bail at Buffalo, N.Y.), she was arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the larceny of a roll of silk from one of the large dry goods stores, on June 28, 1889. She was sentenced to four years in the Kings Co. Penitentiary, by Judge Moore, of the Court of Sessions of that city, under the name of Lizzie Myers, alias Mary Sad. After her time expired in Brooklyn, N. Y., she was arrested and returned to Buffalo on July 6, 1892, where she was wanted with Black Amelia, as above stated. She was transferred from Buffalo to Auburn Prison N. Y., on June 3, 1893.
When Liz was arrested in Brooklyn in 1889, the judge hearing her case recognized her from a crime committed in 1872-1873, which pushes her history back considerably earlier than Byrnes first citation.
Queen Liz used many aliases, including Annie Riley, Caroline Smith, Elizabeth Willis, Lizzie Edwards, Rosa Myers, and Mary Sad. One newspaper suggested she created aliases upon arrest that reflected her current mood: Mary Sad, Eleanor Joy, Mary Merry, and Lucy Dead. If true, her sense of whimsy was one of her better qualities. Her use of “Caroline Smith” invokes the name of another famous shoplifter, about twenty years her senior, Caroline Smith of Milwaukee.
She had three known arrests following 1895: in November 1897, with George Morgan, in Philadelphia; in 1899, as Lizzie Edwards, in Brooklyn, and 1903 in New York City, at age 57.
There may be as yet undetected family connections among Queen Liz and Black Lena, Black Amelia, and the Weir-Reinsch gang of shoplifters in Chicago.