To Herbert Asbury, Big Josh Hines was a feared member of the Whyos, who barged into Manhattan’s stuss parlors (gambling dens where a variation of faro was played) waving revolvers in each hand, demanding a share of the house profits. (see Gangs…, Chapter XI, Section 1). To city police departments around the country, he was a notorious “spark grafter,” i.e. a pickpocket specializing in the theft of jewels from a person wearing them. In New York, prosecutors were convinced that Hines was a murderer, shooting and killing another pickpocket in 1899, “Big Stretch” alias John McGann, in a saloon during a dispute over the proceeds of a crime. To Pinkerton Detective Morris Glatt, Hines was (according to some accounts) a vengeful specter who drove him to suicide. For more than a century, this criminal’s true name was unknown: John Murray, Joshua Hines, Robert Hayes, and Richard F. Harden were some of his aliases.

There is evidence for all the above claims–even for the one that caused Asbury to mention Hines: that Hines was a Whyo gang member. Hines was already an ex-convict when arrested in New York in 1889 at age 22, so it is possible that he was a young member in the early 1880s. As has been mentioned in other blog posts, by the 1890s all the notable true Whyos were dead or jailed. However, the term was still applied to the whole community of Bowery-based pickpockets and small-time thieves. Hines spent much of his time in Lower Manhattan when he wasn’t roaming the country with other pickpockets, following large crowd events. He was doubtless bolstered by his clean-cut, smooth-faced appearance.

He was born Richard Francis Hines in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1863. However, by 1880 the family was fatherless, and could be found living in a tenement in Lower Manhattan. According to the Albany Argus of June 30, 1895, Hines’s first arrest took place in Washington, D. C., in 1884, when he was picking pockets at Grover Cleveland’s inauguration. The same year he was sentenced to three years in prison in New York City. He was arrested again in October 1887 while working the crowd at the Danbury, Connecticut Fair. His 1889 arrest for grabbing money out of a man’s pocket on Broadway near Pearl Street resulted in a two-and-a-half year sentence at Sing Sing. In 1894, Hines and three other pickpockets were nabbed for working the crowds at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the Corbett-Mitchell prizefight in Jacksonville, Florida. Hines escaped prosecution, but two of the four were jailed. In 1895, he was detained when caught working the audience of the Tammany Hall Association parade in New York City.

Hines shot “Big Stretch” in a saloon in 1899, but the NYPD could not find a single witness willing to testify against him, so the charges were dropped. In 1906, Hines was alleged to have been a member of the Five Points Gang that raided several stuss parlors and held guns to the foreheads of the game bankers, demanding a share of the house profits. There may have been an ethnic element to this: the Five Points Gang was mainly an Irish/Italian gang led by Paul Kelly, while stuss shops often were the game of choice in Jewish communities. Newspapers claimed that the gang was desperate to get money in order to gamble on a locally-owned racehorse who had just won a race at 100 to 1 odds.

In 1907, Hines was arrested in Ballston, New York after picking pockets at the Saratoga races. He offered an alias, but one of the detectives who identified him was Morris Glatt, who was formerly a pickpocket and had known Hines. Thanks to the identification made by Glatt, Hines was sent to Auburn State Prison at Dannemora for a five-year sentence. While behind bars, Hines allegedly sent several threatening letters to Glatt, who was working as a railroad detective. Glatt committed suicide just before Hines was released, leading many to believe that he was haunted by the threats of revenge sent by Hines. However, Glatt’s co-workers declared that Glatt had no fear of any criminals, and suspected other causes.

Robert F. Hines had no documented crimes after leaving prison in 1911. He returned to Brooklyn, where his brothers lived, and worked as a clerk. By 1928, Hines was 65 years old, living alone as a boarder, and in bad health. He turned on the gas in his room and put the tube in his mouth. He was found dead a few hours later.

4 thoughts on “Big Josh Hines, Criminal Chameleon

    1. These were from Boston’s Illustrated Police News, which by the 1890s was covering crime much better than the National Police Gazette. Issues are found in a Gale database, Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790–1920, that the New York Public Library began offering last year. It’s a great resource. I wonder if it’s the same artist that did the Grannan’s criminal books? They are great–somehow better than mug shots.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They’re really fantastic drawings! The artist was was talented but the original photos must have been amazing. Possibly the same artist as Grannan’s but there were many good engravers at work back then.

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