The name of Gilbert Yost appears twice in The Gangs of New York, in different sections of Chapter X, which deals with the career of bank robber George L. Leslie. Asbusy repeats some fairly well-established connections between Leslie and Yost: that they were arrested together in 1870 for a Norristown, Pennsylvania jewelry robbery; and that in 1878 Yost shared a Brooklyn house with other famous thieves suspected of murdering Leslie: Shang Draper, Johnny Irving, Sam Perris, etc. These claims appeared in newspapers not long after Leslie’s death, and are based on files on Leslie compiled by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been tracking the thief.
Ever since George L. Leslie was killed, accounts of his criminal career began to suface portraying him as a suave, romantic, criminal mastermind: a meticulous planner who understood the architecture of banks, the mechanics of combination safes, and how to rehearse break-ins so that they could be pulled off with clockwork precision. Gib Yost, it was said, appeared to most people to the exact opposite. Judges and prosecutors mistook him for a country bumpkin. As certain times, he spoke gibberish and was sent to lunatic asylums. His only legitimate trade was as a canal boatman. However, within the criminal underworld, Yost might have been more valued and respected for his thieving ingenuity than the “king of heists” Leslie.
Yost was finally trapped by the Pinkertons in Chicago for a jewelry store robbery committed in LaPorte, Indiana. In 1884 he was sent to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City to serve a fourteen year sentence. Barely two years into his stretch, news of his demise was announced by Robert Pinkerton:
Thus ended the career of Gibert “Gib” Yost, cracksman. Or did it? A month later, the Brooklyn Union cast doubt on his demise:
However, no further rumors or indicators of Yost’s survival saw the light of day. Three years after his announced death, his mechanical legacy lived on:
“Were it not known that Gib Yost is dead–for he died in Michigan City Prison, Indiana, while serving a term for robbery in Laporte, Ind.–there would be no hesitation in pronouncing him the inventor of this new device.”