The March 1866 robbery of nearly $2,000,000 in cash and securities (bonds) from the office of Rufus L. Lord was, at that time, the largest theft in American history. Herbert Asbury devotes a long passage in Chapter X, Section 2 of The Gangs of New York to this event, wherein he assures us that the crime was planned by John D. “Traveling Mike” Grady, and executed by Greedy Jack Rand, Hod Ennis, Boston Pet Anderson, and Eddie Pettingill.
What should have been clear to Asbury (writing sixty years after the crime) is that the Lord Bond Robbery is the great Rashomon of American crime stories, and there are a dozen different versions of who committed it and who else was involved.
According to NYPD Superintendent Thomas Byrnes (writing twenty years after the crime), the “master spirit” of robbery was Dan Noble, assisted by Bill Vosburgh, Fred Knapp, James Griffin, and Little Pettingill. Byrnes’s predecessor, George Walling, whom you would guess might have had even more knowledge of the crime, merely stated in his recollections that Dan Noble “was said to have been concerned” in the robbery, and named no others.
Frank Ross, in his 1896 American Metropolis, also credits Dan Noble, assisted by “Knapp,” “Baker,” and “Doctor Cramer.” Howard O. Sprogle, in 1887’s The Philadelphia Police, Past and Present, states that the culprits were Dan Noble and Chauncey Johnson.
Austin Bidwell, one of the Bank of England forgers, later wrote his memoirs, and provided intimate detail of the Lord Bond Robbery, which he said was committed by Charley Rose, Hod Ennis, and “Piano” Charley Bullard. Ace detective William A. Pinkerton agreed that these three men stole the bonds–but adds that they gave the bonds to Austin Bidwell’s brother, George Bidwell, to dispose of in England. Self-promoting Chicago detective Clifton Woolridge concurred that Charley Ross [sic Rose], Hod Ennis, and Charley Bullard were involved, but added James Griffin to the gang.
In 1872, the Chicago Tribune asserted the thieves were Henry “Dutch Heinrich” Neumann, Chauncey Johnson, Hod Ennis, and Jack Tierney.
So…lots of suspects. Were there any arrests? The NYPD officers working the case–Captain John Jordan, Detectives William Elder and Jack McCord–interviewed and then arrested Charles Howard and John Pettingill. A third target, Hod Ennis, had been arrested in Boston, but escaped from custody and retreated to Canada. To the embarrassment of the NYPD, it was strongly suggested that Ennis had escaped custody after two New York detectives–Ben Heath and John Young–recovered $250,000 from an address in London, England that Ennis had directed them to.
Some of the stolen bonds turned up in New York, incriminating several Wall Street brokers: Frank Hillen, W. A. Babcock and John Lynch. Not long after their arrests, Detective Elder arrested professional thief Jack Rand in Albany. No direct connection was ever made, but two months after Rand was taken, $1,200,000 in bonds was delivered back to New York by a London brokerage. Rand was later released.
The most plausible scenario is that the money was stolen, with some dumb luck, by Hod Ennis, Charley Howard, and John “Boston Pet” Pettingill. Howard and Pettingill were given some cash, but Ennis took the majority of the bonds and asked Rand to help dispose of them. Rand engineered the plan to have them taken to England (perhaps by Charley Bullard or George Bidwell). When Ennis was arrested in Boston, rather than give up Rand, he cut a modest deal with the crooked New York detectives, Heath and Young. Meanwhile, from the spooked Wall Street brokers, Elder learned that Rand was the key figure, and arrested him, and this resulted in the bulk of the bonds being restored to Rufus Lord, who gifted a nice reward to Detective Elder. Jack Rand was set free. His career was one of the most notable of nineteenth-century criminals.
Asbury got this partially correct: he identified Jack Rand and Hod Ennis. John “Boston Pet” Pettingill often used the alias Anderson, so Asbury confused that and named two men, Anderson and Pettingill. However, Asbury’s inclusion of John D. Grady is almost certainly wrong. Charles Howard is bit of a puzzle–he could be the same man as Charley Rose.
Why did NYPD chiefs Byrnes and Walling get it so wrong, and not comment more about it? They were deflecting from the NYPD’s past practices, in which property crimes often went unsolved or only partially recovered after kickbacks were made to police.
As a final note, while researching this famous crime, I learned something about a painting, a print of which hangs in my house:
The view is of Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. The painting was commissioned by Rufus L. Lord, long before his money was stolen.