I’ve kicked off a new (third) blog project that once again looks at the traditions of infamous criminals in America. In this case I’m going back further in time and concentrating on two specific individuals: the highwaymen Captain Thunderbolt and Captain Lightfoot. The lore surrounding these two has more elements of myth than fact, although Michael Martin–aka “Captain Lightfoot”–was real enough. He was captured, tried, and executed in Massachusetts in 1821, leaving behind a long confession that became an instant best-seller. In that pamphlet, he detailed the story of his life and the robberies he committed with his mentor, John Doherty–aka Captain Thunderbolt–in Ireland and Scotland.
In the decades following his death, Martin’s narrative inspired embellished, fictionalized retellings of the exploits of the highwaymen; but also generated separate hysterical accusations against two New Englanders (Richard Relhan and Dr. John Wilson) asserting that they were none other than “Captain Thunderbolt.”
In this blog project, I attempt to get to the truth of the matter by deconstructing Michael Martin’s confession; looking at how the story took on a life of its own in popular culture; analyzing the evidence against Relhan and Dr. Wilson; reviewing the long tradition of heroic Irish outlaws; and revealing the Massachusetts legends and relics about Martin.
Even during his lifetime, it was common knowledge in New York City that the real name of dive owner John Allen (“The Wickedest Man in New York”) was E. E. Van Allen. He could even be found under his real name in city directories. Over the decades, though, E. E. Van Allen’s pedigree has been erroneously confused with the family of dive owner Theodore “The.” Allen proprietor of the infamous American Mabille.
Herbert Asbury devoted several pages in Chapter III of The Gangs of New York to a sketch of John Allen and the circumstances of the staged 1868 Water Street revivalist meetings that Allen participated in. Asbury doesn’t explicitly confuse this “John Allen” with the family of The. Allen in The Gangs of New York, but he is guilty of doing so in his sequel, All Around the Town.
Conflating the two families would be entirely detrimental to the Van Allens: Evert Ellis Van Allen, though fully immersed in vice, had a father and four brothers who were ministers. Moreover, he descended from a Dutch family that had been in New York since the 1600s, and included a Congressman and a namesake who surveyed much of the city of Albany.
On the other side, the criminal antics and depredations of “The.” Allen and his brothers, and the marital discord between his parents, is a subject I’ve explored in an earlier blog project. Sibling Westley Allen was one of the dishonorable profiles in Thomas Byrnes’s book, Professional Criminals of America.
Perhaps a major source of the confusion is that the oldest of the Allen Brothers (Theodore, Jesse, Martin, Charles Wesley “Wes”) was John Allen (1831-1896). Moreover, this John Allen was also a dive owner, as evidenced by his obituary:
This John Allen lived 26 years beyond death of Evert E. Van Allen in 1870, and operated his dives much further north and in later decades.
The current (September 2020) Wikipedia entry for “John Allen (saloon keeper)” relies heavily on Asbury as a source, and repeats many of the erroneous statements Asbury made in All Around the Town.
In The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury had a tendency to shoehorn all famous crimes and criminals into association with the city’s infamous gangs, despite there being no evidence for those connections. An example can be found in his contention that Happy Jack Mulraney was a member of the Gophers gang. In Chapter XII, Section 2 he writes:
“Still another Gopher of distinction was Happy Jack Mulraney, so called because he always appeared to be laughing. However, the smile was caused by a partial paralysis of the muscles of his face. In reality Happy Jack was a verjuiced person and very sensitive about his deformity; when his chieftains wished to enrage him against an enemy they told him that slighting remarks had been made about his permanent grin. Happy Jack was finally sent to prison for the murder of Paddy the Priest, who owned a saloon in Tenth avenue and was a staunch friend of Happy Jack’s until he asked the gangster why he did not laugh on the other side of his face. Happy Jack then shot him and for good measure robbed the till.”
Hundreds of newspaper articles appeared about John “Happy Jack” during his arrest, conviction, appeals and eventual execution in the electric chair in May, 1913. Not one of them mentioned the Gophers, or a facial deformity. When Mulraney was sentenced for Patrick “Paddy the Priest” McBreen’s murder, he was sent to Sing Sing, where the prison intake records meticulously recorded every prisoner’s physical features. Nothing was mentioned about a facial deformity; instead, his features were characterized as “regular.”
The victim, Paddy the Priest, earned his nickname through acts of kindness and charity, despite being a saloon operator. There is no evidence he knew Happy Jack before the crime. Instead, witnesses testified that Mulraney and three others had been searching for a clothing store to rob that evening, but were frustrated by iron security bars. Mulraney and a companion walked down the block and went into McBreen’s bar, where Paddy was counting receipts at the till. Mulraney and his partner pulled guns. McBreen thought they were joking, and reached behind his back to untie his apron. Mulraney thought he was reaching for a weapon, and shot him three times.
The murder occurred on October 4, 1911. John Mulraney had just been released from Auburn State Prison a month earlier; he had been sent there in May, 1907 for Burglary (his third offense since a year earlier, 1906). One witness identified Mulraney from looking at the NYPD Rogue’s Gallery photographs, and pointed to Mulraney because he looked so mean. A grainy reproduction of the mug shot appeared in the March 15, 1914 New York Herald, alongside a full-page article describing how detectives found evidence and tracked down their man. The photo is dark, but definitely shows a man without a smile:
However, Happy Jack earned his nickname because he did smile often, and inappropriately. He grinned during his trial, laughed when sentenced to die, and (by some accounts) had the remnants of a smile on his lifeless face after being electrocuted. Before he died, he told prison reformer Madeleine Zabriskie Doty that his life was a joke. By Doty’s account, Mulraney’s life had been one of almost constant street life and crime. He did not appear to have much cunning, but that may have been an act. While on Death Row, he succeeded in gaining an appeal hearing and a stay of execution by presenting four or five different versions of who committed the murder and how he was not present as the scene. Several of his defense witnesses soon admitted to perjury (including his mother!), and in the end of own defense lawyer threw in the towel and refused further motions.
Those who cling to the idea that Mulraney might have inspired the Joker are mistaken. If any one figure inspired the comic-book villain, it was Victor Hugo’s protagonist Gwynplaine, in The Man Who Laughs. Hugo’s work was made into a Hollywood movie in 1928–the same year that The Gangs of New York was published.
Still, some may point to this clipping from 1903:
However, cold water (if not acid) can be thrown on this by pointing out that different articles gave the man’s name as John Mulvaney, Joseph Mulraney, and James Mulvaney; and that he was a stock clerk by profession; he was permanently blinded in one eye and his face was severely burned.
Herbert Asbury’s third chapter of The Gangs of New York does not deal with gangs at all, but instead describes the dance halls and dives of the Fourth Ward (the waterfront of the lower Eastern eastern end of Manhattan) of the 1850s-1870s. It does not take long for Asbury to focus on the Water Street establishments of John Allen, Kit Burns, Charlie Monell, Gallus Mag, Bill Slocum, and Tommy Hadden. Of these, John Allen’s dance hall was the most popular, aided by Allen’s eccentricities, of which his claim to religiosity was the most jarring. Asbury describes the curious events of 1868, which included Allen allowing religious meetings to take place in his dive (during which Allen himself spoke about moral behavior). Soon Allen’s cohorts–Tommy Hadden and Bill Slocum–also allowed the temporary takeover of their establishments by visiting ministers preaching reform.
The motives behind these proselytizing stunts were never revealed, but Asbury relates the suspicion of many contemporary observers that Allen, Hadden, Slocum, et al. were paid by the ministers for the use of their buildings, and that Allen and company profited not only from the rental, but from free publicity–and that publicity was also the motive of the reformers.
As Asbury states, John Allen had been anointed the title “the wickedest man in New York” even before this time. However, once public scrutiny was drawn to Tommy Hadden by the events of 1868, at least one newspaper declared that Hadden was “wickeder than the Wickedest.” The reason for this is easily understood when you consider that Hadden’s other accolade was being named “the king of the shanghaiers.” Hadden ran a grog-shop/sailor’s boarding house at the Water Street address, and later operated a dance hall on Cherry Street. Hadden perfected the craft of drugging the drinks of his sailor customers, conveying them unconscious down to the piers, and supplying them to ship captains needing crews for long voyages, especially to the orient. From the viewpoint of these ship captains, Tommy Hadden was a reliable crew “recruiter” who always delivered what he was asked for.
Between 1856 and 1868, Tommy Hadden was arrested a half-dozen times for kidnapping, and was convicted to State Prison once, spending two years in Sing Sing between 1856 and 1858. In 1869, Tommy was sent to the New Jersey State Prison for drugging a resident of that state, stealing his keys, and then going to the man’s house to steal his furniture. Not long after his return from that prison stay, he was at it again:
While this prison sentence marked the end of Tommie’s criminal career, Archie’s was just beginning. Archibald Hadden, born in 1859, avoided conviction alongside his father in 1878. However, in 1882 Archie was sent to Sing Sing for two years on a Grand Larceny charge. He returned there in 1885 on a Burglary conviction, and was later transferred from Sing Sing to Auburn. In 1889 he was charged with assault, resulting in another two year stretch at Sing Sing. Archie kept a lower profile in the late 1890s and 1900s, though in 1901 he was accused of kidnapping sailors. By 1910 he was the operator of one of the most notorious Tenderloin district dives and houses of prostitution, the German Village on 40th Street, opposite the Metropolitan Opera; and Hadden also owned the nearby Denver Hotel. Archie later diversified by buying a lumberyard in Bayside, Queens, where his family relocated.
There was no son that survived childhood for Archie to pass down the family aptitude for running dens of iniquity. Instead, Archie was blessed with a family of five girls. The oldest, Mamie, born in 1881, married in her early twenties and lived in Brooklyn with the same man her entire life, and hosted her father Archie in his last years. As for the other four girls, their timeline reads like an improbable film noir…
In 1904, at age 18, Helen (aka Nellie/Ella) Hadden married James Regan, one of the managers of the cafe at her father’s joint, the German Village. They separated after a year, but she bore him a son. They never formally divorced, and Regan let her continue live in their apartment, though he moved elsewhere when he took another job.
In May, 1908, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children discovered that 14-year-old Elizabeth Hadden and 13-year-old Anna Hadden were living in rooms at their father’s dive hotel, and were awarded custody of the two girls by a judge. The girls were placed in the St. Joseph’s Home in Peekskill, New York. Five months later, their mother pulled up to the home in a speeding car and whisked away Anna, who was waiting outside. Elizabeth was too ill to make the escape. Police discovered that Anna had been taken to Helen Hadden Regan’s apartment, but Helen took her sister away before police arrived, and later refused to tell where she was.
In 1909, Helen Hadden–though not formally divorced from Regan–married an infamous former pickpocket named Morris Glatt. Glatt, nicknamed “The Twinkler” for his affinity for stealing diamonds, had allegedly reformed in 1908 and now worked as a private detective for the Pinkerton agency, stopping pickpockets at racetracks. Glatt worked at the most famous tracks all over the country, and received high praise from his employers.
In April 1910, James Regan went to Helen’s apartment looking for his 6-year old son, and found that Glatt had moved in. Neither man admitted to being aware of each other’s existence as Helen’s husband. Regan tried to force his way in, but Glatt calmly shot him twice through the door. Regan survived his wounds.
The Glatts, Morris and Helen Hadden Regan Glatt, moved to Long Island City, Queens, where Morris now worked as a detective for the Long Island Railroad. In April 1911, while at home with Helen, Morris Glatt died from a gunshot wound to the head while lying down on a bed. The death was ruled suicide. [Note: astute readers of The Gangs of New York Annotated will connect the name Morris Glatt to the entry on Josh Hines, because most people at the time assumed that Glatt had become fearful of revenge threats Hines had made against Glatt shortly before Hines was released from prison.] No newspapers thought it suspicious that Helen Hadden was also in the house.
A year later, in May 1912, Morris Glatt’s brother Garry Glatt and Helen’s sister Florence (aka Dolly) Glatt were arrested for picking pockets.
In June 1913, Helen and Florence wandered through the Italian neighborhood of Hoboken, New Jersey, in their fancy dress, wearing much jewelry–and were caught shoplifting baubles. A month later, Helen re-married James Regan. However, they soon split again.
In February 1914, Helen and Florence pulled off a double elopement, each marrying respectable young businessmen: Florence married Edward J. Duffy, a manager from Flushing New York; and Helen married John J. Trapp, a Wall Street broker. Helen again forgot that she was still officially married to Regan. Trapp and Helen very quickly separated, though it took Trapp years to see through divorce proceedings.
Three months later, Helen married again (she then had two active husbands, Regan and Trapp) to Louis Targoff. Helen and Targoff then descended into drug addiction (her father Archie’s dive had been raided for drug use). The Targoffs traveled to Baltimore to enter a sanitarium for treatment, but were arrested upon their arrival. The authorities then let them go. Helen was arrested for shoplifting again in 1916.
Between 1916 and 1920, Florence (Dolly) went through her own marital change. Duffy disappeared, and she married a man named Roche, though he does not appear to have kept pace with the family. In September 1920, Archie (now 61) was arrested for running a speakeasy in Rosedale, Queens. Two years later he was sent to prison for a year for running a dive featuring prostitutes at the same location. Archie insisted it was a just a dance hall, and that women flocked to it because he was the best dancer in New York.
In 1924, the Archie’s joint, now called the 101 Ranch or “Pop’s Place,” was being run by Florence (now known as Dolly Roche). She remarried to a man named Charles Streib. They soon had two daughters together. A few years later, Helen married yet again, to a man twenty years her junior, Joseph Calderone.
The Haddens appear to have exhausted their quotient of wickedness by the 1930s. Archie lived to the age of 86, but no family members found their way back into headlines.
For many decades, the one man who embodied the popular conception of a Bowery resident was a character known as Chuck Connors. Connors was a garrulous, cheerful fixture of Chinatown, who had grown up in the Five Points and later served as a messenger for Chinese merchants. Frequently found in Chinatown’s notorious dives, Connors soon gained a reputation as a Chinatown guide for slumming uptown tourists. He was featured as a Bowery character by a couple of New York newspaper reporters, which served to spread his fame throughout the city. A former boxer, Connors was also championed by dive-owner Scotty Lavelle and Richard Fox, publisher of the National Police Gazette.
In addition to regaling people with his heavy dialect anecdotes, Connors was a talented dancer who–along with his favorite female partners–was frequently invited to balls in order to add color to the event. He pioneered some comical (but adroit) dance moves, and became a favorite of the Tammany politicos who often sponsored these entertainments. Publisher Fox even published a book of Chuck’s anecdotes Bowery Life, illustrated by Chuck in some of his mugging poses.
Actor Chris Simmons has made of video of his uncanny recreation of Chuck Connors dialect:
In the beginning, there was only one Chuck. This is literally true, since many sources credit Chuck Connors as being the first person presumed to be nicknamed “Chuck” for Charles. Except his name was not Charles. It wasn’t even Connors. He was born about 1861 as Patrick O’Connor. He once suggested his nickname came from his affinity for “chuck” (steak, or food in general?). [Thanks to Chris S. for correction–ed.]
As a young man, Chuck Connors was one of the intrepid juveniles that performed at the Grand Duke’s Opera House on Baxter Street. He and another boy named Tommie Winn(g) performed an acrobatic act as “The Winn(g) Brothers.”
Chuck’s heyday as a minor celebrity lasted from the early 1890s to 1905. In that year, Chuck’s first wife, Nellie Noonan, passed away with tuberculosis. Chuck himself was slowing down, aged by drink and ring pummelings. As Herbert Asbury relates in Chapter XIV, Section 3 of The Gangs of New York, 1905 was also the year when Connors was challenged as the unofficial mascot of Chinatown by a young Italian bootblack who styled himself “Young Chuck Connors.” Asbury named the upstart as Frank Salvatore, but the source for this story, a January 11, 1905 New York Post article titled “King Chuck Abdicates,” doesn’t name the usurper. Asbury probably makes more of this story than it warranted, for there is no evidence that the rival Chuck persisted in stealing the original Chuck’s act.
Still, this anecdote foreshadows the strange turn Chuck Connors’ legacy took even after his death in 1913.
Skip ahead a dozen years to the mid-1920s. Young stage starlet Mae West arrives at a New York Hotel, and shimmers through the lobby. An old off-duty policeman sees her and freezes in stunned amazement (which may not have been an uncommon reaction). Mae sees him and asks what’s wrong. The man explains that Mae is the spitting image of the girl he loved in younger days, but their romance was ill-fated. Mae listened with interest to the story, set against the backdrop of the Bowery district, and thought it would be a good premise for a stage production.
To research the story further, she was introduced to a former radio singer who was now acting in his own vaudeville routine, Chuck Connors, Jr. Billed as the son of the original Chuck Connors, Chuck Jr. regaled Mae West with stories from the Bowery of the gay nineties, along with artifacts from the career of the first Chuck. With Chuck Jr.’s help, they developed the production that hit the stage as Diamond Lil in 1928. The plot included the role of Chuck Connors. It was a runaway hit, but Mae’s scandalous character, seductive presence, and double entendre lines elicited demands for censorship.
Though Mae West successfully transitioned to (pre-Hays code) Hollywood, she struggled to get Diamond Lil adapted to film. Paramount finally agreed to film it in 1932, but insisted on a title change, and that no references were made to the play. It was released as She Done Him Wrong in January, 1933, starring Mae West, Cary Grant, Noah Beery, and Tammany Young (as Chuck Connors.)
Paramount’s rival, 20th Century Fox, countered with the film The Bowery, released later in 1933. It starred George Raft, Jackie Mason, and Wallace Beery (Noah’s brother!) as Chuck Connors. In this case, Beery as Chuck Connors was the lead character. The plot revolved around a (fictional) bitter rivalry between Chuck Connors and Steve Brodie, the Brooklyn Bridge daredevil jumper (Raft). The film included episodes unflattering to Connors’ character, including the notion that he had prevented firefighters from saving a burning building full of Chinatown residents.
The studio rivalry became manifest when Chuck Connors Jr., who supported Paramount’s She Done Him Wrong, brought a libel suit against 20th Century Fox for disparaging the career of his father. The suit was brought to court, where the Fox lawyers revealed that Chuck Jr. was not the son of Chuck Connors at all, but was really his nephew, George Anthony Miller. The libel suit was tossed thanks to Jr.’s lack of candor.
The kerfuffle over the ghost of Chuck Connors did not stop there. The 1939 New York World’s Fair presented, as one of its exhibits, a Potemkin gilded-age New York Bowery street, with entertainment produced by George Jessel. Its main feature was “Chuck Connor’s Saloon.” The real Chuck Connors, it should be noted, spent most of his waking hours in saloons, but never ran one.
Chuck Connors’ restless identity was finally vanquished by the amazing career of actor and athlete Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors, known to all TV and movie fans of the latter 20th century as Chuck Connors. From The Rifleman to The Big Country to Soylent Green, Connors had a string of hit roles that remain etched in collective memory. Today, he remains the reigning Chuck Connors of popular culture, while the original Chuck is all but forgotten.
At the onset of his retelling of “The Killing of Bill The Butcher,” (The Gangs of New York, Chapter V, Section 1) Herbert Asbury paints an accurate picture of the proliferation of gambling dens and gamblers in Manhattan, circa 1850s-1860s. As Asbury notes, the extent of these gambling operations was laid out in a report made at a public meeting by Jonathan Harrington Green, executive agent for the New York Association for the Suppression of Gambling. By Green’s count (in 1851), there were over 6000 gaming establishments in the city, which flourished thanks to payoffs made by the owners to ward politicians. Asbury merely mentions that Green was a reformed gambler, and says nothing else about the man. Green, it happens, was an extremely interesting man.
Green’s writings make it clear that–after his reform epiphany in 1842–he viewed gambling itself as a vice, whether the games were played with or without cheating. He asserted that gambling only led to guilt and ruin, yet he appeared to have no animosity towards the games themselves, and continued to write about their history, mechanics, and strategies.
Green’s anti-gambling advocacy and books likely garnered him some income during the 1840s, but he needed a different field of endeavor to conquer. He ventured into the business of textile materials, taking an interest in the relatively new rubber industry. Green opened a rubber manufacturing factory in Trenton, New Jersey in 1850, but it failed two years later. (This was just about the same period when the Goodyear Brothers were starting to make a success in the same industry.)
Rubber was the focus of over twenty patents that Green filed over the next thirty years: Rubber coatings, rubberized fabric, painted rubber, a process to remove paint from rubber, rubber billiard cue tips, etc. He moved from New Jersey, to Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, and Philadelphia. Along the way he enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, serving as a Captain for an Indiana infantry unit. He lost his first wife in 1863, and immediately remarried. With his second wife, he started a new family of seven children, all born after he was 50 years old.
Several biographies mention that (in the late 1850s) Green briefly worked for the U. S. Secret Service; however, that office was not established until long after Green’s experience, which was as an agent hired by the solicitor of the United States Treasury Department. In that capacity, Green was supposed to help root out counterfeiters. However, one of the men he suspected turned the tables and had Green arrested in New York City for possession of fake bills, which caused Green to spend time in jail before it was sorted out.
Green spent his last two decades in relative poverty. He had several legal entanglements, which revolved around his efforts to entice investors to provide him capital to pursue his inventions. In effect, he sought out others to gamble on his ideas–and frequently disappointed them, leading to accusations that he had misrepresented the risks.
Green became ill in Philadelphia in 1887, still responsible for many children who could not yet care for themselves. His second wife, Cinderella Chisman, had died in 1884. Most biographies assert that Green died in 1887 in Philadelphia, but he did not.
Following one of his oldest daughters, now married, to Dayton, Ohio, he entered a convalescent home for Union soldiers. He stayed there two years, and then took one last gamble: he signed himself out of the hospital on Christmas Eve, 1889. He likely spent his last year with daughter Margaret Heather Walker (later Sallume) before his death in November 1890 in Indiana. Margaret became a successful writer herself, but claimed no credit; she stated that a spirit came to her and dictated the poems and fiction she put to pen.
As New York City nightlife moved from lower Manhattan further north to the Tenderloin in the last decades of the 1800s, the Bowery area lost its dance halls and the “slummers” who came to spend their money. In Chapter XIV, Section 4 of The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury provides a roster of the low dives that replaced them, that came to typify the changes to the neighborhood:
“Probably no American city has ever been able to boast of resorts as depraved as the Doctor’s, the Plague, the Hell Hole, the Harp House, the Cripples’ Home, and the Billy Goat, all in Park Row; the Dump, the Princess Cafe and Johnny Kelly’s dive, in the Bowery; the Inferno in Worth street; the Workingman’s Friend in Mott street; Union Hall in Elizabeth street; the Cob Dock in Hester street; and Mother Woods’ in Water street. Of only a slightly higher class were Chick Tricker’s Fleabag and McGuirk’s Suicide Hall, both on the Bowery. McGuirk’s and Mother Woods’ were the favorite haunts of the prostitutes and women thieves of the Bowery and water front districts…”
It is true that prostitutes and women criminals could be found at Hannah Woods’ house at 390 1/2 Water Street (near James Slip, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge), from 1885 until 1910. Police made weekly visits to the house, in search of particular women wanted as suspects or witnesses. However, it was not a dive; it was a refuge. Mother Woods offered nothing other than a roof to her clients, who often could not pay her. The New York Sun of May 1, 1905 provided a more sympathetic perspective:
Hannah Sullivan was born in Ireland in 1845, came to America, and married an Irish shoemaker named Felix McCarthy. They raised a family of several children. Mr. McCarthy died, and Hannah remarried a man named Woods, about whom nothing is known. He apparently left Hannah with a healthy account in a Bowery bank; and her son lived nearby at 314 Water Street.
Why Hannah Woods decided to open her house as a shelter for the city’s neediest women is not known. Had there been some event in her own past that prompted an impulse for charity? Did she do so out of a sense of spiritual reward? Did she enjoy the company of her lodgers, and hearing their woeful stories?
On the evening of July 4th, 1910, Hannah sat outside on her door step with a lodger and a neighbor, enjoying the warm summer evening and the sounds of revelers celebrating Independence Day. Bangs were heard up and down the street. Hannah coughed and moved to get up to go inside, but then collapsed. A doctor was summoned, and those she had been talking to thought she had suffered a heart attack. The doctor came and pronounced her dead; it was noticed that blood stained the front of her dress. Further examination revealed that she had been killed by a bullet to the breast. Police later concluded that she had been hit by a stray bullet from one of the irresponsible Fourth of July celebrants. The shooter was never found.
Hannah Woods was martyred by a celebration of America, the same America that left behind the human wrecks that she took in and gave shelter to. Asbury listed her among many sinners and places of sin, but clearly she was a saint.
In Section 3 of Chapter XVI of The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury mentioned three East Side gang leaders who carved out a specialty in the field of extortion: poisoning the work horses used by delivery companies and street vendors, as well as the stables that housed the animals. At times these gangs worked on their own behalf, demanding payoffs from the businesses they threatened. However, at other times they were commissioned to sabotage a business under a contract with that business’s competitor. Indeed, it appears that this racket emerged on the Lower East Side and across the river in Brooklyn from this motive, and flourished in the cutthroat capitalism economic atmosphere of the predominantly Jewish immigrant communities. Small businesses were territorial, and any intrusions into a business’s market service area was seen as a personal threat to one’s livelihood.
The three gangsters named by Asbury were “Yoske Nigger”, “Charley the Cripple”, and “Johnny Levinsky.” Asbury reprinted these names from his source material on the horse poisoners, a full-page feature article in the New York Tribune’s Sunday edition of August 17, 1913 titled “The Horse Poisoners: The Throttling of a Vicious Species of Gang Crime”, by Edwin Newdick. Newdick was a Dartmouth-educated reporter who specialized in news of labor relations, so he made pains to open his article with an explanation of the economic forces that gave rise to this racket. Newdick named “Yoske Nigger” as Joseph Toblinsky, “Charlie Cripple” as Charles Vitofsky, and “John L.” John Levinsky.
Toblinsky and Vitofsky were widely publicized as members of the “Yiddish Camorra” (they also called their affiliation the “Arsenic Club”). However, among the dozens of newspaper articles printed about the horse poisoners, the name “Levinsky” (or variants) is not to be found, outside of Newdick’s article. There were, though, two other men frequently mentioned as being leaders of the gang: Hyman Edelstein and Louis Levine.
Joseph (Yoske is a Yiddish variant of Joseph) Toblinsky was a Jewish Lithuanian immigrant born in 1883. His criminal record started in his teens and stretched to 1944, when he died as an inmate of Clinton State Prison in Dannemora, New York. Most of his crimes were burglaries and highway thefts. Charles Vitofsky (also spelled Witofsky) was about the same age as Toblinsky. Though arrested for his connection with the Arsenic Club, the main witness against him was murdered the day before he was slated to testify. Vitofsky/Witofsky appears to have reformed after other horse poisoners were sent to prison. Hyman Edelstein was the senior gang associate, a trucking contractor by trade, which placed him in the ideal position to reward some businesses and victimize others. In 1914, Edelstein was was of the last of the Arsenic Club to be imprisoned, receiving a stiff sentence of 7-to-15 years at Sing Sing.
The Arsenic Club’s height was in the 1907-1911 period. Altogether, it was estimated that they killed over 500 animals in the span of a decade, and committed an unknown number of murders. They were brought down by a combination of factors: Lower East Side and Brooklyn businesses that used horses finally banded together to stop the gang, once they realized that the violence could target any one of them. The New York State legislature changed the law in 1911 to make poisoning animals a felony rather than a misdemeanor. This made it possible to imprison the gang members. The ASPCA offered substantial rewards for information about the gang.
However, the demise of this racket can really be attributed to the advent of the internal combustion engine. By the 1910s, many deliveries started to be made by motorized vehicles. The opportunities for racketeering–pioneered by the horse poisoners–grew exponentially with the trucking industry.
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.
Writing of the origins of the Hell’s Kitchen Gang in the 1860s, (see The Gangs of New York, Chapter XI, Section 2) Herbert Asbury recounts the downfall of its only-mentioned chieftain:
“Under the leadership of Dutch Heinrichs this gang roamed through Hell’s Kitchen, levying tribute on the merchants and factory owners, breaking into houses in broad daylight, beating and robbing strangers, and keeping the entire district in a chronic state of terror. Much of their stealing was done at the old Thirtieth street yards and depot of the Hudson River railroad. Heinrichs was sent to prison for five years after he and two of his gangsters had attacked Captain John H. McCullagh, then a patrolman, who had ventured alone into Hell’s Kitchen to investigate the theft of two hogsheads of hams from a freight car.”
Asbury’s source for this was 1885’s Our Police Protectors: History of New York Police… by Augustine E. Costello. Costello wrote: “McCullagh, hearing of the robbery, went cautiously down towards the depot. On the way he encountered a notorious thief, nicknamed “Dutch Heinrich,” and two of his companions. Heinrich, with an oath, precipitated himself on the officer. A terrific struggle ensued, but after a time the thief went under. He was afterwards tried, convicted, and sent to State Prison for five years.”
However, McCullagh himself, in recalling this adventure for the January 6, 1889 edition of the New York Herald, clearly states the the crook he nabbed was “Dutch Herman,” the nickname of a notorious Hell’s Kitchen thief named Harmon Liedendorf, aka “Dutch Harmon.” In the 1874, Liedendorf was tried and acquitted of killing a Hudson River Railway watchman for lack of evidence, but was sent to prison for shooting at the officer who arrested him. He escaped, only to be recaptured a few years later. Articles about Liedendorf say then he was a member of the Tenth Avenue gang.
There was a different notorious contemporary New York-based criminal in the 1860s known as Dutch Heinrich (and variants Hendricks/Hendrick,Heinrichs/Heindrich, etc.) His real name, as far as can be known, was Henry Edwin G. Neumann/Newman, born about 1842. Neumann, at age 18, was arrested for pick-pocketing a watch in May 1860 in New York under the alias Edward Ryan. Despite his youth, he was described as a “noted pickpocket.” Other later accounts suggested that he provided goods to the Greenthal and Mandelbaum fencing operations. He was sentenced to two years in Sing Sing, where he became friends with sneak thief Chauncey Johnson.
Sneak thieves were elites among criminals–they did not resort to violence or break-ins, but instead stole in broad daylight, targeting banks and financial institution offices with lax security. They were only interested in large cash hauls, employing patient study of these workplaces, distraction techniques to trick others into looking away from stacks of bills or bonds, and sometimes special tools to reach behind counters.
During the mid-to-late 1860s, Chauncey Johnson and Dutch Heinrich scored several big jobs, including the Bank of Commerce in 1865 and the Broadway Bank in 1866. Both Johnson and Neumann were gambling addicts, and lost their money almost as soon as they stole it. They gained an infamous reputation as two of the most successful thieves in the nation.
“Dutch Heinrich” Neumann was sometimes mentioned as one of the suspects in the $2 million dollar Lord Bond Robbery of March, 1866, which stood as one of the largest unsolved robberies in American history (though many of the bonds were recovered). However, Neumann had been arrested for a different money grab the day before the Lord Bond robbery, so he could not have been involved.
In 1872, Neumann was arrested, tried and convicted of a bank robbery and sentenced to ten years at Sing Sing. However, almost immediately after he was sentenced, it became clear that he had been “railroaded” by vengeful detectives and was innocent of this particular crime; an appeal process was started by his lawyers, Howe and Hummel. During this period, Neumann exhibited signs of insanity. Some thought he was feigning, but most observers realized that his chances of acquittal at a second trial were so solid that he had no reason to fake an illness. Eventually he was let out on bail, but in such poor condition that newspapers believed he would not live much longer. In 1874, he boarded a steamer that was to take him to his native Germany to spend his last days there. Once other passengers learned who had booked the passage, they demanded that he be taken off before the ship sailed. In 1875 it was reported that he had died at an asylum in Germany.