These are the fascinating portraits of some of America’s most infamous bank robbers, con-men, forgers, embezzlers and pickpockets, who terrorized the country in the late nineteenth-century.
The remarkable photos were taken by famed New York Police Department detective Thomas F.Byrnes – the officer who popularized the use of the mug shot in law enforcement and even coined the term ‘rogues gallery’.
The collection shows some of the 203 lawbreakers that Byrnes featured in his book, ‘Professional Criminals of America’ in 1886.
He believed that publishing these ‘mugshots’ would not only help civilians identify felons but also prevent future crimes from taking place.
Byrnes became obsessed with amassing photographs of known criminals and he claimed to have collected over 7,000 portraits in his rogues gallery by the end of his life.
Historians consider Brynes’ collection to have been the first recorded National Crime Registry in the USA and over two hundred of his mugshots were published in Bryne’s 1886 book ‘Professional Criminals of America’.
Pickpocket, sneak and shoplifter Mary Holbrook, pictured in March 1883. Mary was from Ireland and is described as being the most successful and notorious female thief in America. Mary stole all over America, serving multiple jail sentences in cities across the country and in Canada. She was so good at thieving that she and her husband lived entirely from her proceeds. She was known to the nation’s police departments mainly as a pickpocket and shoplifter, but began her traceable career as a Clark Street ‘panel-room’ brothel madam in Chicago, where clients were robbed while they were distracted by an accomplice hiding behind a partition
Sophie Levy, a pickpocket and blackmailer, pictured here in 1886. Dubbed ‘the Queen of Crime’ by the New York City chief of police in the 1880s, she lived an outrageous life that encompassed both sides of the law. Sophie, a Jewish woman from the United States, hung out in hotels where she once attracted a wealthy merchant, luring him to her room. She then took off his clothing and threatened him with exposure if he did not comply with her demands. He surrendered and filled out a check for $10,000. Eventually, Sophie and her accomplice were arrested, but their intended victim refused to appear against them, and they were discharged. His money was saved, but his character was ruined, and the result was the breaking up of a happy home. She continued black-mailing people until February 6, 1883, when she was convicted at Ann Harbor, Mich., and sentenced to three years
Charles Wilson, aka Little Paul, a sneak and a shoplifter pictured here in 1878 when he was 33-years-old. Little Paul was sent to Sing Sing prison in 1883 where he escaped by sawing off the iron bars of a window and crawling to the Hudson River, where a convenient float was waiting for him. He reached the other shore and put on civilian clothing that had been left there for him. He was later re-arrested in New Orleans in 1884 and sent back to Sing Sing
Kate Armstrong aka Mary Ann Down, a pickpocket and shoplifter pictured here November, 1885. Mary was from England. A stout lady she would frequent Madison Square Garden and pick lady’s pockets. Her operations were greatly aided by her respectable appearance and her perfect self-control. She was arrested in New York City on October 20, 1884, charged with the theft of a diamond, sapphire and pearl bar-pin, valued at $250, from the jewelry store Tiffany & Co. in New York, on July 7, 1884. She got five years. None of the names offered by the woman Byrnes declared as ‘Kate Armstrong’ might have been her real name. She was arrested most frequently under two names that Byrnes never mentioned: Rebecca Stark and Rebecca Colston.
Horace Hovan aka Little Horace, a bank thief, pictured here in 1886 when he was 37-years-old. Horace was from Richmond, VA, and is described as being a clever thief who always had a good alibi because of his brother who was nearly identical to him in manner and voice. He would register his wife at a prominent hotel and make the acquaintance of guests. Then he would swap himself for his brother who would come in and take his wife out in a carriage to the park while Horace was ou robbing banks. Horace Hovan was without doubt one of the smartest bank sneaks in the world. Latest accounts, from the fall of 1885, said that he was arrested in Europe and sentenced to three years in prison for the larceny of a package of bank notes from a safe. His partner, Frank Buck, made his escape and returned to America
Annie Reilly aka Little Annie, a dishonest servant from Ireland. Little Annie Reilly, found jobs as a child’s nurse, appearing to make great fuss over the children. But she would only remain in any place for one or two days before robbing a house of its jewellery, which was sometimes worth thousands of dollars. She was jailed in 1884 for four and a half years. She was widely regarded as ‘the cleverest woman in her line in America’. A well-known member of New York’s underworld, she was part of an elite ‘inner circle’ of female career criminals under Marm Mandelbaum during the 1860s and 1870s. These included some of the most notorious thieves, blackmailers and confidence women in the country such as Lena Kleinschmidt, Sophie Lyons, Kid Glove Rosey, Queen Liz, Big Mary and Old Mother Hubbard
Edward Fairbrother, aka Dr West, pictured here in 1873. Dr West was an Oxford alumni from England, graduating from Oxford Corpus Christi College. He was arrested for malpractice while in New York City, where he worked as a physician. When in prison he claimed to learn so much about robbery that he couldn’t resist going into a life of crime. Fairbrother was highly educated, and could speak several languages. During his court appearance in 1880, Fairbrother entertained those in the courtroom with a long, amusing account of his crime, delivered with dramatic flair. When convicted in 1873, Fairbrother had appealed to the judge for mercy, and offered to prove that he was a man of feeling by reciting a poem he had composed in jail. The judge was unimpressed
Bertha Heyman, aka Big Betha, pictured here June 1881. Bertha was from Germany and described as one of the smartest confidence women in America, and a great talker. She would swindle men out of thousands of dollars, even while locked up in prison. Heyman would pretend to be a wealthy woman who was unable to access her fortune. She stayed at the best hotels and retained both a maid and a manservant in her service, while bragging about having influential friends. Her confidence tricks ‘were extraordinarily bold and ingenious’, and they were covered by her ostentatious displays
Bank thief Rufus Minor, 48, pictured here in 1886. Rufus is described as a bank sneak who ran with Billy the Kid. He was described as being intelligent and from a good family. He was charged with larceny of $200,000 stolen from New York in 1878. Though some described Minor’s techniques as scientific, he was known to consult with fortune-tellers before embarking on any jobs. After Byrnes’s book was published, in December, 1886, a New York storekeeper was looking through his copy and saw Rufus Minor walk into his store. He was caught shoplisting a $25 overcoat and identified by Chief Byrnes himself
John Larney aka Mollie Matches, a pickpocket and bank burglar, pictured here in 1886 when he was 47 years old. He’s described as being a talented thief but an outspoken one. He wore fine clothes and had an aversion to tobacco and alcohol. He got his nickname because as a boy he disguised himself as a match girl and mingled in the crowds of New York pick pocketing over $2,000. He was perhaps the most well-known American pickpocket of the nineteenth century. Following the Civil War Larney settled in Cleveland, Ohio, and bought some property under the name John Dolan. He opened a saloon, but most of his income came from long-distance pickpocket tours. He knew every technique of working crowds, train stations, seaside resorts, fairs, passenger steamers, any place people jostled together
Edward Sturgess aka Hyatt, pictured here in 1877 when he was 36-years-old. Sturgess, who was from Havana, Cuba was a hotel thief, pick-pocketing guests. He was sentenced to six months in state prison in New York City on February 20, 1871. He escaped in a swill barrel but was recaptured the same day and taken back
Lena Kleinschmidt, aka Black Lena, a shoplifter, pictured here in April 1880. Lena was from Germany and a notorious shoplifter known from Maine to Chicago. On April 9, 1880 she stole 108 yards of silk dressings worth $250. She was also an associate of fence Fredericka ‘Marm’ Mandelbaum and Adam Worth. Lena eventually moved to Hackensack, New Jersey, and, while posing as the wealthy widow of a South American mining tycoon, became known as a local hostess giving elaborate dinner parties in the style of Mandelbaum. Although having no visible means of support during this time, twice a week she would visit New York ‘replenishing her coffers’. Her charade ended when a guest allegedly recognized a ring which she had worn during one of her dinner parties which had been previously stolen
Terrence Murphy, aka Poodle Murphy, pictured here in January 1885. Murphy, from Albany, NY, was known across cities in the USA. He would carry out distraction robberies where his friends would stall the victim and he would carry out the deed. He was arrested in every large city in the North of the USA, but was never sent to a State prison. The first name ‘Terrence’ did not appear in print until 1882. From 1876-1882, Murphy used the aliases Henry Murphy, Thomas Murphy, Henry Brady, and Henry Robinson. He gained the nickname ‘Poodle’ early in these years, due to the fact that he sported large mutton-chop sideburns. That facial hair saved him on one occasion; while awaiting a hearing, in his cell he took a dinner knife and cut off his facial hair, scarring his cheeks with the dull blade. The ploy worked as his victim was unable to identify him
Louise Jordan, aka Biblow, a pickpocket and shoplifter, from England, pictured here in 1886. Her Father ran a pub in Manchester, England and she served time in a British prison. Upon her release, she went to Brazil as a companion of a wealthy Spanish lady. While in that country she stole all of her mistress’s diamonds, was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to receive forty lashes at the whipping-post, and was condemned to have the lower part of her right ear cut off. She then wore her hair over her ears to cover this deformity. She went on to serve time in several American prisons for pickpocketing