That Crook Look

That Crook Look

His eyes are cold and his stare is intense. His thin lips curl in a slight snarl. If central casting needed an actor who looked the part of a ruthless crook, this stiff-jawed man would fill the bill perfectly. Even his suit, bow tie, starched collar and homburg hat can’t make the man who claimed to be “Henry Sarto” look honest.

Henry’s crime story goes back a couple of years prior to February 1916 when these mugshots were taken.

On March 27, 1914, Inspector J.B. Bradley, an agent of the Boston and Maine Railroad, discovered a man in the midst of robbing a freight train late one night at the Fitchburg Rail Yard, northwest of Boston, Massachusetts. He ordered him to stop but instead the man shot him twice. Fortunately the bullets tore through Bradley’s coat, missing him. Next the assailant hit Bradley in the face with a sharp object, injuring his nose. Then the man turned and fled, escaping capture, at least for the time being.

Bradley was not about to let the individual who tried to kill him go free — he searched long and hard for him. His efforts paid off, in January 1916, when a car was seen in the vicinity of more recent railroad car break-ins and the license plate number was taken down. The number was traced to a “Harry Taylor” living at 65 Oread Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Inspector Casey, a Worcester police officer, went to Taylor’s house on February 17, 1916, to question him about the break-ins, but Taylor pulled a gun on Casey and refused to cooperate. This was a stupid move on Taylor’s part because Casey returned with more officers and they took him into custody. 600 pairs of stolen shoes, stolen clothing and other stolen items were discovered in his home.

Henry Taylor_BackHe told police his name was “Henry Sarto” but that was an alias. He was charged with larceny from railroad cars.

His real name was Henry Leroy Taylor and stealing from railroad cars was his stock in trade. In fact he’d joined a railroad union in New York to increase his access to facilities for robbing cars in both New York and Massachusetts.

Henry’s first wife, Margaret, charged him with cruelty, neglect and desertion. After only two years of marriage they divorced in 1902 and Margaret was left with two young children to raise on her own. Henry had two more wives and three more children, but those marriages also ended in divorce.

The larceny charge was the least of Henry’s problems — police wanted him on the more serious accusation of attacking Inspector Bradley. A grand jury charged him with assault with intent to commit murder. On January 2, 1917, he was convicted of the charge and sentenced to four years in the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown, close to the tracks of the Boston and Maine Railroad he had spent so much time robbing.

If Hollywood had come calling, Henry might have ended up making an honest living off his scowl by playing the bad guy in silent films. But it didn’t happen that way.

Featured image: Henry Leroy Taylor’s 1916 police identification card (front). Collection of the author.

Trenton Al

Trenton Al

He was known as “Trenton Al”, “French Al” and “Albert St. Claire.” His real name was Francis Alphonse Voullaire. His crimes were mostly of the white-collar variety — embezzlement, bribery, forgery, passing worthless checks — Al didn’t like to get his hands dirty. Held as prisoner #209 by the Jersey City Police, his measurements and mugshots were taken on October 5, 1901. Though he was five feet eight inches tall, his derby hat, worn high on his head, made him look taller.

The youngest son of a wealthy family, Al was born in 1863 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Seymour Voullaire, was a successful criminal attorney. However wealth does not necessarily buy happiness and his parents’ marriage was extraordinarily stormy. His mother, Ann Catherine — known as “Kitty” — was said to be very appealing to the opposite sex; at any rate she took a lot of lovers. After trying to kill one of Kitty’s lovers in a pistol duel — in which he was injured — Seymour had enough. Despite being Catholic, in 1867 he and Kitty divorced. While Al was still a child, another of his mother’s lovers murdered her second husband in an effort to secure the lady for himself. (The man was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death).

One would think that was enough drama for a lifetime, but no! In 1883 another lover of Kitty’s, Horace Shepard, suffering from depression and remorse over his relationship with Kitty, murdered her and then turned the gun on himself. It was quite a scandal — the two lovers were found in dead in bed in their fashionable New York City rooms. He left a note saying they would be “happier in death.”

Al married young and, unlike his parents, he stayed married. His wife, Annie, raised their six children while he cheated on her with a series of floozies, some of whom were involved in his illegal exploits.

Voullaire Sing Sing

Sing Sing Prison Admission Register for Alphonse Voullaire. New York State Archives.

He was well educated and had honest employment, often as a bookkeeper or clerk, but Al’s penchant for criminal activities inevitably got him into trouble. A forgery conviction in 1892 landed him in Sing Sing Prison for two years. Following his release from prison, he was arrested for writing bad checks. Then he compounded the problem by trying to bribe officials to get out of jail.

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Bertillon Card of Alphonse Voullaire (back). Collection of the author.

In 1902, claiming to be a major player in New York City criminal circles, Al persuaded a New York Herald newspaper reporter to help him to pull off some robberies and sell the proceeds to fences. The idea was that they would bribe NYPD detectives to look the other way, proving the detectives’ complicity in the crimes. The reporter would get a great story and Al would get some of the loot. The plan backfired when detectives (possibly tipped-off by the paper) arrested Al and his reporter colleague instead of taking bribes. The absence of listings for him in city directories between 1902 and 1908 may indicate Al served another stint in prison for the Herald debacle.

After 1908 Al went by his given name — Francis — and worked as a self-employed “traffic expert” in New Jersey, where he lived with his long-suffering wife and children. It’s hard to say what a traffic expert did back then and it’s impossible to know if “Trenton Al,” whose life certainly started out badly, left the bad life completely behind.

Featured image: Bertillon Card of Alphonse Voullaire (front). Collection of the author.

Dead Man Naming

Dead Man Naming

Sheriff James S. Scarborough and his posse of cowboys were out looking a burglar who had blown open the safe of a local store on the night of April 19, 1906, making off with $302.61. Unfortunately the crime wasn’t discovered until the following day, giving the culprit plenty of time to escape. The posse set out on horseback to search the scrubby grasslands in the vicinity of Dime Box, Texas, where the crime occurred.

The focus of the search was a stranger who’d been hanging around the town of Lexington the previous day, claiming he was an engineer for the Sante Fe Railroad. The last time the man was seen he was headed towards Dime Box late in the evening on the night of the safe cracking.

Scarborough, a well-respected lawman with a fierce crime-fighting reputation, was alone and it was getting dark when he encountered a man walking along the railroad tracks south of Lexington. He ordered the stranger to halt but rather than stopping, the man pulled out a gun and fired three times in rapid succession at the sheriff, missing him with all three shots. Scarborough fired back and he was the better shot. A bullet hit the stranger in the right side of his chest. He fell over and died several minutes later without uttering any last words.

lee-county-sheriff-james-scarborough

Sheriff James S. Scarborough, circa 1899. Collection of Turner Publishing/Historic Photos of Texas Lawmen by Mike Cox.

The dead man had more than $340 in cash on him — some of it was the stolen cash — however he carried no identification. He also had six drill bits, a punch, one brace, two large rolls of fuse, twenty-two short pieces of fuse cut ready for use, and a pint flask of powder on him. Clearly the man was a safe blower — a “yegg” — in the parlance of law enforcement.

The sheriff wrote up an exhaustive physical description of the man, along with details about the crime. The information was placed in the local newspapers. To cover all the bases, a local photographer was called to prop up the dead man and photograph him. Though the photo wasn’t published, if someone recognized the man’s description, a copy would be mailed to the person to get a positive I.D. The photographer made some cash too; he sold 24 copies of the photo to the locals at 25 cents a copy!

Scarborough letter

Letter (page 1 of 3) from Sheriff Scarborough to Warden McClaughry. Coleman’s Leavenworth Penitentiary Inmate files. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

Leavenworth Penitentiary guard Samuel D. Sample read an article in the Daily Times Herald, a Texas paper, about a professional bank robber who was killed the previous week by the sheriff of Lee County. He thought the description of the dead man matched that of a recently released Leavenworth prisoner, Charles Michael Coleman. Charles  completed a four-year sentence in Leavenworth for post office burglary the previous month. Upon his release he was given a train ticket to Houston, Texas, where his wife lived.

Samuel brought the article to the attention of the Robert McClaughry, Leavenworth’s warden, who got in touch with Sheriff Scarborough. The sheriff sent McClaughry his description of the man (“hair as fine as silk”) and a copy of the dead man’s photo. The warden confirmed the man was ex-Leavenworth inmate, Charles M. Coleman, and he wrote back to the sheriff: “Yourself and officers are congratulated on getting rid of this dangerous burglar without he having succeeded in killing any of you before he was killed himself. We had enough of him here and were glad to get rid of him. We also identify in your photograph the coat and shirt that were given to Coleman when he left here.”

Coleman_SanQuentin

San Quentin Prison mugshot. California State Archives.

Born about 1858 in New York to Irish immigrant parents, Charles left home when he was 17. His first prison sentence occurred in 1886 — four years in San Quentin — for a burglary he committed in Calaveras County, California. More prison stints followed in the 1890s, when he was incarcerated in the state prisons of Illinois and Wisconsin for burglary and robbery.

Ironically but perhaps not surprisingly, given his talent as a safe blower, Charles was a skilled machinist and mechanic. While he was incarcerated at Leavenworth he was in charge of work on the huge steel gates at both the east and west entrances to the prison. He also made the doors and gratings of the prison gates. Though he was an expert at both breaking safes and making prison gates, he died unidentified and was buried in an unmarked grave near where he fell in rural Texas.

Featured photos: mugshot and postmortem photo of Charles M. Coleman from Coleman’s Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate files. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

Nemo Takes his Poison

Nemo Takes his Poison

A few days before Christmas 1898 a young man wandered into the Greenville Police Station in Jersey City, New Jersey. Though he was sober and appeared to be in his right mind, he told the officers that he could not remember his name or anything about his past. For the time being he was kept at the jail and his description was placed in local newspapers, including those in New York City, in the expectation that someone would read about him and come forward to identify him. Until his name could be established he was dubbed “Mr. Nemo.”

The chief of the Jersey City police made efforts to assist the young fellow by dictating letters for him to write in hopes that he would recall his name when he got to the end and signed the letter. Mr. Nemo came up with a few names but, upon investigation, none of them turned out to be him.

Meanwhile, the roommate of a man named Harold Carpenter had gone missing. Quite a lot of Harold’s clothing was missing too, including several overcoats that he really couldn’t be without since the weather was getting chilly. Harold, the steward of a yacht owned by a wealthy lawyer, lived at Mills House No. 1, an inexpensive residential hotel for working men in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Mills House No. 1 opened in 1897 and was the brainchild of architect Ernest Flagg and philanthropist Darius Ogden Mills. The aim was to empower the residents and discourage them from getting involved in “undesirable” (i.e. criminal) activity.

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-d7df-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

“Evening in one of the courts in the Mills House, no. 1.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1902.

Harold read the description of Mr. Nemo in the paper. It sounded quite a lot like his missing roommate, Harry Litchfield. In fact he sounded so much like Harry that Harold went to Jersey City to inquire about Mr. Nemo, who had been moved from the police station to the hospital.

When confronted with Harold, Mr. Nemo claimed he had never seen him before, but Harold recognized him — he was his missing roommate, Harry Litchfield. The police chief had accompanied Harold to the hospital and he used a new-fangled device called a telephone to speak to someone at Mills House and get a description of Harold’s roommate. Harry’s description matched Mr. Nemo ‘to a T!’

The jig was up. Harry fell to the floor, writhed around as if in an epileptic seizure. Once the writhing stopped he looked up and said “Why hello Harold! What are you doing here?” Harry’s memory had miraculously returned! Harold replied that he was there to get his clothing back.

The mystery of why Harry, after stealing his roommate’s clothing, had appeared at a New Jersey police station claiming to have lost his memory was never solved. It’s possible he wanted to try out his skills as a con man.

An investigation of Harry revealed that the clothing theft was not his first foray crime. He’d stolen a watch in Boston a month earlier, but his lawyer had taken an interest in him and managed to get him a suspended sentence. However that was not all Harry had done.

The previous year he had worked as the bookkeeper and temporary treasurer for a Boston auction company. One of his duties was to attend auctions and handle the cash paid in when the auction was over. In September 1897 one of the auctions Harry worked made $1000. He took put the money in a bag, took it to the office, place the bag in the vault and then told his employers he needed to go out for a breath of fresh air. However the money was not in the bag—it was hidden in his coat and he walked out with it.

1899_Hotel_Touraine_Boston_USA_postcard_NYPL

Hotel Touraine main dining room in Boston, Massachusetts. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1899.

He proceeded to the luxurious Hotel Touraine, booked a room and began entertaining friends. He entertained many, many friends, including a number of stylishly dressed young ladies. One evening Harry and his friends ran up a bill of over $100 in the hotel’s dining room. Harry tried to pay with a check which the manager, who had become suspicious, refused to accept. The police were called and Harry was arrested, identified, and then tried and convicted of embezzlement. He served nine months in the Concord Reformatory in Massachusetts.

Harry was philosophical about life and crime. Regarding his embezzlement arrest, he commented: “A man’s an idiot to work for $12 for a week and be held responsible for thousands. The man who employs such a man is a bigger idiot. I took the stuff, took my chances, was caught red-handed, and here I am. I have had my fun, and I will take my dose of poison without a murmur.”

Featured photo: Harry A. Litchfield, carte de visite mugshot taken Sept. 27, 1897 in Boston, Massachusetts. Collection of the author.

Rival Burning

Rival Burning

Jacob Kowalsky was in the grips of the green-eyed monster in July 1908. An Austrian immigrant who worked as a carpenter, Jacob was upset with John Smith, a young man who once boarded in his Bayside home. When John lived with the Kowalskys, he made the mistake of flirting with Jacob’s wife.

Bayside, a community in Queens, is now a crowded, heavily residential borough of New York City, but back in the early 1900s it was still semi-rural. Farms were scattered here and there, along with large summer residences owned by the wealthy wanting to escape the heat, smell and clamor of nearby Manhattan.

It was a scalding hot day when John, carrying a load of freshly harvested hay, came riding along in his wagon, pulled by a team of horses. He was bound for his barn and it was so hot that he didn’t notice at first that his hay was on fire. Suddenly he realized the heat was increasing and it was on the side of the wagon away from the sun, which made no sense. By the time he turned around to check, his load was entirely ablaze.

He jumped down from the wagon and began to unharness the horses in an effort to and keep them from being burned alive. He managed to get the animals unhitched, however in the process his hands and arms were seriously burned and the horses were badly burned in their hindquarters. John recognized Jacob, who was running away from the blazing wagon. No one else was in sight except for a farmer coming along behind with another wagonload of hay.

The Bayside and Little Neck fire brigades managed to put out the blaze before it spread beyond the wagon. Jacob was arrested and charged with arson.

Jacob, who spoke no English, had to testify through an interpreter at his trial. He admitted he was present when the fire broke out, but claimed he saw two boys set the fire and then run off. The boys were never located. The farmer driving behind John testified, damningly, that Jacob appeared on the roadway and asked him for a ride home! He declined, fearing the man might set his wagon on fire too.

Jacob complained that when John was his boarder he tried to “boss everybody around, including my wife.” John’s attentions to his “young and buxom” wife were apparently the real crux of the problem. He accused John (unjustly, according to John) of trying to steal her affections. He didn’t ask John to leave but literally threw him out of the house.

The jury believed John Smith’s version of events. The prosecution argued for a conviction on first or second degree arson since John had been on the wagon at the time the fire was set. However Jacob got a lesser sentence of third degree arson for “setting fire to an uninhabited place.”

According to newspaper headlines, Jacob Kowalsky “smoked out a rival for his wife’s affections.” More accurately he tried to set the rival on fire. It earned him four years in Sing Sing Prison.

Featured image: Jacob Kowalsky’s Sing Sing Prison Bertillon card (front). Collection of the author.

Bertha’s Razor

Bertha’s Razor

What do you do when you’re facing a five-year sentence in San Question for a vicious attack on your husband’s penis? Obviously you do up your hair, put on your largest and most fetching hat and face the prison camera with a look of utter confidence on your face. At least that’s what Bertha Boronda did in 1908.

Bertha and her husband, Frank Boronda, had been married about 6 years when her assault on him took place. Frank was born Mario Narcisso Boronda in 1863 to a large family with Mexican roots that had lived in California for several generations. At the time of the attack Frank, age 43, was a fire captain with the San Jose Fire Department in northern California. Bertha Zettle was born to German immigrant parents in rural Minnesota in 1877. She moved to California around 1900. She and Frank were married the following year.

Shortly after midnight on Friday, May 31, 1907, Bertha slashed Frank’s penis with a razor at their San Jose residence. Reporting of the incident was tactful and non-specific. ”She drew a razor and cut her husband.” Then she walked to her nephew’s room and simply stated, “Frank cut himself.”

Boronda news

Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 31, 1907, page six.

Frank was able to get to his firehouse — conveniently located next to his home — and from there he was taken to the Red Cross Hospital where the wound to his genitals was dressed. No one was sure he would recover but evidently he was well enough to make a statement. He said the attack by his wife came out of the blue. He and Bertha were chatting and she was in a friendly mood when suddenly she wounded him.

Meanwhile Bertha fled the scene and wasn’t discovered until the wee hours the following night. She was located at the San Jose Railroad Yards dressed in men’s clothing. (She has an angular, somewhat masculine face — I’m sure you can picture her in men’s attire, no doubt looking quite dapper). She admitted to the attack on Frank and claimed, in her confident style, it was actually his fault. He’d driven her out of her mind with fear that he was going to desert her and move to Mexico.

Frank recovered from his injuries. Bertha was charged was “mayhem,” a charge applied to someone who “unlawfully and maliciously deprives a human being of a member of his body or renders it useless…” She was tried, found guilty and sentenced to five years in San Quentin Prison in 1908.

Why did Bertha attack her husband so viciously? The San Jose Sheriff jailed Frank and a fellow fire captain a few months before Bertha’s assault on her husband. The rumor on the street was that the two men had been involved in some kind of election fraud and more arrests would follow. It’s plausible that, as Bertha feared, Frank was contemplating a move to Mexico (where he had relatives) at least until the election scandal blew over.

It was also rumored that Frank was cheating on Bertha with other women and she was in a jealous rage over his infidelities when she slashed him. Frank had a history of marital problems. His previous wife, Belle Doane, left her husband to marry Frank and then tried, unsuccessfully, to kill herself a couple years later. Belle said she attempted suicide out of desperation because Frank had abandoned her. The unhappy couple divorced in 1895.

Did Bertha succeed in lopping off her husband’s penis? A distasteful rumor circulated that Frank’s penis, preserved in a jar of formaldehyde and used an exhibit at Bertha’s trial, was discovered decades later, stored in a basement cupboard of the courthouse. Though there’s no doubt his penis was badly cut, it’s highly unlikely that it was severed (and thus put in a jar) because an injury like that would probably have led to his death from blood loss and infection. Microsurgery and replantation of body parts were 55 years in the future. In 1993 it was possible to reattach John Bobbitt’s penis after his wife, Lorena, cut it off in a fit of rage, but that would not have been the case in 1907.

Bertha was paroled on December 20, 1909, after serving less than two years of her sentence. She and Frank did not reconcile, however both of them gave marriage another shot. Frank married a woman 33 years his junior named Josie Warburton. Bertha worked as a hotel chambermaid in San Francisco after her release from San Quentin. Later she worked as a waitress at Camp Meeker, a rustic vacation spot in northern California. She married an older widower, Alexander Patterson, in 1921 in Los Angeles, but that marriage also ended in divorce.

Frank lived to be 77 and died in 1940. Bertha died in 1950 at age 72. The firehouse in San Jose where Frank worked is still there but now it’s a gastro pub. If you have a meal there, try not to think too hard about its past history. Just enjoy the food and beer!

Featured photos: Bertha Boronda, California State Archives, Sacramento, California. Duplicate Photograph Album, Dept. of Corrections, San Quentin Prison Inmate Photographs.

Bagged by his Underwear

Bagged by his Underwear

Wardrobe malfunctions have been a problem since humans began wearing clothing. However celebrities, whose body parts seem to fall out of their clothing quite regularly, have nothing on John Morgan. John’s clothing malfunctioned in December 1901, with disastrous consequences for him.

John was imprisoned on May 3, 1901, at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, for stealing three blankets from nearby Fort Leavenworth. He claimed he had purchased the blankets but the jury disagreed, so John was sentenced to one year and one day at hard labor. He’d served more than half his sentence when he seized an opportunity to get out a little early.

While guards were distracted by a prison mutiny, John, who was working outside in the rock quarry, took the chance to escape. He absconded and headed east to Missouri. He ended up across the state in St. Louis.

All was well and good for several weeks. John enjoyed his freedom in the big city. He especially appreciated the opportunity to tipple a bit of whiskey in the many local saloons. It was all just terrific until one evening in mid-December.

John Morgan mug2

John Morgan, Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate photograph, 1901. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

John was known to have something of a problem where alcohol was concerned and one night he had a bit too much to drink at a downtown St. Louis watering hole. He got rowdy and fell into an argument with another customer and a fracas between John and the other man ensued. The bartender grabbed him by the coat to throw him out and the coat, along with his vest and shirt, were ripped. His underwear was exposed beneath his torn clothing and the prison numbers painted on it were clear for all to see.

The bartender, William Kelly, suspecting John was a convict, held him at the bar and notified the St. Louis police who telegraphed the prison warden. The police identified John, possibly through his prison mughsot.

morgan telegram

Telegrams from William Kelly and the St. Louis Police to the Leavenworth warden, John Morgan’s inmate file. Collection of NARA-Kansas city, Missouri.

The bartender got a $60 reward and John got to return to Leavenworth to finish the rest of sentence.

Featured photo: John Morgan, Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate photograph, 1901. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.