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. Although he was only 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 very appealing to the opposite sex. She took a lot of lovers. After trying unsuccessfully to kill one of his wife’s lovers in a pistol duel, in which he was injured, Seymour had had enough. Despite being Catholic, he divorced Kitty in 1867. The judge decided both Seymour and Kitty were unfit parents and the children were sent to live with various family members. Al was sent to live with an aunt in Cincinnati.
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).
You would think that would be enough drama for a lifetime. But no! In 1883 a third lover of Kitty’s, Horace Shepard, murdered her and then turned the gun on himself. Apparently he was suffering from depression and remorse over his relationship with her. 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. Unlike his parents, he stayed married, but it was not thanks to his capabilities as a husband. His wife, Annie, raised their six children while he cheated on her with a series of floozies, some of whom helped out in his illegal exploits.
He was well educated and found 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, he was arrested for writing bad checks. Then he compounded the problem by trying to bribe officials to get out of jail.
Claiming to be a major player in New York City criminal circles, Al persuaded a New York Herald reporter to help him to pull some robberies and sell the proceeds to fences in 1902. 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 the bribes. The absence of listings for him in city directories between 1902 and 1908 likely indicates that Al served another stint in prison for the Herald debacle.
After 1908 Al went by his first 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 in the day, and it’s impossible to know if “Trenton Al,” whose life started out badly, ever completely left the bad life behind.
Featured image: Bertillon Card of Alphonse Voullaire (front), collection of the author