Prison for Boots

Prison for Boots

Note: This story is excerpted from my book, Captured and Exposed: The First Police Rogues’ Gallery in America.

On April 12, 1859, seven cases of kip (work) boots from Biggs, Staples & Co. were loaded onto the wagon of Andrew McCullough in Canton, Missouri, near the Mississippi River in the northeastern part of the state. McCullough was taking the load west to Edina, Missouri. Because the 38-mile trip would take him more than a day, he stopped overnight at the home of a friend named John Fisher. Before retiring for the night, McCullough went out to check his wagon and cover it with a sheet—at that time all was well.

The following morning, one of Fisher’s neighbors discovered a box of boots sitting by the road some distance from the wagon. Several pairs were missing from the box, including two sets, sizes eight and nine, in which one boot had been removed from each pair. Fisher headed to town to find the boots’ owner, James Biggs, and report the theft to him. On the way he noticed two men wearing new kip boots and immediately suspected them of having tampered with the box and removed the boots. A small posse was formed to hunt for the suspects, who were soon located not far from town.

Nineteen-year-old Richard Shannon was found wearing the incriminating mismatched boots. His companion, James Ford, an older, larger man, was also shod in new boots made by Biggs, Staples & Co. Shannon gave himself up, but Ford pulled out his revolver. One of the men in the posse fired shots in response. No one was injured, but Ford temporarily escaped. He was soon recaptured, and both he and Shannon were tried and convicted of grand larceny for the theft of the entire case of 12 pairs of boots, valued at $48—despite the fact that no witness saw either man remove the case from McCullough’s wagon. (The lesser charge of petty larceny might have applied if the men had been accused of stealing only the boots they were wearing.) Both men were sentenced to two years at the Missouri State Penitentiary, however, Ford escaped from jail while awaiting transfer to Jefferson City and was never recaptured.

Richard Shannon back

Reverse side of Shannon’s rogues’ gallery photo. Collection of the Missouri History Museum.

Shannon served his full sentence, beginning on September 22, 1859. The date on his St. Louis rogues’ gallery photo—August 9, 1858—may be incorrect because it’s nine months prior to the date of the crime. In his photo, the auburn-haired Shannon wears the wrinkled, lightweight jacket of a laborer. With his tousled hair; young face; and rosy, hand-tinted cheeks, he looks like the last person one would expect to see headed to a prison where 12-hour days of hard labor, crowded cells, poor food, and inmate whippings were the norm.

Born in 1839 in the town of Galena in northern Illinois, Richard Emmet Shannon was the third of ten children belonging to Irish immigrants Thomas and Mary Shannon. Prior to his arrest, Richard Shannon worked as a raftsman, bringing logs that were tied together as rafts down the Mississippi River to the sawmills. Of the identified individuals in the Rogues’ Gallery Collection about whom information was found, Shannon is one of only two people who didn’t commit their alleged crimes in St. Louis.

George_Caleb_Bingham_-_Raftsmen_Playing_Cards

“Raftsmen Playing Cards,” 1847 painting by George Caleb Bingham. Collection of the St. Louis Art Museum.

In October 1861, two weeks after his release from the Missouri State Penitentiary, Shannon enlisted in the 2nd Kansas Cavalry, serving as a private in Company I during the Civil War until his muster-out on May 25, 1862. He enlisted in the 3rd Cavalry, Company H in Vallejo, California, in July 1870. At the time of his enlistment, Shannon worked as a stonecutter (perhaps this occupation was inspired by his father, who worked as a stonemason). He deserted his company on January 11, 1872, and managed to avoid being captured. By the late 1870s he resided in San Francisco, where he worked at cutting and shaping stone.

Shannon was familiar not only with stone masonry but also with horses, a fact that led him to try his hand at entrepreneurship. In May 1882 the federal government issued him a patent for a rein holder—a mechanism he invented for securing the reins of a carriage’s horse to keep them from getting tangled with the horse’s feet. This was the second such device Shannon submitted for a patent, stating in his application: “My present invention is an improvement upon my former one.” It’s unknown whether either of Shannon’s rein-holder designs was ever manufactured.

In July 1885, Shannon visited Chicago and spoke at a strike of the Chicago West Division Railway Company, where newspapers covering the event intriguingly described him as a “labor agitator from the Pacific coast.”

Details about the later life and death of raftsman, Civil War veteran, stonemason, inventor, labor agitator, and ex-convict Richard Shannon are likely lost to history.

Featured photo: Richard E. Shannon, 1859 rogues’ gallery photo (ambrotype). Collection of the Missouri History Museum.

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_front marked

Henry Leroy Taylor’s 1916 police identifcation card (front). Collection of the author.

Henry Taylor_back marked

Henry Leroy Taylor’s 1916 police idenitifcation card (back). Collection of the author.

He 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.