Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Masked Burglar Robbery of the Emmett Home in Pelham on December 22, 1873 (Part I)

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Yesterday's blog posting entitled "The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889" discussed the discovery in 1889 of a collection of a valuable silver and gold tea service in a rusty old safe that had lain in the backyard of a Pelham home for at least fifteen years. According to an article about the discovery that appeared in The New York Times, in discussing the discovery "Some old residents called to mind the robbery by masked burglars of the Emmett mansion on the Pelham road in 1874, and suggested that the safe might have been made the receptacle of some of the plunder." See Treasure in an Old Safe, N.Y. Times, Apr. 21, 1889, p. 20.

A little sleuthing easily reveals a number of published articles about the robbery by masked burglars of Mr. Emmett's home. The robbery occurred on December 22, 1873. It seems clear that the safe in which the tea service was discovered in 1889 was not the safe that was plundered in the Emmett home. This, of course, says nothing about whether the contents of the safe discovered in 1889 were stolen from the Emmett home about fifteen years earlier. The evidence seems compelling, but not dispositive.

The home in which the robbery occurred still stands and is one of the most historic structures in Pelham. (Actually, the home sits partially in Pelham and partially in New Rochelle. Its address in Pelham is 145 Shore Road.) The home is known as the Kemble House and is one of only two pre-Revolutionary War homes that still stand in Pelham. A recent photograph appears below.

The first article to report the robbery stated:


Late yesterday, Mr. Charles Emmett, a young man residing with his uncle at New-Rochelle, Westchester County, called at the Police Central Office, in this City, and reported to Superintendent Matsell that an outrageous robbery had been committed by a band of bold robbers at the house of his uncle. The house is situated in the outskirts of the village, and the inmates are Mr. Richard J. Emmett, his wife, his nephew Charle, and two servants. During Monday night the house was entered by six men, all armed with revolvers, while the inmates were all in bed and fast asleep. The robbers first proceeded to the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Emmett, who, when aroused, found themselves surrounded by the robbers, who threatened them with instant death if they made any outcry or resistance. The couple were taken from their bed, their hands hand-cuffed behind their backs, and gags were thrust into their mouths. Being rendered helpless, they were left in their bedroom, while the robbers went to the rooms occupied by Charles Emmett and by the two servants. They handcuffed and gagged young Emmett and the servants in the same manner in which they had secured Mr. and Mrs. Emmett, and having thus prevented any interference from the inmates of the house, they proceeded to ransack the building from cellar to garret, and secured a large quantity of valuables. In the back parlor the robbers found a safe, and they succeeded in cutting a hold in the door of the safe large enough to admit a man's hand, and in this manner gained possession of a portion of its contents. The robbers remained in the house for upward of an hour, and after their departure young Emmett set about endeavoring to regain his liberty, and after severe exertion, succeeded in cramping his body up in such a position that he was enabled to slip the handcuffs under his feet, and brought his manacled hands in front of his chest. As he was the last one of the inmates handcuffed, the robbers had left the key of the handcuffs in the lock, and young Emmett, after several ineffectual attempts, succeeded in turning the key with his teeth and unlocking one of the handcuffs. To entirely free himself was then an easy task, and he at once set about releasing the rest of the inmates. He unlocked the handcuffs on the wrists of his aunt and the servants, and restored them to liverty. He next proceeded to unfasten the handcuffs with which his uncle's hands were secured. He succeeded without difficulty in unlocking one of the iron bracelets, but when he endeavored to unlock the other one the key broke in the lock, and all efforts to unfasten the handcuff proved unavailing. Mr. Emmett was therefore compelled to remain in doors during yesterday, with the handcuffs dangling from his right hand -- a most unpleasant predicament. As soon as young Emmett had released the family he gave an alarm, and informed the local Police of what had occurred. The village was thoroughly searched, but the robbers had disappeared. During the afternoon he came to this City and reported the facts to Superintendent Matsell, and also borrowed from the Detective Office several handcuff keys with which to unlock the handcuff which, much against his will, remained in possession of his uncle. By direction of the Superintendent, Capt. Irving sent two of his officers to New-Rochelle to investigate the affair. It is believed that the thieves who effected this robbery are the same gang who committed an outrage of a similar nature in Catskill several weeks aga, and who have, during the past two months, been operating extensively among the suburban towns, entering and rifling private dwellings and stores. They are believed to hail from this City, and to take refuge here after committing their depredations. The amount of property obtained by the thieves is not known and cannot be ascertained until the safe is opened, which cannot be done in its present condition, as the thieves smashed the lock in their efforts to force the safe open. It is believed, however, that the money, jewelry, silverware, and other articles of value secured by the thieves will amount to several thousand dollars. No arrests have been made by the Police in this City and none have been reported as having been made in New-Rochelle. Young Emmett says that he can identify the robbers if arrested, as they were not disguised in any manner, nor did they appear at all anxious to conceal their faces."

Source: Outrage and Robbery in New-Rochelle, N.Y. Times, Dec. 24, 1873, p. 2.

The robbers were busy that fateful night. As police investigated the matter, they discovered more about how the robbers operated. According to a subsequent report:

"It was ascertained yesterday that six of the robbers, after stealing a pair of oars belonging to Mr. Edgars, a neighbor of Mr. Emmett's, proceeded to City Island, and there attempted to steal a boat belonging to Capt. Stringer, about 6:30 o'clock on Tuesday morning, about an hour and a half after leaving the house they had robbed, but were detected by Capt. Stringer, when they halted and engaged the owner of the boat to row them across the Sound to the Long Island shore, and gave him $6 for his services. They told Capt. Stringer that they had been attending a prize fight, and that the Sheriff was in pursuit of them; they were therefore willing to give him $1 each to be placed beyond his reach. The other five men of the gang, with a large dog they had with them, are supposed to have proceeded toward Westchester or Throgg's Neck, and rowed thence across the Sound to Long Island, and then made their way to New-York by railroad or steamboat. It is believed that had the robbers succeeded in getting the key of the safe, and thus avoided a delay of over two hours, they would have committed other robberies in the neighborhood before they left. The supposition that there was a rich booty in the safe, induced the robbers to obtain possession of its contents. They carried off three gold watches, some silver-ware, $150 in money, a gun, some articles of clothing, $c, valued in all at about $800, and did considerable damage by attempting to blow open the safe."

Source: The New-Rochelle Outrage, N.Y. Times, Dec. 26, 1873, p. 8.

Police were now hot on the trail of the bandits. Within a matter of days, The New York Times announced the capture of the entire ring that reportedly was responsible for a large number of robberies in Catskill, New-Rochelle, Pelham and Staten Island.

Tomorrow: The capture of the gang and more!

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