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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

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

Two days ago I published a blog posting entitled "The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889". It discussed the discovery in 1889 of a collection of valuable silver and gold in a rusty old safe that had lain in the backyard of a Pelham home for at least fifteen years. Oldtimers thought the treasure might have been plunder from the robbery of the historic home that still stands today at 145 Shore Road in late 1873 when the home was owned by the Emmett family. Yesterday's posting, entitled "The Masked Burglar Robbery of the Emmett Home in Pelham on December 22, 1873 (Part I)" dealt with the robbery. Today's posting continues that story with a description of the subsequent capture of the masked robbers.
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. The report appears in its entirety below:
One of th best captures of notorious thieves that has ever been accomplished by the Police of this City was successfully made yesterday by several detectives from the Central Office, and six very important members of a skillful and desperate gang of burglars have been arrested, and are now locked up at Police Head-quarters. The men under arrest are all distinguished cracksmen, and from evidence in the possession of the Police authorities of this City to the gang is credited all the robberies of suburban residences that have occurred recently within twenty miles of this City. The leaders have been captured, and all the tools and implements used by them in their nefarious enterprises are in the possession of the Police.
The readers of THE TIMES will doubtless remember that for several months past a gang of burglars have been perpetrating a series of robberies at the residences of wealthy citizens in the vicinity of New-York, and their operations were so bold and met with such success that the inhabitants of the suburban towns became alarmed and appealed to the Police of this City for protection, as it was supposed, and rightly, too, that the burglars haled from New-York, and sought refuge here after the commission of their desperate deeds. The first case brought to the notice of the Police was the robbery at the residence of Mr. Abram Post, a wealthy farmer residing at Eimbracht, near Catskill, on the Hudson. At 6:30 P. M. on the evening of Oct 17, while the family of Mr. Post were sitting quietly enjoying their supper six masked and armed men rushed into the place, and drawing revolvers threatened with instant death any person who offered the slightest resistance or attempted to give an alarm. The members of the family were then handcuffed, bound and gagged, and were taken to an upper bedroom, where one of the ruffians stood guard over them while his companions proceeded to ransack the house. They forced all the bureau drawers, &c., and secured $235 in currency, $20 in gold coin, two Greene County bonds of $500 each, a check on the Farmers' National Bank for $1,000, and a quantity of jewelry. After securing this property, the thieves fled and made their escape, leaving the family gagged and bound. A neighbor happening to call at the residence of Mr. Post, at about 10 o'clock, discovered their plight, released them, and gave an alarm. A pursuit was organized and the fugitives were tracked to the railroad, where all further trace was lost. Information was sent to Capt. Irving, of the Detective Office, who detailed Detective W. G. Elder to work up the case. On Dec. 12 Elder arrested Charles Hobbs, alias the 'Captain,' on suspicion of having been the leader of the gang who robbed Mr. Post's residence. He was sent to Catskill for examination, and is understood to be still locked up there, awaiting trial. The next case occurred at East New-York, were, on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 20, the office of the Jamaica, Woodhaven, and Brooklyn Railroad Company was entered by six armed and masked men. The watchman was bound hand and foot, gagged and secured under a desk in the office while the burglars forced open the safe and rifled it of its contents, consisting of $3,000 in bonds, gold coin, and currency. They then stole a silver watch from the person of the prostrate watchman, and decamped. It was some hours after their departure that the watchman succeeded in releasing himself from his bonds, and when he gave an alarm no trace of the fugitives could be obtained.
On the 23d of December, at 2:30 o'clock in the morning, the residence of Mr. J. P. Emmett, known as 'The Cottage,' at Pelham, within two miles of New-Rochelle, was visited by this same gang, the number at this time increased to eleven, and robbed in the most outrageous manner. The thieves, who were all armed and had their faces concealed by masks improvised out of strips of black muslim, forced open a window in the rear of the residence, and going direct to Mr. Emmett's bedroom, aroused him by pressing a revolver to his head. Threatened with instant death if he made an outcry, Mr. Emmett submitted to being handcuffed. The robbers, leaving one of their number to guard him, went to the bedrooms of his sister, his nephew, Edward Emmett, and the servants, who were all handcuffed and then taken to Mr. Emmett's bedroom, where two burglars were placed on guard with drawn revolvers. The key of the safe was demanded, but on being assured by Mr. Emmett that it was not in his possession, the burglars proceeded to force it open. They drilled holes in the door, which they filled with powder, and although the explosion shook the house, the safe was not blown open, but an aperture was made sufficiently large for a man's hand to be passed through. In this way they gained access to the contents of the safe, and after ransacking the house, which occupied several hours, they left, taking with them property valued at $800. After their departure, young Emmett succeeded, after considerable exertion, in releasing himself, and then freed the rest of the family from their bonds. The facts were reported to Superintendent Matsell, and placed in possession of Capt. Irving, who determined to ferret out the perpetrators of these desperate burglaries if possible, and while working on this matter still another robbery, of the nature described above, was perpetrated.
The victim of the latest exploit was Mr. Wm. K. Soutter, a banker doing business at No. 53 William street, and residing at West Brighton, Staten Island. His residence was entered on the night of the 30th ult., and robbed of silver-ware, jewelry, and money to the amount of $9,000. Mr. Soutter, with his wife and daughter, were spending the holiday week with some friends in this City, and the house on Staten Island was left in charge of the servants, who, on the night in question, were having a jolly time of it in the kitchen, when eleven armed and masked men burst in upon them and put an end to their festivities. Robert Armstrong, employed in the house as waiter, the only male servant, was seized, bound and gagged and the female servants were similarly secured. The robbers then searched the house, and took all the loose valuables they could find. They then bored holes in the safe, which the subsequently blew open with powder, and obtained silver-ware, jewelry, and money to the amout of $9,000, with which they decamped.
These repreated robberies showed by their mode of execution, even to the smallest details, that they were the work of the same gang, and it was apparent to the detectives that the gang was composed of a number of fearless and reckless men, well skilled in the burglar's art, and whom it would be very difficult to capture. Capt. Irving, who had himself taken an active part in investigating these robberies, selected Detectives Elder, Field, and King, of the Central Office, and to them intrusted the difficult task of discovering who these burglars were, and of effecting their capture. Detective Holley Lyon, of the Tenth Precinct, was associated with the officers named above, and rendered valuable assistance. The only clue to the thieves, except the vague descriptions given by their victims, was a portion of a peculiarly-constructed and very powerful 'jimmy,' which had been broken by the thieves in their endeavors to force open the safe at the residence of Mr. Emmett, at Pelham. The 'jimmy' was of finely-tempered steel, and the piece which had broken, consisting of two sharp-pointed prongs, was left behind by the thieves in their flight. This piece of steel furnished the clue, and will also furnish the evidence on which the burglars will be eventually convicted. From information received by Detective Elder a close watch had been kept for a week past on the drinking saloon kept by Geo. A. Millard at the north-east corner of Canal and Washington streets. This rum shop is said by the Police to be a resort for thieves and burglars, and was believed to be the head-quarters of the gang who had been engaged in the suburban robberies. Yesterday afternoon a number of well-known burglars were seen by Detectives Elder, King, Lyon, and Field, who were on the watch, to enter the place, and it was determined to make a descent on the house. Field was sent to the Fifth Precinct Police Station in Leonard street near West Broadway, and Capt. Petty, at the request of the detectives, sent a platoon of men in uniform to their assistance. On the arrival of the reinforcement the liquor saloon was surrounded, and the detectives dashed in with drawn revolvers, and threatened to shoot any person who made the slightest resistance. Eight persons were in the place at the time, and six of these were at once recognized as professional thieves and burglars. These men are Dan Kelly, Patsey Conroy, Larry Griffin, Billy Woods, Billy Hoey, and Big John Garvey. Kelly is an escaped convict, having broken out of Auburn State Prison, where he owes the State two years' service. He was accused by John T. Ivring of having been concerned in the Nathan murder, but no corroborative evidence could be obtained. He is a notorious burglar and horse thief, and has been engaged in several 'big jogs.' Patsey Conroy and Larry Griffin are both notorious burglars, and were formerly river thieves. About seven years ago, while engaged in robbing a schooner in the East River, they were disturbed by the mate whom they murdered to make their escape. For this crime they have never suffered punishment, owing, it is said, to political influence wielded by them and their friends at the time. Billy Hoey is a native of Baltimore, and is said to have been engaged in the Concord Bank robbery and the robbery of the Ocean Bank in this City. Billy Woods and Big John Garvey are well-known burglars and bank robbers. Besides the above-named there were found in the place Millard, the proprietor, and Matthew McGeary, a young man who claims to be a boatman from Yonkers. The Police know nothing about the last-named. All the parties in the place were arrested, and after they had been secured a search of the bar-room was made. Behind the bar were discovered several valises and carpet bags and when these were opened they were found to contain a full assortment of burglars' tools consisting of powerful combination 'jimmies,' a large number of steel wedges, five or six dark-lanterns, several cans of powder, a number of fuses, pieces of black muslin, from which the masks used by the thieves were manufactured. But the most damaging evidence of the thieves' guilt was the remains of the 'jimmy' which had been broken at the residence of Mr. Emmett, and which fits exactly to the piece found in the house, and now in the possession of Superintendent Matsell. The prisoners, guarded by the detectives and several officers in uniform, were conveyed to Police Head-quarters in carriages, and arraigned before the Superintendent. As may be readily imagined, they protested their entire innocence, and denied all knowledge of the valises and their contents. The prisoners gave their names as follows: John Burns, John Thompson, Daniel Kelly, Matthew McGeary, Francis P. Kayton, Lawrence Griffin, Patrick Conway, and George A. Millard. They were locked up in the cells at Police Headquarters, and several officers of the Fourteenth Precinct were detailed to guard them. The victims of the robberies alleged to have been perpetrated by these prisoners will be notified to appear and identify them."
Source: Modern Bandits, N.Y. Times, Jan. 6, 1874, p. 5.
As the above report makes clear, following the capture of the suspects, a parade of victims and witnesses was summoned to Manhattan to identify the robbers. One news account of this process sheds additional light on these events and, once again, is set forth in its entirety below.
The public interest caused by the arrest of the gang of notorious burglars, of which Dan Kelly is said to have been the leader, already fully reported in THE TIMES, appears unabated, and the Police Central Office was thronged yesterday by a number of gentlemen who were anxious to see the prisoners and identify them if possible, as having been engaged in the robberies perpetrated at their residences. Among those who called for that purpose were: Mr. J. P. Emmett, and his nephew, Edward, of New-Rochelle; Mr. Delafield, an intimate friend of Mr. Soutter, of West Brighton, Staten Island, and Officer Deveau of the New-Rochelle Police force. The prisoners, Daniel Kelly, Big John Garvey, Billy Woods, Billy Hoey, Larry Griffin, Pat Conroy, Geo. A. Millard, Matthew McGeary, and John O'Donnell were brought from their cells by the detective officers and placed in line in the sitting room in the rear of the detective office, and the victims of the robberies alleged to have been committed by the prisoners, were then admitted.
The first man identified was Daniel Kelly, who was pointed out by Robert Armstrong as one of the men who had been concerned in the robbery at the residence of Mr. Soutter, on Staten Island. Without the slightest hesitation, Armstrong identified Kelly as the man who had handcuffed him and had remained on guard for two hours at the kitchen door while the rest of the desperate gang of robbers ransacked the house. A question was put to Kelly, and, as soon as his voice was heard in reply, Armstrong recognized the voice, and became still more positive in his identification.
Kelly, Griffin, and Conroy were also identified, by Mr. Emmett and his nephew, as three of the eleven masked men who broke into their residence at Pelham, near New-Rochelle, and ransacked the house. Young Emmett stated positively that Conroy is the man who removed the rings from his aunt's fingers, and threatened to put a gag into her mouth if she made any outcry. Larry Griffin was also positively identified by the boatman who, on the morning of the robbery, ferried him across to the Long Island shore. Griffin stated to the boatman at the time that he was going to witness a prize-fight. Besides the identification by the boatman, the detectives state that they have conclusive evidence to connect Griffin with the robbery of Mr. Emmett's house, but which cannot be made public at present. Big John Garvey was also identified as having been seen in the vicinity of New-Rochelle on the morning of the robbery. He was seen by an ex-policeman, formerly a member of the New-York Police Force, as he was making his way toward the river. The ex-policeman knew him, and spoke to him, but having no knowledge of the robbery which had been committed, allowed him to pass unmolested.
After the identification of Kelly, Conroy, and Griffin, Officer Deveau, of the New-Rochelle Police force presented to Superintendent Matsell a warrant for the arrest of the ruffians named, and requested that the prisoners named in the warrant be delivered into his custody. The warrant was issued by Judge Porter, at New-Rochelle, on affidavits made by Mr. Emmett and his nephew. The Superintendent recognized the validity of the warrant, and transferred the prisoners to the custody of Officer Deveau, and directed Detectives Elder, King, Lyon and Fields to accompany the officer to White Plains and see that they were safely lodged in the County Jail at that place. The three prisoners were accordingly brought out of their cells, handcuffed, and placed in carriages. In company with the detectives having them in charge they were driven to the Grand Central Depot, and took the noon train on the Harlem Railroad for White Plains, to await examination. Should the District Attorney of Westchester County fail in obtaining the conviction of Kelly, he will be transferred to the Richmond County Jail to stand trial for breaking into and robbing Mr. Soutter's house, his connection with that outrage being clearly established.
During the afternoon Abram Post, Jr. and his sister arrived from Catskill, having been telegraphed for to come to this City to see if they could identify any of the prisoners as the men who, on the evening of the 17th of October last, entered their father's residence near Catskill, bound and gagged all the inmates, and robbed the house. Post and his sister arrived at the Central Office after Kelly, Griffin, and Conroy had been taken to White Plains, and on being shown the rest of the prisoners, failed to identify any of them. On being shown the coats found on Monday last stowed away behind the bar in Millard's rum-shop, where the men were arrested, Post and his sister both positively identified an overcoat which belonged to their father, and which had been stolen from the house on the night it was robbed. This evidence connects the gang with the robbery at Mr. Post's house. At the suggestion of Inspector Walling, young Post and his sister went to White Plains yesterday, to see Kelly, Griffin, and Conroy, for the purpose of identification.
To still further connect the gang arrested with the robbery at Mr. Soutter's residence, a policeman from Staten Island brought to Superintendent Matsell yesterday afternoon, a piece of wood which he had cut out of the jamb of one of the doors in the house, and which had been forced open with a 'jimmy' by the robbers. This piece of wood bore plainly the marks of the 'jimmy' which had been used, and on comparing one of the 'jimmies' found in Millard's place it fitted the indentations in the wood exactly, and to the sharp edge still adhered atoms of the paint scraped from the door. Among other articles found behind the bar at Millard's was a handsome red marocco writing-case, filled with fine note-paper and envelopes. This writing-case was yesterday identified by Mr. Delafield, a friend of Mr. Soutter, as belonging to that gentleman.
Chief of Police Rogers, of Newark, N.J., and a number of his detectives, Marshal Hills, of Englewood, N. J., and a number of residents of that neighborhood, called at Police Head-quarters yesteday, and were shown the prisoners, but failed to identify them as having been concerned in the numerous robberies that have been recently committed in New-Jersey.
New and startling developments may be looked for soon. Mrs. Millard, the wife of the proprietor of the drinking place in which the prisoners were captured, has been at Police Head-quarters every day since the arrest of the gang of burglars, and has been for several hours each day in close consultation with Superintendent Matsell. From this it is surmised that Mrs. Millard is negotiating for protection for her husband on condition of his placing the information in regard to the operations of the burglars he is in possession of at the service of the Police. This would, doubtless, lead to the conviction of the robbers, and the recovery of the property stolen by them."
Source: The Masked Burglars, N.Y. Times, Jan. 8, 1874, p. 8.
The first court proceeding dealing with the robbery suspects focused on the robbery of the Emmett home in Pelham. The report of that proceeding reads as follows:
The announcement in the City journals yesterday morning, to the effect that the burglars who, on the 23d day of December, committed a most daring outrage and robbery at the Emmett cottage, New-Rochelle, would be examined at White Plains in the course of the forenoon, attracted persons from almost every section of the county to obtain a glimpse of the accused perpetrators of the crime. Shortly after 11 o'clock, John Kelly, alias Dan. Kelly, Patrick Conroy, Larry Griffin, and Billy Woods, alias John Barns, being taken up in one of the morning trains, were brought into court, before Judge Porter, of New-Rochelle. Detectives Elder, Fields, King, and Lyons, of the New-York Central Office, were present, with a large assortment of burglars' implements, consisting of four dark lanterns, numerous powder casks, eleven soft felt hats, a lot of masks, and other articles found at the head-quarters of the robbers in New-York City, together with some fragments of tools left behind them in the dwelling of the Emmett family. All that could obtain an opportunity of inspecting the tools availed themselves of it. Mr. Charles H. Roosevelt, of New-Rochelle, appeared as counsel on the part of the people, and Col. Fellows, of New-York, for the prisoners.
Col. Fellows inquired of the court what course would be pursued in regard to Billy Woods, alias Burns, who was not charged in the proceedings had at New-Rochelle with being implicated with him. He desired that the names of Kelly, Conroy, and Griffin were charged in the complaint against Burns with being implicated with him. He desired that the names of Kelly, Conroy, and Griffin be stricken from the warrant against Burns. He would then waive an examination of Kelly, Conroy, and Griffin, remarking that public feeling had been so worked up against the perpetrators of the robbery that it would be impossible to expect anything like justice being done them. The suggestion of Col. Fellows was conceded, and Col. Fellows then objected to Judge Porter, as Police Justice of New-Rochelle, having jurisdiction, but as Judge Porter announced that he presided there as one of the Justices of Peace of Westchester County, the objection as to his jurisdiction was withdrawn. Col. Fellows then remarked that he should also waive an examination in the case of Burns, as he had in the others, and await the action of the Grand Jury and trial by another tribunual, where his clients would stand a much better chance of securing justice. The four prisoners were then fully committed to the County Jail to await the action of the Grand Jury next month.
In order to prevent the possibility of Burns, alias Woods, slipping out of the custody of Sheriff Carpenter by a writ of habeas corpus, inasmuch as no evidence had been recorded against him, Mary Lyon, colored cook on board of the steamer Seawauhaka, was examined. She testified that she prepared breakfast for seven men on board of the steamer on the 23d day of December. They ate their breakfast in the kitchen, where she waited upon them; that she identified the four prisoners present as four of the seven persons that she provided breakfast for. They had with them a large black valise, a yellow or light-colored valise, and a long black bundle, which was covered with black muslin or rubber, and that the light-colored valise produced in court is like the one she saw in possession of the prisoners."
Source: Some of the Ruffians In Court, N.Y. Times, Jan. 11, 1874, p. 8.
No record has yet been found of the disposition of the charges against the robbery suspects.
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