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, August 25, 2009

Crimes Committed at the Notorious White Hotel in Pelham in 1899

I have written before about the notorious White Hotel that was finally shut down in the earliest years of the 20th century.  The building later was split in two in order to create two "cottages".  The north half became 307 Wolfs Lane.  The south half became 303 Wolfs Lane.

In 1899, some of the most alarming events involving the hotel took place, ensuring its eventual shut down.  In one instance, a U.S. Secret Service agent investigating a "green goods scam" at the hotel was nearly beaten to death by "green goods men". 

The "green goods scam" was popular in the 19th century.  Con men would claim to have high quality counterfeit U.S. currency that they were willing to sell for pennies on the dollar based on the face value.  A victim would be shown a bag containing large sums of genuine currency and would be told that the money was counterfeit.  Once distracted, the con men would switch the bag containing the currency with an identical bag containing green paper, sawdust or the like and would "sell" the worthless bag to the victim for a substantial sum.  Victims reportedly would rarely go to authorities because purchasing counterfeit currency was a crime.

In a second instance, a merchant from Texas visiting the New York City area to purchase goods, was robbed of $1,000 at the hotel by a bunco man he met on a train.  A lengthy pair of articles about the events appeared in the August 24, 1899 issued of the Mount Vernon News.  The articles are quoted below.

Green Goods Men Nearly Kill Detective Whittaker.
Whittaker Was Left for Dead.--When He Came To, Gang Had Fled.
The Police and Government Detectives are just now devoting considerable attention to what is known as the 'White Hotel' of Pelham, which is located just across the Hutchinson River bridge on East Third Street.  A government detective was assaulted and nearly killed in this place last Saturday by a gang of green goods men, and a few days before that a merchant from Austin, Texas, was inveigled there by probably the same gang and robbed of $1,000 that he had brought with him to purchase goods with in New York City.

A desperate fight between green goods men and a United States Secret Service detective took place in Pelham Saturday.  John Whittaker, said to be one of the most clever detectives in the United States Secret Service nearly lost his life at the hands of a gang, which he had been detailed to arrest.

The affair was kept quiet by the officers of Pelham until Monday.  They explain their motive for secrecy by saying that the government men cautioned them to say nothing concerning it.  They are Chief Post Office Inspector King of Washington, Detective Whittaker and three other secret service men.

For several months Inspector King has known that a gang of green goods men have been operating in Westchester County, and recently he got into communication with them and arranged a meeting.  To Detective Whittaker the Inspector assigned the duty of impersonating a farmer and meeting the crooks.

Saturday was the time set for Whittaker to leave his rural home and meet his supposed benefactors who were to give him $2,000 in counterfeit bills for $150 of good money.  Under the name of 'Hiram Jones, of Coldenham,' in the Catskills, the detective took a train in Poughkeepsie, and arrived in Yonkers about noon.  He was accompanied by Inspector King and the three other detectives, who kept in the background.  Whittaker was to meet a man who had signed his name as 'Lloyd' at a Yonkers hotel.  When the train stopped at Yonkers, Whittaker alighted.  He carried a small satchel and a faded umbrella.  He had looked about the railroad station but a moment when he was acosted by two flashily dressed men.  One of them said:

'I suppose you're Mr. Jones of Coldenham.  Are you looking for your friend?'

Whittaker, who played his part well, said:  'Yes.  I reckon I am.  He promised he'd meet me here to-day and we'd go out and see the fire parade.'

Lloyd then handed Whittaker his card and said:  'I guess we are the men you are looking for.  Let's go and have a drink, and then we will walk out and transact our business.   You'll have plenty of time to see the parade and get home after you get your money.'

After having a drink, the green goods men walked Whittaker through the back streets until they reached the outskirts of the city.  After a short rest, they continued their journey to the Pelham Manor station, a distance of six miles, from which they went to Kelly's White Hotel in Pelham, which was evidently the place that had been selected for the transaction.  Inspector King and the other detectives followed by trolley, but not knowing the exact location of the headquarters of the green goods men, distributed themselves in Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, expecting to be able to join Whittaker in one of those cities and assist him in making the arrest.

Whittaker was taken up to the third story of the hotel and thence through a dark hallway to a small room.  Here they found a man in disguise sitting at a table with several big packages of green goods before him.  Whittaker was to get $2,000 for $150 and little time was required to count it out.  When the money was ready the detective took it, and was about to thrust it in his bag, when one of the men cried:

'Hold on, there.  Don't you touch that money until you put up your cash.' 

Whittaker, who had less than two dollars in his pocket at the time, saw that the game was up, and drawing his revolver, he leveled it at the green goods men and shouted.

'Hands up, you are all my prisoners.'

The detective by an oversight had left  ---- (Continued on page 8)  [Page 1 / Page 8, col. 1]

Detective Battered in White Hotel.
(Continued from 1st page.)

the door of the room unlocked after he had entered, and he was standing with his back to it when he threw aside his disguise and attempted to make the arrest.  Suddenly one of the gang gave a low whistle, and an instant later he heard a rush in the hall.  Before he could turn about the door flew open and three men entered.  As he turned to see who they were he received a tremendous blow on the arm from a black jack and his revolver fell from his grasp.  The crooks then closed in on him.  Whittaker, although a giant in stature, stood no chance in the unequal fight and was chocked and knocked senseless as the blows from the black jacks rained down on his head.  He was given a terrible beating, after which his assailants kicked him under a table, locked the door to the room and fled through the woods.  In their hurry to get away the men left two big rolls of green goods behind them.

It was two hours before Whittaker became conscious.  After several vain efforts to get to his feet, he crawled to the door and found it securely bolted.  Then he went to the window and shouted for help, but nobody about the place seemed aware of his presence.  Gradually, however, his strength retuned and he finally succeeded in breaking open the door.

On reaching the office of the hotel he inquired the way to the home of the nearest officer and was directed to Constable R. H. Marks, to whom he related his experience.  Marks accompanied him back to the hotel, where Inspector King and the other detectives had already arrived.  They had missed Whittaker, and having become suspicious, started out to find him.  Inspector King at once put Kelly, the proprietor of the hotel, under close examination, and later questioned an employe [sic] named Arthur Lawrence.

Lawrence, it is said, had asked Constable Marks to arrest Detective Whittaker as a disorderly person.  Both men pleaded ignorance of the affair, although it is said that the green goods men have been stopping at the hotel for several weeks.  The officers took the green goods and putting Whittaker on the train, returned to New York.  The injured man considers his escape from death as miraculous.  He said that when the men discovered that he was an officer he head on of them say:

'Let's shoot him, he looks like the fellow that spoiled the game before.'

'No, don't shoot,' exclaimed another.

'I guess the black jack has done the work.  Anyway he's out of business for awhile and won't tackle us again soon.' 

Then tyey took the detective's revolver and fled down the stairway, locking the door after them."

Source:  Merchant Robbed; Detective Battered in Pelham's White Hotel, Mount Vernon News, Vol. VII, No. 343, Aug. 24, 1899, p. 1, col. 2.

Merchant Lewis, of Texas, Robbed of $1,000.
Introduced Himself as Acquaintance Who Met Lewis at Carnival.

Mr. Lewis, a prominent merchant of the city of Austin, Texas left his home a few days ago for New York which he visited annually to purchase stock for his store.

He had nearly a thousand dollars in cash with him when he started from his home.  His trip was without special incident until the train on which he was a passenger reached Newark N.J., when the remarkable series of adventures which befel him began.

Mr. Lewis was sitting in the smoker as the train pulled out of Newark and he was about to light a fresh cigar when some one placed a hand familiarly on the merchant's shoulder and said 'Why hello Lewis, old man; how are you?'

Mr. Lewis turned, and saw a fine looking man about forty years of age standing over him.  He looked at what was a strange face to him, which was adorned with a fine flowing moustache.  A silk hat, white vest and diamond stud also formed part of the apparel of an apparently properous man of the world.

Lewis said:  'You have the best of me sir.  I cannot place you.'

The cordial stranger then went on to tell Mr. Lewis where he had met him at the carnival in New Orleans.  He mentioned incidents of that event which Mr. Lewis remembered perfectly and the latter thought he was indeed lucky in meeting such an affable acquaintance whom he must have forgotten in the crowds he had met in New Orleans. 

Meanwhile as they were chatting the train had reached Jersey City.

The agreeable stranger insisted on taking his friend to his hotel to lunch.  So he called a hansom on the New York side and drove to a fashionable uptown hotel, where Mr. Lewis' new found acquaintance introduced him to a friend of his. 

During lunch the two New Yorkers proposed that their Texas friend must be weary after his long journey, that they go up to their club house in the suburbs and recuperate for a day or two.

Mr. Lewis, thinking he had fallen in with two Northerners who were fully as hospitable as his own people in the South, accepted the invitation and in the afternoon the party set out for the 'club house in the suburbs.'

Several times Mr. Lewis pulled out a roll of bills to pay for drinks and car fares but the men whose 'guest' he was refused to allow him to dispose of any of his money in this manner.

After a journey of several hours by trolley and steam road in which transfers were frequent, they, just as it was growing dark, reached a quiet little spot in a rather picturesque neighborhood which the strangers told Mr. Lewis was the 'club house.'

After a hearty dinner and a smoke on the piazza, they went to a private room and sat down to a game of cards.  They had several drinks and at midnight Mr. Lewis with his roll somewhat larger as a result of the card game, went to his room in a good humored and contented frame of mind.

The next morning, before Lewis had awakened the friend he had met on the train rushed into his room and called out:  'Lewis, there's been burglars in the house.  They went through my clothes las night and got my watch and pistol and $300.'

Lewis jumped up, reached for his vest, and found his wach [sic] was safe.  Before he had time to look for his money, his friend had hurried down the stairs.  The merchant then discovered that every dollar he had brought with him was gone.  He was desperate.  For the first time, the truth dawned on him that he had been victimized and robbed by a gang of bunco steerers.  Mr. Lewis' Southern blood began to boil.  As soon as he got his clothes on he rushed down stairs and found both his transient friends had disappeared. 

He appealed to the man he supposed was proprietor and another man there, and got no satisfaction.  He asked a woman who stood by where he could find the police.  As soon as he had the words out of his mouth he says, he was set upon and clubbed; the men claiming he had insulted the woman.  They chased him out into the street; Mr. Lewis running for his life.

The plundered merchant finally got back to New York and went to the wholesale house he had been dealing with and told his story.  One of the firm called in the head detective of the store and he came out to Pelham with Mr. Lewis.  A thorough investigation was made, but they could get no satisfaction.

Mr. Lewis and the detective then called on Chief Foley of this city and told him what had happened.  The chief told him the place was outside of his jurisdiction, and if the local authorities of Pelham could no nothing they had better see the sheriff.

The detective said when he left Chief Foley, that he considered Kelly's hotel 'the rottenest hold in the state.'"

Source:  Merchant Robbed; Detective Battered in Pelham's White Hotel, Mount Vernon News, Vol. VII, No. 343, Aug. 24, 1899, p. 1, col. 2.

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