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, August 26, 2009

Fed Up with the Notorious White Hotel, Pelham Authorities Took Action in 1899

 Yesterday I wrote about two major crimes committed at the White Hotel in Pelham in August, 1899.  The first involved a Secret Service agent on an undercover operation who was beaten and left for dead in the hotel by so-called "green goods men".  The second crime involved a gang of con artists who robbed a Texas merchant of nearly $1,000.  As a consequence of the crimes -- and likely the notoriety of the events that embarrassed the Town's authorities -- Pelham decided to take action against the White Hotel.

Below is an article that appeared in a local newspaper a week later, followed by a citation to its source.

Authorities of Pelham Will Take Action Regarding the Place Where Robberies Occured [sic].

The residents of fashionable Pelham Heights are aroused over the crimes committed by greengoods [sic] , who have been operating with almost open impunity in the village of Pelham.  On last Friday night the trustees, after hearing of the murderous assault which was made on Detective John Whittaker at the White Hotel, held a meeting, at which the affair was discussed.  Lincoln Pierce, secretary of the Board, and a well known resident of the Heights, said Saturday night concerning the result of the meeting:  'We are going to take strong action, but we want to be sure where we are at first.'

The Board decided to employ Jabez Holmes, Jr., a New York lawyer, who is a resident of Pelham Manor, to collect evidence on which to begin legal proceedings.  It is understood that M. J. Kelly, proprietor of the White Hotel, denies the charges which have been made against his hotel.  He told United States Inspector King that he did not know that the men who attacked Detective Whittaker were bunco men until after the affair was over and they had made their escape.  He denies all knowledge of the robbery of Edward Lewis, the Texas merchant, who was buncoed out of $1,000, and Edward White, the farmer who came from Jackson, Mich., and after losing $250 is alleged to have been chased away by men with revolvers.

The police, however, believe from the description given by both of these men of the place in which they were robbed that it must have been the White Hotel.  The hotel is in a part of Pelham which is wedged between New York, Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, but in which the police of neither of these cities have any jurisdiction.  The village, which is the smallest in the State, has no police force.  It is run on such an economical basis that it was said Saturday night that the taxes collected a year ago will be sufficient to defray the expenses of the local government until next year, when another levy for village purposes will be made.  The only police officers employed are two constables, who receive no salary aside from the fees allowed for making arrests.  Under these conditions, they are not overvigilant, although they have managed to break up the Sunday baseball nuisance which existed for some time, to the disgust of the better class of residents.

Pelham is reached by a labyrinth of trolley roads, over which the greengoods men have been in the habit of conducting their customers until they became confused, and imagined they were still in Mount Vernon or Yonkers, and made the complaints to the police of those cities.  They were then directed to the constables, who for lack of what they considered conclusive evidence were backward in making an arrest.  While these proceedings were going on the confidence men had plenty of time to escape.

It has been pointed out that the greengoods operators of Pelham have adopted improved methods over those hitherto known to the fraternity.  It was formerly the custom to exhibit a roll of good money to the intended victim, and to allow him to feast his eyes upon it for a minute, at least.  Then the money was placed in a valise on a revolving table, and while his attention was distracted the table was turned, and the victim picks up a duplicate valise, which contained a roll of ordinary wrapping paper, covered with counterfeit bills.

This was what John Whittaker thought would take place, and he went prepared to hold up the bunco men when they displayed their roll and carry it away.  But they had been through several costly experiments in this line and instead of exhibiting the roll of cash used a large bundle of paper wrapped in a few bills and labelled 'Greengoods' in letters big enough to be conspicuous all over the room.  When Whittaker drew his revolver and tried to put the men under arrest, three confederates, who had been in hiding in the hall sprang on him from the rear, and after clubbing him nearly to death kicked him under a table and made their escape.  Since their experience with Whittaker the gang has not even had the courtesy to show its customers the roll of blank paper.

Farmer White, who came on from Jackson, Mich., last week, expecting to go hom rich, was taken into a room, and while gazing about at the pictures on the wall, waiting for the roll to be displayed, suddenly had two revolvers thrust in his face and was relieved of $250 and drive away from the place, with the threat that if he caused any trouble he would be shipped to his family a corpse.

The residents of Pelham have little sympathy for the victims of the bunco steerers.  They say that they came on for the purpose of being able to return and swindle their neighbors, and that they should be treated with as much severity as is inflicted on the real culprits.  They are, however, anxious to clear the name of their village, and say that they will spend any amount of money necessary to accomplish this result.  As to the White Hotel, they admit that it will be a difficult matter to get sufficient evidence to implicate the proprietor, but they expect to attack him on the excise law, which they allege is being violated constantly at his place."

Source:  After the White Hotel, Mount Vernon News, Aug. 31, 1899, p. 8, col. 1.

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