He was a pillar of the community in Pelham where he lived and in Mount Vernon where he worked as a successful attorney. His name was William Stewart McClellan. He had served as a member of the Board of Education in Pelham and was one of the most respected citizens of the Town during the 1860s and early 1870s. That is, until one day in late January, 1871 when his world came crashing down on him.
It seems that only a few weeks earlier, in December, 1870, the Treasurer of the New York and New Haven Railway Company had been commuting on one of the railway company's trains seated behind a couple of Pelham residents who, as Pelham residents are wont to do, were discussing local taxes. One of the pair remarked that the Town of Pelham's taxes for the year were lower than they had been in a number of years.
"That's odd," thought the eaves-dropping railway company treasurer. The taxes the company pays to Pelham have been increasing massively in each of the past few years. Upon his arrival at the office, the railway company treasurer began looking into the matter. Within only a short time he uncovered an embezzlement scheme that had proceeded for years, crafted by none other than William Stewart McClellan of Pelham, New York.
McClellan, it seems, had represented the railroad in a number of small legal matters centered in the towns of Pelham and Mount Vernon. Using this as a guise, he convinced the railway company that he acted as a collection attorney on behalf of local tax collectors including the Tax Collector of the Town of Pelham. In turn, he convinced local tax collectors that, as an attorney representing the railway company, he acted as its agent to receive tax bills and remit tax payments. Once the scheme was put in place, the rest was simple.
Each time local tax collectors submitted their tax bills for the railway company to McClellan, he altered the bills to increase the taxes purportedly due. He then submitted the altered bills to the railway company, received payment from the company, provided his receipt to the company, and remitted the lower, actual tax amount to the tax collectors, pocketing the rest. Over about a six-year period, McClellan stole about $6,123 from the railroad -- the equivalent of about $172,100 in 2016 dollars.
Once it discovered the scheme, the railroad reported the embezzlement to law enforcement officials and filed a civil lawsuit against McClellan to recover the funds. In late January, 1871, law enforcement authorities arrested McClellan.
McClellan had some difficulty posting the bond necessary to gain temporary release after a couple of bondsmen backed out when they learned of the scope of his malfeasance, but he was able to get his mother and another local resident to put up a required bond. Once released, McClellan promptly fled.
The bonds put up by McClellan's mother and another were forfeited, but turned out to be worthless. According to one account, this meant that the Sheriff's office that released McClellan on bond would be held responsible for the bond. The Sheriff would have none of that. He dispatched Deputy Sheriff H. B. Ford to track McClellan down.
McClellan was a crafty and restless fugitive. For more than a year he moved all over the United States and Canada, followed by the deputy sheriff. According to one account, McClellan fled in peripatetic fashion from "White Plains to Albany, then to Cleveland and the smaller towns of Ohio down to Cincinnati, back to Philadelphia and New York, through the Canadas down to Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, St. Paul, Omaha, St. Louis, Little Rock and finally to Memphis."
Deputy Sheriff Ford of White Plains trailed closely behind McClellan, tracking him in relentless bloodhound fashion. On Thursday, June 27, 1872, Ford determined that a "northern man" matching the description of William Stewart McClellan and using the name "William D. Stewart" was working in a local sewing machine sales business on Main Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Knowing that McClellan would recognize him, Deputy Sheriff Ford procured the services of a local detective who began shadowing the sewing machine salesman and determined that he likely was the fugitive William Stewart McClellan.
The detective waited for McClellan to step into the sewing machine store. According to one account, when McClellan stepped into the store, Detective McClure "tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Mr. McClellan, you are my prisoner.' The accused took the affair coolly at first, merely saying, 'I was expecting it;' but when the terrible reality of Mr. Ford's presence flashed upon his startled vision the unhappy man broke down completely, and ejaculating the words 'I am gone,' gave vent to a shower of bitter, burning, heartfelt tears."
The jig was up. McClellan's career -- and freedom -- were over. He was dragged back to the Westchester County jail in White Plains, New York where, one newspaper reported, "doubtless his chances for again escaping are somewhat circumscribed."
Westchester County Jail in White Plains, New York Where
William Stewart McClellan Was Held. Image from an
Undated Post Card Issued Near Turn of the Twentieth
Century. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.
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I have written before about the strange case of Pelham lawyer William S. McClellan. See Mon., Sep. 03, 2007: A Pelham Lawyer Charged with Defrauding the Railroad in 1871.
Below is the text of several news articles reporting on the strange case of William Stewart McClellan. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"Arrested for False Representations.
William S. McClellan, a lawyer of Pelham, Westchester county, was arrested yesterday on a civil suit instituted by the New York and New Haven railroad company to recover $5,000 paid him during the past six years on his false representations that he was a tax collector. Criminal proceeding will also be taken for the offense."
NEW YORK, Jan. 29. . . .
Wm. S. McClellan, lawyer, of Pelham, Westchester county, was arrested yesterday on a civil suit instituted by the New York and New Haven Railway Company, to recover $5,000 paid him during the past six years on his false representation that he was a tax collector. Criminal proceedings will be taken for the offence. . . ."
Source: New York. NEW YORK, Jan. 29, Hudson Daily Star [Hudson, NY], Jan. 30, 1871, Vol. XXIV, No. 7256, p. 2, col. 3.
"AN EMBEZZLING LAWYER.
A Dishonest New York Attorney Followed for Thirteen Months and Finally Arrested in Tennessee for Embezzling $6,000.
MEMPHIS, Tenn., June 27, 1872.
In January, 1871, William Stewart McClellan was a promising and comparatively well to do young lawyer of Westchester, N.Y., and attorney in that town for the New York and New Haven Railroad. It was customary for him to pay the State and county tax on the road for that county, and he was accordingly furnished with $6,123 by the company for that purpose in the month mentioned. Instead of applying the money as expected McClellan used it for his own private needs. He was soon after arrested on the charge of embezzlement and placed under $10,000 bonds. After giving the bond McClellan fled the country, and then it was found that the bond was of no value, the parties on it not being able to qualify. As the Sheriff would be held good for the amount of the bond if he was not recaptured that official instituted a zealous search for McClellan. The matter was turned over to his deputy, H. B. Ford, who,
IN PURSUIT OF M'CLELLAN,
has travelled over ten thousand miles and consumed thirteen months of time. From Westchester to Albany, then to Cleveland and the smaller towns of Ohio down to Cincinnati, back to Philadelphia and New York, through the Canadas down to Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, St. Paul, Omaha, St. Louis, Little Rock, and finally to this city did the untiring officer of the law follow his man. About one month ago Mr. Ford arrived in this city to find that the bird had flown to Arkansas. Going back home, he returned again yesterday morning, and last evening his long search was crowned with the most complete success. He ascertained during the day that a Northern man, giving his name as William D. Stewart, was working for an agent of Wheeler & Wilson's sewing machines in Main street. As McClellan knew Mr. Ford the services of Detective Curley McCune were called in to shadow the William D. Stewart and ascertain if he was not William Stewart McClellan. He proved to be the man wanted, and when he stepped in the store Curley tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Mr. McClellan, you are my prisoner.' McClellan took things coolly, merely saying,
'I WAS EXPECTING IT,'
and after asking permission to put away some tools, expressed his willingness to go with the officer. When he saw Mr. Ford he broke down completely and said 'I am gone.' Mr. Ford took him directly to the Overton, where he was stopping, and where they remained until half-past three o'clock this morning, when they left for Westchester. During his stay in this city, and while writing to his relations at his former home, McClellan would request the postal clerk to blur the name of Memphis so that it could not be read. This he said he wanted done because he did not want his folks to know where he was. By having the post address blurred, as stated, it was almost impossible to ascertain anything concerning his whereabouts from his letters, as in them he said nothing of where he was stopping."
Source: AN EMBEZZLING LAWYER -- A Dishonest New York Attorney Followed for Thirteen Months and Finally Arrested in Tennessee for Embezzling $6,000
, N.Y. Herald
, Jun. 28, 1872, p. 5, col. 4
(NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"BRIEF TELEGRAMS. . . .
-- William Stewart McClellan, formerly a lawyer of West Chester, New York, and agent for the New York and New Haven Railroad, who absconded from that place thirteen months ago after embezzling over six thousand dollars of the Company's money, was arrested at Memphis last evening by Deputy Sheriff H. B. Ford, of West Chester, who has been hunting McClellan ever since his flight, having chased him through the Canadas, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, and Little Rock, until yesterday he found him here engaged in the Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine Company, under the name of Stewart. Ford left this morning with the prisoner for West Chester."
Source: BRIEF TELEGRAMS, Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, Jun. 28, 1872, Vol. LXXXVII, No. 154, p. 1, col. 2 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
A DELINQUENT BROUGHT TO GRIEF -- HOW A FUGITIVE FROM JUSTICE WAS CAPTURED IN THE SUNNY SOUTH. -- There are few in this neighborhood to whom the career and former prospects of William Stewart McClellan are not intimately known. The son of quiet, respectable parents, who occupied a position second to none in the adjoining town of Pelham; a brother to an Ex-District Attorney of this County, and at one time the arbiter of what appeared a successful future, the unfortunate subject of this article, as will be seen, has recklessly flung away opportunities which, if judiciously employed, might have elevated him to a position of more than ordinary social and political eminence among his fellows. The story of his fall, flight and capture may be briefly told as follows:
In the month of January, 1871, Sheriff Brundage received an order of arrest for W. S. McClellan, who was charged by the New York and New Haven Railroad Company with having fraudulently obtained from them at various times, the sum of $6,123. It would appear that the offence charged had been carried on by McClellan for some years. He had been employed by the railroad company as counsel in a number of petty suits arising out of railroad matters in this and the adjoining town of Pelham. Taking advantage of this position, he represented himself to the State and County Tax Collector as agent for the New Haven Railroad Company, and each year obtained from the collector the tax bill against the railroad. It is charged that he would then make out a new bill, raise the amount several hundred dollars, collect the money, give his receipt, pay the County Treasurer the amount of tax really assessed, and appropriate the difference to his own use. In this way, it is alleged, did he carry the operation on thorough some four or five years, until he had defrauded the company out of the sum above indicated. According to reliable authority, McClellan's game was first scented in the following accidental manner:
In December, 1870, the treasurer of the New Haven company was going from the latter city to New York, and seated in front of him were two gentlemen from Pelham, who were conversing about the circumstances that their taxes for that year were lower than they had been several years previous. It struck the treasurer as being rather singular that the railroad company's tax had exceeded that of the previous year. On his return to the office he compared McClellan's with the County Treasurer's books, and discovered that McClellan had defrauded the company out of $1,000 that year. Further examination revealed the full extent of the swindle.
On being arrested by Deputy Sheriff Banks, the accused was taken to White Plains, where he was treated by Sheriff Brundage and his subordinates with that kindness and delicate courtesy which a man who had occupied McClellan's position in life was supposed to be entitled to. The alleged swindler readily found two men to give bonds for his appearance, but after an account of his exploits had been portrayed in one of the New York papers, his bondsmen became alarmed and lost no time in delivering him back to the Sheriff. In two or three days subsequently McClellan's mother and a resident of this village named Todd, executed another bond, but as they did not justify at the time the bond was made, McClellan requested the Sheriff to let him go home until morning, promising that his sureties would justify next day. As the accused had been looked upon as a responsible man, he had been awarded all the latitude usually extended to men of previous good standing in this community, and consequently he found no difficulty in obtaining the request from the kind hearted and unsuspecting Sheriff. In brief, McClellan disappeared, and the bond being declared forfeited but were found to be worthless [illegible] taken by the fugitive.
The task of tracking the prisoner was entrusted to Deputy Sheriff Ford, who, in pursuit of his man, is said to have travelled over ten thousand miles during the past twelve months. From White Plains to Albany, then to Cleveland and the smaller towns of Ohio down to Cincinnati, back to Philadelphia and New York, through the Canadas down to Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, St. Paul, Omaha, St. Louis, Little Rock and finally to Memphis, Tenn., did this vigilant officer of the law follow the fugitive. About one month ago Deputy Sheriff Ford arrived in Memphis, to find that the bird had winged his way across the Mississippi to the inhospitable shores of Arkansas. He proceeded again to Memphis, arriving there last Thursday morning, when his long search was crowned with the most complete success. He ascertained during the day that Northern man giving his name as William D. Stewart was working for an agent of Wheeler & Wilson's Sewing Machines on Main street. As McClellan knew Ford, the services of Detective McClure were called in to shadow the 'William D. Stewart,' and ascertain if he was not William Stewart McClellan. He proved to be the man wanted, and when he stepped into the store McClure tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Mr. McClellan, you are my prisoner.' The accused took the affair coolly at first, merely saying, 'I was expecting it;' but when the terrible reality of Mr. Ford's presence flashed upon his startled vision the unhappy man broke down completely, and ejaculating the words 'I am gone,' gave vent to a shower of bitter, burning, heartfelt tears.
McClellan is once more securely lodged in the county jail, where doubtless his chances for again escaping are somewhat circumscribed."
"A SHREWD ROGUE.
The New York & New Haven Railroad Embezzlement
The telegraph has announced the arrest of Wm. McClellan at Memphis, for the embezzlement of funds of the New York & New Haven Railroad.
Later details show that the arrest had been accomplished after search all over the United States, lasting two years, and was only at last effected through interception of letters from McClellan to his sisters.
McClellan was a much respected lawyer living [sic] in Mount Vernon, New York, and had been employed by the railroad company several times as attorney. He also acted as agent for the payment of the taxes of the road to the courts authority and managed in this way: He would get the bill from the tax collector and alter it making the amount larger than it should be, and receive the money. The balance between the actual bill and the one presented by him, was pocketed, and the regular levy paid. This was kept up some time, without any suspicions, and finally was discovered in a singular manner. A gentleman remarked to an officer of the road that the taxes in that county were less than ever before. The officer was surprised as the tax of the road had been greater. Examination followed and the fraud was discovered. He was arrested and bound over, and ran away. His bonds were found to be worthless which made the sheriff responsible, and this led to the long pursuit. McClellan was arrested in Memphis, where he was in the employ of the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine company, under an assumed name. -- New Haven Palladium."
Labels: 1870, 1871, 1872, Crime, Embezzlement, New York and New Haven Railroad, William Stewart McClellan