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.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

More on Shocking Crime at Jackson Avenue and Peace Street in Pelham Manor on October 27, 1896

The evening of Tuesday, October 27, 1896 was a beautiful autumn evening in Pelham.  Fifteen-year-old Mary Bertine climbed into a horse-drawn carriage driven by the Bertine-family's liveryman, John Royal.  Mary was a deaf mute who had not spoken in years.  The pair left the family home, known as Echo Lawn located near the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Peace Street, and headed to the Pelham Manor Train Station to pick up Miss Bertine's father, Josiah M. Bertine.  The Bertine family was still recovering from the shock of a burglary of their home a month earlier where the family's valuable silverware had been left behind by the burglars.

The train arrived at the station precisely at 7:14 p.m.  Josiah Bertine climbed into the carriage and left for home, about five minutes away by carriage.  As the carriage reached the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Peace Street, about 200 feet from the rear of Echo Lawn, four highway robbers leaped from behind a low stone wall into the roadway.  One grabbed the horse's head and stopped the carriage.  Another pulled a pistol and held it about a foot away from Mary Bertine's head.  The others covered the carriage with their pistols.

Seeing the pistol pointed at Mary's head, her father grabbed for it and grasped the barrel.  One of the other robbers fired at Mr. Bertine.  The bullet pierced his collar and entered the left side of his neck below his ear.  As Bertine slumped and released his grasp of the muzzle of the pistol, the robber holding that gun opened fire, apparently emptying his revolver at the occupants of the carriage.  Seeing her father shot, Mary leaped from the carriage as did the liveryman, John Royal.  Royal disappeared in the darkness fleeing for his life.  Mary Bertine, unable to speak, ran silently to a nearby residence for help.  There, she burst into the home and shouted "Papa's shot!"  Her speech, according to several reports, was miraculously restored by the frantic fear of the moment.  

Two of the bullets fired by the robbers struck the poor horse:  one in its shoulder and another through its side.  Frantic, the horse broke free of the grasp of the robbers and galloped with the carriage down the roadway to Echo Lawn where the beast collapsed.  Bertine staggered into the house, wounded badly, but not mortally.  

The robbers fled, but Pelham Manor residents immediately raised a posse and began searching the countryside for the would-be assassins and robbers.  The gang, however, escaped.

Subsequent investigation by New York City police, however,  identified the thugs responsible for the attempted robbery and attempted murder of Josiah M. Bertine.  It turned out to be the same group who had robbed the Bertine home a month earlier.  It is thought that they planned to murder the Bertines and steal the family's silver that they previously had left behind in haste.  

A thug known as "The Mouse," whose name was believed to be Otto Schaffer and whose aliases (besides "The Mouse") included James Spellman and Peter Barber was arrested and confessed to the crime. He claimed that his gang was led by a violent robber named Emil Wolf, alias "Ben Fadden." The gang, he stated, had burglarized more than fifty homes up and down Long Island Sound in 1895 and 1896, collecting about $16,000 worth of stolen goods. The robberies and burglaries included not only the burglary and the attempted robbery and shooting of Josiah Bertine, but also a notorious burglary of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls on the Esplanade in Pelham Manor during that time.

Only a month after the incident, Josiah M. Bertine and his family left Pelham Manor and never returned.  Newspapers throughout the country reported on the crime and the subsequent capture of the robbers and their punishment.  Many newspapers included images of the family, the robbers, their hideout, and other related items.  

I have written before about the sensational attempted robbery and attempted murder of Josiah M. Bertine.  See:

Thu., Nov. 10, 2016:  More on One of the Most Sensationalized Crimes Ever Committed in Pelham.

Mon., Feb. 03, 2014:  Shocking Crime at Jackson Avenue and Peace Street in Pelham Manor on October 27, 1896

Fri., Jun. 01, 2007:  Article About 1896 Robbery and Shooting of J. M. Bertine of Pelham Manor.

Below are images relating to the crime from a variety of sources as well as a detail from a map published in 1893 showing the area where the crime occurred in 1896.  Also there is a transcription of an article about the crime that previously has not been included in prior Historic Pelham articles.

Mr. Bertine, his fifteen-year-old daughter Mary, or 'Mazie,' as she is
called, and Mr. Bertine's coachman were driving home Tuesday night
when four men sprang from the roadside and covered the party with
revolvers. Mr. Bertine, at the sight of the weapon held to his daughter's
head, struck it away. He was shot in the neck. The coachman fed and
was shot at. Two shots were fired at the horse, wounding the animal so
it subsequently died. The bandits fired several other shots and then
disappeared. Three men were arrested yesterday in this city as suspects.
They gave names which they subsequently admitted were false.
Revolvers and keys were found on them." Source: 'PAPA SHOT!' A
Close to the Child's Head, New York Journal, Oct. 29, 1896, p. 12, cols.
1-4.  NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

"Members of a Desperate Robber Gang. In a house at No. 28
State street, Brooklyn, wagonloads of their booty were found --
watches, bicycles, bric-a-brac, guns, burglars' tools, etc., etc. The
detectives did a clever piece of work in tracing the gang and in making
the final 'round up' in a saloon, with revolvers in hand.  Source:
in Several States Found in Their Haunts, New York Journal, Nov. 20,
1896, p. 12, cols. 1-6. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

1896, p. 20, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

AT PELHAM MANOR.  Junction of Jackson Avenue and Peace
Street, Where the Four Highwaymen Held Up the Carriage, with
the Bertine House in the Background."   Source:  Victim of a
League To Kill, N.Y. Herald, Oct. 29, 1896, p. 5, col. 6 &
p. 6, col. 1.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

"JOHN ROYAL, THE COACHMAN"  Source:  Victim of a League
To Kill, N.Y. Herald, Oct. 29, 1896, p. 5, col. 6 & p. 6, col. 1.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

OF THE ROBBERS"  Source:  Robber Band Slyly Caught, N.Y. Herald,
Nov. 20, 1896, p. 5, col. 1.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Source:  Bien's 1893 Atlas of Westchester County (Plate 3 Detail) -
Showing the Area Including the Intersection of Jackson Avenue and
Unlabeled Peace Street Where the Crime Occurred.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Daring Attempt to Murder a New York Merchant
Josiah H. Bertine Waylaid at Pelham Manor While Driving From the Station With His Daughter -- Evident Intention of the Miscreants to Kill Bertine and Then Rob His House.

Desperate highwaymen held up and shot at Joseph H. Bertine, a wealthy New York merchant, his daughter and coachman, within sight of their home Tuesday night.  Mr. Bertine was severely wounded.  It is believed the miscreants intended to kill Bertine and then rob the house.

Pelham Manor, N.Y., Oct. 28. -- One of the most daring attempts at highway robbery and murder ever recorded in Westchester County occurred in this village early last evening.

Josiah H. [sic] Bertine, a wealthy New York stationer, doing business at 81 Fulton street, and who lives in the old family homestead, Echolawn, this place, arrived here on the 7:14 train last evening, and was met at the station by his carriage, in charge of John Royal, his coachman, and his daughter, Miss Bertine, aged 15.  Echolawn is about three-quarters of a mile from the railroad station, and it did not take the spirited animal who was attached to the vehicle more than five minutes to reach the junction of Peace street and Jackson avenue, which is about 200 feet from the rear of Mr. Bertine's residence.


There are no houses at this point for several hundred yards in either direction except the Bertine residence, and just as the carriage turned into Jackson avenue three men sprang from the shadow of the fence.  One grabbed the horse by the head, while another had sprung to the side of the carriage and covered the occupants with their pistols.  Mr. Bertine, seeing the barrel of a pistol within a foot of his daughter's head, made a desperate grab, and managed to grasp the pistol by the barrel, but as he did so the second man pointed his pistol at him and fired, the bullet piercing his collar and penetrating the left side of the neck, just below the ear.


At this the man whose pistol Mr. Bertine had grasped wrenched it from his hand and fairly rained lead on the inmates of the carriage.  Seeing the desperate condition of her father, the young girl sprang out of the carriage and in the darkness managed to escape uninjured to the residence of William Carson.  During the shooting, Royal, the coachman, also started for assistance.  When he left, the horse, badly frightened, and wounded unto death, with one bullet in the shoulder and another lodged in his side, became frantic and broke from the grasp of the third member of the gang and dashed up Jackson avenue and turned into Mr. Bertine's gateway.


Mr. Bertine managed to get out of the carriage and entered the house.  Mr. Bertine's wounds, though serious, will not prove fatal.  The carriage and Mr. Bertine's clothing bear the marks of five bullets, only two of which took serious effect on Mr. Bertine.  Miss Bertine reached home none the worse for her experience.  The horse died this morning.


The Bertine residence was entered by burglars about a month ago, but the thieves did not get the valuable family silver, and it is supposed this visit was for that purpose.  That they intended to shoot down Bertine and then clean out the house there can be no doubt.  There is absolutely no clue to the assailants.  

A posse of citizens is searching the country for the would-be murderers.


Chief of police Foley of Mount Vernon to-night notified J. H. Bertine that the central office detectives of New York City had arrested three men whom they believed were his assailants of last night.  Mr. Bertine and his daughter May [sic; should be Mary] will visit the central office to-morrow morning and try to identify the suspects."

Source:  WAS HELD UP AND SHOT -- Daring Attempt to Murder a New York Merchant -- WITHIN SIGHT OF HIS HOME, The Wilkes-Barre Record [Wilkes-Barre, PA], Oct. 29, 1896, p. 1, col. 6 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  See also HELD UP AND SHOT -- Daring Attempt to Murder a Wealthy New York Merchant -- WAYLAID WHILE GOING HOME, The Morning News [Wilmington, DE], Oct. 29, 1896, Vol. XXXIII, No. 100, p. 1, col. 1 (similar text; Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link). 

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