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 07, 2018

Brazen Holdup at New Railroad Station on Fifth Avenue in North Pelham in 1913

The giant, monolithic, and modern Fifth Avenue Station of the Million-Dollar-A-Mile railway known as the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway was only a few months old on June 15, 1913.  It was a hulking cast-concrete station that towered above the main street of the Village of North Pelham that connected two lengthy stone and dirt railroad embankments on each end of the station that cut much of the Village of North Pelham in half.

The Fifth Avenue Station platform was well above road level with stairs that led down to a small ticket office and tiny waiting area.  The image immediately below shows the station in about 1912 (shortly after it opened) with a horse and carriage standing outside the little ticket office and waiting area.   

Undated Photograph of the Fifth Avenue Station of the New York,
Westchester & Boston Railway, Ca. 1912, from Engineering
News.  Source:  Remembering North Pelham Facebook Page.
NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

That little ticket office (seen at lower left of the image above) was the scene of a brutal crime in the wee hours of the morning on June 15, 1913.  The 12:08 a.m. train from New York City arrived on time.  Railroad ticket agent Edward J. Morrissey was working dutifully in the ticket office as the train arrived.  Within moments, two men came hurrying down the stairs.  

At least at that time of night, tickets were not collected on the train.  Rather, there was a ticket box at the base of the stairs where the ticket agent would oversee disembarking passengers as they deposited tickets in the box and left the station.  Agent Morrissey saw the two men hurrying down the stairs and, thus, attended to the ticket box to collect their tickets.

The station was entirely empty.  When the two men reached agent Morrissey at the ticket box they stopped suddenly and whipped out revolvers, pointing them at his head.  The men ordered Morrissey to "cough up his cash" and also to "hurry up about it."

Stunned, Morrissey apparently did not move quickly enough.  While one of the men covered Morrissey with a revolver, the other used rope and a belt to tie him up.  Once he was disabled, they bound him more securely both hand and foot and placed a gag in his mouth.  Then the men threatened that he must "shut up and keep quiet" or he would "forfeit his life."  The two thugs then carried Morrissey to a storage room, tossed him inside, and closed the door.  They then went about their evil business.  They stole $51 and railroad tickets from the Fifth Avenue Station.

A short time later, the 12:48 a.m. train from New York City pulled into the Fifth Avenue Station.  A disembarking passenger, James Algie, came down the station stairs.  He thought he heard groans.  He notice the ticket office was unattended although the lights were lit brightly.  Algie followed the sounds of the groans and found Morrissey.  According to one account "Morrissey was in a pitiable plight, but was not unconscious."

Algie immediately notified the Chief of Police of the Pelham Manor Police Department, R. H. Marks.  Chief Marks sent out a general alarm and the Pelham Heights and Pelham Manor Police Departments began immediate searches for the perpetrators.  

Chief Marks could not reach the police of North Pelham because they were out patrolling.  When he finally reached them, quite some time had passed, but they began a search as well.  Three North Pelham police officers were patrolling the village and searching for the perpetrators including Policeman Frederick Keller who reportedly knew every resident in the Village of North Pelham.  

Keller was at Fourth Street (today's Lincoln Avenue) between Eighth and Ninth Avenues at about 2:30 a.m. when he noticed a tall man wearing a white Panama hat who was walking along Fourth Street near Ninth Avenue.  The man seemed to fit the description of one of the thugs who robbed the Fifth Avenue Station.

Officer Keller shouted "Stop!  What are you doing around here this time of the morning?"

The man answered "Oh, I'm going home up the line."

Keller asked "Where do you live?"

The man then made a tell-tale mistake.  "Oh, I live a little ways up the street."

Keller felt he had his man.  He said "I don't know you.  You don't live here.  You had better come along with me to the station."  Officer Keller took the man by the arm and began to guide him along Fourth Street (Lincoln Avenue) to Fifth Avenue.

When the pair reached Fifth Avenue, the prisoner shouted "Take your arm off me, I'm not going with you without a fight."  He turned toward the officer and tried to punch him.  Officer Keller began shouting for assistance.  The two men grappled and began to fight when suddenly the man whipped out a revolver.  Officer Keller promptly knocked the firearm out of the man's hand, but in doing so dropped his nightstick.

Nearby North Pelham Police Officers Michael J. Fitzpatrick and Officer Dick heard their fellow Officer's shouts and ran to him to help.  Fitzpatrick was the first to arrive and found Officer Keller fighting "desperately" with the thug.  Fitzpatrick and Keller were able to use their nightsticks on the man, but he was able to get to his revolver yet again.  This time Officer Fitzpatrick knocked it out of his hand.  

The two officers began dragging the criminal to the North Pelham police station.  He fought them all the way to the station.  Then, after another "desperate encounter," they landed him in a cell.

The prisoner gave his name variously as John and James Conway of 148 West 67th Street in New York City.  He was "sullen and refused to give any information."  Ticket agent Edward J. Morrissey was able to identify the prisoner as one of the two robbers.  Police found not only the revolver he used, but also $20 and some railroad tickets in his possession.  Soon the robber was arraigned and carted off to the County Jail in White Plains as the investigation, and search for the second robber, continued.

Thus, shortly after it opened, the brand new Fifth Avenue Station of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway joined a long history of robberies and burglaries of railroad stations in Pelham Manor, Pelham, and North Pelham! 

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Midnight Raid -- Desperadoes Make Small Haul
Identified by Victim -- Puts up a Fight with Police

North Pelham, June 16. -- There was a desperate hold up at the station of the New York, Westchester and Boston railway, Fifth avenue, immediately after the arrival of the 12:08 train from New York, at midnight yesterday when two armed men walked into the ticket office at the foot of the stairs and levelling magazine revolvers at the head of Edward J. Morrisey, the night ticket agent, demanded that he 'hold up his hands' and surrender all money and tickets he had in his possession.  Morrissey was bound hand and foot and thrown into what is known as the 'storage room' in the station.  The desperadoes took $51 and some tickets.  they then went away.  An hour later James Algie, who returned on a train from New York heard groans coming from the store room and found Morrissey lying on the floor with a gag in his mouth.  Algie released him as quickly as he could and notified Chief R. H. Marks at Pelham Manor, who sent out a general alarm to police departments of the surrounding towns in Westchester County.

It was about 2:30 o'clock that Policeman Keller, who had been on the force for about two weeks arrested a man on Fourth street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, who answered the description of one of the men wanted.  The man fought Keller and tried to draw a revolver on him.  Officer Fitzpatrick came to his assistance, and the two policemen finally managed to land their prisoner in jail.  He gave the name of John Conway, of 148 West Sixth street.

Later Conway was identified by Morrissey.  In Conway's possession was found a revolver, $20 in money and some tickets.  

The other man who assisted Conway in his work is still at large.  Conway was arraigned before Justice of the Peace Lambert this morning on a charge of burglary and was held to await the action of the grand jury.  He was taken to White Plains this morning by Policeman Keller.

Agent Morrissey was in the office when the two men came down the stairs.  Both appeared in a hurry.  Morrissey did not think anything of their appearance and as he came from the office to have them drop their tickets in the box, as had been his custom, the two suddenly stopped and confronting him whipped out revolvers and pointing them at his head called upon him to 'cough up his cash' and to 'hurry up about it.'  Morrissey was overcome by surprise for a few moments and during this one of the men, who obtained rope and a belt from some place while the other covered him with his revolver.  Later they bound him hand and foot and placed a gag in his mouth.  He was told to 'shut up' and keep quiet for if he didn't he would forfeit his life.  There was not a person around the
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station at the time.  The two desperadoes finally carried Morrissey, who was absolutely helpless, into another room and closed the door.

On the arrival of the 12:48 train, James Algie, after he heard groans, looked into the office and noticed that the lights were alright, but that the agent was missing.  He at once became suspicious, and on investigation, found Morrissey.  Morrissey was in a pitiable plight, but was not unconscious.  There were a few marks on his face, so it is said by the police.  The agent at once told the story of the hold-up to Algie who at once notified Chief Marks, who sent out an alarm.  The Pelham Heights and Pelham Manor police began making a search for the two, but it was not until the three North Pelham policemen were notified by Chief Marks, after they had rung up, that they started a search in the village.

Policeman Dick was on duty in district No. 3 which is north of Sixth street in Chester Hill Park; Policeman Frederick Keller was on post in District No. 2 which is east of Fifth avenue between the New Haven railroad tracks and Policeman Michael Fitzpatrick was in district No. 1 in the western part of the village.  As soon as they were notified of the holdup they at once started a search.  Keller was in Fourth street between Eighth and Ninth avenues when he noticed a tall man with a white Panama hat walking along Fourth street near Ninth avenue.  It was noticed that he answered the description of one of the men who was wanted in connection with the holdup and he called to him to 'stop.'  What are you doing around here this time of the morning?' asked Keller

'Oh, I'm going home up the line,' was the reply.

'Where do you live?' asked Keller.

'Oh, I live a little ways up the street,' replied the man.

Keller who had lived in the village for years and who knows every man in North Pelham by sight, said:  'I don't know you.  You don't live here.  You had better come along with me to the station.'

The policeman then took the man by the arm and led him along Fourth street to Fifth avenue, where the prisoner suddenly turned on his captor and shouted:  'Take your arm off me; I'm not going with you without a fight.'

The words had hardly been spoken than the man turned on Keller and struck at him.  The two grappled and in the midst of the fight, as blows were exchanged, the man whipped out a revolver.  Keller knocked it out of his hand, and in doing so he dropped his stick.  Fitzpatrick had heard Keller's shout for assistance and was approaching.  The men were fighting desperately when Policeman Fitzpatrick came up, and it was not until the two policeman had used their sticks with vigor on the man's head that he was finally subdued.  In the midst of the fight the man again drew his revolver and tried to use it, but it was knocked out of his hand for the second time by Fitzpatrick.

The two policemen fought with the prisoner all the way to the station and after a desperate encounter landed him in a cell.  Later the agent identified him.  The prisoner gave his name as James Conway, of 148 West 67th street, New York.  He was closely questioned by the police about his 'pals,' but was sullen and refused to give any information.  He did tell, however, contradictory stories about his return to the village after the holdup but claimed all along that the police had the wrong man and that they had got their identification mixed up with that of somebody else.  He was asked to explain his appearance in the village at 2:30 o'clock when he did not live here and again contradicted himself several times.  He said he had been in Mount Vernon and he was on his way to his home.

Yesterday President Peter Ceder, Chief Marks, and Policeman Fitzgerald went to police headquarters in New York, but it was found that Conway had no record there.  As far as could be ascertained he is not known in New Rochelle nor in Mount Vernon.

Late in the evening Lieutenants Cody and Finelli, of New Rochelle, came to the North Pelham police headquarters and closely questioned the prisoner.  Lieutenant Cody told a reporter last evening that he had never seen the man before but had found in a receptacle in the cell some torn bits of paper which made him suspicious.  He placed these bits together and found that they gave a name different from that which the prisoner had given as well as a different address.  This name and address were not made public.

The address in New York which Conway gave to the police was visited by President Ceder yesterday afternoon but Conway was not known there.  It was stated this afternoon that the police have obtained clues which may lead to the arrest of the second man.

Station Agent Morrissey later went to his home in New York.  As far as could be learned he was none the worse for his experience with the exception of a few bruises.

The prisoner is tall and athletic appearance and has black hair.  He happened to hear the police and some men in conversation with the reporter last evening and wanted to know 'why they were talking to a reporter.'"

Source:  HIGHWAYMEN HOLD UP AGENT OF NEW ROAD AT PELHAM -- Midnight Raid -- Desperadoes Make Small Haul -- ONE CAPTURED LATER -- Identified by Victim -- Puts up a Fight with Police, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jun. 16, 1913, No. 7173, p. 1, cols. 5-7 & p. 2, cols. 2-3.

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I have written on numerous occasions about the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway that had its Fifth Avenue Station in the Village of North Pelham.  Seee.g.:

Tue., Jun. 05, 2018:  A Saboteur Bombed Non-Union Railroad Bridge Construction Site at Pelham Reservoir in 1911.

Wed., Nov. 23, 2016:  1910 Railroad Announcement that the "Finest and Most Artistic Bridge" Would Be Built Over Highbrook Avenue.

Mon., Sep. 26, 2016:  Battles over Razing the Fifth Avenue Station, the Highbrook Avenue Bridge, and Embankments After Failure of New York, Westchester & Boston Railway.

Thu., Sep. 22, 2016:  Pelham's Highbrook Avenue Bridge Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wed., Apr. 01, 2015:  Pelham Settled the Unpaid Tax Bills of the Defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company in 1943

Fri., Feb. 20, 2015:  Village of North Pelham Fought Plans for Construction of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway in 1909

Tue., Jan. 12, 2010:  Architectural Rendering of the Fifth Avenue Station of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad in North Pelham Published in 1913

Fri., Dec. 18, 2009:  The Inaugural Run of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Through Pelham for Local Officials in 1912

Thu., Jul. 7, 2005:  The New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Company Begins Construction of its Railroad

Fri., Feb. 25, 2005:  Robert A. Bang Publishes New Book on The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company

Bell, Blake A., The New York, Westchester And Boston Railway in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 50, Dec. 17, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

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