Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 20, 2020
Rogue's Corner: AUGUSTUS GREGORY (159)
Twenty years old in 1886. Born in United States, of German parents. Lived in New York. Single. No trade. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 126 pounds. Light-colored hair, light eyes, long nose, thin face, light complexion.
GREGORY is a very clever boy. He was in prison in Colorado, and after he was liberated he worked all the hotels in all the principal cities from there to New York.
The following is an interesting account of his doings in New York, clipped from one of the papers at the time:
No Will-o'-the-wisp was ever more ubiquitous than a clever hotel sneak thief who for the past month has led the detective force such a dance that they were almost despairing of catching their game, when, by one of those mistakes which even the most experienced criminal sometimes makes, he gave the detectives the clue for which they were seeking, that led to his capture.
The first intimation of the fellow's operations came on the 25th of September, 1884, through the proprietor of the Hoffman House, New York, one of whose guests had been robbed of $350 worth of jewelry, which had been taken from his room. The thief had entered and departed through the transom, hut no one in the hotel had any idea who he could be. Three days later another robbery occurred at the hotel. A week afterward a similar robbery was committed at the St. Denis Hotel, where a guest lost $300 worth of jewelry from his room.
When Detective-Sergeants Lanthier, Mulvey and Wade went to the hotel, they learned that the only person whom they could suspect was a slim young man, dressed in rather dudish attire, who had been seen loitering about the hotel. Another complaint came on the 7th of October from the Murray Hill Hotel, where two guests had been robbed of $1,200 worth of jewelry by a sneak thief who had climbed through the transom. Again the detectives were puzzled; but in the course of their inquiries they learned that a slim young man, who had registered under the name of Edward Sussey, had arrived the day before the robbery and left two days afterward.
The next sufferer from the adroit thief's operations was the Park Avenue Hotel, where five rooms were ransacked one evening, and $1,500 worth of jewelry taken. Following this robbery came a complaint from the Rossmore Hotel, where a guest lost a small sum of money and a few articles of jewelry from his room, and on the 31st of October a guest at the Coleman House discovered that during his absence from his apartment a thief had entered and stolen two watches, one gold and the other platinum, worth $800.
Brooklyn next enlisted the thief's attention, and the Pierrepont House and Mansion House guests found occasion to regret his visits.
The Chief of Detectives, who had been visited by the irate hotel keepers bristling with indignation at the apparent inability of the detectives to catch the thief, tried vainly for a time to gain some clue to his identity. The slim young man who had been seen around nearly all the hotels robbed was, he thought, the culprit, as no one but a slight and muscular man could squeeze through some of the narrow transom windows which furnished the thief with the means of ingress and egress.There was no doubt of his cleverness, as well as the fact that he was an expert who would not readily fall into the ordinary traps of the thief catchers. Chance, the great ally of the detectives, threw them on the right scent. The platinum watch which he had stolen from the Coleman House was of so peculiar a character that a few days ago, when Detective-Sergeant Lanthier heard that one had been pledged, he at once went to the pawnbroker, and from a description in his possession he found that it was the identical watch for which he and his associates had been on the lookout.The pawnshop was watched, and on Saturday, November 1, 1884, when a waiter in a Bowery saloon presented a ticket for the watch, he was interviewed by the officer. The man was frightened, and willingly pointed out a notorious Fourth Ward cyprian as the person from whom he had obtained the ticket. A close surveillance was kept upon the woman, who, it was found, was frequently in the company of a slim young man who passed by the name of White.
Under the name of August Gregory the young man lived with his mother at No. I71 East Eighty-seventh Street. On Monday night, November 3, 1884, Detective-Sergeants Lanthier, Mulvey and Wade took the young man into custody and locked him up at police headquarters.
When the detectives began to look up Gregory's antecedents they found that he was the son of a keeper of a Cherry Street, New York, sailor boarding-house, and, as a youth, had displayed pilfering proclivities. Four years before, when 17 years old, he went with his mother, who had left her husband, to Denver, Col. There he robbed his mother of $4,500, but was arrested before he had spent but a few hundred dollars of the money. He was not punished for the crime, and, emboldened by this, he began his career as a hotel sneak thief. He was lithe and muscular, and managed, by a course of gymnastic training, to be able to perform feats which an ordinary thief would hesitate at.
Twice he was arrested, but for lack of evidence escaped free. The third time, however, he was convicted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Colorado. What he did not know about criminal ways he was not long in learning in jail, where he received his finishing lessons in thievery.
In August, 1884, he was discharged from the Colorado prison, an accomplished thief, and came with his mother to New York City, where she hired apartments at No. 171 East Eighty-seventh Street. Not long after his arrival here he resumed his old ways, and found in the hotels a splendid field for his peculiar talent. His address and manner were prepossessing, and he had gathered a fund of knowledge about hotels that served him in good stead. As he freely confessed on his trial, he found the meal hours the best time for his operations, and while the guests were in the dining-room he would scale the transom and make his way into the vacant room. He was clever enough not to dispose of his booty in the shape in which he had stolen it, but would generally take out the stones in the jewels and sell them separately, and melt up the gold.
Some articles, however, which he did not care to destroy thus, he sold in Philadelphia. He confessed everything to Inspector Byrnes, and gave information as to the whereabouts of a considerable amount of his booty.
"Gus" Gregory, the swell hotel thief, was sentenced on November 17, 1884, in General Sessions, to ten years' hard labor at Sing Sing. Recorder Smyth made a few remarks on the occasion. Looking severely at the prisoner as he stood at the bar carelessly twirling his fashionable Derby hat, the Judge said:
"You have a mother, young man, and I sympathize very deeply with her in having such a son. You are an unmitigated scoundrel, and employ yourself in cleaning out the various hotels of everything of value that you can lay your hands on, You have already served a term of imprisonment for stealing in the State of Colorado. You are wanted also in Wyoming Territory for burglary. Inside of seven or eight weeks you have robbed about ten hotels in New York and Brooklyn of considerable property, and you have made no effort toward restitution. You have the nature of a thief without a redeeming quality. I shall make an example of you in sending you to prison for ten years-the full term allowed by law."
The prisoner is twenty years of age, slim in build and of gentlemanly appearance. He made no sign when he was sentenced, and took no notice of the burst of approval which came from the spectators. There were three indictments against him, two for burglary, on which he pleaded guilty, and one for grand larceny, which is still held over him. William A. Boyce, deputy warden of the Colorado State Penitentiary at Canyon City, wrote to Inspector Byrnes,end stated that "Gregory is one of the slickest sneak thieves that ever struck this country." His real name is George Schwenecke, and his aliases are many. Gregory had robbed guests at the Hoffman House, St. Denis, Park Avenue, Rossmore, and Murray HilI hotels in New York, and also at the Mansion House, Brooklyn. He secured in one haul from the Pierrepont House, Brooklyn, over $4,500 in diamonds. Altogether Gregory has stolen about $15,000 worth of jewelry from various hotels during his Eastern trip.
The two complainants on the present indictments are Samuel B. Wellington, a broker, of Room No. 234 Coleman House, from whom toe prisoner stole $800 worth of jewelry, and Claudia Guernsey, of Room No. 553 Park Avenue Hotel, from whom he stole about $400 worth. In both cases he entered the rooms of the guests with false keys. He is described on the record as a student. He is well educated, and has a most polite manner. On leaving the bar he bowed respectfully to the Court, and whispered, "Thank you." The police speak of him as an adroit, cunning rascal, who lives by his wits. When Gregory left the court he was handcuffed to a dirty, ferocious looking prisoner, who regarded his dainty, elegantly dressed companion with contempt.
Gregory's picture is an excellent one, taken in November, 1884.