No. 522
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 14, 2021

Sharkey Escapes!

When visiting hours ended on November 19, 1873, cell No. 40 on “Murderer’s Row” was empty; William Sharkey had disappeared.
May 15, 2012
...
...

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan MandijnYes, it's time for yet another Link Dump.Let's get the show started!The murder of Alice Sterling.The Los Angeles alley that made film history.The theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.The last WWII German holdouts...were by the North Pole.Before the Wright brothers, there was Aerodrome No. 5.Murders that were allegedly carried out by a
More...
Strange Company - 5/14/2021

`
A few weeks ago, Ephemeral New York put together a post about the former Czech neighborhood once centered around 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues on the Upper East Side. The post generated many comments, with readers either reminiscing about a vanished enclave they remember well or wishing Manhattan still had pockets of ethnic […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 5/9/2021

Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.
More...
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/13/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
8-year-old Alice Sterling disappeared from the steps in front of her father’s Boston barbershop the afternoon of April 10, 1895. The three-day search for Alice ended at a shallow grave in the floor of a nearby barn. Angus Gilbert, a friend of the Sterling family especially fond of little Alice, lived in a room above the barn. Gilbert was charged with her
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 5/8/2021

LOOK OUT FOR "SOAPY" SMITHSt. Louis DispatchSeptember 23, 1897(Click image to enlarge) e reported himself in good health and money."   New information showing that Soapy Smith did go to St. Louis to check up on his ailing wife, Mary, after leaving Skagway.  Below is the transcription of the article from the St. Louis Dispatch, September 23, 1897. LOOK OUT FOR “SOAPY” SMITH ― The Smooth Man
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/11/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
More...
Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
She Was Bug Crazy. | Saloons and Houses of Ill-Fame.

Sharkey Escapes!

Murderers Row

New York, New York, November 19, 1873 – The morning of November 19, 1873, William J. Sharkey was securely locked in cell No. 40, on “Murderers’ Row” in the New York City prison known as the Tombs. But when the bell rang at 2:00 that afternoon, signaling the end of visiting hours, cell No. 40 was empty and Sharkey was nowhere to be found.

William-J-Sharkey

William Sharkey was in jail for the murder of Robert S. Dunn (alias Bob Isaacs), at a saloon called The Place on Hudson Street, on Sunday, September 1, 1872, following the funeral of Tammany man, James Reilly. Sharkey had set Dunn up with a faro game in Buffalo and fronted him $600 to get started. Dunn was now back in New York and Sharkey wanted his money. When Dunn said he didn’t have it, Sharkey drew a single-barreled Derringer and shot him in the chest. Sharkey fled the saloon leaving Dunn bleeding to death on the floor.

Sharkey was soon captured and brought to trial. It was cold-blooded murder in front of dozens of witnesses; even with Sharkey’s Tammany connections, the best verdict he could get was guilty of murder in the first degree, with a recommendation to mercy. Sharkey was sentenced to be hanged on August 15, but his attorney filed a writ of error, which was granted by the New York Supreme Court. As of November 19, 1873, Sharkey was still in the Tombs, awaiting his new trial, but Sharkey was tired of waiting and was determined to get out of jail without another court appearance.

Luxury-in-the-tombs

Given the number of criminals that had been housed behind the stone walls of the Tombs, successful escapes were rare. It was an imposing and well-guarded fortress. Escapes from Murderers’ Row were seldom tried, but for reasons other than security—life on Murderers’ Row was quite comfortable. Those with influence and money had the freedom to leave their cells and walk the corridors of the prison and the yard outside. Prisoners bought their own furnishings, including carpets, artwork and upholstered sofas. Those who could afford it had their meals catered from Delmonico’s or other fine New York restaurants, and followed dinner with drinks and cigars.

Maggie-Jourdan

William Sharkey, who had been a political operative, and one-time candidate, for Tammany Hall, had influence, and through his sweetheart, Maggie Jourdan, he had money. Maggie Jourdan was infatuated with William Sharkey, and she was an industrious pickpocket. She sold all of her fine clothing and jewelry to make sure her lover was comfortable in jail, buying him a walnut table, a soft mattress for his bed, a Kidderminster carpet, a canary in a cage, a soft chair for lounging, drapes for the cell door, a silk and velvet dressing gown and velvet slippers. Though Sharkey had lost the privilege of walking the corridors due to insolence toward the jailors, he was living the good life locked in his cell.

From the first day of Sharkey incarceration, Maggie Jourdan had come to the prison every morning and, more often than not, had stayed until the 2:00 bell. Someone paying close attention may have noticed that on November 19, she left the prison well before 2:00. As it was, nothing seemed unusual that day until another visitor, Mrs. Allen, who was visiting her husband, Wes Allen, in jail for burglary, claimed she had lost her admission ticket. Their suspicions aroused, the guards did a quick check of the prison and found cell No. 40 empty.

Sharkeys-Escapey

Sharkey’s clothes lay in a heap on the floor, and the hairs of his mustache, still wet from shaving, were found on a shelf. They soon surmised that Maggie Jourdan had somehow obtained a key to the cell and provided the prisoner with a change of clothes. He had left the prison dressed as a woman, showing Mrs. Allen’s admission ticket when he left. The guards at the door then remembered seeing a large woman, dressed all in black, with a black veil over her face, leave the prison. They had seen her walk down the street and make a rather deft leap onto a streetcar.

The system was thrown into turmoil, with the warden blaming the guards and the district attorney blaming the warden. Mrs. Allen was interrogated; she said she lost her ticket and nothing more. When Maggie Jourdan was arrested at her mother’s house she showed no signs of distress, telling detectives that she was “the happiest little woman in the world.” She was tried for helping Sharkey escape, but with representation by Big Bill Howe of the remarkably successful criminal law firm of Hummel and Howe, the trial ended with a hung jury. The indictment against her was eventually quashed.

William Sharkey had left New York and traveled by boat to Baracoa Cuba, then to Havana where he lived under the name Campbell. Though authorities knew of his whereabouts, the United States had no extradition treaty with Spain, so there was nothing they could do. Maggie Jourdan went to Havana to live with Sharkey, but it was not the paradise she had expected. Sharkey turned mean and abused her so badly that she left Havana and returned to New York where she disappeared from public life. William Sharkey never returned to the United States.


Sources:

  • Asbury, Herbert. All around the town. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003.
  • Farley, Phil. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the lives of thieves enabling every one to be his own detective: with portraits, making a complete rogues' gallery. New York: Author's edition, 1876.
  • Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel Anderson Mackeever. The New York Tombs; its secrets and its mysteries. New York: United States Pub. Co., 1873.
  • WALLING, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police; an official record of thirty-eight years ... Illustrated, etc. New York: Caxton Book Concern, 1887.