No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

"Four Aces."

September 25, 2012
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Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
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Strange Company - 2/28/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
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 … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Serpent and Dove. | Love in a Railroad Car.

"Four Aces."

Four Aces

 

“Baffled”” hissed “Little Jake,” alias “The Ace of Hearts,” alias Jacob Girrbach, of No. 354 Port avenue, Elizabethport, N. J.

The train had swept on relentlessly, almost ruthlessly, in spite of the efforts of the “Four Aces,” who had leagued themselves together to wreck it.

“But I will have revenge!” cried the leader of the band as he and his followers turned back in their tracks.

“Revenge!” chorused the others, making the sign—that mystic sign that meant blood.

For weeks the “Ace of Hearts,” and the other aces—of Diamonds, John Decker, of No. 411 Pine street; of Clubs, William Dobson, of No. 449 Bond street, and of Spades, Hugh O’Brien, of No 412 South Park street, of the frontier town of Elizabethport—had plotted to hurl a train to destruction, loot the combination-car, and massacre the mangled passengers, all except four beauteous maidens of high degree. These they would carry away to the fastnesses of the Orange Mountains, the defiles of which were known only to the members of the band, all young, but, oh! so devilish.

The day set for the slaughter was last Tuesday, and the “Four Aces” came by devious ways to the junction of the Long Branch Railroad and Broadway, in the very heart of Elizabethport. Their daring was superb.

In the distance the low rumbling of an approaching train could be heard, while the sun hung red in a Sandy Hook mist, that half obscured the surroundings as well as the deep, dark waters of Newark Bay.

“’S’ death!” ejaculated the “Ace of Hearts,” stamping his feet impatiently. “Will the monster never come?” He held a two inch plank in his good right hand, brandishing it disdainfully as if it were but a toy.

“Hist!” cried the “Ace of Clubs.” “The time is near!”

The Ace of Diamonds” and the “Ace of Spades” crouched expectantly, like beasts ready to spring on their prey. I the cab of the engine was Michael J. Kennedy, known all over the Jersey flats as the “King of the Lever.” The train flashed over the rails like lightning out of a clear sky. Its onslaught was terrible—it was the best “come-on” that ever was.

The “Ace of Hearts” simply said, “Ha!” But one could see how cool and self-possessed he was. Hot a tremor swept over his well-knit frame—in some circles the “Ace of Hearts” was “Ice of Hearts.” But let that pass.

Just as the engine crashed over the crossing the A of H, raised the plank in his good right hand, and was about to hurl it under the tremendous grinding wheels, when—

The “King of the Lever” saw him.

The A. of H. drew back. The train swept on in safety.

And Engineer Kennedy called on Old Sleuth Matson, who ran the band to earth. This morning Judge Hatfield, who sits in the Elizabeth Police Court, will pass sentence on the “Aces.” I will likely go hard with the leader of the band because once before, in September, he hurled a stone at Engineer Kennedy, and was soundly lectured by Justice Hatfield.

 

Reprinted from the New York World, December 2, 1897.