No. 600
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
March 30, 2023

Hungry Joe.

The conmen of New York City were noted for their colorful nicknames: "Paper Collar Joe", "Grand Central Pete" Jimmy "the Kid" and the greatest of all "Hungry Joe".
October 20, 2013
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Via Newspapers.comThis week, we visit a haunted house that has a bit of Mystery Blood thrown in.  The "Glen Elder Sentinel," August 20, 1903:A remarkable ghost sensation is disturbing the serenity of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, where a local photographer has just vacated his residence on the ground that he and members of his family have been terrified by supernatural visitations. The photographer
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Strange Company - 3/29/2023
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When Patrick  H. Doherty joined the Fall River Police Department in 1885, he might have been astounded to learn that he would be involved one day in two notorious murder cases- both involving hatchets and axes.  Patrick Doherty was born in Peoria, Illinois on August 10, 1859 to John and Mary Walsh Doherty.  Later the family moved east to Fall River, and we find Patrick Doherty living at 104 Columbia St. (off South Main) and working as a laborer for a time employed by Fall River Iron Works and the Fall River Line steamboat company.  He married Honora (Nora) E. Coughlin on April 25, 1887 at the age of 28, when he was employed at the Fall River Police Department as a patrolman.  The couple would have seven children:  Charles T., Frank., Grace, Robert, Helene, Margaret (called Marguerite), and John. Doherty, (as were several other patrolmen), was promoted to the rank of captain after their work in the case of the century, the Borden Murders of 1892.  Doherty had arrived at #92 after George Allen on the morning of the murders, and was very quickly in the thick of the action, questioning Lizzie upstairs, looking at the bodies with Dr. Dolan, running down to Smith’s pharmacy with Officer Harrington  to question Eli Bence, prowling the cellar for weapons with Medley, Fleet and Dr. Bowen, and making note of Lizzie’s dress.  Doherty stayed on the job on watch at the Borden house until he was relieved at 9 p.m.  When it came time for the inquest, it was Doherty who slipped down to 95 Division St. to collect Bridget, who had been staying with her cousin, Patrick Harrington after the murders.  He would testify at the Preliminary and the 1893 trial in New Bedford. In the midst of the excitement in New Bedford as Lizzie’s trial was about to get underway, yet another hatchet killing took over the front page, the murder of Bertha Manchester on May 30th.  It was a brutal attack to rival the Borden’s with the weapon being most likely a short-handled axe or possibly a hatchet. Doherty went out to the Manchester place with Marshal Hilliard, Captains Desmond, and Connors and Inspector Perron  on June 6th with the  suspect, Jose Correa de Mello, who revealed his hiding place for the stolen  watch taken from the victim and her purse at that time.  De Mello served time and then was sent back to the Azores, banned from stepping upon U.S. soil again. The Dohertys moved to 1007 Rock St. in 1897 and Patrick was pleased to walk his daughter Margaret (Marguerite) down the aisle in 1913. Patrick Doherty retired from the force in 1915 and succumbed to interstitial nephritis on June 28, 1915.. He, and some of his children are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Fall River. Resources: Ancestry.com, Parallel Lives,: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and her Fall River, Find-a-Grave.com. and Yesterday in Old Fall River: A Lizzie Borden Companion Fall River Globe June 28, 1915
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 3/3/2023
Bernard Gussow was born in Russia in 1881. But by 1900 he’d made it to the Lower East Side, where he was described as an “East Side artist” in a New York Times article about paintings he displayed at an art show at the Educational Alliance settlement house on East Broadway. [“Subway Steps”] Gussow would […]
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Ephemeral New York - 3/27/2023
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
 17-year-old James E. Nowlin murdered George Codman in a Massachusetts stable in January 1887. Then he took an axe and chopped Codman’s body into pieces. As he traveled home in a sleigh, he threw the pieces into the snow along the road.Read the full story here: Massachusetts Butchery.
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Murder By Gaslight - 3/25/2023
Roped-inOmaha Daily BeeJune 25, 1884(Click image to enlarge)  OSSIBLE VICTIM OF THE JEFFERSON R. SMITH GANG.  Omaha Daily Bee June 25, 1884 COLORADO. Col. Fletcher, a tourist from Boston, was roped-in by the bunko men of Denver and relieved of $1,000. NOTES: $1,000.00 in 1884 is the equivalent of $33,472.95 in 2023. According to the Rocky Mountain News there were at least two,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/12/2023
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 […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Hallow Eve Sports. | The Gloucester Sea Serpent

Hungry Joe.

Hungry Joe King of the Bunco Men

The conmen of New York City were noted for their colorful nicknames: “Paper Collar Joe" Bond, “Grand Central Pete" Lake, Jimmy “the Kid” Fitzgerald, and the greatest of all, “Hungry Joe” Lewis

Hungry Joe LewisHungry Joe Lewis
(Professional Criminals of America)

Joseph Lewis was given the sobriquet "Hungry Joe" for the soulful countenance he usually bore. An 1885 biography of Hungry Joe described it this way:

"His general expression, however, is one of a far-away, yearning sort, not exactly poetic, but sad and thoughtful, as though his mind was occupied with things outside of the usual frivolities of life."

This expression can be seen in Hungry Joe’s iconic mug shot in Inspector Byrnes’s Professional Criminals of America.

Hungry Joe was a bunco steerer (called “banco steerer” in New York and New England). He would quickly ingratiate himself to some stranger traveling through New York, gain his trust then lure him to some game or situation where the traveler would lose everything he had. Hungry Joe preferred preying on countrymen—farmers and other wealthy gentlemen unfamiliar with big city ways, who had come to town to sell crops or buy equipment.

Sometimes Joe would entice his mark to play banco, a rigged game involving dice or cards, in which early gains by the player quickly turned to enormous losses. The player would invariably pay to avoid publicity. Another scam he used was called the “envelope game.” The player pays ten dollars to select from a box full of envelopes. The envelope contains currency in amounts ranging from one to fifty dollars. The player can only bet his own money, not his winnings. In this game, the play is extended as long as possible and the player ultimately wins, only to find out later that he has traded his cash for envelopes full of counterfeit bills.

Other times Joe would introduce the mark to a beautiful woman with an endless supply of champagne. The mark would wake up the next day in a strange room with nothing left but an excruciating hangover. In at least one instance, Hungry Joe used this method to steal not only a farmer’s money but the crops he had come to town to sell.

Regardless of the game, the method of roping in the mark was always the same. An accomplice, known as a “feeler,” would identify a wealthy traveler then, through chance meetings and overheard conversations, gather as much information as he could about the man. The information would be related to Hungry Joe who, armed with this knowledge, would pretend to recognize the mark from his hometown. He would pose as the son of the man’s banker or another prominent citizen of his town, and the mark, pleased to be recognized by someone so worthy, would be open to whatever Hungry Joe proposed.

Hungry Joe Lewis

Hungry Joe’s most audacious score was fleecing Oscar Wilde out of $5,000 at a game of banco. During the English poet’s 1883 visit to New York City, Hungry Joe finagled an introduction and palled around with Wilde for a week, dining at New York’s finest hotels, before suggesting that they try a game. As everyone does, Oscar Wilde lost at banco and wrote Joe a check to cover his losses. The next day, realizing that he had been swindled, Wilde stopped payment on the check, but he did not press charges. The incident so impressed New York Police Inspector Thomas Byrnes that on a subsequent arrest he said to Hungry Joe,

“You are able to make a fortune honestly, for any man who has the ability to fool Oscar Wilde and to bunko him has ability not only to make a living honestly, but to make a fortune, and when you get out of your present strait I would advise you to turn your attention to something that is honest.”

Hungry Joe managed to avoid any major prison time until May 1885 when he was arrested for stealing $250 from an English tourist. He had lured Joseph Ramsden of Manchester into a game of three card monte and when Ramsden pulled out a roll of ten pound notes, Hungry Joe, in an uncharacteristic fit of impatience, grabbed the roll and ran. He was caught, arrested, and sentenced to four years in Sing Sing.

After serving his sentence, Hungry Joe Lewis allegedly took Inspector Byrnes’s advice and went straight, opening a laundry business.

 


Sources:

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1928
  • Byrnes, Thomas. Professional Criminals of America. New York: Castle & Company,Ltd, 1886.
  • Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
  • Tousey, Frank. The Life of Hungry Joe. New York: Frank Tousey, 1885.
  • "Wise Oscar Wilde." The Morning Record, Meriden, CT, 20 Oct 1893.