|Note: The following tale has a Solvay connection. Eventually.
|Long Island Daily Press, March 10, 1933
RONKONKOMA — This small village on the shore of Long Island’s noted lake teemed today with treasure hunters — men, women and children engaged with picks and shovels in a frenzied search for caches in which Arthur Barry, notorious gem thief, buried proceeds of his sensational jewel robberies.
State police are supervising the hunt, which was reinforced yesterday by searching parties of a force of laborers from the Suffolk emergency work bureau, who have been specially assigned to the activity. The digging epidemic was precipitated by a discovery made by four emergency workers two weeks ago.
The emergency gang was digging for a sidewalk when their picks turns up a mesh bag containing 42 pieces of jewelry. Believing the gems worthless, the men took the pieces home and distributed them among their children.
Yesterday the jewels were identified by local police as more than $50,000 worth of the $1 million loot garnered by Barry in his hundred-odd depredations against Long Island’s most famous families. The cache was discovered at the base of a tree 200 yards from the cottage where the jewel thief lived with his sweetheart, Anna Blake, when he and “Boston Billy” Williams staged the raid on the Jesse L. Livermore home at Kings Point.
The gems found by the laborers included several pieces completely crusted with diamonds and emeralds. An ivory cigarette holder, which was the pride of its original owner, Livermore, the Wall Street operator, was among the loot thus discovered.
As soon as news of the identification of the treasure trove permeated the quiet village of Ronkonkoma, practically every resident of the community went to work with garden instruments in a search for more of the buried loot.
When the hunters began tearing up hedges and lawns, spading private gardens and ripping up flower beds on some of the estates surrounding the village, state police stepped in to supervise the digging and see that no private property was damaged by the diggers. No further discoveries had been made by today, according to reports from the scene of the intensive treasure hunt.
This 1933 story interested me because it was linked to Jesse L. Livermore, the sometimes super rich speculator who made other news that year, including a brief, but strange disappearance.
While it was amusing to picture dozens of Long Islanders roaming around Ronkonkoma, digging up their neighbors' yards in a frantic search for buried treasure, it was obvious that part of the above newspaper story was ridiculous, as was speculation more jewelry was hidden. It's also doubtful Barry participated in 100 jewel robberies.
The May 29, 1927 jewel robbery at Livermore's Long Island Evermore estate became the cornerstone of the legend of Arthur Barry, America's most over-rated jewel thief. In truth, he was a member of a gang headed by James Francis Monahan, a long-time pal from Worcester, Massachusetts. Monahan was better known as "Boston Billy" Sullivan, and was the acknowledged leader of one of several gangs targeting wealthy families for brazen jewel thefts.
Several elements of the Livermore theft made it particularly interesting. Even in 1927, the image of the jewel thief was that of a cat-like burglar — picture Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief" — who sneaks into homes or apartments while occupants are away, selects his loot, and leaves unseen. That fits the definition of burglary.
What Boston Billy and Arthur Barry did at the Livermore house was pull a robbery, confronting and cajoling their victims, even negotiating with them. This pair prided themselves in being "gentlemen jewel thieves", an image Barry went out of his way to promote.
With Jesse Livermore as the victim, the thieves robbed a man regarded as one of the richest in the country. It was akin to robbing Donald Trump in the 1990s.
(Picture Trump talking about it afterward: "Yes, Boston Billy and Arthur Barry are thieves, but they're nice fellas, they really are. They apologized for robbing me, because they like me, like me a lot, they really do. But they said they did it because I'm so rich, I really am. So we made a deal, and I told them what they could take, I really did. When they left, they thanked me, and said, 'Mr. Trump, not only are you very, very rich, but you are a great human being! It was a huuuge thrill meeting you!")
It was downhill from there
Jewel thieves received kid glove treatment from the press because many people regarded them the same way they would bank robbers during the Depression — as modern day Robin Hoods, overlooking an important difference: These people took from the rich, and kept what they took. The poor were left to fend for themselves.
Oddly, many who've written about the Livermore job treat it as a crowning achievement for Boston Billy and Barry, when, in fact, neither benefited from the robbery, and it led to their capture.
As years passed, the self-promoting Barry became more famous than the taciturn Monahan. A prison escape and his unusual re-capture after three years a fugitive added to the Barry legend, fed by his tendency to shamelessly take credit for anything that would support the notion he was a "master jewel thief."
But if Barry were the "master thief," why did Monahan wind up with the item — Mrs. Livermore's $50,000 pearl necklace — that was worth more than the combined value of everything else stolen that day? Because Monahan was the boss, that's why.
Besides the pearl necklace, items taken from the Livermore home included two rings, each valued at more than $10,000; Livermore's watch, worth $1,000, and a pearl stick pin valued at $2,000. (A cigarette holder was never mentioned until that 1933 story out of Ronkonkoma.)
Livermore's watch was found ten days after the robbery in a Manhattan letter box at 7th Avenue and 33rd Street, and the stickpin was among items recovered by laborers in Ronkonkoma in 1933. The bag containing the stickpin and several pieces of relatively cheap jewelry had been buried by Barry, who, for awhile, lived in Ronkonkoma with Anna Blake.
THE DOWNFALL of "The Boston Billy Gang" began seven months before the Livermore robbery when they took jewels valued at $19,000 from the Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion of Percy Rockefeller, who retaliated by hiring private detectives from the Burns Agency in New York City. The Burns operatives and another private detective, Val O'Farrell, a former New York City policeman, did much to uncover the identities of the members of the "Boston Billy" gang. (Years later, O'Farrell figured prominently in the capture of Arthur Barry after he escaped from Auburn prison.)
In the 1920s, the nation's most publicized jewel robberies were committed against the wealthy in the New York City area or Newport, Rhode Island. There obviously were several gangs operating in the four states involved — New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island — but police, the press and the public tended to heap almost all of the blame — or credit — on the first jewel thieves arrested.
Thanks to the Livermore caper, those thieves would be Boston Billy and Arthur Barry. One newspaper account of the robbery:
|Buffalo Courier-Express, May 30, 1927
Chicago Tribune Leased Wire
NEW YORK, May 29— Cooing protestations of friendliness into their victims’ ears, while they menaced them with revolvers, two “gentlemen burglars” today carried away $100,000 in cash and jewels from the estate of Jesse L. Livermore, millionaire broker, at Great Neck, Long Island.
After lingering in the home for an hour, the thieves left the Livermore bedroom by means of the ladder by which they had entered, forcing Mrs. Livermore to hold it so as to steady their descent.
The pair proved fastidious robbers. They left $20,000 worth of sapphires on the dresser — mostly cuff links and studs belonging to Livermore. They ignored this pile of jewels after Mrs. Livermore, half hysterical at thoughts of her children’s safety, begged them to depart.
“Why don’t you take those things and leave?” she cried. The two Livermore children, Jesse Jr. and Paul, were sleeping in another part of the vast dwelling. These little ones, seven and four respectively, are constantly guarded by private detectives while at Palm Beach, because of kidnapping threats made against them.
After taking such articles as they desired from the Livermore bedroom and obtaining cash and jewelry from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Aronsohn, house guests, the thieves departed in an expensive roadster. They had obtained this car from the garage of Walter Roessler, who has the adjoining estate. The automobile is the property of George Owens, but Roessler had borrowed it, and the machine was parked in Roessler’s garage for the night.
The roadster was found by police, abandoned near Manhasset railway station, eight hours after the robbery.
Granted, that's a sketchy account, but it includes two fascinating details generally accepted as fact: The thieves left the Livermore estate in an automobile stolen from a garage next door. And they abandoned the car at a railway station. It also is widely believed Boston Billy directed the robbery from outside the house, sending Barry and another gang member inside to carry out his orders. To me, the escape in a stolen car suggests a fourth gang member — the person who went next door to steal the car while the robbery was in progress. Had the thieves arrived in the getaway car, they might well have alerted their victims, who were upstairs, presumably asleep.
Let the questions begin
As reporters and police investigated the Livermore job, many questions arose, and many more answers were suggested. The questions were obvious, many of the answers seemed fanciful.
Let's consider two of those questions: How did the robbers get to the Livermore estate? And where did they get the ladder they used to enter the home through a second floor window? Yes, I know. An even bigger question might be, since the robbers confronted their victims, why didn't they simply put on masks and enter through the front door before the Livermores and their guests went to bed?
Apparently, the answer is the victims would be more vulnerable in their nightclothes, and, more importantly, the robbery was conducted in the dark, the only illumination provided by flashlights the robbers carried. Also, Boston Billy must have believed the jewelry was upstairs, not in a downstairs safe.
This was a typical Boston Billy robbery. He was known for using ladders to enter homes on the second floor.
Okay, back to question one. Why? I don't know, but it's widely accepted Boston Billy and Barry took a train from Pennsylvania Station to a station at Great Neck, Long Island, then walked to the Livermore home. This is what Barry told police after he was captured, but it seems strange, because Barry lived in Ronkonkoma, east of Great Neck, and, afterward, the robbers took their loot to another Long Island location, the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens. Why begin their adventure in Manhattan?
A fourth gang member has never been mentioned or identified, but almost certainly participating in the robbery was Eddie Kane, who had worked as a chauffeur for the Livermores until he was fired.
Whether there were three thieves that night, or four, I can't imagine them walking three miles from a railway station to the Livermore home. I think they must have driven to Great Neck by yet another person, perhaps Barry's girl friend, Anna Blake, or one of Boston Billy's girl friends, who dropped them off. In the whole wacky story of the Jesse Livermore jewel robbery, one of the few consistent elements is the thieves left the estate in a car stolen from a neighbor's garage.
THE LADDER? Common sense says the robbers used a ladder already on or near the property. Assuming Kane participated, as the former chauffeur, he would have known about such a ladder, especially if it were stored in the garage.
Craziest version of the robbery appears in "Jesse Livermore: World's Greatest Stock Trader," a 2001 book by Richard Smitten, who doesn't speculate on how the robbers arrived. He has Monahan (Boston Billy), Barry, Kane and Anna Blake just sort of materialize on the Livermore estate, sitting around a campfire roasting hot dogs, waiting for the Livermores and their guests to go to their bedrooms. (The woman's role in the actual robbery is unclear, but the next paragraph is why I dismiss the Smitten version of event.)
Smitten claims Monahan had a specially-made steel ladder consisting of five sections, each four feet long and two feet wide, and that he assembled the ladder on the site of the robbery. Smitten added, "Boston Billy always left the ladder behind him after a job, as his signature." Yeah, sure. This would mean Boston Billy had such a ladder made before every job. The alternative: He returned to every crime scene days later and asked, "Pardon me, folks, have you come across a steel ladder consisting of five sections? I need it for work."
Also, imagine three or four men riding a train to Great Neck, each holding at least one four-foot-long section of a steel ladder. No matter how they traveled, transporting a 20-foot ladder, even in pieces, would be ridiculous, especially if they planned to leave it behind. (Some journalists estimated Boston Billy had pulled more than 100 robberies — undoubtedly an exaggeration — but even if the accurate number were, say,only a dozen, that steel-ladder business cannot be believed.)
HOWEVER THEY arrived, Boston Bill, Barry and Kane departed in a stolen vehicle, left it at the Manhasset, Long Island, railway station, where they stole a taxi cab, which they abandoned in front of the Queens County Motor Company, a garage on South First Street, Jamaica. There were reports four men and a woman were seen getting into the cab in Manhasset. If true, that complicates my theory a woman drove the gang to the Livermore estate — unless the car that delivered them also was stolen, then abandoned, and the woman waited at the railway station for her partners to rejoin her.
Which reminds me, I saw no speculation that Livermore's neighbor, Walter Roessler, was in on the robbery. Or was it coincidence he happened to borrow a friend's car and leave it in his garage on the day his neighbor's house was robbed? (The Livermore Robbery Game is more fun than Clue.)
Two days after the robbery, police received an anonymous phone call from a man who claimed to have participated in the robbery. He said he got into a fight with other members of the gang when they reached Jamaica. Cause of the fight was a woman. The caller — most likely Kane — said he was beaten up by another member of the gang.
I believe the woman at the heart of that fight in Jamaica was a victim, Mrs. Dorothea Livermore, who reportedly flirted with Barry and talked him out of stealing her two most valuable rings. My guess is Monahan (Boston Billy) felt Barry had been used, which lessened the value of the loot by perhaps $50,000. That may be why Monahan kept the pearl necklace, which represented 60 percent of the take. Perhaps Monahan blamed Kane because he followed Barry's orders and not the boss's.
You're under arrest!
First to be apprehended, probably because of information provided by the "anonymous" caller, was Arthur Barry, who used the occasion to begin creating the legend that was accepted for many years. In the story that follows, Barry is sometimes referred to by his alias, Gibson, and even his brother, who had no alias, is identified as William Gibson. And if Barry is telling the truth about the Livermore robbery ... well, I still can't believe two experienced thieves pulled such a robbery almost on impulse, and took a train to Long Island, then walked to the house they intended to rob.
|Suffolk County News, Sayville, NY, June 10, 1927
One of the most important captures of big crooks ever made on Long Island was carefully and successfully engineered last Sunday [June 5] by the Nassau County Police and Deputy Sheriff Charles Duryea, of Sayville.
The affair had its denouement at the Ronkonkoma Railroad station shortly after seven o’clock when, with a dramatic bit of gunplay, half a dozen officers arrested Arthur C. Barry, alias Gibson, 35, who said he was a salesman employed in Manhattan.
Accompanying him were his younger brother, William Gibson, and a blonde woman who said she was Mrs. Anna King of Ronkonkoma, but who is better known to Ronkonkoma people as Mrs. Anna Blake.
With Deputy Sheriff Charles Duryea, who was the only Suffolk County officer present, were Captain Harold B. King of the Nassau County police and Detectives Paul Crowley, Emil Morse, Jesse A. Mayforth, Howard Lane, Gordon Hurley, and Charles Sheridan, the latter from the Burns Detective Agency.
They had received a tip from the Val O’Farrell Agency.
The detectives were at the Ronkonkoma station awaiting the 7:15 train. Officer Duryea, who has known Mrs. Blake for years, passed the word to his associates as she alighted from the train. The woman and her two male accomplices were allowed to enter their car, a Cadillac driven by Otto Becker, member of a well-known local family, who has for some time acted as Mrs. Blake’ chauffeur.
Then the machine was at once surrounded by the officers, who with drawn guns forced the surrender of its occupants. Neither of the Gibson men was armed, and the pasteboard box which was in the possession of Mrs. Blake was promptly confiscated by the officers who were astounded by the mass of pearls, diamonds, emeralds and other valuable jewelry it contained.
Gibson, for all his polished manners and faultless attire, is known to be a desperate criminal; he was promptly secured with bracelets which were very plain and utterly without jeweled settings.
The three were taken into separate cars in order that they might not have any opportunity to exchange a word. They were carefully guarded.
The party drove to the home of Mrs. Blake on Woodlawn Avenue. The house was ransacked from cellar to attic, but without finding any other valuables or weapons, or anything else that looked suspicious except a wonderfully fine collection of flashlights of all kinds and sizes.
Gibson [Barry] realized at once that the officers had evidence enough to keep him in prison for the remainder of his life, and when he was taken back to Nassau County, he was thoroughly grilled by the detectives, but seemed most interested in protecting the woman, Mrs. Blake. The latter, a stout, short blonde, apparently at least a dozen years his senior, is said to have a grown son. Gibson [Barry], however, seemed very fond of her and agreed to make a complete confession on condition she might go free. He declared she had no knowledge of his criminal operations and that his brother was equally innocent of complicity in them.
The confession of Gibson or Barry implicates “Boston Billy” Williams, who, he says, was his partner in a series of daring burglaries on Long Island. Williams is known to police as an educated and brainy crook, a regular “Raffles,” who specializes in jewel robbers and is believed to have committed at least 150 crimes of the character in the Metropolitan district in the last two years.
Police went after him at once, only to find he had left an apartment on 72nd Street, New York, about two hours ahead of their arrival.
Gibson, who has a long police record, among other things was arrested in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in connection with the murder of patrolman Peter Wagner in April, 1922. His plea at that time was that the murder was committed by an accomplice, and Gibson pleaded guilty to an assault charge, but before serving his full term, made his escape.
In his confession, Gibson said the Livermore robbery was planned only a few hours in advance. He said he met Williams in the Pennsylvania Station and the latter showed him a clipping from the society columns of a New York newspaper saying that Mr. and Mrs. Harry Aronsohn were guests at the Kings Point home of the Livermores that night.
He and Williams boarded a train for Great Neck, walked to the Livermore home which they identified by a sign on the grass, took a ladder from an adjoining house and entered the guest room on the second floor, in which the Aronsohns were sleeping.
Mr. and Mrs. Livermore went to Mineola on Tuesday and there positively identified Barry. He promptly “admitted the corn*,” and joked with them, recalling incidents that occurred on the night of the robbery, particularly when he gave Mrs. Livermore a cigarette and lighted it for her.
There was a rush from many quarters where people had been robbed to attempt to identify the jewels. The box found in the possession of Mrs. Blake when the arrest was made at Ronkonkoma contained jewels from the Hewletts Park home of Robert Seeley. Gibson says those taken in the Livermore robbery are in the possession of his pal, Earl Williams (James Monahan) , known among his associates and to police as “Boston Billy.”
Arthur Barry, alias Gibson, pleaded guilty to the Livermore jewel robbery on Wednesday, and confessed all the burglaries he could remember committed by him in Nassau County, Westchester and New Jersey.
Police are looking for Williams and Edgar Kane, a chauffeur, who, it is said, will be able to aid authorities in solving several other burglaries.
* "Admitting the corn" apparently was an expression sometimes used to acknowledge the truth of an accusation.
Barry blamed Monahan for his capture, one reason he so freely confessed. Another reason was his successful attempt to convince police not to pursue charges against Mrs. Blake and his brother, William.
Interestingly, at first Jesse and Dorothy Livermore said they could not identify Barry as one of the men who robbed them. They changed their minds after Barry told police about the bantering that went on between he and Mrs. Livermore, and how he lit a cigarette for her. (In talking to police in 1927, Mrs. Livermore said of the robber who turned out to be Barry: "You'll have to admit the man is charming."
Charming, maybe, but surprisingly, Barry was a one-woman man, devoted to Anna Blake even while he was in prison. Twelve years older than Barry, Anna Blake died of cancer in 1940.
Too many women
James Francis Monahan, on the other hand, fancied himself a ladies man. “Women just naturally fall for me,” he told police after he was tracked down and captured July 7 in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
At the time Monahan was juggling two women whose first names, while spelled differently, were pronounced the same. Erma O'Brien was a Manhattan manicurist; Irma Curry was the daughter of the mayor of Key West, Florida, and had met Monahan while he was vacationing there and posing as a diamond dealer. There may have been a third woman, one he intended to meet in Old Lyme.
It's likely Monahan intended to give Mrs. Livermore's pearl necklace to one of his girl friends, probably Irma Curry, because when he left her in Key West, he said he'd return to open the biggest jewelry store in Florida.
Unknown to Monahan, police learned about his relationship with Miss Curry, and had tipped her off to the man's real occupation. She agreed to help police set a trap for him in New Jersey, where they were supposed to meet, but on July 7 he was arrested instead in Connecticut. Police also wanted to arrest Eddie Kane, but he remained in hiding until December of the following year.
|Syracuse Journal, July 8, 1927
MINEOLA, Long Island (Universal) — “Boston Billy” Williams’ liking for women led to his capture. “Boston Billy” was brought here after his capture in a cottage of one of his women friends in Sound View, Connecticut. He is wanted in connection with the recent robbery of $90,000 in jewelry from the home of Jesse L. Livermore, stock speculator.
He has been sought the world over for the burglary of 100 fashionable homes. It was revealed that detectives had shadowed many of the women acquaintances of “Boston Billy,” and through one of them his whereabouts was learned.
“Boston Billy” was captured after a short revolver fight, in which the prisoner was hit in the leg. A bullet-proof vest, police say, probably saved him from a more serious wound.
With Boston Billy and Barry in custody, newspapers began embellishing the exploits of the two thieves.
First, Boston Billy:
— From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 8, 1927
“Boston Billy” is as notorious a criminal figure as was Gerald Chapman or “Bum” Rodgers, but in an entirely different way. Rodgers was a roughneck killer; Chapman was a smooth, unscrupulous daredevil. “Boston Billy” is said to be smooth enough and unscrupulous enough, but he has specialized in the society game.
He even wore a dinner coat to a robbery. Its great advantage was twofold. It served as a passport to get into the grounds of a beautiful estate on which he had designs, and then, had nosy constables or police officers come strolling around, it would have served as a warning to them to think twice before making an arrest.
But that wasn’t all of “Boston Billy’s” technique, not by a long shot. He was a more assiduous reader of society news than almost any society matron. He read “Town Topics,” the society columns and all the small social magazines to learn who was giving big parties, who would be there, and just what to expect if he should become an uninvited guest.
To make his job easier, he studied the many photographs printed of beautiful homes to become familiar with them. But “Boston Billy” was even more thorough than that.
He is a good golfer. He had a fine set of clubs and carried them with him on his ground-viewing sorties. He crashed golf clubs so he could be known to society people, talk with them and overhear intimate bits of gossip. He received a few invitations to homes and knew lots of young society girls and men. He went to parties, crashing where he wasn’t invited, and got along fine.
Then, having learned all there was to learn about whatever palace he intended to rob, “Boston Billy” set out to rob it. Almost never, however, was he a “working crook.” He was the director. Sleek and handsome, with his black hair parted beautifully, and his dinner suit setting perfectly on his jaunty shoulders, “Boston Billy” would go around, say those who knew his activities, see to it the ladder was put in place, then direct two or three other men in the actual robberies.
The robbery having been done, he would see that his helpers got away in a stolen car. And nine times out of ten, if the cry of the chase wasn’t too long, he’d stay around to help throw off detectives who were called when the robbery was reported.
|And now, Arthur Barry, who, according to this piece, used Gibbons as an alias, not Gibson:
|— Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine Section, July 10, 1927
Wherever the bejeweled matrons, wives of New York, Newport and Florida millionaires, went for their dancing and music amusement, there followed in their footsteps a dashing young man with coal black hair, a charming smile and immaculate evening clothes.
Guests at a Long Island party mistook him for a fellow guest, a particularly debonair and sophisticated one. He might have been the young scion of some blue-blooded Manhattan family.
This was Arthur J. Barry, alias Arthur Gibbons, the twentieth century’s newest Mr. Raffles, whose profession of jewel thievery was disclosed by police recently in connection with the sensational gem robbery at the luxurious Long Island estate of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Livermore. The charming fellow’s career has been closed by an iron door and the hands that so dexterously fished diamonds and pearls out of society women’s strong boxes are fastened together with a bracelet of steel.
In two and a half years, working at the rate of one burglary a month, Barry’s booty reached the $500,000 mark before he was discovered, and the most elaborate scheme for jewel robbery in the annals of police history was revealed. With the cunning of a fox, he planned his looting expeditions. He knew the history of every wealthy woman he was to rob. In immaculate attire, the handsome Beau Brummel mingled with society at every opportunity, playing his part with so much skill and grace that the members of the sacred inner circle mistook him for an equal.
As part of his stock in trade, he had a gorgeous apartment, lavishly furnished, and an expensive automobile of foreign make with a chauffeur by the name of Wing Fu.
Both stories went on and on and on, and here and there one might have found a smidgen of truth, though the Barry tale went off the rails with that bit about a chauffeur named Wing Fu. The closet thing Arthur Barry had to a Wing Fu was Eddie Kane.
As for "a gorgeous apartment, lavishly furnished," it was well known by mid-1927 that Barry lived with Mrs. Anna Blake in a rather modest home she'd rented in Ronkonkoma.
It was a wonder anyone believed the Arthur Barry legend, but some did, and that legend actually grew while he was in prison, and especially during his three Richard Kimble-like years after he escaped the penitentiary in Auburn, New York. (More on that later.)
Meanwhile, things become complicated
When Barry spilled his guts about "Boston Billy" after his arrest in 1927, he did more than implicate Monahan in many jewel robberies; he said "Boston Billy" had committed murder a few years earlier. More than one murder, actually.
When caught, James Francis Monahan, alias "Boston Billy," would claim it was Barry who was the murderer. There were three shooting incidents hanging over the two jewel thieves, but none resulted in a trial. Both quickly confessed the Livermore robbery in hopes this would help them avoid being charged with murder.
This also explains why both men refused to testify against Kane after he finally was caught and charged with participating in the Livermore robbery. (He was found not guilty.)
Barry had implicated Kane in his early conversations with police, then thought better of it ... because while Kane was a possible suspect for one of the murders and for the shooting that had crippled a Greenwich, Connecticut, policeman, he was more strongly believed to be a witness, which is why neither Monahan nor Barry wanted to incur Kane's wrath more than they already had.
In the end, Kane returned the favor, pleading guilty to carrying a concealed weapon in the Connecticut case, for which he received a prison sentence of three to five years. Kane did not implicate either Barry or Monahan in the shooting.
ONE INCIDENT that received little attention after Barry and Monahan were arrested was a jewel robbery that occurred near Oyster Bay, Long Island, five days after the Livermore home was invaded. On June 4, Carl Schmidlapp, a former director of Chase National Bank, reported that a pearl necklace and two diamond rings, valued altogether at $200,000, had been taken from from his home the night before.
Barry would confess to the Schmidlapp robbery, but police might not have believed him, and no jewelry from that crime was ever recovered, at least, not in connection with Barry and Monahan.
As for Mrs. Livermore's $50,000 pearl necklace — the one kept by Monahan — it may well have wound up around the neck of a Connecticut woman who had no idea of its true value. Monahan had the necklace in his car when he drove to Old Lyme, but near Darien, Connecticut, he noticed a state trooper on his tail, so he tossed the necklace — and his gun — out of a car window. The state trooper drove past him, so Monahan returned the next day, but found no trace of the gun or the necklace.
On July 31 an insurance company, advertising in New York City-area newspapers, offered a $3,000 reward for the return of the necklace. No one ever collected that reward.
Barry was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Because he had a longer record, Monahan received a 50-year sentence. Upon their release in New York, both could be returned to Massachusetts to face additional jail time for several crimes committed before they ever teamed up on their first jewel robbery.
The two men slowly faded from the news until December 22, 1928 when Eddie Kane was arrested in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He faced seven indictments for murder and also was charged with participation in robberies, including the one at Livermore's home.
Barry and Monahan agreed to testify when Kane was tried in January, 1929, for participation in the Livermore jewel theft, but Barry changed his mind at the last minute and refused to testify. Monahan made the trip to the Mineola courthouse, but had no intention of incriminating Kane. His real reason for making the trip to the Mineola courthouse was revealed during his trip back to Dannemora Penitentiary in the Adirondacks.
When the train pulled into the Albany station, Monahan jumped through the window of a railroad car. Sergeant John Smith of the Nassau County Police detective division smashed another window and fired at the thief, grazing his head and sending Monahan sprawling on the tracks.
Monahan would remain in the New York prison system until 1956, and then serve two years in Massachusetts. Free in 1958, at the age of 60, he could not find employment. He died on October 22, 1960 in Worcester (Mass.) City Hospital. He had been a resident of Belmont Home for the indigent. Newspaper obituaries referred to him as "the gentleman jewel thief", and confused him with Barry by claiming the quote from Mrs. Livermore ("You've got to admit the man was charming") was directed at Boston Billy.
Next stop: Solvay. Briefly.
The next chapter in the story of the Boston Billy gang would put the spotlight solely on Arthur Barry. There'd even be a Solvay angle — Solvay being the name of my hometown. It was a brief visit, but it was unlikely Barry ever forgot it.
While Monahan had served time at Sing Sing and Dannemora (aka Clinton Correctional Facility), Barry begged New York prison officials to keep him and his former partner separated. And so Barry was quickly transferred from Sing Sing to Auburn Prison, about 25 miles west of Syracuse.
It was from Auburn, on July 28, 1929, that Barry and inmates George Small. Steve Pawlak and Joseph Caprico made good an escape.
The theory at the time was they instigated a riot as a distraction, and it was all too easy to start one in an overcrowded facility packed with 1,700 disgruntled convicts, two whom would be killed in the chaos that took authorities five hours to quell.
Prison officials believed the riot was designed to produce a mass breakout, perhaps as many as 200 inmates, but only four escaped. Barry was shot twice — in a knee and in his back — and also injured a foot during his leap from a 20-foot high prison wall.
Barry, in a magazine article many years later, and presumably in the book that grew out of those articles ("The Gentleman Was a Thief," by Neil Hickey), would claim he led the charge, but articles at the time say it was Pawlak, serving a life sentence, who was first up the steps of a turret to the top of the prison wall.
The four escapees broke into the prison arsenal to launch their escape, and armed themselves with riot guns. Barry would recollect that he and Pawlak stopped the first automobile they saw on State Street, outside the prison. It was driven by a man named Jacob Reese, whose passengers were his wife and four-year-old son.
Barry didn't mention Small or Caprico, but I believe they, too, got into that car. Barry said they forced Reese to drive to the edge of the city before letting him go, but that wasn't true. Mrs. Reese and the boy were left on State Street, but Reese was forced to keep driving.
Police and reporters later found the Auburn man outside the village Solvay, just west of Syracuse. Reese said he jumped out of his car near the State Fairgrounds, which border the village, and ran. One of the convicts, he said, pursued him for about 100 yards, and fired four shots. All four missed, but there was a hole through his left trouser pocket.
The convicts then drove into the village and abandoned Reese's car. The escapees entered a house at 144 Boulder Road in what we used to call East Solvay. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. D. C. Schwartz, were out for the evening. In their absence, the convicts stole clothing and left behind two bloody prison outfits. Police figured Caprico for sure was one of the intruders because he was the shortest of the fugitives, at five-foot-two-inches, which prompted an emergency tailoring job on Mr. Schwartz's trousers. Judging by the jagged pieces of trouser ends left behind, Caprico's scissor work was rather sloppy, which made his new outfit rather conspicuous.
At this point Small and Caprico apparently separated themselves from Pawlak and Barry.
According to Barry's story, he and Pawlak set out to steal a car they found in an open garage. That garage, about two-thirds of a mile from the Boulder Road house, was on property at the intersection of Orchard Road and West Genesee Street, at the southern edge of the village. The car and the garage belonged to Dr. Eric W. France, a dentist.
The two escapees got into Dr. France's auto, but did not do it quietly. As Barry prepared to drive away, the windshield shattered, spraying slivers of glass in both eyes. The owner of the house had fired his shotgun at the convicts from a second story window.
Said Barry in an American Weekly article on January 25, 1959:
| Desperately, I propped one eye open between thumb and forefinger and rolled out of the car on the side away from the house.
“This way, Pawlak!” I shouted. But my companion had crashed through a rear window of the garage at the first sound of gunfire, and started running. I never saw him again.
It was raining now. Terrifying thunderclaps added to my bewilderment. I stumbled into the night in an agony of pain, limping through back yards and muddying myself from head to foot. Inadvertently, I splashed into a fish pond and stood there dumbly looking about, in water up to my knees.
With a broken foot, two bullet wounds, and eyes full of shattered glass, I raised my head and let the rain streak my face. At that moment I was a beaten man, utterly alone and friendless. The enormous folly of my life weighed on me unbearably. Right then I vowed that if I lived through this, I’d never commit another crime.
An hour later, in the same neighborhood, I had the amazing good fortune of locating a parked auto with the keys in the ignition. Steering and shifting gears with one hand, while propping an eye open with the other, I drove all night through the rain to the small town of Fonda, New York.
It was in Fonda that police recovered a Franklin sedan reported stolen by J. M. Hastings at 105 Scarboro Drive, Solvay
By then Barry had hopped a freight train to Albany, where he had friends who arranged a discreet doctor's visit for treatment of his eye injuries. The bullet wounds would have to wait. Barry's story continues:
| The same day, in clean clothes and a little refreshed, I took the train for New York City and visited a nurse whom I knew would remove the bullet and treat my broken foot. Then I hurried to East 77th Street, in the German section of Manhattan, to an apartment Anna had rented at my orders. It was a walk-up flat. The door was unlocked, and I stepped inside and bolted it behind me. The apartment was empty. After two hours I heard footsteps outside and a gentle knock. I opened the door. It was Anna.
We lived on East 77th Street for four months while newspapers were full of my escape. Pawlak had been captured. Of the six convicts* who had attempted the break from Auburn that day, I was the only one at large.
Anna and I moved to New Jersey — first to Newark, then to a small house near Sparta.
* There were only four convicts who attempted to escape. Two others were killed in the riot that proved a distraction for those who got away, something that did not endear Barry and associates to the inmates they had used as decoys. As usual, Barry was being disingenuous in considering the two riot fatalities as unsuccessful escape attempts. Incidentally, Pawlak was killed five months later during a riot at Auburn prison. Seven other inmates and one guard were killed before the riot was put down.
Lindbergh kidnapping is Barry's undoing
As if Barry's strange story couldn't get any stranger, he might have remained free forever if it weren't for the March 1, 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. from the family home in Hopewell, New Jersey. This marked the return of private detective Val O'Farrell into the life of Arthur Barry. Unlike others interested in Barry's capture, O'Farrell did not believe the fugitive was hiding in Canada ... or South America ... or Europe.
The detective's hunch was Barry had become a kidnapper, and was probably living close enough to Hopewell to study the layout of the Lindbergh estate. That hunch was based on Barry's reputation for wearing socks over his shoes during his robberies. Because a footprint beneath the Lindbergh nursery indicated the kidnapper not only wore socks over his shoes, but walked with a limp, O'Farrell thought Barry might well have taken the Lindbergh baby. O'Farrell hadn't seen Barry in years, but knew about the gunshot wound in the leg the inmate had received during his escape in Auburn, and concluded Barry may have broken a leg or an ankle in his jump from the top of the wall. The detective correctly assumed Barry now walked with a slight limp.
Further, the Lindbergh dog was silent during the kidnapper’s visit — and members of the "Boston Billy" gang knew how to distract or harmlessly disable watchdogs. Symbols on the ransom notes were astrological, said O'Farrell, and Barry was into astrology.
It was well known that Barry and Monahan only worked on moonless nights. So did other thieves. Moonless nights were darker. O’Farrell pointed out the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped on a moonless night. Finally, of course, there was the ladder used in the kidnapping. This was a trademark of a Boston Billy-Barry robbery.
All that was interesting, but Barry's whereabouts were still unknown. In October, police in New Jersey received a tip from a woman who believed a man living near Newton, about 50 miles north of Hopewell, was the Lindbergh kidnapper. Why she believed it, she didn't say, but when detectives checked it out, they followed O'Farrell's hunch — and took along a photograph of Arthur Barry.
What follows is from a syndicated newspaper story by Ruth Reynolds, crime reporter for the New York Daily News. It appeared in the Binghamton, New York, Press on December 28, 1949.
|Detectives called upon George Losey, the newspaper dealer in that little town. Losey recognized the picture.
“Sure, that’s James Tooner, the windshield squeegee salesman,” said the news dealer. “Owes me for two weeks’ papers. Fine fellow, anyway. Lives on a farm near here. We’re planning to run him for township clerk this fall.”
Losey was disbelieving and shocked to hear the picture he identified as James Tooner was one of Arthur Barry, described by his visitors as “America’s most dangerous criminal.” The newspaper dealer was finally persuaded to lead police to “Tooner.”
“Tooner” was washing a dog in a tub of soapy water when Losey and his new-found friends drove up.
“‘Lo,” Tooner’s greeting was cheerful as he limped forward, shaking his sudsy hands. He was short and stocky. He wore a reddish mustache and horned-rimmed spectacles. His hair was red.
But to police eyes there was no mistaking Arthur Barry. Leaping from the car, they surrounded him.
Barry was rueful, but courteous, as usual, as he explained his activities since that day more than three years before when he had crawled away from Auburn prison.
For one thing, he said, he had married Anna Blake in Baltimore and had lived with her until June, 1931, in an apartment house in Newark, New Jersey.
“Then I took a room at this farm, and worked this area as a windshield wiper salesman. Kidnap the Lindbergh baby? I should say not. The fellow who did that ought to be hung! I never did anything worse than steal from the rich.”
Despite O'Farrell's list of reasons to support his theory, police didn't believe Barry had any connection to the Lindbergh case. Barry was returned to Auburn prison, owing the state almost 23 years, plus seven for the jail break. He was later transferred to Attica Prison, but was out on parole in less than 17 years.
One of the myths included in the fairy tales you'll find about Barry online is he didn't kill anyone. But there were at least four people killed — two policemen and two convicts — and one policeman crippled because of Barry's crimes. And while he, among others, describes himself as "The King of the Jewel Thieves," his stories more befit a court jester.
In conclusion . . .
Arthur Barry was in prison from late 1932 until 1949. The Livermores divorced in 1932, she married a former prohibition agent minutes after she became legally free. Livermore married in 1933, his ex-wife divorced the former prohibition agent in 1934, had a new boy friend in 1935, when her drinking went out of control. The year, she and Jesse Livermore Jr. were drunk one evening, had an argument, and she shot him. Could have been an accident, could have been drunken carelessness. He recovered, but went on to have fairly wasted life, committing suicide in 1976. His mother, despite many years of alcohol abuse, lived until 1985. She was 90.
Jesse Livermore Sr. fatally shot himself in 1940, the same year Anna Blake died of cancer. From time to time press wondered again where Arthur Barry hid his non-existent jewels. James F. Monahan, as mentioned earlier, left prison in 1958 and died two years later.
Arthur Barry, thanks to several newspaper and magazine writers, was called the greatest jewel robber of all time and the American "Raffles," both descriptions being undeserved. He died in 1981. He was 85 years old.
Which gets me back to where I started: Why do stories about jewel thieves sound like fairy tales? Because that's what most of them are.
So who's the greatest jewel thief of all-time? Obviously, it has to be some unknown genius who knew how to keep a secret and was never caught.