No. 325
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
June 22, 2017

Rogue's Corner: JOSEPH LEWIS (95)
JOSEPH LEWIS
alias: FRANCIS J ALVANY, HENRY F POST, HUNGRY JOE
BANCO STEERER
Description:
Thirty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Married. Speculator. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 9 inches. Weight, 163 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, light complexion. Dresses well. Has a beardless face generally. Large nose, and heavy scar on his chin.

Record:
"HUNGRY JOE," the name he is best known by, is a very persistent and impudent banco steerer. He is a terrible talker-too much so for his own good--and he is well known in every city in the United States. Although arrested several times, he has never served more than five or ten days in prison at one time. This man has victimized more people by the banco game than any other five men in the profession.

During Oscar Wilde's visit to this country he and "Hungry Joe" were chums for about a week. They lunched and dined together in the cafe at the Hotel Brunswick,in New York. After a while Joe played the confidence game on Oscar, in which the latter, it is said, was fleeced out of $5,000. Joe was not given the money, but a check drawn on the Second National Bank of New York City. Oscar, realizing that he had been swindled, stopped the payment of the check at the bank.

Joe was arrested in Detroit, Mich., in 1880, for shooting Billy Flynn, a notorious character, but was discharged on the ground of self-defense. He was finally arrested in New York City on May 27, 1885, when he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years in State prison by Recorder Smyth, for robbing at banco one Joseph Ramsden, an English tourist, who was stopping at the Metropolitan Hotel, in New York City, out of five ten-pound notes, valued at about $250. The following is a very interesting account, clipped from one of the New York papers of May 22, 1885, of the manner in which Joe victimized Mr. Ramsden.

Among the passengers on board the steamship Gallia, which arrived from Liverpool on Monday last, (May 25, 1885,) was an elderly English gentleman of fine appearance but somewhat in ill-health. His name is Joseph Ramsden, a merchant of Manchester. He came to this country with a view to recuperating his health. Mr. Ramsden stopped at one of the first-class hotels uptown, and commenced to admire the beauties and attractions of the metropolis. Tuesday afternoon he strolled downtown on Broadway. Reaching the Metropolitan Hotel, Mr. Ramsden was sauntering leisurely along when he was surprised by a well-dressed stranger familiarly addressing him with:

"Why, how do you do, Mr. Ramsden?"

The latter expressed his inability to recognize the stranger, but the affable young man soon put the old gentleman at ease by adding:

"Oh, you don't know me; I forgot. But I know you from hearsay. My name is Post-Henry F.Post. You came over in my uncle's steamer yesterday. Capt. Murphy, of the Gallia, is my uncle, and since his return has been stopping at my father's residence. He has spoken of you to us. Indeed, be has said so much about you and of your shattered health that it seemed to me I knew you a long time. I could not help recognizing you in a thousand from my uncle's description of you."

Mr. Ramsden had had a very pleasant voyage on the Gallia, during which Capt. Murphy and he had become very friendly, and thus he was not surprised that the gallant skipper should speak of him. "Mr. Post" walked arm-in-arm with his uncle's English friend, chatting pleasantly and pointing out prominent business houses, until they reached Grand Street.

"I am in business in Baltimore-in ladies' underwear and white goods," said Mr. Post, "and have been home laying in a stock of goods. I should much like to remain a day or two longer and show you around, but I am sorry that I must return to Baltimore this evening. In fact, I am on my way now to get my ticket and my valise is already in the ticket office."

It needed but a few words to induce the elderly gentleman to accompany Post to "the office," in Grand Street, and the two soon entered a room on that street, west of Broadway. There the young man bought a railroad ticket of a man behind a counter.

"And now my valise," added Post.

Throwing the bag on the counter, the young man opened it, saying, "Here are some muslins that can't be duplicated in England," and exhibited to the old gentleman some samples of that fabric. Near the bottom of the bag he accidentally came upon a pack of playing cards, seizing which, he exclaimed:

"Ah, this reminds me. Don't you know that last night some fellows got me into a place on the Bowery and skinned me out of $400 by a card-trick in which they used only three cards? But I've got on to the game and know how it is done. They can't do me any more."

At that moment a man, showily dressed, emerged from a back room and said: "I'll bet you $10 you can't do it."

"All right, put up your money," responded Joe.

The cards were shuffled by the deft hand of the stranger, and Joe was told to pick up the ace. He picked up a Jack and lost. He lost a second time, and offered to repeat it, but the stranger said, "I don't believe you've got any more money."

"Well, but my friend here (pointing to Mr. Ramsden) has."

"I don't believe he has," sneeringly retorted the stranger."Oh, yes I have," interrupted the venerable Englishman, at the same time pulling a roll of ten crisp five-pound notes from his inside vest pocket and holding them to the gaze of the others.

The temptation was too great for Hungry Joe. He so far forgot himself and his uncle's friendship for the Manchester merchant that he grabbed the roll from Ramsden's hand. The latter tightened his grasp on the notes, but Joe violently thrust the old man backwards, and, getting possession of the money, ran out of the place, followed by his confederates.

Mr. Ramsden notified Inspector Byrnes that evening, giving an accurate description of "Capt. Murphy's nephew," which resulted in Hungry Joe's arrest. Joe was sitting in the basement of the house quietly smoking a cigar and resting his slippered feet on a chair. He was in his shirt sleeves. He tried to bluff off the Inspector, as is his custom, but finding it useless he donned his coat and boots and accompanied the Inspector to headquarters.

Last night Mr. Ramsden was summoned to headquarters, where he was confronted in the Inspector'sroom by Hungry Joe and eight other men.

"There is the man," quickly said Mr. Ramsden.

"I never saw you before, sir," replied Joe.

"You scoundrel," excitedly exclaimed Mr. Ramsden, "you are the fellow that robbed me of my money."

Joe's picture, though somewhat drawn up, is recognizable. It was taken in December, 1878.
June 16, 2017 Previous


Source:
Byrnes, Thomas. Professional criminals of America. New York, N.Y: Cassel, 1886.

"We follow vice and folly where a police officer dare not show his head, as the small, but intrepid weasel pursues vermin in paths which the licensed cat or dog cannot enter."

 The Sunday Flash 1841

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