Abe Greenthal

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Abe Greenthal
Abe Greenthal.jpg
Abe Greenthal in March 1877
Born (1822-01-09)January 9, 1822
Betsche, Prussia
Died November 17, 1889(1889-11-17) (aged 67)
Harlem, New York City
Resting place Salem Fields Cemetery, Brooklyn
Nationality Polish Jewish
Other names Abraham Green, Abraham Leslie, "The General"
Occupation criminal
Known for pickpocketing
Criminal charge robbery, grand larceny

Abraham Greenthal (January 9, 1822– November 17, 1889), known as "The General," was an American criminal known as one of the most expert pickpockets in the nation. He was a thief and fence for more than 40 years, and led a nationwide ring of pickpockets.[1][2]


Greenthal was born in Betsche, Prussia (now Pszczew, Poland) in 1822, though like many Polish-Jewish immigrants of his era, he would later call himself German.[3] He immigrated to the U.S. at a young age and soon entered a life of crime.[4]

Greenthal made his home and base of criminal operations in New York City's Tenth Ward.[1][3] He led the Sheeny Mob, a syndicate of Jewish pickpockets who worked across the country; "sheeny" was a derogatory term for an untrustworthy Jew.[3] The gang's method was jostling into victims in crowded places, particularly train stations.[3] Among his criminal associates were Greenthal's own family members. At the time of his death, The New York Times wrote that "[a]ll the Greenthal family have turned out to be criminals, the women being shoplifters and the men pickpockets."[4] He also had "close 'business' relations" with notorious fence Fredericka Mandelbaum.[1][4] Greenthal and his gang were among the many underworld figures represented by defense lawyer William F. Howe.[5] He was arrested many times without being convicted, which The New York Times explained as the result of "the lavish use of money and the peculiar influences he could make use of."[4]

Greenthal and his brother, Harris, and son-in-law, Samuel Casper, were all convicted in 1877 for robbing $1,190 in March 1877 from a farmer named William Jenkson traveling by train. They had followed Jenkson from Albany, where he had "flashed his newfound wealth," to Rochester, where the gang made a pretense of befriending him and helping him with his bags while Abe stole the farmer's pocketbook. They escaped from Rochester but were subsequently arrested in Syracuse. Abe was sentenced to 20 years' hard labor in Auburn State Prison, Harris was sentenced to 18 years, and Casper was sentenced to 15 years.[3] Abe Greenthal was pardoned in 1884, however, by Governor Grover Cleveland, based on representations that his health was poor.[6]

Greenthal was next arrested in Brooklyn on December 30, 1885, by New York City chief of detectives Thomas F. Byrnes, for robbing a resident of Williamsburg of $795.[4] Greenthal pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny and was sentenced to five years in Crow Hill prison in Brooklyn.[1] His sentence began on March 23, 1886, and he was released in late 1889.[3] Greenthal died about three weeks after his release, at his daughters home in Harlem, of illness aggravated by his imprisonment.[7]

Greenthal was profiled by Byrnes in his 1886 book Professional Criminals of America, which called Greenthal "one of the most expert pickpockets in America."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Byrnes, Thomas (1886), Professional Criminals of America, New York: Cassell & Company, pp. 224–225 .
  2. ^ Jay, Ricky (February 2011), "Grifters, Bunco Artists & Flimflam Men", Wired, 19 (2): 92 .
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rockaway, Robert A. (2000), But He Was Good to His Mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters, Gefen Publishing House Ltd., pp. 95–96, ISBN 965-229-249-4 .
  4. ^ a b c d e End of a Criminal Career. Old Abe Greenthal Dies of Old Age—His Life Story, The New York Times, November 20, 1889 
  5. ^ Dornstein, Ken (1998), Accidentally, on Purpose: The Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 150, ISBN 0-312-17683-X .
  6. ^ The New York Times, November 20, 1889. Rockaway 2000, p. 96 says that Cleveland pardoned all three men, but does not explain his motivation.
  7. ^ The New York Times, November 20, 1889 (reporting his death as having occurred the previous Sunday). Rockaway 2000, p. 96 erroneously gives his year of death as 1895.