Humpty Jackson

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Humpty Jackson
A photo of Humpty Jackson, from Herbert Asbury's book The Gangs of New York
Occupation Gang leader
Conviction(s) Grand larceny, assault

Thomas "Humpty" Jackson (1879-1951) was a New York criminal and last of the independent gang leaders in New York's underworld during the early 20th century.[1] Reportedly well read, Jackson was said to be an admirer of such writers such as Voltaire, Charles Darwin, Leonard Huxley and Herbert Spencer as well as various Greek and Latin texts. He was, however, known to be a violent man who regularly carried three revolvers, including one in his derby hat and another secreted in a strange-looking small sweaty holster under his hunchback.

He was born in the Manhattan Gas House District on Nov. 1879 to Irish immigrant parents. Although little is known of his early life, Jackson uncommonly possessed an educational background despite his reputation as a ruthless criminal whose gang numbering fifty men included street thugs such as Spanish Louie, Nigger Ruhl, The Lobster Kid, and a six-foot-tall killer ominously known as "The Grabber".

Based out of an old graveyard located between First and Second Avenues bound by 12th and 13th Street in Manhattan, Jackson was said to give out assignments from blackjacking to murder for hire to his followers while sitting atop a tombstone. Although involved in organizing and planning, specifically armed robberies, burglaries and looting of warehouses, Jackson rarely participated in the actual criminal activities. However, on the evening of May 21, 1900, Jackson stabbed New York City policeman William J. Tynan five times. Tynan and his partner had been looking for Jackson because he was suspected of having stolen a gold watch and chain. The two policemen managed to arrest Jackson despite Tynan's having been stabbed.[2] In 1902, Jackson fired four shots at Detective Edward Reardon, for which he served 30 months in Sing Sing. Reardon arrested Jackson again in May 1907 for robbing young women. At his arraignment, Jackson complained to the magistrate that he was being hounded by the detective, stating that "Reardon is dead sore on me and gave me my bit. My only crime is that I'm popular."[3] As of 1905, the Humpty Jackson Gang was considered among the "big four", along with the Cherry Hill and Five Points Gangs, which dominated the Lower East Side.[4]

Jackson once boasted in court that he'd been arrested "over 100 times." At least four of these arrests resulted in convictions.[5] In January 1909, he was arrested for grand larceny,[1] pleaded guilty to avoid a life sentence as a habitual offender,[6] and was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment.[7] Released from Dannemora in 1912, he left the criminal underworld and began a small business.[8] In 1932, while living in retirement as a pet store owner in East Harlem, he was interviewed by Collier's Weekly, in which he was referred to as the one-time "King of New York gangsters",[9] as well as the New York Times three years later.[10]


  1. ^ a b "New York's Bad Gangs; "Humpty" Jackson Will Shortly Join "Monk" Eastman". The Montreal Gazette. January 28, 1909. Retrieved September 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Policeman Tynan Stabbed: Humpty Jackson, a Well-Known Character, Inflicts Wounds". New York Times: 3. 22 May 1900. 
  3. ^ "Humpty Jackson Objects: Arrested by Detective Reardon, Says He is Being Hounded". New York Times: 16. 22 May 1907. 
  4. ^ Public Opinion, ed. (December 5, 1905). "Gangs Which Terrorize New York". Public Opinion: A Comprehensive Summary of the Press Throughout the World on All Important Current Topics. The Public Opinion Co. 39 (24): 758. 
  5. ^ "Humpty Jackson Jailed for Thefts". New York Times: 8. 1 January 1909. 
  6. ^ "Jackson Pleads Guilty: And Will Be Sentenced as a First Offender—Might Have Got Life". New York Times: 5. 27 January 1909. 
  7. ^ "Humpty Jackson to Prison: East Side Gang Leader Gets Four and a Half Years for Larceny". New York Times: 5. 30 January 1909. 
  8. ^ "Racketeer Never Reforms, Says Humpty Jackson, Reformed Yegg". Milwaukee Journal. April 15, 1933. 
  9. ^ Albert Shaw, ed. Review of Reviews and World's Work, Volumes 85-86. Review of Reviews, 1932. (pg. 33)
  10. ^ Berger, Meyer (November 10, 1935). "PORTRAIT OF A RACKETEER (STREAMLINED); He Sits at His Desk, Pushes Buttons, Has a Fling at Culture, and Never Goes Out to the Firing Line". New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dash, Mike. Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century. New York: Random House, 2008. ISBN 1-4000-5472-9
  • Lewis, Alfred Henry. The Apaches of New York. New York: G.W. Dillingham Company, 1912.
  • Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003. ISBN 0-374-52899-3