William J. Sharkey (murderer)

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William Sharkey
Born
William J. Sharkey

1847
DisappearedNovember 22, 1873, (aged 26)
NationalityAmerican

William J. Sharkey (c.1847-?) was a convicted murderer and minor New York City politician who earned national notoriety in the late 19th century for escaping from a New York City prison disguised as a woman. He subsequently fled to Cuba, which was a part of Spain at the time, and Spain had no extradition treaty with the United States (until 1970). He was never captured and his ultimate fate is unknown.

Early life[edit]

Born in New York City around 1847, Sharkey came from a respected, well-to-do family.[1] A physical description of Sharkey in his late twenties stated that he was about five foot seven, had high cheekbones, dark hair, and a "thin face somewhat feminine in appearance…the eyes sharp and clear."[2][3][4] Contemporary sources described Sharkey as handsome, well-dressed, interesting, and confident.[5][6] Sharkey decided at an early age to adopt the "flash life" of a burglar, pickpocket, gambler, and "sporting man."[7][8][9] Sharkey's gang, the Sharkey Guard, was described as "a gang of young gentlemen of questionable habits."[10]

Political career[edit]

Sharkey's early adulthood coincided with the rise to power of William Tweed, a notoriously corrupt politician who, by 1870 if not earlier, had successfully manipulated the New York City government and its treasury to serve himself and his political cronies. Sharkey and his gang soon came to the attention of Tweed and his associates, who saw an opportunity to feed Sharkey's ambition while serving their own goals. With their assistance, Sharkey became a "politician of no mean influence... He was a power in the Eighth Ward primaries, had a club named after him, and belonged to every influential political organization in the Fifth Congressional District.[11][12]

Sharkey's political career appeared to wane, however, when "once receiving the nomination for Assistant Alderman, he was...defeated by internal dissensions in the Tammany Party...He was nursed and petted until all his lambs had been brought into the fold, and then Tammany betrayed him." [13] Sharkey returned to his old ways: "After this, he gave up hopes of office, and devoted himself to the pursuit of his ordinary avocations, gambling and stealing."[14]

Murder of Robert S. Dunn[edit]

In 1872, Sharkey traveled to Buffalo, New York and invested in a faro bank, a popular card game in 19th-century America, but also a game widely known for rampant cheating by players as well as dealers.[15] He lost four thousand dollars in five days.[16][17] Returning to New York, Sharkey recruited an associate named Robert S. Dunn, a professional gambler who also held a position as a public servant in the office of the Comptroller of New York City, and provided him with six hundred dollars to win back the money Sharkey lost. Dunn, who also used the alias Bob Isaacs, apparently lost as well and returned to New York empty-handed.[18][19]

The next time Sharkey and Dunn were in the same company was at the funeral of James Reilly, a politician known to both men.[20] They marched in the funeral procession together and subsequently convened, with other friends, at a local bar. Sharkey confronted Dunn about the debt. According to one source, Sharkey accused Dunn of reneging on his obligation to repay him even though Dunn had recently won fifteen hundred dollars. Armed with a pistol, Sharkey shot and killed Dunn, then fled. He remained at large for only a short time, having made it known to the police that he wanted to surrender.[21] Sharkey was arrested by Captain Ira S. Garland and placed in a Manhattan jail to await trial.[22]

Trial[edit]

Sharkey's trial was a sensation at the time. Each day large crowds convened to get a look at the accused. The trial was covered extensively by The New York Times.[23][24][25][26]

Sharkey was charged with premeditated murder, a crime punishable by death under state law. His defense attorneys argued that although Sharkey indisputably killed Dunn, there was no way to know if it was premeditated; at best, the jury could only find him guilty of manslaughter.[27] During the trial, one witness declined to answer (on fear of self-incrimination) whether he was bribed with five hundred dollars to give testimony favorable to the defense.[28] On June 21, 1873, the jury found Sharkey guilty of premeditated murder, with a recommendation to mercy. The defense requested a retrial on procedural grounds, and the court convened again on June 23 and 29, 1873 to consider the motion, which was ultimately denied. On July 3, 1873, Sharkey was formally sentenced to be hanged on Friday, August 15, 1873. Subsequent to that, one of his attorneys filed a formal appeal, which was granted on August 7, 1873. Sharkey seemed unmoved by the proceedings; according to contemporary accounts, he "did not betray the slightest emotion" and appeared "in the best of spirits." [29][30]

Confinement[edit]

Throughout the trial and subsequent sentencing, Sharkey was confined in a prison adjacent to the courthouse called The Tombs. Completed in 1838, it was 35 years old at the time of his imprisonment. An 1896 article described the Tombs as "an immense Egyptian mausoleum."[31]

By most accounts, Sharkey was a troublesome inmate. One author noted, "He became so violent in his demonstrations that Warden Johnson ordered that he be locked up and put in close confinement" and was continually insolent and abusive to his keeper."[32] The New York Times reported that Sharkey attempted to stab one of the prison keepers. He was placed in solitary confinement, kept under close surveillance, and the door of his cell remained closed except to receive meals.[33] Yet some accounts implied a life of relative luxury and privilege. Walling noted, "The cell was richly fitted up and the occupant evidently was not leading a very restricted life."[34] On August 6, 1873, the day before Sharkey's appeal was granted, he was reportedly found under the influence of "intoxicating liquors, though from what source these have been obtained the Warden has been unable to find out."[35]

Escape[edit]

On November 22, 1873, Sharkey's lover, Maggie Jourdan, visited him in prison with another woman, Mrs Wesley Allen,[36] whose brother was also confined there. Although both women were given passes to enter and exit the prison, neither were searched by the guards.[37] After visiting Sharkey for an indeterminate period of time, Jourdan presented her exit pass to the guards at the prison gate and left. Between one and one-half hours later, a second woman presented a pass at the gate and exited the prison. Dressed in a black coat and hat, her face concealed by a veil, she was later described as "large and rather masculine in appearance."[38] About an hour later, Allen tried to exit the prison, but was stopped when she failed to produce a pass.[39]

The keeper of the Tombs realized immediately that something was amiss. Allen was held for questioning and a search of each cell ordered. When the guards reached Sharkey's cell, "they discovered that its occupant was not there. The door was unlocked and Sharkey's clothing lay on the floor. On a little shelf some locks of hair were found, which were supposed to be the remains of the murderer's mustache."[40]

The last sighting of Sharkey was from a guard who noticed a "peculiar looking woman" jump aboard a fast-moving street car. The guard later remarked that he was "somewhat surprised to see the nimble way in which she alighted on a car which was going at the time at considerable speed." [41][42] At the time the escape was considered "the most daring and unparalleled break-jail in the history of this country."[43]

Speculation immediately arose about accomplices. The New York Times speculated that Sharkey had "the assistance and cooperation of persons equally as skilled as himself."[44] That source cited a "rumor" that two guards had been placed under arrest. According to one account, Jourdan "had taken an impression in wax of the lock on her lover's cell and assisted by Sharkey's confederates outside the prison had managed to have a key made."[45] Jourdan was arrested immediately after the escape, but subsequently released due to lack of evidence. The superintendent of police thought "the plan of escape has been arranged for some time and was not a thing of a moment's decision as the prison authorities would pretend."[46] Despite the offer of a two thousand dollar reward for his capture and an extensive search, Sharkey was never found.[47]

Life as a fugitive[edit]

The details of Sharkey's subsequent life as a fugitive are speculative. Sharkey remained in New York City for several weeks after his escape. Sometime between late 1873 and early 1874, he booked passage to Cuba under the name "Frank Campbell" aboard the schooner Frank Atwood. Cuba, which was a part of the Spanish Empire at the time, had no extradition treaty with the United States. Coincidentally, William Tweed, Sharkey's one-time boss, also fled to Cuba aboard the Frank Atwood in 1873 after escaping from jail, where he was imprisoned for corruption charges.[48][49][50] Sharkey lived for a while in Cuba, allegedly visiting the American Consulate in Havana, Cuba to read about himself in the New York papers.[51][52][53] Sharkey's occupation or source of income was unknown, although "he seemed to have plenty of money and in answer to some inquiries made he stated that his brothers furnished him with all he wanted from New York."[54] Jourdan, Sharkey's lover, joined him in Cuba around 1876 and they married. She later returned to the United States, an apparent victim of spousal abuse.[55][56][57][58]

In March 1875, it was reported that Sharkey was arrested while trying to sail to South America, and his return to New York was imminent.[59] In July 1896, 21 years after Sharkey's supposed extradition, an article appeared indicating that Sharkey had entered the military service there.[60] In June 1900, 28 years after Sharkey's escape, the Auckland Star reported that Sharkey was "located in Southern Spain, where he is eking out an existence as a guide, and the police have information which should result in his capture."[61] In March 1931, at which time Sharkey, if alive, would have been about 88 years old, Asbury wrote simply, "They never found Sharkey."[62]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Farley, Philip. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the Lives of Thieves: Enabling Every One to be His Own Detective: With Portraits, Making a Complete Rogues' Gallery
  2. ^ Farley, Philip. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the Lives of Thieves: Enabling Every One to be His Own Detective: With Portraits, Making a Complete Rogues' Gallery.
  3. ^ Van Emery, Edward. Veracities from Vice's Varieties. The Sins of New York: As "Exposed" by the Police Gazette. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stockes Company, 1930.
  4. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  5. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296.
  6. ^ "A Murderer's Escape. Sharkey Walks out of the Tombs at Midday." The New York Times 20 November 1873: n.pag.
  7. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  8. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296.
  9. ^ Van Emery, Edward. Veracities from Vice's Varieties. The Sins of New York: As "Exposed" by the Police Gazette. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stockes Company, 1930.
  10. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  11. ^ Van Emery, Edward. Veracities from Vice's Varieties. The Sins of New York: As "Exposed" by the Police Gazette. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stockes Company, 1930.
  12. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296.
  13. ^ An Assassin's Career. Sharkey to be Returned to the United States." The New York Times 22 March 1875: n.pag.
  14. ^ "A Murderer's Escape. Sharkey Walks out of the Tombs at Midday." The New York Times 20 November 1873: n.pag.
  15. ^ Sanders, J.R. "Faro: Favorite Gambling Game of the Frontier." Wild West Magazine, 12 June 2006.
  16. ^ Asbury, Herbert. "The Escape of William J. Sharkey," The New Yorker 7 March 1931: 39.
  17. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  18. ^ Van Emery, Edward. Veracities from Vice's Varieties. The Sins of New York: As "Exposed" by the Police Gazette. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stockes Company, 1930.
  19. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  20. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  21. ^ "The Sharkey Trial. Testimonly for the Defense—The Case to be Given to the Jury To-Day." The New York Times 21 June 1873: n.pag.
  22. ^ "Doom of the Old Tombs." The New York Times 4 July 1896: n.pag. Web.
  23. ^ "The Case of Sharkey. The Prisoner Not Yet Sentenced—A Postponement Granted." The New York Times 24 June 1873: n.pag.
  24. ^ Found Guilty. William T. Sharkey Convicted of Murder in the First Degree—The Recorder's Charge to the Jury." The New York Times 22 June 1873: n.pag.
  25. ^ "The Murderer Sharkey. Motion for a New Trial—Affidavits from Three of the Jurors—Decision Reserved." The New York Times 29 June 1873: n.pag.
  26. ^ "The Sharkey Trial. Testimonly for the Defense—The Case to be Given to the Jury To-Day." The New York Times 21 June 1873: n.pag.
  27. ^ "The Sharkey Trial. Testimony for the Defense—The Case to be Given to the Jury To-Day." The New York Times 21 June 1873: n.pag.
  28. ^ "The Sharkey Trial. Testimony for the Defense—The Case to be Given to the Jury To-Day." The New York Times 21 June 1873: n.pag.
  29. ^ "The Death Penalty. Sharkey's Case. A New Trial Denied-The Prisoner to be Executed in August." The New York Times 4 July 1873: n.pag.
  30. ^ An Assassin's Career. Sharkey to be Returned to the United States." The New York Times 22 March 1875: n.pag.
  31. ^ "Doom of the Old Tombs." The New York Times 4 July 1896: n.pag. Web.
  32. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  33. ^ "A Murderer's Escape." Sharkey Walks out of the Tombs at Midday." The New York Times 20 November 1873: n.pag.
  34. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, by: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296.
  35. ^ "Sharkey in the Tombs." The New York Times 6 August 1873: n.pag.
  36. ^ "The Fate of a Murderer - Found After 25 Years". The Auckland Star - archived at paperspast.natlib.govt.nz - The National Library of New Zealand. 23 June 1900. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  37. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296
  38. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296
  39. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296
  40. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296
  41. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  42. ^ Van Emery, Edward. Veracities from Vice's Varieties. The Sins of New York: As "Exposed" by the Police Gazette. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stockes Company, 1930. Web.
  43. ^ "A Murderer's Escape. Sharkey Walks out of the Tombs at Midday." The New York Times 20 November 1873: n.pag.
  44. ^ "A Murderer's Escape. Sharkey Walks out of the Tombs at Midday." The New York Times 20 November 1873: n.pag.
  45. ^ "A Murderer's Escape. Sharkey Walks out of the Tombs at Midday." The New York Times 20 November 1873: n.pag.
  46. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  47. ^ Sutton, Charles, James B. Mix, and Samuel A. Mackeever. The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries. Being a History of Noted Criminals, with Narratives of their Crimes. New York, NY: United States Pub. Co., 1974. 482-498.
  48. ^ Farley, Philip. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the Lives of Thieves: Enabling Every One to be His Own Detective: With Portraits, Making a Complete Rogues' Gallery.
  49. ^ "Tweed, William Magear." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012.
  50. ^ "Possible clues to the method of his escape various mysterious persons supposed to know all about it but won't tell the schooner Atwood, in which sailed from New York as a passenger. The circumstances attending his disappearance." The New York Times 24 November 1876: n.pag.
  51. ^ Farley, Philip. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the Lives of Thieves: Enabling Every One to be His Own Detective: With Portraits, Making a Complete Rogues' Gallery.
  52. ^ "An Assassin's Career. Sharkey to be Returned to the United States." The New York Times 22 March 1875: n.pag. ]
  53. ^ "The Fate of a Murder. Found After 25 Years." Auckland Star. 23 June 1900: 13.
  54. ^ Farley, Philip. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the Lives of Thieves: Enabling Every One to be His Own Detective: With Portraits, Making a Complete Rogues' Gallery. Published by the Author. 1876.
  55. ^ Farley, Philip. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the Lives of Thieves: Enabling Every One to be His Own Detective: With Portraits, Making a Complete Rogues' Gallery. Published by the Author. 1876.
  56. ^ Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. New York, BY: Caxton Book Concern, Ltd., 1887. 292-296.
  57. ^ Van Emery, Edward. Veracities from Vice's Varieties. The Sins of New York: As "Exposed" by the Police Gazette. New York, NY: Frederick A. Stockes Company, 1930.
  58. ^ "The Fate of a Murder. Found After 25 Years." Auckland Star. 23 June 1900: 13.
  59. ^ "An Assassin's Career. Sharkey to be Returned to the United States." The New York Times 22 March 1875: n.pag.
  60. ^ "Doom of the Old Tombs." The New York Times 4 July 1896: n.pag. Web.
  61. ^ "The Fate of a Murderer - Found After 25 Years". The Auckland Star - archived at paperspast.natlib.govt.nz - The National Library of New Zealand. 23 June 1900. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  62. ^ Asbury, Herbert. "The Escape of William J. Sharkey," The New Yorker 7 March 1931: 39. Abstract.