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Mobsters, Gangs and Crooks -- William J. Sharkey

Mobsters, Gangs and Crooks -- William J. Sharkey

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Published by Joe Bruno
He was a crook, a pickpocket, a Tammany Hall politician, and finally, -- a murderer. Yet William J. Sharkey was best known for his daring escape from death row, in New York City's Tombs Prison.
He was a crook, a pickpocket, a Tammany Hall politician, and finally, -- a murderer. Yet William J. Sharkey was best known for his daring escape from death row, in New York City's Tombs Prison.

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Published by: Joe Bruno on Mar 26, 2011
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Mobsters -- William J. SharkeyBy Joe BrunoHe was a crook, a pickpocket, a Tammany Hall politician, and finally, -- a murderer. YetWilliam J. Sharkey was best known for his daring escape from death row, in New York City's TombsPrison.Sharkey was born in New York City in 1945, to well-to-do family, which resided in the NinthWard in Manhattan. Despite the affluence of his family, Sharkey gravitated over to the dark side. Hebegan hanging out with pickpockets, gamblers, and crooks, and soon he became a very capablepickpocket himself, and a gambler of some renown. One sad day, Sharkey was arrested for pickpocketing, and he had his picture taken by the municipal photographer, giving himself a definitivepresence in the criminal record section, of New York City Police Department.Sharkey soon elevated himself in the criminal ladder, dealing in stolen bonds. With the moneyfrom his endeavors piling in, Sharkey formed his own gang called “Sharkey's Guards,” which had their headquarters at the corner of Wooster and Houston Streets. It was there that Sharkey insinuated himself into the local political scene, and soon he was the darling of the crooks who ran Tammany Hall.Sharkey dressed himself in the finest clothes, wearing sparkling diamonds on his fingers, and aroundhis neck. Soon, Tammany Hall put Sharkey up for election, for Assistant Alderman. Even thoughTammany Hall's had influence, and muscle, working in their favor at the polls, Sharkey somehow lostthe election. Disappointed with his political failure, Sharkey decided to go back to his first loves – stealing and gambling.With the money he made from various illegal endeavors, Sharkey traveled to Buffalo, NewYork, and started a faro game. However, Sharkey was so unlucky, he managed to lose $4000 in justfive days. Downtrodden, Sharkey returned to New York City, and hooked up with his old friend RobertDunn, real name Bob Isaacs. Dunn was an employee of the City's Comptroller's Office, but he alsowas a faro dealer, in a Fulton Street gambling house. Figuring Dunn was a more capable faro expertthen he, Sharkey gave Dunn $600, and told him to go to Buffalo, and try his hand at faro. Dunn agreedthat if he was successful in Buffalo, he promised to repay Sharkey the $600, plus half his winnings. Asluck would have it, Dunn was just as unlucky in Buffalo as Sharkey was, and he lost his entire stake.Dunn returned to New York City, and told Sharkey the bad news.On September 1, 1872, Dunn and Sharkey attended the funeral of James Riley, a prominentmember of the Michael Norton Association, a political arm of Tammany Hall. After the funeral,Sharkey and Dunn traveled separately to a saloon owned by Charles Harvey, called “The Place,”located at 288 Hudson Street. By the time Sharkey had arrived, Dunn had already imbibed a few ryewhiskeys at the bar. Sharkey ordered a rye himself, and after he knocked it down in one gulp, Sharkeydemanded his $600 back from Dunn. Dunn told Sharkey he was tapped out himself, and couldn't repaythe money. Sharkey immediately drew a single-shot Derringer pistol, and pointed it at Dunn's chest.Dunn screamed, “Don't shoot, Billy! I'll pay you as soon as I can!”Sharkey would have none of that. He bellowed back, “You better pay me now!”Before Dunn could reply, Sharkey fired the Derringer point-blank at Dunn. The bullet piercedDunn's heart, killing him instantly. Sharkey fled the scene of the crime, but he was captured a fewhours later, in a boarding house on Washington Street, near Perry Street.
Sharkey was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged at the Tombs Prison, on August 15,1873. However, Sharkey's connections at Tammany Hall pushed back his execution date to earlyDecember.While Sharkey was imprisoned, he was visited daily by the most beautiful Maggie Jourdan,herself a very successful pickpocket. Miss Jourdan arrived early every morning, and always stood untilvisiting hours were over. Miss Jourdan was a great friend of Mrs. Wesley Allen, the wife of a burglar,whose brother John Allen owned a bawdy dance hall on Water Street. John Allen was known as “TheWickedest Man in New York City.”While most prisoners at the Tombs lived in perpetual squalor, Sharkey lived quite nicely on thesecond tier of the prison, in an area called “Murderer's Row.” With the money Jourdan earned stealing,and also by her hocking her jewelry, including her gold watch, Sharkey was able to decorate his jailcell number 40 (which was never locked), with the finest furniture. Jordan bought Sharkey a walnuttable, a Kidderminster carpet, a canary in a cage, and a book–and–magazine rack, which wassuspended from the ceiling by silken cords. Jourdan also supplied Sharkey with a soft mattress for hisbed, a comfortable chair for his lounging, draperies for his cell door, an elegant dressing gown made of velvet and cherry-colored silk, and velvet slippers.Jourdan often told Sharkey during her visits, that if he died, she no longer wanted to live.“Willie, I could never let you suffer,” she tearfully told him.On November 19, 1873, at exactly 10 AM, Jourdan arrived at the Franklin Street entrance to theTombs. The guard on duty gave her the usual pass given to all visitors. The bottom part of her bodywas noticeably bulky, but the prison guards thought she had just put on additional petticoats, to protectherself the from the cold November air. Jourdan immediately went to Sharkey's cell, and she spoke tohim for several hours. The prison guards were so accustomed to her being there, they hardly paid anyattention to what she did, and what she said to Sharkey.Mrs. Wesley Allen arrived at the prison at 12:30 PM. She stopped at Sharkey's cell on thesecond tier, and spoke to both Jourdan and Sharkey. Then Mrs. Allen went upstairs to the third tier, tovisit a prisoner named Flood. At 1 PM, Jourdan exited the prison, which was quite unusual, since shealways stood until the end of the day.A half an hour later, a strange-looking woman, with especially broad shoulders, walked downthe second-tier corridor, through two lower gates, and out of the prison. As this dubious lady exited theprison, she handed her pass to the guard minding the exit. This woman wore a heavy black woolendress, a black coat, an Alpine bonnet, and a thick green veil, which covered her entire face. PatrolmenDolan was walking down Franklin Street, when he saw this woman nimbly jump onto a passingstreetcar, even though she was wearing high French heels.At 2:05 PM, Mrs. Wesley Allen tried to exit the prison. As she passed the guard standing at theexit, the guard asked her for her visitor's pass. Mrs. Allen nervously fumbled in her dress pockets for several seconds, before she said, “I put it in my pocket, but I must have lost it.”The guard, realizing something was up, immediately summoned Warden Johnson. Mrs. Allenwas detained, while Warden Johnson ordered all cells in the prison to be immediately searched. Duringthis search, they were dismayed to find out that Sharkey's cell was empty. His elegant clothes werescattered about his cell, and right above his washbasin, were the remnants of his flowing mustache,

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