Albany's Final Hangings

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Shall we continue with the recitation of murders from 1902's "History of the Police Service of Albany"? Yes, let's do.

On April 1, 1858, Emil Hartung of Division Street, just below Green Street, died under suspicious circumstances. "Living in the same house was William Rheinmann, and it was current gossip that his relations with Mrs. Hartung were not on a moral basis." Appears that Mary Hartung was lacing Emil's food and soup with arsenic. She was convicted and sentenced to death (Rheinmann was acquitted). A second trial came to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, at some point she managed to slip out of jail, "took a walk through the city, returning at nightfall. The story was current that while in jail she became enceinte. At all events, she was finally released and never again apprehended. She is still living [in 1902]."

In 1863, Matthew Brumaghim shot Charles Phillips in the bar-room of the Delavan House. "Phillips was a man of sporting proclivities and much pugilistic ability. He was something of a politician and had made himself quite obnoxious to party magnates. There was much bad blood between him and Brumaghim. On the night of the shooting Phillips followed Brumaghim from place to place seeking a quarrel. In the Delavan House he reached the limit when he deliberately spat in Brumaghim's face and attempted to follow up the assault with his fists. Brumaghim then shot him and was acquitted on the ground of self-defense."

Major George Washington ColeJust a few years later, in 1867, there was a famous murder in the Stanwix Hall rotunda. Again, a love triangle. Major-General George W. Cole shot and killed L. Harris Hiscock of Syracuse for the seduction of Mrs. Cole. Hiscock was in town for the state Constitutional Convention, but his offense dated back to the Civil War. Hiscock had "just come down to tea from his room, and was leaning against a pillar, his face towards Broadway, engaged in conversation with two gentlemen. The weather was warm and pleasant, and the front doors were open. While Hiscock was standing there, General Cole, coming on from the Maiden Lane door, entered the rear of the public room, advancing rapidly; and when he got near enough, holding his Derringer pistol almost at the ear of his victim, discharged it into his face and head, producing death. A horrified bystander exclaimed: 'What was this for?' to which Cole replied: 'He has betrayed my wife. He has got it. He violated my wife while I was at the war; the evidence is clear; I have the proof.'" Mrs. Cole produced a written confession affirming that he had been the victim of force in the first instance, and that subsequent acts were submitted to from shame and fear of exposure.  The defense was "irresponsibility through melancholia super-induced by a knowledge of the criminal acts of Mrs. Cole and Hiscock." The first trial came to no conclusion, the second acquitted Cole.

Then there was the case of Emile Lowenstein, the mad barber. Lowenstein lived in the same house in Brooklyn as James D. Weston, a one-armed veteran and newspaper peddler on the Hudson River Railroad, and Weston's wife. On August 3, 1874, they all went to the theater together, and the men agreed to meet the next morning. Weston showed up with a new satchel; they parted for a time, during which Lowenstein went to the shop where he worked and collected his razors. Then they went by train to New York, thence to Chatham, and finally to Albany. They ventured to West Albany where, "in a lonely ravine on Jones' farm, [Weston] was murdered by being shot and horribly slashed with a razor, which was found near Weston's body." Lowenstein took the bag of money, about $300, that Weston had drawn from the bank prior to their journey, got on a train at West Albany and returned to New York, where shortly after he purchased a barber shop of his own.

Mrs. Weston, not surprisingly, was concerned that her husband never returned from this trip, and suspected Lowenstein from the start. At some point she bought a loaf of bread wrapped in a newspaper, and in the paper saw a story of the discovery of a body in West Albany, with a description that matched her husband. She accused Lowenstein, who protested his innocence before fleeing to Canada. He had left a razor behind at the scene of the murder, which was evidence enough. He was found in St. Catherines and brought to Albany to face trial; he was sentenced to die and was hanged April 10, 1874.

The last hanging in Albany was that of Hillaire Latremouille. He was well known to the Albany police. He had spent three years in Clinton Prison for horse stealing and came back home to Cohoes in March of 1879. He went to Dunsbach Ferry and sought work on the farm of Martin Dunsbach, who told him to come back another time as he had to go to Cohoes. When Dunsbach returned home, he found his daughter Catharine had been murdered rather horribly. Latremouille, who had been seen hanging about, tried to escape to Canada but was caught at Whallonsburgh and brought back to Cohoes. He was convicted and hanged in the Maiden Lane jail August 20, 1879.


Hanging Weather in Albany

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Ready for some more murder? After the hanging of Jesse Strang, the "History of the Police Service of Albany" tells us that:

"The next recorded execution for murder and the first one away from the eye of the general public, is that of Jacob Leddings, who shot and killed his wife Hannah, in the town of Bethlehem, on the 6th of May, 1840 . . . He was tried and convicted after a trial of two days, and sentenced to be hanged on the 4th day of December following, between the hours of 12 M. [sic] and 3 P.M. He was, however, respited until January 18th, at the urgent request of the city clergymen, who represented to William H. Seward, then Governor, that the doomed man was totally unprepared for the awful change that awaited him. Leddings was executed in the jail, corner of Howard and Eagle streets."

It would be another 10 years before Albany had a capital crime, though the murder itself occurred in Westerlo. Reuben Dunbar was charged with murdering two boys, the Lester children, November 23, 1850.

"The father of Dunbar's two victims had died several years previous to the murders. The uncle of the boys had married the mother of the prisoner, and Dunbar thinking that the children stood between him and his inheritance, determined, since he could not get rid of their hateful presence by fair means, to accomplish it by foul. The most atrocious crime committed, his sin soon found him out. He led those engaged in the search for the bodies away from the place where they were concealed and resisted stoutly, and so as to excite suspicion, suggested to search in the right direction. He also told various and conflicting stories as to where he had last seen the boys and was on record, in repeated instances, as venting his anger against them, because of their interfering with what he considered his moneyed rights."

He vehemently protested his innocence over and over, pleading "I shall leave this world in conscious innocence, relying for mercy upon that Being whom I have long professed to serve." But just before his execution in the Howard Street jail, he made a full confession. Justice moved quickly in those days; he was hanged January 31, 1851, just two months after the murders.

The dubious honor of being the first criminal hanged in the Maiden Lane jail was John Hendrickson, who murdered his wife Maria in Bethlehem in March 6, 1853. (Those keeping score might think the suburbs were considerably more dangerous than the city itself in those days.) It was one of the earliest trials to rely on chemical forensic evidence, as the prosecution charged Hendrickson with poisoning his wife.

"Eminent chemical experts gave testimony for the defense, to the effect that the analysis of the stomach and other organs of the victim exhibited no traces of poison. The prosecution brought out the fact that all the analyses had been for mineral poison and put on the stand Dr. John Swinburne [champion of the limbs], then a young physician, who testified that he had also analyzed the remains and discovered aconite, a vegetable poison then comparatively unknown. This claim was backed up by other evidence showing the purchase of this drug by the defendant."

Albany was a rough-and-tumble riverport city, yet most of the murdering in those days was being done out in the towns. That would change. More to come.


Murder and Drama in old Albany

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Green Street Theatre.pngThe "History of the Police Service of Albany" from 1902, as we've noted before, recorded that there had been about 142 homicide cases in Albany and vicinity from 1687 until 1902, and it took the time to detail a number of the more famous ones. It started with the story of Joseph Bettys, who, while he did do some murdering, was really more about the treason. But after that, it gets down to business describing murders.

Not too surprisingly, it gives a fair amount of ink to the murder of John Whipple by Jesse Strang in 1827, best known around these parts as the Murder at Cherry Hill. If nothing else, Strang's conviction taught us that practicing shooting through glass, just days before your lover's husband is shot through a pane of glass, looks more than a tad suspicious. Strang was hanged in the Hudson street ravine, "a few rods above Eagle street," and like some other Albany hangings, his took a while. "At half-past one the drop fell, but owing to a mismanagement in adjusting the cord around the murderer's throat, the knot slipped to the back of his neck and Strang fell but four inches. His neck was not broken and as the result his sufferings were long and painful before he died. His body was cut down after it had hung twenty-nine minutes . . . " And that was the last public execution in Albany.

Another murder in 1836 bears mention. "John Hamilton, a popular actor, member of the famous stock company of the old Green Street Theater, shot and killed Wiliam Duffy, another prominent actor and member of the same theatre company, on the stage. It was adjudged an accident and Hamilton was allowed to go free. He was afterwards shot himself and killed in New Orleans."

That doesn't entirely comport with the account in Phelps's "The Albany Hand-book" from 1884, which describes the murder briefly as the major event for 1836: "William Duffy, manager of Albany theater, fatally stabbed by John Hamilton, an actor; Feb. 10." In 1972, James M. Leonard , Associate Professor of Theatre at the State University of New York at Albany, published an article titled "Correspondence and Confrontation between William Duffy, Manager, and John Hamilton, Actor." The paper isn't publicly available but the abstract describes "emotionally charged confrontations," which suggests something more than an accident.

It doesn't comport with another account, either. In his "Personal Recollections of the Drama; or Theatrical Reminiscences," Henry Dickinson Stone in 1873 noted that William Duffy died March 12, 1836 (in one place the text says 1838, but that's likely a typo). Of Hamilton, he said this:

"The last I saw of John Hamilton, the assassin, was in Louisville, Ky., twenty-three years ago. He was subject to fits of insanity - during their paroxysms he would rave like a maniac, his friends holding him with all their strength. He imagined the form of his victim was gazing upon him in a supplicating manner, and fiends, with serpents entwined around their heads, were about to convey him to hell! These scenes were truly horrifying to all persons present. Hamilton married old Dyke's daughter, a strolling manager of the west. She was quite young, the widow of an actor by the name of Robinson. Hamilton died in one of his ravings, in an obscure village in Tennessee. Hamilton was also a printer, and worked in various offices in Albany. He would sub it during the day, and play at the theatre at night. He generally played second old men, assisted in choruses, and was what is termed a general utility man."

So Hamilton either shot or stabbed William Duffy, and either was shot in New Orleans or died of madness in Tennessee.

1902's "History of the Police Service of Albany" kinda buries the lead in its chapter on homicides and malefactions, leading off its account of notable crimes with this brief mention:

"In the latter year [1782], Joseph Bettys was convicted of treason and murder, and conditionally pardoned by George Washington. He subsequently violated the conditions, was recaptured and hanged."

Joe Bettys was a hothead from Ballston (originally from Connecticut) who became a sergeant in the Continental Army, serving at Skenesborough, where General Benedict Arnold was trying to build a fleet to block British control of Lake Champlain. He was demoted for assaulting his ranking officer. Lieutenant John Ball (yes, of the Ballston Balls) interceded on his behalf, apparently using his family connections to George Washington's mother, Mary Ball Washington. It is written that there were concerns that Bettys would go over to the other side and reveal Arnold's plans. (At this point, Arnold wasn't sharing those plans with the other side.) Somehow, Bettys was restored to rank and placed aboard one of Arnold's ships, the Philadelphia. He fought valiantly in the Battle of Valcour Island, but his ship was sunk and the ship he jumped to captured. The British released him as a spy and a raider, leading Indian forces on small raids where they burned farms and homes in his old neighborhood. He reported directly to General Burgoyne and was with him at the Battle of Saratoga. Shortly after, he was discovered as a spy, captured and court-martialed on April 6, 1778. He was ordered to be "hung by the neck until he shall be dead," as Gen. Washington recorded in his own orderly book.

The Father of our Country must have been a bit of a soft touch, or he believed in redemption, or maybe the Ball family connection was exceedingly strong (which seems odd, since Bettys was well-documented as a terrible person back in Ballston) -- whatever the reason, Washington responded to pleas from his parents and fellow crewmen from Champlain, and pardoned Bettys on the condition that he renounce the Loyalist cause.

So you've run afoul of military justice twice, you've been sentenced to hang, you escape the noose, and all you have to do is not run with the Loyalists to keep the rope off your neck. Apparently, that was too much for Bettys. He very quickly returned to raiding. This account comes from a website on historically significant artifacts:

However, soon after being freed, Bettys returned to his work as a traitor, marauding around the Albany area robbing and killing patriots and burning their property. He joined the British Army as an ensign in the Second Company of the King's Rangers, a unit raised in 1779 that operated in the Lake Champlain region in both New York and what was then the Republic of Vermont. His unit took part in the capture of American forts Anne and George, and operated an espionage network in the area. In the winter of 1781-82, Bettys, dressed as a civilian, was captured near Ballston. Coded messages to British forces in New York City were discovered hidden in his boots; Bettys asked his captors for a smoke and tried to destroy the messages by throwing them, encased in small metal containers, into a fireplace.

So, yeah, that didn't work. He was captured again and brought to Albany, where he was tried, convicted and hanged as a traitor April 1, 1782.

More details on Joseph Bettys here.

JamesHamilton.pngWe mentioned yesterday that in the annals of early crime in Albany, one James Hamilton was hanged for the murder of Major Benjamin Birdsall. Before his hanging, Hamilton gave the account of his life to one Calvin Pepper, "who penned the same from the lips of Hamilton. The Sheriff and Police Justices certified "that the following narrative was read to James Hamilton, while in prison and after sentence of death, and he declared the same, in our presence, to be true in all respects." It's a fascinating read. It begins:

"When a malefactor is about to expiate with his life, the offences he has committed against that society which has doomed him to an ignominious death, it is due to them and to himself . . . to give a brief history of his life, as well to evince his sincere penitence and contrition, as to furnish an awful lesson for those who are passing the giddy round of dissipation or are about to plunge into the dreadful abyss of wretchedness and sin . . .

"My birth, like my death, was the combined effect of infamy and sin. I was the illegitimate offspring of a mother whom I never knew, and of a father of whom I am equally ignorant, (the man to whom I once supposed I could give that appellation having disowned me) . . .

"At the age of ten years I was put, by my supposed father, to one William Cummings, who adopted me as his nephew, alledging [sic] he was my uncle. He sent me to the house of John Morrison, Esq. at Little Britain, where I attended the school of one Mr. Ellison, between two and three years, and made some proficiency in learning . . . from there I was sent to live with Barnabas Manney, in Blooming Grove, and attended the school of one Patrick Fellemyth, where I was whipped almost daily for fighting with, and abusing my school fellows. At this school I learnt nothing, paying no attention whatever to my book - Conceiving my master was too severe, I engaged ten other boys with myself to seize him one morning upon his coming into school, give him a beating, then throw him on the fire and keep him there until he was severely scorched. This project was luckily prevented by some young children . . . giving information to their father . . . and instead of our abusing the master, he, in presence of the parents, severely flogged us."

He was shuttled about some more; how these families were found to take him in, he didn't explain. In Orange County, he was to earn the trade of a tanner and shoe-maker, but one day he fought with an apprentice "and very severely cut him with my shoe knife." He was "severely chastised with small rods," and ran off. He ended up learning the trade of blacksmithing. Some time later he was in New York, where an acquaintance named Menton got him work on a small schooner. He fell to fighting with Menton, "and the captain coming on deck while I had Menton down, struck me, upon which I seized a billet of wood and instantly drove both Menton and my employer off the schooner." He threatened them again, terrorized the ship's owner into paying him ("threatened, upon his refusal, to pound him to a jelly").  More wandering and fighting, and "I then commenced visiting scenes of vice and prostitution." Some might wonder what took him so long. Back in New York, he met a sailor named Hugh McClellan who helped him to live through gambling, and introduced him to "a decent house kept by the widow Pollis, who had one son and two daughters."

One of those daughters was Catherine, about eighteen; he courted her for three months and married her, "but alas! Vice had at that time taken such deep root in my bosom, that I could not (although I dearly loved my wife) refrain from visiting prostitutes. I found at length, I was diseased by this course of dissipation, and daring not to visit my wife, I did (unknown to her) ship in a schooner, commanded by one Yates, bound to Norfolk, Va." He bounced around the coast, coming back to New York, where he learned he was a father, "notwithstanding which, I made it a practice, at each port, to visit houses of debauchery." He left and returned again: "by my wife's request, I left the schooner and continued about two months doing no business, constantly gambling, drinking and visiting houses of ill fame." A second child was born, which he did not believe was his. He moved back and forth between New York, Norfolk and Boston, where he appears to have become a pimp. "Here I became acquainted with a prostitute named Sally Smith; and she, together with one Charlotte Hatch, handsomely supported me, they often contending and fighting on my account."

He took off with McClellan and ended up in Sand Lake working for Pliny Miller, chopping wood at seventy-five cents per cord. McClellan ran off with some borrowed money, another worker bit Hamilton's finger, and "I continued with Miller about three months and worked very hard, but he being a tavern keeper, I fell in his debt for rum about thirty dollars." Hamilton went to Albany, where he heard a soldier say "whoever enlists cannot be taken for debt and that clears them for ever." He immediately enlisted, and found the life of a soldier pleasing. Not too surprisingly, he ended up in an altercation and threatened his sergeant, costing him a promotion to corporal. He was marched around the state in the War of 1812 and captured by the British, and was held prisoner 11 months. Released into Salem, Mass., he joined the navy, while still serving in the army. He was tried for desertion and sentenced to sixty days solitary confinement on bread and water, and six months hard labor with a ball chained to his leg. The tales of his escapes and recaptures, transfers, and reimprisonments become almost tedious. Apparently, desertion didn't get you out of the service in those days.

Up in Sacketts Harbor, he became acquainted with a woman by the name of Caty Brown. "She used to wear black hair, neatly curled, and I thought her handsome - At length I went before a justice of the peace and married her [oddly, he had apparently taken the efforts to divorce his first wife]. About ten days after our marriage I found she wore false hair, her own being grey with age. Discovering the deception, I wished to part from her, and on enquiry found she had been three times married, and that her husbands were all living." He didn't stay with her.

There was more travel up and down the Hudson Valley, petty thievery, another wife, money hidden in a hat, arrests, escapes, more arrests.

Released from his last sentence on April 10, 1818, he went to Major Birdsall and offered to enlist. "By him I was sent to Greenbush, to be examined . . . I then informed the Major I had a wife, whom I wanted in the barracks . . . I then brought my wife from Moody's stage house, where she was at work, to the rendezvous. The Major treated me exceedingly kind . . . ."

Another altercation with another soldier, and the Major ordered him whipped, but Hamilton said he bore him no ill will for this. However, there was another altercation, this time with a threat to shoot a black recruit:

"'Now if you don't clear out I will shoot you,' and brought my piece to my face, cocked it, and if he had not removed I had intended to fire and wound him in the legs." At that moment, the Major was drilling the evening parade. Hamilton announced to him, 'Major, here I am,' and the Major replied 'Go to your ranks.'

"I stepped off two or three feet . . . towards him, and recollect of raising my gun, and hearing the report (the same having been cocked as before stated) and thus, awful to relate, I was the wicked instrument of sending an innocent, worthy, honored and lamented citizen and officer untimely to the grave, without provocation or excuse, except to gratify the sudden impulse of a most wicked, malignant and ungovernable temper, inflamed by intoxication. "

He closed his incredible narrative with this:

"Thus have I finished a narrative of my life - barren, I admit of any other scenes than those which are always connected with dissipation and vice. My life has been one continued and uninterrupted series of injustice towards man, and impiety towards God. Filled with passions of the most ungovernable kind, and with propensities which mark the 'little villainies' of the world, I had, on no occasion, cultivated a single sentiment of morality or religion. By gradations in vice, I at length arrived at the horrid crime of MURDER. No palliation to soften, no provocation to extenuate, no motive to excuse, can be urged for me in this last and barbarous transaction. My life has justly become forfeited to the offended justice of my country - My only refuge is my Saviour and my God. In the bloom of life I have become a victim for the tomb - No father's tears to embalm my memory - No fond wife to assuage my woe, a deep and horrid gulph is now before me. Let the youth, then, beware how he indulges in the licentiousness and vices of the age - Let him remember his God in his early years, and that God will not forget him as he advances in life, and becomes an heir of immortality. - To the afflicted widow and children of Major Birdsall, what can I offer? In one moment I plunged them into unutterable agony and distress."

Hamilton was hanged in Albany Nov. 6, 1818. The gallows was erected back of Elm Street and west of Eagle Street in that portion of the city known as Hamilton Hollow.

Could it be . . . murder?

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1902's "History of the Police Service of Albany" includes a chapter titled "Homicides of Two Centuries."

"Were one to fully describe all of the crimes committed in the City of Albany and vicinity, it would take many books the size of this one, so the best that can be done is to mention some of the leading cases of homicide and a few of the lesser malefactions. The record begins in the year 1687, and there is found about 142 homicide cases in this period of 214 years, but there has been but twelve executions for murder; eighteen received life sentences; twenty-nine were acquitted; four were sentenced for twenty years; fifty-two received sentences varying from thirty days to fifteen years; six committed suicide; nine escaped; three were adjudged insane, and two got off with fines. It will be noted that the number of murders is very small for a city and county so old and with so large a population made up of people of such varied nationality and pursuit."

 After glossing over a case of treason (tomorrow, dear readers, tomorrow), the history writes that:

Among the early executions in Albany was that of James Hamilton, the murderer of Major Birdsall. Hamilton was indicted on the 8th of October of 1818. His trial was a short one, and a verdict of guilty was returned by the jury almost immediately after retirement. The death sentence was passed on October 12th, the date set for the expiation of his crime on the gallows was the 6th day of November.

In the early part of the nineteenth century public executions were in vogue. Hamilton's death was witnessed by thousands. The gallows was erected back of Elm street and west of Eagle Street in that portion of the city known as Hamilton Hollow.

The first attempt to execute the murderer was a failure, for after Hamilton had been swung off, the rope broke. The condemned man adjusted the noose himself the second time, testing it before placing it around his neck. As he stood ready to be hurled to eternity, he requested the vast concourse beneath him to unite in singing the fifty-first psalm:

Show pity, Lord, oh Lord, forgive,
Let a repenting sinner live.

Shortly after the rope was cut and the body subsequently removed.

The Capital Police

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"The History of the Police Service of Albany" from back in 1902 noted that at one time, there was a Capital Police District that covered the area. This was long before there was a State Police force. In 1865 the Legislature passed an act creating a capital police district that included the City of Albany, the part of Bethlehem north of the Normanskill, the town of Watervliet (including West Troy, Green Island and Cohoes), Lansingburgh, Troy, and North Greenbush and Greenbush. It was a fairly sizeable force, with 66 patrolmen in Albany, 60 in Troy, but only a handful in the smaller locations, totaling 156. "The Board was also authorized, in case of any emergency or apprehension of riot, pestilence or invasion, to appoint special patrolmen to serve without pay."

The first superintendent was Campbell Allen, born in Madison County. "From early youth he had an eager thirst for knowledge, and became a constant student of the English, German and French languages, and their literature, which made him a scholar of no mean ability. He also made an exhaustive study of Ethics, Philology, Psychology and Geography, and had an intimate knowledge of writings of such men as Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Hamilton, Kant, Voltaire, and Humboldt. He taught in the country district schools for some time, and later on in Cohoes. He next came to Albany and became a teacher and principal in the public schools of Albany, in which capacities he did admirable work for ten years. In 1861, fired with patriotic fervor, he enlisted in the 44th Regiment N.Y. Vols. (the famous Ellsworth Avengers), was made Captain of Company F; served four years, and was brevetted Major for bravery and ability."

Of course, this is New York, so a centrally administered, efficient operation run by a thoroughly educated, dedicated public servant could only last so long. "The Capital Police enjoyed but a brief existence, something less than five years, during which time, while it accomplished most effective work, the consensus of public opinion was that it not only militated against the principle of home rule, but centralized power and robbed the Mayor and Sheriff of much of their erstwhile prerogatives." Their authority was repealed in 1870.

Albany's Police

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Albanypolice.pngYou'd think a city as old as Albany would have an equally old police force,  but what we think of as police is relatively modern. A 1902 "History of the Police Service of Albany" noted that early records of crime and its enforcement were sketchy at best, such that "much of the early history, therefore, must necessarily be brief yet with a faithful approximation of completeness." Despite Albany's early settlement, the author found no records until the British took over and the Dongan Charter of 1686 provided that constables, appointed by the Board of Aldermen, were charged with preserving order. That included one High Constable and three under Constables, one from each ward; as the city grew, that number was doubled. They were paid by fees, rather than a salary, and were charged with collecting taxes, keeping the city pound, and keeping the peace. 

"One of the quaint customs of constabulary duty of these early days was what was known as the Rattle-Watch (Ratelwagh). To this odd position John Radcliffe and Robert Barrett were appointed, by the Common Council, in 1699. They were to patrol the streets of the city from ten o'clock every night until daylight, with lanterns and rattles.

"'Their round was ordered to begin at the main guard-house, near the south gate of the city, and to extend along Brower (Broadway) street to the bridge over the Rutten Kill at Col. Schuyler's house, thence through Jonker (State) street to the corner where Johannes de Wandelaer lived, on the hill near the fort [Fort Frederick], thence along the hill to the house of Alderman Johannes Roseboom's house, on the east side of Parrel (Pearl) street, north of Rom street (Maiden Lane), thence along Parrel street to Gysbert Marselis's house, on the north-east corner of Parrel and Rom streets to the house of Hendrick Bries, and thence to the guard-house.' Whenever they saw thieves, or a building on fire, their instructions were to 'raise an alarm.'"

In 1851, a law was passed establishing a formal police force out of the old constabulary. It included one chief, four captains, four assistant captains, forty policemen, four doormen, and six constables. "During the first year of the existence of this new force an idea of the exemplary work it did may be gleaned in the fact that no less than 1,067 arrests were made. The expense of running the department for 1851 was but $27,000." The first chief of police was John Morgan, who served until 1859.

The Kidnapping of John Conway

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In 1897, Albany was the scene of a famous kidnapping, the abduction of five-year-old John Conway. He was the son of Michael Conway, 99 Colonie Street, a night dispatcher at the West Albany yards. The "History of the Police Service of Albany: From 1609 to 1902" tells it this way:

It was eight o'clock in the morning [August 16] and his mother was busy with her household duties. Two hours later a boy came up the stoop with a note, and it was then that Mrs. Conway first missed her son. She placed no particular significant on the matter, however, until she had opened and read the note. The contents nearly broke her heart, for the writer made an insolent demand for $3,000 ransom, and gave a recital of the kidnapping of her child. It was also stated in the missive, that if all the terms mentioned in the communication were not complied with, violence would be done the captive.

She was warned to send an agent to meet a man near the first toll-gate of the Troy road that evening, but instead she went to the police. Mayor John Boyd Thacher offered a $500 reward, additional forces were called in, and in a short time the boy was found in a place of concealment "on the Schenectady turnpike, near the old Methodist Church."

Letters were sent. One was on August 17, demanding the $3000 ransom and saying that the kidnappers were willing to keep the boy alive for a couple more days if the parents were willing to negotiate through advertisements in a local paper. The second, postmarked from Baltimore on August 19, said the parents' greed had cost them their son's life.

The boy was found August 19, according to a wire story likely put out by the Albany Argus.  Early on came a clue that a relative of Michael Conway might be involved, so in case you're wondering who kidnaps the son of a railroad dispatcher looking for big money, the answer would be his uncle, Joseph M. Hardy. Along with him was a companion named Henry G. Blake, who also went by the last name Avery. Like something out of "The Front Page," Blake was found and taken not to police headquarters, but to the offices of the Argus, and questioned by private detectives and reporters. With Blake,

"it was seen that threats would not bring about the desired results and persuasion was brought to bear on him. He was offered a big ransom to tell anything he knew about the kidnapping and finally it was made so large that he confessed the kidnapping and piloted a party of Argus men some five miles out in the country where he left them and in a short time returned with the boy in his arms.

"He was given a stuffed pocketbook for his ransom and an effort was made to arrest him. When he saw that he had been trapped he pulled a revolver, fired four shots and broke away from his captors, who did not pursue him but drove in to the city with the boy."

They drove down State Street at 9 in the morning, "when thousands of people were on the streets," and called out that they had the boy. "Men, women and children followed the wagon with shouts of joy to the Argus office, where little Johnnie Conway was placed in the window for the benefit of the admiring and joyous crowd." Oh, and at some point they reunited him with his parents.

It was clear that the kidnapping was inspired by another of that time, and that the kidnappers were thinking of killing the boy to keep him from betraying them. Blake was caught, and so was another character; the leader of the group was a New York City attorney named Albert S. Warner, who managed to get to Philadelphia, where he was caught and managed to slip away, moving around Pennsylvania until he was found again and brought to Albany. Warner was apparently behind the whole thing, though how he connected to the other two is not clear. He was already known to police as having "an exceedingly unsavory reputation," including blackmailing prostitutes. All three were tried and sentenced to 14 years and four months, the maximum sentence.

AlbanyCitySavingsBank.jpgA building I never saw and miss dearly all the same: The Albany Savings Bank, North Pearl Street. This graceful beauty was built in 1907 by Henry Ives Cobb, artist and architect from Chicago and later Washington, D.C.

The caption here is importantly wrong, as the Albany Savings Bank and the Albany City Savings Bank were completely different things. The latter institution, part of the Corning family empire, was known as Albany City Savings Institution from 1850 until 1921, when it petitioned to change its name to Albany City Savings Bank. That petition was accepted, until it was noticed by the Albany Savings Bank, which thought that there might be some confusion and that, having been in existence under that name since 1820, it had some rights to it. That there was also an Albany County Savings Bank didn't help matters. A judge agreed: "Is the use of the word 'City' sufficiently distinctive? I think not . . . It seems clear to me that in the situation already existing here there is every reason why even persons ordinarily well informed might easily think of the Albany Savings Bank as the Albany City Savings Bank, as distinguished from the Albany County Savings Bank; that 'Albany City' and 'Albany' are synonymous and indicate the same municipality." Not getting their way, they went with "City Savings Bank of Albany," then in 1935 merged with the folks over at County to become City and County Savings Bank. Its building at 100 State Street still stands.

Albany Savings Bank went on, and this building at Pearl and Pine lasted into the 1970s. We haven't seen photos of the interior, but surely it was grand, as banks were in those days. It was torn down to make way for a ghastly, anonymous glass and brick-panel tower of state offices.

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