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The Criminal Career of Mathew Kennedy, America & Australia

Story by Thomas Duke, 1910
Celebrated Criminal Cases of America
Part II: Pacific Coast Cases

In March, 1884, a small postoffice near Windsor, Ontario, was robbed of a considerable sum of money and postage stamps. A few hours later two young men, who acted very mysteriously, attempted to cross on the ferry running from Windsor to Detroit. They were apprehended by the authorities, and after some questioning, it was decided to search them. The result was that most of the stamps and money were recovered. It was ascertained that the prisoners were two Detroit hoodlums named Mathew Kennedy and William Callehan.

While awaiting trial in the jail at Sandwich, near Windsor, they killed Jailor Leech with pistols which had evidently been smuggled into the jail, and then escaped. Callehan procured some women’s clothing and in that disguise crossed the river and disappeared, but Kennedy was recaptured a few hours later. He was tried and convicted for this murder and was sentenced to serve twenty years at Kingston, Ontario, but one year later he escaped.

On January 29, 1887, the fur store of Benedict & Ruedy in Cleveland, Ohio, was burglarized and furs valued at $6000.00 were stolen. It was learned that Kennedy committed the theft and he was arrested at Allegheny City three days after the burglary.

Captain Hohne and Detective William Hulligan of the Cleveland police department went to bring the prisoner back to the scene of the crime. They left Allegheny with their prisoner at midnight on February 4. When the train stopped at a town called Ravenna, four men, including one “Blinkey” Morgan, boarded the car and began shooting at the officers and beating them over the heads with the butts of their revolvers, until both were unconscious. Kennedy was handcuffed to Detective Hulligan but the ruffians broke the lock and liberated him. The entire gang then fled.

Detective Hulligan died four days later. These assaults aroused great indignation and rewards aggregating $16,000.00 were offered for the arrest of the gang.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency located “Blinkey” Morgan at Alpena, Michigan, in July, 1887, and he was returned to Ravenna, tried, convicted and hanged. It was subsequently learned that the rest of the gang went to Australia where Kennedy, who was afterward known as James Kelley, became an associate of two men known as Jack Casey and Jimmy Murphy. These men made several trips from Australia to America.

In the early part of 1898, Willard R. Green, a Denver millionaire who had been visiting in San Francisco, charged that Augustus Howard, the owner of the race horse “Yellowtail,” had swindled him out of $100,000.00 and then employed Kelley, Casey and Murphy to accompany him (Green) on the boat which left San Francisco on April 20, 1898, for Australia, for the purpose of throwing him overboard, but they did not have an opportunity. (Casey subsequently confessed that this charge was true.)

In May, 1899, the steamer Alameda left Australia for America. At Sydney thirty boxes, each containing 5000 sovereigns (about $25,000.00) were placed on board the vessel. Each box weighed ninety pounds and was checked by Purser T. C. Smith and Third Mate A. M. Smith as it was brought aboard. At the hatch of the specie tank, in which it was deposited, each box was again checked by Second Mate Mekkleson, and Chief Officer Rennie, who was in the tank, also counted the boxes and supervised the stowing of them.

Four days before the vessel reached San Francisco, the steward went to the specie tank and found that the seal had been broken. He notified his superiors and a search showed that one of the boxes had been stolen, the thief probably using a skeleton key on the lock to the specie tank.

It was suspected that a fellow giving the name of Frank Wilson, who boarded the vessel at Sydney but left it at Honolulu, stole this money. He was believed to be a member of the Howard-Kelley gang.

In September, 1898, Kelley, Casey and Murphy were arrested on a charge of robbing a warehouse in Melbourne, but were released on October 20.

On November 27, 1898, the National Bank of Auckland was robbed of £235, and these three fellows were suspected of committing the crime, but as the evidence was not conclusive they were released. They then left for San Francisco, arriving in January, 1899. Shortly afterward Captain of Detectives Lees found that the notes stolen from the Auckland bank had been disposed of in San Francisco by two men of the description of Kelley and Casey.

On March 30, 1899, a wagon belonging to the Anglo-California Bank was stopped by the driver in front of Wells, Fargo & Company’s office. Just then a handsome, well-dressed young man approached and engaged the driver in conversation. At the same time another man stole a sack containing $10,000.00 out of the wagon. The driver afterward identified a picture of Kelley as the photograph of the man who engaged him in conversation.

The next heard of Kennedy, alias Kelley, was in Mexico, where he was arrested on a charge of stealing a package of notes valued at $10,000.00 from a bank in that city. Again he escaped from jail.

The following is the substance of the statement made by Officer J. LeStrange of Berkeley, Cal., on September 28, 1905 :

“At 1 a. m., this date, I was near Ninth Street and University Avenue, when I saw two men a short distance from me. As I approached they disappeared, but a few moments later I saw four men on San Pablo Avenue, two of whom I recognized as the men I had seen a few moments previous. I was in civilian’s dress. They approached me, and after asking for information in regard to the car service, they walked down the street a short distance and then came back. I walked toward them, when they separated. One fellow sprang toward me with an oath, placed his pistol against my stomach and ordered me to hold up my hands. I pulled out my revolver and shot him in the neck, severing his windpipe. He fell in a heap. Just then his companions opened fire at me, but as I tripped and fell, one said, ‘I got the —-.’ They then rushed to the dying man, but as he was beyond human aid they dropped him and disappeared in the darkness.”

City Marshal Vollmer heard the shots and rushed to the scene, but no trace could be found of the three men who fled.

In the pockets of the dead man were found several safecracking tools, also a syringe of the variety used for injecting nitro-glycerine into doors of safes. There was nothing on the body to indicate the identity of the dead man. A picture was taken of the face and reproduced in the Chicago Detective. On October 8, William Pinkerton and Captain Hohne of Cleveland, Ohio; who was almost killed by Kennedy’s gang, positively identified the picture as the photograph of the remains of Kennedy, alias Kelley, etc.

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