The Underwear ThiefOn May 12, 2021 by Elyse
In 1921, somebody took Second Glance History’s guide to pickpocketing a little too far:
For several months past, the city of Baltimore, Md., has been the “vantage point”, from which a dangerous and desperate hotel crook and accomplished thief has operated in several of the leading hotels. . . At these various hotels, the man used a number of aliases, but always represented himself as a steamship captain. . . The thief’s real name is Laurence A. Sheahan and he is 29 years old. He is believed to have robbed at least 25 persons. . .
Sheahan entered the room of William G. Gibbon, Jr., in the Belvedere Hotel and about three a.m. Mr. Gibbon was awakened and saw a man clad in underclothing, taking the money from his trousers pocket.
I understand the distinction is important to half the population, but alas, we’ll never know if this intruder was wearing boxers or briefs.
Gibbon jumped from his bed and raced after the man, who fled, but was seen by his pursuer to enter a room around the corner. Detectives were called and Mr. Gibbon pointed out the room into which he believed the thief had gone.
The detective opened the door and Sheahan was in bed, apparently asleep and snoring. The detective was unwilling to arrest Sheahan, particularly as Mr. Gibbon was not absolutely certain he was the thief.
Sheahan feigned great indignation and threatened suit against the Belvedere management. He arose from his bed and went to the police headquarters, where he complained of being accused of being a thief.
Such chutzpah! If only Laurence had turned that talent to acting instead. He reminds me of another gifted young man who also had both great potential and light fingers.
From police headquarters Sheahan went to the Emerson Hotel, and registered at six o’clock in the morning. In less than an hour three robberies were reported at the Emerson, and from that time on, the police were constantly on the watch for Sheahan.
The Emerson Hotel’s coffee must’ve been really strong that morning.
As was the case at the Belvedere, the thief was clad only in his underclothes and was chased by one of his victims, Dr. Twigg, who caught him by the ankle as he was leaving by a fire escape. Sheahan kicked him in the face with his other foot and made his escape. . .
It seems that Sheahan was a liberal spender, and “hail fellow well met”. Because of this fact several of the hotel men were inclined to doubt the police when they said they believed he was the man for whom they were looking.
Evidently, none of them had ever seen “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
However, the police stuck to their conviction and with the able assistance of John S. Keating, the house detective at the Southern Hotel, set a trap . . .
Sheahan occupied room 1311 at the Southern Hotel and detectives Kratz and Kahler took up quarters in room 1317 placing a Pinkerton detective Arthur Layton, in room 1315, which adjourned Sheahan’s room.
At two a.m. Layton, the Pinkerton man retired to his room, apparently very much under the influence of liquor. He made a lot of noise, but finally quieted down and pretended to go to sleep. In his pockets he had placed five marked $1 bills. The door of the room opened and a man clad only in underclothing entered and took the money from Layton’s trousers.
New drinking game: Take a shot (no, not that kind of shot) every time this journalist writes “underclothing” or “underclothes.” I won’t take it personally if you don’t make it to the end of this post.
The private detective was out of bed like a flash, grabbing his revolver as he ran. The underclothes thief was also fleet of foot and got from the room before Layton could grab him.
Layton tried to catch him without shooting, as he did not wish to arouse other guests, but he found that the man was gaining on him and he fired the first shot. As they raced down the steps Layton fired a second shot. The man continued running and Layton fired a third time.
So much for not waking up the whole hotel.
Kratz and Kahler ran out of the room they occupied when they heard Layton’s first warning shout and seeing that the thief was going down the stairway, they dashed down a back stair to cut him off. On the eleventh floor they were successful and grabbed Sheahan.
Sheahan was still running at great speed when nabbed by the detectives, and they had no idea he had been wounded by one of Layton’s bullets until they returned to Layton’s room and started to question him. It was then a spot of blood began spreading over the bed where Sheahan sat.
When it was found that he was wounded he was taken to Mercy Hospital, where his condition is now said to be serious. The detectives say he admitted before being taken to the hospital that he is the “underclothes” thief, who has reaped a rich harvest in Baltimore hotels. . .
. . . but apparently, not a rich enough harvest to afford another layer of clothing or at least a nice robe.
In all of the thirty or more robberies committed by this man in the hotels of Baltimore, not once did he take any jewelry, valuable papers or anything except money, “cash down” apparently being his motto.– The Daily National Hotel Reporter, June 6, 1921
Perhaps cash was simply more convenient, but I like to think Laurence was a thief with scruples.
I’m pleased to report our underwear thief recovered from his injuries. However, the jury’s still out on whether it’s a happy ending.
Lawrence Walter Sheahan left Maryland penitentiary yesterday a man without a country. Years ago he traded his Irish citizenship for allegiance to the country he must now leave if he is to stay out of prison, and British authorities have warned him he will not be allowed to live in Ireland.
Sheahan, who says he has estates awaiting him in Ireland, was paroled by Governor Albert C. Ritchie on condition that he leave the United States immediately. He had served six years of a ten year sentence for hotel thefts. Once outside the penitentiary walls he did not tarry.
For a man who’s been chased down his share of hallways, it’s no surprise that he was as “fleet of foot” as ever.
A taxicab took him to the railroad station, where he purchased a ticket for Canada and boarded a train within a few minutes, expressing hope that the ban against him in Ireland would “take care of itself.” He said he would embark from a Canadian port.– The New Britain Herald, January 15, 1927
No word on what he was or was not wearing when he left for Canada.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.