• William F. Stratton

Francis Joel Stratton-The Pomeroy Robbery

Updated: Mar 11

Stratton Family Lore-F. J. Stratton, A Series of Anecdotes


Prologue

This is the first in a series of anecdotes about my great-grandfather, Francis Joel Stratton, 1816 - 1863. He was a farmer, a lawman, a physician, and a spy, all within 47 years. As a lawman he served in Rochester, New York as a town constable and as a deputy US Marshal for the Northern District of New York. As a physician he was president of his medical class and signed the proclamation that accepted the first woman graduate of a US medical school--Elizabeth Blackwell. As a spy he assisted LayFayette Curry Baker's secret service uncover Rebel spies in the Federal Government from 1861-1863.

 

Joel's biography from: Biographical and Genealogical History of Cass, Miami, Howard and Tipton Counties, Indiana. Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, 1898

“Francis J. Stratton was for some years in the USA secret service, until he was severely wounded, and then practiced medicine in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and for a time was surgeon in the penitentiary. He had formerly practiced in Preble County, Ohio, having moved to Ohio from New York, and it was in Preble county that he was married. On account of poor health, having been wounded through the lungs, he was obliged to resign his position as surgeon in the penitentiary, and through Secretary of State William H. Seward he received a good position in the patent office at Washington, D. C. He died there in 1863. In the early part of the Civil war he offered his services to the Union but because of his wound was unable to pass muster and was not accepted. Under these circumstances he did the best he could; he was active in relieving sickness and suffering among the soldiers in and about Washington. While in the detective business he succeeded in putting a stop to a large amount of work done by the Stephen Wing gang of counterfeiters, on the St. Lawrence river, in Canada, capturing the entire gang. The Stratton’s were intimate with the Seward and Lincoln families.”

[editor comments: The references to "USA secret service" and "detective business" actually referred to Joel's service as a US Deputy Marshal.

Reference to relieving sickness and suffering referred to Joel's volunteer service in the Patent Hospital in Washington City during the Civil War.]

 

Steamship Utica
Pomeroy Trunk Disappears from the Deck of the Steamship Utica

The Pomeroy Express Robbery-The Other Story Tells the Story

Foreword

The first anecdote features a disreputable role in the Pomeroy Express trunk robbery. The express trunk disappeared from the deck of the steamboat Utica in New York Harbor on December 13, 1843. At the time, my great-grandfather was a Deputy US Marshal and a City Constable in Rochester, New York. A Google search on his name linked him to newspaper articles about the Pomeroy robbery and I expected to find that he had solved the mystery—instead, I found that he was accused of lying to obtain an arrest warrant.

I wanted the whole story, so I gathered all the information about the robbery that I could find.

One article was a letter from Philo N. Rust addressed “to the public." Rust was the man my great-grandfather arrested using the perjured warrant. Rust’s report revealed the identity of the instigator of the misinformation. That account, along with other credible newspaper articles, tell the rest of the story in the Great Pomeroy Trunk Robbery.— William F. Stratton, December 2021.


The Robbery!

NEW YORK NEWS, Wednesday, December 13, 1843.

“—POMEROY TRUNK MISSING:

A Singularly Astounding Express Robbery.

—$3,000 Reward.

—Three Thousand Dollars will be paid for the recovery and delivery of the contents to the undersigned of a black leather-back trunk, about 36 inches long and 18 inches wide with the edges sharp. It was iron bound with wood straps running along the top and bottom, also strapped with iron. It is believed to have been marked ‘Pomeroy & Co.’ or ‘P & Co.’ on the ends; the said trunk is supposed to have been stolen from on board the steamboat Utica on the 13th inst. It contained a number of checks, bank notes, and drafts, enclosed in packages in carpet bags, and directed to different brokers and banks in the city of New York.

The above reward will be paid in addition to all other rewards offered by other persons interested.

POMEROY & CO. 2 Wall Street, N. Y. New York. Dec. 16, 1843. D15 16”


BUFFALO COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER. Buffalo, New York. Dec. 18 1843. Page 3.

"The Great Robbery—

The Albany Argus furnishes the following particulars of the recent great robbery of the trunk containing money and drafts, in charge of Pomery & Co.’s Express. Contrary to what is usual in like cases, later and fuller information show the robbery to have been greater than was at first reported:

The trunk was in the immediate charge of Amasa Copp, now interested with or in the employ of Pomeroy & Co. It was taken from this city by stage at 10 A.M., and received on board the boat at Coxsackie in the afternoon. Copp placed it on deck, and early in the evening retired below to his berth, and although it was suggested by Capt. Scott, that he should put it in a more secure situation, the landings being frequent, he declined to adopt the suggestion. At two in the morning, when the boat arrived, Copp left the trunk on deck unattended and without charge or notice to any one proceeded to Pomeroy & Co’s office, where he was understood to say the trunk was on board, and in charge of Mr. Riggs, assistant captain; thence, after deliberately going to sleep, he proceeded at 6 ½ A. M. on board the boat for Bridgeport, and returned to this city and Troy by the Housatonic train on Wednesday night.

The agent in New York thinking the trunk safe, waited until morning to send for it. The porter who accompanied Copp to the Bridgeport boat went immediately to the Utica for the trunk. But no trunk was to be found; nor could any of the officers or crew of the boat tell when or by whom it had been taken away. As soon as the loss was discovered, messengers were dispatched to Boston, Philadelphia, and to this city with intelligence.

On Thursday evening, when information of the loss of the trunk was brought to this city, by express from New York, several of the parties interested proceeded to Troy, where Copp resides, and subjected him to examination, which resulted in nothing beyond a declaration of ignorance on his part of any loss of the trunk, or of its whereabouts, but an admission of the carelessness and inexcusable indifference with which a trust of such magnitude had been discharged. He was not, we believe, taken at once into custody, but proceeded with some of the parties to New York.

The amount of cash and valuables in the trunk—(including the registered notes from the Bank Department, and the money and drafts from Troy) was probably not less than FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. Of this amount, about $50,000 being cash, in bank notes of all descriptions and denominations, current and eastern funds, will be available to the robbers—the remainder being drafts payable to order, notes, and registered bank notes, unsigned, will not be available, payment having been stopped.”


The reward increased to $10,000 after Pullen & Copp, Drew, Robinson & Co., and The Union Bank added rewards.

As this was the largest loss in the short history of the express business, news of the theft spread quickly. Henry Wells (yes, that Henry Wells), Buffalo’s agent and a partner in Pomeroy Express, assisted in the investigation and wrote the following in a Buffalo newspaper:

“I see by the New York papers Mr. Copp, one of the firm of Pullen & Copp, now a messenger of ours between Albany and New York, has been robbed of one of our trunks and contents—In order to relieve the minds of those interested in Buffalo, I would state that no Packages from Buffalo or any place west of Albany, were in the trunk as it was the Sunday run. At present, I can throw no further light on the subject, than that Mr. Livingston, the resident partner in New York sent a steamboat to Albany and messengers in every direction. It would seem almost impossible for the robbers to escape detection. I shall leave for New York in the morning train, and will give you the earliest intelligence of this painful occurrence.

/s/ Mr. Henry Wells of the firm of Pomeroy & Co.


New York City’s mayor took charge of the investigation. One detective was Ben Hays, son of New York City’s High Constable Jacob Hays, the most noted policeman in New York City’s early history. Ben was notorious for his flamboyance and for sharing his findings freely.

The mayor appointed a deputy to interrogate the courier, Amasa Copp, an early suspect after witnesses saw him leaving the steamship with two carpetbags.

Three others were questioned—D. D. Howard, James Banks and Philo Rust. Rust was proprietor of a Syracuse hotel and the brother-in-law of Amasa Copp. Rust and Banks were both long-time friends of D. D. Howard and were staying at Howard's Hotel.

Howard was cleared immediately.

Rust was briefly detained for questioning.

A search of Banks's room turned up a trunk full of gold coin. Banks refused to explain the source of the gold other than he had, “…an upcoming marriage with a mountain heiress, whom he desired to present with a little pin-money." Banks had a reputation as a prankster and gambler and sported an alias—Jem Baggs. Banks was briefly detained but not charged.


Misdirection!

Newspapers of the day sensationalized everything and different versions of the same facts spread throughout the country. Most misinformation was directed at Banks and Rust.

A story in the New York Courier & Inquirer reported that witnesses had seen Rust and Howard conversing with Copp onboard the Utica an hour before its arrival at New York, although neither Rust nor Howard was ever aboard the Utica.

The same newspaper erroneously reported that Copp, Howard, Rust, and Banks departed on the Housatonic Railroad immediately after the robbery. The facts are that Copp departed alone with the up-river express boat the morning of the theft, Howard departed by rail the next day on a business trip to Washington City, and Banks and Rust departed later that week by train to Syracuse.


NEW YORK DAILY HERALD. New York, N. Y., 10 JAN. 1844

"The Pomeroy Express Robbery.—

The mysterious robbery of the trunk under the charge of Mr. Copp, seems to be thickening on every side. But of all accounts we have seen, the most perplexing and contradictory are those published in the newspapers as coming from Buffalo, Rochester and the western part of the State. We have already published an account of the arrest of Mr. Rust, the Proprietor of the Syracuse House, and also of Mr. Banks—their transportation from Syracuse to Buffalo in the dead of night, and their discharge on account of no evidence appearing against them. Yet it seems very strange that in the Courier and several other papers, statements have been made and particulars given not only implicating Mr. Rust, but persons of the most respectable character in this city—we allude to the Messrs. Howard of Howards’ Hotel. At the very first moment when we heard of these statements we discredited them altogether, and every new development, and every new fact this is affirms, more and more, that first impression of unbelief. Indeed it would appear from the statements of the Courier and other papers, that these rumors and reports have sprung from a common source, for they bear an identity, and there is a common mystery respecting the origin and circulation of them, which probably Mr. Rust and Messrs. Howard will endeavor to dispel, and discover the true authors in a few days.

We have heard a great many particulars about this business, and the movements of these gentlemen, but we cannot communicate it at present. But it is expected that Mr. Rust himself will soon be here, as in a letter received last evening, and addressed to a daughter, who is at a boarding school in this city, he states that he intended to be here in a few days, and mentions that he was arrested without a shadow of reason or law. In some quarters it is stated that all this affair about Mr. Rust, originated in an attempt at a hoax; but that is indeed a very criminal sort of way to create humor and fun, and if so will, it is hoped, be properly punished. Other rumors bring into the drama a female named Leggett, who is represented as the most extraordinary character in her line in this country. She has, it seems, been often employed by forgers in this and other States to counterfeit the signatures of different individuals, and succeeds, it is said, to a very remarkable extent. It is very probable that all the affair about Mr. Rust was originated by the real culprits, in the hope of giving a false scent and covering their own misdeeds.

Another story was in circulation last evening that the Mayor and police authorities have been in secret session, examined some persons. The fact simply was, that the younger Mr. Howard, on his return from the West, had been requested to call at the Mayor’s office, and was privately examined relative to the trunk; but nothing implicating himself of any one, was elicited.

At present the whole affair is a greater mystery than ever. Copp is now with his family in Troy, and has given up the express business altogether. Some suppose the trunk was taken long before the boat reached the city. In relation to the arrest and discharge of Mr. Rust, we annex the following statements, which are conclusive as to his innocence:

To the Public.—We, the undersigned, citizens of Syracuse and Auburn, having received information tending to involve Mr. Philo N. Rust, of said village of Syracuse, in participating, either directly or indirectly, in the late robbery of the Trunk of Pomeroy & Co. do hereby certify, that we this day proceeded to Rochester (where we ascertained the rumor upon this subject had originated) for the purpose of investigating the whole matter, with the sole and entire view, on out part, of forming the best judgement in our power with regard to the guilt or innocence of Mr. Rust, from such an examination. That on our arrival at Rochester, we proceeded to ascertain the facts, so far as it was possible to do under the circumstances; and from such examination, the undersigned (being all citizens of Syracuse and Auburn, who went to Rochester for this purpose) have no hesitation in expressing our decided opinion, that the suspicions against Mr. Rust are destitute of any foundation whatever, and that the rumors upon this subject had their origin in an attempt, which we understand was partially successful to impose upon the credulity of certain weak-minded individuals, who, under the expectation of receiving the large reward which had been offered for the recovery of stolen property, easily fell into the …. which had been artfully set for them. We therefore take great pleasure in assuring the public of our entire confidence, not only of the innocence of Mr. Rust in this case, but our unwavering conviction, derived from a long and intimate acquaintance with him that he is incapable of either committing or being accessory to a criminal of dishonorable act.

J. G. Forbes, M. D. Burnett, Daniel Dana, Samuel Larned, Andrew H. Van Patten, Samuel White, E. W. Leavenworth, C. L. Elliott, W. W. Teall, Horace Butts, P. Outwater, jr., Amos Underwood, J. B. Burnett, W. B. Wood, J. M. Sherwood. Dated Rochester Jan. 6, 1844.


To the Public—Mr. Philo N. Rust having been arrested upon suspicion of being, in some way, implicated in the late robbery of Pomeroy & Co, appeared before the Police Justice in this city to answer the complaint. The District Attorney stated that the first intimation he had received of the issuing of a warrant was after the cars arrived in which Mr. Rust came, that he had since examined the matter, and if he had been consulted prior to issuing the warrant he should not have advised it, and declined entering upon any examination, He also stated, in substance it was due Mr. Rust to say there were no facts within his knowledge to justify the issuing of the warrant.The counsel of Mr. Rust insisted upon an examination of the production of affidavits or other evidence upon which the warrant issued; that it might be seen upon what evidence so gross a charge rested. The District Attorney replied that there were no affidavits made, and as no one was willing to appear as complainant or prosecutor, the Justice decided that he could do nothing more, and discharged Mr. Rust. The undersigned citizens of Rochester deem it due to the occasion and to the individual to make this statement and to express not only their confidence in the entire absence of any well founded suspicion against Mr. Rust but their regret, to use no harsher term, that any respectable individual should be taken from his residence and transported through the country upon so grave a charge, not only without evidence of guilt, but without evidence justifying suspicion of offense.

Isaac Hills, F. M. Haight, Elisha Johnston, H. K. Jerome, H. L. Stephens, Hamlin Stilwell, Henry Campbell, Saml Richardson, Lewis Seely, Wm Kidd, Chas, J, Hill, A. Kingsbury, Samuel B. Chase, D/ R. Barton, John E.Patterson, Joseph Strong, Simeon Traver, Jas. Chappell, Wm. Chappell, Geo. B. Hannahs, Cornelius Fielding, L. R. Jerome, Luther Baker, Josiah Sheldon, H.A. Brewster, C. C. Lunt, Charles Wilder, Samuel Campbell, E. S. Beach, h. Humphrey, F. A. Stewart, I. F. Mack, Isaac Moore, H, Scrantom, Joseph Putnam, John Dana, Amos, Sawyer, John Wright, Wm J. Southerin, C. E. Bristol, J. M. Patterson, Jacob Wilkinson, Isaac M. Hall, Thomas Hart, J. Packard, Lemuel Thompson, Robt Haight, Hiram Bumphrey, Henry Fox, J. W. Kerr, Aaron Hitchcock, George Smith, jr. Dated Rochester, January 6, 1844.

On this subject the American of yesterday thus remarks:—

A reputable citizen, for aught that is known to the contrary, has been arrested as a robber, without any affidavit, and, so far as appears, upon the mere caprice, suspicion, or revenge of some individual unnamed! and published throughout the country, with all sorts of details, as a robber, a gambler, and the keeper of a house of resort for all sorts of unprincipled men. The Courier of this morning has a long account of the supposed misdeeds in this matter, of Rust, and of the bad company he habitually entertains, and the Journal of Commerce also presents like facts as connected with this robbery. These could not, one would think, all be invented; and yet, if accurate, or in part accurate, these would or should have been known and put forth in evidence when Rust reached Rochester under arrest. But not a particle of accusation was made. Either, then, as we said at the beginning, a most cruel wrong has been done to Mr. Rust by the arrest—or, through a corrupt connivance, the evidence upon which this arrest was made, has been withheld, and the party been discharged. This must be elucidated. As the matter now stands, Mr. Rust must be deemed an innocent and much injured man."


The Instigator—Caught In His Own Web!

Rust learned that on Thursday, Jan 4., US Marshal Clark Robinson requested that the mail agent between Auburn and Buffalo open any letters directed to either Rust or Banks. Robinson implied that such letters might disclose the secret of the express robbery. A similar request was confirmed by Rochester Postmaster Andrews.

Rust also learned that a woman from Buffalo with a reputation as an associate of counterfeiters and thieves had been in Rochester previous to Rust’s arrest and had knowledge of the conspiracy. She was seen with Marshall Clark Robinson who “loaned” her fifty dollars.

Rust made contact with the woman—Mrs. Leggett—who contributed information that led Rust to ask District Attorney Havens of Erie County to obtain from Sheriff Brown the grounds for the warrant used to search Banks luggage. Brown complied and revealed that, “The first information connecting Bank's with the robbery was from Marshal Clark Robinson.”

There was now ample evidence to lead Rust to conclude that US Marshal Clark Robinson was the prime source of the misinformation linking he and Banks to the Pomeroy Robbery.

It appeared hat the search of Banks’s luggage at the American Hotel and Rust’s arrest had been initiated as a diversion to engage the public with discoveries away from New York City, as well as to impress the Marshall’s brother-in-law, George Pomeroy.

Rust decided to confront Robinson at a meeting on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 11 in Rust’s room at the American Hotel.

Robinson was asked to help discover the grounds for Sheriff Brown's warrant. Robinson insisted that—“Brown would not disclose his sources,” and that they should, “make no further efforts in that quarter.” Robinson denied knowledge of the warrant, the search, or the existence of any suspicions against Banks; and, that, “He had not been to Rochester during the last week on any business connected with the Express robbery.”

When asked if he entertained suspicions against Rust. Robinson replied, “Not the slightest,” and that, “Rust is one of the last men in the State whom he should suspect of any such crime,” and, “if his certificate to that effect would be of any value it would afford him great pleasure to make one in writing.”

Rust informed Marshal Robinson that they had evidence that he was the author of the accusation and had originated the suspicion against Banks and ordered Rust’s arrest. Robinson’s demeanor changed as one disclosure followed another until he seemed overwhelmed. He admitted that he made the request to the Postmaster to intercept Rust’s letters, although he had just stated that he had never suspected Rust and had no knowledge of the means by which the arrests had been effected, He then restated his belief that, “No suspicion ought or could properly attach to Rust.”

Attorney for Rust, Mr. Forbes, remarked, “Robinson, however this case may turn out as respects Rust, you have a very serious account to settle with Banks, as you had no just grounds of suspicion against him."

"I had no grounds of suspicion, I admit, except that he was in New York, and left on the morning of the robbery,” replied Robinson. (ed. note: Banks left New York City four days after the robbery.)

Rust was informed by DA Havens that Mr. Henry Wells, a partner in Pomeroy Express, thought there should be a hearing since Rust was in the city, as was Mrs. Leggett, a primary source of information, and that a meeting was scheduled at his office at two o'clock to discuss such investigation. Havens assured Rust he would encourage the parties to consent that Attorney Forbes be admitted to the discussion and would send for him if the others agreed.

In that meeting Mr. Wells stressed the necessity of the hearing but that was successfully resisted by Robinson, who insisted it would— “Produce no benefit.” Robinson apparently intended to keep alive the suspicion—to prevent a legal exposition that would vindicate Rust.

Robinson continued to profess his sympathy for Rust and to denounce the conduct of Stratton. He declared that he intended to remove Stratton from office. He provided Rust with the following letter:

'Being the brother-in-law of George E. Pomeroy, of the city of Albany, one of the partners in the Express Agency in that city, and having taken an interest in the discovery of the money stolen from said firm in December last—I state that I understand the warrant issued at Rochester against Rust, for some supposed participation in the robbery in question, was obtained on the complaint of Stratton, who is one of my deputies, and that said Stratton stated, while at Syracuse, that he obtained said warrant on information derived from me, or was acting under my advice or direction—I wish to disabuse the public mind in this respect by stating that I have had no communication with Stratton, either direct or indirect, upon this subject; and that from my acquaintance with Rust for a number of years, I have no hesitation in saying, that he is one of the last men in the state whom I would suspect of any cognizance of, or participation in, such a transaction, as the robbery in question, nor do I believe that any just ground of suspicion exits against Rust in relation thereto.

CLARK ROBINSON, U. S. Marshal. Buffalo, Jan. 10, 1844.'


BUFFALO COMMERCIAL ADVERTISER. Friday. January 12th, 1844.

“The Express Robbery. The New York papers, received by last evening’s mail, are filled with exaggerated rumors and statements respecting the arrest of Mssrs’s Rust and Banks for alleged participation in the robbery of Pomeroy & Co’s Express. It is not improbable that all parties interested in knowing the truth, will discover the error into which they have been led, before anything we can communicate will reach the city; but we deem it proper, nevertheless to state from an authentic source, that an investigation has been going on in this city for several days past, on Rust and his friends, having for its object the discovery of the agents by whom the arrests were caused, and the information upon which they acted, and that most abundant and conclusive testimony has been obtained to establish beyond question or controversy, the certain innocence of the gentleman so cruelly and injuriously implicated. We understand that an exposition will be published in a few days to this effect, which will show upon which slight grounds the public mind may be misdirected, and men of character may be involved in consequences of the most serious matter, without any fault of their own. We hope this business will turn out to be no worse than a stupendous mistake. At all events, the exculpation of Mssrs’s Rust and Banks will prove as complete as their most intimate friends and the public can desire.”


The Theft is Solved!

No new evidence emerged until January 16, 1844, when a clerk at the Bank of New York received a $500 bill that fit the description of a missing bill from the Pomeroy trunk. The clerk reported the deposit and identified one Mr. Lackner as the depositor.

NEW-YORK TRIBUNE (NEW YORK, NEW YORK) · 17 Jan 1844,· Page 2

“Recovery of the Stolen Trunk!—

The stolen trunk of Messrs. Pomeroy &. Co. about which so much has been said and written of late, was yesterday recovered, together with most of its contents. The circumstances which led to the discovery and arrest of the robber, are as follows: A $500 bill on the Merchants' Bank of this city, was paid by a Mr. Lackner to Mr. Von Seht, a German merchant. No. 14 Cedar-st. who deposited it in the Bank of N. York, whence it was sent to the Merchants’ Bank for exchange, and there recognized as one of the lost bills, and the only one of the whole amount stolen which could have been positively identified.

This information was immediately communicated to Messrs. Drew, Robinson &. Co., who had left the date and number of said bill with the Bank.

Mr. Robinson immediately informed the Mayor of what had transpired, when Justice Taylor, Officer McGrath, and Mr. Clark, first Marshal of the Mayor, repaired to the house of Lackner, who resided at No. 32 Livingston-st. Not finding him at home, one of the officers remained to watch the house, while the others went in search of the villain.

He was arrested by Mr. Clark in Cedar street, near Broadway, about 5 o'clock, when his house was searched, and the trunk found in the basement of the building, containing part of the money; the balance, (excepting about $1,000, which is missing,) being stowed away in the bed, between the sheets. Those are the facts as given to us by one of the officers. The prisoner was partially examined, and remanded to the Tombs for a farther examination today, as we understand.

The despatch with which this thing was ferrited out, and the money recovered after the bill was identified, is worthy of notice. The bill was taken to the Merchants Bank at 12 o’clock, the prisoner arrested at 5, at 6 ½ the money was safely lodged in the hands of the officers.

None of the unsigned sheets of the Union Bank have been recovered and possibly they are now in circulation somewhere.

Several packages of the bills found are supposed not to have been opened at all. and some had been exchanged for gold. The missing thousand dollars, it is thought, were paid for goods, which are now in this city.

Lackner is a German about 30 years of age, and, as he says arrived in this country in June last: has since been to Milwaukie, V. T., where he has a partner and purposed to establish a store, and whence he returned about seven weeks ago, with the intention of purchasing goods in this city and transporting them to Milwaukie by wagons.

He was married on the 5th of the present month and doubtless thought the acquisition of his ill-gotten plunder would not come amiss in setting up in the world; though he had not yet applied it to that purpose, the house in which he was found being quite an ordinary one and occupied by several families besides his own. He is an ugly customer; and on his arrest evinced a decided disposition to quarrel with the officers.

The detection of this wholesale robber and the recovery of the money, will rejoice the hearts of many, and will soon place the guilt where it belongs and relieve the innocent from unjust suspicion.”


Additional drama occurred when officers arrived at the NY City Jail—the infamous Tombs—where they found Lackner in his cell hung with his own tie.

The Fallout!

BIWEEKLY COURIER AND NEW YORK EXPRESS, January 21st, 1844.

"POMEROY ROBBERY— More Libel Suits.

(Includes a letter from Northern District of New York’s U. S. Marshal Clark Robinson)

“—We were politely waited upon yesterday morning by our old friend Sparks— who we are happy to find has survived the political persecution of a certain high functionary and is now a Deputy Sheriff-and served with a writ at the suit of Philo N. Rust for an alleged libel on his character in giving publicity to the fact that he was arrested as a suspect in robbery of the Pomeroy Express. The attorneys on record are Forbes and Sheldon; and, as we understand that other editors have been treated likewise, we cannot but think that upon the whole it would have been quite as well for Rust if he had counseled with the gentleman employed by Banks instead of those who remind one of the old saying of a word and a blow— the blow coming first.

Let us examine the facts of this case upon which are grounded this suit for an alleged libel. We first find in the Albany Argus and other northern papers, an account of the arrest of Rust and Banks on suspicion of being concerned in the Pomeroy’s Trunk. This we copied as an item of news, with the following remarks:

"We have heard in connection with this statement from the Albany Argus, a great variety of rumors, most of which are so entirely groundless that we will not even mention them. It has been said however that Rust and Banks (who is a citizen of Washington) came down the River upon the same boat which brought the stolen trunk, and that they returned on the morning of the robbery by the Housatonic Railroad. This we know to be entirely a mistake. Banks had been in the city, at the Astor House, several days; and, Rust intended to leave the city the day before the robbery— and would have done so but for the persuasion of a friend who wished him to visit Sing-Sing with him on private business, which he did. Unless, therefore, the arrest has been made on other grounds than this (of which we know nothing) it cannot lead to any discovery."

On the same day, a gentleman of unquestioned veracity called upon us and said he traveled in the cars from Syracuse to Albany with a person who had been appointed a special Deputy Sheriff and was then on his way to try to arrest Copp. So much for our motives and authority for our publication.

It may be proper here to say, that we (the responsible editor) arrived from Philadelphia on the day alluded to, and knew nothing of the publication until it was made; but we should not have hesitated making it if we had been present, nor would we, under similar circumstances, hesitate as to the course to be pursued.

Among other things our account says-

“Rust, we understand, is a brother-in-law of Copp and has been for sometime greatly addicted to gambling. His house at Syracuse is said to have been a place of common resort for gamblers, sharpers, and unprincipled men.”

This was given us as part of the story which warranted the suspicion and arrest of Rust on so grave a charge; and is just what would have naturally been published in relation to any similar account, when such stories had been circulated against the suspected party. In relation to the character of Banks no charge whatever was made, except that it was alleged he had been arrested by the U. S. Marshal at Buffalo by reason of his suspicious character. This, we are happy to say, was an error; and we are assured too, by those who are acquainted with Banks, that he is a gentleman of unimpeachable character. We have only to repeat that we never heard of him until this transaction took place; and of course, we are most willing to believe that he has been grossly and wickedly slandered.

Of the charge of being a gambler made against Rust, we can only say that we published it in connection with the other facts furnished us; as they have been found to be false so far as regards his connection with the Robbery, but we believe true as relates to his arrest, we shall when called upon, most cheerfully retract it, as we have not the slightest grounds for entertaining the opinion that it is well-founded.

In conclusion, we would simply observe that the publication was made with all due caution and with good motives; while we sympathize with the parties who have suffered this great injury under circumstances which still remain unexplained and in connection with which, there appears to be an impenetrable mystery, we do not think that we are in any way censurable for our publication. Under similar circumstances we should pursue a similar course; but this does not cause us to regret the less, that we in common with so many of the press should have been the innocent means of circulating reports injurious to the characters of Rust and Banks.

We have received the following letter from the U. S. Marshal at Buffalo; and are assured, in addition, that Banks has never been arrested, although he was subjected to the mortification of having his trunk searched. Where, how and why, all the falsehoods in relation to this proceeding?”

Letter published:

'Marshal's Office, Buffalo, January 12, 1844

Jay Watson Webb, Esq.: Sir-My attention has been called to an article in the Courier and Enquirer, under the editorial head of the 9th instant, in which I am represented as having arrested Banks for the Express Robbery. In justice to that individual, I wish to state that no such arrest was made by me or under my direction, nor have I ever heard that Banks had been arrested by any person for the offence in question. I regret that your informant should have thus improperly used my name in this transaction. Very respectfully your obd’t serv’tCLARK ROBINSON, U. S. Marshal'"

Deputy Marshal Stratton and Marshal Robinson each lost his job as a result of this debacle. Deputy Marshal Stratton resigned and Marshal Robinson was removed from office November 25, 1843. The perjury charge against Stratton was referred to a grand jury but was not prosecuted. Stratton continued as a Rochester Town Constable until he left that position to enter Geneva Medical College in Fall, 1846.


Rust’s Reveal!

January 27, 1844

“In the affidavit of Stratton, I am represented as coming from Buffalo on Tuesday morning, 2 Jan., with Banks, and that Banks left the cars at Churchville about 12 miles west of Rochester, with the view of entering the city in the evening, in a private conveyance. It is also asserted that instead of passing on to Syracuse in the train of that day, I had remained over until evening—was present at the theatre that night—showing my presence in Rochester during the afternoon and evening of that day.”

“The negligence of Stratton is apparent as I remind the reader that Banks and I came in the cars together to Rochester Jan. 2; that the usual compliment of passengers were in the cars and a crowd of people at the usual place of alighting in the principal thoroughfare of the city; that we remained in Rochester about one hour and went in the most public manner to the railroad depot to take seats in the eastern train for Syracuse and departed in the presence perhaps of one hundred persons and in the company of a number of passengers, many of whom were acquainted with me—and we arrived at Syracuse at about ten o’clock on 2 Jan.—these facts were all ascertained by Stratton to his satisfaction before he reached Syracuse with the warrant and he knew all this before he left Rochester on Thursday noon, 4 Jan.”

“I call attention to the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Stewart, a credible person, who stated that the declarations of Robinson regarding his connexion with the transaction and with Mrs. Leggett are false. I have no reason to suppose that Stewart was conscious of the bias and sinister purposes to which he was lending his aid and countenance.”

“When Robinson returned to Buffalo in the cars with Mrs. Leggett he purchased refreshments for her at Attica and on their arrival al Buffalo hired a carriage to convey her to her residence and paid for it.”

I have related a true history of this matter, consistent with the facts I have gathered. It is not reasonable to believe that Mrs. Leggett contrived the story without aid or direction. Motive cannot be found—neither revenge on two strangers, nor to extract money from those on whom she could impose her silly tale. The money she received was a sum barely sufficient to defray the expenses of her journey to Rochester and back. The chief inducement remains with herself and the principal instigator.”

“I hope I have succeeded in unveiling the hidden sources and stamp of this strange and nefarious transaction. I believe enough is ascertained to satisfy the public, that any acts of mine do not justify the extraordinary attack employed against me. I trust enough is known to remove every suspicion which by any means, in connexion with this affair, has been excited to my prejudice and disadvantage.”

“It is due both to Banks and me to add a word respecting our relationship. It has been remarked in the newspapers, that I have been a sufferer on his account. Perhaps he could say the same. I was introduced to Banks two or three years ago in New York, as a gentleman engaged with a firm at the South, in one of the most extensive stage and mail contractor establishments in the Union. In 1842, he went to Buffalo to take charge of the Western Hotel in that city; and I saw him occasionally, as he passed and repassed, or stopped at my house as a guest. I never heard a syllable in disparagement of his character and standing, until after the search at Buffalo. I never suspected him of being a gambler or “black-leg,” and have no reason to believe that he was ever addicted to play. I know that his associations have been respectable, and that he is recognised as a gentleman, wherever I have had any knowledge of his intercourse in society. In detracting from his claims as such, I believe as much injustice is done him, as there is when his name is coupled with an infamous crime.“

“I cannot conclude this communication without returning my warmest and most grateful acknowledgments to my friends and to the public press, with a few exceptions, for the sympathy and kindness they have manifested for me during the whole period of this severe and harrowing trial. I feel deeply indebted to the delicacy and caution of the latter, in withholding and discrediting the storm of evil and exaggerated reports which, for several days, were poured with unmitigated fury upon me. I have also to express my sense of the liberality of the Auburn and Syracuse, and the Rochester and Auburn railroad companies, who refused to accept any compensation for conveying myself and the friends who accompanied me to Rochester, to that city and back, on the 6th Instant. From all I continued to receive assurances of continued confidence and respect, amidst the fiercest assaults of my slanderers.”

PHILO N. RUST.

Syracuse, January 27, 1844."

Afterword—Where is The Mystery?

"Half-Past Twelve.—We have seen His Honor, the Mayor, who is in excellent spirits. He was busily engaged in writing letters to Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Rochester, and to other places, announcing the discovery and the arrest of the thief.

We were shown the bill which led to the discovery. It is a five hundred dollar hill, letter B, number 6, dated July 1st. It is perfectly new. It was the only note, out of the $14,000, of which there was any positive description.

We learned from His Honor, that the information given before him on the morning of the robbery was correct in every particular. The testimony given by Westchester, the Greek, and the other steamboat runner, whose name we did not recollect, was, that on the morning of the robbery a man of the height, size and description of Lachner came down by the Albany boat, and had with him a small hair trunk and a buffalo skin— that he was driven to the house of Schwartz in Washington-st. and quarreled with the driver of the cab whether he should pay him a quarter or one shilling—and the driver then noticed that the man had rings in his ears.

After depositing the trunk and buffalo skin in Schwartz’s bar-room, he said that he had left his umbrella on board the boat and started to find it. The Greek (as the runner is generally known) met him as he came off the gangway of the boat with the very identical trunk, and helped him to carry it to his cab, and drove him to Schwartz's house, for which he received a half dollar. The man did not bring the trunk into the bar-room but left it in the entry, and the barkeeper states that, after his return the second time, he observed that, not being able to find the umbrella he would take the buffalo skin and again search the boat. The man left and did not return again until late for his trunk.

It has been fully ascertained that on the very morning, the time tallying exactly with the testimony of the Greek and of the bar-keeper, a man was seen crossing the Park with a trunk on his shoulder and something like a buffalo robe under it. And here is corroboration that Lachner was the very man. The hair trunk and buffalo skin were found on the premises where Pomeroy’s trunk was discovered—and the prisoner Lachner has rings in his ears. Such circumstantial testimony is conclusive. The Mayor does not think that the prisoner knew what the trunk contained when he stole it. Nor does he think that any other persons were concerned in the robbery.

How this man could have so long escaped the vigilance of the Police is most strange, when the description of his person was so minute. So accurate was the testimony given by Westchester, the Greek and the other runner, that persons laughed at the Mayor for taking any notice of it, such was the general character of the parties—But, as his Honor observed, testimony from any quarter, under such circumstances, was not to be neglected or despised—and so it turns out.

Such is the history and issue of this singular affair."


Was there ever any mystery in the theft of the Pomeroy Express trunk? The above news report asks that question:

“How this man could have so long escaped the vigilance of the Police is most strange, when the description of his person was so minute. So accurate was the testimony given by Westchester, the Greek and the other runner, that persons laughed at the Mayor for taking any notice of it, such was the general character of the parties—But, as his Honor observed, testimony from any quarter, under such circumstances, was not to be neglected or despised—and so it turns out.”


The thief was observed leaving the boat with the trunk, a detailed physical description of the thief was obtained and that information was known the day of the theft, but it does not appear that significant lead was pursued. It seems that the real mystery occurred in the west side of the state—in the other story of the Pomeroy Robbery.

I remain unsure about why my great grandfather lied to obtain the arrest warrant.

It is clear that his informant, Moore, was acting under Marshal Robinson's direction, as was Moore's informant, Mrs. Leggett.

Was my great grandfather simply mislead by Moore, with the urging of Marshal Robinson? Did he buy the story that Rust and Banks were robbers (thieves)? Was he part of a larger conspiracy?

It remains my mystery.

 

Additional information, especially if you want more detail on the testimony of the "conspirators."

Itemized list of stolen property in the trunk

Marshal Stratton's affidavit and testimony at perjury hearing



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