William Sharkey – The Tammany Hall Politician and mobster who escaped hanging by law

William J. Sharkey is regarded to be a pickpocket, a crook, a murderer and Tammany Hall Politician. He is well known for making a daring escaping when sentenced to death row at the Tomb’s Prison, New York City.

His early life

It was in 1845 that Sharkey was born in the city of New York to a well to do family, residing in Manhattan’s 9th Ward. He is said to have been lured by Manhattan’s darker side and was seen with crooks, gamblers and pickpockets. He had himself become a skillful pickpocket and gambler. However, he got arrested for pickpocketing and a photograph taken by municipal photographer had ensured having a record as well as picture with the Policy Department of the city.

He started to deal in stolen bonds and rose high among criminals and went on to form ‘Sharkey’s Guards’, his own gang having Wooster Corner and Houston Streets as the gang’s headquarters. It is here that he got motivated to join the political scene and very soon became darling of crooks, running Tammany Hall.

He preferred to wear the best clothes, sparking diamonds on neck and finger. He soon ran for the post of Asst. Alderman. Although he had the backing of Tammany Hall, he lost the election. Once again he went back to gambling and stealing. He amassed huge money and moved to Buffalo in New York for starting a faro game. Again his venture proved to be unlucky, compelling him to get back to the city of New York.  He befriended with Robert Dunn, his old friend, who was employed with the Comptroller’s Office at New York City. Dunn also ran a faro business, at a gambling house in Fulton Street. But as faro partners, they again lost at Buffalo. On 1st September 1872, Sharkey killed Dunn and was convicted and later sentenced to death by hanging.

His great escape

In jail, he lived the life of a luxury using his money while awaiting his death sentence and was assisted by Maggie Jourdan. On 19th November 1873, with her help as well as that of Mrs. Allen, Sharkey managed to escape wearing the dress of a woman. But the two women got arrested and later Jourdan was acquitted.

In the meanwhile, Sharkey had made the escape by availing Frank Atwood’s schooner and reached Haiti. Later, he travelled to Cuba to settle there. Sharkey never got back to New York and enjoyed the remaining part of his life in Cuba.