Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A rose by any other name: Harry Young, true name John Ricklefs

So since the adventures of the Ricklefs boys begins with John, that's where we'll start.

I think I wrote in a previous post that when I was trying to find his 1907 Sing Sing admission form, the New York State Archives said they couldn't find anyone under the name of John Ricklefs around that date - did he perhaps go by an alias?

Indeed, he did.

I don't know whether it's better to write this chronologically according to when I discovered the information as to when the events occurred but I think I'm going to try to go with an events-based chronology and explain as I go along where (and if I can remember when) I found my information.

John was the older brother, born Feb. 7, 1887 by some accounts "at sea" (his World War I draft registration card) and by other accounts in Germany and even others in New York, to John Ricklefs and Meta Tiedemann, both German immigrants.

(And by the way, quick aside, I've seen Ricklefs also spelled Rickleff, Rickleffs, Recklif, Ricklif, Rickless, Richlef, etc. and so on, but unless it's spelled a certain way in a certain document, I'm going to stick with "Ricklefs.")

According to Cousin Claudia, John went by the nickname Jack, at least later in life and so called by his family and that he was "charming" but a "follower who fell in with the wrong crowd."

In 1900, the family was living at 118 Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, at the cross section of the Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brownsville neighborhoods. If you read newspaper articles about that section of Brooklyn in that time period, there seems to be a lot of crime of the robbery/burglary variety being committed by young men in their teens and early 20s. I am currently conducting further research into what that area, and John's later home of East New York, were like back then.

Ok, so the earliest crime I could find according to the newspapers on http://www.fultonhistory.com/ was from 1907, but we'll jump to that in a minute. That fact got me an admission slip from the NYS Archives just this week for "Harry Young, true name John Ricklefs" that talks a little about his criminal history.

So, in 1903, at the age of 16, "John Rickles" was sent to the House of Refuge for 2-6 months for burglary in the third degree. The New York House of Refuge was the first correctional facility in the United States for youthful offenders.

By the 1905 New York census, the Ricklefs family is in their house at 456 Glenmore Avenue in East New York (according to a newspaper real estate listing, John Ricklefs Sr. bought the house in 1904). Maybe they were trying to get their boys out of a rough neighborhood? If so, they didn't move far enough...

Because on July 16, 1907, "John Rickless," age 20, was admitted to Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York. This is the first crime of his I had known about, but I never had any details, until now what his 1908 admission paper says. He was sentenced to five years, convicted of second degree grand larceny by Judge Dike. (Judge Norman Dike, btw, became the father of Norman Staunton Dike Jr. in 1918 - Junior was an officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, during WW II. This was the group chronicled in both the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers.) End of historical segue...

Jack was paroled in November 1908 and violated that parole. Which brings us to how I assume he violated that parole. In the Dec. 21, 1908 issue of The Brooklyn Eagle, the headline reads: "Sing Sing for Hughes, Former Policeman Sentenced for Crimes Against Girl," with the smaller but more important (at least to us) subheadline, "Three House Looters, Known as the Bedford Gang, Also Go Up the River:"

"Another sentence by Judge Dike this morning, by which three young men are removed from the scene of their peculiar activities was received with signs of approval by the spectators in the criminal branch of the County Court. There will also be considerable relief in certain sections of Brooklyn when the news is broken to the public. The young men are John Ricklefs, alias Harry Young, 20, of 456 Glenmore Avenue; Henry Metzger, alias Henry Myers, 20 years of age, of 110A Hull street; and Edward Doyle, 21 years of age, of 615 Linden street. Ricklefs got 10 years and the other two four years each, all in Sing Sing. To this trio of worthies, known as the Bedford gang, the police give credit for at least sixteen robberies in that section of the borough, following the release of Ricklefs from Elmira some time ago. Thousands of dollars were secured by the young burglars and when they were arrested at least six indictments were obtained against them. They offered pleas of grand larceny, burglary in the third degree, and of receiving stolen goods. Judge Dike placed a large part of the blame upon the shoulders of Ricklefs as the arch villain of the combination."

My notes: Interesting how before the age of 30 John would be known as both a "desperado" and an "archvillain." What was he, a comic book character? But if he was in fact the archvillain, Dike would know, as he had put John away in Elmira just a year and a half before.

The story continues with a list of some of the residences the trio robbed: Julia Coblens, $1,000 in silverware; Maltby K. Pelletreau, $250 camel's hair shawl, $200 fur-lined coat, $100 worth of jewelry and some cash; Thomas A. Ennis, $300 worth of clothing, $300 worth of silverware, and $125 worth of jewelry; Magdaline Hulst, hundreds of dollars in clothing, silverware, a satchel, field and opera glasses; Charles Fox, jewelry, watches, and clothes; and so on and so forth.

And it is for these crimes that I have John's Sing Sing admission paper. It was received Dec. 22, 1908; he is listed as "white" and given a grade of "C." (According to Wikipedia, arguably not the most reliable source but the easiest one right now, inmates were given one of three grades, with a usual probationary admission grade of "B" for six months. Depending on their behavior, their grade either went up or down. I'm guessing that violating his parole so actively in such a short time might have been what earned him a "C".)

The reason the Archives couldn't find this at first: under name it says "Harry Young." Under alias it says "True Name John Ricklefs." Hilarious. Sentenced by Judge Dike, County Court in Brooklyn. Sentenced Dec. 21, 1908 to a term of 10 years, convicted of third degree burglary, first degree grand larceny, and receiving stolen goods (hey, the newspaper article actually got that right! Good job, Brooklyn Eagle!)...Arresting officers were Detectives Donnelly and Walsh of the Brooklyn headquarters. Born? Germany. Age? 20. Occupation? Brick layer. Light complexion, Blue eyes, and what looks like light chesnut hair (although that seems a little poetic for a prison admission record.)

John was 5 foot 8 inches, 155 lbs, and he could read and write (so he wasn't exactly stupid). He had "moderate habits" (other choices being temperate and intemperate), used tobacco, and was a Protestant. Both his parents were alive and he had no children (see, even these records are genealogically useful...)

He lived at 335 West 15th Street in New York (this address is new to me...), and his mother, "Neta Ricklefs," lived at 456 Glenmore Avenue in Brooklyn. Hat size, 7; shoe size, 8 1/2; broad, round forehead, medium sized ears, nose and mouth, thick lips, thin, arched eyebrows, and missing six teeth. Awesome. Also, two small scars on his brow, with a long face and slong, slim hands and fingers. He signs this form as Harry Young.

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