William Sharkey's Escape


Convicted murderer and politician escaped from the Tombs dressed as a woman and fled to Cuba.Convicted murderer and New York City politician William J. Sharkey earned national notoriety for escaping from the prison disguised as a woman on November 22, 1872. He was never captured and his fate is unknown.On November 22, 1873, Sharkey's lover, Maggie Jourdan, visited him in prison with another woman, Mrs Wesley Allen, whose brother was also confined there. Although both women were given passes to enter and exit the prison, neither were searched by the guards. After visiting Sharkey for an indeterminate period of time, Jourdan presented her exit pass to the guards at the prison gate and left. Between one and one-half hours later, a second woman presented a pass at the gate and exited the prison. Dressed in a black coat and hat, her face concealed by a veil, she was later described as "large and rather masculine in appearance." About an hour later, Allen tried to exit the prison, but was stopped when she failed to produce a pass. The keeper of the Tombs realized immediately that something was amiss. Allen was held for questioning and a search of each cell ordered. When the guards reached Sharkey's cell, "they discovered that its occupant was not there. The door was unlocked and Sharkey's clothing lay on the floor. On a little shelf some locks of hair were found, which were supposed to be the remains of the murderer's mustache." The last sighting of Sharkey was from a guard who noticed a "peculiar looking woman" jump aboard a fast-moving streetcar. The guard later remarked that he was "somewhat surprised to see the nimble way in which she alighted on a car which was going at the time at considerable speed." At the time the escape was considered "the most daring and unparalleled break-jail in the history of this country."Speculation immediately arose about accomplices. The New York Times speculated that Sharkey had "the assistance and cooperation of persons equally as skilled as himself." That source cited a "rumor" that two guards had been placed under arrest. According to one account, Jourdan "had taken an impression in wax of the lock on her lover's cell and assisted by Sharkey's confederates outside the prison had managed to have a key made." Jourdan was arrested immediately after the escape, but subsequently released due to lack of evidence. The superintendent of police thought "the plan of escape has been arranged for some time and was not a thing of a moment's decision as the prison authorities would pretend." Despite the offer of a two thousand dollar reward for his capture and an extensive search, Sharkey was never found.The prison was well known for its corruption and was the scene of numerous scandals and escapes during its early history. A fire destroyed part of the building on November 18, 1842, the same day that a notorious killer named John C. Colt was due to be hanged. Apparently, it was an escape attempt on Colt's part that failed, and he fatally stabbed

Escaped, Nov 22, 1873

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