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The "King" of an Organized Gang of Thieves


Special Burkhardt of the Eighth Precinct Arrested the Leader of a Gang of Hoodlums, who Have been Robbing the East Side.

Buffalo-Courier December 14, 1896:

Moxie Ownski, the "king of the burglars," was caught last night, about 12 o’clock by Special Burkhardt of the Eighth Precinct, while sleeping in a woodshed at the rear of a house on Railroad Avenue.

Special Burkhardt has done some remarkable work during the last few days since his transfer took place. Last night he went out to get the Burglar King, who is the executive head of the gang that has been operating in Buffalo lately, and Burkhardt got him without much trouble. He has captured, with the help of Capt. Kress and Special Lazewski, nine of these petty thieves.

"This gang is the worst one ever organized in this part of the city," said the Doorman of the Eighth Precinct Station, "and this fellow is the leader of them all."

From the way in which Special Burkhardt about this burglar chief, anyone would come to the conclusion he was quite a man, but when he was brought into the Stationhouse it was found he was nothing but a 14-year-old boy.

Boys sometimes are more than the equal of men, however, and in this case it is so. For although he looked as if he knew next to nothing, he has a long head on his shoulders, and it will take more than ordinary skill to pump him. Burkhardt has been gathering evidence against him and watching him at the same time, for the last three or four days, and last night he knew just where to put his hands upon him.

He walked to Railroad Avenue with all confidence, which is born in him, and after searching around for some time he came out with the king by the collar.

"Where did you put that sack of shoes?" he asked.

"Me know nothing about shoes," the boy said, and to this story the boy stuck until the last.

Finally the boy was taken to the box on the corner of Fillmore and William Street. There the detective thought of the shoes the boy was wearing. He looked at them and said: "where did you get them?"

"I buy them on Broadway Street," the boy replied.





This statement the boy denied at the Stationhouse, saying he had brought them of a "feller." This made the detective mad and he went at the boy hammer and tongs, but all of his threats were heard by deaf ears, for the boy was too foxy for him.

They showed Moxie the names of some of the other boys who are among his gang, but he would say nothing. They searched him and found a little comb case which was one of those stolen from the Broadway Market.

"Where did you get that?" asked Burkhardt,

"I bought it for 10 cents," replied the boy.

...An organized gang of thieves have been working the East Side, stealing anything they can lay their hands upon. This work has been going on for some time and it has already baffled the police of the different precincts in which the gangs work.

When he was asked where he could not say, or would not. The police say the shoes he was wearing were a pair belonging to a lot stolen from a box car in the Lake Shore yards.

The boy is one of the toughest in all of Buffalo, and a look into his face shows clear, sharp eyes that answer your gaze with a defiant stare as much as to say: "you won’t get much out of me." He acted as if his dignity had been trodden upon when he was led away to a cell.

An organized gang of thieves have been working the East Side, stealing anything they can lay their hands upon. This work has been going on for some time and it has already baffled the police of the different precincts in which the gangs work.

During the last few days the police of the Eighteenth Precinct have caught and sent eight of them to Father Bakers and to the Penitntentary, and have done very good work, but they are not half through with these sneak thieves. The railroad companies have become incensed and have put their best men, and some all their men, upon the task of looking for these miscreants.

The thieves do their work boldly and seemingly without fear of the police. They never make any large burglaries, but if all the small ones were put together they would amount to considerable. They are an organized gang and have been working in the Eighth Precinct for some time, holding up the milk men, peddlers and men who are walking along the street, unsuspecting that they were about to be set upon by a gang of hoodlums, who do not know how to fear the law. The young toughs seem to find delight in robbing people and then go and divide their plunder among their pals. When they are dry in the early hours of the morning they hold up a milkman, drink what they want, and then turn what remains in the gutter.

Numerous reports of the depredations have been reported to the police of the Eighth Precinct and they have been looking for these young outlaws for some time, and in part have succeeded, but there still remain a good many of them who have not been caught and whom the police are now looking for.

They are undoubtedly a bad crowd and it will make some of the people of that part of the city feel more safe to know that their chief and eight others are behind bars. Something peculiar is the fact that the majority of them are Poles and their average age is not over 15 years. They have their headquarters in Rouges’ Hollow, which is near the D.L. & W tracks.

Six of these young thieves were arrested on last Friday and they were so young that only one was old enough to send to the Penitentiary. Four of them were sent to Father Bakers. The other one being released.

Capt. Kress and Specials Laszewski and Burkhardt are now working on the case and expect to bring some more of them to answer to the charge of burglary and larceny. The police say it is not that they steal so much as it is their steady regularity in so doing, and Special Burkhardt made an important step in capturing the king of them all last night.

Editors Comment:

These were the headlines in 1896. Today in 1997, I hear so many people say "Kids these days!" or "What is the world coming to?" With each passing day it seems we hear of some story about some young tough getting arrested and showing no respect or fear of the law. Things are worse today than ever, people say, kids have never been more disrespectful, others will boast. They say gangs are worse too, with drive by shootings and 14 year old kids committing robberies, burglaries, and muggings. Many blame these problems on TV violence. I would submit that this "problem," is much older than that, as the following story will show. Others blame family troubles, and that may be so, but one thing is for sure the gang problem is not new to 20th century living!

When you read the following story keep in mind that it happened over 100 years ago in 1896 not 1996. Also bear in mind it happened here in Buffalo. You will also notice the many similarities of this troubled youth’s story with the ones printed in today’s tabloid daily newspapers. This article stereotypes Moxie by mocking his poor speech, and lack of mainstream morals. He is vilified for not sharing our way of life and beliefs, does this make him evil? Is this any different than what we see today? Does this help us realize that youth troubles are more socioeconomic than racial or cultural? There are many questions we can contemplate by learning of Moxie’s situation. Only you the reader will have the answers to these timely and timeless issues. I wonder was there really honor among thieves...?

-Steve Powell


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