Augustus & Charles Ley | Port Washington Police Chase
Don’t let the title or header fool you — the law-abiding Leys of the 19th century were not in the sites of the Deputy U.S. Marshall who came calling on Port Washington to try and accomplish what local law enforcement had not.
His quarry was a counterfeiter named Isaac Martin Farrell — or, was it Hawley, or Newman? Whatever his alias, the man from thereabouts (he constantly changed his mailing address: sometimes Dover, others New Phila, lately it had been Port Washington) was responsible for duping dozens across the country into sending him money in exchange for… well, a load of thin air.
The gag went something like this. You’d receive a mailing marked CONFIDENTIAL with a special opportunity. Farrell had found a foolproof method of producing counterfeit cash, or so the letter claimed. And he would cut you in, provided you sent him $2 to prove your interest. In return, he’d send you $1,000 in fake bills, along with your $2 back. Once you’d circulated this stake and exchanged it for genuine U.S. tender, you’d send him $10, and all would be square.
Sounds kind of like a modern timeshare pitch, minus the part about burning the letter if you decide you’re not interested.
But Farrell had been keeping all the $2 and $1 shows of confidence his clueless “partners” had been forwarding, and not sending any goods — counterfeit or otherwise — in return. Which constituted, in the least, mail fraud, and now the law was on his tail. Twice, local police had tried to arrest him at his home in Stonecreek. They had been met with gunfire.
Farrell was said to be much taller, and brawnier, than the men who came to serve a warrant on him. And he possessed the kind of blunderbuss that made the average cop’s revolver look mere popgun.
So, the U.S. Marshall service got involved, and sent a man named Lowe to track Farrell down. Picture an 1800s Tommy Lee Jones encamped in Port Washington. According to the July 5, 1888 article in The Ohio Democrat, of New Philadelphia, reprinted from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the Post Office where Farrell tapped into his cash stream and sent more cons into the world was located right next to my great-great-great grandfather Augustus Ley’s general store:
The post office and a grocery store kept by a man named Ley adjoin each other in a frame building. They face the town square. On one side is an alley and near by is a canal. Day after day Lowe sat in front of the grocery store talking with the proprietor (Augustus!) and a crowd of hangers-on as they generally do in country towns. This monotonous existence kept up until yesterday. …
About 10:30 a.m. on June 26, Farrell roared into town in his usual way — his carriage hitched to galloping horse, the better to visit the Post Office and quickly make his escape. As previously arranged by Lowe, the postmaster alerted the town marshal, who in turned signaled the waiting U.S. Marshall. Lowe entered the post office, gun drawn, and told Farrell he was cornered.
The conman had never been one to go quietly, and a struggle ensued, Farrell overpowering the lawman and making for the door. He ran past his buggy and traded gunfire with Lowe. He fought off a pursuing dog and then sprinted across a wheat field. Lowe gave chase, joined by resident F.A. Eckert. And here, another ancestor is caught up in the action:
According to the article:
(Farrell) made for a wheat field. Ley, the groceryman’s son, was riding up the road on horseback. Eckert shouted to him dismount, and leaping into the saddle, gave chase to the fleeing desperado.
Now, great-great-great grandpa Augustus was father to four other boys besides my great-great grandfather, Charles Ley, his oldest. And the article doesn’t get specific with names. But Charles was a noted horse enthusiast in other newspaper accounts (something common to the day, but likely learned from his own grandfather, a saddler), and would have been married just four days before to Minnie Hammersley. Perhaps it was him. Or maybe brothers Francis, Lewis, (14-year-old) Howard or (12-year-old) Albert played a part in this tale.
Whichever ancestor did lend Eckert his mount, the chase ended with Eckert leaping from the saddle to tackle Farrell, whom Lowe ran up to handcuff. He was taken off to jail. Twenty-five scam letters were confiscated from him after the arrest, and another 29 return letters with payment collected from the Port Washington post office.
All the action took place in a Port Washington much like the one pictured above, in an 1870s tintype restored by Chuck Schneider, a descendant of the Schneider who owned the furniture store pictured. Read more about the counterfeiter’s arrest below.