Wells Family Genealogy

The study of my Family Tree

13 October 2015: Criminals in the Family Tree !?!?! October 13, 2015

So what do you do when you suddenly find criminal activity in a family tree?


It’s a question I never really had to deal much with in my own tree.  Yes, there was an odd incident with a many distant cousin in the 1600’s that is rather embarrassing to the family, but we don’t get arrested in our family.  I’m guessing we’re too smart to get caught is all 🙂

My recently discovered criminals are in my cousin’s family tree, the family line of her father (her mother was my aunt).  I’m doing a genealogy project for her as part of my wedding present for her as she knows nothing about her father’s side of the family.  I have to say, I was a little shocked to find so much newspaper accounts of her Dad’s family, namely his grandfather and Great Uncle’s arrests.

No, This isn't them, I just like this picture :-)

No, This isn’t them, I just like this picture 🙂

Here are a few examples of the offenders I found.  My cousin’s family is the Staker family.  By the way, this article is pretty hilarious!:

The Newtown Register, Thursday March 2, 1893, page 5

Capture of Two Burglars at Maspeth

Night-Watchman Smith has a Lively Tune in Effecting it –Revolver and “Billy” Both in Requisition – Subsequent Arrest of a Supposed Confederate. – Story of the Capture as Told by Mr. Smith.

Last Saturday morning, about three o’clock, the reports of several pistol shots waked out of their sleep a number of the residents of Maspeth village, and it was not long before it became known that a burglar had been caught in the act of robbing the grocery story of J. Seedorff, in the building on Grand Street formerly occupied by the Kine Bros. as a saloon.

During the past few weeks a number of small burglaries have been committed in that village, and about a month ago several of the storekeepers and others joined in securing the services of a night watchman, Edward Smith, formerly a special policeman in Brooklyn, being employed to fill the position. The story of the robbery and capture of one of the thieves can best be told in the words of Smith himself, who says “Almost 3 o’clock Saturday morning, while on my beat, I came to Seedorff’s store, and as was my custom,looked in the first window to see if everything was all right.  I then went to the other window, and as I passed the door leading down to the cellar, I noticed that the padlock was pulled out and the door unfastened.  I opened one of the double doors and went down the steps, lighting a match as I went along.  Just as I reached the foot of the stairs the match went out, and before I had time to light another I noticed a dim light from a lantern in the cellar and walked towards it.  Just then I heard a noise, and looking back I saw a man moving towards the steps.  I rushed back and caught him, saying as I did so, that I would go a part of the way with him.  He told me not to interfere or try to stop him, and at the same time he grabbed my nightstick.  By that time we were partly up the stairs, and in such a position that he had the best of me. I therefore let go of the stick and tried to draw my revolver. Just then another man came from the cellar and ran up the steps, whereupon the man whom I had hold of dropped my stick, which he had kept hold of,and with some blunt instrument struck me a terrible blow on the forehead.  For a few minutes I was stunned, but on recovering my senses I ran after the man, at the same time firing my revolver.  They dashed down Grand street and turned up Remsen Place.  Finding that my shots had not taken any effect I made up my mind to catch the one I had hold of in the cellar, and after running about three block, I succeeded in doing so.  As I grabbed him we had a pretty lively tussle together; but I had drawn my ‘billy’, and I soon made him understand that he was my prisoner and must go along with me quietly.  Meanwhile I had recognized him as Watson Doyle.  On our way back, the first person we met was John D. Staker, who came up to us and asked what was the matter, to which I answered ‘nothing much.’  Staker said‘Is that you, Doyle?’  Doyle said ‘Yes’and that he was almost beaten to death. Staker then said Doyle was a friend of his, and asked me to let him go, inviting me over to his saloon, which was directly opposite, to have a drink.  Just then Doyle grabbed my stick and made an effort to get away.  I told Staker if Doyle was a friend to advise him to go with me quietly as he had got to go anyway, either dead or alive. Doyle finally went along quietly, and I took him to Newtown.”

Watson Doyle is a well known resident of Maspeth.  A few years ago he married the widow of Michael Quinn, and for some time continued to run a small saloon in that village, of which Quinn was proprietor at the time of his death.

On being arraigned before Justice Howard Saturday forenoon, Doyle was committed for examination on Monday and placed in charge of Constable Hiland, who took him to the Flushing cells for safe keeping.  On their way to Flushing Doyle told Hiland enough to implicate Edward Staker as the other man who was in the cellar.  Hiland accordingly obtained a warrant from Justice Scheper, and in the evening of the same day arrested Staker at his brother’s saloon in Maspeth village bringing him before Justice Schepe, who committed him to the cells for examination on Tuesday.

Justice Scheper issued a search warrant, which  was served by Constable Hiland.  No goods were found in Doyle’s house, but in a vacant house near Staker’s saloon several bags of onions that were identified by Seedorff as his property were found. It is supposed that Doyle and his companion had removed the onions from Mr. Seedorf’s store, which is nearly opposite Staker’s saloon, and had gone back for another haul when Smith discovered them.

On Monday Doyle was brought before Justice Howard for examination, but at the request of his counsel, Geo. C.F. Fisher, the examination was adjourned until next Monday morning, at 9:30 o’clock.  The examination of Staker before Justice Scheper was adjourned until this afternoon at 3 o’clock.

It is understood that Doyle will turn State’s evidence and his testimony is expected to lend to the unraveling of other crimes that have recently been committed in this neighborhood.

The examination of Edward Staker, which was to have been held this afternoon, was again adjourned owing to the absence of his counsel,until Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock.

The onions which were found by Constable Hiland in the vacant house adjoining the premises of John D. Staker were this afternoon identified by Mr. Seedorf as his.


The Newtown Register, Thursday March 23, 1893

Convicted of Burglary

In the Court of Sessions at Jamaica on Monday, Walter Doyle and Edward Staker, indicted for burglary at Seedorf’s grocery store in Maspeth early on the morning of Feb, 25, were placed on trial before Judge G.J.Garretson.  Staker set up an alibi in defence, claiming that he was in bed when the burglary was committed.  Both the prisoners were found guilty of burglary in the third degree.  Yesterday the Judge sentenced Doyle to three years in Sing Sing prison, and sent Staker to the Elmira Reformatory.


The Newtown Register, Thursday September 28, 1893, Page 5

The residents of Maspeth and vicinity are to be congratulated on having so efficient and faithful a watchman as Officer Edw.Smith.  Since last March Mr. Smith has made nearly a dozen arrests, principally for robbery, and in all kinds of weather he can be found on his beat.  The arrest and breaking up of the Staker gang is among Mr. Smith’s achievements,and the people of Maspeth can feel assured that their homes and goods are well protected while such a man is on guard.



I found these articles on a site I’d never seen before and one I highly recommend if you’re looking for old newspaper articles.  It’s a bit clunkly but had great archives of old papers from the state of New York.  It’s http://www.fultonhistory.com Don’t mind the creepy clown!


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