Take Old Mother Hubbard, for instance. Reportedly born in 1828 in Ireland as Margaret Brown, she came to the U.S. and found work as a housekeeper—then embarked on a 50-year side career as a notorious pickpocket and shoplifter.
“She makes a specialty of opening hand-bags, removing the pocket-book, and closing them again,” states Professional Criminals of America, written by NYPD head Thomas Byrnes in 1886.
Old Mother Hubbard stole pretty much anything she could in Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and she practiced her craft typically dressed in black silk.
After a stint in prison in Illinois, she arrived in New York City in 1884 and joined the inner circle of top fence Marm Mandelbaum. But not for long.
Described as a “white-haired, wrinkled woman” by The New York Times, she served three months at Blackwell’s Island.
Upon her release, she was rearrested for crimes committed in Boston and sentenced to prison.
The official record goes cold after that—perhaps she died in a Boston jail.