Jerry Kuntz’s new book The Writing Master: The Story of the Gentleman-Thief and Forger, James B. Crosse (Wickham House, 2019) reveals, for the first time, the career of a nineteenth-century criminal mastermind, James B. Crosse.
New research shows Crosse committed many crimes under undetected aliases, including store break-ins, bank robberies, Wall Street stock forgeries, counterfeiting conspiracies, and more. His career revolved around a female blackmailer who matched his capacity for deceit and cunning, Jane Fleming. For several years, his accomplice was a mixed-race slave, Bob Burwell, whom some observers believed to be craftier than Crosse himself.
In many respects, Crosse appears to have modeled himself after the shape-shifting huckster figure of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. The Writing Master is a true crime story, as Crosse and Fleming encountered the great detectives who pursued them; colorful rogues and thieves; and historical figures such as President Andrew Johnson and the great villain of the age, John Wilkes Booth.
Jerry Kuntz is a librarian and historical researcher who enjoys bringing to light the stories of little-known characters and events. His interests has focused on people involved in American subcultures from the time period 1850s-1930s, including: baseball promoters; Wild West show performers; the dance hall demimonde; early hard-helmet divers; an Amazon orchid collector; and 19th-century professional criminals. Jerry and his family live in the Hudson Valley section of New York State.
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