From January 2018 to January 2019, I spent a year researching 204 nineteenth-century professional criminals; however, for four years prior to that I had been researching one single man from that century, the forger James B. Crosse, aka James Buchanan Cross.
Crosse has been an obscure figure, with little known about him except small mentions by Thomas Byrnes, Robert Pinkerton, etc. asserting that Crosse had been one of the greatest forgers of the 1860s.
I had been looking for a story about a criminal who came to a good end, and found Crosse mentioned in a William Pinkerton newspaper column as a man who reformed and became a doctor. Once I started to dig into Crosse’s history, I was able to connect his movements and aliases to reveal an astounding criminal mastermind–and his consort, Jane H. Fleming (aka Eusebia Fitzgerald), who was once described as the “wickedest woman in the world.”
In terms of historical significance, the research turned up a document residing in the Pennsylvania State Archives: an 1858 requisition from the Governor of Pennsylvania to the Governor of Virginia for one John Wilkes Booth, to face a charge of breach of promise. Combined with other evidence, I can present the case that Booth was seduced and then blackmailed by Jane Fleming, James Crosse, and a lawyer named Robert M. Lee. To avoid these charges, Booth fled from a theater company in Philadelphia.
After the Civil War ended, Robert M. Lee found himself in prison, but fortunately he was pardoned–twice!–by President Andrew Johnson, after two private meetings with Lee’s beautiful wife, who had known Johnson for many years. Who was the wife? Jane H. Fleming.
I doubt I’ll ever come across a true story with so many amazing characters. I’m proud to share it with interested readers:
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